"Where Is The Romance?"–a hard-boiled meditation on mating rituals in Tokyo (for V-day)

In a departure from our usual somber posting, I’ve written an original prose-poem, which is for a friend’s upcoming “Where is the Romance” theme party in Tokyo–a pre-valentines’s day event.  I’ve been in Japan (not just Tokyo) for over twenty years now and it seems to me that this city as overpopulated as it is, is also a very lonely place.  I’ve heard more dating horror stories than any man should hear in his entire life.  If Hong Kong is the graveyard of marriages–Tokyo is where the infanticide of them is widely practiced–and marriages, when they happen, seem to last as long as the cherry blossoms or linger on, liked fish being dried in the sun. Of course, this also a city where fake marriages run 3,000 dollars for foreign women wanting to work in the entertainment industry, and gay men marry women to maintain appearances, and marriage fraud schemes are a semi-institutionalized crime.

I should say that I’m parodying one well-known author/poet with this masterpiece and whoever figures out who it is gets a pack of dried umeboshi and honorable mention on this humble blog. Hopefully, those of you familiar with Tokyo will get some of the subtler references.  By the way, remember on Valentine’s Day in Japan–the women buy chocolate for the men.

Continue reading "Where Is The Romance?"–a hard-boiled meditation on mating rituals in Tokyo (for V-day)

A Redneck From Missouri Explains To You Why The British Journal of Medicine Says The Tokyo Olympics Are So Goddamn Dangerous. (A translation)

Photo illustration by Derreck Johnson. Image via Nintendo. from Pokémon Go Is Thriving Even Though Everyone’s at Home

I grew up in Missouri, next to McBaine, Missouri, where I rode Bus 57 to school. On Bus 57, there is no Missouree–there is only Mizzou-rah. Riding this bus required learning to understand a little bit of rural Missouri redneck culture—to survive. If there is anything good to be said about redneck rhetoric, it’s that straight talk was generally appreciated and valued. Indeed, Missouri is still called “The Show-Me State” referring to the native demands for actual evidence to back up any far-fetched claims.

I bring all this up because The British Journal of Medicine published an amazing editorial Reconsider this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic games on why Japan should not be hosting the Olympics this year. The editorial goes into clinical detail and is backed up by multiple sources. It’s a brilliant essay but slightly obtuse and the people who should read it, won’t, and the British fondness for diplomatic wording detracts from the message. 

So, in order to make the points a little more palatable (easy to understand),, I have channeled my inner redneck to bring you their excellent editorial in plain American, with only slight transgressions from the main text. I am not a 100% real redneck so please pardon any inauthentic phrasing here. I’ve done my best.

The original article is above and the “translation” is below. I hope that you find this elucidating and if you don’t, you are probably just an ignoramus (dumb-shit). 

Thank you

Reconsider this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic games

BMJ 2021; 373 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n962 (Published 14 April 2021)Cite this as: BMJ 2021;373:n962

Serious questions remain about managing the games safely

The government of Japan and the International Olympic Committee are determined to hold the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. In February 2021, G7 leaders also supported Japan’s commitment to holding the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo (Tokyo 2020) “in a safe and secure manner … as a symbol of global unity in overcoming covid-19.”1 While the determination is encouraging, there has been a lack of transparency about the benefits and risk, and international mass gathering events such as Tokyo 2020 are still neither safe nor secure.

Tokyo Olympics? You can’t fucking do it–No way. Don’t be an asshole

The Japanese or rather their government and the IOC which stands for international Olympic Committee are hell-bent on holding Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, no matter what, not matter how dangerous, come hell or high water or a tornado or a volcano or this deadly fucking virus. It sounds pretty goddman dangerous to me. The leaders of G7 which are the really wealthy countries, that includes the USA (U-S-A!) they support Japan’s efforts to hold the Olympics and I’m quoting here, “in a safe and secure manner”– as a symbol of global unity and overcoming COVID19. Yada Yada.

Well that gung ho spirit is mighty fine but it’s totally unclear if this is going to be a clusterfuck or whether or not its actually going to be safe. A big international gathering event like the Olympics is “neither safe nor secure” and I’m not sure what the differences between these words is but in other words, it’s pretty goddamn dangerous. It would be like fucking Fern Granger without a condom while everyone knows that Fern will sleep with anyone and she’s not particularly careful and God knows if she had an STD test in the last year. Also I’m not slut-shaming here, because there are guys like Dave down at the Redhill Lounge that are total sluts and bad news, and sexually-transmitted diseases are serious problem and one should always use a condom before engaging in casual sex. I hear you can also get the rona from fucking which I guess makes sense. These Olympics needs a condom and Japan wants to ride raw.

The world is still in the middle of a pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 variants are an international concern, causing a resurgence of covid-19 globally.2 We must accelerate efforts towards containing and ending the pandemic by maintaining public health and social measures, promoting behaviour change, disseminating vaccines widely, and strengthening health systems. Substantial scientific advancements have occurred over the past year, but vaccine rollout has been inequitable, reducing access in many low and middle income countries. Huge uncertainty remains about the trajectory of the pandemic.3

The whole world is in the middle of a pandemic which is like an epidemic that is a pansexual: it will fuck anyone, anytime, anywhere. Just when you thought you had kicked its motherfucking ass, it turns out to have some mean ass cousins that you didn’t know you have to deal with. We call these cousins “variants”. It’s like the Greenhills who live past the railroad near where there used to be a post-office. It’s all one family with different people and they’re all mean and will fuck you up. But in less metaphorical terms these variants keep bringing back the virus like a zombie. 

The whole world is in the middle of a pandemic which is like an epidemic that is a pansexual: it will fuck anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Although a special scheme for vaccinating athletes—marshalled by the International Olympic Committee4—may help save lives, it could also encourage vaccine diplomacy, undermine global solidarity (including the Covax global access scheme), and promote vaccine nationalism. Full transparency and clear lines of accountability are critical in any scheme to vaccinate athletes. Furthermore, prioritising athletes over essential workers at high risk in low and middle income countries raises ethical concerns that must be addressed.

We gotta lockdown this sucker by thinking about public health and doing all that stuff we have been doing, like washing our hands, wearing a mask, not spitting at people and not chewing tobacco or blowing smoke in people’s faces, or going to crowded bars getting fucked up. And if you’re one of those no maskers and no vaxxers, fuck you. Fuck you and the station wagon you rode in on. 

We have got to VAX as many people as possible. We have got to improve our healthcare. Thanks to science there have been a lot of great things done in the last year but the vaccine rollout has been piss pour and unfair. If you are a poor country, you are like white trash or a minority in the United States and you are not given that vaccine. Nobody knows how this pandemic thing is going to play out.

Although a special scheme for vaccinating athletes—marshalled by the International Olympic Committee4—may help save lives, it could also encourage vaccine diplomacy, undermine global solidarity (including the Covax global access scheme), and promote vaccine nationalism. Full transparency and clear lines of accountability are critical in any scheme to vaccinate athletes. Furthermore, prioritising athletes over essential workers at high risk in low and middle income countries raises ethical concerns that must be addressed.

The Internationl Olympic Committee could do a lot more than just vaccinating athletes but they don’t give a shit about ordinary folk. If you ask us, essential workers which is like doctors and nurses and farmers and stuff should be a priority in getting vaccinated. Giving these coddled athletes the vaccines before other people in poor and middle-class countries is pretty shady and pretty shitty. It’s an ethical problem. It ain’t right. In case you don’t get it, the IOC are a bunch of assholes.

Poor control

Unlike other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan has not yet contained covid-19 transmission.5 Despite its poor performance,6 Japan still invokes exceptionalism and continues to conceptualise covid-19 within previous planning for pandemic influenza.5 The second state of emergency in the Greater Tokyo area was lifted in late March7 despite early indications of a resurgence and an increase in covid-19 patients with variants of concern, which have now spread across Japan.89

The country’s limited testing capacity and sluggish vaccine rollout6 have been attributed to lack of political leadership.5 Even healthcare workers and other high risk populations will not have access to vaccines before Tokyo 2020, to say nothing of the general population. To properly protect athletes from covid-19, Japan must develop and implement a clear strategy to eliminate community transmission within its borders,5 as Australia did before the Australian Open tennis tournament.

Suga Couldn’t Even Drive A Tractor With Training Wheels

Unlike their Asian neighbors—hey Taiwan, nice job!—Japan has not licked this virus. In fact they are getting their ass kicked. Despite doing a shady job in handling the virus. Japan still thinks they are so so special and they keep treating this virus like it’s the flu which is pretty stupid. Stupid is as stupid does. Japan had a second state of emergency in the greater Tokyo area which is like Tokyo in places around Tokyo. It did not accomplish jackshit. They lifted the emergency while infections were rising and the weird mutant viruses were showing up all over Japan. Any dumbshit could see that there would be another resurgence like the Taliban in Afghanistan. Anyway, these killer mutant bad ass viruses are now all over Japan.

The leaders of Japan can’t tell there assholes from their mouths. Japan has a crappy capacity to test people for the virus. Their vaccine rollout is so goddamn slow that you would think the space time continuum in the country is in slow motion, like when you film something in slow motion on an iPhone, if you can afford an iPhone, or you have a friend who has an iPhone. Maybe you can also film things in slow motion on an Android phone but all i have is this old flip phone and that’s fine with me. Healthcare workers and old people and people who really need that vaccine are not going to get it before the Tokyo Olympics starts. And everybody else, they’re pretty much fucked. If Japan is going to protect the athletes that come there to play in these games, they need to get their shit together. They need to have a plan to stop the transmission, in other words, the spread of this virus within its own borders. You know who did this good? Australia did this. Australia did it before the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. They handled the virus really good if you don’t mind me saying.

Japan and the International Olympic Committee must also agree operational plans based on a robust science and share them with the international community. Waiving quarantine for incoming athletes, officials, broadcasters, press, and marketing partners10 risks importing and spreading covid-19 variants of concern. While international spectators will be excluded from the games,11cases could rise across Japan and be exported globally because of increased domestic travel—as encouraged by Japan’s official campaigns in 2020.51213Entrants will be asked to download Japan’s covid-19 contact tracing app,10 but this is known to be unreliable.14

The maximum allowable number of domestic spectators is still pending,11 but an overwhelmed healthcare system combined with an ineffective test, trace, and isolate scheme51213 could seriously undermine Japan’s ability to manage Tokyo 2020 safely and contain any outbreak caused by mass mobilisation.

Japan and the international Olympic Committee must create plans that are based on solid science and they need to share them with everyone in the whole wide world. By not requiring quarantines for athletes officials broadcasters press and marketing partners, there’s a pretty good chance that they are going to import some nasty mutant killer viruses into Japan. That will really suck.

Sure there will be no spectators at the Olympic games, that don’t mean it’s safe. There are 8000 ways this could get fucked up. You could have the virus go crazy in Japan and be exported on a global level—like they did with Pokemon, but you don’t want to catch them all. You don’t even want to catch one of these Pokemon. Japan has done this sort of fuck-up before and they are going to do it again. Japan had this dumb ass domestic tourism promoting program in the middle the pandemic called Go To Travel and the country has Gone To Hell. Those who are participating in the event are asked to download Japan’s shitty contact tracing app but it doesn’t work and you can’t count on it and it’s doubling down on stupidity

Sure there will be no spectators at the Olympic games, that don’t mean it’s safe. There are 8 millions ways this could go sideways. You could have the virus go crazy in Japan and be exported on a global level—like they did with Pokemon, but you don’t want to catch them all. You don’t even want to catch one of these Pokemon.

Nobody knows how many people will be watching or participating in the games but when you have an healthcare system that is overloaded and a worthless system for tracking testing and isolating people with the virus, you have a recipe for disaster. When you got a lot of people moving around you got a lot of ways to spread this virus. That should be pretty obvious to anyone who doesn’t have their head up their ass.

Safety first

Plans to hold the Olympic and Paralympic games this summer must be reconsidered as a matter of urgency. The whole global community recognises the need to contain the pandemic and save lives. Holding Tokyo 2020 for domestic political and economic purposes— ignoring scientific and moral imperatives—is contradictory to Japan’s commitment to global health and human security.

Assholes and Athletes First, Common Folk Can Suck A Donkey Dick

Is this really so-I’m-going-to-shit-my-pants-if-I-don’t-go-to-the-bathroom-now urgent do we have to have the Olympics this year? The whole world except the IOC and Japan cares about saving lives and kicking the ass of this pandemic. If Japan actually gives a shit about the health of the world and human beings in general, they should not be ignoring science and being nice to other people, just because a bunch of old bastards want some glory and some money. When you think about the whole spiel about Olympic values, world unity and the human spirit and all that, holding the 2020 Olympics is a bunch of hypocritical bullshit. Fuck that. When we say ‘reconsider’, we mean get your head out of your ass and postpone it or cancel it, you bloody bastards. Thank you! I hope you got that.

Happy Uniquely Japanese Valentine’s Day! What we talk about when we talk about love & sex in Japan

It’s Valentine’s Day again in Japan or it will be soon….And while Valentine’s Day is a mutual exchange of gifts and professions of love in the West, in Japan it’s a holiday where women give expensive fine chocolate to the men they love and crappy obligatory chocolate to the men they work with or work for, known as 義理チョコ (giri-choko) or “obligation chocolates.”

According to Encyclopedia Aramata, Valentine’s Day was first introduced into Japan in February of 1958 by an employee of Mary Chocolate Co. Ltd, who had heard about the European chocolate exchanges between couples from a friend living in Paris He decided it would be a brilliant marketing technique in Japan so he organized a collaboration with Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It was an incredible….failure.  “During one week we sold only about three chocolates worth 170 yen at that time,” an employee recalled.  Yet this employee persisted, later becoming the president of the company, and by the 1980s, he and Japan’s chocolate industry, along with the department stores, had enshrined Valentine’s Day as a holiday that is “the only day of the year a woman confesses her love through presenting chocolate.” The spirit of love.

But of course, as time went by, giving chocolate became something women were expected to do for not only the their “true love” but people at work, their bosses, their friends, and even, their brothers. 義理チョコ  (giri-choko) aka “obligation chocolate” has branched off into “友チョコ (tomo-choko)”  chocolate for friends, 世話チョコ (sewa-choko), chocolate for people who’ve looked after you, 自分チョコ (jibun-choko), a present for yourself, and even the rare 逆チョコ (gyaku-choko) —the rare event when a man gives chocolate to a woman on Valentine’s Day (revolutionary).

When we say “Valentine’s Day” in Japan, it doesn’t quite mean what it means in the West. (We’ll talk about White Day in March). And if you think about it, what do we really mean when we talk about love? Japan has some very specific terms for discussing and classifying love. Although the terms can be expressed in English, the compactness of Japanese words for sex, love, and everything in between is quite charming.

Japan has many words for love and sex. It’s surprisingly rich in words for love such as 友愛 (the love between friends) and 親愛 (love between family members) and of course 恋愛 (passionate love) . Here are some of the words you may find useful as you travel through love hotel island.

The Japanese language is rich in terms for love and sex--which are definitely not the same thing here.
The Japanese language is rich in terms for love and sex–which are definitely not the same thing here.

*出会い(Deai)–“meeting people” Also used to describe dating sites 出会い系サイト and one-night stands.

不倫 (Furin)-“adultery, infidelity.” Has more of a negative connotation than uwaki

慈愛(Jiai)–compassionate love. Much like the love a parent feels for their child–a desire for the happiness and well-being of another. When the Dalai Lama speaks of love in Japanese, this is often the word used to translate his words.

 

*浮気 (Uwaki) –1) to describe someone who can romantically love many people 2) infidelity; an affair 3) being in love with in someone other than your partner 4) (old usage) cheerful and gorgeous

*恋人 (Koibito) “lover”

*熱愛 (Netsu-ai) “passionate love”

*恋愛 (Ren-ai) “romantic love” A word very popular in Japanese woman’s magazines

*恋い (Koi) “love”

*一物 (Ichimotsu) “the one thing”  According to an old joke, the definition of a man is this: a life support system for an ichimotsu (the penis).

*慈悲, 慈悲深い (Jihi) (Jihibukai) “compassionate love/sympathetic joy” This comes from Buddhism and describes a maternal love, originally means to give joy and peace to someone and remove their pain. 慈悲深い人–someone who is compassionate and finds happiness in the happiness of others.

*情熱 (jounetsu) “passion”

*ラブ (rabu) “love” pronounced Japanese style.

ラブラブ (rabu rabu) “love love” used to described a couple deeply in love.

*同性愛 (douseiai) “homosexual love”

*愛 (ai) love. “to love” 愛する (ai suru)

*好き (suki) like. Used often to express love as well. 大好き (Daisuki) “really like” Old school Japanese males never say, “I love you” (愛している) they would say, Daisuki. This line:“君が大好きだ” (Kimi ga daisuki da). “I really like you” is often the profession of love in a Japanese movie or television show on both sides.

純愛 (Jun-ai) “pure love” An almost mystical concept of love as something beyond physical or material reality. I’m still not sure what this means but it sets off lights in the eyes of Japanese women. It’s a television drama buzz word.

*惚れる (horeru) fall in love

*惚れ込む (horekomu) fall deeply in love

*一目惚れ (hitomebore) love at first sight “hitome” first sight. “hore” fall in love (see above)

満足manzoku (satisfied)

*セックス (Sex)—This is “Japanese English.” It means sex.

*前戯 (Zengi)–Foreplay. Mae (前)means before and “戯れ” means “play, goof around”.  Technically this entry should have been before Sex (セックス) on the list but then I wouldn’t be able to make this joking reference here.

*セックスレス (Sexless)—Maybe half of Japanese marriages are sexless. Who knows why? It’s a common complaint for Japanese women and some Japanese men..

アイコンタクト (eye contact)” Important in courting.

*エッチ (etchi) A cute-word for anything sexual, flirty. Usually has a fun connotation.

*男根 (dankon) “male-root” If you can’t figure out what this means, please refer to 一物 (ichimotsu)

*おまんこ (o-manko) The female genitalia, sometimes just the vagina. Also referred to as simply manko. However, we prefer attaching the honorable “o” as in “orgasm”.  Also, it’s never bad to show respect. Even amongst the closest of friends, decorum is necessary. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり

*愛人 (aijin) Lover. The aijin is usually the partner in a forbidden romance. Similar to “koibito” but more of a shady aspect.

*オーガズム (ougasumu) orgasm

オルガスムス (orugasumusu) orgasm in Japanese taken from German Orgasmus

絶頂 (zettcho) climax, orgasm in Japanese language

*失楽園 (Shitsurakuen) A very popular novel and movie about a passionate modern day affair that ends in double suicide, with the lovers found dead in each others arms in mortal post coitus bless. Yes, you wouldn’t think this would encourage people to have affairs but it did! Women’s magazines had multiple features on the books and movies.

潮吹き (shiofuki): female ejaculation. Some Japanese women release a squirt or excess lubrication on orgasm. There appears to be some science suggesting that this does happen.

鼻血 (hanaji): bloody nose. There is a strange folk-belief that when a Japanese man is sexually excited he gets a nosebleed. Go figure.

Note:

In Japan, when man or women reaches orgasm, they don’t come (来る) they go (行く/iku). Likewise, to make a man or woman reach orgasm, is to 行かす (Ikasu) “make go.”

 

楽園 (rakuen) mean paradise. 失(shitsu) means “loss” or as a verb 失う(ushinau) to lose.

 

If I was running a campaign aimed at women for Japan’s favorite 浮気(uwaki) dating site for married people, I might make a pun on this along the lines of “恋愛の楽園を失いましたか。Ashleymadison.jpで禁断の楽園を再発見しよう“ (Did you lose your lover’s paradise?Rediscover the forbidden paradise on Ashleymadison.jp) BTW, the site already had a 1,000,000 members within 8 months.

*恋い焦がれる (koikogareru)=”burningly in love” to be in love so deeply that it’s painful, to yearn for the other 恋い (love) + 焦げる (burn).

Not a negative word, but a way of expressing a deep passionate consuming love. Many men and women seem to be seeking

*ベッド (bed)—usually a roundabout way of discussing sex in Japanese female magazines

–プレイ”—(play) This is usually added to various types of sexual fetishes.

性愛 (sei-ai) Erotic love, eros (sex/gender 性 +  love 愛)

For example, 赤ちゃんプレイ (Aka-chan purei)—When the guy likes to be diapered like a baby, possible shaved completely nude, and nurse, sometimes with a woman who’s actually lactating. I could tell you a really strange story about a police raid on a place specializing in this type of service but I’ll skip it.

 

*遊び (Asobi) “Play”—this can refer to sex, an affair, a one-night stand. It has a wide usage in Japan and adults “play” just as much as children. Hence the costume fetish in Japan—

コスプレー (cosupurei—“costume play”)

 

密事 (mitsuji)—An old word but a literary one for discrete affairs.

*禁断の愛 (kindan no ai) Forbidden love

*密会 (mikkai) secret meeting

*ばれない (barenai) to not be discovered, to get away with something

*絶対ばれない (zettai barenai) “absolutely no one will find out”

REVISED: February 14th, 2018

Singing The Terrace House Blues In Japan

They say it takes more than a death to change the world but perhaps that’s not true in the case of 22-year old Hana Kimura (木村花). She was a professional wrestler and one of the cast members of Terrace House, the now defunct reality TV franchise that first launched in 2012 and went on for eight seasons. For the uninitiated, Terrace House follows the relationship dynamics of three boys and three girls as they live as housemates in a posh seaside house with a terrace. Hana-chan as she was called, starred as herself – an up and coming wrestling star with pink hair who was eager to get ahead in the entertainment industry. In an episode aired on March 31st, Hana-chan unleashed her anger over a laundry mishap committed by a fellow (male) housemate. The two made up, but the whole thing exploded right in Hana-chan’s face.

Hordes of Terrace House fans posted Hana-chan hating comments – upwards of 300 a day – and many demanded that she either leave the show or die, immediately. It’s said that the Covid-19 induced isolation further drove Kimura over the edge. Alone in her home, she couldn’t help but read and obsess over the hellish comments on social media, directed straight at her. 

On May 23rd, Hana Kimura was rushed to the hospital after friends found her lying on the floor in her apartment, but it was too late. The details of her death have not been disclosed, but she left a note, apologizing to her friends and thanking her mom for “bringing me into this world.” Astonishingly, the anonymous cyber bullies who were at least partly responsible for her death resumed their bashing, accusing her of being ‘weak and needy’ and ‘not cut out to endure the hardships of working in the entertainment industry.” 

All that hate though, faded away after Fuji Television Network, the creator of the Terrace House franchise pulled the plug on the show five days after Hana-chan’s suicide. Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Sanae Takaichi is now pushing for a law to hunt down those who post hate comments, and slap them with fines or worse. Even Prime Minister Abe has moved on the issue, remarking that “hateful comments on the Internet have the power to do irreparable damage, and they should be stopped, if possible.” Since then, things have been pretty quiet. Hana Kimura’s critics have seemingly disappeared off the face of the Net at least for now, and news commentators are continuing to express their ‘profound regret’ over her death. 

That said, a certain apprehension hangs in the air; it seems that the Abe Administration is milking the Terrace House tragedy to its own advantage. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, PM Abe’s popularity has hit an all-time low and the belated delivery of two “Abenomasks” per household that he promised back in March, has become a running joke. It seems that most things he does these days is being ridiculed. The death of Hana Kimura may have been a welcome respite from having to deal with the social ills spawned by the lingering coronavirus, and the pile of political embarrassments racked up during the nation’s 49-day shut-down. Moritomo scandal, anyone? 

it seems that the Abe Administration is milking the Terrace House tragedy to its own advantage.

In the meantime, media pundits are pointing out that both the Abe Administration and the Japanese populace should have their minds on other, more relevant issues, like the racial protests tearing the US apart, and now raging in Europe as well. 


Political columnist Takashi Odajima observed in Nikkei Shimbun that the pandemic has afforded the US an opportunity to take a hard look at social injustice, while in Japan that same pandemic has given the government an excuse to cover things up. “In Japan, the government hides its scandals and inconvenient truths under the masks they insist on wearing,” he wrote. 

You don’t have to be a pundit like Odajima, to get that sinking feeling: once again, Japan lags way behind the west when it comes to grappling with stuff that truly matters, in spite of, or maybe because of, an ongoing pandemic. While we’re still wrapping our faces and panicking about the number of new infections cropping up in Tokyo (more than 10! How horrifying!), protesters across the Pacific are risking their lives for racial justice. The comparison is scathingly humbling. Gosh, we’re small. And scared shitless of direct conflict. 


Odajima pointed out that the Japanese are hopelessly bad at arguing a point,  or any form of adverse social interaction unless it’s done among family members. He’s right. The bad stuff happens mostly at home and behind closed doors. In some cases they continue for years before anyone finds out. There’s anonymous groping on trains, and faceless bullying on the net but public protests in broad daylight rarely occur unless the protesters are hiding their faces behind masks. This explains why Hana-chan got so much flack – she dared to express rage over public airwaves, in her own name. And though it’s been pointed out that the show’s producers obliquely coerced her to do so, many Terrace House viewers were too naive to see the difference between the ‘reality’ of reality shows, and real life. 


Maybe that’s just the way the Abe Administration wants it. Passive silence behind masks is vastly preferable to outright self-expression, in whatever situation. Imagine if the Japanese took to the streets to protest income inequality, the plight of temp workers, foreign laborers, and single mothers, domestic violence and rampant child abuse–just a few items off the top of an endless list?  


The truth is that at this point, the nation needs many more Hana Kimuras–brave enough to express anger and negative feelings without fear of being punished for it. Hopefully, we can do that better, once the masks come off.

Hana-chan, Japan needs you.

Unemployed in the Pandemic: First-Hand Accounts from Hello Work

by Farrah Hasnain

The COVID-19 outbreak has hit Japan hard as of late. Classrooms remain empty after spring break, restaurants begin to provide take-out, and factories stall upcoming projects. The number of workers who are predicted to lose their jobs due to the novel Coronavirus was projected in the upwards of 1,021 people last month, according to the Ministry of Labor. Prime Minister Abe did declare a State of Emergency on April 7th, and the Ministry of Finance announced that ¥100,000 would be given to residents (and eventually confirmed that foreign residents were included) but some experts argue that this declaration occurred too late.

While April would normally be the start of new jobs for many in Japan, this April seems to have an opposite turnout for most job-seekers. Lines outside of Hello Work* buildings all over the country would be twice as long as lines for masks outside of drugstores. Certain locations have also reduced the amount of staff members on-duty, causing longer waiting times at local Hello Work branches.

(Hello Work is an employment service center operated by the Japanese government, under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Its main role is to help connect job seekers to companies in need of skilled labor.)

In early April, I became a part of this statistic. My 6-month contract at a city hall in Osaka was not granted for renewal, and the job openings for tourism and English education in the area seemed to have vanished as the governor also declared a state of emergency. I decided to reach out to Hello Work to see if I was eligible for any benefits and to search for jobs through their system.

I arrived on a Thursday morning around 11AM. The line encircled the entire building and moved slowly. There was little distance between us and we stood outside of the building for about two hours. Bottles of hand sanitizer were available to use before entering the building. It reminded me of Disneyland for a brief moment.

 

Once I entered the Hello Work office, I was greeted by an energetic staff member. Everyone in the office, including the job-seekers, were wearing masks. We were told to sit two to three seats apart from each other, and the seats for the computer lab were 1 seat apart. There appeared to be no multilingual support at this Osaka branch. Many of the people in the room appeared to be elderly or recently graduated from university. Some of the job-seekers previously worked in factories or in retail.

After about an hour, it was my turn. Since my previous contract was only for six months, I was unable to receive any benefits. But the staff member who assisted me thoroughly searched and found about fifteen jobs that I could apply for. The process itself took about 10 minutes. I turned around and saw the computer lab filled to the brim with anxious job-seekers. Most of them has 0 search results, and the staff would try their best to experiment with different search entries to find a match.

 

 

Hello Work branches all over the country seem to be facing the same dilemma. For many newly unemployed residents in the Chubu region, they faced the most difficulty with their former employer. “I did not know much about the paperwork I needed to file for unemployment”, said Guillerme Okada. “At the factories, we were suddenly told that we couldn’t work anymore. I had to ask several of my friends first.” Okada had brought someone with him as an interpreter to explain to his Japanese supervisor that he needed to give documents for Okada to receive unemployment benefits. “It is a common issue with factory workers in this area. If I struggle to get legal documentation, I struggle to trust this system. I came with my interpreter to Hello Work, but there were two already available to help me. I had a lot of support from my community and from them during this time.”

Other employers would also push back start dates and avoid paying the contracted salary despite the legal 60% minimum requirement. Maria M., a Tokyo resident, would get last-minute notices and conflicting information about her start date and paycheck.

“I had already given my previous job a month’s notice and quit to start this new one. I was supposed to start during the first week of April but they changed it. It’s at a store so telework is impossible.”

About four or five days later, she was asked to Skype with the human relations chair. Her hiring date was moved to May 15th with no pay in advance. She contacted the labor bureau about her situation. “They confirmed that my company was responsible for me. My friends [who also worked at the company] said that they were receiving part of their salary in April. When I told my employer that I contacted the labor bureau, they quickly agreed to offer me part of my contracted pay.”

During these uncertain times, it may be difficult to navigate unemployment and economic stability on top of acquiring the basic necessities for surviving the pandemic. As the numbers of infected individuals steadily increase, the ratio of available job positions drop to its lowest level in three years. However, with the national and local government bringing out new sources of financial aid for individuals and businesses alike, there is room for growth in the economy and policy change.

 

The mysterious conspiracy theory that explains Japan’s response to COVID-19…..or does it?

The whole world is somewhat baffled by how Japan is handling the coronavirus aka COVID19 aka Sars-CoV-2. The Diamond Princess debacle in which inept Japanese officials turned a cruise ship into a floating incubator for the virus did not bode well. Early on in the crisis, several politicians from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party expressed what was close to delight about the coronavirus disaster, stating that it would finally justify changing Japan’s constitution to a new one that gave the Prime Minister sweeping powers.

Japan has infamously under-tested, turning away most people who were not displaying already full-blown symptoms of coronavirus induced illness-–a fever over 37.5 degrees for four days, loss of sense of taste and smell, had been in contact someone diagnosed with the virus etc.– and has been extremely stingy in releasing information. Some suspect that Japan is hiding coronavirus cases and deaths in pneumonia statistics. Possible. Let’s assume that’s not true for the time being.

The Ministry of Health, which managed to get their own workers and medical staff infected on the Diamond Princess and then refused to test them, sending them back to work, where they infected others–doesn’t inspire confidence. The best they have done seems to be to warn people about the Three Cs (in Japanese 3の密. 密閉・密集・密接): closed spaces, crowds and close contact. Miraculously, avoiding an overlap of these three should keep you safe—until it doesn’t.

If a cute poster could stop the spread of COVID-19, Japan would win the war hands down.

Despite having the first cases of coronavirus in January, the number of deaths in Japan remains very low, 108 today (April 12th) out of a nation of 126 million people

Yet infection rates are rising rapidly. The so-called lockdown that is supposed to reduce them is poorly planned, at best. It would appear that the Abe government cares more about saving face than saving lives.

This week I wrote a piece for the Asia Times– TB vaccines offers hope in Covid-19 war –about studies that show a correlation between low numbers of deaths in countries that had a universal tuberculosis vaccination program for decades–and coronavirus. The vaccine is called BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin). Infection rates also appear to be strongly impacted positively by the vaccine. The vaccine is nearly a hundred years old. It was developed by French physicians and biologists Léon Charles Albert Calmette and Jean-Marie Camille Guérin in the 1900s and first successfully tested in 1921. Some theorize that when the vaccine is given to very young children and/or infants, that it creates ‘attained immunity’ which helps the older generation (those most vulnerable) battle the virus. Personally, I sort of hope that it’s true, that BCG is the BFG (Big Fucking Gun) in the war against this pathogen, kind of like the iconic weapon in the first-person shooter DOOM. (It’s a video game). It has been suggested that the vaccine only works if given to very young children and that the strain of the vaccine matters as well. Could be.

NOTE: BCG vaccine has many strains (types). The BCG-Japan strain seems to be the one that actually works against the coronavirus. France uses the BCG-Denmark strain. If anyone reading this has access to materials about the BCG-Japan strain, please share them with me. I would like to know.

Could the 100-year-old vaccine BCG be the Big F*cking Gun (BFG) in the war on coronavirus? It would be nice if it was.

There are problems with the theory that BCG vaccine is a silver bullet (or a BFG). Correlation is not causation. France and England had a vaccination program but they have a high number of deaths. They also appeared to have inoculated their citizens when they were in their teens rather than as infant, and both countries use a different strain of the vaccine then the predominant one used in Asia. However, even if the BCG vaccination works/worked to prevent fatalities, is there any reason to believe it will work on adults? In the Netherlands and Australia clinical tests are underway. We shall see.

One of the joys of running this blog, with the help of others, since 2007, is that sometimes we are leaked good information that can be used to generate a solid news story. That is usually rare. The nature of the internet is that you tend to get lots of criticism, threats, accusations or wild conspiracy theories that can’t be verified. Comments are all read and edited before being posted. Many on-line sites have gotten rid of comments altogether. When I looked at the comments and letters today, I thought of doing the same….once again.

But then I read this letter below. It’s intriguing. The anonymous source asserts that they are a member of the medical community in Japan. I have edited it slightly for clarity and removed some possibly identifying details. Below the letter, I have added some notes and observations.

As the headline tells you, it is a conspiracy theory, of sorts. A “conspiracy” is usually defined as a secret plan by a group of people to do something harmful or illegal. If the writer of this letter is correct, the steps Japan has taken so far are not completely harmful. Indeed, it could be argued that testing everyone is not a great idea and that it overloads the health care system. Japan’s approach to the coronavirus has had its merits.

The Japanese Society for Infection Prevention and Control (JSIPC) updated their coronavirus manual on March 10.  

The tone is calm. “Japan is moving from containment measures to a period of spreading infection and we must adjust accordingly,” it says. Since March 6, Covid-19 testing won coverage under national health insurance – ergo, “as public money is being used for the coronavirus testing, it is necessary to carefully screen who gets tested.

It gently chides anyone who seeks “needless” testing and urges medical professionals to prevent overcrowding at hospitals by instructing patients with light symptoms to stay home and avoid others.  

Critically, it points out that since there is no specific treatment for Covid-19, the priority must be treating the illness via its pathogen causes.

“The foundation of treatment is symptomatic therapy,” the manual reads. When signs of pneumonia are found, it suggests using all possible methods of treatment, such as giving oxygen and vasopressors as necessary. Above all, it reminds medical staff of the top priority: “Protect the lives of seriously-ill patients, especially in cases of pneumonia.”

This makes sense on some levels. However, if you don’t know who has the coronavirus, how can you possibly contain it? The manual does note that Japan has moved beyond containment measures (水際対策) and must conduct a sort of triage.

And so we come to the letter. It was written in response to the article TB vaccines offers hope in Covid-19 war and mailed to Japan Subculture Research Center.

I don’t know if it’s true nor can I say it’s untrue. Don’t believe it. I have limited resources, so I’ve decided to crowdsource this. I would like to know what you, the readers, think. And if anyone has supporting data, I’d love to have it–links and documents appreciated. If you can refute it, please do. Sometimes, many minds are better than one.

Send all mail, thoughts, comments, evidence and refutations to japansubcultureresearchcenter @ gmail.com with the heading, BCG and Japan.

Some short notes and observations on the letter are at the end of the document.

******

Dear Mr. Adelstein,

I’m ●●●● and I’ve just been reading your report into BCG.

You’ve got the half the story, and while there are clinical issues with the variables and the science, you’re on the right track. 

The other half is on the Japan side.

Have you noticed why Japanese aren’t talking about their immunity through BCG? There’s reasons for this. 

Japan has invested a lot of capital into developing and selling Avigan as a coronavirus treatment. They’ve put the weight of Japan Inc behind this, and [Prime Minister] Shinzo Abe is their pitch man. 

Did you notice the abrupt change in Abe’s policy around the end of February? That’s because Japanese researchers and doctors, including my colleagues, became aware at that time that BCG vaccines were possibly also working with the immune systems of most Japanese under age 70. NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) and MHLW [Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare] policies prohibit researchers and doctors from speaking publicly about this. But this is well-known in the medical community here.

What’s not understood is whether BCG is protecting children in the same way. We don’t have enough scientific or anecdotal evidence to rule out tuberculosis vaccine in Japan with confidence, especially because of the large number of foreign workers and tourists from at-risk countries, or whether BCG is working properly in tandem with other vaccinations in Japan. In layman’s terms, the younger generation of children in Japan don’t have the same immune system as the older generation. While we have decades of data about the health of the older generation, we still have insufficient clinical data about kids who haven’t been alive long enough to build up a reliable data base. 

In the field of medicine, you can’t make a diagnosis or prescribe treatment based on anecdotes or hunches. We have to follow regulations and existing practices based on years worth of data and peer-reviewed studies. We simply can’t assume that BCG is protecting children from the novel coronavirus. Thus the medical community instructed Abe to protect these children as a preventive measure owing to the lack of available data on how their immune system would respond to Sars-CoV-2. 

This also gave Abe and the MHLW political cover. Instead of doing nothing, they had to do something (1) . Abe couldn’t publicly announce that BCG was protecting the innoculated population of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. As you know, Abe is beholden to Keidanren (経団連・Japan Business Federation) and companies such as Fujifilm Holdings and their subsidiary Toyama Chemical, which manufactures Avigan (3). Who is going to buy Avigan if all they have to do is buy BCG? Why should Japan promote Avigan if most Japanese don’t need it? That is their reasoning. This is all about the sale of Avigan. (5)

This also explains why Japan was resisting international pressure to postpone the Summer Olympics. Abe and his panel of experts were assuming that BCG was protecting most of the population from the novel coronavirus. They had to cancel the games because of foreign pressure and the International Olympic Commission (IOC) (4), not because of any concerns about an overshoot of cases here in Japan. 

There’s another issue that the media are overlooking. Japan now has millions of foreign residents and foreign tourists who didn’t get BCG shots. They are the most likely groups to acquire the novel coronavirus and spread it through the population in Japan. But Abe couldn’t say that due to policies of boosting tourist arrivals and preparing for the Olympics. Even if you think he’s a racist xenophobe, you have to credit him for respecting the rights of foreign COVID patients. Look at what China is doing with Africans, and you’ll understand Japan’s official thinking on this.  

This also explains the Ministry of Health policy of keeping people away from hospitals (2). We don’t want people with colds, H1N1, ordinary coughs or sniffles to show up at hospitals demanding swabs, which also put health care workers at risk. They should stay home and rest anyway. MHLW set up a hotline for this purpose. If they didn’t, half of Japan would demand a test claiming to be sick. In most cases, patients with real COVID19 symptoms aren’t going to die anyways if they had their mandatory BCG vaccinations. Japan only wants to treat the most severe cases while protecting medical workers from infection. This is a reasonable policy. Most doctors support this, though some feel that we should be more proactive with outreach programs and advocacy on behalf of patients.  

Try to see things from our perspective. We are watching more than a hundred doctors and nurses die in Italy. We saw the same thing in Wuhan. This scenario is Japan would serve nobody. It’s not selfish for us to protect ourselves. It’s good public health policy, and Japan is doing the right thing. 

Please understand that the science isn’t black and white on this. Just because Japan made BCG shots mandatory doesn’t mean that every doctor gave them out, or that every parent took their kid to the doctor for the shot. Millions of people fell through the cracks and didn’t get vaccinated for TB, especially in the 1950s and 60s when Japan’s health care system was evolving. That’s why you are seeing numbers rise now, though on a much smaller level than in the U.S. or Italy. Most of the new cases now are people who didn’t get BCG shots. This is the common view of medical practitioners here. 

This is especially true of patients in areas such as Taito-ku, which is the closest thing in Tokyo to Skid Row in LA. Many of these new patients are homeless, or they were born into impoverished families who didn’t vaccinate their children. You will see similar stories in impoverished areas of Osaka and other cities. Look at the data and you will find it. 

You’re welcome to this information but ●●●

Good luck with your reporting. Ganbare. 

Notes:

(1) In February, Prime Minister Abe’s request that schools nationwide be closed down was greeted with great puzzlement at the time. He later said that he had not consulted with experts when making the decision.

(2) Japan has had a policy of discouraging testing. In fact, the Japanese Medical Association, the German Embassy and later the US Embassy criticized Japan’s low testing. Many opined that Japan wanted the numbers low to make the 2020 Olympics go forth as scheduled.

(3) It’s not clear how well Avigan, an anti-influenza drug does in fighting COVID-19 but Japan has offered to give it away to 20 countries that need it to fight coronavirus. It isn’t offering to give it away free to every single country in the world, so if you’re cynical you could see the giveway as free advertising, and/or free testing. Avigan was used to combat Ebola in the past.

(4) It would appear that after the Olympic Games were postponed that suddenly the number of Covid-19 cases jumped considerably. Correlation perhaps. Governor Yuriko Koike, who had been remarkably silent about the dangers of coronavirus, suddenly began talking about ‘a lockdown’ and the need for hyper vigilance with the pathogen only after March 23rd.

5) The Japanese government, including our friends at the Ministry Of Health, have conspired in the past to keep important medical data away from the public. The result was many innocent people being infected with AIDS and dying. Green Cross was the beneficiary and some of their executives were convicted of criminal negligence resulting in death. Government officials basically walked. See below and research more if you’re interested. Green Cross Executives receive prison terms in Yakugai (薬害エイズ) case.

Op/Ed From Ex-Prosecutor: Ghosn must respect Japanese Justice Statistics

Hiniku Taro, a former special prosecutor, implores Ghosn to respect Japan’s rule of law

Shame on you Mr. Ghosn, for not allowing us to prove you’re guilty in our very fair system of 99% conviction Japanese law!

It is most regrettable that Carlos Ghosn, the convicted criminal, former CEO of Nissan has cowardly chosen to escape from Japan rather than face a fair trial and inevitable conviction in Japan’s prestigious courts. This is very disruptive of our justice system and the prosecutor conviction statistics.

I think there is a cultural misunderstanding on the side of Ghosn-san that has led to this rash decision. As you may know, Japan is a country where justice works on the presumption of innocent until proven guilty. Which is the tatemae–like when your mama makes you a rice cake with zoni and you say it is good even if is not so tasty. Some have said, that in Nippon you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. This very true—up to certain point. That certain point, in my experience, being when we decide whether to indict or not. If it is not a slam dunk case, then we presume you are innocent because we don’t like to lose.

But once we indict you, we have 99% conviction rate. So post-indictment, you are presumed guilty until proven guilty. And Ghosn has unfairly denied us the right to prove his guilt. This is a great shame.

We only denied Ghosn 6000 files in preparing his defense and only kept him in jail for 129 days before his trial. We most benevolent but no no thank you from him. Just whine whine whine. He would have had a fair trial and been fairly convicted based on the incredibly slanted, selective testimony and evidence the prosecutors had arranged and altered, and a stark refusal to allow in any testimony that might exonerate him,.

Even then, he would still have a 1% chance of being found not guilty of some or all of the charges. Of course, since the prosecution can appeal cases in Japan, and we like to do, we’d probably have convicted him the second round. Yes, because you can get tried for the same crime here but we have no double jeopardy–in theory.

Ghosn is a bad fellow and deserving the full wrath of the mighty prosecutor’s office for the public good. If he was a bureaucrat who simply forged documents, shredded files to cover up Prime Minister Abe’s political machination– (Osaka prosecutors close Moritomo Gakuen case after reconfirming no bureaucrats will be indicted over scandal)–, that wouldn’t have been a problem. Or if he was close friend of the Prime Minster who allegedly raped a journalist, we would never have detained him and torn up the arrest warrant–as police were going to arrest him–and dropped all charges as soon as we knew he was going to publish a laudatory biography of Herr Abe.

But Ghosn is not a Japanese CEO, like the hardworking ones at TEPCO who were completely aware that a tidal wave might knock out the electricity to the generators causing a triple-nuclear meltdown. We never arrested them and refused to prosecute them. And look, the courts let them off, because they know, as we do, that justice is not our job–protecting the powerful JAPANESE elite is what we do. This is why we didn’t prosecute anyone at Toshiba for a billion dollar accounting fraud--because that was…a mistake. When a Japanese company like Takata makes defective airbags that result in deaths–overseas–that’s not our problem either. (But those American meddlers! So corrupt Us system be!) Why we don’t prosecute them? Because the executives are Liberal Democratic Party supporters and Japanese. Japan has tatemae justice system and this doesn’t apply to Jokyukokumin (上級国民) . And what are Jokyukokumin? If you have to ask, you aren’t one! It is like Zen koan.

How do we know what’s a serious crime? Well, when a foreigner does it, it’s a serious crime. It is in the unwritten Roppo. When Coincheck, loses over a billion dollars worth of virtual currency–was there a crime committed? We don’t care. When Mark Karpeles, a FRENCHMAN, running a virtual currency exchange is hacked out of a half billion worth of virtual currency, we arrest him on whatever charges possible. knowing he must be guilty. And we hold him for 11 months, questioning him with no lawyer present, because we know he’s guilty. And when the IRS, Homeland Security and US authorities arrest the real hacker, we try to block that evidence from being submitted into court. And when the court finds him not guilty on major charges, and the crazy judge rebukes us?

We don’t talk about that. Not good idea to talk about that. And what about Enzai (冤罪) –wrongful convictions? This only happens in case of Japanese, who are very old and probably going to die in prison, so we say okay, maybe not guilty. Oh and that Nepalese guy wrongfully convicted of murder. Oops. Prosecutors are humans, too. PS. Don’t read those back issues of that magazine devoted to cases of injustice in Japan. Very old now. Much changed!

We work very hard to find or make evidence that will our make case. Ghosn and his lawyers were very uzai. Why would we want evidence that could exonerate the accused when we already have enough to win the case? We get so tired of whiny liberal lawyers who want a ‘fair’ trial for their client. L-o-s-e-r-s. This is why we will find any reason to deny them crucial evidence or share it with them—and also because we can!

The judge is almost always going to give us what we want. That’s how the system works. And as a long time resident of Japan, Carlos Ghosn must respect that system. It is the honorable thing to do. It very simple.

A Guide To The Japanese Prosecutor’s Office

You do or not do a crime.

Someone reports the crime to the police, who may or may not make an arrest. THEN

A) If you are politically connected to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his friends, or LDP and bonus points if you are wealthy business executive, the case is stopped early and investigation quashed.

If gung ho police insist, or foolish lower level prosecutors take papers from police, we wait until Japan wins Olympic bid or some big event and then announce that we won’t prosecute—so nobody notice.

B) If you are politically connected, you report crime to the police or even better, special prosecutor, and make back-door deal. Plea bargaining now welcome, welcome.

We arrest suspect (dirty foreigner or vocal critic) on lesser charges! Go to jail. If you don’t confess, we go to friendly judge and say, “He/she will destroy evidence or escape while we work little bit more. Can we keep them 10 more days?” Judge says, OK! We can hold you for up to 23 days, easy-peasy. Then like fish on a hook, we let you go–then rearrest! We hold them in jail until they confess and rigorously interrogate them every day.

If they don’t confess, it’s only because they’re guilty. And if they do confess, well we were right, they’re guilty.

Get With The Game, Ghosn!

This is Japan and everyone must play their part. We make occasional politically motivated public arrest of big person, but not anyone close to the Prime Minister. We leak like crazy to Japanese media bad things about suspect–even that they confessed. We prepare for the trial, hoodwink the lawyers, refuse to show them our evidence–because we can get away with it and the law doesn’t force us to do it, nor will the judge, and then we win. 99% of the time. And if we lose 1% of the time, well we win on the appeal. 😜

The role of the indicted is to either confess early or endure the proceedings and then get convicted anyway, but winning or escaping–that’s not an option.

Shame on you, Carlos Ghosn. You have made a mockery of the Japanese system of injustice justice. And what is even more unforgivable is that your selfish act may actually lower our conviction rates to less than 99%!

Hiniku Taro is a former prosecutor, now in private practice, after resigning from office when he was discovered to have forced a local politician to confess to being a serial underwear thief, ‘on a hunch’, in 2002. He says, ‘Even though I may no longer be a prosecutor, I never forget the valuable lessons I learned on the job such as yakuza and foreigners have no human rights’. For more information see the webpage for Hiniku and Tanuki Sougo General Law Horitsu Jimusho, located in Chiyoda-ku, Otemachi.

*Parody.

Inclement Weather: The 5 Best Japanese Films From The Bad Season of Cinema in 2019

by Kaori Shoji

Let’s not call this an illustrious year for Japanese movies – a big chunk of my retina hopes never to witness another syrupy love story starring Sota Fukushi ever again. Or Ryo Yoshizawa or Ryota Katayose or any one of a platoon of mid to late 20s Japanese actors who spend most of their working hours wearing high school uniforms, pouting or playing some dreary team sport for the benefit of starry-eyed, female co-stars. If for some reason you wind up in cinema hell in the afterlife, try to strike a deal with the devil and avoid seeing Gozen Reijini Kisu Shini Kite (Come Kiss Me At Midnight). It’s being touted as the blockbuster love story to close 2019, but works more like a corrosive sugar crash that bodes ill for 2020. 

That said, there were some gems to be found among the pebbles, though none of them managed to command a fraction of the public’s attention during the Rugby World Cup games. Sadly for Japanese cinema, the tournament just torpedoed every other means of entertainment, leaving movie buffs blinking and coughing in the dust as we tried to remember the titles that made the year memorable. 
The ones that made it into the membranes of our brains however, were courageous, socially aware and unafraid to step on more than a few toes. Perhaps, as all the pundits are pointing out, Netflix’s original content blew a hole in the Japanese film industry and made things a lot more liberal. Or libertine, as the case may be. For more details, read on for the best films of 2019 – in no particular order. 

1) 全裸監督 (Zenra Kantoku) – The Naked Director

This edgy, bold and often hilarious biopic of AV (adult video) director Toru Muranishi was brought to us via the heroic efforts of Netflix Japan, a three-man writing team and the sheer gutsiness of actor Takayuki Yamada in the titular role. 

Muranishi was dubbed “the emperor of AV” during the 1980s when the adult video was all shiny and new and proffered the cheapest ticket to titillation in the privacy of your own six mat tatami room. Muranishi churned out titles by the dozens and to save on labor costs, he played his own leading man and had intercourse with the actresses as he filmed them. Which is you know, busy, considering that back in the day, cameras were non-digital and very heavy. He is also credited for ‘discovering’ the talents of rich-girl Kaori Kuroki (played here by Misato Morita) who initially consented to work with Muranishi as a way of rebelling against her parents. Unflaggingly energetic and completely unapologetic, Muranishi embodied the perverted but enduring Japanese male fantasy: that groping and raping a pretty woman is actually a nice way to start a relationship with her. Currently, Muranishi works as a TV commentator and still has a lot to say about sex and women, most of which are unfit for the ears of sane folk. 

2) 天気の子 (Tenkino Ko) – Weathering With You

Anime filmmaker extraordinaire Makoto Shinkai (of Your Name fame) came out with what was arguably the only really memorable film of 2019 with Tenki no Ko (International Title: Weathering With You. (Mild Spoiler Alert) A semi-utopian spin on the dismally dystopian subject of climate change, the ending of Weathering With You instigated a controversial firestorm on social media. The question, in a nutshell, is this: Should we forgive the protagonists for putting their personal happiness before the greater good? In the story, a teenage boy is intent on rescuing the girl of his dreams, but the cost of his choice is non-stop rain that submerges most of Tokyo in water. 

Up until Weathering With You, Japanese anime characters had consistently sacrificed their romantic inclinations for the benefit of family or society – most notably in the films by Hayako Miyazaki. Boy and girl would get to meet but they rarely ever got together, as there were much bigger things at stake. But in Weathering… the boy chooses to be with the girl, even though this meant they and everyone else will be drenched in rain for years to come. Weathering...features gorgeous artwork combined with the latest in anime technology and may alter your whole perspective on weather and how it affects the soul. 

3) 新聞記者 (Shinbun Kisha) – The Journalist 

It was a bad year for journalists. Or more to the point, it was the year that Noriyuki Yamaguchi, formerly of the TBS news department, gave journalists a bad name by raping fellow journalist Shiori Ito three years ago, and when he was deemed guilty in court, held a press conference in December to say that she was a big liar. No wonder Japan slid back to 121st place (out of 144 countries) in gender equality – this is lower even, than UAE and China. 

But I digress. The journalism profession and women journalists in particular, got a redemptive respite with the opening of The Journalist. Based on the bestselling autobiography by Tokyo Shinbun reporter Isoko Mochizuki, The Journalistis a suspense thriller about how the titular protagonist (played here by South Korean actress Shim Eun-kyung) dares to go after the government to unveil conspiracy cover-ups with zero support from her status-quo loving male colleagues. Alone and isolated, the journalist teams up with a young bureaucrat (Tori Matsuzaka) from ‘Naicho,’ – the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office – to expose a government scandal that’s almost an exact reenactment of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ‘Morikake’ incident. The whole package is gripping, revelatory and entertaining, but it’s a shame director Michihito Fujii couldn’t get a Japanese actress to play the lead. Apparently, no one was willing to risk being seen as anti-Abe. 

4) 七つの会議 (Nanatsuno Kaigi) – Seven Conferences 

They say Japanese corporate meetings are getting longer by the year, mainly because they’re run by fifty-somethings who feel intimidated by millennials and need to show the young whippersnappers who’s in charge. I know people who went into a morning meeting to reemerge 5 hours later, then having missed their lunch hour, go into another meeting that lasted all afternoon. It’s only after 5 that their real work day begins, and it’s midnight before they can go home. Seven Conferences shows just how this schedule works and paints a precise if unflattering, portrait of a large Japanese manufacturer. From scene one, it has you fidgeting with painful discomfort and/or traumatic workplace flashbacks. 
Based on the same titled novel by Jun Ikeido (master of drawing dysfunctions in the Japanese corporate world) Seven Conferences is thought provoking without getting preachy, in spite of the frequent allusions to power harassment and ‘karoshi/過労死 (death from overwork).’ The movie opened before the Work Style Reforms kicked in, and the experience may be a bit like watching a dinosaur (the big, cumbersome Japanese electronics company) kick and struggle before dying, giving into a new age where putting in insane hours isn’t a guarantee for anything. 

Editor note: The so-called Work Style Reforms set a cap at overtimes hours of 100 per month, 20 more than what the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare considered the danger line for death by overwork. Flaws in the law make it possible for people to be made to work even longer hours.

5) 人間失格 (Ningen Shikkaku) – No Longer Human 
Novelist Osamu Dazai really had his moment in 2019. No Longer Human – a fictional biopic of Dazai’s last days in which he consorted with two mistresses while keeping his wife and children firmly on the sidelines – pushed his name back into the Japanese consciousness. 
Dazai died in 1948 at age of 38, in a double suicide with one of his lovers. His last work Ningen Shikkaku, was published posthumously, and this movie suggests he was collecting material for his next book with excessive drug-taking and philandering, and wound up pushing his luck a little too far. 
Filmmaker Mika Ninagawa is behind this bittersweet eye-candy of a movie, painting in bold strokes the desperation and addiction that defined Dazai’s (played by an excellent Shun Oguri) personality. Dazai also understood women in a way that no Japanese author has ever quite grasped (looking at you, Haruki Murakami) and the movie comes off as a deeply respectful tribute to that insight. 

The Truth about Kore-eda

by Kaori Shoji

If you missed last year’s Cannes Palme D’Or winner Shoplifters here’s another opportunity to see filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda in action. Kore-eda’s latest is Shinjitsu (international title: The Truth),which marks a celebratory first foray into working with an international cast and staff. And what a cast: the leads are French femme fatale extraordinaire(s) Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche, joined by American indies icon Ethan Hawke. 

The Truth (真実) is that Kore-eda transcends Japan’s boundaries to produce great films.

Don’t let the Kanji character title fool you – nothing about “Shinjitsu is even remotely Japanese. To my relief and Kore-eda’s credit, he’s not pandering to western ideas of ‘Japanese-ness’ here, Not even a mention of a sushi restaurant. And he never shows signs that he’s a bit awed by the exalted figures walking around on his set. He simply goes about doing what he does best, which is portraying women in the family circle. (He does that with men too, but with women his gaze is warmer and far less analytical.) The filmmaker is especially adept at observing the emotional tug-of-war that inevitably erupts between older mothers and middle-aged daughters, the gentle power-mongering between husbands and wives, or the family matriarch quietly exerting her influence on the rest of her family. In Shoplifters, Kore-eda paid special attention and tribute to Kirin Kiki who starred as a sly, feisty old woman on the brink of destitution, surrounded by a family that subsisted on theft and shoplifting. Kiki died last year at the age of 75, – the same age that Catherine Deneuve is now. Kore-eda has said in interviews that he finds older women fascinating, not just because of the lifetime of stories they harbor but because they don’t capitulate easily to his directions, and has their own opinions. 

With Catherine Deneuve in Shinjitsu, Kore-eda’s gaze lingers long and lovingly over the stunningly smooth contours of her face. When she speaks, everyone else falls silent, as Kore-eda makes sure she commands the kind of attention usually reserved for royalty. But then, pourquoi pas? Deneuve is probably the closest presence to royalty in France anyway. If Marie Antoinette were around to see Deneuve, she would probably be a fan. 

In this, Deneuve plays Fabienne, a veteran French actress who has been estranged from her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) for years. But now her daughter, son-in-law Hank (Ethan Hawke) and granddaughter Charlotte (Clementine Grenier) has arrived in Paris from New York where they live, ostensibly to celebrate the publishing of Fabienne’s autobiography. From the beginning scenes when Lumir, Hank and Charlotte are rolling their suitcases across Fabienne’s large garden to get to her house, everyone’s nerves are on edge. Lumir is worried about what her mother may have wrote about her, and pissed off that Fabienne hadn’t sent her the galleys, even though she had promised. Hank – a TV actor, is uneasy about the fact that his wife pays most of the bills (Lumir is a screenwriter) and he doesn’t speak French. Even 7-year old Charlotte is apprehensive about meeting “grandmere,” as she understands that Fabienne isn’t your typical doting grandma. Indeed, Fabienne’s reception to the trio is cool and matter of fact, devoid of frilly dramatics that can accompany family reunions. 

Lumir and her family is set to stay for a week, and Kore-eda traces each day with meticulous attention to detail. Fabienne is working on a movie – a sci-fi film about a mother who never grows old, but can only see her daughter once every 7 years. Lumir ponders over the wealth of meaning in that premise, while Fabienne just wants to get into the role and be good at it. Everyday, mother, daughter and granddaughter drive together to the film set and Lumir learns to put her initial animosity aside to look after her mom and enjoy her time there. Back at home, Fabienne’s current live-in boyfriend makes all the meals and her long-time secretary Luc arranges all her business affairs. Clearly, Fabienne hasn’t lost her allure to men; they flock around her like bugs to an incandescent light bulb. Even Lumir’s vagabond dad Pierre puts in an appearance. And one night when Fabienne kisses Hank good night, he becomes giddy enough to tell his wife all about it. 

In the midst of it all, Lumir’s old resentments toward her mother come tumbling out of her emotional closet, but mother and daughter have both reached a point when they know that arguments won’t change anything – least of all, Fabienne. “I was never a good mother, but I am a splendid actress which is far more important,” says Fabienne at one point. Deneuve wears that line like a queen draping a long fur coat, and damn what the animal activists might say. (In the film, Fabienne walks her dog in leopard skin, the irony of which goes right over her head.) And Lumir turns her face away, and you can see she’s trying to hide a smile as if to say, “that is SO my mother.” It’s odd, eclectic moments like these that Kore-eda loves to depict; and no doubt it wouldn’t have gone over so lightly had the cast been Japanese. Family relations on the archipelago tend to be weighty, accelerated by decades of sameness and continuity. Kore-eda frequently punches a hole in that schematic, and he proceeded to tear that wide open in Shoplifters.

However, in  Shinjitsu, and in Paris, Kore-eda seems to breathe easier, untethered by conventions, with a lot less to rebel against or prove. Apparently, the man doesn’t speak French beyond a few mundane phrases and the screenplay (written by him) was adapted into French by Lea Le Dimna. He made the whole thing mostly on gut-feeling and intuition and in many ways, Shinjitsu is his best work. Will he leave Japan to become a full-fledged international director? After  Shinjitsu, that seems a likely scenario, which means the Japanese film industry will just have to carry on without him. What a devastating loss. 

Songs Of Winter Denial

Julie Yukiko (雪子)  Buisson aka Ukico has much in common with Snow-White, other than just her name, which literally means “child of the snow”—she is charming, peaceful, a beautiful woman with alabaster skin and blessed with an ethereal singing voice that calms the spirits of men and animals; she is enchanting.  Her first song, Denial, and the surreal mystical music video for it were released on September 11. 

She was born to a Japanese mother and French father and grew up in Paris. You could say she has made the best of her bicultural heritage, touching upon her roots to become a successful model and now a songwriter and singer. Her French-Japanese visage and sense of style helped her have a successful international modeling career.However, she has much more depth than her  surface appearances, and that is part of her appeal. 

Ukico (pronounced You-Key-Koh) was studying at the University La Sorbonne while pursuing her modeling career after high school. What sparked her interest in singing and songwriting was the death of her grandmother. 

Ukico
photo by Yulia Shur
make-up by Laurene Baudin

When she passed away, Ukico, wrote a poem as a eulogy, which she showed to her father—and to her surprise, he wept. 

“It moved my father to cry and it showed me how to paint a picture with words. He still reads the poem, sometimes.” She felt the power of words come to life.

She had often thought about becoming a singer/songwriter but lacked confidence in her ability to compose or to voice her emotions musically. But seeing her father’s response stirred something inside of her. 

“It was a wake-up call. I had always dreamed of studying and living in New York and pursuing music. I love so many different genres and singers. Everything from Massive Attack, to Little Dragon, to Lana Del Rey.”

The song writing of Fiona Apple was particularly inspirational to her. 

To pursue her musical career more seriously she entered a music engineering school in NYC, The Institute of Audio Research. After graduating salutatorian, she interned at the recording studio  Strange Weather based in Brooklyn.

She was given an opportunity  to work on  the production of  36 Seasons by Ghosface Killah. She also put in time at the  world famous  jazz club Birdland, live mixing for the Grammy Award winning band The Afro Latin Jazz orchestra, and other jazz acts. 

While in New York, she experienced the loneliness, alienation and emotional struggles that come with life in the Big Apple. 

She sought refuge in spiritual disciplines, yoga and meditation, eventually becoming adept enough to guide others.. Meditation and yoga are still a huge part of her life, and perhaps what gives her an aura of warm serenity—not the chilly vibe you’d expect from a snow woman. 

During her time in New York, she was also taken under the wing of Justyn Pilbrow, a respected music producer who has handled major acts such as Halsey and The Neighbourhood.

After leaving New York and coming back to Japan she also became more interested in her own Japanese background and traditional music. It provided her with some solace as

She continued to work with Justyn Pilbrow and was also able to collaborate on musical pieces with Japanese virtuosos of  Koto (Japanese lute), Shamisen, Shakuhachi (windpipes) and the Taiko (Japanese drum). 

Her first single, Denial, has instrumentation featuring the shakuhachi and taiko. “The shakuhachi is such a beautiful instrument—it can express so much pain and tension.”

The video of the song is based on the story of Japan’s creation, as told in the Kojiki, a classic of ancient Japanese literature. The creation of the world starts with the first two existing Gods Izanagi (male God) and Izanami (female God). After forming Japan’s islands they gave birth to other gods—the god of the wind, seas, and more.  But Izanami, after giving birth to the God of Fire dies from the trauma and fatal wounds.  Her spirit goes down to the underworld. Izanagi who misses her terribly, decides to descend to the underworld to bring her back—like Japan’s own Orpheus.

The video, using Butoh dancers, brings to life the myth of creation, death and renewal. But what is the song about on a personal level?  Fasting? Living without material goods? Denial of French culture, or Japanese culture?

Ukico answers, “It is a song about breaking up and the end of love. But it is a bit more than that.  I was protecting my heart, not to fall in love again. I was in denial of closing my heart when I started to write it. But also there was underlying denial that I am mad at somebody. 

But the real denial in the song is that I am angry at myself. It is because of myself, because of how I am choosing how to deal with things that the suffering comes. And there is some wisdom and transmutative power in understanding that.”