Shinbun Kisha (The Journalist) is getting great box office and rave reviews, belying the myth that a Japanese movie about newsrooms and politics just won’t cut it. Based on the bestselling autobiography by audacious Tokyo Shinbun (東京新聞) reporter Isoko Mochizuki, The Journalist is a suspense thriller about how the titular woman journalist dared go after the government to unveil conspiracies and cover-ups. Infuriatingly, most of her male colleagues are intent on adhering to the status quo. Alone and isolated, the journalist teams up with a young bureaucrat from ‘Naicho’ – the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office – to expose a government scandal that’s almost an exact reenactment of Prime Minister Abe’s ‘Morikake’ incident.
“All Japan needs is a mere facade of democracy,” goes a line in this movie, implying that the nation neither needs or wants the real deal.
But now, with the House of Councillors election happening on Sunday, politics is on many peoples’ minds, including millennials that had shown zero interest in the past. Tickets in 42 theaters have sold out and the movie’s distributors announced that they will be printing 10,000 new copies of The Journalist pamphlet, as they’ve been selling off the shelves in theaters across Japan. Next week, the two main cast members will appear on stage at a theater in Shinjuku, to take their bows and answer questions from the audience. It looks like politics and newsrooms are a winning combination!
The Journalist is gripping, wrenching and ultimately cathartic, even if the plucky heroine doesn’t oust the evil government agents or get an enormous raise for her efforts. No, what happens is that news hound Erica Yoshioka (played by South Korean actress Shim Eun-kyung), after a series of grueling assignments that require round-the-clock investigating, not to mention the actual writing –gets to keep her job so she can start the cycle all over again in the name of quality journalism. Yoshioka also keeps her dignity and integrity intact, which is much more than one can say for Japanese movies about professional women, or let’s face it, women protagonists in general.
The role of Erica Yoshioka is gutsy and intriguing and you can’t help but wonder why a Japanese actress didn’t snap it up. Rumors are going around that all the possible candidates had turned it down because they didn’t want to get involved in anything anti-government and were afraid of the backlash. Shim can return to South Korea, but Japanese actresses have to live and work here.
Personally, I’ll take what I can get, and bask in the fact that The Journalist got made at all. Usually, such projects never get off the ground. Not only does The Journalist dig at some old scars the current Administration would rather forget, it bears the hallmarks of a well-meaning dud. There is no love story. There are no sex scenes or girl idols to alleviate the complete seriousness of the proceedings. And the director, Michihito Fujii, is only 32 years old with no blockbusters on his resume. Initially, Fujii turned down the offer of director since, as he professed in an online interview, “I didn’t know anything about politics or the news.” Still, once he signed on, Fujii did the research, hit the books and lined up interviews with government officials. The story benefits from his efforts but the directing seems just a tad stiff and two-dimensional. Perhaps Fujii was too caught up in the material to do more than connect the dots, albeit with meticulous expertise.
As it is, The Journalists belong to Shim and Tohri Matsuzaka who plays Sugihara, the elite bureaucrat working for ‘Naicho’. They give their all to film and Matsuzaka has been commended on social media for taking on a “dangerous” role that could potentially give him a bad name (the anti-government name).
Compared to Shim’s Yoshioka, Sugihara is more nuanced and inwardly tortured. His job is to protect the current administration and make sure the press don’t get their hands on any problematic information, but he has his misgivings. When his boss commits suicide to cover up another cover-up, Sugihara is shaken.
(Editor’s note–this is based on the suicide of a Finance Ministry official who killed himself rather than take part in deleting or altering government documents that implicated Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a scandal relating to a government land-sale to a right-wing elementary school, run by his crony. None of the other officials who participated in forging public documents, which is a criminal offense, were charged; the female prosecutor who dropped the case was promoted)
The boss’s last words to Sugihara had been “don’t end up like me,” and Sugihara can’t fathom whether that meant “don’t die” or “don’t get involved in anything bad.” For a Naicho bureaucrat, the two most likely mean the same thing. Matsuzaka is a revelation – he has always been good but The Journalist shows his range. Last year, he was doing sex scenes ad nauseum in Call Boy and here, he never even takes off his jacket.
A word about Shim as Yoshioka: in the movie, her character has a Japanese father and a Korean mother, hence her accent when she speaks Japanese. Yoshioka completely lives for her job, to the point of excluding everything else from her life. It turns out that her father (also a journalist) had killed himself over an incident involving fake news. As his daughter, she had vowed to pursue the truth, whatever the cost. Shim’s performance is excellent, and one can only hope there will be a future where Japanese actresses will go for roles like this – far, far away from the planet of ‘Kawaii’.
In real life, there aren’t a whole lot of women journalists working for Japanese newspapers. Many don’t make it past the first five years; what with the long hours combined with frequent transfers to regional branches, incidents of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and of course, that thick glass ceiling – the job doesn’t exactly encourage them to stay on.
Isoko Mochizuki, the author of the book on which the film is based, however, is changing the scenery. As mentioned above, she’s a veteran reporter for Tokyo Shinbun which is famed for its hard-hitting investigative journalism and for being the Abe Administration’s most vocal critic. Her frequent cross questioning of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, has ripped a big hole in Japan’s infamous ‘kisha club’ system (where only the reporters of major newspapers are allowed to attend closed press conferences). And now, with the unexpected success of The Journalist, perhaps we can start discussing hard-hitting issues like democracy and freedom of the press. Who’s to say the Japanese don’t need it ? They seem to love films that bring up these issues.
I am at the reception counter of Muji Hotel – the much touted and long awaited hotel produced by Muji, Japan’s popular minimalist clothing and household products brand. Muji, as you may know, stands for Mujirushi (無印) which literally means “no seal or stamp”; it’s a brand who’s trademark is no (visible) brand. Which is very Zen-like unless you look at the label inside.
When the hotel first opened in early April, rumor had it that every room was booked solid for the next 2 years. In late May, procuring a room (on a weekday) proved easy. Muji (rhymes with Fuji) has grown into a global label touting Japan-style simplicity and aesthetics but to the average non-minimalist Japanese, it remains inscrutable, even unfathomable. Many see the pared down surfaces and uniform designs of Muji products as a tad too aggressively simple to fit into their own lives.
Aggressive maybe, but never offensive. There’s not the tiniest fragment of offensiveness anywhere in the Muji Hotel, including the young woman who checks me in. She’s an epitome of serenity and calm, her hair in a neat bun at the nape of her neck and wearing what is clearly a Muji outfit (white shirt and loose black cardigan plus black pants) the uniform of the hotel staff. She speaks almost flawless Japanese along with English and Urdu which she says is her native language. Before handing me the card key to my room, the young woman gives me an ‘omamori’ or talisman, compliments of Muji – and explains that inside the tiny cloth satchel there’s an emergency whistle (“in case of a natural disaster and other unforeseen events”) and a tiny leaflet containing instructions on getting through emergencies great and small. I open this leaflet and on the last page there is this advice: “If you should feel lonely, look up at the stars in the night sky.”
My room which is a single, feels spacious thanks to the high ceiling measuring over 3.5 meters. In Tokyo, high ceilings are a luxury and when it comes to hotel rooms, they’re the exclusive domain of high-end imported brands like the Peninsula, the Park Hyatt and the Ritz Carlton. Muji is distinctive in that it’s a genuine Japanese hotel, located in one of the choicest pieces of real estate in Tokyo, but only charges a fixed rate of 140 USD per single room, per night. Most importantly, it doesn’t suck or resemble a prison cell.
On the other hand, you can’t imagine anyone having a tryst here– it’s far too pristine and devoid of emotion. And a hotel without a tryst is like a cupcake without icing. Or am I being offensive? (Editor’s note: Not offensive. ‘A donut without a hole’ might have been an offensive metaphor but then again they eat donut holes in Australia, so who’s to say?)
Back in my room, a faint scent of linen combined with lavender lingers in the air, piped out from a portable aroma diffuser, one of Muji’s most popular items. Actually, everything in the room is made by Muji, from the bed to the packets of shampoo and conditioner precisely laid out in an oak chest (also Muji), to the little bag of complimentary snacks and the bottled water in the mini-fridge (also Muji). The idea is to let the guests get a taste of what it’s like to live a life defined by Muji, by spending some time in a space designed and totally controlled by Muji. And afterwards, we can take the escalator down to any of the five floors of Muji’s flagship store that’s located right below the hotel. The hotel and the shop are in the same building, and some of the tourists check in with empty suitcases, to stock up on Muji products during their stay. It’s a pretty nifty arrangement for Muji and The Minimalists–which could be a great ambient music band name.
The brand has always opted for discretion, restraint, understatement with a whiff of snobbishness. To admit to a love of Muji is to tell the world that as a consumer, you’re very woke. Muji covers all the bases that would gladden the heart of a discerning shopper: recyclable materials, ethical off-shore manufacturing, diversity among the staff, organic cotton in the clothing line and energy efficient appliances. Add to that the flat, unobtrusive, utterly desexualized designs and it all totals up to something that is for many minimalists, a guilty pleasure. Indeed, many Japanese minimalists admit on their blogs that if they have to shop at all, they shop at Muji. Others have taken it several levels higher by buying Muji houses (yes, they will make an entire house from the ground up) and outfitting it with Muji kitchens and bathrooms, after which they proceed to fill it up with Muji furniture and Muji food.
Muji was launched in 1980 by retail giant Seibu Conglomerates, as an alternative brand to what (then) Seibu CEO Seiji Tsutsumi saw as the nation’s misguided and excessive consumerism. Japanese consumers were hurling themselves into the go-go economy, believing that shopping nirvana was the closest thing to paradise. All of a sudden, the cramped living spaces of the average Japanese were overflowing with stuff. Few of it matched or made sense, and perhaps for the first time in Japanese history, people found themselves in possession of with more STUFF than they ever thought possible.
Muji offered an escape hatch from the clueless clutter of it all, with uniform, collapsible shelves and drawers designed to hold the simplest, most non-intrusive products. Now, forty years later, any discussion of Japanese minimalism almost always precludes a discussion of Muji. Konmari may be riding on her big wave at the moment, but Muji had been on the beach long before she was decluttering the ocean.
But as the hotel room shows, Muji has perhaps, gone a bit overboard. They had always walked the fine line between selling their ideals and selling their products but with the opening of the hotel, it seems that boundary has been obliterated. Muji has merged the product with the ideal, and the whole package comes with a price tag.
Consequently, the last thing you’d want to do in this space is to indulge in carnal pleasures, though to be fair, the hotel does encourage it. (Muji Prophylactics are sold on the third floor.) But since I was alone, what else was there to do but open my laptop to work at the Muji desk, lit by a Muji lamp, wearing Muji slippers after taking a shower in the Muji bathroom? Maybe I’ll even follow Muji’s suggestion and look up at the night sky for a few twinkling stars–and then fall into a dreamless Muji sleep.
Note: In a homage to Muji style, none of the photos in this article have been captioned.
On April 30th, Emperor Akihito became the first sitting Japanese Emperor to abdicate the throne in over 200 years. Then, the following day on May 1st, his son Naruhito ascended the throne, becoming the 125th emperor thus marking the official start of the Reiwa (令和) Era.
In recognition of this momentous occasion, that PM Abe described to Trump as being “100 times bigger [than the Super Bowl],” many stores and companies released new products. Such as Reiwa branded sake and beer, a ¥100,000 truffle wagyu burger, foie gras and gold dust toped 3kg wagyu burger, gold dust seasoned potato chips and cans of Heisei Era air from Heinari in Gifu Prefecture, heisei branded bottles of water costing ¥2000. While many other stores simply opted to hold special time-limited sales.
At the same time, many Japanese consumers enjoyed an extremely long holiday (by Japanese standards) of 10 days and many went on spending sprees with some economists estimating there to be a nationwide spike in spending by tens of billions of Yen.
Meanwhile, many in China reportedly were baffled and disappointed that the new era name wasn’t based off of Chinese classics like many past era names and instead was instead allegedly derived from a collection of classical Japanese poetry from the late 7th to 8th centuries known as The Manyoshu.
One of the most odd effects of the new Reiwa era name, however, is the celebration of many Tibetans living in Japan due to the new era’s name sounding similar to the Tibetan word for “hope”. There are many people who hope and believe that the new era’s name is an auspicious sign for the Tibetan people; May 10th marks the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.
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
By all means, do go and tell your side of the story to them, motherfucker.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I heard that your daughter gives really good head… and so does your son.
Hey, I wanted to hear if your children are getting a good sleep because… when you get fired, and I get fired, you’re going to have to put your kids out of international school and into Japanese school and I’ll be teaching there. (The tape recording is below ↘）
Where I come from, you don’t mess with a man’s car, a man’s woman, a man’s dog, or a man’s job. You go behind someone’s back, and they come knockin on your front, with a shotgun. And I suppose you’ll send this to your mommy to defend you, right? (2011)
I have a talent for pissing people off. I’m sure it comes from a personality defect, of which I have many, and I will strive to work on improving my generally surly nature.
However, while I’m surly I don’t delight in the suffering of other people. Unfortunately, I have a cyberstalker who does. And when he can’t get to me, he attacks my friends. Or uses his virtual sock-puppets (Chris Beck, Kita (I don’t have the balls to use my real name) Yaesu to do it.
The worst troll in the world is one that claims to be a journalist—they abuse our profession by writing with malice, distorting the truth and mixing it with enough lies to make it seem plausible, and claim to be “reporting” to do it. I call them “trollnalists”.
There is a certain disgruntled self-professed journalist Christopher Johnson aka The Troll who has a personal vendetta against me and anyone who is my friend or employer. The reasons are very simple: I made the mistake of asking about his visa status when he was denied entry into Japan and/or deported in 2011. I then refused to write an article on his behalf in 2012. He took it very personally.
He’s accused me of 1) being addicted to meth-amphetamines 2) not having been a police reporter, which is probably because he can’t read enough Japanese to figure out what 警視庁記者クラブ means 3) being a womanizing asshole 4) plagiarism 5) being completely wrong about yakuza involvement in the nuclear industry 6) being mentally ill and in addition, he’s stalked and defamed my friends and colleagues, especially female reporters. It goes on and on.
He’ll probably alter his crazy blog posts soon to eliminate claim #5. He’s devoted 40 sprawling pages to my life which he continually rewrites when glaring errors are found. No one is sure what he does to support himself these days but perhaps his famous brother, Gordy Johnson aka Grady Johnson is supporting him. Who knows?
He is right about number 3. Gotta work on that. I can be an asshole and a womanizer. Guilty.
I didn’t mind so much his man-crush and attacks on me, but now he continues to harass other journalists I know, accusing them of plagiarism. He accuses them of taking money from corporations to slant their coverage, etc. He writes their editors, calls their offices, tweets at them endlessly. It’s hard to really explain how venal this individual is so I’ll let him speak for himself.
This is the kind of guy I’m dealing with. The kind of guy who left messages like this for his co-worker at NHK in 2007.
I will have to tell you that Tanaka-san and Iida-san are now well aware of your fucking bullshit. By all means, do go and tell your side of the story to them, motherfucker.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I heard that your daughter gives really good head… and so does your son.
Hey, I wanted to hear if your children are getting a good sleep because… when you get fired, and I get fired, you’re going to have to put your kids out of international school and into Japanese school and I’ll be teaching there.
It is a revolting thing to do, for which CJ has never apologized. It makes him sound like a pedophile–and although he spent many years in Thailand, there is no evidence that he is one. But it’s still a fucking awful thing to say. An apology would be nice.
Dave Schaufele, the NHK co-worker, sent JSRC a note on the incident:
“It’s time to stand up to this bully. I would have no hesitation beating the living crap out of this sicko after his comments about my children, as would any father in a similar position I suspect. So if he ever sees me again he better turn the other way and run.
Friends at NHK who know CJ recommended that I just ignore him because he’s mentally unstable. But if his slanderous meltdown rant is starting to spread I guess I need to reply and set the record straight.
I must admit I’m so short of time between work and family that I haven’t even started a Facebook page, let alone made 14,000 blog posts as “Greji” whose slang and poor spelling might indicate that English is not his first language. CJis simply delusional.
I suspect he knows I’m not Greji but was simply looking for a way to use NHK’s name in the headline and fabricate a high profile story that would make him seem like a victim instead of a predator. CJ knows that his own actions resulted in his loss of work but his alter ego is trying to find someone else to take responsibility.
CJ pulled all the hateful slander completely out of his ass. I have many Jewish friends and have never made any anti-Semitic remarks nor written anything about Johnson’s girlfriend or family and therefore he can provide no examples at all in his rant.
I made no phone calls to him period; another fabrication to try and justify his pedophile phone messages left on my keitai answering system. Playback is continuous once activated and no alterations were made whatsoever.
I do sometimes get a sunburned neck when working outdoors but have no neo-nazi contacts or own any guns. I guess those were the most hurtful fabrications Johnson could come up with in his appeal for sexual-predator sainthood.
He’s a mental case whose 2 sexual harassment complaints on file at NHK got him fired in 1995 but he managed to sneak back in years later. I was unaware of his past and when he first started work I actually tried to help the guy out as a fellow Canadian by giving him over $1,000 in extra work, which he thanked me for by inviting me over to his XXXs place for a beer. Seems like he’s been freeloading off her for years. But as the old saying goes – no good deed goes unpunished. CJ left town on short notice and our NHK boss asked me to cover a couple of his shifts. When he returned he went psycho and tried to get me fired, which backfired because the bosses remembered that he was the pervert they got rid of in ’95. When he made disgusting sexual comments about my young children I played his phone messages for my boss and it was 3 strikes you’re out – again – for that sicko.
I guess CJ figured that if I hadn’t posted his phone messages in 5 years I have probably lost or erased the file so it’s safe to slander me and headline NHK’s name to regain his Economist notoriety. I did erase the file because I didn’t want to hear his voice again. For the record I haven’t spent a minute thinking about the asshole during the past five years and this is my first and only blog post related to him in all that time.
Now you know – the rest of the story.”
He does what trolls do. He writes my employers, he makes threatening calls to the FCCJ. He has a penchant for harassing my female friends especially. Maybe in his mind they are the weaker sex. I gather he’s a misanthrope and a misogynist. I wish he would just attack me. It’s such a dishonorable thing to do to attack the friends of the person you hate. Even the worst yakuza aren’t usually that low.
He is angry that I would not take up his cause or defend him. I don’t know him well and I didn’t think he had a position that I could defend and I politely declined to offer my support. By asking one pointed question, about his visa status, he perhaps feels that I sprung a hole in his credibility dyke, which caused him a flood of attack and ridicule.
I don’t know; I’m not a mind reader.
Recently his threats have escalated. He is very fond of threatening to sue people for slander. He also poses threats to them as questions under the guise of being a journalist. He makes sexual slurs about female reporters. He has spent an inordinate amount of time trying to make me angry and scare individuals working with me. For many months, I ignored him. He went away. I ignored him again. But he came back and started harassing anyone he can identify as my friend or employer.
I realized that stepping back was the wrong approach. It was a cowardly act to do nothing. This man under the guise of ”journalism” has terrorized individual after individual because everyone hopes that he will grow bored and find a new person to attack and stalk–and thus they do nothing. This is understandable. But because no one stands up to this bully, the number of those who have suffered because of him keep growing.
Albert Einstein once said, “The world is a dangerous place. Not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Einstein was right. I’m doing something about.
The more I know about the individual and his past, the more I began to feel increasingly uneasy. He has a history of making insidious threats. On October 16th, 2007, he left disgusting messages on the answering machine of an NHK colleague that implied he would sexually molest the individual’s children. The tape contains what seems to be the sounds of said journalist masturbating over the phone.
Allegedly, the dispute The Troll had with a co-worker ended in him making several obscene calls to the man’s home phone which resulted in his firing from NHK. NHK has not confirmed this although others who were working at NHK have and so has The Troll in his own blog.
Transcripts of threats made to NHK co-worker October 16th, 2007
The story of the Troll who threatened to molest the children of a fellow NHK worker
I will have to tell you that Tanaka-san and Iida-san are now well aware of your fucking bullshit. By all
means, do go and tell your side of the story to them, motherfucker.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I heard that your daughter gives really good head… and so does your son.
Sounds of what may be masturbation
Hey, I wanted to hear if your children are getting a good sleep because… when you get fired, and I get
fired, you’re going to have to put your kids out of international school and into Japanese school….
For the record, this is his explanation:
“The letter enraged ●●●。 His new round of phone calls and letters now insulted ●●● and my family,including my brother, leader of one of Canada’s most popular bands at that time. I couldn’t take it anymore. Regrettably, I lost my temper. During a heated exchange of insults by email and phone, I left a nasty message on his phone. I responded to his insult that, “I hear there’s a job opening for a teacher who likes children, right up your alley”. In effect, I said to him: “if you get me fired from NHK, I will have to get a job teaching English again, and I might end teaching your children.” ●● claims he recorded it. He probably took the comments out of context, and possibly tampered with them, given his skills at voice acting and doctoring evidence and twisting facts…”
You can listen for yourself.
In addition, in May of 2011 he also made several threats to the journalist who replaced him at France 24.
Although I received the journalist’s permission to post this and verified it with three sources, I have deleted the name of the journalist threatened and changed the name of the one making the threats. Why? Because it’s customary practice in Japan to not publicize the names of people who are possibly mentally ill and may be under investigation for criminal offenses.
Other than blocking out some names, to protect the individuals from the loathsome attacks and smears of the troll, I have altered not a word, but put some sections in bold that are particularly disturbing. I’m reasonably sure the Troll aka Hostile Journalist will coming looking for me since by opposing him, I’m obviously a mofo.
We shall see.
PS. To Hostile Journalist: Do not even think about threatening (脅迫罪) anyone who cooperated with this article other than myself. Have some decency.
The story of the Troll threatening the journalist aka “The Mofo” that “stole” his job
Troll’s Letters To His Replacement at France 24 May-June 2011
The Troll, quoted here as “Hostile Journalist” sent a series of hostile emails after being fired by France 24. The reasons he was fired or let go may or may not have to do with the emails he sent. The emails were provided by a past victims of the Troll and on my own initiative I have kept his name non-public for fear that The Troll will retaliate against him as well.Hopefully, he is intelligent enough to realize that the emails he has sent constitute a threat. If he has a problem with this posting, I hope he will be a man and come after me and not the journalist who was kind enough to give me the materials. The letters began with an unsolicited posting from Troll.
The Troll Writing To France 24 Journalist Who Replaced Him
20 May 2011
I’m Troll, a veteran Tokyo-based journalist who has covered almost every major story in Asia and around the world since 1987, including the wars in Yugoslavia, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq, for major media worldwide.
I’m going to cut straight to the point about this. I do not allow people to take freelance strings that I have cultivated over the years. For your information, Loick Berrou hired me in July 2007 as the France 24 Anglo reporter in Tokyo, and since that time I have done hundreds of live phoners and on-camera
reports from Tokyo (often using the satellite feedpoints at Reuters and NHK), Tibet, China, Burma and Thailand (using feedpoints at Asiaworks).
I have taken great risks to build up the network. I was the only foreign journalist in Lhasa the week of the riots in March 2008, and I broke the story worldwide on France 24, beating BBC, CNN and everybody else. I also snuck inside Burma and reported on the crackdown on protesters, and Cyclone
Nargis, for the network. Last year, I did a flurry of reports amid gunfire and explosions during the battle of Bangkok (working in the same battle-zone where France 24 cameraman Nelson Rand was shot several times.)
Immediately after the March 11 quake, I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to arrange logistics for●●●, one of the network’s top Francophone correspondents (you can see the work we did together on the documentary The Battle of Bangkok). I also did 60 live reports for France 24 the first four weeks
after the quake, while you were working for somebody else, apparently.
I do not know what university training or professional qualifications you have in journalism, and I’m not familiar with the impact of your work. I’ve worked around most of the top journalists in Asia, and I don’t recall meeting you.
As for me, I have been through a weeding out process, of four years at Canada’s top journalism school at Carleton University in Ottawa, and then some of the leading networks and newspapers in Canada, before coming to work as a professional journalist in Asia. I learned to speak and read Japanese beginning in 1989, and covered the Kobe earthquake and sarin gas attack for CBC TV in Canada and others in 1995.
Like many other pros, I naturally have issues with amateurs who come to Japan, declare themselves journalists, hang around the FCCJ to pick up work, and then consider themselves experts in our field. Doctors and lawyers would not tolerate this in their fields either, and I think I have every right to call someone’s bluff on this.
While I was covering the TEPCO presser today, I found out from●●, ●●● and a senior person in Paris that you, somehow, have become the France 24 correspondent in Tokyo. I do not accept this, for any reason, and I will do whatever is necessary to protect a position that I have earned with the network, at great personal risk and sacrifice.
It’s not personal, it’s professional, and I can assure you that I will stake my 25-year career on this. If I tried to steal someone’s string, which has earned them thousands of dollars over the years, I would expect them to fight me for it.
I will tell you very frankly that I am a 6-foot, 200-pound guy from a rough part of the Detroit area, and I’ve been through too much – 9 wars, where I lost 7 friends – to let anyone disrespect me.
The Troll later discovered his email was forwarded to France 24 prompting another email.
That is very sleazy to send a letter, which I sent to you and you alone, to my employers at France 24. If you have any manhood, you will meet me in person to settle this. And you can bring your pals XXX and the other jerks who diss me on Facebook and at the FCCJ as well
The Journalist Responds To Troll’s Implied Threats
Troll-guy ,your unsolicited message appears to be a clear threat of violence towards me. Please clarify if I’m mistaken in this.
For the record: I was approached in Feb to work with F24 and have done a few bits of work with them since. I have no interest in who has worked with them in the past, continues to work with them now, or will work with them in the future.
I have no idea what issues you have with F24, but please take them up with the organization.
Equally, I have no idea what issues you have with ‘jerks’ on FB or the FCCJ, but please take them up with the people involved.
The Troll Responds To The Journalist
Who the hell are you talkin to me like this? You think your ass is powerful? You are a 5-foot 6, 150 lb dweek in shorts and sunglasses looking over your shoulder in a crowd. And I suppose you’llsend this to your mommy to protect you, right?
You aren’t the asshole ●● who smashed my brother’s head against the grocery store wall, and beat up my father in front of my mother and sister across the street from our house, and then laughed at my little brother in the court house. aYou aren’t the crackhead who shot my uncle ●● in the head in Detroit. You aren’t the home invader who murdered my brother’s drummer in his house in ●● this Christmas. You aren’t the gang that strangled me and beat me unconscious and broke my nose and ribs and left me naked in a park to die in Nairobi, or the jerks who mugged me at knifepoint in Rio de Janeiro. Youaren’t the Chetniks who severed the head of my roommate ●●●in Vukovar. You aren’t Khaled Sheikh Mohammed who cut up Daniel Pearl like a goat a few weeks after we had Thanksgiving dinner in Islamabad. You aren’t the Taliban motherfuckers who murdered●● and raped and killed the women in the van in Afghanistan. And you aren’t the gunmen who shot ●●●●● three times last year when we were working for France 24 in Bangkok. You are a spineless sewer rat who sends a private confidential letter to my boss to shaft me out of a job worth perhaps 10,000 year or more, a job I earned while you were a driver with another network and writing an FCCJ article slagging off serious pro journalists who hired you. Where I come from, you don’t mess with a man’s car, a man’s woman, a man’s dog, or a man’s job. You go behind someone’s back, and they come knockin on your front, with a shotgun. And I suppose you’ll send this to your mommy to defend you, right?
Where I come from, you don’t mess with a man’s car, a man’s woman, a man’s dog, or a man’s job. You go behind someone’s back, and they come knockin on your front, with a shotgun. And I suppose you’ll send this to your mommy to defend you, right?
The Journalist Responds To The Troll
It seems you got a rough deal off F24, which is a shame, but I really think your anger is directed in the wrong direction. To state the obvious, I don’t make the hiring decisions. I was asked to work with them in Feb and was surprised not to hear from them during the post-quake period. It seems they used someone else – that would be you. Now they’ve asked me to do the odd phoner.
I don’t know why they they’ve made that decision- it’s between you and them.
I was more than a little surprised to come in on Friday night to a long abusive threatening email from someone I’ve never met. I forwarded it to the people at F24 – ●● saying I had no idea what your history with them is and the situation needed clarifying .If you wanted a respectful response, you should have a sent a respectful email. This will be my last response to any insulting/ threatening mails.
“If you wanted a respectful response, you should have a sent a respectful email. This will be my last response to any insulting/ threatening mails.
That seems to be the best approach to dealing with this fellow. He does make a lot of threats. He, or his proxy, even threatened the editors at Wikipedia, when they refused to post an entry for him. He accused an employee of Google Japan of deliberately altering search results to make him look bad. He does manage to get under my skin. However, I’m certainly not the only one.
If you’d like to know more, please check out Japan Probe which has article after article about his not so amusing attacking on others journalists, his implied threats, his rantings, and his career history as a malcontent and troublemaker in Japan.
I took this post down once. I’m reposting it so that everyone knows that this is a man that threatens to molest children and viciously attacks other members of the journalism community. He may be a journalist; he is also very close to being a cyber stalker. I won’t write his name because he thrives on attention. I tweeted a parody of his blog today that has his actual name on it. I should have read it closer. I was taught that the mentally unstable should have their names undisclosed because they aren’t entirely responsible for their acts. I don’t know if that is the case with this individual but I suspect as much. Possibly a sociopath with delusional disorder. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
I won’t engage with this individual in any way. Because there’s a difference between him and me. I give a damn about my sources and my friends. I’d rather people think I’m a jerk than violate the three things I believe in: protect your sources, write the truth, and if you can’t do both, then don’t write the story. Some people may not agree with that philosophy. It’s what I believe in. I don’t have a perfect score on protecting my sources. I get to live with that for the rest of my life. I atone and I carry on.
Because where I come from, when you attack a man’s friends and defame them, stalk women, and threaten to harm children–you’re someone who needs to go to jail until you learn to behave like a human being, not a troll. Or am I simply too old-fashioned?
I recognize that people have a right to start their lives over–that they deserve a second chance. And I’d be willing to give this man a second chance, if he showed any remorse, if he apologized to all those he’s wronged. He won’t do that. He won’t even answer three simple questions 1) Did you threaten to molest a man’s children when you were working at NHK? 2) Did you threaten another reporter in 2011? 3) Have you misused the position of being a journalist to harass women that reject you and people who disagree with you?
There is no solution to dealing with a man like this. As long as he has access to the internet, he will continue to try and destroy those whom he perceives as his enemies—and there a lot of them. He’s bordering on criminal behavior and when he finally crosses the line, I hope to see that at last he gets the attention he deserves. Because where I come from, when you attack a man’s friends and defame them, stalk women, and threaten to harm children–you’re someone who needs to go to jail until you learn to behave like a human being, not a troll. Or am I simply too old-fashioned?
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.