In Japan, the convenience store “baito” or part time job, is a rite of passage. Teenagers work at their neighborhood ‘conbini’ after school as a way of padding their allowances and college students work graveyard shifts to pay for living expenses. I did it, my friends did it. Most every Japanese person I know has worked at a conbini at one point or another. And in 2016, Sayaka Murata won the prestigious Akutagawa Literary Award with her autobiographical novel “Conbini Ningen,” in which the protagonist woman is addicted to her conbini job, to the point that she can’t think about anything else.
“I know it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m hyper sensitive but honestly, I feel that women shouldn’t have to deal with porn, especially in a convenience store. It’s sexual harassment.”
In case you think conbini work is boring and easy, let me tell you right now that the job calls for brains, guts and ace reflexes. For women, it’s often a test of mental endurance as well. A woman I know, in her late 30s, has been working the 9 to 7 shift at her local Family Mart for the past 5 years. She says the job is fine, except for one thing: she hates handling the porn magazines that comprise a “not insignificant chunk” of the store’s revenue. “I hate touching those things,” said this woman who has been diagnosed as an HSP. “I know it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m hyper sensitive but honestly, I feel that women shouldn’t have to deal with porn, especially in a convenience store. It’s sexual harassment.” Twenty-seven year old Reina, who quit an office job to work at a Seven Eleven run by her mother, says she feels “slightly sick” every time she has to ring up a porn mag for a male customer. “I’ve been at the job 3 years and I still can’t get used to it,” says Reina. “I don’t lose my cool or anything but I get really uncomfortable. I don’t talk to my mother about it but I call tell she knows how I feel.”
But Reina and thousands of conbini workers like her are about to get a break. In deference to the Tokyo Olympics and the expected soar in foreign tourists including families and minors, major convenience stores Seven Eleven and Lawson have announced the decision to abolish all porn magazines from their outlets by August 31st. The third member of the conbini triumvirate Family Mart, has announced that the company has “no intentions of following suit.” Bad news for my HSP friend (who wants to remain anonymous). At her place of work, the porn stays.
Reina says that the announcement gave her much “relief,” though there are some months to go before she’s free from the unpleasantness of handling porn for work. “That stuff is always about rape,” she says. “The covers show women being tied up and the headlines are violent. Frankly, they’re scary.”
In Japan, the public display of porn – rape or otherwise – has long been a sore point. In 2004, then Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara issued a law that required convenience store porn magazines to be partially bound in cellophane, to prevent casual riffing. “If anyone wants to look at those things, they’re going to have to show some courage, go up to the register and pay for them, right in front of everyone else.” This was a statement Ishihara apparently made to an aide, and later picked up by Japan’s sports tabloids, infamous for their own abundant porn content.
For some weeks afterwards, “show some courage” was a popular, mirth-filled punch line among Japanese men. Whether Ishihara really said those words isn’t the point – the move was classic ex-Governor. Always a gung-ho macho, one of Ishihara’s pet laments was the “pathetic-ness” of the slinky, under-confident Japanese male. He didn’t need to trot out the Olympics to turn the screws on their source of fun.
Unfortunately, his cellophane law simply gave rise to another problem: “harmless porn.” Instead of riffing through X-rated content, men turned to “gurabia,” magazines that featured bikini-ed young women on the covers in provocative poses and more of the same inside the pages. Since the women weren’t nude, the magazines couldn’t be described as hard porn. And the blurbs were all about how “beautiful” or “cute” the girls were so how could it be offensive, right? (Though their cup sizes were loudly touted along with their prettiness) Emboldened by this new wave of accessible and ‘kawaii’ porn, salarimen took to visiting the conbini on their lunch hours and picking up the magazines along with their bento and canned coffees. The early naughts were also about “tosatsu,” or shooting voyeuristic pictures of random young women on the streets, or catching them unawares through open windows. And these photos often found their way into – you guessed it, “harmless porn” magazines, stacked on conbini shelves.
Now, 15 years later, porn magazines (whether hard or harmless) comprise a dismally shrinking market. In the late 1990s, the conbini magazine market sold to the tune of 500 billion yen a year and the adult genre made up nearly 50% of that revenue. Retail analyst Hiroaki Watanabe says that those heydays are long over, and the market has been reduced by almost 70%. “These days, the main clientele of adult-only magazines are seniors, who don’t have smartphones or Internet access,” he says. Indeed, the aforementioned Reina says that porn mag buyers are nearly always “older men, who never make eye contact and have an air of shame.”
Indeed, the aforementioned Reina says that porn mag buyers are nearly always “older men, who never make eye contact and have an air of shame.”
At this point, Mini Stop is the only major convenience store that has completely cleared theirs shelves of adult mags. This is understandable, as Mini Stop is owned by retail conglomerate AEON known for a squeaky clean, family-oriented image. As for the conbini triumvirate, about one-third of their outlets don’t carry adult magazines, according to the companies’ PR.
The PR for Family Mart stated that ultimately, the company leaves the choice to stock porn up to the individual outlet owners. “Some of our outlets don’t carry magazines at all, regardless of content,” said the PR spokesman. “Anyway, we’re heading toward an era where customers can purchase and download magazine content right at the cash register. Paper magazines will be obsolete.”
Ex-Gov Ishihara probably didn’t see that coming. If a tap on a smartphone is all it takes to buy porn at the local conbini, what’s going to happen to male courage?
Journey beyond Roppongi (old), Shibuya (teenyboppers) to XEX Nihonbashi this Sunday starting at 6:30 for dance, music, entertainment and booze. It’s DME NIGHT
3 hours of music, dance, DJs and drinks. Also featuring special guests, The Dream Team, with a singer alleged to be the second-coming of Whitney Houston. Features live performances by Jai, Zenon, Miku, and a dance showcase (starting at 8pm) featuring our favorite cosplayer/peformer Fenix (“Storm) and others.
There’s speculation that The Dream Team might include Tokyo’s favorite siren, Zoe. But you’ll have to go to know.
The argument that “It’s worse in XXX (China,North Korea, US) so it’s okay to have XXX (sexism/racism/fascism/wage slavery/death by overwork) in Japan” is silly. It’s like the accused in a murder trail arguing, “I should be declared innocent because I only killed one person in the robbery but my partner killed three.” Some things are never okay. Whataboutism is the last resort of the intellectually dishonest weasel. (Sorry kids).
I don’t think that the work we do is shouting to the wind. Every effort matters. Sometimes sarcasm is an effective tool. We try to be polite in our response to the comments but rudeness is sometimes met with rudeness. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり
Does any of our work make a difference? Yes.
Actually, in my time as a reporter, me being “Jake Adelstein”, on editing duty today–criticism of huge problems in Japan, via articles that I have written and written with others, resulted in better laws against human trafficking, comprehensive measures to deal with dioxin pollution, and the Japanese government recently admitting that there is a huge problem with exploitation of underage girls that needs to be dealt with.
I and many of the writers on this blog who live in Japan, love this country, and loving a country doesn’t mean remaining silent; it means speaking up about what is wrong, and correcting it. The effort doesn’t always work but sometimes it yields results. And people who can’t see any fault or social problems in their country or refuse to do anything about it or just as complicit in the rise “dark corporations,” greedy nationalists, death by overwork, exploitive enterprises, corrupt politicians, and the nuclear industrial complex that have done so much harm to the nation. For decades many warned of the dangers that TEPCO and its poorly managed nuclear power plants held. They were ignored. It doesn’t make them any less correct.
The battle to protect human rights, worker rights, equal rights, the environment, democracy, the public right to know, justice, gender equality and to fight poverty and end corruption are important struggles. All over the world. Japan is no exception.
I’m a Soto Zen Buddhist priest in training, which is a part of Japanese culture–surprise! I wouldn’t argue the metaphysics of Buddhism are true, but there are universal truths and there is a motto that I have as an editor and journalist and try to keep in my own personal life. Pardon the idealism but I believe this creed applies everywhere in the world.
So below is a modified version of our editorial policy, adapted from the Dhammapada (法句経）. Thank you for your consideration.
Jake Adelstein, Japan Subculture Research Center, editor in chief
Conquer anger with compassion. Conquer evil with goodness. Conquer trolls with humour & sarcasm Conquer ignorance with knowledge Conquer stinginess with generosity. Conquer lies with truth
Some men in Japan just don’t seem to get that objectifying women is wrong.
In the land of the rising sun, the objectification of women is not only a thing, it’s a solid tradition and time-honored marketing ploy. Sometimes though, the tables can be turned the other way. This happened when Weekly SPA, a magazine famed for insisting that sex and money are the only things worth striving for, came out with a story in late December about which colleges had the most number of ‘yareru’ (i.e., easily f*ckable) women. Honorable first place went to Jissen Women’s University, followed by other prestigious women’s universities Otsuma and Ferris. Co-ed universities Hosei and Chuo came in 4th and 5th.
Normally, this would have caused a total of zero ripples on the calm surface of Japan’s societal pond (all the scum lurks beneath) but one young woman dared to raise her voice. This is Kazuna Yamamoto, a senior at International Christian University. Yamamoto saw the article and wrote to petition websitechange.org – that Japan should stop objectifying women, and noted the nation’s women “do not exist [soley] for the benefit of men.” In two days, Yamamoto’s petition amassed close to 30,000 sympathizers.
SPA editor-in-chief Takashi Inukai issued a public apology, saying that ‘yareru’ was in this case, inappropriate. Sorry. What SPA really meant to say, was ‘become on friendly terms with.’ Come on guys, is that the best you could do?
To make matters marginally more demeaning, SPA’s article was really about the practice of ‘gyara nomi,‘ which is a thing among young Japanese. (The ‘gyara’ comes from guarantee – in this case, cash.) In a ‘gyara nomi,’ a group of men meet a group of women at a drinking party. The men pick up the tab, and they are also obligated to offer money to women they find especially attractive. The women may or may not be pressured into sex by accepting the monetary gift but according to ‘Reina,’ a woman who regularly attends such gatherings, says “the sex is sort of mandatory. I mean, you can’t say no after the guy pays you. For myself and a lot of other girls, it’s a side hustle.” SPA covered an actual ‘gyara nomi’ party and an app that matches up college girls from the aforementioned universities wanting to earn a little cash, and men looking for a quick roll in the hay. It goes without saying that gyara nomi are limited to women under 25, (pre-Christmas cake age) though men do not face that censure.
Two factors are at play here: the objectification of women surely, but it’s also about women seizing the opportunity to cash in on their objectification. In a pathetically perverse way, you could say this is a win-win situation, or at least a supply and demand equation. Such a scenario is nothing new under the rising sun. Until Japan finally opened its doors to the West, objectifying women was so taken for granted the women themselves thought nothing of it.
By the way, the geisha trade of old was all about pushing the envelope of objectification: the closer a geisha got to simulating a perfectly made-up doll who danced and poured sake for her male clients (with a hinted promise of post-party sex), the better.
And in spite of all the water under the bridge and modernization with a vengeance, not a whole lot has changed. The practice of gyara nomi attest to the fact that Japanese men would would rather pay for sex, than god forbid, having to go through the arduous process of talking with a woman and getting to know her, and her consent– before taking her to bed.
As for the women themselves, like the aforementioned Reina many see their youths as a side hustle. If men and society insist on viewing college girls as ‘yareru’ cuties slinging Samantha Thavasa handbags over their arms, then there’s no shortage of college girls who bank on that view. Wearing short skirts, attending gyara nomi parties and then the next day, laugh about the men with their girlfriends at Starbucks. What’s the harm – but more to the point, how will they finance those Samantha Thavasa handbags if not through men? No self-respecting college girl wants to admit she had to buy one all on her own. With the exception of a weird few who want to waste their precious youth pursuing a medical degree (we know where such lofty ambitions wind up), young women find it easier to cater to male fantasies, and be compensated in one way or another for their trouble.
An apology from SPA will not likely change the way things are, but maybe, just maybe – it’s a tiny step taken toward…not anything so drastic as equality but non-objectification? On the day after the SPA fiasco, Peach John – one of Japan’s most lucrative women’s lingerie companies – issued an online apology about ‘inappropriate wording’ on one of their products. This was a supplement, touted as a ‘love potion.’ “Slip it into a loved one’s dish or cup, to get that person in the right mood for love” said the product description. (Editor’s note: At least that sounds better than menstrual blood in Valentine’s Day chocolates ) Peach John terminated its sales and promised that they will be “more careful” about choosing the right phrases. Cash, potions, deception, discrimination…would this all go away if Japanese men and women just learned to talk to each other?
Recently a Company called Shuukan Spa has released a ranking of “University students with easy-access girls” on a public magazine. (Published October 23, 2018)
2018 was a year where women from all over the world fought for women’s rights, so that our voices were delivered.
Japan will be having the first G20 summit this year, 2019 and it is ridiculous for an article such as this to be published. It’s not funny at all.
I would like to fight so that especially on public articles such as this one, sexualizing, objectifying and disrespecting women would stop.
We demand Shuukan Spa to take this article back and apologize, and promise to not use objectifying words to talk about women.
This sexualizing of women is not funny.
In Japan according to a study done by the Ministry of Justice, only 18.5% of the women report sexual assault or rape.
How about the left over 81.5%?
They don’t speak up. Can not speak up.
Because sexual assault, random guys touching your butt in public trains, having their crotch up your butt, rape, is something women have to deal with.
Because We use underaged girls in bikinis to fulfill the fetish of those who love baby faces.
Because we idolize young girls.
Because honestly, the society hasn’t changed ever since the time of comfort women.
Because men and women do not believe that we are worth the same as men.
In this world, 1 out of 5 women are raped or sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday.
According to the ministry of Justice, only 1 out of 10 people actually get convicted, after being sued for sexual assault.
In 2018, the world fought.
In some countries, abortion finally became legal.
100 year anniversary since Women got voting rights.
Women in Saudi Arabia were able to drive.
And using Social Media, people spoke up using #MeToo #NoWomenEver and in South America, #NoEsNo and #AbortoLegalYa.
This year we will not only hold the G20 nor but the W20 (women 20)
We demand that the media stops using words to discriminate women, objectify women, disrespect women and sexualize women.
We, women are not less than men.
We are human too.
We do not LIVE for men.
We do not exist for men.
Let’s raise our voices because I am sick of this society where women are objects.
Thanks to the True Story Award, a new prize for written reportage, from 30 August to 1 September 2019, over 60 reporters from right around the world will come together in Bern, Switzerland. Nominate the best journalists and stories in Japan.
Today, submissions open for the True Story Award, the first global award for reporters writing for newspapers, magazines and online publications. The prize recognises written reportage from all countries and in 12 of the world’s most widely spoken languages. The prize will be awarded to work that stands out through in-depth research, journalistic quality and societal relevance.
The prize seeks to motivate journalists from across the world and to support their work. In many places around the world, the loss of diverse and independent media coverage of events and developments is damaging the ability of the public to freely form critical opinions. Which makes it even more important to have courageous and innovative reporters – in all societies and countries. It’s for these reporters that the True Story Award has been created. To begin with, a jury representing 29 countries will nominate a total of 42 reporters. Following this process, an eight-person jury will determine the winners.
The nominees and selected members of the international jury will be invited to attend the prize ceremony in Bern, Switzerland. But it doesn’t end there. At a three-day festival, they will share stories about their work in various contexts around the globe. At some 50 public events, they will provide insights into the conditions under which their research was carried out, will discuss some of the obstacles and resistance they faced, tell stories, and provide the public with new persepectives on contemporary events. It will be the first festival of its kind in the German-speaking world. Apart from the award ceremony, entry to all events will be free.
The prize was conceived and launched by Reportagenmagazine, and the True Story Award and the accompanying festival will be carried out in close collaboration with Bern Welcome. The prize is funded by the newly founded True Story Award Foundation.
Marcel Brülhart, Chairman of the Board, Bern Welcome, bruelhart (at) recht-governance.ch, +41 (0)79 359 59 66
Bern Welcomebrings together city marketing, tourism and local activities in the city of Bern. This merger is the first of its kind in Switzerland.
The organisations Bern Tourismand Bern Meetings & Eventsare both included under the umbrella of Bern Welcome AG, and share a joint strategic and operational structure.
Bern Welcomeis primarily funded by the city of Bern, the business network BERNcityand the associations Hotellerie Bern+Mittelland andGastroStadtBern.
Reportagenis an independent magazine for contemporary storytelling. Outstanding authors tell fascinating stories from around the world. Researched in the field, with the protagonists themselves, and off the beaten track. A new edition every second month. In a sleekly designed paperback and a digital format.Reportagenis available in bookstores and from newsagents, in the App Store and by subscription.
“You want a no-data plan? We have one, but it’s almost the same price as having data…”
Last week, I walked into a U-NEXT store to check out smartphone plans. I’ve had a Japanese flip phone since 2013, and I wanted to see if I could buy a SIM-only plan from them instead. This is when I learned that no salesperson today is prepared to deal with customers who want data-free plans. The assumption is that everybody wants mobile data — the more, the better.
I walked out of U-NEXT without buying anything. Data is cheap, but you can’t put a price on attention and presence.
The cost of data has fallen considerably over the last few years. Even here in Japan, where the de facto cartel has kept contract prices and cancellation fees high, you can, at the time of writing, sign up for a u-mobile 1-year contract for a relatively low monthly sum of JPY1,360 per month for 3.3GB of data with no cancellation fees after one year.
(The salesperson really tried to upsell that data plan to me.)
Prices never used to be this low. When I lived in Tokyo from 2012–2013 as an exchange student, your options for mobile data plans were 2-year contracts with hefty cancellation fees for breaking them a year in. The only option at the time that didn’t involve a cancellation fee was a Softbank prepaid flip phone. I took it. Public WiFi was virtually nonexistent back then. I recall mild inconveniences, but nothing particularly terrible.
Moving back to Japan in 2015, I continued using the same phone and number. Barring a period of around 6 months where I owned a company-sponsored smartphone with data, I have not had mobile data since 2015.
Everyone I have talked to about this has bemoaned their various states of addiction to their phone, for whatever reason; very few do anything about it. Fortunately, I have not really needed to do anything — doing nothing to change my data situation is exactly what’s keeping me sane.
It’s hard to say without data (ha!), but it seems that owning a smartphone these days equals having a data plan. It is inescapable, maybe even inevitable. There’s plenty of talk about switching off the phone, but few discuss the merits of actually forgoing mobile data altogether. Most articles indexed on Google talking about this are dated to several years ago. (See Further Reading below.) But given the conversations and growing awareness surrounding internet addiction, I think eliminating mobile data should be one choice in an arsenal of options to manage the time we spend on our phones.
It’s a weakness
Not having mobile data began as an exercise in moderate frugality , but as the years went on it became more about preserving my sanity, preventing myself from free-falling into constant swipe-mode. Airplane mode isn’t enough for me because it’s too easy to switch back to cellular mode. My last job left me so addicted to looking at email that every instinct in me now has to fight the constant and imaginary demands on my attention, to consciously stop myself from reaching for the phone. I fail at this dozens of times a day, sometimes stopping at just lighting up the phone screen with the home button.
I then imagine how much worse this would be if I had mobile data and did this outside my apartment. So every year I wonder if I will succumb and pay for the convenience of a data plan; every year I find myself increasingly unwilling to do so.
Everyone I have talked to about this has bemoaned their various states of addiction to their phone, for whatever reason; very few do anything about it. Fortunately, I have not really needed to do anything — doing nothing to change my data situation is exactly what’s keeping me sane.
I think I’m lucky: most of my friends are great at being present. They turn their phones face down, or keep them in their bags. I hear this is becoming rare, which feels like a deep loss. Mobile data has, in the last few years, reduced everyone’s collective ability to be present in the moment.
I’ve sat at dinner tables where everyone’s face is lit by the glow of a smartphone screen as they post something to Instagram, reply to a WhatsApp message that just flew in, or deal with an ‘urgent’ work email (which is never really all that urgent; such is the tyranny of capitalism). I have watched people I have been just a little in love with read emails on their phone or scroll through Facebook, while we’re out somewhere in the city, and have felt my heart break a few hundred times. I can see the involuntary twitch of their hands reaching for their phones when we talk.
It happens to me too. When I’m in a place with WiFi, I am more distracted, more prone to flipping my phone open. Some part of my brain is low-key reminding me that I have messages to reply to, emails to send, Instagram feeds to check. I have frittered away hours and hours scrolling and swiping. I am also a bit shit at being present in the moment even without my phone. The only time I can’t look to my phone is when I’m outside in the world without data.
None of this is to say that having mobile data makes everyone automatically become a little bit shit. But the ubiquity of mobile data has made it easier for otherwise lovely people to disregard social courtesies. It helps people justify scrolling through their phone at the dinner table because everyone else is doing the same thing.
The other part of being present when I’m out is seeing the world in ways I might otherwise never notice if I’m walking around staring at a screen. I might never have begun photographing doors, or plants. I might have been too busy uploading photos to social media to pay attention to the mountain in front of me. I like to think I’m better than that — but I’m not.
Why I don’t need mobile data
A few things make it easier for me to opt out of mobile data:
I don’t have a job that requires me to look at emails 24/7. No watching the stock market, or employers who breathe down my neck asking me if I’ve seen this thread. No customers who want urgent answers to their trivial questions. And so on.
It’s quite the opposite: I focus substantially better when writing in completely disconnected environments.
(Yes, I think I’m very lucky — and I wish everyone else could have something like this, obviously.)
I read, write, and speak fluent Japanese. Which means no need for Google Translate. Navigating Tokyo is not an issue.
I don’t have kids. I mean, people have raised children for centuries without mobile data, but modern parents seem to think that constant connectivity is necessary for parenting. (Another kettle of fish altogether. Please talk to someone else about this.)
I have high-speed WiFi at home. This is something I’m lucky enough to be able to afford, and it’s also necessary for my work. Given the choice between mobile data or an internet connection, I’d choose the latter every time.
There’s free, public WiFi all around Tokyo. Yes, really! See the last section of this piece.
The truth is that I am as addicted to social media as the next Instagram junkie. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. I find myself reaching for my phone every few minutes; on the train I sometimes even open apps that I know won’t load just to quell my dopamine-addicted brain. It’s precisely because I know myself too well that I continue choosing not to have mobile data instead.
(Plus, that’s an extra $15 a month I can spend on runny eggs — which give me more pleasure and joy than any amount of feed-refreshing ever could.)
But but but
Isn’t it inconvenient? Sometimes. But that’s all it is — an inconvenience. I don’t miss having it when I’m outside. If I need it, WiFi access is available at home, at cafes, in train stations. Plus, public WiFi is great for accessibility across socioeconomic classes, and for tourists.
Sure, I’m an impatient motherfucker and rage as much as anyone else at certain inconveniences. But if there’s anything Japan’s million bureaucratic procedures has taught me, it’s to be patient with inefficiency. I don’t love inconvenience, but the cost of convenience is so much higher. Tim Wu says it more eloquently than I can.
What if we’re meeting and I’m running late? I don’t usually know when a friend’s running late, so I just have to trust that they show up, whether it’s on time or a few minutes late. That’s what we all used to do pre-smartphone. Again, much depends on having a reliable public transportation system. I remember it being significantly more difficult to be punctual in Malaysia.
If someone flakes on me and decides not to show up, that reflects badly on them. The upside is that this encourages specificity in deciding on meeting points (“Let’s do Exit B6 at Ginza Station, I’ll be above ground at the fire hydrant”) but also weeds out flaky people who you probably shouldn’t be friends with. If they can’t respect your time, they don’t deserve it.
Besides, if they really need to contact you, that’s what a phone number’s for. I hope I have your numbers for when the next earthquake hits.
What if you need to look something up? What burning fact would I need to look up right away that I couldn’t look up later? Do we really need to watch that video right now? See also: delayed gratification.
But you’re using your phone outside? Like on the train? Yeah, I’m usually reading articles I’ve saved to Pocket, writing/taking notes on strange people around me, or editing photos.
What about Google Maps? Look up routes and directions before setting out. Offline maps are useful and work well. There’s also something to be said for looking at the scenery around you instead of at your blue-dot-self moving around on a screen.
There have definitely been times when my offline maps stopped working while I was on the move, or things didn’t update. So I also like asking strangers for help, or looking at area maps in the neighborhoods. Talking to people! What a novel concept.
Uber? Grab? Lyft? Thankfully, none of these exist in Japan. Tokyo’s incredibly efficient public transportation system eliminates the need for ride-sharing apps… for now.
Maybe ride-sharing apps would be useful in more remote areas where there are fewer train stations. But then again, they probably wouldn’t be operating in those areas, and I’d still have had to walk for miles along Route 207 from Nagasaki to Saga prefecture just to find a bus heading to Tara. (True story. I don’t think having mobile data would have changed anything, except I’d have spent more time complaining about it to friends online — and maybe found a bus slightly faster.)
What if you need to drive? On the off-chance that I ever sit behind a steering wheel in Japan, I hope the car comes with sat-nav. Otherwise it’s back to pre-2007 days of parking by the roadside flipping through a map book.
What if you’re in the countryside? Even better! I can switch off! Researching stuff to do before you travel/leave your accommodation, or just using whatever WiFi is available there. I’m usually visiting someone who knows the area (and probably has mobile data, let’s be real.) There were also a couple of times I thumbed rides in Hokkaido and Aomori when I was stranded and couldn’t figure out buses.
I remember Couchsurfing with a couple in Aomori City back in 2013. They lived, insofar as was possible, a very off-grid lifestyle — no internet (they’d check their email at Internet cafes), only flip phones (one of the few things they used electricity for), no refrigerator, no washing machine. We’re no longer in touch, but it left a huge impression on me.
The only times I’ll have mobile data are when I travel to places I’m unfamiliar with and where I don’t speak the local language(s), like Morocco or Thailand; or, when I’m back in Malaysia and rely on Grab to go places. Even then, it’s optional. I went without a data plan in Busan because most cafes had free WiFi and I spent most of my time with a friend living there. It’s quite fun muddling through menus and going through the usual motions of cross-cultural communication — hand gestures, smiles, everything you need for your fellow human beings.
And so it is
Frankly, I like not having data. I like being able to say no to looking at emails. I love having my mind back, wandering into other connections and thoughts without the constant drip of stuff from the internet. I love looking at my friends when they talk.
If you have mobile data and like it, good on you. I don’t wish to suggest that living without mobile data is a viable choice for everyone, nor do I want to sound like I’m preaching some ‘elite’ hippie lifestyle from a pedestal way up high. There are plenty of reasons to have mobile data — war refugees using social media to keep in touch; not being able to afford high-speed internet at home (though given the price of mobile plans in Japan this is pretty much similar); work conditions (which is a problem with society at large).
But if you think you can’t go through daily life without mobile data, you are wrong. We’ve survived for millennia without it, and when the next natural disaster in Japan knocks out mobile data providers for a bit, it’ll be useful to have actual phone numbers or to be okay with being a little disconnected for a while.
A Short List of Free Public WiFi Places in Japan (Mostly Tokyo)
Tokyo is a pretty great place to live without mobile data these days if you already have an internet connection at home. Try the following:
Tokyo Metro stations. Very rarely, the internet is down, and I feel a flash of irritation — and then I chide myself and take out the Kindle instead.
JR stations. It’s patchy and sketchy, but many major JR stations in Tokyo now have free WiFi (under the JR East Free WiFi network)
Some libraries, like the Hibiya Library with its characteristically low-security password (numbers 1 through 9. FIGHT ME HIBIYA STAFF). The Tokyo Metropolitan Library’s WiFi has so far been unreliable.
Some cafes have it. But it doesn’t really matter if they don’t.
7–11 and Lawson’s have reliable WiFi. Accessing Family Mart’s WiFi requires a lengthy registration process before you can even go online, and it’s slow as hell. Don’t bother.
Yes, it’s all unsecured WiFi. Don’t buy stuff with your credit card, use it only when you need to, don’t register with your real email address, and all that.
Flory Leow is a sporadic writer, photographer, foodie and student of history living in Tokyo and blogging here and there. This article was previously published on her blog and has been reprinted here with her kind permission.
In Tokyo, about two million people live below the poverty line. That means many families find it difficult to put food on their tables. The need is especially great during the holiday season, when many other residents are enjoying festive meals and celebrations.
For the second-straight year, Tokyo-based indie rock band Instant Karma is teaming up with the Second Harvest Japan food bank to help feed the less fortunate. The band is holding a night of music and fun at Ebisu’s What the Dickens pub on Monday, December 3, 2018.
Admission to the event is free, but attendees will be encouraged to make donations to the food bank which, in turn, will use the money to provide meals and food for those in need.
“We wanted to do something for others over the holiday period,” says Instant Karma guitarist/vocalist Mike de Jong. “Nobody should go hungry over the holidays.”
The band will play three sets of music, combining popular cover songs with originals. All four band members have agreed to turn over their payment for the night to the charity.
The Second Harvest food bank was established in 2002. The non-profit organization works with community groups to gather and distribute food to people across the country.
Last year’s Second Harvest event at What the Dickens raised several thousand yen for the charity. This year, organizers and participants are hoping for even better results.
“Last year’s show was a lot of fun. But it was more of a year-end party for volunteers,” says de Jong. “This year, it will strictly be a fundraiser. So even though it’s a Monday night, please come out and support people who need our help.”
Contact: Mike de Jong at Instant Karma
MDMedia20 [@] gmail.com for more details. (Remove the brackets in the address above when you send an email. 😉）
Who would have thought a plot of land in a Tokyo neighborhood could cause such a ruckus? The construction of a Child Consultation Center (Jidousoudansho 児童相談所) in prestigious Minami Aoyama has its residents up in arms and the Japanese media is depicting their anger as petty and narrow-minded. There’s an old adage: “Rich folks never argue” but in this case, it looks like those folks are ready for more than a little arguing over what they see as their own, precious turf.
Minami Aoyama is the creme de la creme of posh Tokyo neighborhoods, famed for its sky-high COL as it is for the number of brand boutiques and high-end restaurants. Among the noted institutions in the area are the high fallutin’ Nezu Art Museum, the snarky Prada building, the Comme des Garcons flagship store and Tessenkai Noh Theater. Even the tourists strolling the streets here seem to have a loftier agenda.
Minami Aoyama is located in Minato-ku, Tokyo’s most expensive ward and home to many foreign embassies including the United States. Last month they announced plans to build a Child Consultation Center on a plot of land just minutes away from Omotesando metro station. Slated for completion in April, 2021, the Center will be a much-needed facility in Tokyo’s 23 Ward Area, functioning as a safe house for abused children, single mothers and victims of domestic abuse. Minato-ku bought the 3211 square meter plot from Tokyo for 7.24 billion yen and will proceed with construction in August, 2019.
Under other circumstances, this is a laudable move. There were over 130,000 cases of child abuse reported last year in Japan – the highest ever recorded, and the tragic death of a 5-year old girl in February heightened public awareness of a real and urgent problem. It also shed light on an inconvenient truth: Japan’s social system sucks when it comes to dealing with dysfunctional families and general child support. As it stands, there are only 7 such facilities in Tokyo’s 23 ward area, a number that’s dismally low compared to cities like London and Paris. You could say Minato-ku was making an effort to catch up to global standards.
But Minami-Aoyama residents opened fire during the 2-day meeting with the Ward office, saying that such a building is “unsuitable to the cityscape of Aoyama,” and will “disappoint in-bound travelers hoping to experience the exclusive atmosphere of Aoyama,” “lower the value of local real estate and give the entire area a bad name.” The media immediately honed in on their chorus and news reports televised an anonymous resident (a disembodied voice directed at an official in a conference room) expressing her distaste at seeing “children who can’t even attend the local elementary school,” daring to show up on pristine Aoyama streets. She was gently reprimanded by an official who explained that the objective was to help children in need. “They have done nothing wrong,” said the official. “The fact that they can’t go to school is the reason why these facilities are necessary in the first place.”
Social commentators, academics and even comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto went on the air to say that the real disappointment here was the “snooty narrow-mindedness of Minami Aoyama residents.” Indeed, the whole fiasco revealed an unpleasant side to Aoyama locals, long thought of as liberal fashionistas with cash to burn. “Actually, they’re demeaning their own town and themselves,” said a newscaster.
Though the controversy has calmed down, it has definitely left claw marks on Aoyama’s glossy image. The term NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) was batted around by both the media (as something negative and petty) and the locals (as a way to defend themselves). Tweets to the tune of, “only happy, well-off people should live in Minami Aoyama. The residents here pay high taxes so they have a right to protect their streets from unhappiness,” are still floating around.
Ah, the right not to feel unhappy. Along with NIMBY, the debate over this right has gone viral, not least because it figures into real cash flow in the Tokyo real estate market. Housing journalist Atsushi Sakaki pointed out online that while “everyone understands the need for social welfare facilities, there is a strong local undercurrent of resistance to those facilities. For the privileged residents in Minami Aoyama, it’s hard to admit that unhappiness and tragedy exists, and harder still to have to live with a problematic institution in their own neighborhood.”
On a real estate market level, those emotions immediately translate into hard cash. “In the real estate world, there’s what’s called an antagonizer,” said Sakaki. “The antagonizer could be a prison, a juvenile correctional institution, or an industrial waste plant. In any case, the presence of an antagonizer lowers the image of the locale, which in turn has a negative effect on real estate prices. Given the current state of the Tokyo real estate market, that plot of land in Minami Aoyama should have been slated for a tower mansion.” Certainly Minami Aoyama’s top realtor Green Seed, would agree. It’s rumored that Green Seed is the secret instigator behind Minami Aoyama’s NIMBY anger-mongering, and that they’re planting fake tweets to discourage Minato-ku from going ahead with the project. Sakaki commented that for a local realtor, letting a choice plot of land go to a public works project implies hundreds of millions of yen in potential losses.
Both Tokyo and Minato-ku seems saturated by tower mansions but developers say they want to build more. Real estate prices are soaring, side by side with newly constructed condominiums of steel and glass that tower ever higher into the sky. In Minato-ku neighborhoods like Aoyama and Roppongi, newly erected high-rise condominium units start at an average 100 million yen for a modest 45 square meters and are snapped up immediately by IT moguls and Chinese developers.
Market pundits warn that the real estate bubble will burst once the Tokyo Olympics – now a little over 18 months away – packs up and skips town. But right now that’s as hard to imagine as the next Big Earthquake that could turn the capital into mountainous piles of rubble or hurl the city into a blackout nightmare, leaving many tower mansion residents helpless inside their high-in-the-sky chambers. Whether that would count as distasteful unhappiness remains for now, a mystery.
On a typical day in December 2016, while drinking beer and eating yakitori in a smoke-filled Izakaya somewhere outside of Tokyo, I confessed my idea of creating Japan’s first all foreign male idol group to my girlfriend. Fashioned after the ubiquitous AKB48 idol group, I called the group Guyjin48, a play on the Japanese word gaijin, which means foreigner. The group would have members from all over the world, which would sing songs entirely in Japanese. The idea had struck me shortly after moving to Japan in 2013 while surfing for Japanese music on the Internet. It was my first time being introduced to the concept of Japanese idol music, but for some reason I felt compelled to try and create a group of my own, regardless of the fact that I had absolutely no experience in music production. My girlfriend liked the idea and the next day we created a logo, wrote out the concept, and created our first help-wanted ad looking for future foreign idols of Japan.
The concept of the Guyjin48 project evolved over a period of three years, mostly from observing Japanese society and learning about the many pressing issues the country is dealing with, i.e. their greying population and the dire need for foreign labor. So the group went from being simply an act of curiosity to having an actual message and becoming more of a conduit for creating meaningful conversation, even if at surface level it appears to simply be only a bunch of foreigners singing idol music. Japan needs diversity. Japan needs to learn how to play nice with their impending deluge of foreign immigrants. Not exactly the most popular conversation right now, but one that must be had in my opinion. Like medicine-coated in sugar in order to make easier to swallow, I thought pop music might make the conversation a little easier to have.
A couple weeks after announcing the project, Crunchyroll, a widely used Japanophile website created an article based on the little information we had on the internet, and within hours the article had been translated into several languages. Other articles popped up here and there and it seemed there was a thirst amongst niche groups of foreigners who relished in the idea of finally being able to become a real idol in Japan. We began receiving multiple applications a day from people all over the world wanting to join the group, mostly from Indonesia. We also got our first bit of negative attention from the western community who claimed I was a disgusting racist for using such an offensive word as the group name.
It has almost been two years since starting the project with absolutely no experience and very little money. We have since changed the name to COLORFUUUL, we were able to team up with DJ Shinnosuke from the hip-hop group Soul’d Out, and I have finally been able to meet people in the industry and have started to see support from certain media outlets.
Despite all of this, and despite the fact that we have been able to create an album, created original dances, and already have multiple performances and interviews lined up, we recently have had a pretty big setback. Three out of the five original members of the group decided to leave, all within a matter of a few days. So we are once again looking for people to help us make this project a reality. (Editor’s note, there has been at least one successful foreign idol in Japan, Ms. Amina Du Jean) who retired last year.)
If you think you can dance, sing, and have what it takes to be a foreign idol in Japan, then you might be what we are looking for. Auditions will be held at the end of October, so if you are interested please send applications to:
This is a chance to not only be part of a project attempting to pave the way for the foreign idol community but also to do your part in spreading a message of diversity and acceptance in Japan. Then maybe one day we can all hang out at that one place in Golden Gai that still doesn’t allow foreigners at the moment.
Tokyoites, as much as we love Japan, it’s a stressful place. If you don’t know the language, even more so. And actually, sometimes knowing the language makes it even worse. If you’re looking for some spiritual healing, relaxation, leadership skills and/or guidance try attending the Find Your Elements Workshops already underway this fall .
Find Your Element Workshop ’18 Fall Season〜 A 12-Week Program for Inner Discovery and Inspiration will feature some great speakers, teachers, and philosophers. Unmask your true self! Learn to be a pirate! Get some tips on healthy eating for sound mind and body.