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.” 

Weathering With You (Review)

by Kaori Shoji

Imagine a rainy day that lasted forever

Certain facts of life we know to be true. The tide will turn. The sun will rise. Hayao Miyazaki is the god of Japanese anime. Still, the throne may be ready for a shakedown – or even a partial step down on the part of Miyazaki. Anime filmmaker extraordinaire Makoto Shinkai (Your Name) has blown a huge hole in the fortress of Miyazaki’s storied production company Studio Ghibli, with his latest: Tenki no Ko (International Title: ‘Weathering With You’).” It’s a semi-utopian spin on the dismally dystopian subject of climate change, and the ending has instigated a controversial firestorm on social media. The question at the eye of the storm is this: “Should we forgive the protagonists for putting their personal happiness before the greater good?”

Though the verdict is still out, my guess is that Hayao Miyazaki would probably say a loud “no way”. As the ultra-stoic-but-always-benevolent tyrant of Japanese anime, he has consistently sacrificed his characters’ romantic inclinations to “much bigger things,” as he once said in an interview – i.e., the benefit or survival, of human society. In a Miyazaki story, boy and girl will get to meet but they will never get together, as there are much bigger things at stake. 

In Weathering With You the Tokyo metropolitan area is locked into a rainy season that won’t go away. No one has felt the feeblest of sunshine or glimpsed a patch of blue sky for months. The only exit out of this perpetual wetness seems to lie in the hands of a pretty teenage girl named Hina (voiced by Nana Mori) Her sort-of-boyfriend Hodaka (voiced by Kotaro Daigo) is sort of her boyfriend, because they don’t exchange so much as a kiss–gleans Hina’s secret power. Initially, he advises Hina to cash in by starting a fair weather business and Hina agrees to go on social media and advertise her abilities as the “good weather girl”. Soon, orders for good weather start pouring in and Hina is summoned to a barbecue party here, a sports event there, or even an ancestral ritual at an old lady’s home. The money’s not bad either, and as Hina’s little brother Nagi (voiced by Sakura Kiryu) joins in, the trio start to feel like a cozy little family. 

Sixteen-year old Hodaka is too shy to admit his love for Hina–especially since she has informed him that her 18th birthday is coming up and therefore, she’s way too old for a kid like him. That doesn’t stop Hodaka from going online and researching the perfect birthday gift, which he buys with the money he made with Hina. All this will most certainly elicit stern disapproval from their parents but thankfully, there are no such people in Weathering With You. Hodaka has run away, from home and parents left behind on one of the Izu islands scattered along the Pacific. Hina’s mother died a short while ago and she is supporting Nagi in a tiny apartment near Shinjuku. First, she was on the night shift at a McDonald’s and when that didn’t work out, she made a half-hearted attempt to become a porn actress before Hodaka pulled her back. 

All the while, the rain never stops. 

Fans of Shinkai know dark skies and heavy rains are a big part of his m.o. Plus, the precise, almost photographic depictions of Tokyo’s train stations (mostly the Yamanote line) and streets, especially in the Shinjuku area. Weathering With You has ample portions of both – the story opens on rain-soaked streets, inky puddles and the lesser known alleyways in the Yoyogi neighborhood. When Hina clenches her fingers and prays to the heavens, the clouds part, exposing a glorious patch of azure sky and splendid slants of sunshine. People put their umbrellas away to look up with a smile, and Hodaka rightly observes that “it’s amazing how good you feel when it’s cleared up.”

The contrast of bad weather and good, is one of the factors that propel the story forward – you get a feeling of how badly people need the sun, and what lengths they will go to get it. 

The implication is that Tokyoites are ready to sacrifice Hina on the altar of blue skies, even if they’re only very vaguely aware of her powers or even her presence. In the movie, Hina is a ghostly figure whispered about on the Net, and her abilities are never totally understood. The terrible truth is that the more Hina makes good weather happen, the less there is of her own self; her trade-off with fine weather is her own, physical existence.

One morning when Hodaka wakes up, she’s gone without a trace, save for the bathrobe she was wearing the night before.  

(SPOILER ALERT: That is nowhere near the ending for Hina or Hodaka、so don’t let this review make you feel like we’ve ruined the movie. ↖) 

In reality, Japan braces itself for a rainy season (usually occuring at the beginning of June and lasting four to five weeks) that wreaks havoc on many areas across the archipelago. This year, southwestern Japan was flooded by torrential rains and in Fukuoka city, trucks and cars were submerged in rainwater while soil erosion led to landslides that caused thousands of people to lose their homes. Tokyo wasn’t as bad but enough water came down to partially shut down public transportation and delay construction on Olympic facilities. 

In Weathering With You rainfall spells dire consequences for the metropolis as entire neighborhoods disappear underwater and mighty architectural monuments like the Rainbow Bridge, become steeped in water. Still, as a sage old woman in the movie remarks, “It’s all right, Tokyo has gone back to its natural state. That’s all this is.” Indeed, the Japanese capital is a 400-year old artificial island made on a landfill and the greater part of Shinjuku as we know it today, used to be swampland. If we can live with that, surely we can live with Hina getting to have a life of her own, and maybe, eventually–perhaps–falling in love with Hodaka. And the greater good be damned. 

A Requiem For Kyoto Animation (KyoAni)

The popular multi-lingual singer, Elizaveta, has released a tribute song “Meet Again” to those who lost their lives in the terrible arson attack on beloved anime studio, Kyoto Animation (KyoAni).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Xvd0FGCi7M

She will donate all the net proceeds from sales of this song to KyoAni’s official support fund.

BandCamp: https://elizaveta.bandcamp.com/track/…

iTunes: https://music.apple.com/us/album/meet…

Alternatively, you can donate to KyoAni directly to help them rebuild (official account info after the link): https://www.kyotoanimation.co.jp/info…

Japan Subculture Research Center asked Elizaveta to explain why she wrote the song and for the lyrics to the song. Here is what she had to say.

I wrote “Meet Again” not long after finding out about the tragic fire at Kyoto Animation. I had met some people from KyoAni, although just very casually, through a network of animators and visual artists I am occasionally part of, when in Tokyo.

I was hoping to be able to tour the studio and visit their shop, when visiting Kyoto next. I was also aware of their positive reputation, as they were known for being an employee-friendly company in an industry, which often overworks and underpays animators. They had a lot of women working for them, too, which was unusual, and a breath of fresh air.

In the hours and days following the tragedy, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened, and following the news, which just got more and more grim.

The contrast between the beautiful, hopeful art produced by KyoAni and what happened to them, was very hard to reconcile with. I am not a starry-eyed optimist,  

but I do prefer to believe that good things happen to those who put out good things into the world. While I know it’s a naive worldview, it’s better than the alternative. This event, though, was not an accident, but an act of deliberate evil. All circumstances aligned for it to be as awful as could be. It was incredibly hard for me to accept it as reality. There had been no magic hero to save the day, and nothing to soften the blow. Kyoto is a peaceful, mystical city of a few thousand temples. But no deity stepped in to offer protection.

Once you accept that something terrible like this happened and there’s no way to explain it, you must allow for healing to start, or at least attempt to get on the path towards it. I can’t even start to imagine the pain and trauma of those who had gone through this experience and survived are now having to deal, and probably for years to come. My heart also goes out to those who got the call that day to find out their loved ones were no longer with them. Furthermore, the trauma to KyoAni fans around the world may not have been as direct, but it’s real nonetheless. When you make art, those who love and consume it, become believers of the things your art brings into the world. For KyoAni fans, it would have been beauty, hope and harmony. A tragedy such as this one kills faith that the world is in any way fair and a worthwhile place to be part of.

I wrote “Meet Again” the day I went to the recording studio, and the song practically wrote itself. I heard it in my head, and the lyrics came to be just minutes before I walked out to catch the train. This recording is the first take, which we recorded and filmed. It wasn’t quite perfect in a couple of places, and so I did another take, but I had a hard time singing then, because I was too close to tears. And so I made the decision to keep the first take, as it was, and record no more. 

I wrote this song as a way to heal myself, even though I was just a bystander of this tragedy. I hope it may serve as a source of healing to others affected by it. I still have hope and faith. There are so many things we do not know, and so much happens every day, which makes it hard to take heart and carry on. But carry on we must, and help those around us do so, too.

I don’t remember when
I got the call that day
They said you were no more
And then the ground gave way

I sat and cried all night
Still hoping they’d been wrong
A part of me had died
How could I carry on

As sunrise painted red
Inside my sleepless eyes
Still lying on my bed
I thought I heard a voice

It sounded like my love
A distant precious sound
But there was not a soul
That I could see around

I know you’re still with me
In other shape or form
Our union has survived
A deadly firestorm

And when I look above
I can transcend the pain
Soar high with me, my love
I know we’ll meet again.

<日本語歌詞>

何時のことか 覚えてない
もういないと 立ち尽くした

泣き明かした まちがいだと
身を裂かれて 歩みようも

夜明けの赤 腫れ目を染め
伏せたままで 聞こえたのは

君のような 遠くの音
影ひとつも 見えないのに

今も そばに 形を変え
つながりだけ 焼け残った

仰ぎ見ては 痛みを超え
君を連れて また会うまで
あの高みへ また会うまで

Born in USA, Russian-raised Elizaveta made her debut on Universal Records (US) in 2012. Since then she became the voice of the Tavern Bard in Dragon Age, has toured USA, Russia and Europe, was a repeat guest performer at the main TED stage, and released a number of multi-lingual recordings, heard in multiple films and TV series. She produced and released an all-Japanese language duet album Mezameru Riyuu earlier this year, followed by a 16-city tour of Japan.

[The Journalist] Shines Light on Japan’s Dark Side (film review)

by Kaori Shoji

Shinbun Kisha (The Journalist) is getting great box office and rave reviews, belying the myth that a Japanese movie about newsrooms and politics just won’t cut it. Based on the bestselling autobiography by audacious Tokyo Shinbun (東京新聞) reporter Isoko Mochizuki, The Journalist is a suspense thriller about how the titular woman journalist dared go after the government to unveil conspiracies and cover-ups. Infuriatingly, most of her male colleagues are intent on adhering to the status quo. Alone and isolated, the journalist teams up with a young bureaucrat from ‘Naicho’ – the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office – to expose a government scandal that’s almost an exact reenactment of Prime Minister Abe’s ‘Morikake’ incident. 

“All Japan needs is a mere facade of democracy,” goes a line in this movie, implying that the nation neither needs or wants the real deal. 

But now, with the House of Councillors election happening on Sunday, politics is on many peoples’ minds, including millennials that had shown zero interest in the past. Tickets in 42 theaters have sold out and the movie’s distributors announced that they will be printing 10,000 new copies of The Journalist pamphlet, as they’ve been selling off the shelves in theaters across Japan. Next week, the two main cast members will appear on stage at a theater in Shinjuku, to take their bows and answer questions from the audience. It looks like politics and newsrooms are a winning combination!

The Journalist is gripping, wrenching and ultimately cathartic, even if the plucky heroine doesn’t oust the evil government agents or get an enormous raise for her efforts. No, what happens is that news hound Erica Yoshioka (played by South Korean actress Shim Eun-kyung), after a series of grueling assignments that require round-the-clock investigating, not to mention the actual writing –gets to keep her job so she can start the cycle all over again in the name of quality journalism. Yoshioka also keeps her dignity and integrity intact, which is much more than one can say for Japanese movies about professional women, or let’s face it, women protagonists in general. 

The role of Erica Yoshioka is gutsy and intriguing and you can’t help but wonder why a Japanese actress didn’t snap it up. Rumors are going around that all the possible candidates had turned it down because they didn’t want to get involved in anything anti-government and were afraid of the backlash. Shim can return to South Korea, but Japanese actresses have to live and work here. 

Personally, I’ll take what I can get, and bask in the fact that The Journalist got made at all. Usually, such projects never get off the ground. Not only does The Journalist dig at some old scars the current Administration would rather forget, it bears the hallmarks of a well-meaning dud. There is no love story. There are no sex scenes or girl idols to alleviate the complete seriousness of the proceedings. And the director, Michihito Fujii, is only 32 years old with no blockbusters on his resume. Initially, Fujii turned down the offer of director since, as he professed in an online interview, “I didn’t know anything about politics or the news.” 
Still, once he signed on, Fujii did the research, hit the books and lined up interviews with government officials. The story benefits from his efforts but the directing seems just a tad stiff and two-dimensional. Perhaps Fujii was too caught up in the material to do more than connect the dots, albeit with meticulous expertise. 

As it is, The Journalists belong to Shim and Tohri Matsuzaka who plays Sugihara, the elite bureaucrat working for ‘Naicho’. They give their all to film and Matsuzaka has been commended on social media for taking on a “dangerous” role that could potentially give him a bad name (the anti-government name). 

Compared to Shim’s Yoshioka, Sugihara is more nuanced and inwardly tortured. His job is to protect the current administration and make sure the press don’t get their hands on any problematic information, but he has his misgivings. When his boss commits suicide to cover up another cover-up, Sugihara is shaken.

(Editor’s note–this is based on the suicide of a Finance Ministry official who killed himself rather than take part in deleting or altering government documents that implicated Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a scandal relating to a government land-sale to a right-wing elementary school, run by his crony. None of the other officials who participated in forging public documents, which is a criminal offense, were charged; the female prosecutor who dropped the case was promoted)

The boss’s last words to Sugihara had been “don’t end up like me,” and Sugihara can’t fathom whether that meant “don’t die” or “don’t get involved in anything bad.” For a Naicho bureaucrat, the two most likely mean the same thing. 
Matsuzaka is a revelation – he has always been good but The Journalist shows his range. Last year, he was doing sex scenes ad nauseum in Call Boy and here, he never even takes off his jacket. 

A word about Shim as Yoshioka: in the movie, her character has a Japanese father and a Korean mother, hence her accent when she speaks Japanese. Yoshioka completely lives for her job, to the point of excluding everything else from her life. It turns out that her father (also a journalist) had killed himself over an incident involving fake news. As his daughter, she had vowed to pursue the truth, whatever the cost. Shim’s performance is excellent, and one can only hope there will be a future where Japanese actresses will go for roles like this –  far, far away from the planet of ‘Kawaii’.

In real life, there aren’t a whole lot of women journalists working for Japanese newspapers. Many don’t make it past the first five years; what with the long hours combined with frequent transfers to regional branches, incidents of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and of course, that thick glass ceiling – the job doesn’t exactly encourage them to stay on. 

Isoko Mochizuki, the author of the book on which the film is based, however, is changing the scenery. As mentioned above, she’s a veteran reporter for Tokyo Shinbun which is famed for its hard-hitting investigative journalism and for being the Abe Administration’s most vocal critic. Her frequent cross questioning of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, has ripped a big hole in Japan’s infamous ‘kisha club’ system (where only the reporters of major newspapers are allowed to attend closed press conferences). And now, with the unexpected success of The Journalist, perhaps we can start discussing hard-hitting issues like democracy and freedom of the press. Who’s to say the Japanese don’t need it ? They seem to love films that bring up these issues.

The Muji Hotel: Where Japanese Consumerism Meets Cute With Zen Minimalism But They Don’t Make Out


By Kaori Shoji 

I am at the reception counter of Muji Hotel – the much touted and long awaited hotel produced by Muji, Japan’s popular minimalist clothing and household products brand. Muji, as you may know, stands for Mujirushi (無印) which literally means “no seal or stamp”; it’s a brand who’s trademark is no (visible) brand. Which is very Zen-like unless you look at the label inside.

When the hotel first opened in early April, rumor had it that every room was booked solid for the next 2 years. In late May, procuring a room (on a weekday) proved easy. Muji (rhymes with Fuji) has grown into a global label touting Japan-style simplicity and aesthetics but to the average  non-minimalist Japanese, it remains inscrutable, even unfathomable. Many see the pared down surfaces and uniform designs of Muji products as a tad too aggressively simple to fit into their own lives. 

Aggressive maybe, but never offensive. There’s not the tiniest fragment of offensiveness anywhere in the Muji Hotel, including the young woman who checks me in. She’s an epitome of serenity and calm, her hair in a neat bun at the nape of her neck and wearing what is clearly a Muji outfit (white shirt and loose black cardigan plus black pants) the uniform of the hotel staff. She speaks almost flawless Japanese along with English and Urdu which she says is her native language. Before handing me the card key to my room, the young woman gives me an ‘omamori’ or talisman, compliments of Muji – and explains that inside the tiny cloth satchel there’s an emergency whistle (“in case of a natural disaster and other unforeseen events”) and a tiny leaflet containing instructions on getting through emergencies great and small. I open this leaflet and on the last page there is this advice: “If you should feel lonely, look up at the stars in the night sky.” 

My room which is a single, feels spacious thanks to the high ceiling measuring over 3.5 meters. In Tokyo, high ceilings are a luxury and when it comes to hotel rooms, they’re the exclusive domain of high-end imported brands like the Peninsula, the Park Hyatt and the Ritz Carlton. Muji is distinctive in that it’s a genuine Japanese hotel, located in one of the choicest pieces of real estate in Tokyo, but only charges a fixed rate of 140 USD per single room, per night. Most importantly, it doesn’t suck or resemble a prison cell.

On the other hand, you can’t imagine anyone having a tryst here– it’s far too pristine and devoid of emotion. And a hotel without a tryst is like a cupcake without icing. Or am I being offensive? (Editor’s note: Not offensive. ‘A donut without a hole’ might have been an offensive metaphor but then again they eat donut holes in Australia, so who’s to say?)

Back in my room, a faint scent of linen combined with lavender lingers in the air, piped out from a portable aroma diffuser, one of Muji’s most popular items. Actually, everything in the room is made by Muji, from the bed to the packets of shampoo and conditioner precisely laid out in an oak chest (also Muji), to the little bag of complimentary snacks and the bottled water in the mini-fridge (also Muji). The idea is to let the guests get a taste of what it’s like to live a life defined by Muji, by spending some time in a space designed and totally controlled by Muji. And afterwards,  we can take the escalator down to any of the five floors of Muji’s flagship store that’s located right below the hotel. The hotel and the shop are in the same building, and some of the tourists check in with empty suitcases, to stock up on Muji products during their stay. It’s a pretty nifty arrangement for Muji and The Minimalists–which could be a great ambient music band name. 

The brand has always opted for discretion, restraint, understatement with a whiff of snobbishness. To admit to a love of Muji is to tell the world that as a consumer, you’re very woke. Muji covers all the bases that would gladden the heart of a discerning shopper: recyclable materials, ethical off-shore manufacturing, diversity among the staff, organic cotton in the clothing line and energy efficient appliances. Add to that the flat, unobtrusive, utterly desexualized designs and it all totals up to something that is for many minimalists, a guilty pleasure. Indeed, many Japanese minimalists admit on their blogs that if they have to shop at all, they shop at Muji. Others have taken it several levels higher by buying Muji houses (yes, they will make an entire house from the ground up) and outfitting it with Muji kitchens and bathrooms, after which they proceed to fill it up with Muji furniture and Muji food. 

Muji was launched in 1980 by retail giant Seibu Conglomerates, as an alternative brand to what (then) Seibu CEO Seiji Tsutsumi saw as the nation’s misguided and excessive consumerism.  Japanese consumers were hurling themselves into the go-go economy, believing that shopping nirvana was the closest thing to paradise. All of a sudden, the cramped living spaces of the average Japanese were overflowing with stuff. Few of it matched or made sense, and perhaps for the first time in Japanese history, people found themselves in possession of with more STUFF than they ever thought possible. 


Muji offered an escape hatch from the clueless clutter of it all, with uniform, collapsible shelves and drawers designed to hold the simplest, most non-intrusive products. Now, forty years later, any discussion of Japanese minimalism almost always precludes a discussion of Muji. Konmari may be riding on her big wave at the moment, but Muji had been on the beach long before she was decluttering the ocean.

But as the hotel room shows, Muji has perhaps, gone a bit overboard. They had always walked the fine line between selling their ideals and selling their products but with the opening of the hotel, it seems that boundary has been obliterated. Muji has merged the product with the ideal, and the whole package comes with a price tag. 

Consequently, the last thing you’d want to do in this space is to indulge in carnal pleasures, though to be fair, the hotel does encourage it. (Muji Prophylactics are sold on the third floor.)  But since I was alone, what else was there to do but open my laptop to work at the Muji desk, lit by a Muji lamp, wearing Muji slippers after taking a shower in the Muji bathroom? Maybe I’ll even follow Muji’s suggestion and look up at the night sky for a few twinkling stars–and then fall into a dreamless Muji sleep. 

Note: In a homage to Muji style, none of the photos in this article have been captioned.

Bloodshed, Firecrackers and Tears–The Best Japanese Movies Of The Heisei

By Kaori Shoji

Want to talk about movies?
From the vantage point of a film writer, the Heisei Era (January 8, 1989 to April 30, 2019) felt like a relationship that neither party had the courage to end. You know – the one where the occasional moments of joy are almost enough to blot out the periodic outbursts of blah. On the plus side, the collapse of the studio system and the rise of the PIA Film Festival’s indies support system enabled young directors to go from “mom, I think I’ll make movies for a living” to getting listed on imdb.com in an unprecedented short span of time.
On the minus side, budgets dried up as the economy sank into the mires of a 20-year recession. Japanese movies lost the clout points earned by the cinematic giants of old, like Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi. The films that came out were drastically reduced in scale. In the meantime, rival filmmakers in China and South Korea emigrated to Hollywood and stunned the world with grandiose, mythical stories funded by mega-budgets.

Still, we kept slingin’ that hammer because deep down in the recesses of our souls, we suspected that this is as good as it gets. Here’s a guide to take you through the most memorable movies (including the bad, the good and the ugly) that adorned the Heisei era – in random order.

1) Spirited Away『千と千尋の神隠し』2001
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

顔無し (NoFace)

In many ways, Heisei belongs to Hayao Miyazaki, who at 78, remains Japanese anime’s biggest influencer. As co-founder of anime production company Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s works have always been gorgeous to look at but not always easy to understand; he has always avoided there feel-good formulaic plots favored by of Disney, designed to make everyone feel special and loved. Instead, the grand master of Nippon Anime has loftier plans. Part of it comes from his love of flying – Before WWII, Miyazaki’s family owned and operated a small aircrafts manufacturer and apparently, he was drawing airplanes before he could walk. What Japanese film critics describe as the “soar factor” is prevalent in almost every one of Miyazaki’s films, a sensation of flight, freedom and autonomy as the characters aim for the sky and struggle to gain control over their destinies. In Spirited Away,the soar factor is embodied by a flying dragon, and an impossibly high staircase that 10-year old protagonist Sen must navigate several times each day, if she is to survive and rescue her parents who have been changed into pigs. Spirited Away is a great piece of entertainment but it’s also classic Miyazaki – philosophical and stoic to the very last frame.

2) Minbo『ミンボーの女』1992
Directed by Juzo Itami

The Japanese Gentle Art of Extortion

In the west, Juzo Itami is best known for  Tampopo, a hilarious and sensual celebration of food. Minbo is far less light-hearted.

As the son of eminent prewar filmmaker Mansaku Itami, Juzo had always banked on his rich-kid image and a man-about-town snobbishness, both of which he deployed to full advantage in his films. But Minbo was a different breed. The story of a lawyer specializing in organized crime (played by Itami’s wife and leading lady Nobuko Miyamoto) hired to deal with yakuza (Japanese gangster) thugs, Minbo is dark and accusatory. The yakuza are depicted for what they are: childish, insecure bullies protected by clans interested only in profit (not honor, as most Japanese movies would have us believe). To prove his point, Itami swaps out Miyamoto’s trademark buoyancy for a rigid and sometimes leaden performance and the some of the action sequences seem over-the-top silly. Still, Minbo is probably Juzo Itami’s most important work, not least because it marks a crossroad in both his career and his life. After the release of Minbo, Itami was attacked by yakuza henchmen sent from the notorious Goto clan and got his face slashed up. Five years later, he jumped to his death from his office window. Whether Itami’s death was voluntary or enforced (by Goto’s men) remains an open mystery. 

3) The Shoplifters『万引き家族』2018
Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda

1) One Big Happy Family – clockwise from right, Mayu Matsuoka, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki and Sakura Ando. Title: The Shoplifters ©️2018 Fuji Television GAGA AOI Pro. Distributed by GAGA

One out of 7 children in Japan are living below the poverty line, with school lunches as their main source of nourishment. In Hirokazu Koreeda’s The Shoplifters, that number feels like more. Starring the always watchable Lily Franky and Sakura Ando as a down and out couple raising a 10 year old son in the ramshackle house of an elderly ‘obaachan (grandma),’  The Shoplifters won Koreeda the Palme D’Or at Cannes – the first ever for a Japanese director. The Abe Administration took offense at how Koreeda took the nation’s dirty linen and washed it in public so to speak. But The Shoplifters did wonderfully well at the box office, soaring to number 4 in the list of Japan’s highest grossing films of all time. One of the takeaways of this film is that in spite of their shoplifting, hand-to-mouth existence, the family is united by a fierce loyalty and is somehow, amazingly content – a rarity among Japan’s urban families mired in stress and societal pressure. A poignant and ultimately tragic film, The Shoplifters makes you want to see it again and again.

4) Ichi『殺し屋イチ』2001
Directed by Takashi Miike

Does Takashi Miike have nightmares and if so, what can they possibly look like? As the master portrayer of Japanese stab-and-slash violence, Miike is notorious for his unflinching dedication to drenching the screen in blood and gore. Ichi remains his most memorable work, not least because it stars the internationally respected Tadanobu Asano and the deadpan Nao Omori as rival yakuza henchmen ostensibly bent on revenging the death of their boss. The duo’s real objective however, turns out to be the high savored from killing as many human beings as possible, in the most gruesome of ways. The backdrop is Kabukicho, Shinjuku at the turn of the century, and Ichi’s glamorized violence makes the whole place look dangerously alluring. Present day Kabukicho has turned into a staid tourist trap with surveillance cameras placed in every nook and cranny, to nip violent incidents in the bud, apparently. No worries – even the yakuza go around with eyes glued to their phones.

5) Kamome Shokudo『かもめ食堂』2006
Directed by Naoko Ogigami

Heisei was an era in which many Japanese women categorically refused to get hitched and even more to give birth. The birth rate plummeted to an all-time low of 1.43. In 10 years, one out of five women (and one out of four men) are expected to live out their lives without ever having a partner which may strike the casual observer as a spectacularly tragic statistic. For director Naoko Ogigami however, the numbers are fodder for her particular genre of filmmaking. Kamome Shokudo is her breakthrough work that deal with a trio of single women who come together in Helsinki. One of them, Sachie (Satomi Kobayashi) runs a local diner and the other two (played by Hairi Katagiri and Masako Motai) decide to work there as well. The utter absence of emotional drama (but an abundance of great food) is incredibly healing as you realize that Japanese women may have more freedom and control over their lives than we thought. Best line: “Onigiri is the soul food of Japan.” 

6) Zan『斬』2018
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto 

(C)SHINYA TSUKAMOTO/KAIJYU THEATER

Shinya Tsukamoto is a weird and wonderful film buff. For the entirety of the Heisei Era, he has acted, produced and directed his own films – always on a minuscule budget and a minimal number of staff. He even nabbed a part in Martin Scorsese’s Silence (for which he auditioned along with everyone else), prompting the great Scorsese to seek Tsukamoto out on set and shake his hand.  

Last year, Tsukamoto came out with Zan which he shot in less than a month and starred as a wandering samurai in the last days of the Edo Period. The film is brilliant for two reasons: 1) it highlights the samurai class as reluctant murderers who must cut people up to prove themselves, and 2) it shows up the brutally labor-intensive, muck raking poverty of late 19th century Japan. In the midst of the shit-logged ditch water however, you can almost glimpse that gem of hope. An unforgettable cinema experience. 

7) Tokyo Sonata『トウキョウソナタ』2008
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Years have passed since Kiyoshi Kurosawa replaced Akira as the pre-eminent Japanese filmmaker with that surname. Though Kurosawa’s main turf is horror, (Cure, anyone?) Tokyo Sonata is arguably his best and most accessible work, drawing an unexpectedly stunning performance from former pop idol Kyoko Koizumi.

Koizumi plays housewife Megumi, who is ambivalent about her stay-at-home existence in the burbs while having no idea how to break out of her shell. Her husband (Teruyuki Kagawa) is a sarariman (salaryman) who has recently been fired from his job, but pretends to go to work every morning in his suit and tie. The couples’ two reticent teenage sons have plans and desires of their own, of which their parents know nothing. Each of the family members seem to be dancing to a different tune, audible only to themselves until one day, their hidden urges come tumbling out. A haunting beautiful story that amply illustrates the dreariness of Japan’s two-decade long recession.

8) 北野武監督
HANA-BI 1997年

Say what you like about comedian and filmmaker Takeshi Kitano, but there’s no denying that for about 20 years in the Heisei period, the man was the closest thing Japan had to a living deity. The man has a violent streak, as demonstrated in the 1986 attack on the offices of papparazi rag “Friday” for which he was arrested and found guilty (but got off with a suspended sentence). In 1994, a motor bike accident that would have killed another man landed him in the hospital for 6 months but before he got out, he went on the air and cracked jokes about his horribly disfigured face. 

In the Heisei era, Kitano made some unforgettable movies but HANA-BI, (meaning ‘fireworks’) is a masterpiece. He directed, co-wrote and starred as Nishi, a cop who has just lost a young son. The tragedy causes Nishi’s life to spin out of control, as his wife (Kayoko Kishimoto) is hospitalized and his buddy Horibe (Ren Osugi) is shot by a perpetrator. Later, Nishi quits the police force to takes his wife on a trip, intending to kill her before putting a bullet in his own head.

Though Kitano has always worked in comedy, he is rarely verbose and HANA-BI is amazingly reticent. The absence of explanatory dialogue matches the extraordinarily lovely visuals, drenched in dark blue and gray tones as the story traces the graceful arc of Nishi’s downfall.

9) “Helter Skelter” 『ヘルタースケルター』2012
Directed by Mika Ninagawa

Mike Ninagawa may have been born with a silver spoon but her talent (and personal struggle) is achingly real. As the daughter of Japan’s foremost theater director Yukio Ninagawa, Mika’s life was both charmed and cursed. Dad’s glorious reputation preceded her everywhere she went so perhaps it was natural for her to choose photography and film instead of the stage. Helter Skelter is her second feature and stars the enfant terrible of the Japanese film industry Erika Sawajiri, as a nymphomaniac actress who lives in fear of losing her beauty. To prevent this from happening, the actress periodically goes under the knife, endangering not just her health but her sanity as well. Helter Skelter is audacious, brilliant and gorgeously shot – and an astute observation of fame and celebrity-dom in Japan’s youth-obsessed media industry.

10) Still the Water 『2つ目の窓』2014
Directed by Naomi Kawase

Naomi Kawase had a chaotic upbringing –her parents more or less abandoned her when she was a baby and the filmmaker was subsequently brought up by a relative. In interviews, Kawase has said she has tried to understand her life by making films about families and indeed, her works show a special fascination (or obsession) with the family dynamic. Still the Water feels especially intimate – a coming of age tale set in gorgeous Amami Oshima island off the coast of Kagoshima prefecture. Two teenagers (Junko Abe and Nijiro MurakamiI) struggle with their roots as their parents fumble about, trying to come to terms with their own identities and personal desires. Miyuki Kumagai plays the island ‘yuta’ (shaman) who must face her own imminent death by cancer, as her family resents her apparent powerlessness over her fate. A film that feels like an solitary, introverted vacation by the beach. 

Parade the Penis: Kanamara Matsuri

Text & video by Phoebe Amoroso, cover image courtesy of Kanamara Shrine

Our roving reporter, Pheebz, visited the annual Kanamara Festival on April 7th, which involves a lot of phalluses. The Kanamara Shrine (literally, “Metal Penis Shrine”) is where people pray for sexual health and fertility.

The annual festival – informally known as “penis festival” – has been growing in popularity, with 30,000 visitors in 2016, 60% of those coming from overseas. Could watching the phallic parade be something of a release?

What’s the story behind this upstanding event? Watch the video below to peel back the mythological foreskin and get to the root of the matter.

The festival has its roots in local sex workers praying for protection against sexually-transmitted infections, but in recent years, it has come to represent LGBTQ and diversity with profits going towards HIV research.

Quite rightly, however, many have pointed out the hypocrisy inherent in a country, which made international headlines for condemning vagina art by Megumi Igarashi, better known as Rokudenashiko. Who was arrested on obscenity charges for distributing 3D data of her vagina that she used to 3D print a vagina canoe as part of her work.

Yet the obscenity of the flagrant double standards provokes discussion, and an event that promotes inclusivity is worth celebrating in a notoriously conservative society.

Many festival attendees are likely satisfied with pure spectatorship and sucking on phallic-shaped candy, and that’s fine too. But for maximum enjoyment, it’s worth digging a little deeper into the legend of a SAVAGE VAGINA DEMON (you read that right).

One legend has it that a beautiful woman was plagued by a jealous demon, who hid in her vagina and killed Husband Number 1 by biting off his penis. Husband Number 2 met a similar fate. Dismayed, she enlisted the help of a local blacksmith who seems to have been really chill about dealing with vagina demons. He made her a metal phallus, which she inserted. The demon, of course, bit it, but he broke his teeth and fled. Presumably she lived happily ever after, especially since she had her own personal metal phallus.

Come along for the ride – watch our report. ↑

Book Review: Japanese Tattoos

By Taylor Drew

Coauthored by Brian Ashcraft, a senior contributing editor for the website Kotaku, and Osaka based tattoo artist Hori Benny, this book Japanese Tattoos: History * Culture * Design was written with the goal with the intention of helping those that are thinking of getting a Japanese style tattoo (perhaps most commonly known outside of Japanese as irezumi・刺青). Both authors use extensive knowledge of Japanese style tattooing and personal interviews to guide the novice away from committing any cultural faux pas in a work that spans 158 glossy pages.

“Over the course of researching, interviewing, and writing this book, we consulted numerous friends, colleagues, experts, and total strangers with the goal of introducing and decoding the most prevalent motifs so that English speakers can have a better understanding of their meaning and hopefully get Japanese tattoos that can be worn with pride – as they should be”

The book begins with an introduction to the history of irezumi in Japan, from punitive tattoos, to prohibition, and all the way back to modern times. This first section also covers briefly some reasons why Japanese tattoos have changed over time. The book is then divided into six additional chapters based on the different styles and motifs found in irezumi, with numerous sections in each chapter that clearly divide different motifs in that style. A tattooist and client profile are also included at the end of every chapter, giving life to the theme of that particular chapter. There are also information boxes that provide additional information to support the content within the main body of the work. All of this is supported with high quality, full colour images of tattoos and virtually every single page of the book.

What I found extremely impressive about this book was the sheer quantity and quality of the accompanying images. Not only are specific motifs and their meanings clearly explained, but the authors have also provided imagery and explanations of the images themselves. The reader is able to enjoy each and every motif – usually in more than one style. Both Ashcraft and Hori Benny did an exceptional job collecting the various photographs of irezumi for the book.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of the book though, was the addition of the Tattooist Profile and Tattoo Client Profile at the end of every single chapter. While the majority of the book reads, to an extent, like an irezumi dictionary of sorts, these sections brought extra life into the vast amount of information being provided. We, as readers, are given the opportunity to hear the voices of individuals that are not the authors. These sections are personal and provide a real solid look into the minds of the tattoo artists and their clients. We are able to see their views on irezumi and what they mean to them personally. The extra insight brought in by these sections is a crucial component in what makes Japanese Tattoos work – it makes the “foreign” content relatable.

That being said, the large amount of information that the book contains is also a weakness. There were certain sections that I found difficult to read. There are extra text bubbles of information throughout the book, but in some places their existence takes away from the overall flow of the work. The reader is obligated to both stop midsentence to go read the “extras” or move on and hope they don’t forget to go back and read them again. Such as,

“The fox (kitsune in Japanese) is associated with the formless Shinto deity Inari, who is sometimes depicted as male, other times as female and sometimes as gender-less. Inari is not only the god of rice, sake wine, and fertility, but also the god of metal workers and commerce. Stone fox statues often appear at the more than ten thousand officially recognized Inari shrines in Japan, and because the fox guards these shrines, the animal is often confused with the god. The pure white foxes, however, aren’t simply the god’s messengers, but also guard and protect the shrines. These foxes also carry connotations of wealth and fertility, due to Inari’s rice associations.” (pg. 57)

The Fox (Kitsune/狐) Tattoo is a joy to behold.

I found sections like this rather disjointing and it did affect my reading experience. Definitely not a problem for many readers, but something that I wish would have been laid out a little better, especially considering the high quality of the content on every single page.

Overall, Japanese Tattoos was a fascinating read and I would recommend it enthusiastically to anyone interested in tattoos or keen to learn more about specifically about irezumi. While perhaps the academic might find the content a bit shallow in terms of the historical content, it is important to remember that that is NOT the goal that Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny set for this book. They wanted to create a resource for English speakers who wanted to get Japanese tattoos. A goal that I would say they accomplished with flourishing colours.

Taylor Drew is a new contributor to JSRC she is a Canadian living in Tokyo since 2015. (Almost) fluent in Japanese. Loves Iwate and cats. 

The Past Present

Everyone knows there is a dark side to journalism. If they don’t, they just haven’t worked the job long enough. It’s even darker when you work for a Japanese newspaper that still has morning and evening editions. That means six deadlines a day, since each regional version has its own deadline. I don’t miss those days.

When you’re on the police beat, you essentially live within the police press club. There’s at least one 24-hour shift a week, in which you may or may not catch a couple hours of sleep between 2 and 5:30 a.m., when you have to check the papers to see if the team has been scooped and notify the boss and the reporter in charge of the division.

You’re never home. You’re never not on call. Most of us end up divorced or legally separated. You will not be able to avoid hounding the friends, families and victims of a horrible crime for their statements and photos of the deceased. It’s a hyena-like task that I still do and will always dislike.

The darker side of the police beat or investigative journalism in Japan, especially when covering the yakuza, or as the police call them boryokudan (暴力団), or violent groups, is that eventually you’ll meet with violence. And I have several times. It’s left me with a litany of injuries – a weekly regimen of physical therapy, chronic post-traumatic stress and some brain damage.

As it stands, the head injury I suffered in 2010 has been both a blessing and a curse. It has resulted in temporal lobe seizures, less frequent as time goes on. I have a lesion in my brain, located around the temporal lobe – the product of a two-story fall, I suppose that was the initial injury (1986). In January 2010, an angry source – an ex-yakuza high as a kite on some very good crystal meth – kicked me in the head after I set him off and what was a conversation turned into a knock-down brawl. I believe he was in the midst of meth psychosis so it was hard to hold it against him.

It took a few days to realize that I wasn’t quite the same after that. I think that’s when things started going wrong on the temporal level; time was out of joint.

You might think that being able to relive the greatest moments of your life would a wonderful thing. You would be wrong. A few times a week, I have the displeasure, usually at random, but sometimes triggered by a sound or scent, of re-experiencing a past event in my life. Often they are very mundane. I wouldn’t call them memories, they’re stronger than that – they’re more than flashbacks. For me, they constitute a temporal dislocation; a disruption in the chronology of life; identity; of who I am and how I feel.

These re-experiences are things like laying down on a futon, beside a window on a rainy day. A woman I used to love, putting her hand on my neck and whispering something into my ear about the growth of oak trees in the summer. I lose myself for a minute, maybe just a few seconds. When I sleep, it’s worse. Sometimes, I relive violent events in my life—with all the fear, adrenaline, anger and pain that came with it. I feel the glass in my feet and I can’t stand up. When I calm down and check the soles and see that there’s nothing there–then I’m fine. It feels just as real as it did back then. I know that there’s no threat but my body doesn’t listen, so going back to sleep isn’t really much of an option. I could take a sleeping pill but that’s also another world of troubles.

I write a lot at night. I know many cafes and bars that are open at 3am; it’s good to have a place to go when it happens.

Generally, I’m very good at covering up my temporal disorder. I slip up now and then. I used to buy picture books for my children and then realize it has been years since they read books without words. My daughter when she was ten once horrified me by telling me that she was going to need a sports bra. Because in my head, I can remember reading to her Alice in Wonderland, the pop-up book, just last night. That was probably six years ago at the time. Everything seems like yesterday.

At least I’m blessed with faculties that tell me my sense of time and chronology is out of whack. But when I’m tired or sleep- deprived, it’s much harder to remember what was past and what is present. After a flashback, I have this strange feeling that time should have stopped where it was; that I should be walking into work at The Yomiuri Shimbun and filing an article on the latest hit- and-run. Right after one ends, I feel myself right back where I was at the time. It’s as if the world had been rebooted and put back to factory-shipped state.

After my temporal clock resets, I find myself feeling about a person I once loved exactly as I did – at what were wonderful little moments in the relationship. Weren’t we dancing together last night in a seedy bar in New York? Why can’t we just start at that point in time again? Because what happened after that doesn’t feel like it happened. It feels for a few moments as if that’s where time stopped.

I feel like I could go back to any point in time and pick up where things were. The rest of the world doesn’t function like that.

I’ve lost a lot of friends over the years. My mentor and sort of second father, Detective Chiaki Sekiguchi died of cancer in 2008. A colleague at the newspaper killed herself. People who were good friends and sources have gone missing. In 2010, lawyer and mentor, Toshiro Igari, was probably killed in the Philippines after taking on my case against the publisher of a yakuza boss’ biography. After obtaining the autopsy report from the Manila police, it’s clear that suicide was not the cause of death. A source, but not a friend, was shot to death in Thailand in April of 2011. I miss him as well, despite myself. My BFF, Michiel Brandt, passed away due to complications from leukemia in 2012. She was 30. I’m now 50. I keep waiting for the pain of that loss to be a little less but it stays. Even when you are well aware that life is impermanent and death comes to us all, sometimes it just seems too soon. There’s a part of you that doesn’t expect you to outlive your friends, especially when they are so much younger than you. Sometimes, I see her in dreams as well.

Sometimes, I have flashbacks to moments where I was a total jerk. Where I was rude or insensitive and I feel the same pangs of regret in the present that I felt in the past. I relive the mistake with no possibility of correcting it.

I have keys to apartments to where I can never go back in the physical universe. But in my own mindscape, I was just there and will be there again. Everything should be just where it was. The peanut butter in the cupboard, my toothbrush in a drawer, the balcony door open. The computer would be on the desk where I used to keep it. My desk in the Metro Police Headquarters should still have my stack of yakuza fanzines on top, stuffed into a cheap cardboard box. I wish I could throw away the old keys but I have this irrational belief that I will need them—even though the locks must have been changed and there is no reason to go back and no one there I know anymore.

Some of the memories are horrific. And they come with all the pain and horror of the time: photos casually shown to me that I never wanted to see; the smell of rusty iron from a bloody body, laying cut to shreds on a train track; or the sensation of burning, when a thug stubbed out his cigarette on my shoulder.

In general, maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time in Japan, I try to take a stoic approach to things. The idea of seeing a psychotherapist to resolve mental issues seemed like a waste of time. But I finally went to see one in 2010, to try and do something about my insomnia. After a couple of sessions, the diagnosis was chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. He recommended anti- depressants to deal with the hyper-vigilance issues. I didn’t take them. I stopped going. I need to be hyper vigilant at times. It’s a survival mechanism.

I don’t want to turn it off; I just want to control it better. Meditation helps. Sleep helps. Exercise helps.

I thought that diagnosis would explain the strange flashbacks that were happening, but all I could find in the literature were references to people having flashbacks to traumatic events, not mundane or pleasant moments. It took a scan of my head and a visit to a neurologist to finally get diagnosed correctly.

There has to be a reason why we forget things. If we could recall the past too vividly, the present might pale in comparison. If we can’t forget, we can’t move on. Maybe our minds would explode with the complications of retaining memories of the past and awareness of the present at the same time.

I have anxiety about sleeping. I never know what time of my life I’ll wake up in. The persistence of the past both helps and hinders my relationships in the present. It helps because I get to relive mistakes and am thus reminded not do them again. It hinders because I’m able to forgive and then forget I’ve forgiven someone in the first place. Or forgive myself.

I’d like to walk on; I just keep treading water.

There’s a weariness that comes with covering violent crime, fraud, and human trafficking. There’s a sense of futility. You keep covering the same story, over and over – only the characters change. The narrative remains the same. In recent years, I’ve moved away from crime reporting and covering the yakuza. Bitcoin, politics, social issues, corruption, financial news. There’s a whole other world of things to report on–and just as important to know as well.

These days I’m in a good place mentally and physically. I am, if not happy, quite content with where I am and what I’m doing. But sometimes when I wake up, especially after having a disorienting flashback, I find myself strangely detached from life itself. I can only explain it by borrowing the words of Qoheleth, in the Book of Ecclesiastes:

What has been is still happening now

What has been will be again and be as it is

just as it was

There is nothing new under the (Iand of the rising) sun.

[令和]は暗黒時代の幕開けか

ニッポンの新時代『令和』は大嘘と大騒ぎに包まれ、5月1日に幕開けを迎えました。奇遇なことに、新しい元号の発表日はエイプリルフール(April Fools’ Day) と重なりました。エイプリルフールとは毎年4月1日には嘘をついても良いという西洋の伝統で、政府にとっては「令和」が「美しい調和(Beautiful Harmony)」を意味するというインチキ仮説を国内外で広める絶好の機会でした。文字通りに解釈するならば「命令と平和」。ついジョージ・オーウェルの陰鬱な小説を連想してしまいます。

もちろん、国民の大半は政府説明の胡散臭さを見抜いているばかりか、驚きもしませんでした。2019年1月の時点では、日経新聞の世論調査で、「政府の統計を信用しない」と答えた人は79%でした。 

政府統計「信用できない」79%

日本を取り戻すって?どこへ?

つまり、日本人の五人に四人は政府が発表する統計が事実だと思っていません。オオカミ少年政権といえるでしょう。その背景には、安倍政権が2014年5月30日の内閣人事局設置以来、官僚を手懐けてきたことが挙げられます。また飴と鞭でマスコミを支配しているだけでなく、公文書の廃棄·改ざんなども許しています。いや、「許している」というよりも共謀者にご褒美を与えて出世させています。この時勢で、不正を嫌って自殺する官僚は英雄です。森友学園関連の文書改ざんを倫理的に許せなかった英雄ですが、政府に全く賞賛されない英雄ですが。真実とともに葬られた被害者です。全面的に違法行為に加担し、偽証までしてくれた財務省の佐川宣寿・元理財局長は処罰されるどころか、隠蔽工作の腕前が認められ、出世の階段を早々と登りました。

しかし、安倍総理と右腕の管官房長官らが不都合な事実の隠蔽工作を全部官僚に任せっきりというわけではありません。仲間のためなら強姦容疑の捜査も中止したりするなどして(ご参照→安倍総理の太鼓持ちジャーナリスト・山口敬之氏による伊藤詩織さんレイプ疑惑 なぜ逮捕状は中村格刑事部長によって止められたのか――? 超党派の国会議員が警察庁・法務省を徹底追及!)「上級国民」の防衛に奔走しています。安倍総理内閣の人々は自己利益及び仲間の利益を死守するには、「嘘も方便」と弁えている勇者です。

確かに人間は嘘をつく生き物だといいますが、いくら自分自身に嘘をつき、さらには国民にまで騙せたとしても、いずれは現実という不都合にぶち当たるでしょう。

『クールジャパン』改め『クルールジャパン”Cruel Japan”』

非情な国の行く末

ここ数年日本政府は“クールジャパン”の名の下観光大国のイメージを全面に押し出してきました。しかし現実はといえばヒトラー狂の金持ちらが国を操り、報道の自由は勢いよく右肩下がり、蔓延る貧困問題、公的文書改ざん、あとを絶たない過労死、腐敗しきった官僚主義、そして中世から変わらない司法制度と、まるでパンドラの箱の開けてしまったかのような惨状が広がっています。そこに追い打ちをかけるかのように、福島のメルトダウンをものともせず原発再稼働を急ぐ政府はあっぱれとしか言いようがありません。

もちろん、人口減少に高齢化も忘れてはなりません労働環境はといえば、低賃金、産休もろくに取れず(父親の育休など論外)、慢性的な保育園不足に過度の長時間労働。そんな生活では男女ともに恋愛、結婚ましてや子育てなど望めるはずがありません。

シングルペアレントとして子育てなどもってのほかです。もし女性がシングルマザーとなった場合、50%の確率で貧困ライン以下の生活を強いられるでしょう。人手不足で倒産を余儀なくされる企業も後を絶ちません。

人手不足ともなれば女性の躍進を期待しそうになりますが、男尊女卑大国ニッポンではそうもいきません。世界経済フォーラムの2018年の男女平等格差調査で149ヵ国中、日本は110位でG7最下位です。

今後ますます深刻化する人手不足への対策として政府は外国人労働者受け入れを拡大する計画を推し進めています。しかしこれまでに沢山の外国人労働者が搾取されてきた技能実習制度の問題点を置き去りにしたこの政策は、根強い外国人嫌いが蔓延する日本では失敗に終わること間違いありません。

令和のハイライトとなる2020年東京オリンピックですが、安倍首相は自身のレガシーに華を添えてくれると期待しているのでしょう。

そんなオリンピックですが、賄賂で招致した上、ヤクザも絡む堕落っぷり。さらには誘致時想定予算の7,000億円が、いつの間にか「3兆円」まで膨れ上がっています。極めつけに開催は真夏の8月、酷暑の中日射病による死者、さらには対応に追われる病院を襲う数々の危機は計り知れません。

また、トリクルダウン理論に則ったアベノミクスも失敗とみなされ始めていいます。東京商工リサーチによれば、中小企業の倒産は上昇傾向にあり、アベノミクス成功論はそもそも改ざんされたデータを根拠にしている可能性も否めません。

一方、政府が年金資金を用いて日本の株式市場を底上げしようとした結果、高齢化する国民が年金を受給できなくなる危険性が浮上しています。 公的年金を運用する年金積立金管理運用独立行政法人(GPIF)は今年2月、昨年10~12月期で14兆8039億円(うち半分は国内のシェア)の運用損が出たと発表しました。このような損失が続けば、高齢者への年金支給への支障をきたすと見られています。

令和の未来はそう明るくありません。

名前に込められた意義

 令和時代は4月30日、平成天皇陛下の生前退位によって始まりました。安倍政権は平成天皇の生前退位に反対されていましたが、遂に阻止することはできませんでした。

平成天皇が生前退位の意志を表明した結果、安倍政権の改憲運動に歯止めがかかりました。天皇は国の象徴として力強い存在です。天皇が日本人の日常生活に登場することも多く、天皇にまつわる祭日は5つもあります。使い勝手が面倒臭くても「元号」は意義深いものです。

一方、安倍総理と仲間らは神道的カルト集団でも右翼系圧力団体でもある「日本会議」に支えられています。日本会議が米国の”押しつけ憲法”

を排除して帝国時代の憲法を復活させたいのです。日本会議の息が掛かった政治家にとって、一番気に喰わない現代日本の思想といえば「基本的人権」「平和主義」「国民主権」です。安倍総理と彼が任命した 大臣らが信仰としていることは基本的に5つです。

①日本は神の国である

②第二次世界大戦で防衛戦であり、日本に戦犯はない

③再び天皇を元首にして神様として崇拝すべき

④ 少子化の悪因は男女平等主義である

⑤米国の押しつけ憲法が日本をだめにしている

皮肉なことに平成天皇は80歳の誕生日記者会見で、米国へ感謝の意を述べて憲法·平和主義の大切さを訴えました。 平成25年12月18の宮殿石橋の間で次のように話しました。「戦後、連合国軍の占領下にあった日本は、平和と民主主義を、守るべき大切なものとして、日本国憲法を作り、様々な改革を行って、今日の日本を築きました。戦争で荒廃した国土を立て直し、かつ、改善していくために当時の我が国の人々の払った努力に対し、深い感謝の気持ちを抱いています。また、当時の知日派の米国人の協力も忘れてはならないことと思います」。

平成天皇は30年の公務の中で繰り返して平和憲法を守る重要性をアピールしてきました。「押しつけ憲法」解体を企む安倍総理らとは対照的です。安倍総理だけでなく、日本会議と自民党の一部にとっては、天皇陛下の存在そのものが邪魔者だったようです。安倍総理らが天皇陛下を神様と崇拝しながら、その神様の発言が彼らの政策に反対しているので、困っていたでしょう。続く令和天皇(徳仁天皇陛下)も平和主義者のようです。「歴代の天皇のなさりようを心にとどめ、自己の研鑽に励むとともに、常に国民を思い、国民に寄り添いながら、憲法にのっとり、日本国及び日本国民統合の象徴としての責務を果たすことを誓い、国民の幸せと国の一層の発展、そして世界の平和を切に希望します」(令和元年5月1日)

非常に不思議なことです。日本会議や安倍総理らは天皇陛下を神様と崇拝しながら神様のいうことを聞かぬのです。それは一種の冒涜ではないでしょうか。

安倍総理が理想としている国を知りたければ、このビデオを見て下さい。戦慄を覚えるはずです。平成24年5月10日、憲政記念館にて行われた自民党内の「創生日本の研修会」での様子です。 

その中で、第一安倍政権(消化が悪かった第一安倍政権)の長勢甚遠元法務大臣が憲法から「平和主義、国民主権、基本的人権削除しよう!」と言っています。素朴な疑問ですが、憲法の精神と基本的人権を否定する輩を法務大臣に任命する安部総理には果たして良心というものがあるのでしょうか。

ビデオを見ると、元法務大臣らが「国民主権、基本的人権、平和主義…この3つを無くさなければ、ほんとの自主憲法にならない」と叫び、出席者からは拍手が鳴り響いています。平和憲法を守ろうと誓った平成天皇が拍手するはずがあるでしょうか。

余談メモ·この会議で、「尖閣諸島を取り戻せ」と叫ぶ人もいたようです。それは基本的には賛成です。不当にも「反日」と後ろ指を指される私からしても、個人的には尖閣諸島を中国から守ることは大切だと思います。明らかに尖閣諸島は日本の領土ですから。それだけは間違いないでしょう。

「令和」誕生まで

令和という元号はどのように決定されたのか明らかではありません。しかし文字通りに解釈するのが妥当といえるでしょう。「令」は「命令」の「令」です。複数の文献をみると次のような意味でよく知られています。

①「命ずる」、「いいつける」

②「法令などを世の中に広く知らせる」

③「みことのり(天皇の命令)」、「君主(国を治める人)の命令」

また「令和」の「令」は「箝口令」の「令」でもあり、「逮捕令状」の「令」でもあります。「和」は表向きに「平和」の「和」で「穏やか」「なごむ」などの意味です。口の部首と米の穂先が茎の先端に垂れかかるイメージから出てきた漢字といわれてます。また、もう一つ「やまと(日本)」の意を持ち合わせています。つまり、「日本人よ、命令に従えば平和ですよ」というような意味合いではないでしょうか。「万葉集から引用された」という説明はおそらく後付けでしょう。一部の新聞報道を読んでみると、実際、新しい元号を「令和」と決めたのは安倍総理です。彼のまったくの独断で「令和」となったのです。しかしここまでくれば、それも想定内のことでしょう。この記事を御覧ください。

安倍首相が統計不正追及に「だから何だってんだ!」と逆ギレ野次!「私が国家」とまた独裁発言もポロリ

本題に戻りましょう。「命名」という行為にはどれだけ意味があるのでしょうか。確かに安倍政権は命名の達人です。特に名前と全く反対の意味を持つ法律の作成·立法化には腕が成るようです 。危険すぎるとして何回も見送られた「共謀法」を「テロ対策特別措置法」と名前を変えて無理矢理議会を通しました。この法律によって捜査·逮捕の対象となる「共謀罪」対象犯罪は277種類に上ります。やはり、「無資格スポーツ振興投票」などのテロ行為を厳密に処罰しなければ、この国は終わりですね。SNSも対象となるので、「テロ関連情報」と見なされる呟きを拡散しただけでもアウトかもしれません。

しかし、安倍政権流のダブルスピーク(受け手の印象を変えるために言葉を言いかえる修辞技法)は日本製のウイスキーのように毎年、質が上がります。「働き改革」法は数千人から残業代の権利を奪い、一ヶ月の残業時間を100時間と限定したものです。しかし、それは厚生労働省の過労死ライン(80時間)を20時間も超えているのです。また、安倍政権のダブルスピークの中では、戦争行為を可能にした安全保障関連法「戦争法」がやはり傑作でした。

安倍政権の「令和」の世界では、まるでジョージ·オーウェルの小説「1984年」内で描かれた社会が現実となりまそうです。もうそろそろ学校の教科書では「戦争は平和である(WAR IS PEACE)。安保法は平和主義の法律」「自由は屈従である(FREEDOM IS SLAVERY)。残業代は鎖」

「無知は力である(IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH)。自由民主党は報道の自由と国民主権を大事にしている」とか明記されることでしょう。

詰まるところ、安倍政権のこれまでの言動を考慮すると、安部総理が「令和」の意味を「綺麗な調和」(Beautiful Harmony)」と語るならば、まず疑ってみた方が良いのではないでしょうか。

「綺麗な調和(Beautiful Harmony)」よりも「暗闇の虐政(Stark Tyranny)」の意味合いが込められているかもしれません。

あまり知られていませんが、令和天皇は歴者学者です。歴史から学び、二の舞いを演じないよう平和主義と基本的人権を肯定的に考えているわけです。安倍総理は戦犯として逮捕された故·岸信介元総理大臣の孫だけでなく岸元総理の生まれ変わりのような歴史修正主義者です。だからこそボンボン総理は歴史から何も学べずに原発を再起動させてひたすら日本を暗黒時代へ取り戻そうとするわけです。このままいけば「令和」は「美しい日本」の暗黒時代の幕開けとなるでしょう。

メモ・この記事一部はThe Daily Beast 5月1日付け「Japan Has a New Emperor and a New Era, but a Dark Future」を引用しているが、直訳ではありません。ご了承下さい。