Tokyo’s English Stand-Up Comedy scene continues to grow as comedian Yuki Nivez prepares to host the fourth show in her series, Not Just a Diversity Hire. Designed as an inclusive, misogyny-free comedy zone, Yuki first came up with the concept while performing regularly at stand-up shows around the city. From the NJaDH About section: The “Not Just a Diversity Hire” Comedy Nights began when founder Yuki Nivez realized the demand for a comedy space that was free from misogyny, for both performers and audience members. She wanted to be able to take to the stage without having to hear that she was “the diversity hire”. But she was also constantly hearing from audience members, especially women, that they couldn’t enjoy themselves because of the sheer number of jokes or performances that, often unconsciously, created an environment of hostility towards women.
Yuki believed that comedy was supposed to be about having a good time and while openly aggressive or intentionally triggering comedy was uncommon, she saw how there was an entire segment of the audience that wanted to enjoy comedy without having to confront the same sexism that they had to endure during their day-to-day life. Without seeking to censor the comedy of others, she decided to see what would happen if she curated a line-up and a space where the audience and the performers could feel free from those attitudes for an evening.
And guess what?
Everyone had a good time.
Since then, the show has grown to offer an inclusive venue to comedians of all kinds, but especially to those who know what it’s like to be treated as “the diversity hire.” While spectators can continue to rely on not having to hear misogynistic material, performers can expect a friendly audience who will let them be comedians and not categories.
Yuki’s goals for the future of NJaDH will continue to be comedy without misogyny, and inclusion without tokenism.
About the next show: The next Not Just a Diversity Hire show on September 30th is a special edition, featuring Bobby Judo (flying in from Kyushu!), Yuki Nivez, Freddy Slash’em and Mx Terious. The show will be followed by a panel discussion joined by guest speakers: Film director Lilou Augier, and creator of Femin Tokyo Podcast, Samantha Lassaux. Panelists will share experiences that run the gamut from lamentable, to laughable, to learnable. Don’t miss the chance to meet the performers, mingle, and share your thoughts and questions as well! Info and tickets:Time: Friday, September 30th 19:30 pmLocation: Hypermix, MonzennakachoTickets: http://notjustadiversityhirespecial.peatix.com/
The people of Nara mourn the senseless death of Shinzo Abe
Many mourned the violent death of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan yesterday–whether they supported him or not, the people of Nara recognized that the loss of human life is always tragic.
reporting by Himari Shimanz, Beni Adelstein. Cameron Seeley also contributed to this report.
Flowers, tea and beers, as is customary in Japanese culture, laid by the public mark the site where Shinzo Abe was fatally shot. Yesterday, we paid a visit to the site ourselves to see all those who made trips from near and far to commemorate Abe’s passing. The overwhelming feeling on the day was that of sadness, with flowers periodically being taken away to make room for the endless flow of offerings. Even for those unfamiliar with his political work, many were sad to hear the news of his passing. One of the many who stopped to add to his growing memorial told us, “I’ve known Mr. Abe as the leader of Japan for most of my lifetime. Because of that, regardless of how his politics were, whether his politics were good or bad, it is really sad for someone who had taken on such responsibility and come this far to pass away. I know every person has their own opinions but I think that it comes down to an individual having passed away.”
A young girl, fighting back tears, expressed a similar sentiment noting how such a tragic incident could come out of nowhere, and she felt it was her obligation to pay her respects.
Many expressed shock at hearing the incident had taken place in Nara, a small Japanese city with significantly under 500,000 residents. One man from Osaka told us: “Nara is generally a safe place. Incidents don’t usually happen much in Nara. Places like Osaka, where we’re from, is where you see more incidents. We’ve never heard of any incident as big as this happening here in Nara.” Another local resident felt similarly; “I grew up in Nara and for anything like this to happen here is a shock to me.”
It was a shock to everyone when the unthinkable occured.
At 11:30 am July 8th, former Prime Minister Abe was shot from behind at a campaign rally outside the Yamato Saidai-ji Station in Nara. He went into cardiac arrest and showed no vital signs. After four and a half hours of medics trying to resuscitate him, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest serving Prime Minister, at age 67, was officially pronounced dead at 5:03 pm yesterday as the result of two gunshot wounds. The alleged attacker, 41 year old Tetsuya Yamagami, was arrested on site and was found with a handmade firearm. In Japan, a country with some of the world’s strictest gun’s laws, gun violence is extremely rare, let alone political assasination attempts; the most recent one having occurred in 2007 when Nagasaki mayor Icho Ito was shot by a member of a yakuza group, the Yamaguchi gumi. This is actually not the first incident Abe has been the recipient of violence from the yakuza, and in 2000, the Kudo Kai perpetrated an attack by throwing firebombs at the former prime minister’s office . At this point, it is unclear whether or not Yamagami has affiliations with the yakuza but it is a possibility worth being looked into.
Regardless of the motive, this incident is unexpected and quite perplexing. As one Japanese reporter puts it, “Guns are rarely the weapon of choice, let alone a handmade one. The use of guns is uncommon even among yakuza related incidents.” Officers who raided the man’s residence later that day found more crude electrically fired weaponry, including explosives and what appear to be nine and five barreled shotguns. All nearby residents were evacuated. Yamgami has confessed to the assasination of Abe and is awaiting prosecution.
Not only has the shooter left us with many unsolved questions, but also the security team for Abe is an issue being raised. Abe’s security, one passerby noted there was less security presence on the day than when Abe had been the sitting Prime Minister. “Mr. Abe visited my hometown too. That time he had a lot more bodyguards surrounding him because he was still prime minister. But now that he’s stepped down, his security team has gotten much smaller.” Another Osaka native pointed out, little to no security presence is not uncommon for politicians in Japan, “If it had been a politician without as much fame, there wouldn’t have been much security at all. At most you might see supporters standing by a no-name politician. It was only because it was Mr. Abe that there was even the smallest presence of security guards and police.”
While events unfolded on the day in only a matter of minutes, the significance of his death is likely to send ripples through the Japanese political system that will stand the test of time. Shu Kanazawa spoke to us after leaving flowers on Abe’s memorial. He expressed thanks to Abe for his work in politics and concern regarding the efficacy of his contemporaries policies. “As prime minister of Japan, you aren’t doing your job right if you don’t have your foreign policy together. Until now, the only prime ministers who were competent in foreign diplomacy were Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Abe. In that sense, I am really grateful for his work.” On the other hand, Abe’s control of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party as well as his deep ties to extremists right-wing groups have made him a controversial figure. He is also reviled by some for the role he played in largely limiting freedom of press rights in Japan. Views on “Abenomics” his fiscal policies aren’t singular either and he has been linked with questionable political and financial scandals. Yet, at the end of this eventful day, people came together to commemorate and mourn the loss of a leader who made a substantial impact in Japan and on a global scale. How Abe’s death might alter the climate of Japanese politics is not certain, however, the mourning and gift-giving are certain to continue for days, if not weeks.
The once peaceful and ordinary square around Yamato Saidai-ji station now marks a historical event that has left the nation with disbelief, grief, and shock.
Nara, once the capital of Japan, is a city known for its greenery, rolling hills, ancient Buddhist temples, friendly residents, slow-paced, languid, and peaceful life. It’s the last place one would expect Japan’s longest reigning Prime Minister to meet a violent end. The two shots fired that day will echo in the minds of the people there for many months or years to come.
This coming Sunday (May 15, starting 10am), sees a unique event at the Yokohama campus of Meiji Gakuin University and online via Zoom, called THE SHAPE OF THINGS TO COME, marking the international departmen’s ten years of teaching global and transcultural studies.
This one-day symposium features a panel of star speakers who will try to predict what will happen in the next ten years in Japan, East Asia, and the World. The star speaker is MUHAMMAD YUNUS, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, known as “banker to the poor”, live by Zoom link from the Yunus Centre, Dhaka, Bangladesh . The event also features Alex Kerr, author of books such as Lost Japan and Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan, noted professional economic journalist, Rick Katz, Hiroko Takeda author of The Political Economy of Reproduction: Between Nation-State and Everyday Life (2005) and co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Japan (2021) along with Kyoko Hatakeyama(Professor of International Relations, University of Niigata Prefecture), David Leheny, Masafumi Iida, Eric Zusman, Mika Ohbayashi and Hiroshi Ohta.
It will be an interactive event, with 15-minute presentations and equal time for free discussion. This is a great chance to get into conversation with some elite experts on Japan and broaden your own knowledge of the country and Asia. Admission is free and open to all, but prior registration is required.
A Symposium commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of the Foundation of the Department of Global and Transcultural Studies, Meiji Gakuin University
SUNDAY MAY 15, 2022, MEIJI GAKUIN UNIVERSITY YOKOHAMA CAMPUS
As our department marks ten years of teaching global and transcultural studies, the world appears to be balanced on a knife edge. Internationalism is locked with nationalism, secularism with religious fundamentalism, democracy with authoritarianism, tolerance with intolerance. The Corona Pandemic has ushered in a new and frightening era of massive biohazards, while Russia’s attempted invasion of Ukraine has raised the specter of a return to Cold War type confrontation. Casting a long shadow over these massive ideological struggles is climate change, thought by many experts to be close to a tipping point from which will flow disastrous consequences for humanity and the natural environment.
This symposium will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Department of Global and Transcultural Studies. It will be an opportunity to step back, take a deep breath, and survey the world and the prospects for the ten years to come. Each of our speakers will be invited to gaze into their crystal ball and forecast how global affairs will develop in the next ten years. We hope to examine their predictions ten years later, when the department celebrates its 20thanniversary.
Muhammad Yunus (2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner)
9:30am: Doors Open; Registration
9:50am: Welcome and Opening Remarks by Leo Murata (president of Meiji Gakuin University)
Panel 1: Prospects for Japan
Chair: Prof. Tom Gill (Meiji Gakuin Dept. of Global and Transcultural Studies)
The Hollywood Reporter recently published an article written by a reporter named Gavin Blair, about Tokyo Vice and my career. It contains numerous inaccuracies. Roughly one fourth of Mr. Blair’s article relates to a 2011 lawsuit involving a film director, Philip Day. In 2011, I was hired to work with Mr. Day on a documentary about the yakuza. In the course of filming, Mr. Day breached his agreement to protect sources and this resulted in a lawsuit that I am not free to comment about. My lawyer’s statement is here for your reference.
In other words, there is nothing unusual about the fact that I keep the identity of my sources carefully concealed. This is standard practice in this country. To the contrary, the fact that I have been good about respecting the confidentiality of my sources is one of the reasons that I have been able to work in Japan for so long.
Sins Of Omission
In writing his article, Mr. Blair deliberately left out or ignored correspondences testifying to my credibility or verifying my reporting. My colleague and friend, Naoki Tsujii, who is incorrectly quoted in the article, contacted Mr. Blair after their interview because he had concerns he had been misunderstood because of the language barrier, but his efforts to clarify were completely ignored. He disputes Mr. Blair’s version of their conversation. He feels his words were taken out of context and maliciously used to generate a click-bait headline.
Decide For Yourself
I have posted a folder of source materials I’ve used to write Tokyo Vice, taking care to redact materials to protect sources. It’s been nearly 14 years since the book was finished—some of my sources have died. Some were friends who I miss. Some were reprehensible people but still sources I had to protect.
Generally speaking, when a source dies, so does the confidentiality agreement—and so I have revealed some of my sources in the folder. I have done this reluctantly, but I also feel that when possible it is best to share information about my work to deepen public understanding.
In the last ten years, my book has been fact-checked and examined by The Washington Post, The LA Times, 60 Minutes and The New Yorker. In that process, while no harm was intended by the fact-checkers, sources have almost been compromised or fired. I will not put them at risk again.
I have no further statement to make. I would like to say thank you to everyone who has read the book and would like to say an additional thank you to everyone who has given me their support. 感謝しております。以上
When I was just starting as a reporter in 1992, a veteran reporter at the Yomiuri Shimbun gave me some valuable advice on being a good journalist, specifically being a good investigative journalist. I’ve never forgotten it but in the 30 years since then, times have changed. This is the first revision I’ve ever done of the rules. Think of this as the 2022 edition, a three decade late update.
One thing that hasn’t changed in Japan are the laws related to civil servants.
The laws here in Japan basically state that if a public official (police officer, bureaucrat etc) shares confidential information with a third party, they are committing a crime. They can be fired or prosecuted. This happens. If it’s a state secret they may be sentenced to five years or more in jail. This is why newspaper articles in Japan abound with anonymous sources dressed up with phrases like, “according to someone close to the investigation” or “government sources”. Japan’s press freedom ranking in 2010 was 11th in the world, now 66th out of 180 countries. Protecting sources gets harder all the time.
So keeping that in mind, here’s the list again with three new rules and here’s a little background.
I interned at the Yomiuri Newspaper briefly in 1992 before starting as a regular staff reporter in 1993. When I was visiting legendary crime reporter, Inoue Ansei at the police press club, took me up to the coffee shop, ordered us some green tea, and asked what I wanted to do at the Yomiuri.
“Well,” I said, “I’m interested in investigative journalism and the side of Japan I don’t know much about. The seamy side. The underworld.” I told him that my father was a country coroner and that crime and the police beat had always interested me.
He recommended I shoot for Shakaibu (社会部), the national news section, which was responsible for covering crime, social problems, and national news.
Inoue put it this way: “It’s the soul of the newspaper. Everything else is just flesh on the bones. Real journalism, journalism that can change the world, that’s what we do.”
I asked him for some advice as a reporter.
“Newspaper reporting isn’t rocket science,” he said. “The pattern is set. You remember the patterns and build from there. It’s like martial arts. You have kata [the form] that you memorize and repeat, and that’s how you learn the basic moves. It’s the same here. There are about three or four basic ways to write up a violent crime, so you have to be able to remember the style, fill in the blanks, and get the facts straight. The rest will come.
“There are eight rules of being a good reporter, Jake.
One. Don’t ever burn your sources. If you can’t protect your sources, no one will trust you. All scoops are based on the understanding that you will protect the person who gave you the information. That’s the alpha and omega of reporting. Your source is your friend, your lover, your wife, and your soul. Betray your source and you betray yourself. If you don’t protect your source, you’re not a journalist. You’re not even a man.
Two. Finish a story as soon as possible. The life of news is short. Miss the chance and the story is dead or the scoop is gone.
Three. Never believe anyone. People lie, police lie, even your fellow reporters lie. Assume that you are being lied to and proceed with caution.
Four. Take any information you can get. People are good and bad. Information is not. Information is what it is, and it doesn’t matter who gives it to you or where you steal it. The quality, the truth of the information, is what’s important.
Five. Remember and persist. Stories that people forget come back to haunt them. What may seem like an insignificant case can later turn into a major story. Keep paying attention to an unfolding investigation and see where it goes. Don’t let the constant flow of breaking news make you forget about the unfinished news.
Six. Triangulate your stories, especially if they aren’t an official announcement from the authorities. If you can verify information from three different sources, odds are good that the information is good.
Seven. Write everything in a reverse pyramid. Editors cut from the bottom up. The important stuff goes on top, the trivial details go to the bottom. If you want your story to make it to the final edition, make it easy to cut.
Eight. Never put your personal opinions into a story; let someone else do it. That’s why experts and commentators exist. Objectivity is a subjective thing.
And that was it. I haven’t grown much wiser over the years but as the media landscape and technology have changed, I think it’s time to add three more rules.
And here they are:
Nine: Share your data. The internet is a vast and endless storage hub. If you’ve written something the world should know–put up supporting data and documents on the web, maybe in a dropbox file that anyone can access. Use hyperlinks. Knowledge empowers everyone. Be sure not to reveal sources but share the intel you have; some of your readers may even return the favor.
Ten: Seek information. Learn every means possible of ferreting information from the web and from public sources. Social media can be a cesspool but it can also be a wonderful way to find information, collaborators and whistleblowers. Ask questions. Post your query and post a way to contact you, and welcome what comes.
Eleven: Protect Your Sources–And Protect Yourself. In the modern world, when people don’t like the message, they attack the messenger. This wasn’t the case back in 1992 when Yomiuri reporters didn’t get bylines. Individual reporters were rarely attacked because no one knew who wrote the stories. Now they do. You will make enemies because of this. To paraphrase a detective I admired, “An investigative journalist without enemies, isn’t investigating hard enough”.
You’ll find that enemies (people who wish you harm) include people who don’t like what you’ve written, or what you are going to write, and sadly, other journalists who are professionally jealous or hold a grudge. Protect your reputation. It’s not just a matter of your big fat ego: if people don’t feel you’re credible, the good work you do won’t be read or won’t be taken seriously.
When you know someone is gunning for you, be proactive. The person on the defensive always looks guilty. Anticipate attacks, undercut them, and prepare your rebuttal.
And some final advice. There are many types of journalism in the world: sports journalism, entertainment journalism, gaming journalism and they’re all valid forms of the art and wonderful vocations. Investigative journalism, by its very nature, involves writing things that the powers that be don’t want written. This will make people angry. You can’t avoid it. You should always try and weigh the public’s right to know something versus the damage that it will do to the life of an individual. If you’re not a full-time staffer, who’s assigned to cover this or that story, then you have the ability to decide what is and what is not worth writing. So choose wisely but if it’s important, write it.
Hidetoshi Kiyotake, my former supervisor at the Yomiuri, gave me some good advice which I will share with you.
If you’re going to be an investigative journalist here, you have to make up your mind and be ready [for what comes]. You must endure unreasonable criticism, and continue to fight.
In Japan, reporters who reveal their sources are scorned and cannot continue to do proper and decent reporting. That’s why you must keep your important sources anonymous. This often leads to investigative journalists having to go it alone, feeling isolated. You just have to believe in yourself and your friends and hang in there.
“1. Write the truth by any means possible. 2. Protect your sources. 3. If you can’t write the story, without protecting your sources, find new or different sources– or drop the story. There’s always another news story, people only have one life. That’s Japanese Journalism Ethics 101”—senior national news editor, 1999
(This article was originally published in September of 2012)
In 2012, Japan’s largest newspaper, the Yomiuri Shinbun, forced a national news reporter to resign after he mistakenly sent an email which revealed the identity of his police contact. The police officer had been an informant on links between the Fukuoka Police and the yakuza. The detective who was outed later tried to kill himself. Here are the details:
“At the Fukuoka bureau of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper in July, a reporter resigned after leaking confidential information related to an assistant inspector who had been arrested for accepting bribes from organized crime members.
Shukan Bunshun (Aug. 30) reveals that a police superintendent who served as the reporter’s source attempted suicide the following month.
On July 20, reporter Masahiro Goto, 33, disclosed the identities of his sources after he mistakenly sent an email containing his reporting to multiple news organizations while he was attempting to contact his editorial colleagues.” –English translation from Tokyo Reporter
The reporter made a careless mistake. The cost was great for himself and for the courageous officer that was speaking to him. You might ask yourself, but why would the whistle-blowing cop try to commit suicide?
The answer isn’t as simple as fearing reprisals from his fellow policemen or great shame; the answer is because he may possibly face criminal charges for talking to the reporter. Because in Japan, if you are a public servant, and this includes police officers, leaking information to the press can be prosecuted as a crime. It’s a violation of the Civil Servants Act (国家公務員法100条また109条 and possibly 公務員法60条−62条). The law states that a public servant may not release secrets gained during the course of his work, and he/she can be sentenced to up to a year in jail and or a 500,000 yen fine if they violate the law. (国家公務員に対し、「職務上知ることのできた秘… … 守秘義務に背いた者には、1年以下の懲役または50万円以下の罰金が科されます) What is considered “secret” is pretty much whatever the government wants to consider “secret”. The Japanese courts and prosecution have some latitude in disputing the classification.
If a public official talks to reporters or releases information without permission they can be lose their jobs and be prosecuted for violations of the civil servants laws. In other words, if I named my all my sources, I could cost them their jobs and get them thrown into jail. I’m not willing to do that. Source confidentiality is an even more sensitive issue when involving articles about the yakuza. Revealing a source could cost them their job, their finger, or maybe even their life.
Even whistleblowers are subject to possible prosecution. Here is one example. Fortunately it did not end in actual criminal prosecution but this is one of the few cases reported in English.
For releasing the video, the Coast Guard officer was put under criminal investigation. It was only because of massive public support and sympathy that the case was dropped. Technically, it’s illegal to share any secrets or information that a public servant has access to in the course of this work. This law applies to police officers and all government employees. Violators of the law, those who have talked to the press on the record, or off the record, and then been exposed—have been fired, prosecuted or both.
Thus in Japan, many news reports read, “The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department said…” “Sources close to the investigation revealed…” The number of cases where a police officer makes a comment on the record, in his own name ,are extremely rare. Essentially, in less an individual receives approval at the highest levels, to make a comment on the record is risky. Comments made on background can be career destroyers if the source is found out, and may also subject them to criminal charges.
Whenever possible, I try to name sources and put as much factual data into a story as I can but I’m always aware that the costs for the source are almost always greater than my own. It’s not a crime to name a public official as your source; the person named may become a criminal under Japanese law. That doesn’t seem like justice to me nor does it seem like ethical journalism.
Journalists aren’t saints and I’ve known a number of them who’ve betrayed their sources for “a really big story.” Sometimes they’ve claimed that the public right to know outweighs the safety and welfare of the individual. I’ve known other journalists who bitterly complain when scooped and demand from the officials to know who leaked information to their rival reporter. Usually the journalists that do these things are border-line sociopaths. I don’t know what the US standard is on this but in Japan, if you’re any kind of a responsible journalist you don’t burn your sources nor do you ask others to do the same.
I’ve been writing about the Japanese underworld since 1993. I’m very well aware of what can happen to someone who writes the wrong thing or someone who has their cover blown. Sometimes they get hurt, sometimes they get fired, sometimes they suffer punitive damages, sometimes they go to jail, sometimes they “commit suicide”, and sometimes they just vanish.
That’s another high cost of being an investigative journalist in Japan–if the bad guys don’t like the message, they attack the messenger. If they can’t attack the messenger, they attack the people he loves. In January of 2006, the son of an investigative reporter, Atsushi Mizoguchi, was stabbed by members of the yakuza. The court found two of the yakuza involved guilty and sentenced them to hard labor for assault, noting, ” (they) attempted to violate the right to free speech and expression through the cowardly means of attacking a family member. It had a major impact on society.” Mr. Mizoguchi had written articles critical of their boss. Mr. Mizoguchi himself was literally stabbed in the back in 1990 after writing a book about the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, that was not well received. The assailants were never caught.
If you’re going to write about crime or corporate malfeasance in Japan, you always have to consider the risks to your sources, your friends, and yourself. And then you do the best you can. You try to do as much good as you can and as little harm as possible. As I get older, I often seem to find that when I weigh the value of writing a “scoop” versus the damage that it might do to an innocent person, and the relevance to public welfare, that I often drop the story. As my mentor said many years ago, there are many, many stories; people only have one life.
I don’t know why other people continue to be investigative journalists in Japan. It’s an increasingly difficult and painful occupation. You stand to lose much personally and gain little. The case of Minoru Tanaka is a sad reminder of how the court hammer is increasingly used to bludgeon journalists into silence. Write the truth, and be sued into oblivion. That’s the reality independent journalists here are facing.
Why do I continue? I do it because I love the work and because I like Japan. This is my home. And I continue to be an investigative journalist because I believe that the role of journalism–at its best–is to uncover the truth that people should know, to see that justice is done when the authorities fail to carry it out, to protect the weak from the strong, and by doing this, make our society a better place to live.
At least it wasn’t a long, protracted goodbye. Ishihara would have hated that.
On February 1st, Shintaro Ishihara, long-time ex-governor of Tokyo and former Minister of Transportation (among other credentials) died. He was 89 years old. He was one of the last guardians of Japanese patriarchy as well as a charismatic politician. The unapologetic, racist, brash and chauvinist Ishihara had both supporters and opponents, including Yuriko Koike, the current mayor of Tokyo who was the first woman to hold the position. Ishihara referred to her on more than one occasion as ‘obasan (old woman)’ and Koike accused the man of running Japan’s capital city into the ground.
(Editor’s note: Even Koike can be right. Shinginko Tokyo, the bank created by Ishihara using Tokyo’s funds was a tremendous failure, leaving huge debts behind. However it did provide a windfall for Kanto yakuza).
Ishihara hated outspoken women and liberal men; he had no kind feelings for the US and refused to be enthralled or intimidated by western culture. Ishihara reserved his most acidic venom for China. For thirty years, he railed against the government in Beijing and demanded that Tokyo annex the non-populated Senkaku Islands (located several hundred miles north of the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa) instead of permitting Chinese fishermen to fish there.
In 2002, a group of Tokyo women tried to take him to court for inappropriate statements made on TV, in which he expressed agreement with a Tokyo University professor that “women who are past their child-bearing years should not live on until old age. Men can propagate the species until their 80s and 90s but women living into their 80s is a disease of civilization.”
But he also had an unmistakable, evocative allure, what in Japanese is known as ‘hana’. It was hana that kept him in the Governor’s seat for over a decade and hana that launched his bestsellers, like The Japan That Can Say No and Genius.
Ishihara had a bit of Donald Trump in him but unlike the ex-prez he had no interest in flaunting his women and stuck with the same wife he married in 1955. As Tokyo governor he wielded an influence on par with New York counterpart Andrew Cuomo, though Ishihara never got slapped with a harassment suit.
There were always rumors of shady doings going on inside his lavish office in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. A handful of young female aides quit with generous severance payouts. A male assistant tried to commit suicide because he couldn’t stand the Governor’s bullying.
Now that Ishihara’s gone, any dirty secrets will stay firmly bolted in the closet (maybe). Japanese political staff are for the most part, exceedingly loyal and any boss worth their salt knows it. Back in 2002, I was at Ishihara’s press conference and was struck by how his staff anticipated his every word and the slightest of head-nods, rushing to follow his orders before they were even given. Tall, imposing and suave, he made most of his contemporaries look like scrapings from a drain pipe. One thing you have to admit: he was well-bred, well-read and carried himself accordingly.
Born in Kobe in 1932 to wealthy parents, Ishihara was a novelist before becoming a politician, and a politician before becoming Tokyo’s longest serving governor. At the age of 21 when he was at Hitotsubashi University, Ishihara won the Akutagawa Award (Japan’s highest literary prize) for Taiyo no Kisetsu (Season of the Sun) which was adapted for the screen starring his younger brother Yujiro.
Editor’s note: That the book won a literary prize says terrible things about Japan in the 1960s. The book was later translated as Season of Violence and this review from GoodReads sums it up succinctly:
Heterosexual Mishima — which is to say not written with any grace or artful tact but with a similar vision of violent machismo and drama: erections breaking through paper (shoji) doors and young rapists clinging to life as they drag their cut apart bodies across the street, prostitutes at sea, cruelty as sport and pastime. Tatsuya in the eponymous novella is so terrible and frightening it made me sick.
‘What have I been to you all these weeks?’
“A woman,” he shrugged.
Together, the Ishihara brothers created a brand not unlike a powerful mafia family. While Shintaro sired four boys and did his best to dent what he saw as Nagatacho’s (Tokyo’s equivalent of Capitol Hill) slavish, pro-American policies. Yujiro formed his own film production company called Ishihara Gundan (Ishihara Army Corps), mimicking big bro’s penchant for strutting machismo.
He had no offspring but had a knack for gathering tall, muscular male performers into the Ishihara brand orbit. Yujiro was probably the first Japanese male to pull off a leather jacket over tight jeans and have sex on the beach in front of a camera. Shintaro was a badass nationalist with a big mouth. In his youth, he wore bespoke suits and palled around with Yukio Mishima. When the latter committed seppuku, Ishihara arrived at the scene to show his moral support and politely tell the press to f*ck off.
Shintaro outlived his little brother by 35 years but cancer got him in the end. On the day, his widowed sister-in-law (herself an actress who starred in Season of the Sun) appeared in the media to express her sadness.His four sons, two of whom are politicians, appeared in the news to attest to their dad’s astonishing vitality. “He kept writing, right up until a week ago,” said second son Yoshizumi Ishihara, who is a successful actor and emcee. His eldest, Nobuteru Ishihara who two months before had quit his position as advisor to Prime Minister Kishida, after losing in the general elections to the daughter of a vegetable seller and single mother, said tearfully that he hoped he could live up to his old man.
However, even Ishihara’s most vocal critics grudgingly admit that when the chips were down, he was someone you could rely on.
When the 3.11 disaster struck Northeast Japan he moved to send aid and resources to Fukushima and the Tohoku area faster than any other prefecture. He worked to remove almost 170,000 tons of rubble and trash from the tsunami-hit region and cart the loads into Tokyo for disposal, despite strong opposition from the capital city residents. When asked how the Metropolitan Office should respond to irate Tokyoites, he held a press conference to say “These people should be told to shut up. There’s nothing else to say to them. I mean, how selfish can these people get?”
He arranged housing for people who lost their homes and was also responsible for building shelters for domestic violence victims. Personally, I was always grateful that he banned diesel vehicles from Tokyo streets and delivered much on his promise to green up the city.
Ishihara was a monstrous mass of contradictions and in the end, he couldn’t keep up with newfangled notions of gender equality, BLM, diversity and tolerance and globalism. That being said, I know I’m not the only one who feels Tokyo has lost something. It’s probably for the better but all the same, we’ll never get it back.
Shintaro Says The Darndest Things
After Yoshiro Mori was fired from the Tokyo Olympics Committee for saying that women’s speeches tended to be too long, the same committee should have made clear the length of the speech(es) in question. Otherwise, it’s unfair.
Editor note: Japan had two different military programs working on developing an atomic bomb. The movie reviewed here only discusses one of the programs. Japan’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons was much more successful than imagined, click here and read What If Japan Had the Atomic Bomb First? For more details.
Review by Kaori Shoji
“Gift of Fire (Japanese original title: Taiyo no Ko)” proffers an unsettling view from an old and familiar window. Directed by Hiroshi Kurosaki, the gist of this story set in the summer of 1945, is this: just weeks before Japan’s surrender in WWII, a team of graduate students at Kyoto University were hard at work on the creation of a nuclear bomb. While this piece of information may not be news to many western historians, the majority of the Japanese are bound to feel baffled. For generations, the Japanese were conditioned – by our elders, by the media, by the education system and history itself, to feel that we were the victims of a war that very few in the populace ever wanted to fight. And now a Japanese movie is saying we could have been the perpetrators of the world’s first nuclear bomb attack? That’s an incredibly heavy load to process, and still more to confront.
After all, Japan had banked the struggle of the postwar years and the rapid growth era that followed it, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The horrors that happened on August 6th, 1945 in Hiroshima and then, a mere 72 hours later in Nagasaki, were recounted through generations and revived in the media more times than anyone could count. It was a legacy of suffering, a collective mantle of unspeakable sadness under which the Japanese toiled and labored for decades to come. At the same time, the two bombs exonerated the Japanese from having to explain and face up to wartime atrocities – the crimes committed in Korea, China, Singapore and pretty much the entire Asian Pacific Rim. Call it the a-bomb card, pulled out when the Koreans or Chinese got noisy about acknowledgement and reparations for war crimes. And whenever the Japanese people protested against the econo-centric measures of the government that irredeemably polluted oceans and mountains and quashed the livelihoods of millions of traditional workers. For seventy plus years, the a-bomb card served Japanese politicians, their politics and the national conscience. We suffered enough, now leave us alone.
But “Gift of Fire” says it may be about time to turn in that card.
The Kyoto University lab was under close scrutiny by the Imperial Army and the scientists were pressed for results. If and when they succeeded in splitting the atom, the plan was to drop the bomb on San Francisco. The students were plagued by doubts and filled with anxiety, and who can blame them. Nightly air raids, frequent power outages and utter lack of resources prevented their experiments from moving forward when all the while, they were listening to American news on a hand-crafted short wave radio. The Americans were closing in on the Japanese Imperial Army though the propaganda reports from the frontlines said otherwise. “Should we even be doing this, in the comfort of a laboratory? Shouldn’t we be fighting and giving our lives to this country?” says one anguished student, who eventually quits the project to enlist in the Imperial Army.
The truth was, the Kyoto University team lacked everything to build anything, let alone a weapon of mass destruction. Still, they forge on, fueled by a blind hope that an atomic bomb will change the course of the war or even end it. Besides, says Professor Arakatsu, the helmer of the project: “if we don’t build it the Americans will. And if the Americans don’t get there first the Soviets will. Why do you think this war started in the first place? It’s because the world is in a race to procure energy resources. Whoever gets control of the energy, gains control over the world.”
By saying that, Arakatsu has shifted the concept of war from ideology and nationalism to science and technology. Fittingly, “Gift of Fire” is mostly devoid of sentiment and righteousness, preferring instead to sanctify the scientist and all that he stands for. In Arakatsu’s laboratory, scientific advancement is a religion, and the god at the altar is Albert Einstein. The highest prayer of course, is E=mc2. The film marks the first time a Japanese film has addressed the atomic bomb from a scientific standpoint, and bringing in an American voice to the proceedings. Kurosaki persuaded Peter Stormare to appear in a voice-only role that defends, honors and ultimately glorifies the scientific mission.
Perhaps that voice belongs to Shu (Yuya Yagira) who is the most committed member in Arakatsu’s lab. Shu is responsible for procuring the much-needed uranium for their experiments, and turns to a local potter for his meager supply. The potter used to make beautiful things, but now he only makes funeral urns. “A lot of people dying,” says the potter matter-of-factly to Shu, pointing to the rows and rows of small white urns turned out in his kiln that day. Shu can only nod, bow and make his exit with the uranium powder stashed in his rucksack. Shu knows that Japan will hurtle toward a terrible defeat unless they can build the bomb before the Americans. At the same time he knows their chances of making that happen are practically zilch. Yet the thought of giving up never crosses his mind. A stubborn work-ethic and an obsessive regard for science dictates Shu’s actions and his MO, like the rest of his team, is to ‘ganbaru (do the best they can)’ until they drop.
Director/writer Hiroshi Kurosaki is a seasoned television director, best known for his work on the NHK morning drama series “Hiyokko, (2017)” which means ‘youngster.’ Kurosaki has a flair for portraying youth and innocence under duress. “Hiyokko” was set in the post war years, with a young female protagonist (Kasumi Arimura) searching for her missing father in Tokyo. Arimura teams up with Kurosaki again for “Gift of Fire” as she plays Setsu, who is Shu’s possible love interest. Setsu, perhaps as a nod to our times, is not the typical docile young woman of wartime Japan. In one scene she lectures Shu and his brother Hiroyuki (played by the late Haruma Miura who committed suicide last summer. The film marks his final screen appearance) about their tunnel vision, exhorting them to look beyond the war and envision a future without violence. In the post-screening press conference Kurosaki said: “I wanted to portray what a young woman must have felt in the final days before the surrender. She’s young and has an intense desire to live and experience life, but death is always there.”
“Gift of Fire” is not without redemption. What permeates the otherwise dark and spartan narrative is the sheer innocence of the characters, especially Shu and Hiroyuki. In their separate ways, the brothers seek closure to a war that had come to define their identifites – Shu by creating the atomic bomb, and Hiroyuki by flying a plane right into an American warship. Defeat may be imminent but neither of them are about to surrender peacefully. “They made mistakes, they’re not heroes,” said Kurosaki. “They are ordinary young men, blundering on and doing the best they can.” Sadly that’s never enough to right a ship gone horribly awry. END
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases, which filed the report, has not made it public in Japan.
By Jake Adelstein and Chihiro Kai
(Originally published at 12:08 am August 6. updated August 6, 8:35 a.m.)
For a multi-language database of clinics offering a wait-list for vaccine appointments, click here
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases (Tokyo) reported the first finding of the highly infectious Lambda variant of COVID19 here to an international database three days before the Olympics Opening Ceremony. The Institute has not publicly disclosed the details in Japan yet. One scientist who worked on the report told Japan Subculture Research Center that it was detected at an airport checkpoint and had not made it “into the wild”. He believes it originated in Peru but public data suggests it came from the US into Japan. Please note, on August 5th, Tokyo alone recorded 5,000 new cases of COVID19, the highest number since the pandemic began in Japan. Many infected are being told to self-medicate as hospitals fill up with serious cases. The entry of the Lambda variant into Tokyo is not a welcome development.
On July 20th, three days before the Tokyo Olympics began, Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases reported, for the first time, that the highly infectious Lambda variant (ラムダ株) had been found in country. The report was submitted to an international COVID19 and other infectious diseases database known as GISAID. The Japanese government has not formally announced that the variant, first found in Peru, had also been found here now, as well. The variant has now been found in 26 countries. Japan could be the 27th country to host the virus.
Last month, a team of researchers at Tokyo University published an academic paper which noted that the Lambda variant was highly infectious and resistant to vaccines. In Peru, where the variant was first discovered, 80% of the infections are now traced to the Lambda variant. The research team at Tokyo University believes the variant “has potential to be a threat to the human race”. (ラムダ株が人類社会に潜在的な脅威になり得る)
The National Institute first reported finding the Lambda variant to the GISAID database on July 20. GISAID is non-profit organization that maintains a database for infectious diseases including COVID-19, founded in 2008. GISAID originally stands for Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. The database shared the first complete genome sequences of COVID19 in early January 2020 and there have been nearly 2.5 million submissions logged with the database since. Institutes submitting data to the group must have their credentials confirmed and agree to a database access agreement.
The variant was confirmed by the SARS-CoV-2 testing team at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (Tokyo) and the data submitted by the Pathogen Genomics Center at the same institute. Nozumu Hanaoka (花岡希) a senior research scientist at the Infectious Diseases Center for Infectious Disease Risk Management and several other researchers signed off on the submission.
The National Institute of Infectious Diseases has not responded to requests for further information about the discovery of the variant. For example, when was the variant found in Japan? Was it found at the airport and never made it to the wild? Was it brought to Japan by a participant in the Olympics? Where was the carrier of the virus located? Calls made to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare which oversees the institute were not returned. We will continue to pursue the story and get clarification.
Any information pertaining to the Lambda variant in Japan would be welcome. Please post in the comments, which are reviewed before being made public. If you wish to submit information without disclosing your name, let us know, we will contact you privately and remove the comment if requested.
What You Should Know About the Lambda Variant
Lambda’s origin and WHO classifications for COVID-19 variants.
The Lambda variant of COVID-19 was first discovered in Peru in August 2020. As of July 14, 2021, it made up roughly 90% of COVID-19 infections in the nation and is likely responsible for the spike in coronavirus cases in Peru’s second wave of infections this spring. The World Health Organization designated the Lambda variant as a “Variant of Interest” or VOI on June 14, 2021, the lower of two classifications used to survey the public health risks of existing COVID-19 strains.
A Variant of Interest is defined as a COVID-19 variant with genetic changes that are predicted to affect the transmissibility, disease severity, and the ability of the virus to escape diagnosis and medical treatments. Furthermore, VOIs are identified to cause significant community transmission in multiple countries and suggest an emerging risk to global public health.
The good news is variants under the VOI classification carry a “keep a close eye on it” designation where WHO and member states monitor the spread as a precaution. Although the emergence of a VOI in a new country, like Lambda’s introduction to Japan in July, should be investigated, medical and government officials are more concerned about Variants of Concern.
A VOC is a variant that meets the definition of a Variant of Interest and is shown to be more contagious, induce heavier symptoms, and less responsive to available public health and social measures. The Delta variant, currently the world’s predominant strain as contagious as chickenpox, is categorized as a VOC.
The Lambda variant in Japan. What we know so far.
According to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data, GISAID, a primary international source for open-access influenza virus data, the Lambda case detected in Japan was transmitted from the United States.
It is currently unclear as to how, why, or where this transmission took place. However, there have been no other Lambda cases declared in the country. Whether this is due to a properly followed quarantine protocol or a lack of Japan’s ability to detect and report additional infections is unknown. Click here to access the complete interactive Lambda database.
On July 28, Japanese scientists posted a report on the Lambda variant eight days after its domestic detection. The document is yet to be peer-reviewed.
In the document, the authors state that the Lambda variant is highly infectious, less susceptible to current vaccinations, and shows resistance to antiviral immunity elicited by vaccination. The report continues that because the “Lambda variant is relatively resistant to the vaccine-induced antisera” (blood serum containing antibodies produced in response to vaccination), “it might be possible that this variant is feasible to cause breakthrough infection” in already vaccinated populations. The scientists worry the variant’s categorization as a VOI instead of a VOC downplay the virus’s potential threat to public health.
What you can do to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19 variants.
Although the Japanese scientists’ pre-print report suggests that Lambda may possess a greater ability to escape vaccine-induced immunity, currently available vaccines are still the best way to significantly decrease your chances of catching and transmitting the virus. Vaccines provide even better protection against severe illness and death from COVID-19.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the current surge in COVID-19 cases caused by insufficient vaccination rates gives the virus “ample” time to mutate into a more dangerous new variant in the fall and winter.
“[Q]uite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness,” Fauci said to McClatchy Washington Bureau on August 4.
“If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” he said. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else, also.”
As of Wednesday this week, only 32.39% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The most effective way to prevent further illness and death from all variants of the coronavirus is to promptly get as many residents of Japan fully immunized. For a multi-language database of clinics offering a wait-list for vaccine appointments, click here.
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