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by Kaori Shoji

Back in May when we had lunch, my sister Rinko – who is eight years older than me – fessed up about a guy in her life. “He’s working in the washoku diner around the corner,” she said. “He’s much younger than I am, maybe he’s in his twenties even. I can’t be sure since I’ve only seen him in the light in the diner. He’s always masked up and it’s dark in there.”

In his twenties.

I was so embarrassed for my sis. She looks young for her age but she’s pushing fifty and married for over a quarter of a century to my brother-in-law who is an extraordinarily decent guy. They have a daughter together. They have a grandkid together. I rolled my eyes so hard they were falling out of their sockets. “What are you, fucking crazy? You ARE crazy. I don’t even want to know you. We are not related, okay?” I said this in English because I was born in New York and came back to Tokyo when I had just turned eight and Rinko was fifteen. My sister remained completely bilingual while I had to relearn the language when I went off to Cali for graduate school. As we grew into adulthood, English became a private code to our interminable conversations. We pulled it out whenever we had news to share, was happy or sad, pissed off at each other or at the world. In other words, most times we talked. Rinko was much, much more adept at the language than I am which was embarrassing because I was the one who went to graduate school in the States and now teach economics at a posh university here in Tokyo.

Rinko looked at me, and I gotta say, my sister has these amazing eyes which nothing ever mucks up. Not all-nighters at work, various onenight stands her husband knows nothing about, the horrible crying jags when things go haywire in her life, her bipolar issues which have gone untreated and is most likely causing a lot of trouble that she will never admit to. Nothing pollutes those eyes. Every time I look into my them, so different from mine because I have the typical Japanese hooded slits instead of those dark, translucent marbles of hers. Whenever things go wrong in her life I look into her eyes like an optometrist and examine the damage, gauge her condition. This diner guy was bad news on steroids but – I could tell she’s going to be fine.

When I was 14 my teammates from the soccer club used to come over and hang around our kitchen in the hopes that Rinko, then a senior at university, would come home and open the fridge for a drink and banter a little, looking straight at them with her huge eyes, tossing her hair and swaying her hips a little as she padded out of the kitchen. Man, I could see them now, secretly drooling at the sight of my sister. When I was 17, my own girlfriend told me she liked talking to Rinko more than she liked talking to me. At the time, Rinko

2 was 25 and the mother of a 2-year old. To me, she was just an older woman who was settling down. Twenty five, that was OLD, right? My girlfriend had to be insane. But then, throughout her whole life people had taken to Rinko for reasons I never quite understood. I remember how, when we were living in Brooklyn, Rinko had a small cluster of guys who followed her around and called her ‘Rinnie.’ Sometimes one or another of them – twins from a brood of kids sired by a vicious Irish cop, Matteo from the Italian bakery, Benjie walking his huge German Shepherd – would spy me in the yard playing by myself and yell out, ‘Yo, baby bro, where’s Rinnie?’

Those eyes goddamn it.

According to Rinko this new guy seems pretty audacious and audacious always gets far with my sister. She said he doesn’t play games – because he has no time for mind fuckery. He’s a chef which means among other things, 14-hour days, six days a week. “He’s so nice,” she croons. “He always comes straight to my table and hangs around talking,” she says. “He’s always telling me that I’m adorable. Really, that just doesn’t happen at my age.”

“No kidding.” I lay the sarcasm on thick and say, “So he knows you’re a grandma right? I mean, he’s seen you around with family right? I mean, even I’ve gone to that diner with you guys. If he’s in his twenties, you and his mom could be the same age. You ARE aware of that right? And what would Mika (my niece, her daughter) think about it? I mean, get it together, sis. The diner is like, right there. You may as well be fucking the guy in the middle of your living room.”

My sister blinked, her long lashes briefly obscuring her pupils before they flared open. “Of course he knows the family! He’s paid me compliments with Shinji standing just a meter away. He’s always very solicitous around us. I’m not hiding anything from this guy and I’m not fucking him!”

Not yet you mean. But you will.

Shinji is my sister’s husband. He’s like, top-tier engineer in a company known as the Japanese equivalent of Space X and as such, he’s respected and solid in a way Rinko could never hope to be. She works in advertising and writes ad copy and columns on the web and gets paid peanuts for her trouble. Everything she earns, she spends on her daughter, her grandkid, food, clothing, trips, drinks, not necessarily in that order. Shinji has taken care of the mortgage, car payments and other big ticket items. He doesn’t drink and is very careful with money. Rinko always said that if they got divorced she’d be homeless in a month.

I give a disgusted sigh and turn away. It’s not nice to contemplate one’s own flesh and blood is a shameless middle-aged slut. At the same time though, I can’t help a tiny, almost indistinct wave of pride lapping at my insides. My sister – well, she’s different. She’s unlike any woman I’ve ever known and I’ve known my fair share of them.

As a teenager she was unpredictable in unpredictable ways – fearless and cowering and nasty and innocent: a combo that many in the male species found inexplicably alluring. Her homeroom teacher had a thing for her apparently. She consecutively failed every subject except English and he let that slide and kept her in his class for three years until graduation rolled around. In her report card, he commented on the “beauty and intelligence of her enormous eyes.” Yeah, he got it bad. Sometimes in the mornings when she was sprinting to get to the school gates before they closed (Rinko is chronically late, has been her whole life) this teacher would materialize out of nowhere and hold the gate open so she wouldn’t get into trouble. Men were like that around Rinko but she was 17 then. Of course they would fall over each other to get into a teenager’s pants. But now she’s pushing 50, I wanted to yell. Don’t fall for the eyes thing – this is a woman way, way past her prime.

When I was at university and Rinko turned 30, she asked me whether she would be okay from here on in. “So scared at gettin’ older, I’m only good at being young” she sang, from the John Mayer album which she loved. Then she said she didn’t think she could swing being middle aged. “I could stand being married to the same man for

5 years and years. I could probably stand having facial hair and wrinkles. I could handle being invisible to men because I’m old. But I can’t stand everything coming on at once. It’s starting to happen already. I’m not the same me anymore. I want to just disappear.”

Being a youngster and completely wrapped up in my own life, I scoffed at Rinko’s predilections and told her to put a lid on it. “Of course you’ll get old, everyone does. Get over yourself. You’re a mother for god’s sakes. Pull yourself together and think about your daughter.”

Two decades on I stick by my advice but I also realize I was being unfair. Because Rinko was a devoted and dedicated mother. Outwardly she was very loyal to Shinji. After Mika she had two miscarriages and she said she didn’t want the trauma of pregnancies anymore even though she loved babies and was very good around them. She redoubled her efforts to be present and aware as a wife and mom. She worked hard. She did all the heavy lifting as far as home and family were concerned and I never heard her complain.

Shinji left their apartment every morning at 7 and returned at midnight – the typical hours of an elite Japanese salariman – but he was around on weekends to be with his wife and daughter and help out around the house which surprised my parents to no end. “What a wonderful husband,” my mother told Rinko. “Make sure he gets plenty of meat meals and be careful some young woman doesn’t come along and snatch him up. Remember that you’re getting on. You’re not young anymore.” At every turn, my mother reminded Rinko of her age and ordered her to buy supplements and wrinkle cream and reading glasses. At 30, Rinko was told to prepare for menopause.

Rinko blinked and said nothing, as was her way of dealing with our mother. Privately, she said to me: “I don’t care about my workload, this way the weekdays are all mine. I think I have a pretty sweet deal. It’s a holy trinity of work, independence and freedom. It probably won’t get any better than this.”

Word got around that she slept with a client and then another. Someone told a friend of mine that he saw my sister getting soused at a bar in Shinjuku with a much older foreigner, and they were clearly on ‘more than friendly terms.’ ” And then the friend told me with a half smirk, “you know, you should reign in your sister a little. She’s not young anymore and she could get into real trouble.”

None of it reached Shinji because he occupied a completely separate space in society and was generally oblivious about personal issues to begin with. He loved Rinko but he just wasn’t interested about what went on in her head or how desperate she could get. He’s not a bad person, but as an engineer he had a hearty disdain for emotions. He just assumed, because my sister was functioning as an adult and a mother, everything was okay. He was and remains, an inordinately dense man. Which was all for the best. Anyone more sensitive or in tune to what Rinko was thinking would have chucked her out long ago.

Still, he broke down when she died. His grief was terrible to witness but then so was mine. In many ways, I know we blame each other for the way Rinko just upped and left us all. I haven’t spoken to him in years.

Rinko never tried to protect herself – she exposed herself to the raging elements and believed the universe would have her back. I told her time and again that she shouldn’t test fate like that because it was bound to catch up with her. She looked straight at me and said: “You know what the opposite of fate is? It’s freedom.”

After spending all my impressionable years with front row seats to my sister’s drama nothing much shook my equilibrium. We’re way different, I told myself. It’s not like I’m responsible for her, we just happen to be siblings that’s all.

I took off for a doctorate degree at UC Berkeley and didn’t come back to Tokyo for five years. Rinko and I kept in touch but it was all polite and familial. She could be like that when circumstances warranted, cut the drama and be a placid Japanese. I was relieved. There’s nothing like being a straight arrow 24-year old with nothing in the sexual escapades department to match one’s much older sister. She made me feel inadequate and disgusted, enraged and a little enthralled, all at the same time. I needed to distance myself, otherwise I was in danger of cutting off ties and never speaking to her again.

Meantime, Rinko was inwardly struggling in a blizzard of pain. I could see that now.

When Rinko was a teenager, our parents were too busy to think about her much. They just let her be, and then criticized and yelled at her later. One day when I was eight and Rinko was in high school, I overheard them saying to each other that she was man-crazy and they had better commit her to a mental institution before she wound up pregnant or worse. In the next breath, they agreed they couldn’t afford to pay for that institution and that Rinko had better get her act together anyway. I didn’t understand the conversation but I did vow to protect my sister. I didn’t care to be around our mother much but I adored Rinko. She could always calm me with a hug, or when I was really distressed, pull me on to her lap and pat my back upon which I would stop bawling and she would suggest getting ice cream. To this day I can remember what that felt like and the wonder of being loved and protected.

Rinko was never alluring in an obvious way. She was short and flat chested and her legs were too muscular to be sexy. Throughout her school years she wore sweats and jeans aside from her school uniform and made no attempt at girly-ness. On the other hand, she had a distinct look about her. Her hair wasn’t Japanese at all – they grew out of her head in big, bouncing curls and when we returned to Japan, none of the teachers in her middle school believed those curls were natural. My mother sat her down and cut it all off after which my sister cried for a week. Later, I would associate that haircut with WWII concentration camps – it was that bad. That was when I gleaned that deep down, our mother hated Rinko.

Thankfully, her high school was much more permissive. In the summers she couldn’t get her hair to stay down so she tied it up in the world’s clumsiest ponytail and let her succession of boyfriends brush it out after swimming practice (Rinko loved sports and was always entrenched in one activity or another.) She stood out like a weird plant or a sore thumb in a society where most everyone looked identical, as if they came off a conveyor belt. Other girls sported long, shiny hair down their backs and wore their uniform skirts right up above their thighs. They wore lipstick and foundation and went to karaoke with older men who paid them cash for the right to sit next to them and fondle their legs. Rinko wore her skirts knee-length and had her nose in a book when she wasn’t hanging out with one boy or another. She was always quoting Oscar Wilde and Antoine de St. Exupery, which no one understood or cared about and she seemed to live in a wholly separate world while firmly entrenched in the ranks of this one.

I don’t know how she pulled it off but Rinko wound up looking sexier and more interesting than the conventionally pretty girls. I observed how both these traits worked against her. Even before the terminology existed, she was one hot mess. She often came home with disheveled hair and swollen lips, on the verge of tears or wiping them away.

Death was always on her mind. “I warmed both hands before the fire of life. It sinks, I am ready to depart.’ I want that carved on my tombstone, okay?” she said to me though I was only in the third grade. Many years later, I found out that it was a quote from a guy named Walter Savage Landor.

What gave Rinko her particular power, and also that gaping wound quality which was part of it? Well, her youth, obviously. And because every straight male she ever came in contact with could sense she was crazy about men. And because she loved them, she hated disappointing them. She always gave in to whatever they asked provided they “had something” she really liked, a standard that included among other features, a passion for a school subject or a sport. Her boyfriends consisted of a math wiz who was also head of the kendo team, a wannabe novelist who taught her how to ski, a rich kid who rode a motorcycle and picked my sister up from wherever she happened to be, an extra helmet strapped to the back seat. My sister’s taste in men were to say the least, cliched. But they kept coming. And she almost always said yes. She fell for Shinji because he was tall and dark and lanky and taught her how to surf. He snatched her up while she was still in university and got her pregnant a few months after graduation. To me, he seemed like the sanest and most detached guy she ever dated which was a relief.

Fast forward to 2022 and this diner guy, Satoshi. He gave out he had apprenticed at a famed washoku restaurant in Ginza for six years. I could imagine her swooning as soon as he said the word “apprentice” because Rinko is a sucker for tradition and Japan-style machismo. Washoku is torturous and grueling and how I know is because at university, I had a job in a washoku restaurant and saw firsthand how the system abused the workers.

Like most guys in the business Satoshi started working right out of high school and endured the fist cuffs and yelling from his superiors, the all-night dishwashing and cleaning, peeling vegetables, soaking dry tofu, dried mackerel, shiitake mushrooms and whatever else that needed to be dipped in a basin of water at 2AM. He learned to function on three hours of sleep, often on the floor of the restaurant and subsisted on Red Bull and Kirin lager. He was also a smoker and apparently never thought to quit. A lot of cooks are like that, because a couple of minutes with a cigarette at various intervals during the day is the only down time they get.

After a couple of months of flirting whenever she showed up at the diner, Satoshi asked my sister outright for her number and then proceeded to text her, asking if she wanted to go for drinks.

At first she played it cool. She reminded herself of her advanced years – how could she take him seriously? And then in late May when the weather turned humid, she caved. By that time his texts had stopped coming but she would go to the diner and he would appear at her table and hang around making eye contact and smiling behind his mask. And then one night, he walked her back to her apartment building and asked “so when are we going out for drinks?” And that’s when she said, “okay, how about a week from tonight?”

It turned out that he was 41 – my age. Unfunny “brother” jokes whirled inside my head, thanks very much. And to her utter surprise, Satoshi was married with two kids, aged ten and four. A younger married guy with two small children was a first, even for my sister. “Pull out right now, while there’s still time and you have the will to do it. Don’t walk, just turn the other way and run,” I told her. But Rinko was already in it up to her small waist. The fact that he and she were so geographically close made matters much worse. She had to pass the diner to get to the train station and when she spied him clearing tables on the terrace or something, they would wave. Or he would drop whatever he was doing to walk over and talk to her. The entire neighborhood could tell they were close and it seemed like a matter of time before Shinji – dense as he was, finally caught on.

I didn’t want to be privy to any of it but my sister tells me everything and discounting the five years we were apart, I’ve always hung around and listened. Rinko ruined my relationship to women. We’re both surprised I’ve remained straight because most men would have quit on females long ago. “I feel kind of bad,” Rinko often said to me. “If not for me, I’m sure you would have been much happier with women.”

There’s no denying it. My own marriage fell apart in 7 years and I completely blame my sister for that. She turned me on women and then she turned me off. When I look at her it’s like I’m staring into an abyss of deceit and rampant selfishness offset by patches of motherly benevolence. I said this and she came back suavely with, “that’s just another symptom of Japan brand misogyny. “Don’t worry, you’re a man. Life goes in only one direction for Japanese women but you’ll still be out there when you’re 75. I foresee a long and happy relationship happening for you after you hit 45, with periods of infidelity that will have no bad consequences. Provided you follow my cue, of course. Watch and learn, little brother. Watch and learn.”

I’ve said that she’s different from any woman I’ve known but actually all Japanese women – give or take a few scratches off the surface are exactly the same. Don’t let claptrap like “Last Samurai” and the submissive geisha stuff fool you. Japanese women are ruthless, fearless and extraordinarily strong. The patriarchy is there and intact because it benefits women more than the men. For Japanese women, men are never the enemy. The enemy is age and their mother, which pretty much amounts to the same thing.

Once they get married, Japanese women will do pretty much everything they want, because age – looming on the horizon like Godzilla lurching closer with each passing year – justifies every misdemeanor and betrayal. Infidelity is fine because, as Rinko put it, “I need something to look back on in my old age when no one wants me anymore.” That pretty much sums up the morals of the Japanese woman for you.

On the other hand I knew where Rinko is coming from. Despite this being a super-aged society, any woman past 40 is seen as obsolete and as for the late 40s, she may as well be dead and buried. The news remind us at every turn that soon, one in two Japanese women will be over 50, as if this is a disaster on par with climate change. What about the men? No one comments on men getting old but apparently half the Japanese male populace are destined to die without ever once living with a woman. Rinko says this society is rigged so that women are blamed and made to feel like shit. “Whatever happens, it’s the woman’s fault. The falling birthrate is our fault. We get old, it’s our fault. Single men can’t get married, it’s definitely our fault.”

Japanese women are born with this deep knowledge that career ambition or railing against the glass ceiling ain’t going to turn the needle one millimeter in favor of their personal happiness. As soon as they learn to walk they want to be looked at and praised. As soon as they hit their teens they want to be desired. Then they want children, a house, nice things, money. Feminism wasn’t going to help attain any of that. Better to take control of the household finances, get some botox, and breast implants and go for some real happiness.

My ex-wife, like so many Japanese women, assumed control of our money right after our honeymoon, like it was the most natural thing in the world. My entire paycheck went into our joint account over which only she had access to, and gave me an allowance of 50,000 yen every month. She never failed to remind me that this was a very generous sum.

Rinko, sensing that I was short, often treated me to lunch and drinks, saying, “Hey bro, I need your advice about something,” like I was

16 doing her a favor. After I got divorced she treated me anyway. “I’m your older sister, I gotta do SOMETHING to show for it.”

“Satoshi says that his wife is the one in control,” Rinko told me, as if she found this bemusing to no end. “They have a house in Chiba. He says he doesn’t know what their mortgage is, because his wife controls everything. She gives him an allowance, but I don’t know how much.” I listened to all this, thinking I should maybe go for drinks with this guy too, in a yo, bro kind of way. After all, he and I were practically related. Hell, we were twins. Not that I bought that thing about not knowing the mortgage. He was only saying that to get on my sister’s good side, which indicated he wasn’t a fool and was reading Rinko pretty accurately. This made me nervous.

Rinko is that very rare Japanese woman who had no idea how much her husband made and was never much interested in money, which enraged my mother to no end. Her female friends thought this was bizarre and dangerous. Shinji’s own mother sat Rinko down and told her that to relinquish the household finances was inviting the devil in. “A man who controls the money will be up to no good in no time. And he will be unfaithful. Don’t be stupid, take control of his money, NOW before it’s too late.”

But Rinko never did. Contrarily, maybe that’s why their marriage lasted this long. Shinji always said his wife had absolutely no head for numbers or regard for money and he was fine with that. “She’s really good at what she’s good at,” was his way of putting it. Yeah, I guess. She could draw and write and had a natural flair for languages. She had beautiful handwriting and could churn out ad copy like a barista churns out espressos. She was wonderful with Mika and had a warmth and spontaneity that kids and young people found irresistible.

When Mika was little, Rinko made up songs and dances and the two of them would dance in their apartment where, despite its smallness had lot of floor space because – and this was SO like my sister Rinko hated furniture. She strove to give Mika the childhood she herself never had, and tried to have conversations with her that she never could with our own mother. They shared a real bond and Mika trusted Rinko completely.

“He says I give terrible blowjobs.” Whoa. This was end of June when she had slept with Satoshi twice. “Yeah, he said my teeth got in the way. But he’s so big.” Rinko has a very small mouth, like a flower petal. To the endless annoyance of her small circle of women friends (women tend to not like my sister very much. My ex-wife secretly hated her guts.) Rinko never uses make-up. She remembers to dab on sunscreen and that’s it. Her pores are non-existent and her lips are an amazing baby pink. Unlike the overwhelming majority of Japanese women she never thinks to hide wrinkles, freckles or blemishes and when she laughs her face spilts open, revealing perfect teeth. She treats her casual blasé as some kind of birthright and thinks its perfectly okay to show up in torn skinny jeans and one of Shinji’s shirts, with hair still damp from swimming in the municipal pool because Rinko dislikes Japanese gyms.

A hair stylist buddy (leave it to Rinko to have male friends in the hair and make-up industry, bartenders and cafe owners she knows by name, not to mention a certain chef with whom she’s on intimate terms) colors her hair but otherwise she doesn’t do a single thing to spruce it up and hates blow-drying with a vengeance. Yeah, if I were a Japanese female I would secretly hate her guts. Who the HELL does this woman think she is?

Rinko, you’re getting on and there. Now is not a good time to dive into an affair, especially when the guy lives in your neighborhood and cooks your meals. Surrender the ghost, turn in your woman badge and kneel at the altar of grandmotherhood.

“But he fills me with such a sense of well-being. And we have so much fun together. It’s so hard to resist. I want to be around him all the time.”

I suppress the urge to smack her face.

Looking back, I keep thinking that I should have been more involved in the conversation, pressed her for information, got mad and scolded her and physically barred her from seeing or texting Satoshi. But I was annoyed as hell and let her know. She blinked, laughed a little and apologized. “Sorry I’ve taken up so much of your time. I won’t talk about it anymore.”

And then a week later, she sent me a brief text saying it was over with Satoshi. I wasn’t surprised exactly, but it was kind of unsettling that she wouldn’t give out any details. It was the first week of August, exactly two months since their first date. “Wow, that was kind of sudden,” I cautiously texted back. “Yeah…like that Taylor Swift song, right? Suddenly, the summer between us was gone,” she wrote.

Two months seemed short but on the other hand, it was just the right amount of time. Speaking of Taylor Swift, that epic relationship she had with Jake Gyllenhaal lasted just three months and 13 years later, she made an MV about it which to be honest, I used to watch fairly often at night. Sister Tay is a favorite of me and Rinko and we used to send each other interviews and talk about her albums and sing snatches of songs when we met.

Two weeks after she said that the thing with Satoshi was over, Rinko asked if I was free for a drink. Over beer and wine in a little pub in Ginza, Rinko let her face crumple in pain. “I lost everything in one fell swoop. I loved that diner and now I can’t ever show my face there again because the staff could tell we were involved. Satoshi was a rock in my life – he made me feel secure and protected, and now he’s gone.”

“You knew this was coming, right? I told you it would never end well.” “Sure. But I thought I had a little bit more time.”

“So what if you did? The outcome would have been the same.”

“I keep asking myself what I could have done or said differently.” “Nothing. The outcome would have been the same. I warned you and warned you.”

I told her that she was getting off lightly. The consequences of getting caught would have been a monumental shitstorm but here she was, having drinks with her little brother, while her family was none the wiser.

My sister had lost weight. She never had much excess fat to begin with, but now she seemed boney and fragile. “It’s not the please god make it stop kind of pain. But the thorn is right in there. And I can’t get it out.”

Apparently, on their last meeting he had nailed Rinko so hard she gasped and screamed. “But he warned me he would do that. It was so weird, how he’s so hung up on sex. But he told me he and his wife hadn’t been intimate in years.” Another lie, and one so common I was floored Rinko fell for it. OF COURSE he had sex with his wife. Maybe he got her pregnant again, and they were expecting kid no.3. Guys like Satoshi were insatiable and traditional at the same time. In his scheme of things, it was only natural that he would sleep with his wife – she was his possession. Didn’t matter if the spark was gone or that maybe they didn’t like each other very much. Rinko on the other hand, was an object that caught his fancy for awhile. He could play it both ways – tradition at home and a slut in skinny jeans on the side. He was male and he could have both.

And because he was an old hand in the service industry, he could feed her just the right lines to make her feel special. And because he was a good chef, he knew just when to turn down the stove.

So on their last date they had sex, and he walked her back to the train station as he always did. But it was only 11, and usually Satoshi ran to make the last train. They would always stand around talking, touching and kissing and letting the night linger just a little bit more. But not this time.

“He told me he would be busy all next week,” said Rinko, who was letting the tears stream down her face. “And after that, the diner was closed for summer vacation. And during that time he would be visiting his parents. That was when I knew it was over. Usually we would never leave without setting a date for the next time we would see each other but this time he didn’t say anything. I could feel everything grow cold. He was saying goodbye.”

I was about to tell her that maybe she was paranoid, to have it out with the guy and ask him if this was really the case. But that was idiotic. Even from where I was standing, I could see whatever they shared, if they had shared anything in the first place, was gone.

Satoshi saw her, wanted her, hunted her down and now he was moving on. When a man is after a woman he would do and say anything in the world to get her to bed. He sifted through my sister’s marriage, family, the fact that her apartment building was not 30 meters from his workplace, the fact that she was pleasant and popular with every member of the diner staff, the fact that she saw him as a friend and trusted him. He sifted through all that and scooped up a woman he wanted to pin down and slice through like a mackerel and he did that exactly 5 times out of the 14 times they went out together. It seemed like a logical number, and a very logical outcome. He knew exactly what he was doing and he timed it so that every dish he handed to her looked great. And now the feast was over.

At the end of the night, Rinko looked at me hard. “Will I be alright, do you think? Will I get over this?” “Of course you will,” I told her though I was feeling a tiny bit panicky. Rinko actually looked sick, and her eyes held the kind of despair I had never seen. “Pull yourself together. The least you could do is not let him see you like this. Get some sleep, you look terrible.”

“Satoshi used to say I reminded him of a koi fish,” said Rinko. “That I was fresh, clean and free, swimming in his special pond.” Then she laughed. “If only that were true. I hate being a woman, it’s so demeaning. And defeating. As for being an OLD woman, I don’t want to fathom the indignity.”

That was the last time I had a real conversation with my sister. Three months later she was gone.

Rinko and Shinji had gone to Shimoda to for a last surfing session before winter set in and as was their way, went to separate parts of the same beach. Rinko had always been a good swimmer and a competent surfer but a swell gave way to an undertow and she hit her head on a rock. The doctor said that the bruise wasn’t too bad and she would have had a chance if she had climbed back on the board. Later, he took back that statement and said he was terribly sorry about the accident.

My mother went hysterical and told Shinji that he killed her daughter. “How could you be so stupid? Surfing at her age – it’s unheard of. I’ve never heard such stupidity. How could you let her?” She went on and on. My father had died 10 years ago so it was up to me to calm her down. Shinji couldn’t answer, he just looked down as his strong shoulders shook with his sobs.

“I warmed both hands before the fire of life. It sinks, I am ready to depart.” I hunted down Landor’s quote in an old book sleuthed in a used book store. Rinko loved those moldy brick and mortar places which were still around in Tokyo. I tore out the page and folded it into a square and placed it into her little hand as she lay in the casket.

My sister hated funerals so we made it just the family and sent the announcements out much later. Shinji later said that when the diner people heard she died, they sent over a wreath with a very nice letter. I never told him anything nor did I ever find out Satoshi’s last name.

Now, five years later, I always think of that summer as the summer of Rinko’s last affair. And it makes me realize just how I much I was living vicariously through my sister. Reckless and idiotic as she was, Rinko was on to something I couldn’t quite name, something that me and many others should probably aspire to, something to do with not sleepwalking through life and holding everyday close, like a cherished child.

In the end, she managed to cheat both fate and our mother and choose her own version of freedom, I guess.

Meanwhile, I’m getting closer to the age that she was when she died. And soon I’ll be older than her. Every now and then, I pull out my a photo I tucked into my wallet after her death. It’s of me and Rinko when we were living in Brooklyn. She was in the sixth grade and I was three or four, sitting on her lap. She’s in cut-off shorts and a t-shirt, wearing a Mets cap because the Mets had just won the World Series. Apparently, our neighborhood went berserk and everyone got caps.

She’s not looking at the camera but at me, and she’s laughing. I only hope I had said something, cracked a joke or made a remark, to get that laugh.

Tokyo Comedy Bar Opens In Shibuya

Tokyo Comedy Bar launches in Shibuya by Phoebe Amoroso

After the past couple of years, we could all do with more laughs. Yet when Ben “BJ” Fox proposed opening a comedy venue in the middle of a pandemic, many people thought he was having a laugh – and not the right kind. It’s a fact he acknowledged at the venue’s opening night last Friday, describing the project self-deprecatingly as a midlife crisis. 

There’s nothing sexier than a hard tall and thick hot mike.

The audience, however, was gleeful and, as comedy-lovers, presumably grateful too. Tokyo Comedy Bar becomes the city’s only stand-up comedy club, bringing shows nightly to the heart of Shibuya. From roast battles and improv to hosting international comedians, the venue has big ambitions, impressively offering shows in both English and Japanese. As the name cunningly suggests, it’s also a bar, boasting craft beers on tap, and there’s no obligation to stay for a show.

We caught the late show of Tokyo Comedy Bar’s English two-part opening event, with BJ Fox MC-ing a line-up of six comedians. Admittedly, we were a little sceptical whether they could all deliver, but we were proved wrong; the laugh-a-minute from the audience was evidence enough that these performers knew their crowd, tackling everything from politics to sexuality, and especially life in Japan. 

Jon Sabay kicked off the evening, riffing on expats versus immigrants drawing on his own family history, and then educating us on the true signs of whether someone is a gaijin. Up next, Bill Miller began his set by taking on Japanese apartment sizes in some near-the-bone humour that definitely wouldn’t make it onto NHK. A shout-out must also go to the musically talented Ruben VM for highlighting the most endangered species in the world in his song “Extinction,” and getting us all to sing a truly heart-warming song about nationalism. 

Good beer, good cheer

With both opening shows sold out, it’s going to be exciting to see how Tokyo Comedy Bar will develop the city’s stand-up scene and whether it’ll bring fresh comedic talent to the stage. One thing, however, is for certain: after two years of almost all events being cancelled in the city, the venture couldn’t be further from a midlife crisis. It’s post-pandemic therapy, and long may it continue. 
For the full event schedule, check Tokyo Comedy Bar’s website or Instagram.

BJ Fox Welcomes you!

Japan: The Shape Of Things To Come? Find out this Sunday (May 15)

Join some of the greatest experts on Japan to discuss the future of this island nation.

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.

Predicting the future is a lot harder than learning to make sushi

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.

Click here for the Online program here:

Click here for the Online registration

The full press release is below:

A Symposium commemorating the Tenth Anniversary of the Foundation of the Department of Global and Transcultural Studies, Meiji Gakuin University


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.

Keynote speaker

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)

Japan’s economic, social and demographic challenges for the next decade.

Alex Kerr (long-term resident of Kyoto, known for books such as Lost Japan and Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan)

Richard Katz (economist, New York correspondent of Toyo Keizai; will join online)

Hiroko Takeda (Professor of Political Science, Nagoya University)


Panel 2: Peace and Security

Chair: Prof. Kōki Abe (Meiji Gakuin Department of International Studies)

Prospects for peace and security in East Asia in the shadow of China-US competition.

Masafumi Iida (Professor, National Institute of Defense Studies)

Kyoko Hatakeyama (Professor of International Relations, University of Niigata Prefecture)

David Leheny (Professor of Political Science, Waseda University)

1:15pm: Lunch (Please bring your own lunch. Alternatively, there are two convenience stores and one small restaurant near the campus.)


Panel 3: Renewable Energy/Environment

Can Japan meet its ambitious carbon reduction targets for 2030, and if so, how?

Chair: Prof. Paul Midford (Meiji Gakuin Dept. of Global and Transcultural Studies)

Eric Zusman (Senior Researcher, Institute for Global Environmental Studies)

Mika Ohbayashi (Director, Renewable Energy Institute, Tokyo)

Hiroshi Ohta (Professor, Waseda University School of International Liberal Studies)


Panel 4: Careers in the Coming Decade

Chair: Prof. Takayuki Sakamoto (Meiji Gakuin Dept. of Global and Transcultural Studies)

Seven of our graduates will discuss prospects for the fields in which they are working.

11KC1020 Rina Takeda, Sony Music Solutions Inc.

13KC1031 Kaji Deane, automotive distributor

13KC1045 Megumi Miura, project manager, Amazon Japan

14KC1018 Ruxin Wei, systems engineer, Intelligent Wave Inc.

15KC1025 Jinzaburo Tasaka, web designer, SoftBank

15KC1026 Yumi Tajima, fashion merchandiser

15KC1504 Vladislav Lushchikov, restaurant manager


Introduction of Prof. Muhammad Yunus by Prajakta Khare (Associate Professor, Meiji Gakuin Dept. of Global and Transcultural Studies)


Keynote Address

Professor Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, “banker to the poor”, live by Zoom link from the Yunus Centre, Dhaka, Bangladesh

“Global Economic Inequality: Now is the Time to Redesign”

Q&A moderated by Prajakta Khare


Yokohama International Study Association (YISA) – Officers of the Meiji Gakuin alumni association will explain the association’s activities and how to get involved in them.


Vote of thanks by Prof. Aoi Mori, Dean of the Faculty of International Studies, Meiji Gakuin University

May the Force Be With You (May 4th) Zen Wisdom From Star Wars! The Dao of Jedi

May 4th has become an iconic day for Star Wars fans across the universe.  “May The 4th Be With You” becomes “May The Force Be With You” quite nicely.  (If you already knew this, stifle that groan young Jedi, some of us didn’t know). And on this day, what better time to introduce one of the stranger and more delightful books to come out this year in Japan: Zen Wisdom From Star Wars (スター・ウォーズ 禅の教え エピソード4・5・6). It’s written by noted Soto Zen Buddhist priest, Shunmyo Masuno (枡野 俊明) and takes scenes and dialogue from the good episodes of the series to illustrate Zen Buddhist sayings and wisdom. (A full review will come later this month).

Zen Wisdom From Star Wars
Zen Wisdom From Star Wars

The book is well-written, with just enough English sprinkled in to make the book semi-accessible to those who can’t read Japanese or are still struggling to do so.  The books works better than you might imagine.

Zen Buddhism, was heavily influenced by Taoism, and George Lucas freely admits to having borrowed heavily from Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and Japanese culture in the creation of the Star Wars mythos.

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The book includes such pearls of wisdom as:

山川草木悉皆成仏 (Sansen Somuku Shikkai Jobutsu)/Everything is filled with the light of life (Everything has Buddha-nature).

安閑無事 (Ankan Buji)/Feel gratitude for everything no matter how small. Or rather: appreciate peace and quiet, health and safety. Because that won’t last forever. For example, affordable health care in America? Gone. (安閑無事が懐かしい)

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閑古錘 (Kankonsui)/Maturation and calm come as you accrue diverse experience.

Well, remember that Star Wars is just fiction, but good science fiction, and the words of wisdom in the movie were not said by Taoist sages or Jedi masters but written by screenwriters. However, if you want to know the philosophy and sayings that inspired the film, this book is a good place to start.

Or better yet, buy yourself a copy of The Tao Te Ching, and substitute the word “Force” everytime it mentions “Tao”.  According to the Star Wars English Japanese Dictionary, the Force (フォース) is all the energy derived from every living thing. The Tao, which is often described as being indescribable, is close to the same thing.

So for your further education, here are few words from The Force Te Ching

Force Te Ching

by Yoda- chapter 81

Truthful words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not truthful.
Good men do not argue.
Those who argue are not good.
Those who know are not learned.
The learned do not know.

The Jedi never tries to store things up.
The more he/she does for others, the more he/she has.
The more he/she gives to others, the greater his/her abundance.
The Force of The Light Side is pointed but does no harm.
The Force of the Jedi is work without effort.
(adapted from the Tao Te Ching translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English)

So until next year, May the Force Be With you!


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Protecting Sources & Risking Lives: The Ethical Dilemmas of Japanese Journalism

“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.

 Senkaku video leak probed as a crime/Kan offers apology as prosecutors open investigation (11/09/2010) 

In the case above a Coast Guard officer who leaked footage of a Chinese “fishing vessel” attacking or ramming into a Japanese Coast  boat, was under a criminal investigation for a violation of the laws mentioned above. The officer released the footage out of good conscience, because he felt the Japanese public wasn’t getting the true story of what happened because the Japanese government was kowtowing to China. He even reportedly sent a copy of the video to CNN on a memory stick, but CNN didn’t examine the data or choose to ignore it.

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.

Even when a source is willing to go on the record, as in the case of a whistleblower, an experienced reporter knows that they may be subjecting their source to vicious reprisals. This is not unique to Japan. This happened to my own father, who refused to keep quiet about what appear to have been a nurse who was a serial killer at the Veteran’s hospital where he worked.  It was a shock to me that the world worked like this but sometimes good deeds really are punished.  I’d like to see that courage and the pursuit for justice are rewarded and that the people with a conscience in the world don’t suffer. Of course, I know that’s idealistic.

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.

Win a chance to see the premiere of Tokyo Vice!

A public service announcement.
WOWOW will invite 100 people the special showing of the first episode of #TokyoVice on April 5
The series is based on the book Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter On The Police Beat in Japan written by the managing editor of this site.

Those who are starting a new life in Tokyo this April are welcome to apply
Follow @tokyovice_wowow
RT the tweet below↓

The application cut-off is 23:59, March 27, one minute before Jake’s birthday, March 28th.

(Ironically, the only other other famous person in Japan who shares Jake’s birthday was Kazuo Taoka, the 3rd generation leader of the Yamaguchi-gumi, the “godfather of godfathers”)

Good luck! Winners will be notified by DM on twitter.

Lambda Is On The Lam In Japan

(First posted 23:59 August 18th, revised and updated 00:40 am August 19)

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are over but they may leave a lasting legacy in Japan: the deadly COVID19 Lambda variant; it first arrived on July 20th, when a woman in her thirties from Peru, accredited with the Tokyo 2020 games arrived at Haneda Airport. The government only admitted to the arrival of the variant after our reports on August 6. Tonight at 10:39 pm NHK reported that the Ministry of Health failed to conduct an investigation into those in close contact with her, or notify the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee. The Lambda variant, originally found in Peru, has killed thousands there and in July of this year accounted for 90% of new COVID19 cases. It has been associated with a high-mortality rate, around 9%, and a recent study suggested, “it could pose a threat to the human race.”

Whether the Lambda variant is as deadly as the Delta variant remains to be seen, but it’s definitely not a variant you want to welcome into your home.

The Story So Far

The lambda variant travelled to Japan with a woman who had resided in Peru. She tested positive for COVID19 upon arriving at Haneda Airport, on April 20, and was quarantined. On July 23, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) determined that she was infected with the Lambda variant and reported this to the Ministry of Health. On July 26, the Ministry reported their findings to an international infectious diseases database, GISAID. Despite, concerns at the NIID, the government decided to postpone an announcement of the findings until after the Olympics had concluded.

On August 6, after our first report, the Ministry released details to the Japanese press and gave comments to The Daily Beast. The Ministry has denied that they were covering up the entry of the variant, due to the Olympics, saying that it did not meet their criteria for public disclosure. However, today on August 19, the cabinet spokesman, at a press conference announced that the Ministry was rethinking it’s policy on handling of variants and would be more forthcoming with information in the future.

Lambda On The Loose?

Then at 10:39 pm, NHK News, reported the following. The Ministry of Health had failed to send critical information to the local government where the Lambda carrier was being quarantined. The Ministry of Health normally sends a list of people who may have been in close contact with a carrier to the local government responsible for carrying out an investigation into the source of the virus, and preventing the spread of it into the public. This list usually includes the seating chart of the aircraft, when the infection is confirmed by a quarantine station at the airport.

NHK reported that after the woman was confirmed to be infected with the Lambda virus, the Ministry failed to notify the local government where she was staying and neither her name nor the list was not sent to the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee. This raises the possibility that Lambda variant is already on the lam in Japan, spreading into the local population.

The World Health Organization considers Lambda a “variant of interest” (VOI) but has not yet labeled it a variant of concern (VOC), a term reserved for variant that are either highly infectious, resistant to vaccines, and/or result in higher mortality. Japan has not classified the variant yet and is only testing for it at airports. This means that if the virus has made it into the general population, it’s unlikely to be found until it has taken root—because there is no screening or sampling for the virus being conducted. Japan has consistently failed to conduct the basis of COVID19 prevention and containment: widely test, trace, isolate, medicate and vaccinate.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) told NHK that “the person in charge was so busy with work that he forgot to send the list,” and that they will set up a system to double-check that the list was sent. They have also downplayed the risk of Lambda, saying that it is on the wane in many countries and less virulent than the Delta variant. However…..

Know Your Lambda

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. 

Japan Solves Coronavirus Crisis With Magical Math

By Chihiro Kai. Edited by Jake Adelstein

Suddenly, Japan which was facing a severe fourth wave of coronavirus infections, serious illnesses and death seems to be out of the woods! The number of prefectures (Japan’s equivalent of a state) that were ranked as having the worst coronavirus infection category have suddenly dropped in half. Just in time for the Olympics!

However, things are not quite as they seem. The number of prefectures under Japan’s severest coronavirus infection category dropped AFTER the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare revised its method for calculating hospital bed occupancy rates. Japan has a long history of solving problems by lying about the numbers or altering standards to cover the problem.

Two months after the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima in March 2011, the Japanese government raised the allowable exposure to radiation from 1 mSv annually, an international benchmark, to 20 mSv. In 2012, it fiddled with the numbers again.

On June 2, the ministry announced it would no longer include Covid-19 patients waiting for admittance or treated in “general beds” that are not registered as coronavirus-specific when determining bed occupancy. The new guideline decreased the number of stage 4 prefectures with a bed occupancy over 50% from 20 prefectures to 11. The hospital bed occupancy rate is one of several indicators the Japanese government uses to monitor the pandemic and issue or revoke state of emergency orders. 

A medical advisor to the ministry has said the Olympics should not commence if Japan is in stage 4 of the pandemic. Therefore, the government and the Japanese Olympic Committee are desperate to ensure that Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures ranked below that most severe category. However, it seems the Olympic organizers are more interested in window-dressing the problem than utilizing the ministry’s data to take life-saving proactive measures.

English translation of Japan’s four infection stages of the pandemic. Nine out of the 20 prefectures categorized as stage 4 before the criteria revision were improved to stage 3 this week.
Source: NHK
English translation of Japan’s five indicators used to monitor the pandemic’s progression.
Source: NHK
Source: NHK

How The Magic Works!

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare publish weekly reports tracking the key variables used to categorize and document citizens recovering from Covid-19. Hospital bed occupancy rates express the personnel and resource demands placed on the healthcare system. 

Last week’s report displaying data collected as of May 26, tallied the national total of Covid-19 hospitalizations at 16,581 and the number of covid-reserved beds at 34,116. Based on the calculation criteria at the time, Japan’s national bed-occupancy rate was 48.6%, dangerously close to the stage 4 threshold of 50% and above. This pre-revision report defined the number of “hospitalized persons” as the sum of patients admitted and awaiting admittance. The shortage of beds has created a waitlist for space. In covid-overwhelmed regions, those determined by doctors as requiring inpatient care must convalesce at home while waiting for a vacancy. 

A section of the May 26th Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare report on the status of Japan’s COVID-19 patients. It was the last survey published before the method for calculating hospital bed occupancy was revised.

The post-revision survey created using data collected as of June 2 no longer included patients not yet admitted in the “hospitalized persons” category. The document further treats the total number of hospitalized persons as separate from patients occupying “covid-reserved” beds with the bed-occupancy rates calculated using the latter value. 

Specifically, the total number of covid-19 hospitalizations was 14,482, and 14,264 of those patients occupied 40.8% of the 34,943 covid-reserved beds. The report does not account for the remaining 218 patients. Whether they lie in “general beds” or other spaces are unknown. 

Sections of the June 2nd Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare report on the status of Japan’s COVID-19 patients. This was the ministry’s first national survey published under its revised bed occupancy rate calculation guidelines.

In addition, the June 2nd survey introduced several new data categories, including two columns for patients “adjusting” their treatment methods and locations. The main column reports that 8,064 people recuperating from Covid-19 were either “adjusting” their method of medical care, which can vary from staying home to emergency admittance, or their location of treatment. The adjacent sub-column clarified what can be considered an “adjustment” in treatment locations. Three hundred forty-seven people were recorded as “having confirmed hospitalization as their treatment method, but not secured admittance in a medical facility at the time of the survey.” Most likely, patients “confirmed for admittance” but waiting for a bed were regrouped into this “adjusting” classification. 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said in the June 7th press conference that the revision aims to nationally unify the calculation method for bed occupancy rates, which previously varied between prefectures. According to Kato, previous reports that considered patients recuperating in “general beds” as “hospitalized persons” did not include the number of occupied “general beds” in the total “covid-reserved” bed tally. He said this skewed the occupancy rates, making some regions appear more medically strained than they were. Kato said the revision would provide a more accurate reflection of Japan’s healthcare system. 

The question that many people are asking is the Ministry trying to accurately reflect the state of Japan’s healthcare system or trying to massage the numbers to make it look as if everything is fine. With Japan holding the Olympics in less than 50 days, it seems like a blatant attempt to make things appear better than they.

Failing to account for new data point additions in the denominator of an average calculation can misrepresent the relationship of the share in question to the total whole. However, in pre and post revision reports, the relative burden placed on Japan’s hospitals were measured in terms of total “bed numbers.” A more appropriate revision could have broadened the definition of “covid-reserved” beds to include all occupied covid patients. Furthermore, the ministry could have established a separate category that registered patients awaiting admittance or treated in “general beds” as a surplus that hospitals could not treat with their designated resources.

Excluding patients from an indicator used to judge whether a state of emergency should be declared fails to understand that those omitted from the ministry’s category are spillovers from a healthcare system that is nearing collapse.

The “covid-specific” bed occupancy rate is irrelevant if hundreds of patients requiring medical attention are left at home, awaiting treatment, or invisibly recovering on an unregistered mattress. 

Japan’s Toxic Olympics: 10,000 Deaths and more to come

There is a Japanese saying, (悪因悪果) that “from bad beginnings come bad endings”. Holding the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in the midst of a pandemic will not end well.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics begin with a bribe and lie. That lie was told to the world when Prime Minister Abe assured them that Tokyo 2020 Olympics would be safe because the nuclear disaster at Fukushima was under control. It wasn’t under control then and it isn’t now. Deadly radioactive waste is spilling from 8000 corroded containers on site, the company running the operation, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, will dump the tons of radioactive water on the site into the ocean in two years. They will keep dumping the water for years after, because sea water has to be pumped into the core to keep cooling the remains of the reactor. 

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics also begin with a bribe. That bride was given from the government through the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) and channeled  by Dentsu, the largest advertising firm in Japan, to former members of the IOC (International Olympic Commission) to make sure that Japan won the bid. The French authorities investigated and the head of Japan’s Olympic commission resigned in disgrace. No one at the IOC or the JOC gives a fuck.

It bears repeating, if Fukushima nuclear disaster was really under control when Prime Minister Abe made that lie in 2014, the Japanese government wouldn’t be unilaterally deciding to dump nuclear contaminated waste into the ocean two years from now.

Now Japan claims that it has the pandemic under control. 

“Come to Tokyo! It’s perfectly safe!” 

It’s so safe that the government has banned attendance at all sporting events starting today—and plans to hold the world’s largest sporting event in three months. The safety protocols in place are underwhelming.

The safety guidelines for the Olympics ensure that athletes will be vaccinated while everyone else waits. Athletes will be confined to three areas, violators may be stripped of the right to compete or participate in the Olympics. The Yomiuri Shimbun, a sponsor of the Olympics, published a sneak cherry picked peek of the safety protocols. Japan Subculture Research Center published the documents for the public.

The 2020  Olympics which are very likely to be a catalyst for creating new and more terrible variance of the coronavirus, looks like a biological nuclear disaster waiting to happen. But just as Japan ignored warnings and coverups that led to the 2011 deadly disaster which displaced 160,000 people and will pollute the world for years to come, they are ignoring all sensible arguments to postpone or cancel the Olympics this year

The Tokyo Olympics are not something that the Japanese people want, they are something that a few old men in power want to hold desperately so they have something to add to their retirement scrapbooks. The majority of the Japanese people, nearly 80% do not want the Olympics to be held this year or want it be canceled. That is wise. Japan is in the middle of a state of emergency as coronavirus number surge here again, and anemic and poorly thought out countermeasures failed to stop the spread of the disease. People are dying and their dying faster than they have before. It took one year for the first 4000 people to die (January 16 2020–January 6 2021). The next 4000 died in less than two months. Today, 10,000 people will have died from COVID19 here. Neighboring countries in Asia have done much better.

Not even this magical creature can save Japan from magical thinking. 10,000 dead and more to come

At one point in time Japan’s Minister of Finance, bragged that Japan was able to handle the coronavirus without lockdowns or other stringent measures because of the superiority of the Japanese people. He can’t make that claim now. If you compare Japan to the United States or other countries in Europe, it seems to be doing very well, at least in terms of mortality. However if you could compare Japan to its Asian neighbors, it’s the worst kid on the block. Japan’s per 1000 people testing ratio is worse than Kazakhstan. It has refused to follow the successful examples of other countries in the region. Now there is a bit of a mystery as to why the death toll in Asia is so low, with theories that the genes are different or that an earlier less virulent form of the disease is already given people immunity, are that the BCG vaccine which was widely used in Asia especially the so-called Tokyo strain, gave those who received it what is called trained immunity. No one knows the answer. But here’s how it shakes out

Taiwan which has 1/5 the population of Japan, was the first country to warn the world of the, deadly virus, originating in China. Taiwan, thanks to strong leadership and a swift response, has done a remarkable job of containing the virus, without vaccines, so the people there are now living more or less a normal life. Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, have all dealt with the virus better than Japan, if you count the number of deaths as a bear meter.

Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong each country has had less than 100 deaths. Taiwan has only had 12 deaths. Even when adjusting the numbers of deaths to the population of each country, Japan has done a dismal job.

Japan now has 10,000 people dead from the coronavirus and more to come. Why has Japan done such a dismal job of protecting its own people from this virus?

Because time and time again the insane desire to put on the Olympics no matter what, has encouraged the country to take half ass measures to pretend that everything is all right, to squander opportunities to get the disease under control, and to put saving face before saving lives.

Tokyo is now in its 3rd State of Emergency. It will be lifted when the head of the IOC comes to visit the country. “We can’t have the IOC visiting Tokyo during a state of emergency, can we?”

Ask yourself, are the Tokyo 2020 Olympics worth holding if even one person dies as a result? How many deaths are acceptable?

Japan has wanted to save face over saving lives from the first reports of the deadly virus being issued from Taiwan—-the same day, January 16th, 2020 Japan had its first COVID19 case. When the infected cruise ship, The Diamond Princess, arrived on the shores of Japan, this nation refused to let the passengers be taken off board and treated at hospitals, because they didn’t want the numbers of infected and dead to be counted as Japan’s number. That wouldn’t look good for the Olympic Committee. So they kept them on board, effectively turning the ship into a giant floating Petri dish.

Then the government let the Japanese passengers leave the ship after insufficient testing and despite warnings that passengers not showing symptoms might still be carrying the disease. They went home by public transport—spreading the disease nationwide. Several turned out to be infected—the total number hasn’t been made public.

It also became clear that health care workers who had been aboard the Diamond Princess and staff from the Ministry of Health had become infected. However, at first the Japanese government refused to test them. Refused. And when they did test them, sure enough, there were infections.

Japan’s first cluster of coronovirus cases off the Diamond Princess was the Ministry of Health. It has been a clusterfuck ever since. The Olympics obsessed Abe government as well as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike seemed unconcerned about the coronavirus for weeks. Abe wined and dined the media while the virus was spreading. Koike barely mentioned the word until—-the Olympics were officially postponed on March 23rd 2020. The next day, Koike sounded the alarm bells, calling for a lockdown and the number of reported coronavirus cases miraculously surged. What a coincidence!

Japan has ignored the successful examples of other nations and steadfastly refused to test widely or test wisely. In the midst of the pandemic, the Japanese government ran a domestic tourism campaign, Go To Travel, which ensured that there was nowhere safe in the country from the coronavirus. Misguided efforts to prioritize the Olympics, to make Japan appear safer than it is, have delayed serious countermeasures and as a result, people have died. The mismanagement is so great that it is equivalent to professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

You could and you will argue that Japan has done so much better than the US or England. The relatives and loved ones of the 10,000 dead will tell you this irrelevant.

The Tokyo Olympics have already killed hundreds of people. They have been killed because priorities were screwed. If the Olympics continues, more people will die. Is even one death acceptable to hold what are, once you take away the hyperbole, simply games? Even one of Japan’s top athletes was brave enough to say what should be said, that human lives were more important than an international competition.

We know that the IOC has no moral compass. They have no qualms about hosting Olympics in China which is committing general genocide against a minority of its people. The only reason the IOC is not holding the Olympics in North Korea is the hermit Kingdom just doesn’t have enough money.

We should change the name of the IOC to stand for the International Oligarch Club, because that’s whom they appear to be serving.

Almost every media outlet in Japan is a sponsor of the Olympics, and having become a sponsor they have also become an accomplice in promoting the Olympics above public safety, and they should be ashamed of themselves. They aren’t.

Japan’s Olympic Committee will turn a blind eye to corruption, to bribes, to yakuza influence, to the real possibility that athletes die from heatstroke amidst Japan’s notoriously brutal summers.

Maybe I’m naïve, but if Japan and or rather the government of Japan, and the IOC actually gave a damn about the ideals espoused in the Olympics, they would suck up their losses and postpone the games to next year. And they hold them in the autumn (as they did in 1964) so fewer people die, or cancel the damn things altogether.

Japan’s Finance Minister Taro Aso also who asserted so stupidly that Japan’s so-called victory over the novel coronavirus was due to Japanese superior was right about one thing. He called the the Tokyo 2020 Olympics “cursed”

He’s right. For the sake of all the nations participating in the optics, and all the people living in Japan, it’s time to end that curse you. We only need two magic words, “Postpone” or “Cancel”.

Let’s see if the greedy clowns running the Tokyo 2020 Olympics have any decency and do the right thing, but I suspect if compassion were a Olympic event, the organizers wouldn’t even win a bronze medal.

The Tokyo Olympics (#Toxic2020) are a terrible idea in the middle of a pandemic—and were bought with a bribe and won with a lie. They do indeed seem to be cursed. If they are held as planned, it is likely to spread new and deadly variants of COVID19 to the public in Japan, and participants here may take back, along with their medals, new and deadly variants from Japan.

Time to end the curse. Let the IOC and the JOC know how you feel, before it’s too late.

“Nothing says love like menstrual blood.” In Japan, V-Day chocolates are really special

Japan has a unique way of celebrating western holidays. On Christmas Eve, men and women check into Japan’s ubiquitous, pay by the hour, slightly kinky boutique hotels, also known as  “love hotels” and celebrate the event with raucous but tasteful intercourse.

On Valentine’s Day, the women buy chocolates for men. The men reciprocate a month later on White Day, a candy industry invented holiday, by saying thanks for their expensive chocolate gifts with cheap white chocolates.

On Valentine's Day in Japan, women give chocolate to men. And some women put a little blood and sweat into making home-made chocolates for their true love. Metaphorically and literally.
On Valentine’s Day in Japan, women give chocolate to men. And some women put a little blood and sweat into making home-made chocolates for their true love. Metaphorically and literally.

The whole holiday is a huge headache for many Japanese women who not only buy chocolates for the most important lover in their life, which may not necessarily be their boyfriend, or husband, or even a man at all–but they also have to buy and give chocolates to work acquaintances and close male friends. The chocolates that you give to your lover are called 本命チョコ (true love chocolates). Those you give out of obligation (義理) are called giri-choco (義理チョコ).

Love, blood, chocolate and a love hotel is all you need. Happy Valentine's Day in Japan!
Love, blood, chocolate and a love hotel is all you need. Happy Valentine’s Day in Japan! Hey and the costume rentals look amazing. Notice the lovely Disneyesque fonts.


Well, some women in Japan, and probably a very small number of them,  in order to spice up their home-made chocolates with a little extra something, or give their store bought chocolates  something really special--are reportedly (self-reportedly) putting a little of their own blood and sweat into the cooking of gooey sweets. Literally. Sometimes body fluids such as blood, sweat, and spit are the secret ingredient in chocolates given by Japanese girls to the boy of their dreams. If they aren’t really doing it, they are at least certainly tweeting about it.  One sneaky chef recommends that people use frozen raspberry puree in their home made chocolates to disguise the blood’s taste and appearance. (I always knew there was something about raspberries I didn’t like.)

Japanese girls and women have been tweeting about mixing blood, spit and other bodily fluids in the chocolates for their "true loves" as a sort of magic. How many really have? Who knows?
Japanese girls and women have been tweeting about mixing blood, spit and other bodily fluids in the chocolates for their “true loves” as a sort of magic. How many really have? Who knows?

Obviously, some of this self-reporting is dubious and simply black humor but it’s not altogether an unknown practice and reports of it date back at least to 2011.

There seems to be a primitive belief in Japan that one’s blood or parts of the body have magical powers of attraction and that by having your true love consume it, that they will become a part of you or inseparable. In other words, if you are the one in love but not your partner (片思い), having him drink your blood is believed to make you fall in love with each other equally. (両思い).

The insertion of bodily fluids into chocolates is considered to be a sort of black magic (黒魔術) or a spell/majinai(呪い). Or perhaps, women just do it because a popular website reported it as new trend. In Japan, what is reported to be a trend, often becomes a trend based on that report. The news makes the news. Of course, one respondent to JSRC explained her reasons for putting her blood in the chocolate as simply, “I thought it would make the chocolate taste better.”  (血液を入れたら美味しくなるかと思ったから)

Ideally, says the blogosphere, if you are going to lace your true love’s chocolates with blood, menstrual blood is the most powerful. For those women to be having their period during Valentine’s Day is an auspicious sign.  Women are advised that if they don’t have blood to give, to try fingernails, skin, or other materials from their own body.

We agree that the “bloody valentines” are not a trend, and  probably only made only by a fringe element in Japan but there you go. Japan apparently isn’t the only place where the magical attractive powers of a woman’s blood in the food of her man are supposed to to make him a love slave. This is allegedly a common voodoo belief as well. However, in Japan they seem to be more methodical in how to do it, including recipe suggestions—even if some of that is in jest.

It goes without saying that consuming the blood of another person is probably not healthy. And the jury is out on the efficacy of chocolate’s sterilization of harmful viruses in the red elixir of life.  So for you lucky guys in Japan getting a box of chocolates from your “true love” or would be “true love” ; be sure to get vaccinated first and consume carefully. If you suddenly find yourself feeling strongly for your lover in what was once a one-sided relationship, well then you’ll know something magical is happening.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Note: This article was originally written without one tasteless pop-culture reference to horror/slasher film “My Blood Valentine.”  Angela Kubo, food writer, gracefully contributed to this report.