The argument that “It’s worse in XXX (China,North Korea, US) so it’s okay to have XXX (sexism/racism/fascism/wage slavery/death by overwork) in Japan” is silly. It’s like the accused in a murder trail arguing, “I should be declared innocent because I only killed one person in the robbery but my partner killed three.” Some things are never okay. Whataboutism is the last resort of the intellectually dishonest weasel. (Sorry kids).
I don’t think that the work we do is shouting to the wind. Every effort matters. Sometimes sarcasm is an effective tool. We try to be polite in our response to the comments but rudeness is sometimes met with rudeness. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり
Does any of our work make a difference? Yes.
Actually, in my time as a reporter, me being “Jake Adelstein”, on editing duty today–criticism of huge problems in Japan, via articles that I have written and written with others, resulted in better laws against human trafficking, comprehensive measures to deal with dioxin pollution, and the Japanese government recently admitting that there is a huge problem with exploitation of underage girls that needs to be dealt with.
I and many of the writers on this blog who live in Japan, love this country, and loving a country doesn’t mean remaining silent; it means speaking up about what is wrong, and correcting it. The effort doesn’t always work but sometimes it yields results. And people who can’t see any fault or social problems in their country or refuse to do anything about it or just as complicit in the rise “dark corporations,” greedy nationalists, death by overwork, exploitive enterprises, corrupt politicians, and the nuclear industrial complex that have done so much harm to the nation. For decades many warned of the dangers that TEPCO and its poorly managed nuclear power plants held. They were ignored. It doesn’t make them any less correct.
The battle to protect human rights, worker rights, equal rights, the environment, democracy, the public right to know, justice, gender equality and to fight poverty and end corruption are important struggles. All over the world. Japan is no exception.
I’m a Soto Zen Buddhist priest in training, which is a part of Japanese culture–surprise! I wouldn’t argue the metaphysics of Buddhism are true, but there are universal truths and there is a motto that I have as an editor and journalist and try to keep in my own personal life. Pardon the idealism but I believe this creed applies everywhere in the world.
So below is a modified version of our editorial policy, adapted from the Dhammapada (法句経）. Thank you for your consideration.
Jake Adelstein, Japan Subculture Research Center, editor in chief
Conquer anger with compassion. Conquer evil with goodness. Conquer trolls with humour & sarcasm Conquer ignorance with knowledge Conquer stinginess with generosity. Conquer lies with truth
Some men in Japan just don’t seem to get that objectifying women is wrong.
In the land of the rising sun, the objectification of women is not only a thing, it’s a solid tradition and time-honored marketing ploy. Sometimes though, the tables can be turned the other way. This happened when Weekly SPA, a magazine famed for insisting that sex and money are the only things worth striving for, came out with a story in late December about which colleges had the most number of ‘yareru’ (i.e., easily f*ckable) women. Honorable first place went to Jissen Women’s University, followed by other prestigious women’s universities Otsuma and Ferris. Co-ed universities Hosei and Chuo came in 4th and 5th.
Normally, this would have caused a total of zero ripples on the calm surface of Japan’s societal pond (all the scum lurks beneath) but one young woman dared to raise her voice. This is Kazuna Yamamoto, a senior at International Christian University. Yamamoto saw the article and wrote to petition websitechange.org – that Japan should stop objectifying women, and noted the nation’s women “do not exist [soley] for the benefit of men.” In two days, Yamamoto’s petition amassed close to 30,000 sympathizers.
SPA editor-in-chief Takashi Inukai issued a public apology, saying that ‘yareru’ was in this case, inappropriate. Sorry. What SPA really meant to say, was ‘become on friendly terms with.’ Come on guys, is that the best you could do?
To make matters marginally more demeaning, SPA’s article was really about the practice of ‘gyara nomi,‘ which is a thing among young Japanese. (The ‘gyara’ comes from guarantee – in this case, cash.) In a ‘gyara nomi,’ a group of men meet a group of women at a drinking party. The men pick up the tab, and they are also obligated to offer money to women they find especially attractive. The women may or may not be pressured into sex by accepting the monetary gift but according to ‘Reina,’ a woman who regularly attends such gatherings, says “the sex is sort of mandatory. I mean, you can’t say no after the guy pays you. For myself and a lot of other girls, it’s a side hustle.” SPA covered an actual ‘gyara nomi’ party and an app that matches up college girls from the aforementioned universities wanting to earn a little cash, and men looking for a quick roll in the hay. It goes without saying that gyara nomi are limited to women under 25, (pre-Christmas cake age) though men do not face that censure.
Two factors are at play here: the objectification of women surely, but it’s also about women seizing the opportunity to cash in on their objectification. In a pathetically perverse way, you could say this is a win-win situation, or at least a supply and demand equation. Such a scenario is nothing new under the rising sun. Until Japan finally opened its doors to the West, objectifying women was so taken for granted the women themselves thought nothing of it.
By the way, the geisha trade of old was all about pushing the envelope of objectification: the closer a geisha got to simulating a perfectly made-up doll who danced and poured sake for her male clients (with a hinted promise of post-party sex), the better.
And in spite of all the water under the bridge and modernization with a vengeance, not a whole lot has changed. The practice of gyara nomi attest to the fact that Japanese men would would rather pay for sex, than god forbid, having to go through the arduous process of talking with a woman and getting to know her, and her consent– before taking her to bed.
As for the women themselves, like the aforementioned Reina many see their youths as a side hustle. If men and society insist on viewing college girls as ‘yareru’ cuties slinging Samantha Thavasa handbags over their arms, then there’s no shortage of college girls who bank on that view. Wearing short skirts, attending gyara nomi parties and then the next day, laugh about the men with their girlfriends at Starbucks. What’s the harm – but more to the point, how will they finance those Samantha Thavasa handbags if not through men? No self-respecting college girl wants to admit she had to buy one all on her own. With the exception of a weird few who want to waste their precious youth pursuing a medical degree (we know where such lofty ambitions wind up), young women find it easier to cater to male fantasies, and be compensated in one way or another for their trouble.
An apology from SPA will not likely change the way things are, but maybe, just maybe – it’s a tiny step taken toward…not anything so drastic as equality but non-objectification? On the day after the SPA fiasco, Peach John – one of Japan’s most lucrative women’s lingerie companies – issued an online apology about ‘inappropriate wording’ on one of their products. This was a supplement, touted as a ‘love potion.’ “Slip it into a loved one’s dish or cup, to get that person in the right mood for love” said the product description. (Editor’s note: At least that sounds better than menstrual blood in Valentine’s Day chocolates ) Peach John terminated its sales and promised that they will be “more careful” about choosing the right phrases. Cash, potions, deception, discrimination…would this all go away if Japanese men and women just learned to talk to each other?
Recently a Company called Shuukan Spa has released a ranking of “University students with easy-access girls” on a public magazine. (Published October 23, 2018)
2018 was a year where women from all over the world fought for women’s rights, so that our voices were delivered.
Japan will be having the first G20 summit this year, 2019 and it is ridiculous for an article such as this to be published. It’s not funny at all.
I would like to fight so that especially on public articles such as this one, sexualizing, objectifying and disrespecting women would stop.
We demand Shuukan Spa to take this article back and apologize, and promise to not use objectifying words to talk about women.
This sexualizing of women is not funny.
In Japan according to a study done by the Ministry of Justice, only 18.5% of the women report sexual assault or rape.
How about the left over 81.5%?
They don’t speak up. Can not speak up.
Because sexual assault, random guys touching your butt in public trains, having their crotch up your butt, rape, is something women have to deal with.
Because We use underaged girls in bikinis to fulfill the fetish of those who love baby faces.
Because we idolize young girls.
Because honestly, the society hasn’t changed ever since the time of comfort women.
Because men and women do not believe that we are worth the same as men.
In this world, 1 out of 5 women are raped or sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday.
According to the ministry of Justice, only 1 out of 10 people actually get convicted, after being sued for sexual assault.
In 2018, the world fought.
In some countries, abortion finally became legal.
100 year anniversary since Women got voting rights.
Women in Saudi Arabia were able to drive.
And using Social Media, people spoke up using #MeToo #NoWomenEver and in South America, #NoEsNo and #AbortoLegalYa.
This year we will not only hold the G20 nor but the W20 (women 20)
We demand that the media stops using words to discriminate women, objectify women, disrespect women and sexualize women.
We, women are not less than men.
We are human too.
We do not LIVE for men.
We do not exist for men.
Let’s raise our voices because I am sick of this society where women are objects.
Thanks to the True Story Award, a new prize for written reportage, from 30 August to 1 September 2019, over 60 reporters from right around the world will come together in Bern, Switzerland. Nominate the best journalists and stories in Japan.
Today, submissions open for the True Story Award, the first global award for reporters writing for newspapers, magazines and online publications. The prize recognises written reportage from all countries and in 12 of the world’s most widely spoken languages. The prize will be awarded to work that stands out through in-depth research, journalistic quality and societal relevance.
The prize seeks to motivate journalists from across the world and to support their work. In many places around the world, the loss of diverse and independent media coverage of events and developments is damaging the ability of the public to freely form critical opinions. Which makes it even more important to have courageous and innovative reporters – in all societies and countries. It’s for these reporters that the True Story Award has been created. To begin with, a jury representing 29 countries will nominate a total of 42 reporters. Following this process, an eight-person jury will determine the winners.
The nominees and selected members of the international jury will be invited to attend the prize ceremony in Bern, Switzerland. But it doesn’t end there. At a three-day festival, they will share stories about their work in various contexts around the globe. At some 50 public events, they will provide insights into the conditions under which their research was carried out, will discuss some of the obstacles and resistance they faced, tell stories, and provide the public with new persepectives on contemporary events. It will be the first festival of its kind in the German-speaking world. Apart from the award ceremony, entry to all events will be free.
The prize was conceived and launched by Reportagenmagazine, and the True Story Award and the accompanying festival will be carried out in close collaboration with Bern Welcome. The prize is funded by the newly founded True Story Award Foundation.
Marcel Brülhart, Chairman of the Board, Bern Welcome, bruelhart (at) recht-governance.ch, +41 (0)79 359 59 66
Bern Welcomebrings together city marketing, tourism and local activities in the city of Bern. This merger is the first of its kind in Switzerland.
The organisations Bern Tourismand Bern Meetings & Eventsare both included under the umbrella of Bern Welcome AG, and share a joint strategic and operational structure.
Bern Welcomeis primarily funded by the city of Bern, the business network BERNcityand the associations Hotellerie Bern+Mittelland andGastroStadtBern.
Reportagenis an independent magazine for contemporary storytelling. Outstanding authors tell fascinating stories from around the world. Researched in the field, with the protagonists themselves, and off the beaten track. A new edition every second month. In a sleekly designed paperback and a digital format.Reportagenis available in bookstores and from newsagents, in the App Store and by subscription.
Note: We met with former prosecutor Nobuo Gohara, last week, to discuss the arrest and prosecution of Carlos Ghosn. Mr. Ghosn has been accused of financial crimes, and has now been detained 23 days and rearrested. With Gohara’s permission, we are publishing his translated observatiosn about the case, written prior to the re-arrest of Mr. Ghosn today (December 10th 2018). *Portions of this were previously published in Japanese on Yahoo! News.
The Arrest of President & CEO Saikawa is Inevitable if Mr. Ghosn is Re-arrested based on Fake Statement made in the Last 3 Years
The End of The Myth of The Special Prosecutors is one book that Mr. Gohara has written on Japan’s prosecutors going off the rails.
Today (December 10) was the last day of the extended detention of Mr. Carlos Ghosn, who was arrested by the Special Investigation Unit of the Tokyo District Court on November 19 and was removed from the Representative Directorship of Nissan 3 days thereafter at the extraordinary board meeting, as well as Mr. Greg Kelly.
The suspected offense of his violation of the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act turned out to be the fact that he did not describe the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” in the securities report. However, given that the payment had not been determined and that it cannot be considered as a fake statement of an “important matter”, there are serious concerns about considering this non-description a crime.
There has been an increasing skepticism about the method of prosecutors’ investigation who suddenly arrested Mr. Ghosn at Haneda Airport inside his personal aircraft when he just returned to Japan. As I have pointed out in my article (“Ghosn Can Only Be Indicted if Prosecutors Follow Their Organizational Logic”), since the prosecutors have arrested him based on their unique decision, it is impossible for them “not to indict Mr. Ghosn”, as it would be self-denying and contrary to the “logic of the organization”. It had thus been fully anticipated that the prosecutors would indict Mr. Ghosn today.
However, the facts that have newly been revealed through the subsequent media reports are raising even more serious concerns with respect to his arrest based on the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” (although various media organizations report that those facts constitute the ground of his indictment by the prosecutors).
Could this herald the possible “collapse” of the prosecutor’s case
There is Virtually No More Possibility that Mr. Ghosn will be Re-arrested with the Crime of Aggravated Breach of Trust or the like
First of all, it has been reported that the prosecutors intend to re-arrest Mr. Ghosn on the ground that he has “underdescribed his executive compensation of 4 billion yen for the last 3 years”. The facts that constituted the ground of his arrest and detention to date had been the fake statement around the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” for the period of 5 years up to March 2015 term. The prosecutors, however, are intending to re-arrest him based on the same fake statement but for the last 3 years up to March 2018 term.
There had been a speculation that the fake statement in the securities report was merely a ”starting point” and that the Special Investigation Unit was contemplating to pursue some “substantive crime” such as aggravated breach of trust. However, had they been able to pursue the crime of aggravated breach of trust, they would have re-arrested him based on that. Given the overloaded investigation lineup of the Public Prosecutors Office, which has been accepting prosecutors dispatched from the District Public Prosecutor Offices, as the year end approaches when they need to send the dispatched prosecutors back to where they belong, they would want to avoid arresting him based on the new facts on and after December 10 unless extreme circumstances arise, because the period of detention of 20 days would then extend to the year end. This means that the only “charge” based on which the prosecutors intend to indict Mr. Ghosn is the fake statement of his executive compensation. On the basis that they will re-arrest him based on the same fake statement as the facts constituting his initial arrest and detention, it is highly probable that the investigation will end there.
This is a scenario which I have predicted, as I have repeatedly stated since right after the arrest. That is, based on the facts that have been reported, it is unlikely that Mr. Ghosn will be indicted for the aggravated breach of trust (“Ghosn Case: Yomiuri Beginning to Ditch Prosecutors while Asahi Cling to Them”). However, for those who firmly believe that the “justice always lies with prosecutors” and because of that believe “Mr. Ghosn, who was arrested by the prosecutors, is a villain”, it would be hard to accept that the investigation would end by only charging him with such a trivial crime as fake statement and not criminally pursuing any “substantive crime”.
Serious Issues Concerning Procedures of Detention
Of further significance is a “serious issue concerning the legality of detention” in relation to the re-arresting of Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly based on the “underdescription of Mr. Ghosn’s executive compensation of 4 billion yen for the last 3 years”.
A securities report is something which is prepared and submitted each business year. As such, there is supposed to be “one independent crime” for each business year, totaling to 8 crimes, if there are fake statements in all securities reports for the period of 8 years from March 2010 term to March 2018 term. However, the charge against Mr. Ghosn with respect to the “agreement on payment of compensation after his retirement” is different from a standard fake statement in the securities report.
An “MoU” was said to have been made between Mr. Ghosn and the Head of Secretary Office every year with respect to part of the executive compensation payable after his retirement under the pretense of some other payment, which had been kept secret to the Departments of General Affairs and Finance of Nissan and had been kept confidentially. The securities report for each year had been prepared and submitted without regard to the agreement made in such “MoU”. Since the acts of preparation of the “MoU” for 8 years had been repeated every year under the same intent and purpose, they constitute “one inclusive crime” provided that they do constitute a crime. They should effectively be interpreted as “one crime” as a whole. “Dividing” these acts into those conducted during the first 5 years and those during the last 3 years for the purpose of repeating the arrest and detention means arresting and detaining based on the same facts, which is a significant issue in terms of due process of detention.
On top of that, if the prosecutors intend to re-arrest them based on the acts in the last 3 years after completing their investigation and processing of the fake statement for the first 5 years, it would be that they had “reserved” the acts of the last 3 years for the re-arrest. This is an unjustifiable detention which deviates the common sense of prosecutors. Inevitably, Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly would file a quasi-complaint with respect to the detention or a special appeal with the Supreme Court, claiming that it is an unjustifiable detention in violation of due process under Article 31 of the Constitution.
It Would Be Difficult to Deny Criminal Liability of President Saikawa
“When The Thinking Processes Of The Organization Stop” discusses the implications of an infamous case in which a prosecutor forged evidence and dysfunctional organizations in general, which could apply to Nissan at present.
A more significant issue is that it has been reported by Asahi, Nikkei, and NHK that Hiroto Saikawa, President and CEO of Nissan, has also signed the “document agreeing on the post-retirement compensation”. It has been reported that Mr. Saikawa has signed a document titled “Employment Agreement”, which describes the amount of compensation for the agreement prohibiting Mr. Ghosn to enter into any consulting agreement or to assume office as an officer with any competing companies after his retirement. It has also been reported that, apart from the above, a document was prepared which specified the amount of compensation which should have been received by Mr. Ghosn each term and the amount which had actually been paid, as well as the balance thereof, and that it was signed by Mr. Ghosn the ex-Chairman and the executive employees as his close aides.
The prosecutors and media may be denying the criminal liability of Mr. Saikawa for his fake statement of the executive compensation based on the reason that, although he had been aware of the payment of compensation as consideration for the prohibition of Mr. Ghosn’s entrance into any consulting agreement or assumption of office with competing companies after his retirement, he had not recognized it as a payment of executive compensation under some other pretext, and because of this, he did not know that it should have been described in the securities report as “executive compensation”.
I wonder, however, how President Saikawa had recognized the consideration for the prohibition concerning the consulting agreement and non-competitive agreement. If he had signed the document based on his understanding that it was a legitimate and lawful payment, it would mean that the agreement has its basis and that Mr. Ghosn has an obligation to refrain from entering into any consulting agreement and competing in return for the payment. It would thus be considered a “legitimate contractual consideration” rather than a “deferred payment of executive compensation”.
Above all, why did Mr. Saikawa think it was necessary to enter into an agreement that prohibits Mr. Ghosn from entering into any consulting agreement or competing after his retirement when there was actually no specific sign of his retirement? We can never understand the reason unless the agreement is explained as an “alternative for reducing the executive compensation by half”. In the end, we cannot help but think that Mr. Saikawa had almost the same recognition as Mr. Ghosn and others with respect to the agreement.
The offense of the crime of fake statement in the securities report is constituted not by “making a fake statement” but by “submitting” the securities report with a fake statement on an important matter. The person who has an obligation to ensure accurate description and “submission” is the CEO in the case of Nissan, which is Mr. Saikawa from and after March 2017 term. If, as mentioned above, Mr. Saikawa had largely the same recognition with Mr. Ghosn with respect to the “post-retirement payment of compensation”, we have to say that it is Mr. Saikawa who would primarily be criminally liable for the last 2 years (apart from the severity of the ultimate sentence). That is, if the prosecutors are to pursue the indictment of the fake statement of the securities report for the last 3 years, it is inevitable to charge Mr. Saikawa as well.
Can Mr. Saikawa Withstand Criticism of being Involved in “Backdoor Agreement” with Prosecutors?
This is when the idea of plea bargain occurs to us—that is, whether or not there is a possibility that Mr. Saikawa has agreed to a plea bargain with the prosecutors by cooperating in the investigation on the “crimes of others” (i.e., of Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly), thereby being exempted from criminal punishment.
It is possible that there is a “backdoor agreement” between the prosecutors and President Saikawa “targeting” Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly. However, if such agreement exists, where it is agreed not to charge President Saikawa, what was it all about that he criticized Mr. Ghosn at the press conference immediately after his arrest, going so far as to say that he “felt resentment (toward Mr. Ghosn)”? There is likely to be severe criticisms against such agreement as well as against Mr. Saikawa domestically and internationally. Furthermore, if this is the case, it is likely that Mr. Saikawa falls under the “party with special interest” in relation to the extraordinary board meeting where he served as the chairman and determined the removal of Mr. Ghosn from his position of the Representative Director and Chairman. This may affect the force and effect of the vote (““Serious Concern” over Plea Bargain between Executives of Nissan and Prosecutors” – Are Directors Involved in Securities Report able to Participate in Voting relating to Removal of Ghosn?).
Given all of the above, if the prosecutors are to re-arrest Mr. Ghosn and Mr. Kelly on the ground of a fake statement in the securities report for the last 3 years, there is no other choice than to arrest Mr. Saikawa and hold him criminally liable. However, this would virtually mean the collapse of the current management team of Nissan which executed a coup d’etat at the initiative of President Saikawa and upset the Ghosn Regime. The investigation of the prosecutors, which has been conducted in close cooperation with the management team of Nissan, is also at a risk of “collapsing”.
*Translation was provided by Mr. Gohara’s office, with some minor editing by JSRC staff for clarity based on the original Japanese text.
“You want a no-data plan? We have one, but it’s almost the same price as having data…”
Last week, I walked into a U-NEXT store to check out smartphone plans. I’ve had a Japanese flip phone since 2013, and I wanted to see if I could buy a SIM-only plan from them instead. This is when I learned that no salesperson today is prepared to deal with customers who want data-free plans. The assumption is that everybody wants mobile data — the more, the better.
I walked out of U-NEXT without buying anything. Data is cheap, but you can’t put a price on attention and presence.
The cost of data has fallen considerably over the last few years. Even here in Japan, where the de facto cartel has kept contract prices and cancellation fees high, you can, at the time of writing, sign up for a u-mobile 1-year contract for a relatively low monthly sum of JPY1,360 per month for 3.3GB of data with no cancellation fees after one year.
(The salesperson really tried to upsell that data plan to me.)
Prices never used to be this low. When I lived in Tokyo from 2012–2013 as an exchange student, your options for mobile data plans were 2-year contracts with hefty cancellation fees for breaking them a year in. The only option at the time that didn’t involve a cancellation fee was a Softbank prepaid flip phone. I took it. Public WiFi was virtually nonexistent back then. I recall mild inconveniences, but nothing particularly terrible.
Moving back to Japan in 2015, I continued using the same phone and number. Barring a period of around 6 months where I owned a company-sponsored smartphone with data, I have not had mobile data since 2015.
Everyone I have talked to about this has bemoaned their various states of addiction to their phone, for whatever reason; very few do anything about it. Fortunately, I have not really needed to do anything — doing nothing to change my data situation is exactly what’s keeping me sane.
It’s hard to say without data (ha!), but it seems that owning a smartphone these days equals having a data plan. It is inescapable, maybe even inevitable. There’s plenty of talk about switching off the phone, but few discuss the merits of actually forgoing mobile data altogether. Most articles indexed on Google talking about this are dated to several years ago. (See Further Reading below.) But given the conversations and growing awareness surrounding internet addiction, I think eliminating mobile data should be one choice in an arsenal of options to manage the time we spend on our phones.
It’s a weakness
Not having mobile data began as an exercise in moderate frugality , but as the years went on it became more about preserving my sanity, preventing myself from free-falling into constant swipe-mode. Airplane mode isn’t enough for me because it’s too easy to switch back to cellular mode. My last job left me so addicted to looking at email that every instinct in me now has to fight the constant and imaginary demands on my attention, to consciously stop myself from reaching for the phone. I fail at this dozens of times a day, sometimes stopping at just lighting up the phone screen with the home button.
I then imagine how much worse this would be if I had mobile data and did this outside my apartment. So every year I wonder if I will succumb and pay for the convenience of a data plan; every year I find myself increasingly unwilling to do so.
Everyone I have talked to about this has bemoaned their various states of addiction to their phone, for whatever reason; very few do anything about it. Fortunately, I have not really needed to do anything — doing nothing to change my data situation is exactly what’s keeping me sane.
I think I’m lucky: most of my friends are great at being present. They turn their phones face down, or keep them in their bags. I hear this is becoming rare, which feels like a deep loss. Mobile data has, in the last few years, reduced everyone’s collective ability to be present in the moment.
I’ve sat at dinner tables where everyone’s face is lit by the glow of a smartphone screen as they post something to Instagram, reply to a WhatsApp message that just flew in, or deal with an ‘urgent’ work email (which is never really all that urgent; such is the tyranny of capitalism). I have watched people I have been just a little in love with read emails on their phone or scroll through Facebook, while we’re out somewhere in the city, and have felt my heart break a few hundred times. I can see the involuntary twitch of their hands reaching for their phones when we talk.
It happens to me too. When I’m in a place with WiFi, I am more distracted, more prone to flipping my phone open. Some part of my brain is low-key reminding me that I have messages to reply to, emails to send, Instagram feeds to check. I have frittered away hours and hours scrolling and swiping. I am also a bit shit at being present in the moment even without my phone. The only time I can’t look to my phone is when I’m outside in the world without data.
None of this is to say that having mobile data makes everyone automatically become a little bit shit. But the ubiquity of mobile data has made it easier for otherwise lovely people to disregard social courtesies. It helps people justify scrolling through their phone at the dinner table because everyone else is doing the same thing.
The other part of being present when I’m out is seeing the world in ways I might otherwise never notice if I’m walking around staring at a screen. I might never have begun photographing doors, or plants. I might have been too busy uploading photos to social media to pay attention to the mountain in front of me. I like to think I’m better than that — but I’m not.
Why I don’t need mobile data
A few things make it easier for me to opt out of mobile data:
I don’t have a job that requires me to look at emails 24/7. No watching the stock market, or employers who breathe down my neck asking me if I’ve seen this thread. No customers who want urgent answers to their trivial questions. And so on.
It’s quite the opposite: I focus substantially better when writing in completely disconnected environments.
(Yes, I think I’m very lucky — and I wish everyone else could have something like this, obviously.)
I read, write, and speak fluent Japanese. Which means no need for Google Translate. Navigating Tokyo is not an issue.
I don’t have kids. I mean, people have raised children for centuries without mobile data, but modern parents seem to think that constant connectivity is necessary for parenting. (Another kettle of fish altogether. Please talk to someone else about this.)
I have high-speed WiFi at home. This is something I’m lucky enough to be able to afford, and it’s also necessary for my work. Given the choice between mobile data or an internet connection, I’d choose the latter every time.
There’s free, public WiFi all around Tokyo. Yes, really! See the last section of this piece.
The truth is that I am as addicted to social media as the next Instagram junkie. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. I find myself reaching for my phone every few minutes; on the train I sometimes even open apps that I know won’t load just to quell my dopamine-addicted brain. It’s precisely because I know myself too well that I continue choosing not to have mobile data instead.
(Plus, that’s an extra $15 a month I can spend on runny eggs — which give me more pleasure and joy than any amount of feed-refreshing ever could.)
But but but
Isn’t it inconvenient? Sometimes. But that’s all it is — an inconvenience. I don’t miss having it when I’m outside. If I need it, WiFi access is available at home, at cafes, in train stations. Plus, public WiFi is great for accessibility across socioeconomic classes, and for tourists.
Sure, I’m an impatient motherfucker and rage as much as anyone else at certain inconveniences. But if there’s anything Japan’s million bureaucratic procedures has taught me, it’s to be patient with inefficiency. I don’t love inconvenience, but the cost of convenience is so much higher. Tim Wu says it more eloquently than I can.
What if we’re meeting and I’m running late? I don’t usually know when a friend’s running late, so I just have to trust that they show up, whether it’s on time or a few minutes late. That’s what we all used to do pre-smartphone. Again, much depends on having a reliable public transportation system. I remember it being significantly more difficult to be punctual in Malaysia.
If someone flakes on me and decides not to show up, that reflects badly on them. The upside is that this encourages specificity in deciding on meeting points (“Let’s do Exit B6 at Ginza Station, I’ll be above ground at the fire hydrant”) but also weeds out flaky people who you probably shouldn’t be friends with. If they can’t respect your time, they don’t deserve it.
Besides, if they really need to contact you, that’s what a phone number’s for. I hope I have your numbers for when the next earthquake hits.
What if you need to look something up? What burning fact would I need to look up right away that I couldn’t look up later? Do we really need to watch that video right now? See also: delayed gratification.
But you’re using your phone outside? Like on the train? Yeah, I’m usually reading articles I’ve saved to Pocket, writing/taking notes on strange people around me, or editing photos.
What about Google Maps? Look up routes and directions before setting out. Offline maps are useful and work well. There’s also something to be said for looking at the scenery around you instead of at your blue-dot-self moving around on a screen.
There have definitely been times when my offline maps stopped working while I was on the move, or things didn’t update. So I also like asking strangers for help, or looking at area maps in the neighborhoods. Talking to people! What a novel concept.
Uber? Grab? Lyft? Thankfully, none of these exist in Japan. Tokyo’s incredibly efficient public transportation system eliminates the need for ride-sharing apps… for now.
Maybe ride-sharing apps would be useful in more remote areas where there are fewer train stations. But then again, they probably wouldn’t be operating in those areas, and I’d still have had to walk for miles along Route 207 from Nagasaki to Saga prefecture just to find a bus heading to Tara. (True story. I don’t think having mobile data would have changed anything, except I’d have spent more time complaining about it to friends online — and maybe found a bus slightly faster.)
What if you need to drive? On the off-chance that I ever sit behind a steering wheel in Japan, I hope the car comes with sat-nav. Otherwise it’s back to pre-2007 days of parking by the roadside flipping through a map book.
What if you’re in the countryside? Even better! I can switch off! Researching stuff to do before you travel/leave your accommodation, or just using whatever WiFi is available there. I’m usually visiting someone who knows the area (and probably has mobile data, let’s be real.) There were also a couple of times I thumbed rides in Hokkaido and Aomori when I was stranded and couldn’t figure out buses.
I remember Couchsurfing with a couple in Aomori City back in 2013. They lived, insofar as was possible, a very off-grid lifestyle — no internet (they’d check their email at Internet cafes), only flip phones (one of the few things they used electricity for), no refrigerator, no washing machine. We’re no longer in touch, but it left a huge impression on me.
The only times I’ll have mobile data are when I travel to places I’m unfamiliar with and where I don’t speak the local language(s), like Morocco or Thailand; or, when I’m back in Malaysia and rely on Grab to go places. Even then, it’s optional. I went without a data plan in Busan because most cafes had free WiFi and I spent most of my time with a friend living there. It’s quite fun muddling through menus and going through the usual motions of cross-cultural communication — hand gestures, smiles, everything you need for your fellow human beings.
And so it is
Frankly, I like not having data. I like being able to say no to looking at emails. I love having my mind back, wandering into other connections and thoughts without the constant drip of stuff from the internet. I love looking at my friends when they talk.
If you have mobile data and like it, good on you. I don’t wish to suggest that living without mobile data is a viable choice for everyone, nor do I want to sound like I’m preaching some ‘elite’ hippie lifestyle from a pedestal way up high. There are plenty of reasons to have mobile data — war refugees using social media to keep in touch; not being able to afford high-speed internet at home (though given the price of mobile plans in Japan this is pretty much similar); work conditions (which is a problem with society at large).
But if you think you can’t go through daily life without mobile data, you are wrong. We’ve survived for millennia without it, and when the next natural disaster in Japan knocks out mobile data providers for a bit, it’ll be useful to have actual phone numbers or to be okay with being a little disconnected for a while.
A Short List of Free Public WiFi Places in Japan (Mostly Tokyo)
Tokyo is a pretty great place to live without mobile data these days if you already have an internet connection at home. Try the following:
Tokyo Metro stations. Very rarely, the internet is down, and I feel a flash of irritation — and then I chide myself and take out the Kindle instead.
JR stations. It’s patchy and sketchy, but many major JR stations in Tokyo now have free WiFi (under the JR East Free WiFi network)
Some libraries, like the Hibiya Library with its characteristically low-security password (numbers 1 through 9. FIGHT ME HIBIYA STAFF). The Tokyo Metropolitan Library’s WiFi has so far been unreliable.
Some cafes have it. But it doesn’t really matter if they don’t.
7–11 and Lawson’s have reliable WiFi. Accessing Family Mart’s WiFi requires a lengthy registration process before you can even go online, and it’s slow as hell. Don’t bother.
Yes, it’s all unsecured WiFi. Don’t buy stuff with your credit card, use it only when you need to, don’t register with your real email address, and all that.
Flory Leow is a sporadic writer, photographer, foodie and student of history living in Tokyo and blogging here and there. This article was previously published on her blog and has been reprinted here with her kind permission.
In Tokyo, about two million people live below the poverty line. That means many families find it difficult to put food on their tables. The need is especially great during the holiday season, when many other residents are enjoying festive meals and celebrations.
For the second-straight year, Tokyo-based indie rock band Instant Karma is teaming up with the Second Harvest Japan food bank to help feed the less fortunate. The band is holding a night of music and fun at Ebisu’s What the Dickens pub on Monday, December 3, 2018.
Admission to the event is free, but attendees will be encouraged to make donations to the food bank which, in turn, will use the money to provide meals and food for those in need.
“We wanted to do something for others over the holiday period,” says Instant Karma guitarist/vocalist Mike de Jong. “Nobody should go hungry over the holidays.”
The band will play three sets of music, combining popular cover songs with originals. All four band members have agreed to turn over their payment for the night to the charity.
The Second Harvest food bank was established in 2002. The non-profit organization works with community groups to gather and distribute food to people across the country.
Last year’s Second Harvest event at What the Dickens raised several thousand yen for the charity. This year, organizers and participants are hoping for even better results.
“Last year’s show was a lot of fun. But it was more of a year-end party for volunteers,” says de Jong. “This year, it will strictly be a fundraiser. So even though it’s a Monday night, please come out and support people who need our help.”
Contact: Mike de Jong at Instant Karma
MDMedia20 [@] gmail.com for more details. (Remove the brackets in the address above when you send an email. 😉）