Drive My Car which opened last August 2021, was one of the best things to hit Japanese theaters in years. Yet many Japanese cinephiles or people who footed it to theaters in spite of the pandemic, quietly gave it a miss. Two weeks later audiences were willing to sit through the new 007 movie with masks on throughout the nearly 3 hour duration, refused to pay the same tribute to what is effectively the first successful cinema adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story by a fellow Japanese. Shame on us. Drive My Car bagged three awards at Cannes including Best Screenplay, (the first such feat for a Japanese filmmaker) and won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. It’s now firmly placed on track for an Oscar.
So never mind the box office beating. The careers of director/writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi and lead actor Hidetoshi Nishijima went on a meteoric ascent as Hamaguchi picked up the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for Wheels Of Fortune And Fantasy months before Drive My Car and is now being inundated with offers from Hollywood and Netflix. Veteran lead actor Hidetoshi Nishijima was all over the media in TV and film last year before giving his best performance yet in Drive...He was named Best Actor by the US Films Critics Award, the first for an Asian actor.
Through it all, the 43-year old Hamaguchi appeared unfazed. In interviews he has stated that Japan isn’t his only playing field though he has professed a love for its cinema industry and in early 2020, he crowdfunded over 330 million yen to save arthouse theaters from Covid bankruptcy. Hamaguchi discipled under Kiyoshi Kurosawa, another auteur whose international reputation has come to overshadow his Japanese notoriety. Under Kurosawa, Hamaguchi learned the ropes of competing in the film fest circuit, dealing with foreign distributors and grooming his stories for global appeal. Otherwise, Hamaguchi is a visionary filmmaker with a special flair for intricate and nuanced storytelling, which comes to the fore in Drive My Car. He took a 40-page Murakami short story and leavened it up to a running time of 3.5 hours, adding Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Korean actors and the Hiroshima City backdrop in the mix. Through Hamaguchi’s careful doctoring, Murakami’s original story was reborn with much more weight and muscle, able to grapple with emotions that have both urgency and relevance. This is some serious cinema alchemy we’re looking at here.
On the other hand, Hamaguchi is respectful of Murakami and makes sure the film has the author’s logo stamped all over it. There’s no mistaking the elegant lassitude permeating the storyline, the finicky intellectualism and inherent narcissism of the characters. The only factor that strikes a non-Murakami chord is the presence of Toko Miura, who plays a woman named Misaki. She’s a chauffer with a skeleton or two in the closet of her mind and she’s at once fragile and tough, capable and vulnerable. In Murakami’s story, Misaki serves as a young, female sounding board for the protagonist’s inner musings. In Hamaguchi’s film, her importance goes up several notches and she’s recreated into a women with her own agenda and personal demons, who’s not there to be sexually objectified or soothe anyone. Miura, who used to work part-time at a Tokyo gas stand when she wasn’t working as an actress, is now one of the most watchable performers in the Japanese film industry and Drive My Car owes a huge chunk of its success to her prowess.
Still, being a Murakami story, Drive My Car ultimately comes off as tale of male ego, or more to the point, the taming of it. Nishijima plays a slender, 50-ish man named Kafuku (an obvious play on the name ‘Kafuka’ from the Murakami bestseller “Kafka By the Sea”), a stage actor who discovers that his wife Oto (played by a splendid Reika Kirishima) has been sleeping around. Kafuku has been semi-aware of Oto’s infidelity but when confronted with the scene of her having sex with another man, his mind shuts down. That night, Oto is found dead from a brain hemorrhage and Kafuku retreats into a shell of wordless grief.
Two years later, Kafuku accepts a residency position in Hiroshima and he’s introduced to Misaki, who has been hired to drive him to and from the theater in his car (a Saab 900, of course). Through their brief conversations finds himself able to face Oto again, not as a wife who betrayed him but a woman in her own right. In the meantime he collaborates with Korean actors for the stage production of Uncle Vanya and builds a rapport with Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), who had been Oto’s last lover.
Murakami’s story is part of a compilation titled Men Without Women, a fate which, in the Murakami scheme of things is akin to death by torture. Men cannot exist without women or their fantasies and much of Murakami’s words are devoted to describing the subtleties of their allure. In his fiction the female is never objectified outright but she’s not to allowed to exist outside the confines of the male ego, either. Murakami always hands over the reigns of power to his women characters, making sure they will never abuse it. If she gets too much for the man to handle, she tends to make a fast exit. Like Oto. Or Naoko from his trademark novel Norwegian Wood.
This Murakami penchant is in perfect keeping with the Japanese literary tradition and reveals, that for all the Americanisms and western-liberal icons/props scattered across the pages of each and every one of Murakami’s works, the master is in fact, a traditionalist. The combination was dazzling and exotic back in the 20th century. Personally I likened a Murakami novel to a cool, fizzy drink ordered in a bar in an American military base, not that I could set foot in such a place. But two decades plus into the 21st century, the magic of Murakami’s words come off as nostalgic and quaint. It took an alchemist like Ryusuke Hamaguchi to filter out the antiquated grunge of the original short story and upcycle it into a masterpiece.
For all that, many of us who grew up on Murakami are not ready to cancel him altogether. Generations of Japanese owe him for showing us a world outside the archipelago, for writing about jazz and beer and summer afternoons spent swimming laps at the pool, for dedicating an entire book to marathon running as a pleasurable hobby, for girls who enjoy sex and own up to their sexuality, for boys who are clumsy about relationships but bafflingly knowledgeable about coffee. We owe him for being easily translatable and comprehensible to an international audience that would otherwise equate Japan with anime and karoshi (death by overwork). Maybe Haruki Murakami can’t carry the brand on his own anymore but that happens to every established business with a recognizable logo. And now that Ryusuke Hamaguchi has set the precedent, more Murakami adaptations are sure to follow. If you’ll excuse the slightly nationalistic tone, it’s a good time to be Japanese.
Editor’s note: If you’re a fan of Haruki Murakami, with a sense of humor, be sure to avail yourself of a copy of 村上春樹語辞典 (Dictionary of Haruki Murakami Words) which is tongue in cheek tribute and guide to his writings. Even if you don’t read Japanese, the great illustrations, the haiku-like use of English, and the pin-pointing of his common themes and motifs is a delight to read.
Scientists have abundantly proven that global warming is real and causing havoc on the planet. CO2 levels are rising with Earth’s temperatures, but the truth of the matter does not make the relationship a cause and effect. There is a rising level of CO2 with now 412 parts per million. In addition to increased levels of methane and nitrous oxide, this is considered the primary reason for global warming. This theory, which receives strong support from scientists, may not be the only factor. This article proposes other mechanisms that may play a role in global warming.
There is a massive nickel-iron ball at the center of the earth with a diameter of 760 miles, spinning faster than the rotation of the earth and having a temperature of 5000°C. It generates heat in the earth so that when you dig to 32 inches deep in Missouri the pipes don’t freeze. Additionally, it produces magnetic fields that are easily measurable. Around this ball of solid iron-nickel is another layer with a radius of 2,165 miles. It is believed to be made up of a liquid alloy. There is an interface at this level with the outer mantle, and some scientists believe oil is produced there. Exactly how this heat is generated or the mechanism is unknown. It’s almost as if we have a sun buried deep inside the earth.
The origin of man or how we have been designed is a mystery to me, but lubrication is built into our physical self. Our joints, eyes, and reproductive organs are lubricated. There may be a mechanism in place at the interface with this giant heat-producing ball at the center of our planet that deals with the friction that it produces. Current theories suggest that the spinning ball and surrounding liquid iron might produce their own oil, reducing friction. The removal of portions of this oil may cause irregularities in the spinning ball, contributing to global warming and earthquakes.
Editor’s note: In short, we are pumping so much oil out of the earth, that we’re essentially running a car without oil, causing tremendous friction and making the engine overheat.
Several scientists believe that oil is produced at the interface between the heated sphere and the carbon surrounding it.
This is the abiogenic theory of oil‘s origin. As this oil seeps between the plates, Saudi Arabia has an infinite supply of oil, whereas when drilling in the Gulf of Mexico closer to its source, there were such great pressures that it took many months to stop the leak.
We have not identified any planets that support life as we know it. We have the water vapor cycle, the carbon dioxide/oxygen system, and the nitrogen cycle. How do we know that oil is not a vital component of the planet’s survival? Approximately 135 million tons of oil have been extracted since 1850, yet the world is not running out of oil.
When the oil is taken from the earth, the spaces around it are apparently filled with water. The water supply is affected but more importantly the water acts as a poorer insulation than oil, which could also contribute to the warming of the earth. Many of our weather patterns are caused by the heating of vast amounts of water. The heat produced causes global warming and an increase in hurricanes. In recent days, we have witnessed tornadoes wreaking havoc on Kentucky and its neighbors. While glaciers are melting, ambient temperatures do not appear to be high enough to cause this. There is a possibility that the melting is caused by heat from the earth itself.
The solution to global warming remains the same, stop taking oil out of the earth. We still have time.
A very wise friend recently told me that it is unlikely we would find similar life forms on other planets–because they would have likely destroyed themselves already. As a species, we are destructive, not only killing each other, but also destroying the planet. We have the intelligence to stop doing one thing that is undeniably bad for the environment, drilling for oil and using it. Next time the oil light in your car comes on, think about it.
As I sit here in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium press section, the seats are vibrating from the music and bass blasting out of the speakers. Even before the opening ceremony began, all the Paralympians seated on the stadium field were celebrating.
The United Kingdom and Peruvian teams were ecstatically encouraging their international peers to take advantage of their circular seating arrangement to complete a whole wave. The wave would make it through 2/3 of the Paralympians before losing momentum in the last 1/3 section adjacent to the flag poles. After each attempt would die out on its final leg, the particularly invested athletes from Peru and the U.K. would stand up and urgently “gesture” to the responsible section.
Finally, when the wave accomplished a full lap “around the globe,” so to speak, you could hear the whole stadium, including those of us in the press booths which have been following the wave’s progress, cheer and clap at this spontaneous game. The wave’s informal and collective nature lent it an intimacy that elevated our joy at its success.
Now, it has been early 30 minutes since the wave experienced a natural death. And yet, despite the pageantry and impressive stage production of the closing ceremony, I don’t believe anything that has transpired on the field has made me and my fellow reporters laugh and smile as it did. At least, that was the case with the two Japanese reporters flanking me at my table.
20:51 Representatives from each participating Paralympic team have been adding circular mirrors to a miniature figure of Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest free-standing tower. Just now, the final paralympic deputy for the Japanese team attached the last piece to complete the model. The mirrors represent the windows and natural skeletal gaps on the tower.
Upon its completion, the current focal point of the Tokyo skyline was raised, “Flags of Our Fathers” style by the ceremony’s performers. Who knew relations between the United States and Japan were so tight? (Indulge me in my humor readers. I am both Japanese and American, and that gives me permission to make such dry jokes.)
21:00 The first Paralympic I’mPossible Awards are being presented to the first five recipients of the recognition. For further information on the I’mPossible Award, click here.
Best host country School: Kizarazu Municipal Kiyomidai Elementary School in Chiba, Japan
Best overseas school: Lilongwe LEA School, Malawi
Excellence host country school: Chiba Prefectural Togane (I could not catch the end. I believe it was Chiba Prefectural Togane Special Education School)
Best (Male) I’mPossible Paralympian Award: Lassam Katongo from Zambia. He is a track and race Paralympian and secondary school teacher.
Best (Female) I’mPossible Paralympian Award: Katarzyna Rogowiec from Poland. A three-time Paralympian and two-time Paralympic gold medalist in cross-country skiing. She is also a former ITC anti-doping committee member.
The awards for the two Paralympians were accepted by their respective national Paralympic Committees on their behalf.
21:23 The Tokyo Skytree “miniature,” which must be roughly five meters tall, accompanies other notable architecture that shapes the city’s skyline, including Rainbow Bridge. You guessed it, the “Rainbow” Bridge is not actually colored in seven distinct shades. However, after numerous complaints that the bridge’s namesake made little sense, a night-time illuminating feature was added.
The closing ceremony’s similarity to a Disneyland parade is as prominent as the August 24 opening ceremony. The fluorescent animal costumes adorned by dancing performers and the musical production remind me of the Mermaid Lagoon Theatre from The Litte Little Mermaid area at Tokyo DisneySea.
“The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games have not just been historic. They have been fantastic,” Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in his closing speech. He said that despite the games’ accomplishments, the world has flaws with accessibility that no mask can cover.
“As we build back better, 15% of the world’s population cannot be left behind,” Parsons said. “People with disabilities should not have to do exceptional things to be accepted.”
Following a WeThe15 campaign commercial, a Japanese singer seated in his wheelchair sang “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong with a powerful voice would have made the raspy icon proud. The song’s second half was sung by a female singer with a visual impairment. The two voices converged in the final part of the ballad accompanied by a children’s choir.
As a piano player in the center of the stadium played the last notes of the iconic song, the egg-like encasing of the Olympic and Paralympic flame closed, extinguishing the fire that has burned since July 23.
And with that, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games had ended.
Thank you for following me and Jake Adelstein throughout our coverage of the Olympic and Paralympic Games! It has been a true privilege and honor.
Rikako, my wife, was staying with her best friend from university, the one that hung around her all these years and never got married. She was pretty attractive too, the last time I saw her, which was what, 10 years ago? Now I couldn’t remember what this friend’s name was. Something that didn’t end in ‘ko’ meaning ‘child.’ In Japanese, the ‘ko’ at the end of a name indicated that the person was female which in this day and age, can raise questions about misogyny or gender discrimination but let’s just put that aside for now.
In Rikako’s case, the written characters of her name stood for ‘wisdom,’ ‘fragrance,’ and ‘child,’ and Rikako said she often felt uncomfortable by the sight of her written name. “It’s a little demeaning,” she had said, wrinkling her nose as if she smelled something bad. “Makes me feel like a little girl.” Then Rikako would get that look on her face, which was supposedly a cue for me to say something like “but you are my little girl. You’ll always be a young girl to me.” And then she would pretend to pout which was another cue for me to massage the back of her feet, and then we’d head off to the bedroom or just fuck on the floor. But for years I hadn’t taken that bait. I mean, come on, we’re both 45. That kind of ritual just doesn’t work anymore, not that it did when we were in our thirties.
Back then we were just living together and not officially married. But Rikako loved planning what she phrased as ‘the inevitable event’ down to the last minute detail. She showed me sketched drawings of ‘my ideal dress’ and ‘the ultimate bouquet,’ and littered the living room with brochures from tons of wedding companies. She was adorable in her adoration of all things wedding and I would steal glances at her profile, poring over the menu cards or venue decorations. Not that it made any sense to me. All that trouble and fuss, not to mention the expense! It was horrendous. But if my little girl wanted to get married in a ridiculous white dress, then it was up to me to smile and nod approval and go along with it.
One of the things I least like about Rikako is how she continues to think and behave like a young woman when very clearly, she’s not. Not, not, not. The topics she chose to talk about, her gestures and her ‘weekend loungewear’ supposedly chosen to stimulate our sex life, ended up being embarrassing, especially during these past few months of a global pandemic. Suddenly, we were trapped in each other’s company for weeks on end, since both our companies mandated that we work from home. I didn’t know what to do with her, how to be with her and certainly not on a 24/7 basis in the confines of a cell-box Tokyo apartment. And she, on the other hand, was annoyed by every little thing I did, or didn’t. That’s not precisely why she left but I’m choosing to blame it all on Covid.
On the last Saturday of July 2020, Rikako announced that she was leaving “this life” with me, so she could “learn to breathe deeply again” in the house of her friend who didn’t have a ‘ko’ at the end of her name. She spent the morning packing, made some coffee which she poured out for the both of us, said something about the laundry and walked out the door with the big Samsonite, the one we both took turns using in the days when frequent business trips were the norm. I almost said, “Wait, I may want to use that” but I didn’t because I wouldn’t. Ever again, if the news was anything to go by. At this rate experts said, we would be lucky to start traveling again in late 2023 or thereabouts.
I knew what she was expecting. That I would turn up at her girlfriend’s place, looking worse for wear, abashed and contrite and promising to do better. That I needed her, oh so much. That we would go away to an onsen for the weekend, and tell each other that the last three months hadn’t done any damage to our marriage. Just thinking these thoughts made me ore than slightly queasy, or inclined to kick the toilet lid which stayed flipped open, thanks very much.
I didn’t. Go out to whatshername’s place, that is. I just stayed in our apartment for which I paid the mortgage every month and suddenly seemed airy and spacious. I worked during the day. Sometimes I did the laundry, otherwise I let my underwear pile up in the washing machine. I lost interest in mealtimes and ate whenever I felt hungry, on whatever tasted like something I wanted to eat. I played Assassin’s Creed until dawn.
Now, three weeks after Rikako’s departure I would go for nocturnal walks around the neighborhood and stand by the river to watch the surface of the water break into choppy ripples. I would cruise the convenience stores and stock up on packets of salami and cheese. It was so intensely pleasurable, so immensely liberating, that on these walks I would take off my mask to let out a silent scream of joy.
Marriage is hugely overrated. I was told it was the only route to happiness but I realize now it was a device that worked only when Rikako and I were putting in eighty-hour weeks at our respective jobs, and so burned out that self-reflection and long, winding discussions and bringing each other up to speed on what we wanted out of life I don’t know, all the stuff that married couples seem to do in Hollywood movies–seemed like an obscene waste of scant resources.
Then the pandemic whirled into our lives and presented a whole new playing field. I was fine with being married to Rikako, but I sure as hell was not prepared to be with her day and night. No man should be asked to do that, at least not in a one-bedroom condo with both of us trying to work and Zoom and use the toilet, sometimes all at once.
She claimed it was much worse for her and was relentless about letting me know it.
“I hate the sight of you in those sweats.” “
You’re playing games all the time, can’t you rent a car and take me out on the weekends?”
“I’m not your mother, don’t make me pick up your clothes.” “
The toilet’s dirty, you never clean it.” “
I’m not your mother, I can’t make your meals all the time.” “
I’m not your mother, stop acting like an overgrown kid.”
In the old days, Rikako and I were buddies most of the time, united in our shared lifestyle choices. Our own condo unit in a nice Tokyo neighborhood. Both of us were career driven, with a joint savings account. Overseas vacations, preferably twice a year. And no kids, never. That discussion was over and done with when we decided to make it all official, and hold a ‘resort wedding’ in Karuizawa. Rikako had said at the time, and I’m quoting verbatim here: “I have no interest in becoming a mother and sacrificing my career and my looks and identity to that undertaking. It’s so meaningless, it’s so thankless.”
Did I judge her for that? Hell no. My mother shook her head and told me I would be lonely in my old age and that it wasn’t too late to walk out of this relationship and find a nice girl who would give me a family. I told my mother it was none of her business and stuck by Rikako. We had shared too much of our lives together to call it quits. Besides, she still looked good at 35 and I wasn’t getting any younger. I doubted I would run into anyone so desirable again.
Mostly though, I was too exhausted from work to deal with it. I’m an aeronautical engineer and one of the core members of a government sponsored team that designs manned space vehicles. For the last 15 years, I was flying out to Houston to work with NASA every month or so, and deadlines popped up on my screen every 15 minutes. I was working weekends, past midnight, sometimes until dawn. Until the pandemic hit, I could honestly say that Red Bull was my dearest friend.
When Rikako and I finally tied the knot ten years ago, I was already looking forward to old age and some rock-solid downtime. Retirement seemed to me a glorious mirage of frosted cocktails, glimpsed in the burning desert of my work routine. I was Ralph Fiennes in “The English Patient,” trudging on the hot dunes forever and ever but knowing that eventually, Juliette Binoche would turn up to dress my wounds and whisper to me with a French accent that “everything was going to be okay.” We had the movie on Blu-ray. It was Rikako’s favorite and we would watch it on Saturday nights when I managed to be home. I kept losing the thread of the narrative because I always fell asleep but in the end, yeah, I got it. Ralph Fiennes: What an old dog. The guy is dying and delirious and he still can’t keep his mind off women.
These days though, I think about old Ralph a lot. I ask myself what images would parade through my brain when I’m ready to kick the bucket and I have to admit, it’s not work. Women. It would be women, whether they had the ‘ko’ on their names or not. No doubt Rikako’s face would be one of them but there would be others. My life isn’t completely barren. There are some unforgettable visages and bodies and they’ll all come back to me as I lie there on a hospital bed.
There’s one woman I’m sort of obsessed about now. I haven’t slept with her. I don’t know her name. She’s around 14, probably in her second year of middle school. Yes I know what this sounds like but I promise, this isn’t heading in that direction. This woman – this girl whom I privately named ‘Naoko’ after a girl in my neighborhood when we were both growing up – is someone I used to see in the subway station every morning as I commuted to work.
Naoko is tall for her age, lanky and lean and tanned, with short hair that’s carefully tucked behind her ears. She’s always carrying around a big sports bag emblazoned with her school logo, and printed underneath are the words ‘Track and Field Team.’ She’s a runner, and I’m betting by her physique that she goes for the 400 meter. I was an 800 meter boy myself and I see all the signs of a mid-distance sprinter: the way she holds her head, the snatches of conversation I sometimes overhear when she’s talking to her friends, the condition of her calves extending from her pleated uniform skirt and ending in socks and a pair of brown loafers.
The sight of her takes me right back to the days when I was training night and day to compete in the nationals and get a full-ride scholarship to one of the good universities. She even looks a little like my girlfriend of those days, whom I could see only once every three weeks because the rest of my time was eaten up with running and school.
Am I lusting after Naoko? To my utter relief, the answer is no. It’s a huge relief to be able to say that because otherwise I would be betraying the straight-backed, fresh-faced teenager that I once was. No, I just yearn to talk to her, encourage her, be a part of her life somehow. I think about how wonderful it would be if I had a daughter like her. We would share running stories and I could coach her on pacing and rhythm. I would tell her that mid-distance sprinting is the most intelligent of track sports and how rewarding it was to…
A buzz on my phone. I go take a look at it and it’s a message from Rikako. “I want to come home. I’ll see you in two hours or so. I’m sorry about having left but I think we both needed this break from each other.”
After about 10 seconds of rumination, I send back a smiley face and the words: “I’ll be waiting.”
My imaginary conversation with Naoko had already shattered into a million pieces and those pieces were floating around in the air. I sigh, turn off the air conditioner and go open some windows. I’m still trying to process the fact that Rikako will be back, marking the end of my days of freedom. I guess what this means now is that I have to do the laundry and clean the toilet before my wife gets back.
by Shoko Plambeck The day my birth records were sent to a Shinto shrine my father skinned a badger and hung its coat above my crib. The tale of my birth supposedly unfolds like this: The day I was born the stars were restless and the earth was tossing a blizzard thick as cream through the Nebraskan plains. My father was on his way to work in his red Chevy when he came across a dash of brown, obscured by the snow like a fainting spell. He shot it, thinking it was a soft furred marten, but what he killed instead was a badger. The badger of the plains. Symbol of earth, grounding and consistency; finding her in such weather conditions was like the moon waxing when it should wane.
Still, he put the creature in the back of his truck. When he got to work, there was a call from my mother: It’s two months early, but I’m going into labour. My grandparents got the same call and flew in from Japan. When my obaachan first saw me she announced, This girl will be named Shoko, spirit in flight, and years later when I moved from place to place, hobby to hobby, man to man, she’d lament naming me so irresponsibly. In a shoebox, I went home.
The badger skin was nailed above my crib and my birth records were sent to the monk at the family Shinto shrine. The results came weeks later. My mother read as I drank eagerly from her; she herself was a dark star but at twenty-four she could not even imagine what that would mean. Only years later would she say that the badger had to be a mother and the unimaginable must have happened to make her split into the fatal snow.
My mother read: The child will need to seek grounding. In the moment she was born the stars were restless and they will reverberate through her blood forever. Before she could read any further, my grandmother snatched the fortune out of her hand and read: bright as Sirius, inconstant as Mercury.
This poem was originally posted in Matador Review but was reposted with permission of the author.
Shoko Plambeck is a writer, traveler, and poet. She studied English literature at Temple University in Tokyo and the University of Vermont. She currently lives in Japan but can’t wait to move back to the US to be with her cockatiel and poetry books again.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is considering calling off the Olympics.
According to several sources in the Tokyo assembly, over the last week, Koike has had meetings with several top advisors, in which she has asked for their opinions on holding the games with no spectators–and even canceling the games altogether. In the meetings, Koike has been uncharacteristically quiet, asking many questions and listening intently to the answers.
A former advisor to the governor says that this is typical of Koike, when she’s about to make a dramatic unilateral decision. The former advisor told JSRC, “She has no great love for the Games, per se. She was not instrumental in bringing the Olympics to Tokyo and she has no real attachment to them. Public opinion against holding the Olympics is growing all the time. You’ll notice that Koike has not tweeted about the Olympics for weeks now.”
If you have a good memory, you may also recall that as late as March 12th 2020, less than two week before the Olympics were postponed, Koike stated dogmatically, “I can’t even conceive of the Olympics being cancelled or moved to another date.” Apparently, her powers of conception have improved since then.
In the early days of COVID, Japan, under the rule of Shinzo “Bon-Bon” Abe and Tokyo, led by Koike, downplayed the virus in an attempt make sure that the Olympics were held as scheduled. Widespread PCR testing was avoided, because it might have yielded unpleasantly high numbers.
Koike was remarkably silent about the growing infection until the Olympics were officially canceled on March 24. On March 25, Koike suddenly awakened to the rising number of covert covid19 cases in Japan and in her own domain, referring to it as an explosion of infections. She began lobbying for a state of emergency to be declared, bringing the word “lockdown” (ロックダウン）into the popular Japanese vernacular.
Koike is a remarkable political opportunist, as most of her constituents now realize. The contract between the IOC and the city of Tokyo, to hold the Olympics, clearly gives the IOC power to decide whether or not to hold the games, but if Koike openly demands for them to be halted, it’s likely that other Japanese politicians will fall in line.
She may be weighing all her options before becoming the first person in power to say the obvious: holding the the Olympics in COVID19 ravaged Tokyo is a terrible idea. In Osaka, people are dying at home while waiting for hospital beds. Unless Japan remarkably turns back this new wave of infections, things will only get worse before the Olympics begins. Tokyo has asked several prefectures to provide hospitals to take care of the athletes in the case of a major outbreak of disease at the games, and already two have publicly refused.
The lackluster safety measures in place for the Olympics are also alarming in their carelessness.Only 2% of the nation is vaccinated with less than 80 days to go before the games begin. Olympic volunteers and staff, numbering in the thousands will not be vaccinated nor will quarantines be required for those arriving from overseas. Even daily PCR tests for the volunteers will not be provided. The handbook for staff, does not inspire confidence, letting volunteers know, “if you get ill, tough look.” It says bluntly, “We trust that the measures laid out will mitigate the risks and impacts involved in participating in the Games, and we fully count on your support to comply with them. However, despite all the care taken, risks and impacts may not be fully eliminated, and therefore you agree to attend the Olympic and Paralympic Games at your own risk.
The Japanese government under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is using the same old tired measures to deal with a virus that has grown more virulent and infectious. What once worked will not work anymore. Japan still continues to undertest, ensuring that non-symptomatic carriers, which are the majority of those infected with the virus, will spread the disease to a wider number of people. Even the lapdog experts who feed the Japanese government the advice they want to hear, are beginning to show signs of panic. One of them advised this week that Japan at least make extensive use of cheap and fast antigen tests, like those used in Germany, in an effort to keep the virus under control.
That’s not to mention the fear that with over 80,000 people coming to Japan from overseas with no mandatory quarantine, that new and more deadly variants of COVID19 will be introduced to Japan. The unvaccinated volunteers who will commute from home, may become the perfect vectors for carrying new lethal strains of COVID19 into Japan–and back to their homelands when they leave this island country.
Kenji Utsunomiya, the lawyer who launched a cancel-the-olympics petition–which gained a quarter of a million signatures in less than two days–hopes that Koike will make the right decision. He has run against her for the office of governor and knows that she is shrewd politician. He is hoping that if she doesn’t listen to public opinion, she might listen to her own political instincts.
Koike has a Trumpian ability to read the winds of public sentiment. While the IOC does have the ultimate authority to cancel the games, by demanding a stop to the fiasco out of professed concern for the safety of people living in Tokyo in Japan and the world, Koike has a marvelous chance to play hero.
If the IOC bends, and postpones another year – which would ensure that Japan is fully vaccinated and that everyone participating in the games is relatively safe, she wins. If the IOC refuses to call off the games and because of the overloaded healthcare systems people –or god forbid athletes––die, the IOC is the villain and not Tokyo. Once again, Koike would be the hero. If the IOC agrees and cancels the Olympics, but then tries to extract ridiculous penalties from Tokyo, they risk alienating other countries from holding the Olympics. And once again Koike, would come out as a hero, one who stood up to an international bully.
For many people here, the IOC with its blatant disregard for the lives of Japanese people–because it desperately wants to collect billions in television rights for the games–is reminiscent of the worst of the yakuza. The IOC motto seems to be: Money before lives, money before honor, money first. If the Olympics are held as planned, you might not have a hard time making citizens here believe that IOC stands for “International Organized Crime”.
Japan is in its third state of emergency now. Koike, facing rising infections this month, warned outsiders, “Do not come to Tokyo now.” A member of Komeito in the National Diet says that Koike also shared that message to Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, who abruptly cancelled his May 17th trip to Japan. Is it true? Perhaps, Bach cancelled on his own, because visiting Japan to promote the Olympics during a state of emergency and rising COVID19 infections and deaths, would not have earned him a warm welcome. In Osaka, at least 17 people have died waiting for admission to a hospital. Ambulances in Tokyo and other areas are facing long waiting times–several hours– before they can find a hospital that will accept emergency patients. Maybe Koike really did send him a message that he was not welcome right now.
In a recent column in the Washington Post, Sally Jenkins ridiculed IOC Chairman Bach as a conman and dubbed him Baron Von Ripper-Off. In Japan, that was translated as [ぼったくり男爵] and it immediately became one of the most trending words of the years.
Koike is expected to pay a visit to her political godfather, Toshiro Nikai, the Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party before making her stance public. But in his earlier remarks this year, which indicated that the Olympics should be called off if they posed a public health hazard, she may already feel she has public approval. All the members of the Tokyo Assembly are on edge wandering what Koike will do but past experience has shown them, the only person who knows what Koike will do is Koike herself. She plays her cards remarkably close to her chest.
A great book about Koike was published in the last year called, 女帝 (The Empress). It describes how manipulative, powerful and savvy Koike can be when she wants to be. I know that betting is not part of the Olympics, just as bribery is not supposed to be part of the Olympics (cough, cough) but in a showdown between the Empress and Baron Von Ripper-Off, I’d put my gold (medals) on the Empress, even at double the odds. She’s got magical powers, the ability to metamorphisize at will, and sometimes has courageous judgement. They don’t call her the green werebadger-dog (緑の狸) for nothing.
I grew up in Missouri, next to McBaine, Missouri, where I rode Bus 57 to school. On Bus 57, there is no Missouree–there is only Mizzou-rah. Riding this bus required learning to understand a little bit of rural Missouri redneck culture—to survive. If there is anything good to be said about redneck rhetoric, it’s that straight talk was generally appreciated and valued. Indeed, Missouri is still called “The Show-Me State” referring to the native demands for actual evidence to back up any far-fetched claims.
I bring all this up because The British Journal of Medicine published an amazing editorial Reconsider this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic games on why Japan should not be hosting the Olympics this year. The editorial goes into clinical detail and is backed up by multiple sources. It’s a brilliant essay but slightly obtuse and the people who should read it, won’t, and the British fondness for diplomatic wording detracts from the message.
So, in order to make the points a little more palatable (easy to understand),, I have channeled my inner redneck to bring you their excellent editorial in plain American, with only slight transgressions from the main text. I am not a 100% real redneck so please pardon any inauthentic phrasing here. I’ve done my best.
The original article is above and the “translation” is below. I hope that you find this elucidating and if you don’t, you are probably just an ignoramus (dumb-shit).
Reconsider this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic games
Serious questions remain about managing the games safely
The government of Japan and the International Olympic Committee are determined to hold the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. In February 2021, G7 leaders also supported Japan’s commitment to holding the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo (Tokyo 2020) “in a safe and secure manner … as a symbol of global unity in overcoming covid-19.”1 While the determination is encouraging, there has been a lack of transparency about the benefits and risk, and international mass gathering events such as Tokyo 2020 are still neither safe nor secure.
Tokyo Olympics? You can’t fucking do it–No way. Don’t be an asshole
The Japanese or rather their government and the IOC which stands for international Olympic Committee are hell-bent on holding Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, no matter what, not matter how dangerous, come hell or high water or a tornado or a volcano or this deadly fucking virus. It sounds pretty goddman dangerous to me. The leaders of G7 which are the really wealthy countries, that includes the USA (U-S-A!) they support Japan’s efforts to hold the Olympics and I’m quoting here, “in a safe and secure manner”– as a symbol of global unity and overcoming COVID19. Yada Yada.
Well that gung ho spirit is mighty fine but it’s totally unclear if this is going to be a clusterfuck or whether or not its actually going to be safe. A big international gathering event like the Olympics is “neither safe nor secure” and I’m not sure what the differences between these words is but in other words, it’s pretty goddamn dangerous. It would be like fucking Fern Granger without a condom while everyone knows that Fern will sleep with anyone and she’s not particularly careful and God knows if she had an STD test in the last year. Also I’m not slut-shaming here, because there are guys like Dave down at the Redhill Lounge that are total sluts and bad news, and sexually-transmitted diseases are serious problem and one should always use a condom before engaging in casual sex. I hear you can also get the rona from fucking which I guess makes sense. These Olympics needs a condom and Japan wants to ride raw.
The world is still in the middle of a pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 variants are an international concern, causing a resurgence of covid-19 globally.2 We must accelerate efforts towards containing and ending the pandemic by maintaining public health and social measures, promoting behaviour change, disseminating vaccines widely, and strengthening health systems. Substantial scientific advancements have occurred over the past year, but vaccine rollout has been inequitable, reducing access in many low and middle income countries. Huge uncertainty remains about the trajectory of the pandemic.3
The whole world is in the middle of a pandemic which is like an epidemic that is a pansexual: it will fuck anyone, anytime, anywhere. Just when you thought you had kicked its motherfucking ass, it turns out to have some mean ass cousins that you didn’t know you have to deal with. We call these cousins “variants”. It’s like the Greenhills who live past the railroad near where there used to be a post-office. It’s all one family with different people and they’re all mean and will fuck you up. But in less metaphorical terms these variants keep bringing back the virus like a zombie.
The whole world is in the middle of a pandemic which is like an epidemic that is a pansexual: it will fuck anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Although a special scheme for vaccinating athletes—marshalled by the International Olympic Committee4—may help save lives, it could also encourage vaccine diplomacy, undermine global solidarity (including the Covax global access scheme), and promote vaccine nationalism. Full transparency and clear lines of accountability are critical in any scheme to vaccinate athletes. Furthermore, prioritising athletes over essential workers at high risk in low and middle income countries raises ethical concerns that must be addressed.
We gotta lockdown this sucker by thinking about public health and doing all that stuff we have been doing, like washing our hands, wearing a mask, not spitting at people and not chewing tobacco or blowing smoke in people’s faces, or going to crowded bars getting fucked up. And if you’re one of those no maskers and no vaxxers, fuck you. Fuck you and the station wagon you rode in on.
We have got to VAX as many people as possible. We have got to improve our healthcare. Thanks to science there have been a lot of great things done in the last year but the vaccine rollout has been piss pour and unfair. If you are a poor country, you are like white trash or a minority in the United States and you are not given that vaccine. Nobody knows how this pandemic thing is going to play out.
Although a special scheme for vaccinating athletes—marshalled by the International Olympic Committee4—may help save lives, it could also encourage vaccine diplomacy, undermine global solidarity (including the Covax global access scheme), and promote vaccine nationalism. Full transparency and clear lines of accountability are critical in any scheme to vaccinate athletes. Furthermore, prioritising athletes over essential workers at high risk in low and middle income countries raises ethical concerns that must be addressed.
The Internationl Olympic Committee could do a lot more than just vaccinating athletes but they don’t give a shit about ordinary folk. If you ask us, essential workers which is like doctors and nurses and farmers and stuff should be a priority in getting vaccinated. Giving these coddled athletes the vaccines before other people in poor and middle-class countries is pretty shady and pretty shitty. It’s an ethical problem. It ain’t right. In case you don’t get it, the IOC are a bunch of assholes.
Unlike other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Japan has not yet contained covid-19 transmission.5 Despite its poor performance,6 Japan still invokes exceptionalism and continues to conceptualise covid-19 within previous planning for pandemic influenza.5 The second state of emergency in the Greater Tokyo area was lifted in late March7 despite early indications of a resurgence and an increase in covid-19 patients with variants of concern, which have now spread across Japan.89
The country’s limited testing capacity and sluggish vaccine rollout6 have been attributed to lack of political leadership.5 Even healthcare workers and other high risk populations will not have access to vaccines before Tokyo 2020, to say nothing of the general population. To properly protect athletes from covid-19, Japan must develop and implement a clear strategy to eliminate community transmission within its borders,5 as Australia did before the Australian Open tennis tournament.
Suga Couldn’t Even Drive A Tractor With Training Wheels
Unlike their Asian neighbors—hey Taiwan, nice job!—Japan has not licked this virus. In fact they are getting their ass kicked. Despite doing a shady job in handling the virus. Japan still thinks they are so so special and they keep treating this virus like it’s the flu which is pretty stupid. Stupid is as stupid does. Japan had a second state of emergency in the greater Tokyo area which is like Tokyo in places around Tokyo. It did not accomplish jackshit. They lifted the emergency while infections were rising and the weird mutant viruses were showing up all over Japan. Any dumbshit could see that there would be another resurgence like the Taliban in Afghanistan. Anyway, these killer mutant bad ass viruses are now all over Japan.
The leaders of Japan can’t tell there assholes from their mouths. Japan has a crappy capacity to test people for the virus. Their vaccine rollout is so goddamn slow that you would think the space time continuum in the country is in slow motion, like when you film something in slow motion on an iPhone, if you can afford an iPhone, or you have a friend who has an iPhone. Maybe you can also film things in slow motion on an Android phone but all i have is this old flip phone and that’s fine with me. Healthcare workers and old people and people who really need that vaccine are not going to get it before the Tokyo Olympics starts. And everybody else, they’re pretty much fucked. If Japan is going to protect the athletes that come there to play in these games, they need to get their shit together. They need to have a plan to stop the transmission, in other words, the spread of this virus within its own borders. You know who did this good? Australia did this. Australia did it before the Australian Open Tennis Tournament. They handled the virus really good if you don’t mind me saying.
Japan and the International Olympic Committee must also agree operational plans based on a robust science and share them with the international community. Waiving quarantine for incoming athletes, officials, broadcasters, press, and marketing partners10 risks importing and spreading covid-19 variants of concern. While international spectators will be excluded from the games,11cases could rise across Japan and be exported globally because of increased domestic travel—as encouraged by Japan’s official campaigns in 2020.51213Entrants will be asked to download Japan’s covid-19 contact tracing app,10 but this is known to be unreliable.14
The maximum allowable number of domestic spectators is still pending,11 but an overwhelmed healthcare system combined with an ineffective test, trace, and isolate scheme51213 could seriously undermine Japan’s ability to manage Tokyo 2020 safely and contain any outbreak caused by mass mobilisation.
Japan and the international Olympic Committee must create plans that are based on solid science and they need to share them with everyone in the whole wide world. By not requiring quarantines for athletes officials broadcasters press and marketing partners, there’s a pretty good chance that they are going to import some nasty mutant killer viruses into Japan. That will really suck.
Sure there will be no spectators at the Olympic games, that don’t mean it’s safe. There are 8000 ways this could get fucked up. You could have the virus go crazy in Japan and be exported on a global level—like they did with Pokemon, but you don’t want to catch them all. You don’t even want to catch one of these Pokemon. Japan has done this sort of fuck-up before and they are going to do it again. Japan had this dumb ass domestic tourism promoting program in the middle the pandemic called Go To Travel and the country has Gone To Hell. Those who are participating in the event are asked to download Japan’s shitty contact tracing app but it doesn’t work and you can’t count on it and it’s doubling down on stupidity
Sure there will be no spectators at the Olympic games, that don’t mean it’s safe. There are 8 millions ways this could go sideways. You could have the virus go crazy in Japan and be exported on a global level—like they did with Pokemon, but you don’t want to catch them all. You don’t even want to catch one of these Pokemon.
Nobody knows how many people will be watching or participating in the games but when you have an healthcare system that is overloaded and a worthless system for tracking testing and isolating people with the virus, you have a recipe for disaster. When you got a lot of people moving around you got a lot of ways to spread this virus. That should be pretty obvious to anyone who doesn’t have their head up their ass.
Plans to hold the Olympic and Paralympic games this summer must be reconsidered as a matter of urgency. The whole global community recognises the need to contain the pandemic and save lives. Holding Tokyo 2020 for domestic political and economic purposes— ignoring scientific and moral imperatives—is contradictory to Japan’s commitment to global health and human security.
Assholes and Athletes First, Common Folk Can Suck A Donkey Dick
Is this really so-I’m-going-to-shit-my-pants-if-I-don’t-go-to-the-bathroom-now urgent do we have to have the Olympics this year? The whole world except the IOC and Japan cares about saving lives and kicking the ass of this pandemic. If Japan actually gives a shit about the health of the world and human beings in general, they should not be ignoring science and being nice to other people, just because a bunch of old bastards want some glory and some money. When you think about the whole spiel about Olympic values, world unity and the human spirit and all that, holding the 2020 Olympics is a bunch of hypocritical bullshit. Fuck that. When we say ‘reconsider’, we mean get your head out of your ass and postpone it or cancel it, you bloody bastards. Thank you! I hope you got that.
Featuring 14 Japan-Based Artists & Over 100 Pieces of Artwork
With Spring comes new beginnings! Tokyo Art Studios is thrilled to announce their inaugural exhibition, titled “Spring Healing”, which features over 100 artworks by 14 emerging and establishedartists based in Japan. The “Spring Healing” exhibition runs until March 28 2021.
The exhibition highlights artist experiences in Japan using varying aesthetics relating to their mediums, including oils, acrylic, watercolor, illustrations, silkscreen, and photography. The artists hail from Japan and around the world, but all call Japan home today. The themes of Japan’s nature, arts and society, are woven into all the pieces.
All artworks can be viewed online at a later date but come see them in person while you can. Some featured artists include:
Johnna Slaby is an abstract artist born and raised in Japan, and currently works between Japan, the UK, and the US. Utilizing various materials from acrylics to coffee, she creates abstract pieces that are reminiscent of a late-afternoon coffee or the golden hour near a river. Through the experiences and stories that she comes across during her travels and life, she works them into pieces to create memories people can see. From her large canvas pieces to her intimate paper studies, she dissects both mundane and profound moments of life, continuing to ask, What does it mean to be alive?
Shinjiro Tanaka is an artist who expresses the infinite possibilities of simple lines by combining contradictory elements such as calmness and passion, past and future, and life and death. His works are not limited to canvas painting, but also include murals, apparel, three-dimensional objects, and digital art. Born in CA in 1985, he graduated from Keio University in 2008 and moved to NYC after working for Dentsu. He brings a variety of experiences to his art, including working as a music producer’s assistant and Performing with Nile Rodgers and CHIC, launching the apparel brand BSWK, and performing at Heisei Nakamura-za in New York. After returning to Japan, he held his first solo exhibition “FACE” in 2018; at the end of 2018, he performed live art on the streets of New York for 30 days, and the following year held his solo exhibition “NYC STREET ART PROJECT”. The same year, he won the ART BATTLE TOKYO competition and has been working unconventionally in Japan and abroad, exhibiting at a gallery in London and creating murals on the streets.
Keiko Takeda’s practice allows her to express her favorite places and unknown corners of the world through colors and shapes. Each subject is made warmer with her brush as she believes that colors have feelings that embody our own emotions. Keiko has shown her work in many exhibitions, both solo and group shows.
Marie Ikura studied art, and more specifically painting, while at Tama Art University before becoming a professional artist whose signature style is based on live art. Often, Marie creates live paintings that share space, time, and music with the people present where her work is ever-evolving as the paint scatters, making sounds such as “voice of color”. In addition, she engages in participatory art like wearing art or consuming art. Her live work has taken her to regions in Europe and Southeast Asia.
A new Tokyo gallery which opened this March (2021) – Tokyo Art Studio strives to provide a platform for the global community of emerging artists based in Japan. Through exhibitions and programming, TAS encourages our community to creatively connect with one another through the power of art and dialogue. To learn more about Tokyo Art Studio
The Studio is located at 3-17 -12 Minami Azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Visits outside of exhibit times are by appointment only.
Email and questions or request for interviews to contact@TokyoArtStudioGallery.com.
Japan Subculture Research Center is proud to present the latest addition to a series of short stories, by our resident book reviewer and social commentator, Kaori Shoji, on the often tragically mismatched marriages of foreign men and Japanese women–The Amazing Japanese Wife. If you see echoes of someone you know or yourself in this story, be rest assured that you’re a cliche—but take solace in the fact that misery is universal. This new story is apocryphal in the sense that the protagonist is unmarried–but seeking to be married.
In high school, Kimie read a novel about a woman who lived in a shack that was sinking into a sand pit. One day, sheer chance leads a man–an outsider–to wander into the woman’s shack. Initially, she’s kind and welcoming but she takes steps to ensure that the man can’t leave. Soon she sets him to work shoveling the ever-present sand out of her door, which she herself has been doing everyday for years. Otherwise, the sand will claim the shack completely and the woman will have no place to live.
At the time, Kimie was sixteen and was reveling in the power of her sexuality. She didn’t need to trap a man in the sand to get him to do anything–most of them were putty in the hands of a girl in a school uniform. When she stood on the platform of the train station she could feel the particles in the air around her change and shift, as men craned their necks to get a better look at the back of her knees and her neck and her long, perfect hair. A man in a neat, expensive-looking suit once gazed at her intently and pressed a 10,000 yen bill in her hand. “This is so you can kiss me later,” he whispered, before striding rapidly away.
For all that, the woman in the shack that was sinking into the sand, haunted Kimie. As she grew older it seemed she was turning into this woman, shoveling out sand alongside the man she had trapped. She knew exactly how this woman felt, and how earnestly she needed the man in her sand blown life. After she hit her forties, Kimie identified more with the man. She could picture him, desperately clawing at the sand, eyes darting wildly as he searched for a way to escape.
Kimie had turned 47, and was living with her mother in the same house she had lived in since childhood.
Three weeks into the pandemic shut-down, Kimie felt her synapses fraying, and then unraveling. Her hair was falling out in chunks and her skin was clammy to the touch in some places, while in others it was dry and chilly. The soles of her feet had the texture of old, cracked rubber. She would get up in the morning, and too distracted to open the curtains, would immediately turn on the news, mentally preparing for the day’s dreary horrors as if they were a mere extension of her fitful nightmares.
“Kimi-chan, Kimi-chan!” After half an hour of staring at the screen, the calls of her mother from the kitchen downstairs, would alert her to the fact that she had procrastinated long enough. It was time to face her mother at the table, over coffee and toast with synthetic butter and cheap jam.
The sight of her mother, aged 77, instilled a sense of silent panic deep within Kimie’s soul. This is where I’m going, this is what I’ll look like. She knew such thoughts were vain and unworthy but she had decided long ago that it was okay to have them. Until five years ago when her father was still alive, Kimie could convince herself that she valued her parents because they brought her up and sacrificed much for this life of hers. In her youth, this life had seemed to be the most enticing item in the whole shop. She had pointed to it with her finger and it became hers, gift-wrapped and bow-tied. The bill had been sent round to her father, who paid without complaint. But now the sand was getting into the nooks and nannies and crevices of her pretty little life.
On good days, Kimie would tick off her milestones in her mind, if only to remind herself that she was special, and her life was, if not completely wonderful then surely presentable. A semester in a high school in Missouri, courtesy of a school-sponsored home stay program. She had called her father collect to ask for 500 extra dollars to spend on a prom dress, subsequently torn in three places by her geeky, fumbling boyfriend as he frantically groped her in his parents’ car. A year in Pennsylvania during university because she had insisted to her father that she needed to improve her English in order to land a good job. Her father had wired 800 dollars into her account every month so she could eat well, go to parties and well, improve her English. (Which she did! She scored 900 on TOEIC!) A trip to Italy and France as a graduation present. At the time, all these things made enormous sense to her, and besides, her mother had encouraged her every step of the way. “I want you to have the life that I could never have, Kimi-chan,” she intoned, the closest thing her mother ever came to a prayer. She would also say, “The world is so different from when I was young. I had no choices, no options, nothing but the life that was put in front of me.” This was her mother’s mantra, pulled out whenever she got into a fight with her husband or daughter, knowing it would make them feel guilty enough to shut up and back off.
Kimie had allowed herself to buy into the myth that her mother, comfortably ensconced in their house in a Tokyo suburb purchased with a 30-year mortgage, had been abused and victimized by the Japanese social system. By embracing that myth Kimie took it upon herself–the brilliant girl who had studied in the US, could speak English and got a job in a bank–to be happy and successful. This would compensate for her mother’s apparently miserable and downtrodden existence. Kimie had believed she was doing the right thing, only to realize in middle age that she was trapped, a prisoner in the cell of her own bedroom.
Kimie’s younger brother had always rebelled against their parents and left home at the same time he chose a university in the northern tip of Japan–as far away from Tokyo as he could get without going abroad. Relatives had pitied her brother, he chose a national university with low tuition and turned down their father’s offer of a loan so he could rent an apartment. Instead, Kimie’s brother Youki spent four years in a cramped, filthy college dorm. Occasionally, he called to let his family know he was all right. After graduation, he stopped by to say he had found a job at a mid-sized electronics manufacturer. Youki had none of the privileges Kimie had taken for granted but he gained the kind of strength and freedom she couldn’t even fathom. Now, Kimie found it hard to wrap her mind around the fact that her brother had his own house, a family, even a dog–an elegant Dalmatian named Sabu whom she had seen only once. Youki had left and never came back. She had been the cosseted, dutiful daughter who stayed, and stayed and stayed at home. “At least I have you, Kimi-chan,” her mother liked to say. “As long as you’re still here, I have nothing to complain about, really.”
Kimie felt as if her insides had dried out and her blood vessels were clogged with sand. Did the woman in the novel die in the end? Kimie couldn’t remember but neither could she recall when she had her last period.
“Kimi-chan, are you working today?” Her mother, chewing toast, tossed the question in the air and Kimie nodded with a small grunt. There was a Zoom conference at 3PM for which she planned to turn the camera off. Until then she could pretend to do some paperwork, answer some emails, make a few calls. How long would that take? Maybe a couple of hours. Even with the Zoom conference slotted in, there were still ten or more waking hours that had to be whiled away somehow, secluded in her prison cell. Putting her dishes in the sink for her mother to wash, Kimie plodded to the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face. She saw no reason to change out of her pajamas, it wasn’t like she was going anywhere.
Kimie didn’t like life under the pandemic. At times, the strain of being cooped up inside a small house with her mother felt intolerable. But she hated her pre-Covid life even more, with a ferociousness that had her contemplating suicide at least three nights a week.
In late 2019 Kimie had an epiphany: instead of dying she would get married! Marriage would at least, enable her to leave her mother and the wretched house. In January, she signed up with a ‘konkatsu (marriage agency),’ dutifully paying the 300,000 yen registration fee and answering each and every match-up question. She understood from the hour-long meeting with the agency’s ‘counselor’ that these days, it was quite common for women in their 40s and 50s to look for partners, but the road to an actual wedding could take longer than expected. The 300,000 yen fee would cover her match-ups for up to one year. “What happens when a year goes by and I’m still single?,” Kimie had asked and the counselor, intimidating with her glowing skin and sleek hair, had chirped that most women found someone within 6 months. “Our advice is: try them out. Most of our clients haven’t dated in awhile and they’re all a bit rusty. We find that when the woman takes the lead, everything tends to fall in place. So don’t say no until you’ve tried them out!”
After screening a half dozen applicants, Kimie settled on the 56 year old Yamanishi-san, whose portrait photo reminded her a little of her father when he was that age. Yamanishi-san’s texts were charming; he seemed to know how to strike just the right tone between elaborately polite and paternally friendly. They agreed to meet for lunch in a kaiseki restaurant (his choice) in the posh district of Ginza, where he had booked an alcove facing a Japanese garden. “I love gardens in the winter. They’re so calm and soothing,” he texted, and Kimie felt a little thrill of anticipation. It had been a long time since she had been courted, on any level, by a man. Maybe she really was about to get a ticket out of the sand shack–her private nickname for home.
Exactly 24 hours before the appointed time, she had her roots done at an expensive salon in Aoyama. Two weeks prior to that, she had bought a dress at a department store, along with a fresh pair of panty hose and brown leather pumps. On the day, she scrutinized herself in the mirror and decided she didn’t look a day over thirty-nine. Saying nothing to her mother, Kimie went to the restaurant with as little anxiety as she could manage. If this worked out, she would break the news to her mother gently, and suggest moving to a house in the immediate vicinity so they could visit often.
Yamanishi-san turned out to be a bit heavier than his photo, and with noticeably less hair but Kimie was willing to overlook these minor flaws. What was much more jarring, was the rift between his digital texts and his real life persona. Yamanishi-san didn’t even look at the garden but kept his gaze firmly on Kimie’s chest, as if he were a chef contemplating the char marks on a grilled steak. “You have a good body for a woman of your age,” he said. “Have you done much sports in school? I like a woman with good muscle tone.” Kimie smiled and said no, not really, she had been too busy studying English.
“Ah, yes! I read that in your resume. You’re not some idiotic female with zero skills, you’ve been out in the world and you can speak English! My mother would like that. She used to be a teacher in her day. She likes women with knowledge and work experience. She can’t stand dumb girls.”
The conversation went on in this vein and Kimie could hardly bring herself to sample the meal, made up of exquisite morsels of food artistically displayed on polished lacquerware. All she wanted to do now was go home, and slip into bed with her phone. She stopped listening to Yamanishi-san altogether and thought about Spotify. She really should update her playlists.
Suddenly, in the middle of wresting a thin piece of radish from a tiny portion of soup, Yamanishi-san fixed her with an intense stare and said, “Okay, I seriously have to ask you this question if we are going to take this relationship any further. What color is your that?”
Kimie could feel her cheeks tingle, and then burn, and could only mimic the last word in his question. “That?” she blurted, like a fool, she thought. Yamanishi-san nodded vigorously and said, “Yes, your that. You know, I can almost tolerate black nipples though I would much prefer them to be a lighter color. But a woman’s, you know, that–should never be dark. If we are to have sex, I don’t think I can perform very well if your that is a dark color.”
After a full ten seconds of silence in which Kimie sat there, her face turned desperately to the winter garden which struck her as being dull and ugly, Yamanishi san said in a gentler tone, “I’m sorry to have to ask you. But this is…not love, it’s not dating, don’t you see? This is an arrangement preceding marriage. I think that you are a smart, modern woman and maybe we could come to an understanding, the two of us. But neither of us is young, and there’s no time for beating around the bush. I have my priorities and I am being honest about them. Won’t you give me an answer?”
“I don’t know. I don’t usually look.” With that, Kimie stood up, clutching her handbag, and walked clumsily to the reception area where she asked for her coat. As soon as she was out of the restaurant, she grabbed her phone and blocked Yamanishi-san’s number after deleting all his texts.
Kimie’s thoughts often wandered back to that lunch, but the memories were not of Yamanishi-san. Indeed, within hours of that experience he had felt like a figment of her imagination, spawned as the result of the meeting with the chirping counselor and her stupid advice.
What Kimie recalls is how, as soon as she had gotten home and climbed the staircase to her room, she stripped off her coat and dress and peeled off her pantyhose. She took a mirror from her make-up drawer and held it close to her vagina. For several seconds, she had to struggle to see, but when she got a good enough view, she let out a sigh of relief. Her ‘that’ wasn’t black. In fact, the color could even be described as being on the light side. “If we are to have sex,” she whispered to herself. Then she had put the mirror away, pulled up her panties and got into bed. She could hear her mother calling her name from the kitchen but she shut her eyes tight and willed herself not to hear. The sand was seeping into her room, gathering in mounds all around her bed, lulling her to sleep. She would shovel it out later.
Note: Ms. Shoji should be credited for coining the word WAM (Western Anglo-Saxon Men) also (White American Men)–a more understandable term for the Charisma-man type of entitled self-important foreigners that once flooded these shores but now mostly live in Hong Kong, Beijing, or Singapore. Also, it should be noted that Ms. Shoji has always been an equal opportunity misanthrope, as evidenced in her book review entitled 21 Reasons Why Japanese Men Suck.
It’s Valentine’s Day again in Japan or it will be soon….And while Valentine’s Day is a mutual exchange of gifts and professions of love in the West, in Japan it’s a holiday where women give expensive fine chocolate to the men they love and crappy obligatory chocolate to the men they work with or work for, known as 義理チョコ (giri-choko) or “obligation chocolates.”
According to Encyclopedia Aramata, Valentine’s Day was first introduced into Japan in February of 1958 by an employee of Mary Chocolate Co. Ltd, who had heard about the European chocolate exchanges between couples from a friend living in Paris He decided it would be a brilliant marketing technique in Japan so he organized a collaboration with Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It was an incredible….failure. “During one week we sold only about three chocolates worth 170 yen at that time,” an employee recalled. Yet this employee persisted, later becoming the president of the company, and by the 1980s, he and Japan’s chocolate industry, along with the department stores, had enshrined Valentine’s Day as a holiday that is “the only day of the year a woman confesses her love through presenting chocolate.” The spirit of love.
But of course, as time went by, giving chocolate became something women were expected to do for not only the their “true love” but people at work, their bosses, their friends, and even, their brothers. 義理チョコ (giri-choko) aka “obligation chocolate” has branched off into “友チョコ (tomo-choko)” chocolate for friends, 世話チョコ (sewa-choko), chocolate for people who’ve looked after you, 自分チョコ (jibun-choko), a present for yourself, and even the rare 逆チョコ (gyaku-choko) —the rare event when a man gives chocolate to a woman on Valentine’s Day (revolutionary).
When we say “Valentine’s Day” in Japan, it doesn’t quite mean what it means in the West. (We’ll talk about White Day in March). And if you think about it, what do we really mean when we talk about love? Japan has some very specific terms for discussing and classifying love. Although the terms can be expressed in English, the compactness of Japanese words for sex, love, and everything in between is quite charming.
Japan has many words for love and sex. It’s surprisingly rich in words for love such as 友愛 (the love between friends) and 親愛 (love between family members) and of course 恋愛 (passionate love) . Here are some of the words you may find useful as you travel through love hotel island.
*出会い（Deai）–“meeting people” Also used to describe dating sites 出会い系サイト and one-night stands.
不倫 (Furin)-“adultery, infidelity.” Has more of a negative connotation than uwaki
慈愛(Jiai)–compassionate love. Much like the love a parent feels for their child–a desire for the happiness and well-being of another. When the Dalai Lama speaks of love in Japanese, this is often the word used to translate his words.
*浮気 (Uwaki) –1) to describe someone who can romantically love many people 2) infidelity; an affair 3) being in love with in someone other than your partner 4) (old usage) cheerful and gorgeous
*恋人 (Koibito) “lover”
*熱愛 (Netsu-ai) “passionate love”
*恋愛 (Ren-ai) “romantic love” A word very popular in Japanese woman’s magazines
*恋い (Koi) “love”
*一物 (Ichimotsu) “the one thing” According to an old joke, the definition of a man is this: a life support system for an ichimotsu (the penis).
*慈悲, 慈悲深い (Jihi) (Jihibukai) “compassionate love/sympathetic joy” This comes from Buddhism and describes a maternal love, originally means to give joy and peace to someone and remove their pain. 慈悲深い人–someone who is compassionate and finds happiness in the happiness of others.
*情熱 (jounetsu) “passion”
*ラブ (rabu) “love” pronounced Japanese style.
ラブラブ (rabu rabu) “love love” used to described a couple deeply in love.
*同性愛 (douseiai) “homosexual love”
*愛 (ai) love. “to love” 愛する (ai suru)
*好き (suki) like. Used often to express love as well. 大好き (Daisuki) “really like” Old school Japanese males never say, “I love you” (愛している) they would say, Daisuki. This line:“君が大好きだ” (Kimi ga daisuki da). “I really like you” is often the profession of love in a Japanese movie or television show on both sides.
純愛 (Jun-ai) “pure love” An almost mystical concept of love as something beyond physical or material reality. I’m still not sure what this means but it sets off lights in the eyes of Japanese women. It’s a television drama buzz word.
*惚れる (horeru) fall in love
*惚れ込む (horekomu) fall deeply in love
*一目惚れ (hitomebore) love at first sight “hitome” first sight. “hore” fall in love (see above)
*セックス (Sex)—This is “Japanese English.” It means sex.
*前戯 (Zengi)–Foreplay. Mae (前）means before and “戯れ” means “play, goof around”. Technically this entry should have been before Sex (セックス) on the list but then I wouldn’t be able to make this joking reference here.
*セックスレス (Sexless)—Maybe half of Japanese marriages are sexless. Who knows why? It’s a common complaint for Japanese women and some Japanese men..
アイコンタクト (eye contact)” Important in courting.
*エッチ (etchi) A cute-word for anything sexual, flirty. Usually has a fun connotation.
*男根 (dankon) “male-root” If you can’t figure out what this means, please refer to 一物 (ichimotsu)
*おまんこ (o-manko) The female genitalia, sometimes just the vagina. Also referred to as simply manko. However, we prefer attaching the honorable “o” as in “orgasm”. Also, it’s never bad to show respect. Even amongst the closest of friends, decorum is necessary. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり
*愛人 (aijin) Lover. The aijin is usually the partner in a forbidden romance. Similar to “koibito” but more of a shady aspect.
*オーガズム (ougasumu) orgasm
オルガスムス (orugasumusu) orgasm in Japanese taken from German Orgasmus
絶頂 (zettcho) climax, orgasm in Japanese language
*失楽園 (Shitsurakuen) A very popular novel and movie about a passionate modern day affair that ends in double suicide, with the lovers found dead in each others arms in mortal post coitus bless. Yes, you wouldn’t think this would encourage people to have affairs but it did! Women’s magazines had multiple features on the books and movies.
潮吹き (shiofuki): female ejaculation. Some Japanese women release a squirt or excess lubrication on orgasm. There appears to be some science suggesting that this does happen.
鼻血 (hanaji): bloody nose. There is a strange folk-belief that when a Japanese man is sexually excited he gets a nosebleed. Go figure.
In Japan, when man or women reaches orgasm, they don’t come (来る) they go (行く/iku). Likewise, to make a man or woman reach orgasm, is to 行かす (Ikasu) “make go.”
楽園 (rakuen) mean paradise. 失（shitsu） means “loss” or as a verb 失う（ushinau） to lose.
If I was running a campaign aimed at women for Japan’s favorite 浮気（uwaki) dating site for married people, I might make a pun on this along the lines of “恋愛の楽園を失いましたか。Ashleymadison.jpで禁断の楽園を再発見しよう“ (Did you lose your lover’s paradise？Rediscover the forbidden paradise on Ashleymadison.jp) BTW, the site already had a 1,000,000 members within 8 months.
*恋い焦がれる (koikogareru)=”burningly in love” to be in love so deeply that it’s painful, to yearn for the other 恋い (love) + 焦げる (burn).
Not a negative word, but a way of expressing a deep passionate consuming love. Many men and women seem to be seeking
*ベッド (bed)—usually a roundabout way of discussing sex in Japanese female magazines
–プレイ”—(play) This is usually added to various types of sexual fetishes.
性愛 (sei-ai) Erotic love, eros (sex/gender 性 + love 愛)
For example, 赤ちゃんプレイ (Aka-chan purei)—When the guy likes to be diapered like a baby, possible shaved completely nude, and nurse, sometimes with a woman who’s actually lactating. I could tell you a really strange story about a police raid on a place specializing in this type of service but I’ll skip it.
*遊び (Asobi) “Play”—this can refer to sex, an affair, a one-night stand. It has a wide usage in Japan and adults “play” just as much as children. Hence the costume fetish in Japan—
コスプレー (cosupurei—“costume play”)
密事 (mitsuji)—An old word but a literary one for discrete affairs.
*禁断の愛 (kindan no ai) Forbidden love
*密会 (mikkai) secret meeting
*ばれない (barenai) to not be discovered, to get away with something
*絶対ばれない (zettai barenai) “absolutely no one will find out”