Live from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Closing Ceremony

By Chihiro Kai

(This article was completed 22:06)

As I sit here in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium press section, the seats are vibrating from the music and bass blasting out of the speakers. Even before the opening ceremony began, all the Paralympians seated on the stadium field were celebrating.

The United Kingdom and Peruvian teams were ecstatically encouraging their international peers to take advantage of their circular seating arrangement to complete a whole wave. The wave would make it through 2/3 of the Paralympians before losing momentum in the last 1/3 section adjacent to the flag poles. After each attempt would die out on its final leg, the particularly invested athletes from Peru and the U.K. would stand up and urgently “gesture” to the responsible section.

Finally, when the wave accomplished a full lap “around the globe,” so to speak, you could hear the whole stadium, including those of us in the press booths which have been following the wave’s progress, cheer and clap at this spontaneous game. The wave’s informal and collective nature lent it an intimacy that elevated our joy at its success.

Now, it has been early 30 minutes since the wave experienced a natural death. And yet, despite the pageantry and impressive stage production of the closing ceremony, I don’t believe anything that has transpired on the field has made me and my fellow reporters laugh and smile as it did. At least, that was the case with the two Japanese reporters flanking me at my table.

20:51
Representatives from each participating Paralympic team have been adding circular mirrors to a miniature figure of Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest free-standing tower. Just now, the final paralympic deputy for the Japanese team attached the last piece to complete the model. The mirrors represent the windows and natural skeletal gaps on the tower.

Upon its completion, the current focal point of the Tokyo skyline was raised, “Flags of Our Fathers” style by the ceremony’s performers. Who knew relations between the United States and Japan were so tight? (Indulge me in my humor readers. I am both Japanese and American, and that gives me permission to make such dry jokes.)

21:00
The first Paralympic I’mPossible Awards are being presented to the first five recipients of the recognition. For further information on the I’mPossible Award, click here.

  • Best host country School: Kizarazu Municipal Kiyomidai Elementary School in Chiba, Japan
  • Best overseas school: Lilongwe LEA School, Malawi
  • Excellence host country school: Chiba Prefectural Togane (I could not catch the end. I believe it was Chiba Prefectural Togane Special Education School)
  • Best (Male) I’mPossible Paralympian Award: Lassam Katongo from Zambia. He is a track and race Paralympian and secondary school teacher.
  • Best (Female) I’mPossible Paralympian Award: Katarzyna Rogowiec from Poland. A three-time Paralympian and two-time Paralympic gold medalist in cross-country skiing. She is also a former ITC anti-doping committee member.
  • The awards for the two Paralympians were accepted by their respective national Paralympic Committees on their behalf.

21:23
The Tokyo Skytree “miniature,” which must be roughly five meters tall, accompanies other notable architecture that shapes the city’s skyline, including Rainbow Bridge. You guessed it, the “Rainbow” Bridge is not actually colored in seven distinct shades. However, after numerous complaints that the bridge’s namesake made little sense, a night-time illuminating feature was added.

The closing ceremony’s similarity to a Disneyland parade is as prominent as the August 24 opening ceremony. The fluorescent animal costumes adorned by dancing performers and the musical production remind me of the Mermaid Lagoon Theatre from The Litte Little Mermaid area at Tokyo DisneySea.

22:03

“The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games have not just been historic. They have been fantastic,” Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in his closing speech. He said that despite the games’ accomplishments, the world has flaws with accessibility that no mask can cover.

“As we build back better, 15% of the world’s population cannot be left behind,” Parsons said. “People with disabilities should not have to do exceptional things to be accepted.”

Following a WeThe15 campaign commercial, a Japanese singer seated in his wheelchair sang “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong with a powerful voice would have made the raspy icon proud. The song’s second half was sung by a female singer with a visual impairment. The two voices converged in the final part of the ballad accompanied by a children’s choir.

As a piano player in the center of the stadium played the last notes of the iconic song, the egg-like encasing of the Olympic and Paralympic flame closed, extinguishing the fire that has burned since July 23.

And with that, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games had ended.

Thank you for following me and Jake Adelstein throughout our coverage of the Olympic and Paralympic Games! It has been a true privilege and honor.

My Brushes With the Yakuza – Reflections of Life in Akasaka, Tokyo

My first encounter with the ‘yakuza’ or the crooks and gangsters of Japan’s underworld, happened when I was 14 years old, on my way home from cram school. It was around 10 PM and having no friends who lived my way, I found myself walking alone through a deserted back street when a man in a loud red shirt and loose trousers seemingly materialized out of nowhere and stood blocking my way. In vain I tried to pass, and then brought my book bag up to my chest, probably to protect myself. “You’re out late,” he sniggered, edging closer. “Do you want to make some money? It will be so easy. Let’s go somewhere and we’ll talk about it.”


Could this really be happening? I felt the blood pounding behind my ears and my vision go black around the edges as I stood there paralyzed. After what felt like an hour but couldn’t have been more than a second or two, another voice came out of the dark. “What are you doing? Don’t waste time, we got things to do.” An older man drawing on a cigarette joined us. “What the hell are you playing at? Let’s go,” he said to the shirt and then to me, “sorry. Were you scared? You must have been. Be safe going home, your parents will be worried about you.”

Without a word, I fled and didn’t look over my shoulder until I was safely in front of my apartment building.

I learned later that this was an old yakuza tactic. There was always the younger guy who came on strong, and the older man who stepped in, seemingly to admonish him and then rescue you. But if you showed signs of hesitation at leaving, or showed up at the same spot the next evening, they would snatch you up. Later, they would blackmail the victim’s father into making cash payments in return for silence and the assurance that the incident will not crab his daughter’s chances of making a good marriage.

As anachronistic as this sounds, similar scenarios still play out all over Japan. Having any connection to the yakuza, even if it’s innocuous or remote, can spell disaster for the average, law-abiding Japanese. It could sabotage their chances of getting into private schools. Jeopardize their job applications to good corporations. And will likely botch up marriage prospects between respectable families. The yakuza are well aware of the fear and suspicion they trigger, and will milk it for all it’s worth. Blackmail and extortion continue to comprise a huge chunk of yakuza revenue. In 2020 alone, they made over 28.5 billion yen from just such practices, according to Asahi Shimbun.


That first encounter left a mark of some kind, subtly swerving my life in a certain direction. I longed to quit school and hang out in smokey coffee shops. I pined to get away from the boring, oppressive place called ‘home.’ My parents complained that I had ‘loose morals’ and would come to a ‘bad end’ unless I buckled down to my studies and became more serious about my future. “You’re not ‘katagi,” my mother would say, which means ‘solid citizen.’ In Japan, once you stepped off the rails of ‘katagi’ you were out of the game, and no one gave you a second chance. The opposite of ‘katagi’ of course, was ‘yakuza.’


In spite of my parents’ dire predictions, I somehow made it to adulthood, marriage and a baby. After about three years, my family and I moved into an apartment building in a town called Akasaka, famous for its criminally expensive real estate, high-end restaurants, exclusive bars, a lucrative sex trade and a sizable yakuza population. This was in the tail end of the 90s, when the Tokyo yakuza had the staunch support of right wing governor Shintaro Ishihara and were seemingly invincible. In Akasaka, they were the best-dressed people on the streets, with impeccably tailored suits and Italian silk ties. They were driven around in sleek German sedans and slurped their soba noodles in the same restaurant as the Cabinet Ministers who came down from the nearby Diet Building. Consequently the streets were perpetually crawling with security people, cops in uniform and police detectives. The combination of law enforcement, politicians and gangsters made it impossible for anyone to get out of line.


Akasaka was the safest place in Tokyo.


My neighbor, who lived on the same floor and whose daughter went to the same day-care as my own, was the son and heir to Tokyo’s most powerful yakuza clan. He drove a sparkling white Mercedes and would often give me a lift as I walked down the slope to the subway station. He was always elaborately polite with me and his wife and daughter often came over for dinner when he was “late at work.” By an unspoken agreement, we never talked about this “work” or even referred to him in conversation. One day when I suggested that we take a photo together with our girls, the wife looked uncomfortable and then refused outright. That night, realizing that I had committed an unforgivable faux pas, I couldn’t sleep. After that, she didn’t come around as much and a year later, announced that they were moving out of the building to a condo on the other side of Akasaka.

This thawed the ice between us and we laughed together like the old days. “We’re not abandoning Akasaka,” she said. “This whole town is just right for us.”


I too, found it hard to tear myself away from Akasaka even as I watched the oldest and richest properties being sold off to overseas investors, mainly from Hong Kong and China. From the early aughts to about 2012, the Japanese economy sank into the marshlands of a twenty year recession, and chipped away at the glamorous, old-money prestige of Akasaka. Companies went bankrupt. A famed record company downsized, and then moved away. Small businesses folded, and the premises were bought out by discount shop franchises.


I started working at a neighborhood cafe to supplement the dwindling income I made from journalism, for 900 yen an hour. It was a charming place, a real Tokyo coffee shop with Richard Ginori crockery and a little booth for roasting the beans, Fifteen minutes into my first shift, the owner/proprietor took a call on his cell phone and  after a few words, hung up and told me to cordon off the best table in the place, because ‘an important customer’ was arriving in exactly 45 minutes.

At the appointed time, a black BMW drove up to the cafe entrance. Two burly men were already waiting, and opened the heavy glass door of the cafe for an elderly man who had been helped out of the vehicle by his driver. The man came in, wielding a walking stick, and sat down at the table. No one said a word. My employer quietly poured out a cup of ‘blue mountain’ coffee which at 1200 yen a cup, was the most expensive item on the menu. The man picked up his coffee and sipped slowly. The tension was so thick you had to hack it with an ice pick, and I could feel the blood pounding behind my ears all over again. After he finished, the man spoke a few words to the two burly men, and one of them got up and paid the bill as the other got on his phone. In a matter of a seconds, the BMW was parked at the entrance and the elderly man got up. The three men left, and after making sure that they were truly gone, the owner gave me a sickly smile and said: “this happens at least once a week. You’d better get used to it.” It turned out that the elderly man was a yakuza boss and the cafe was his favorite haunt.


After that, I discovered that while the boss might show up once a week, his underlings and his personal driver was there most days. They monopolized the terrace seating area, smoking incessantly and ordering innumerable cups of coffee, talking in undertones or laughing raucously. When they were there, the regular customers – salarimen from neighboring web design companies and editors from a jazz magazine, avoided the place like the plague.


There was no denying that the yakuza were the cafe’s best customers and when they were there I rushed around with trays of coffee and cheese cake, replacing full ashtrays with clean ones and refilling glasses with iced water poured from a stainless steel pitcher. The yakuza are very particular about the establishments where they take their coffee which is why you won’t see any of them at a Starbucks. I became a little chummy with the boss’s driver who lived in the neighborhood. He told me to ignore him if we met in the street. “Pretend you don’t know me. Believe me, it’s for your own good. But in here, we’re friends, okay?”


In the mornings, the Korean hostesses working in the cabaret club owned by the clan, would come in to nurse their hangovers and air their complaints. Though they spoke Japanese well enough, they couldn’t read the text messages sent by their clients and often asked me to do so. Some of the messages were disgustingly racy, others were declarations of love or modest invitations to go out.


“So what does this guy want with me?,” asked Jun, a pretty 24-year old girl from Inchon who had the unfortunate habit of grinding out her cigarette in her piece of half-eaten marmalade toast. “Says he wants to play golf with you before taking this relationship to the next level,” I read out loud. “Ohhh. Is he going to pay me to play golf?” “I don’t know and you probably shouldn’t ask that over a text message.” “Japanese men are such wimps.” “No kidding!”


I worked at the cafe for two and a half years before the owner went bust and sold the place to a Korean businessman who happened to be a distant relation of Jun. In the end, my employer disappeared, owing me two weeks wages. I heard that he returned to Akasaka six months later, and was working in a rotisserie chicken shop. By that time, the cafe had changed completely, its air of old world charm completely quashed by the new owners. The clan stopped frequenting the place, and moved on to somewhere else. The driver was gone too, and I never saw him again.


In 2018, my husband said that he had had enough of Akasaka and wanted to move. I was inclined to agree. The entire neighborhood was a shadow of what it had once been. Small, green plots of land and shrine-owned gardens were paved over and turned into parking lots or hideous houses. The once flourishing love hotels were torn down and Internet cafes went up in their places, with cheap private rooms catering to salarimen and prostitutes. Little dark bars went bankrupt and were replaced by glaringly lit convenience stores. Korean restaurants with plastic storefronts muscled their way into quiet alleyways. In the midst of it all, many of the yakuza moved out. The streets filled up with Chinese tourists and digital nomads toting backpacks.


The boss with a penchant for ‘blue mountain’ coffee was in a posh nursing home, or so I was told by the gossipy grandma working the counter at a tobacco shop, which soon closed down.


After we moved, memories of working at the cafe and my brushes with the Akasaka underworld went sepia toned like a sequence in a cheesy Hollywood movie. And then it all came back this August, as I followed the trial of Satoru Nomura, head of the notorious Kudo-kai. This is Japan’s most powerful yakuza clan that had terrorized Kokura City in Fukuoka prefecture where they had their headquarters, for the last 3 decades. On August 24 Nomura was sentenced to death by the District Court in Fukuoka – marking the first time in the history of Japanese law that a gangster boss received such a verdict. Usually the bosses are immune to societal rules and their crimes go unpunished since the clans always have a set number of young thugs in the ranks to shoulder the blame. They go to prison with promises of being welcomed back into the organization once they get out, with hefty salaries and underlings of their own to kick around. And in the meantime, their families will be well taken care of, nothing to worry about there.


This time however, the District Court made it clear that they were trying Nomura as an individual criminal and not as a clan head, thus severing the chain of command that would have placed all the blame on an underling.


I had met just such an underling in the cafe, during my second August of working there and the memory has a special poignance because this man had seemed so pitiful, He came in at around 5PM, dressed in a suit that was too big for him, with a tie frayed on the ends. He looked around with something akin to sheer, delighted giddiness, saw there was a female on the premises and immediately started talking to me. He had just gotten out of prison. He hadn’t seen a woman in five years. He was longing to touch a woman’s skin, and the desire was enough to make him scream. Can he touch me please? (The cafe owner intervened at this point, and asked him not to harass the staff.)


He complained that his legs were aching from sitting in a chair, since he had gotten used to sitting on a prison floor with his calves tucked under his knees, like a Buddhist monk or a tea master. He had an upset stomach too, from eating restaurant food after years of prison fare. “My god, but this all feels so good! It’s so great to be out!”


I brought his coffee, which he spiked with many spoonfuls of sugar and a dollop of cream. “You don’t know how I’ve been waiting for this moment,” he said, before taking a big swallow and coughing most of it up, all over his shirt. He laughed it off and started to sip slowly. “I’m only 30, I feel like an old man. Five years of my life down the drain. But I’m determined to have a woman, every single night for a whole year! Just watch me!” By this time, the only remaining customer in the cafe was the yakuza who had come in with him, obviously the caretaker, who looked none too happy with his charge.


After that, the ex-con came to the cafe several times. He never tried to talk to me again, though he always had a smile plastered to his face and wore a new suit that fit. I heard him say to my employer that prison caused him to shed 15 kilos and he always felt tired. “But I can still have sex! That’s great, right? That’s what counts, right?”


The last time I saw him, he had taken off his shoes and was sitting with his calves tucked under his knees, atop the hard backed chair of the cafe. He was smiling beatifically, humming out of tune to a Coldplay song coming over the speakers. A short while later, two men who I’d never seen before came in and said a few words to him. He nodded, still smiling and put on his shoes. After paying for his coffee, he bowed deeply to my employer and then to me, before turning his back and walking out.

Lambda Is On The Lam In Japan

(First posted 23:59 August 18th, revised and updated 00:40 am August 19)

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are over but they may leave a lasting legacy in Japan: the deadly COVID19 Lambda variant; it first arrived on July 20th, when a woman in her thirties from Peru, accredited with the Tokyo 2020 games arrived at Haneda Airport. The government only admitted to the arrival of the variant after our reports on August 6. Tonight at 10:39 pm NHK reported that the Ministry of Health failed to conduct an investigation into those in close contact with her, or notify the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee. The Lambda variant, originally found in Peru, has killed thousands there and in July of this year accounted for 90% of new COVID19 cases. It has been associated with a high-mortality rate, around 9%, and a recent study suggested, “it could pose a threat to the human race.”

Whether the Lambda variant is as deadly as the Delta variant remains to be seen, but it’s definitely not a variant you want to welcome into your home.

The Story So Far

The lambda variant travelled to Japan with a woman who had resided in Peru. She tested positive for COVID19 upon arriving at Haneda Airport, on April 20, and was quarantined. On July 23, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) determined that she was infected with the Lambda variant and reported this to the Ministry of Health. On July 26, the Ministry reported their findings to an international infectious diseases database, GISAID. Despite, concerns at the NIID, the government decided to postpone an announcement of the findings until after the Olympics had concluded.

On August 6, after our first report, the Ministry released details to the Japanese press and gave comments to The Daily Beast. The Ministry has denied that they were covering up the entry of the variant, due to the Olympics, saying that it did not meet their criteria for public disclosure. However, today on August 19, the cabinet spokesman, at a press conference announced that the Ministry was rethinking it’s policy on handling of variants and would be more forthcoming with information in the future.

Lambda On The Loose?

Then at 10:39 pm, NHK News, reported the following. The Ministry of Health had failed to send critical information to the local government where the Lambda carrier was being quarantined. The Ministry of Health normally sends a list of people who may have been in close contact with a carrier to the local government responsible for carrying out an investigation into the source of the virus, and preventing the spread of it into the public. This list usually includes the seating chart of the aircraft, when the infection is confirmed by a quarantine station at the airport.

NHK reported that after the woman was confirmed to be infected with the Lambda virus, the Ministry failed to notify the local government where she was staying and neither her name nor the list was not sent to the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee. This raises the possibility that Lambda variant is already on the lam in Japan, spreading into the local population.

The World Health Organization considers Lambda a “variant of interest” (VOI) but has not yet labeled it a variant of concern (VOC), a term reserved for variant that are either highly infectious, resistant to vaccines, and/or result in higher mortality. Japan has not classified the variant yet and is only testing for it at airports. This means that if the virus has made it into the general population, it’s unlikely to be found until it has taken root—because there is no screening or sampling for the virus being conducted. Japan has consistently failed to conduct the basis of COVID19 prevention and containment: widely test, trace, isolate, medicate and vaccinate.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) told NHK that “the person in charge was so busy with work that he forgot to send the list,” and that they will set up a system to double-check that the list was sent. They have also downplayed the risk of Lambda, saying that it is on the wane in many countries and less virulent than the Delta variant. However…..

Know Your Lambda

On July 28, Japanese scientists posted a report on the Lambda variant eight days after its domestic detection. The document is yet to be peer-reviewed. 

In the document, the authors state that the Lambda variant is highly infectious, less susceptible to current vaccinations, and shows resistance to antiviral immunity elicited by vaccination. The report continues that because the “Lambda variant is relatively resistant to the vaccine-induced antisera” (blood serum containing antibodies produced in response to vaccination), “it might be possible that this variant is feasible to cause breakthrough infection” in already vaccinated populations. The scientists worry the variant’s categorization as a VOI instead of a VOC downplay the virus’s potential threat to public health. 

In the shadows of Hiroshima: Director Kurosaki takes on the story of Japan’s own WWII top-secret nuclear arms plan

Editor note: Japan had two different military programs working on developing an atomic bomb. The movie reviewed here only discusses one of the programs. Japan’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons was much more successful than imagined, click here and read What If Japan Had the Atomic Bomb First? For more details.

Review by Kaori Shoji

Gift of Fire (Japanese original title: Taiyo no Ko)” proffers an unsettling view from an old and familiar window. Directed by Hiroshi Kurosaki, the gist of this story set in the summer of 1945, is this: just weeks before Japan’s surrender in WWII, a team of graduate students at Kyoto University were hard at work on the creation of a nuclear bomb. While this piece of information may not be news to many western historians, the majority of the Japanese are bound to feel baffled. For generations, the Japanese were conditioned – by our elders, by the media, by the education system and history itself, to feel that we were the victims of a war that very few in the populace ever wanted to fight. And now a Japanese movie is saying we could have been the perpetrators of the world’s first nuclear bomb attack? That’s an incredibly heavy load to process, and still more to confront. 

After all, Japan had banked the struggle of the postwar years and the rapid growth era that followed it, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The horrors that happened on August 6th, 1945 in Hiroshima and then, a mere 72 hours later in Nagasaki, were recounted through generations and revived in the media more times than anyone could count. It was a legacy of suffering, a collective mantle of unspeakable sadness under which the Japanese toiled and labored for decades to come. 
At the same time, the two bombs exonerated the Japanese from having to explain and face up to wartime atrocities – the crimes committed in Korea, China, Singapore and pretty much the entire Asian Pacific Rim. Call it the a-bomb card, pulled out when the Koreans or Chinese got noisy about acknowledgement and reparations for war crimes. And whenever the Japanese people protested against the econo-centric measures of the government that irredeemably polluted oceans and mountains and quashed the livelihoods of  millions of traditional workers. For seventy plus years, the a-bomb card served Japanese politicians, their politics and the national conscience. We suffered enough, now leave us alone. 

But “Gift of Fire” says it may be about time to turn in that card. 

The Kyoto University lab was under close scrutiny by the Imperial Army and the scientists were pressed for results. If and when they succeeded in splitting the atom, the plan was to drop the bomb on San Francisco. The students were plagued by doubts and filled with anxiety, and who can blame them. Nightly air raids, frequent power outages and utter lack of resources prevented their experiments from moving forward when all the while, they were listening to American news on a hand-crafted short wave radio. The Americans were closing in on the Japanese Imperial Army though the propaganda reports from the frontlines said otherwise. “Should we even be doing this, in the comfort of a laboratory? Shouldn’t we be fighting and giving our lives to this country?” says one anguished student, who eventually quits the project to enlist in the Imperial Army. 

The truth was, the Kyoto University team lacked everything to build anything, let alone a weapon of mass destruction. Still, they forge on, fueled by a blind hope that an atomic bomb will change the course of the war or even end it. Besides, says Professor Arakatsu, the helmer of the project: “if we don’t build it the Americans will. And if the Americans don’t get there first the Soviets will. Why do you think this war started in the first place? It’s because the world is in a race to procure energy resources. Whoever gets control of the energy, gains control over the world.”  

By saying that, Arakatsu has shifted the concept of war from ideology and nationalism to science and technology. Fittingly, “Gift of Fire” is mostly devoid of sentiment and righteousness, preferring instead to sanctify the scientist and all that he stands for. In Arakatsu’s laboratory, scientific advancement is a religion, and the god at the altar is Albert Einstein. The highest prayer of course, is E=mc2. The film marks the first time a Japanese film has addressed the atomic bomb from a scientific standpoint, and bringing in an American voice to the proceedings. Kurosaki persuaded Peter Stormare to appear in a voice-only role that defends, honors and ultimately glorifies the scientific mission. 

Perhaps that voice belongs to Shu (Yuya Yagira) who is the most committed member in Arakatsu’s lab. Shu is responsible for procuring the much-needed uranium for their experiments, and turns to a local potter for his meager supply. The potter used to make beautiful things, but now he only makes funeral urns. “A lot of people dying,” says the potter matter-of-factly to Shu, pointing to the rows and rows of small white urns turned out in his kiln that day. Shu can only nod, bow and make his exit with the uranium powder stashed in his rucksack. Shu knows that Japan will hurtle toward a terrible defeat unless they can build the bomb before the Americans. At the same time he knows their chances of making that happen are practically zilch. Yet the thought of giving up never crosses his mind. A stubborn work-ethic and an obsessive regard for science dictates Shu’s actions and his MO, like the rest of his team, is to ‘ganbaru (do the best they can)’ until they drop. 

Director/writer Hiroshi Kurosaki is a seasoned television director, best known for his work on the NHK morning drama series “Hiyokko, (2017)” which means ‘youngster.’ Kurosaki has a flair for portraying youth and innocence under duress. “Hiyokko” was set in the post war years, with a young female protagonist (Kasumi Arimura) searching for her missing father in Tokyo. Arimura teams up with Kurosaki again for “Gift of Fire” as she plays Setsu, who is Shu’s possible love interest. Setsu, perhaps as a nod to our times, is not the typical docile young woman of wartime Japan. In one scene she lectures Shu and his brother Hiroyuki (played by the late Haruma Miura who committed suicide last summer. The film marks his final screen appearance) about their tunnel vision, exhorting them to look beyond the war and envision a future without violence. In the post-screening press conference Kurosaki said: “I wanted to portray what a young woman must have felt in the final days before the surrender. She’s young and has an intense desire to live and experience life, but death is always there.” 

Gift of Fire” is not without redemption. What permeates the otherwise dark and spartan narrative is the sheer innocence of the characters, especially Shu and Hiroyuki. In their separate ways, the brothers seek closure to a war that had come to define their identifites – Shu by creating the atomic bomb, and Hiroyuki by flying a plane right into an American warship. Defeat may be imminent but neither of them are about to surrender peacefully. “They made mistakes, they’re not heroes,” said Kurosaki. “They are ordinary young men, blundering on and doing the best they can.” Sadly that’s never enough to right a ship gone horribly awry. 
END 

Japan Reported The First Finding Of The Highly Infectious LAMBDA Variant Here, Three Days Before The Olympics Began

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases, which filed the report, has not made it public in Japan. 

By Jake Adelstein and Chihiro Kai

(Originally published at 12:08 am August 6. updated August 6, 8:35 a.m.)

For a multi-language database of clinics offering a wait-list for vaccine appointments, click here 

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases (Tokyo) reported the first finding of the highly infectious Lambda variant of COVID19 here to an international database three days before the Olympics Opening Ceremony. The Institute has not publicly disclosed the details in Japan yet. One scientist who worked on the report told Japan Subculture Research Center that it was detected at an airport checkpoint and had not made it “into the wild”. He believes it originated in Peru but public data suggests it came from the US into Japan. Please note, on August 5th, Tokyo alone recorded 5,000 new cases of COVID19, the highest number since the pandemic began in Japan. Many infected are being told to self-medicate as hospitals fill up with serious cases. The entry of the Lambda variant into Tokyo is not a welcome development. 

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases submitted a report to GISAID on July 20th recording the first finding of the highly infectious Lambda variant in Japan. The variant, first found in Peru, has now been found in 26 countries, not including Japan.

On July 20th, three days before the Tokyo Olympics began, Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases reported, for the first time, that the highly infectious Lambda variant (ラムダ株) had been found in country. The report was submitted to an international COVID19 and other infectious diseases database known as GISAID. The Japanese government has not formally announced that the variant, first found in Peru, had also been found here now, as well.  The variant has now been found in 26 countries. Japan could be the 27th country to host the virus.

Last month, a team of researchers at Tokyo University published an academic paper which noted that the Lambda variant was highly infectious and resistant to vaccines. In Peru, where the variant was first discovered, 80% of the infections are now traced to the Lambda variant. The research team at Tokyo University believes the variant “has potential to be a threat to the human race”.  (ラムダ株が人類社会に潜在的な脅威になり得る)

Japan has reported one case of the Lambda variant to the GISAID

The National Institute first reported finding the Lambda variant to the GISAID database on July 20. GISAID is non-profit organization that maintains a database for infectious diseases including COVID-19, founded in 2008. GISAID originally stands for Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. The database shared the first complete genome sequences of COVID19 in early January 2020 and there have been nearly 2.5 million submissions logged with the database since. Institutes submitting data to the group must have their credentials confirmed and agree to a database access agreement.

The variant was confirmed by the SARS-CoV-2 testing team at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (Tokyo) and the data submitted by the Pathogen Genomics Center at the same institute. Nozumu Hanaoka (花岡希) a senior research scientist at the Infectious Diseases Center for Infectious Disease Risk Management and several other researchers signed off on the submission. 

Unanswered Questions

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases has not responded to requests for further information about the discovery of the variant. For example, when was the variant found in Japan? Was it found at the airport and never made it to the wild? Was it brought to Japan by a participant in the Olympics? Where was the carrier of the virus located? Calls made to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare which oversees the institute were not returned. We will continue to pursue the story and get clarification.

Any information pertaining to the Lambda variant in Japan would be welcome. Please post in the comments, which are reviewed before being made public. If you wish to submit information without disclosing your name, let us know, we will contact you privately and remove the comment if requested. 

What You Should Know About the Lambda Variant

Lambda’s origin and WHO classifications for COVID-19 variants. 

The Lambda variant of COVID-19 was first discovered in Peru in August 2020. As of July 14, 2021, it made up roughly 90% of COVID-19 infections in the nation and is likely responsible for the spike in coronavirus cases in Peru’s second wave of infections this spring. The World Health Organization designated the Lambda variant as a “Variant of Interest” or VOI on June 14, 2021, the lower of two classifications used to survey the public health risks of existing COVID-19 strains. 

A Variant of Interest is defined as a COVID-19 variant with genetic changes that are predicted to affect the transmissibility, disease severity, and the ability of the virus to escape diagnosis and medical treatments. Furthermore, VOIs are identified to cause significant community transmission in multiple countries and suggest an emerging risk to global public health. 

The good news is variants under the VOI classification carry a “keep a close eye on it” designation where WHO and member states monitor the spread as a precaution. Although the emergence of a VOI in a new country, like Lambda’s introduction to Japan in July, should be investigated, medical and government officials are more concerned about Variants of Concern. 

A VOC is a variant that meets the definition of a Variant of Interest and is shown to be more contagious, induce heavier symptoms, and less responsive to available public health and social measures. The Delta variant, currently the world’s predominant strain as contagious as chickenpox, is categorized as a VOC. 

The Lambda variant in Japan. What we know so far. 

According to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data, GISAID, a primary international source for open-access influenza virus data, the Lambda case detected in Japan was transmitted from the United States.

The GISAID database shows the Lambda Variant of COVID19 traveling from the United States to Japan. It may have been detected at an airport checkpoint and never been “in the wild”.
NOTE: Pardon the bad graphics. This is a low budget operation.

It is currently unclear as to how, why, or where this transmission took place. However, there have been no other Lambda cases declared in the country. Whether this is due to a properly followed quarantine protocol or a lack of Japan’s ability to detect and report additional infections is unknown. Click here to access the complete interactive Lambda database. 

On July 28, Japanese scientists posted a report on the Lambda variant eight days after its domestic detection. The document is yet to be peer-reviewed. 

In the document, the authors state that the Lambda variant is highly infectious, less susceptible to current vaccinations, and shows resistance to antiviral immunity elicited by vaccination. The report continues that because the “Lambda variant is relatively resistant to the vaccine-induced antisera” (blood serum containing antibodies produced in response to vaccination), “it might be possible that this variant is feasible to cause breakthrough infection” in already vaccinated populations. The scientists worry the variant’s categorization as a VOI instead of a VOC downplay the virus’s potential threat to public health. 

What you can do to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19 variants. 

Although the Japanese scientists’ pre-print report suggests that Lambda may possess a greater ability to escape vaccine-induced immunity, currently available vaccines are still the best way to significantly decrease your chances of catching and transmitting the virus. Vaccines provide even better protection against severe illness and death from COVID-19. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the current surge in COVID-19 cases caused by insufficient vaccination rates gives the virus “ample” time to mutate into a more dangerous new variant in the fall and winter. 

“[Q]uite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness,” Fauci said to McClatchy Washington Bureau on August 4.

 “If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” he said. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else, also.”

As of Wednesday this week, only 32.39% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The most effective way to prevent further illness and death from all variants of the coronavirus is to promptly get as many residents of Japan fully immunized. For a multi-language database of clinics offering a wait-list for vaccine appointments, click here

Was an African musician fired from the Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony because he didn’t look Japanese?

Early on July 23, hours before the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremonies, a Senegal musician posted on Facebook that he had been dismissed from performing at the event because a member the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee questioned, “Why is an African is here to perform?” He was dismissed unilaterally in May, he asserts, even though he had been scheduled to perform.

The ceremony, that surprised the world by having Naomi Osaka, a biracial Japanese tennis champion, light the Olympic flames, may have an underbelly that yet places great emphasis on looking “Japanese enough” to succeed in this country. There are already many who question if the theme of “diversity” is really understand by the organizers who have employed for the opening ceremonies an abuser of the disabled, a comedian who joked about the holocaust, and despite all warnings, used the music of an notorious homophobe who also denies Japan’s war crimes.

Latyr Sy is an accomplished percussionist that has appeared alongside Japan’s top artists in concerts and television programs, including the December 2020 FNS song festival. He has also performed at events attended by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was “the face of the Tokyo Olympics” and instrumental in making sure Japan won the bid in 2013. (Of course, the several million dollars worth of bribes helped).

“So ashamed. I feel good that I’m no longer performing at the Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony…Though I’ve been contributing to the Japanese music industry since 1995…They completely violate the Olympic principles of human rights and diversity.” Sy wrote in English in his social media post. He also wrote eloquently of his plight in Japanese. (See below)

Latyr Sy, a musician was allegedly told that he shouldn’t be performing at the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony because he wasn’t Japanese enough. This stands in contrast to the theme of the opening ceremony which was “diversity and harmony.”

The Japan Subculture Research Center is scheduled to speak with Sy later today. We are also reaching out to the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympics as well as the International Olympic Organization for comment,

Tokyo 2020 Olympics Haunted By The Holocaust

JSRC Editor note:

The article below is reprinted from Unseen Japan. Please note: Kentaro Kobayashi, a comedian turned director of the Olympics opening ceremony was fired from his post, on July 22, after footage of him making holocaust jokes resurfaced. Kobayashi, made fun of the murder over 6 million Jews by the Nazis in a comedy skit in 1998. “Let’s play Holocaust (ホロコーストごっこしよう)” was one of the lines.

Any person, no matter how creative, does not have the right to mock the victims of the Nazi genocide. The Nazi regime also gassed Germans with disabilities. Any association of this person to the Tokyo Olympics would insult the memory of 6 million Jews and make a cruel mockery of the Paralympics,” stated SWC Associate Dean and Global Social Action Director, Rabbi Abraham Cooper.

It should also be noted that, as we reported here, the composer chosen to score the opening ceremony, Keigo Oyamada, had tortured, bullied, and sexually abused disabled children for many years while growing up, and bragged about in magazine interviews as an adult. He resigned before this scandal.

Holocaust Joke Lands Olympics Opening Director in Hot Water

by Noah Oskow

This piece originally appeared on Unseen Japan and a section has been printed here with their permission

Recently, I’ve gotten used to waking up, opening Twitter, and immediately seeing some new controversy erupting from the oncoming Tokyo Olympics. These daily scandals are often enumerated on the trending ticker to the right of the screen; most recent was the story of the Olympic Village being like “Medieval Japan,” with tiny rooms without internet, TV, or enough toilets. Much more serious was the furor over opening and closing ceremonies composer Oyamada Keigo (famed internationally by his stage name, Cornelious); a twenty-something Oyamada had bragged, back in the ’90s, of physically, sexually, and emotionally torturing disabled classmates during his school years.

Some time ago, Minister of Finance Aso Taro muttered that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were “cursed.” (This was essentially in the same breath that he claimed that the low rate of COVID infection in Japan was due to the country’s superior “level of cultural standards.”). Of course, a global pandemic causing the entire games to be postponed a year and to suffer low levels of public support is enough reason to feel this way. Between these facts on the ground and sexist utterings from the head of the Japanese Olympic Committee, IOC President Bach calling the Japanese people “Chinese,” claims of logo plagiarism, and a seemingly ever-increasing list of controversies (voluminous enough to warrant an entire Wikipedia page), it seems Aso might be right. 

Still, when I woke up this morning and groggily glanced at Twitter, I never quite expected to see the Holocaust come into play. There, in the trending section, the word 「ユダヤ人」(yudaya-jin, Jewish person) shone out like a worrisome beacon. I was immediately concerned, even before I even had time to read and comprehend the whole phrase. Seeing “Jewish” trend rarely seems to mean anything good. And why would it be trending in Japan, a country with such limited awareness of anything Jewish? I refocused on the topic tag, and apprehensively read it out: 「ユダヤ人大量惨殺ごっこ」. “Playing at the Holocaust,” or, to literally read out the academic term used, “playing at the great massacre of Jewish people.” And above the phrase, portentously indicating the trending subject, was the word “Olympics.”

“Playing at the Holocaust” trending on Japanese-language Twitter. Associated trending terms are “Rahmens” and “Kobayashi Kentaro.”

A Laughing Matter?

Kobayashi Kentaro is half of the popular gag comedy duo “Rahmens.” Outside of Japan, his most famous work is most likley his legendary series of comedy shorts entitled “The Japanese Tradition.” The videos, which humorously lampoon aspects of Japanese culture, building from the believable to the outright surreal, were a staple in my high school Japanese class. (Their “Sushi” video is especially beloved; I can’t count the number of times I’ve shared it with friends.) Kobayashi is also the director of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony, entitled “United by Emotion,” which will air Friday night, Tokyo time (early morning PST).

The issue causing the hubbub over on Twitter doesn’t have anything, in particular, to do with the Olympics, other than perhaps causing some to be “United in Anger.” Much like the (substantially worse) Oyamada scandal, it involves something the principal said more than two decades ago. Nonetheless, it’s the sort of thing that demonstrates a lack of awareness towards the realities of other human beings; something which seems antithetical to the stated ideals of the Olympics.

“Playing at the Holocaust”

The controversy in question stems from a skit Rahmens put on in the years directly before gaining national fame. In the sketch, released on VHS collection by Colombia in 1998, the duo parody the children’s educational show 「できるかな」(Do You Think You Can Do It?) The Japanese show, which was also popular in Latin America, taught children how to make paper crafts using scissors and tape. 

In the skit, Kobayashi is portraying protagonist Noppo-san, while his partner is the show’s anthropomorphic gopher, Gonta. They’re discussing ways to play with paper; Kobayashi talks about how they could wrap up a newspaper into a cone and pretend it’s a baseball bat; a rolled-up newspaper sphere could be their baseball. As for the crowds, all they would need are a bunch of cut-outs of people to place on paper bleachers.

Katagiri Jin, playing Gonta, says he has just the right sort of collection of human paper cut-outs. He rushes off to grab the imagined paper figures. Kobayashi replies, “ah, from that time you said ‘let’s play the Holocaust.’” The audience laughs uproariously at this out-of-left-field joke. Kobayashi follows up with “Koda-san was really angry about this one. Said, ‘do you think we could air that?!’” Then, looking at the imagined paper cut-outs, he says, “wow, you made this many?”The skit in question.

The Brewing Storm

The sudden retrieval of this mostly-forgotten joke from decades ago and attendant media coverage resulted in a myriad of responses. Chief among these were those who expressed shocked disbelief.

“Ah, I didn’t know about this skit. This is no good. It’s like if you did a sketch where the joke was the atomic bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, or about the Battle of Okinawa, or the Kobe or Great East Japan Earthquakes. The Genocide of the Jews isn’t a subject to be used in such a carefree manner. Much less to be made the subject of a gag.” 


“In the latter half of the 1990s, the same decade where the Goldhagen controversy burned through Europe, the Holocaust could still be used as a “funny gag,” and even be packaged and put into circulation on a VHS without a single issue. As a Japanese researcher of modern German history, this is really something I need to come to grips with…” 

A Real Controversy, or No?

Of course, there were also those for whom the joke, unearthed from decades past, was old news. Both topically, as a single joke, and as something for whom statutes of limitations may have passed, it seemed like an empty controversy…..

For the rest of the article, please click here at Unseen Japan

Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has previously contributed to Japan Subculture Research Center.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Composer Tortured Disabled Children; Japan Says To The World, “Eat shit, no problem”

by Jake Adelstein and Chihiro Kai

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are turning into a coronavirus spreading festival of bullies. Despite allegedly having a theme of harmony and diversity, the Olympics appear more and more to be symbolic of cruelty and callousness. The latest case in point: this week, composer Keigo Oyamada, 52, who is the composer for the opening and closing ceremonies was revealed to have brutally tortured and bullied special needs students through elementary to high school. He said on record to two separate magazines in the 90s that he forced his victims to eat feces and masturbate in public. He ridiculed them, beat them, and egged on other accomplices. His gleeful retelling of these hate crimes resurfaced a day after his role in the Olympics was announced. 

He issued an apology on Friday (July 16). He won’t step down and the Tokyo Olympic Committee issued a statement late in the evening the same day that they won’t fire him. 

However, as we have already seen in the long history of Tokyo Olympic debacles, when the tone-deaf organizers finally hear the voices of dissent, they will probably eat their previous words, but unlike Oyamada’s victims—they won’t literally have to eat shit. 

“I’d strip (one disabled kid) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.”

That’s too bad. 

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organizing Committee announced on July 14 that musician and composer, Keigo Oyamada, would be overseeing music at the Tokyo opening ceremony. He is a world-famous musician, also known by his moniker, Cornelius. However, it didn’t take long for his ugly past to emerge, and the hashtag “Boasting About Bullying” began to trend the next day, racking up over 10,000 retweets. The original tweet cited two interviews in the past in which he appeared to be proud of his younger years as a bully. The interviews appeared in the January 1994 issue of music magazine, Rockin’ On Japan,  and the March 1995 issue of subculture magazine, Quick Japan

In the interviews, Oyamada confessed to bullying classmates from a nearby special needs school from elementary school all the way through high school. In Rockin’ On Japan, he describes what he did as follows: “I’d strip (one guy) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.” In the interview with Quick Japan, he admitted that he also made gleefully fun of kids with Down’s Syndrome attending a nearby school. He alluded to spurring others to bully the special needs children, “providing ideas”. Also, in another interview he seems to have admitted to what could be construed as attempted murder*, “Remember that case where kids rolled up another kid in a mattress and killed him? We did that sort of thing (to the special needs kid) and stuffed them in the vaulting horse…” 

*A boy died in Japan Jan. 13, 1993, after being rolled up in a mattress in the school gymnasium’s storeroom by bullies. The mattress was placed vertically in the storage area and he was placed in it upside down; he died of asphyxiation and/or suffocation. 

One of the magazines followed up Oyamada’s interview by contacting the family of his victims, who told the reporter that the bullying had nearly driven their son to suicide. 

Here is the truth. Oyamada has confessed to committing sexual assault, assault, forcible indecency, public indecency, and attempted murder.

 The actions Oyamada took would normally be crimes in Japan, but the statute of limitations has long passed. 

In a statement released to the press Friday (July 16), the composer admitted that he did not show any regret when he spoke to the magazines years ago and he deserved the criticism he was receiving. He said that he would not step down and implied would atone for his past by contributing to the Olympics. 

Ironically, the unifying concept of Tokyo 2020’s opening and closing ceremonies are “Moving Forward,” something the formerly respected musician must be praying for. The theme of the opening ceremony, which he is responsible for, is “United by Emotion.” The overarching disgust of the Japanese public at his criminal past has achieved exactly what the Olympic and Paralympic committee wanted. The entire country is united by repulsion.

“I am deeply sorry for how my words and actions hurt my classmates and their parents. I regret and take responsibility for taking the role of an antagonizer rather than a friend during my school years, a time that should be filled with fond memories,” Oyamada wrote in his Twitter apology essay on July 16.

However, in his sincere apologies to the world, and to the victims he traumatized, the singer clarified that not every heinous act recorded in the interviews were factually accurate. 

“Regarding the contents of the article, as I was not able to confirm the final draft before it was published, there are many parts that deviate from the truth. However, there is no doubt that my classmates were hurt by my words and conduct. Therefore, I felt personally responsible, and chose at the time to not point out any mistakes or exaggerations in the story,” he defended himself in his Twitter post. 

Perhaps the first magazine article published in 1994, followed up by a 22 page Odyssey retelling of his psychotic escapades in 1995, contained some factual errors that made it to copy. Instead of forcing a fellow student with a disability to eat feces, maybe he presented it to them on a clean plate with napkins. 

What Oyamada did not do in his lengthy apology was resign as an Olympic and Paralympic ceremony composer. 

“In hindsight, I should have declined the position offer considering some people would be displeased by my participation for various reasons. However, in these difficult times with its numerous challenges, I consulted the creators of the opening ceremonies who were making strenuous efforts to build the best event possible. After much thought, I chose to accept the job out of a hope that my music would bring some good to the ceremony,” the singer explained his noble self-sacrifice. 

“In addition, I have invested considerable effort into this musical project,” he continued. Whether the Paralympians competing in this year’s games will be so forgiving is not certain. 

The Tokyo Olympic Committee issued a statement acknowledging a failure to screen Oyamada properly, adding that, “We would like him to continue to do his utmost in preparation until the very end,” expressing no desire to have him resign or fire him. They also added in his defense, “Oyamada clearly regrets his past words, has reflected on them, and is currently maintaining a high moral standard while dedicating himself to creative activities.”  One might note that the Committee recognizes that Oyamada regrets speaking about his inhumane activities but is vague about whether they believe he really regrets what he did. Words are cheap. The Olympics are inevitably, “Moving Forward.”

The reaction of the Japanese public has been overwhelmingly negative, calling the decision to employ him for the Olympic music “a fatal mistake in the selection process.” One twitter user, posting an article about Oyamada’s past bullying, noted wryly,  “Well, after all, it’s like the Olympics itself is making the public eat shit.” A few days ago International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach appeared to be the most hated man in Japan, but in the low-bar race for a gold medal in unpleasantness, Oyamada may now be the leading contender. 

Mark Bookman, a historian of disability in Japanese and transnational contexts, and Postdoctoral Fellow at Tokyo College, part of the esteemed Tokyo University, emailed us, his understanding of the problem, taking time to explain the significance of the games. “The Olympic and Paralympic Games provide activists, policy makers, and members of the public opportunities to reflect on the past, present, and future of disability rights on local and global scales. They have helped catalyze change and lead to improvements in accessibility and social welfare for diverse demographics of disabled people in multiple countries, including, but not limited to, Japan.”

But he also points out there is a downside to the games.

“However, the games do not always lead to positive results. On many occasions, their spectacle has shifted public attention away from the needs of ‘ordinary’ disabled people in favor of elite athletes. Indeed, the games have helped to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and foster unfavorable outcomes for many individuals, in part due to awareness issues and lack of resources for carrying out reforms.”

Bookman warns that ‘going forward’ with Oyamada may actually roll back advances for the disabled in Japan, and more. 

“While stakeholders involved in the games, myself included, have worked to mitigate such negative consequences and use the games as a platform to promote inclusivity, one cannot help but question the Tokyo Olympic Committee’s decision to ‘move forward’ with Oyamada Keigo as a key figure. By elevating (him), who has confessed to committing harmful acts against disabled individuals, the committee is (perhaps unwittingly) creating a space for people who sympathize with his actions. As rates of abuse against disabled persons continue to climb in Japan due to stresses on the nation’s care economy (tied to its rapidly aging population, declining birth rate, and shrinking labor force), one cannot help but wonder what kind of future might come from the Tokyo Committee’s decision. Indeed, as conversations about ‘selecting lives,’ eugenics, and equitable distribution of resources continue to unfold around us in relation to COVID–19, their decision may have dire consequences.”

Michey Peckitt, who runs the blog, Barrier Free Japan, had this to say. “I’m only disappointed. Obviously I did not grow up or go to school in Japan, but Oyamada’s behaviour does not surprise me at all. At school in Britain I was treated in a similar fashion. Being made to eat sh*t is pretty standard bullying behaviour in my experience, although being made to masturbate in public is a new one. I’m glad I didn’t have to do that as it’s difficult to masturbate when your hands don’t work because you have cerebral palsy. As a disabled person living in Japan I’m sad Oyamada’s music is being used in the Olympics, but ultimately nothing surprises me about the Tokyo Games now.”

The Music of Cruelty

The theme of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics opening ceremony was supposed to be diversity and harmony; the composer in charge of the music, Keigo Oyamada, tortured and bullied special needs students when he was young–and bragged about it. He literally made them eat shit, forced them to masturbate in public, ridiculed them, beat them up, and egged on other bullies. He gleefully boasted about his misdeeds in magazine interviews that resurfaced a day after his role in the Olympics was announced. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee said he’s apologized, so okay, and the games must go on.

The casual attitude the Tokyo Olympics Committee shows towards what he did also shows how the ruling elite in Japan really feel about people with disabilities. They don’t care. If they did, they might have spent some of the millions of dollars wasted on building fancy Olympic stadiums to make public transport in the city more barrier free. But that’s another issue.

Perhaps, as there are with many crimes, there should be a statute of limitation on terrible things said in the past, but the problem isn’t just Oyamada’s words; it’s his actions. But in another way, maybe he really does represent the spirit of the modern Olympics: bullying, venal, ignoring the misery of others, and placing victory above all else. If winning is the only thing that matters, then hey, it’s okay to beat up the losers, right?

Here are some choice quotes from his interviews in the January 1994 issue of music magazine, Rockin’ On Japan,  and the March 1995 issue of subculture magazine, Quick Japan. He was in his mid-twenties at the time of the interviews.

原文「うん。もう人の道に反して。。全裸にしてグルグルにひもを巻いてオナニーさしてさ。ウンコを喰わしたりさ。喰わした上にバックドロップしたりさ

“Yeah, I did inhuman things. I’d strip (one guy) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.”

(Rockin’ On Japan)

原文「マットレス巻きにして殺しちゃった事件*とかあったじゃないですか、そんなことやってたし、跳び箱の中に入れたり (学校の体育館倉庫で)

“Remember that case where kids rolled up another kid in a mattress and killed him? We did that sort of thing (to the special needs kid) and stuffed them in the vaulting horse…” (At a school gymnasium storage room)

*A boy died in Japan Jan. 13, 1993, after being rolled up in a mattress in the school gymnasium’s storeroom by bullies.

(Quick Japan)

Keeping Oyamada on as the composer for the Olympics Opening Ceremony makes a mockery of everything the Olympics is supposed to stand for. But then again, when the government of Japan and the IOC insist on holding the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic, ignoring all warnings of the public health risk, maybe he is the perfect composer. Who better to write an ode to the callous cruelty and winning-is-the-only-thing-that matters attitude of the IOC? And like the IOC, he probably stands to earn a lot of money from the Olympics that over 70% of the Japanese people don’t want.

—The Japan Subculture Research Editors

What This Means (a short-story about love and marriage in Japan during the pandemic)

by Kaori Shoji

credit: Kaori Shoji

Rikako, my wife, was staying with her best friend from university, the one that hung around her all these years and never got married. She was pretty attractive too, the last time I saw her, which was what, 10 years ago? Now I couldn’t remember what this friend’s name was. Something that didn’t end in ‘ko’ meaning ‘child.’  In Japanese, the ‘ko’ at the end of a name indicated that the person was female which in this day and age, can raise questions about misogyny or gender discrimination but let’s just put that aside for now. 

In Rikako’s case, the written characters of her name stood for ‘wisdom,’ ‘fragrance,’ and ‘child,’ and Rikako said she often felt uncomfortable by the sight of her written name. “It’s a little demeaning,” she had said, wrinkling her nose as if she smelled something bad. “Makes me feel like a little girl.” Then Rikako would get that look on her face, which was supposedly a cue for me to say something like “but you are my little girl. You’ll always be a young girl to me.” And then she would pretend to pout which was another cue for me to massage the back of her feet, and then we’d head off to the bedroom or just fuck on the floor. But for years I hadn’t taken that bait. I mean, come on, we’re both 45. That kind of ritual just doesn’t work anymore, not that it did when we were in our thirties. 

Back then we were just living together and not officially married. But Rikako loved planning what she phrased as ‘the inevitable event’ down to the last minute detail. She showed me sketched drawings of ‘my ideal dress’ and ‘the ultimate bouquet,’ and littered the living room with brochures from tons of wedding companies. She was adorable in her adoration of all things wedding and I would steal glances at her profile, poring over the menu cards or venue decorations. Not that it made any sense to me. All that trouble and fuss, not to mention the expense! It was horrendous. But if my little girl wanted to get married in a ridiculous white dress, then it was up to me to smile and nod approval and go along with it. 

One of the things I least like about Rikako is how she continues to think and behave like a young woman when very clearly, she’s not. Not, not, not. The topics she chose to talk about, her gestures and her ‘weekend loungewear’ supposedly chosen to stimulate our sex life, ended up being embarrassing, especially during these past few months of a global pandemic. Suddenly, we were  trapped in each other’s company for weeks on end, since both our companies mandated that we work from home. I didn’t know what to do with her, how to be with her and certainly not on a 24/7 basis in the confines of a cell-box Tokyo apartment. And she, on the other hand, was  annoyed by every little thing I did, or didn’t. That’s not precisely why she left but I’m choosing to blame it all on Covid. 

On the last Saturday of July 2020, Rikako announced that she was leaving “this life” with me, so she could “learn to breathe deeply again” in the house of her friend who didn’t have a ‘ko’ at the end of her name. She spent the morning packing, made some coffee which she poured out for the both of us, said something about the laundry and walked out the door with the big Samsonite, the one we both took turns using in the days when frequent business trips were the norm. I almost said, “Wait, I may want to use that” but I didn’t because I wouldn’t. Ever again, if the news was anything to go by. At this rate experts said, we would be lucky to start traveling again in late 2023 or thereabouts. 

I knew what she was expecting. That I would turn up at her girlfriend’s place, looking worse for wear, abashed and contrite and promising to do better. That I needed her, oh so much. That we would go away to an onsen for the weekend, and tell each other that the last three months hadn’t done any damage to our marriage. Just thinking these thoughts made me ore than slightly queasy, or inclined to kick the toilet lid which stayed flipped open, thanks very much. 

I didn’t. Go out to whatshername’s place, that is. I just stayed in our apartment for which I paid the mortgage every month and suddenly seemed airy and spacious. I worked during the day. Sometimes I did the laundry, otherwise I let my underwear pile up in the washing machine. I lost interest in mealtimes and ate whenever I felt hungry, on whatever tasted like something I wanted to eat. I played Assassin’s Creed until dawn. 

Now, three weeks after Rikako’s departure I would go for nocturnal walks around the neighborhood and stand by the river to watch the surface of the water break into choppy ripples. I would cruise the convenience stores and stock up on packets of salami and cheese. It was so intensely pleasurable, so immensely liberating, that on these walks I would take off my mask to let out a silent scream of joy. 

Marriage is hugely overrated. I was told it was the only route to happiness but I realize now it was a device that worked only when Rikako and I were putting in eighty-hour weeks at our respective jobs, and so burned out that self-reflection and long, winding discussions and bringing each other up to speed on what we wanted out of life I don’t know, all the stuff that married couples seem to do in Hollywood movies–seemed like an obscene waste of scant resources. 

Then the pandemic whirled into our lives and presented a whole new playing field. I was fine with being married to Rikako, but I sure as hell was not prepared to be with her day and night. No man should be asked to do that, at least not in a one-bedroom condo with both of us trying to work and Zoom and use the toilet, sometimes all at once. 

She claimed it was much worse for her and was relentless about letting me know it. 

“I hate the sight of you in those sweats.” “

You’re playing games all the time, can’t you rent a car and take me out on the weekends?” 

“I’m not your mother, don’t make me pick up your clothes.” “

The toilet’s dirty, you never clean it.” “

I’m not your mother, I can’t make your meals all the time.” “

I’m not your mother, stop acting like an overgrown kid.” 

In the old days, Rikako and I were buddies most of the time, united in our shared lifestyle choices. Our own condo unit in a nice Tokyo neighborhood. Both of us were career driven, with a joint savings account. Overseas vacations, preferably twice a year. And no kids, never. That discussion was over and done with when we decided to make it all official, and hold a ‘resort wedding’ in Karuizawa. Rikako had said at the time, and I’m quoting verbatim here: “I have no interest in becoming a mother and sacrificing my career and my looks and identity to that undertaking. It’s so meaningless, it’s so thankless.” 

“I have no interest in becoming a mother and sacrificing my career and my looks and identity to that undertaking. It’s so meaningless, it’s so thankless.” 
credit: Kaori Shoji

Did I judge her for that? Hell no. My mother shook her head and told me I would be lonely in my old age and that it wasn’t too late to walk out of this relationship and find a nice girl who would give me a family. I told my mother it was none of her business and stuck by Rikako. We had shared too much of our lives together to call it quits. Besides, she still looked good at 35 and I wasn’t getting any younger. I doubted I would run into anyone so desirable again. 

Mostly though, I was too exhausted from work to deal with it. I’m an aeronautical engineer and one of the core members of a government sponsored team that designs manned space vehicles. For the last 15 years, I was flying out to Houston to work with NASA every month or so, and deadlines popped up on my screen every 15 minutes. I was working weekends,   past midnight, sometimes until dawn. Until the pandemic hit, I could honestly say that Red Bull was my dearest friend. 

When Rikako and I finally tied the knot ten years ago, I was already looking forward to old age and some rock-solid downtime. Retirement seemed to me a glorious mirage of frosted cocktails, glimpsed in the burning desert of my work routine. I was Ralph Fiennes in “The English Patient,” trudging on the hot dunes forever and ever but knowing that eventually, Juliette Binoche would turn up to dress my wounds and whisper to me with a French accent that “everything was going to be okay.” We had the movie on Blu-ray. It was Rikako’s favorite and we would watch it on Saturday nights when I managed to be home. I kept losing the thread of the narrative because I always fell asleep but in the end, yeah, I got it. Ralph Fiennes: What an old dog. The guy is dying and delirious and he still can’t keep his mind off women. 

These days though, I think about old Ralph a lot. I ask myself what images would parade through my brain when I’m ready to kick the bucket and I have to admit, it’s not work. Women. It would be women, whether they had the ‘ko’ on their names or not. No doubt Rikako’s face would be one of them but there would be others. My life isn’t completely barren. There are some unforgettable visages and bodies and they’ll all come back to me as I lie there on a hospital bed. 

There’s one woman I’m sort of obsessed about now. I haven’t slept with her. I don’t know her name. She’s around 14, probably in her second year of middle school. Yes I know what this sounds like but I promise, this isn’t heading in that direction. This woman – this girl whom I privately named ‘Naoko’ after a girl in my neighborhood when we were both growing up – is someone I used to see in the subway station every morning as I commuted to work. 

Naoko is tall for her age, lanky and lean and tanned, with short hair that’s carefully tucked behind her ears. She’s always carrying around a big sports bag emblazoned with her school logo, and printed underneath are the words ‘Track and Field Team.’ She’s a runner, and I’m betting by her physique that she goes for the 400 meter. I was an 800 meter boy myself and I see all the signs of a mid-distance sprinter: the way she holds her head, the snatches of conversation I sometimes overhear when she’s talking to her friends, the condition of her calves extending from her pleated uniform skirt and ending in socks and a pair of brown loafers. 

The sight of her takes me right back to the days when I was training night and day to compete in the nationals and get a full-ride scholarship to one of the good universities. She even looks a little like my girlfriend of those days, whom I could  see only once every three weeks because the rest of my time was eaten up with running and school. 

Am I lusting after Naoko? To my utter relief, the answer is no. It’s a huge relief to be able to say that because otherwise I would be betraying the straight-backed, fresh-faced teenager that I once was. No, I just yearn to talk to her, encourage her, be a part of her life somehow. I think about how wonderful it would be if I had a daughter like her. We would share running stories and I could coach her on pacing and rhythm. I would tell her that mid-distance sprinting is the most intelligent of track sports and how rewarding it was to…

A buzz on my phone. I go take a look at it and it’s a message from Rikako. “I want to come home. I’ll see you in two hours or so. I’m sorry about having left but I think we both needed this break from each other.” 

After about 10 seconds of rumination, I send back a smiley face and the words: “I’ll be waiting.” 

My imaginary conversation with Naoko had already shattered into a million pieces and those pieces were floating around in the air. I sigh, turn off the air conditioner and go open some windows. I’m still trying to process the fact that Rikako will be back, marking the end of my days of freedom. I guess what this means now is that I have to do the laundry and clean the toilet before my wife gets back. 

FINIS