Arjen Kamphuis, a Dutchman, went missing in Norway on August 20. Help find him.

Arjen Kamphuis, “free software advocate, sailor, carpenter, geek and damn proud of it” was last seen in Bodø, Norway on August 20th. He has long blonde hair and glasses. He is 47-years old, 1.78m tall and has a normal posture. He was usually dressed in black and carrying his black backpack. He is an avid hiker. Arjen is a Dutch citizen and did not arrive back home in The Netherlands. If you have any information, please write:

FindArjen@gmail.com

Arjen Kamphuis ble sist sett i Bodø, Norge den 20. August. Han har langt blondt hår og briller. Han er 47 år gammel og er 1,78m lang. Han er vanligvis kledd i svart og har store med seg sin svarte ryggsekk. Arjen er nederlandske turgåere på ferie i Norge.

FindArjen@gmail.com

Arjen Kamphuis was last seen in Bodø, Norway on August 20th

Marry Early or Marry Late or Remain “The Honorable Single”? You can pursue marital bliss in Japan but it’s a tricky animal.

Just in case you didn’t get the memo, Japan has a pretty terrible track record when it comes to love and relationships. People are marrying late or not at all and by 2040, half of Japan’s households will be single. In 10 years, one out of 4 men and one out of 5 women in the Tokyo metropolitan area are expected to live out their lives without ever having co-habited with a partner.

The Japanese have a phrase for people who go through life on their own, “Ohitorisama (お一人様)” – meaning, “The revered solo” or “the honorable single”.  Once upon a time, people scoffed at the Ohitorisama; now they’ve come to represent freedom and options. But the pendulum is starting to swing the other way. More young Japanese, especially women, are aspiring to marry in their 20s and start a family while they still have the energy to take a crack at the work/life balance thing. A phrase that has come up on the radar of women’s magazines, is “Oikomikon,” meaning: coercing oneself to get married. This was coined by Natsuko Yokozawa, who authored a book of the same title and has become something of a guru to young women eyeing marriage as a way to escape the fate of being yet another overworked, bled-out salariman who has sex once every 5 years – or less frequently than the Olympics and the World Cup.

Yokozawa’s book is eye-brow raising – not because it’s progressive, but because it sounds like something out of a 1970s bridal magazine. “The number one reason men split up with their girlfriends is because they can’t cook,” she writes. “We MUST learn how to put a nutritious meal together, and fast!” She also exhorts young women to stop partying and start taking care of themselves, in order to “catch” a nice, reliable, family-oriented man looking for a nice, healthy womb to carry his progeny.

While Yokozawa is sure to be much loved by Cabinet ministers who tend to view Japanese women as baby producing drudges, she also seems to be getting the women’s vote, too. As Maya Furuse, a freelance editor for a number of women’s magazines, says: “The allure of marriage and childbirth is more powerful than ever. No Japanese woman wants to grow old without having worn a wedding dress, but equally important is to spend weekdays in casual mom clothes, pushing a McLaren stroller and getting in line with other moms at Starbucks.”

For those who aren’t sure about the specifics of “casual mom clothes,” it’s a combination of high end (read: artistically distressed) jeans that go for 30,000 yen (approx. 300 USD) a pop, oversized shirts, cute flats and gifted jewelry (by her husband of course). The whole ensemble screams ‘woman’s happiness’ in a way that career advancement and workplace prestige never, ever could.

More young women are wising up to this hard truth, as Japan Business Insider reports that graduates from top level universities like Waseda, Keio and Sophia, are looking for employment as general staff, rather than becoming professionals (as would befit their degrees). General staff are most often referred to as “OL (Office Lady)” and have traditionally been considered a few notches below highly educated women who can trump their male colleagues and get ahead on the success ladder. Until about 5 years ago, female graduates from elite universities were adamantly career-minded. Now, according to the JBI story, more young women are making the choice to secure a relaxed and sustainable future where they can get married, have kids and still “work for life” instead of being single, childless and burnt out at 40. Marriage is the goal–a happy marriage? Not so much. 50% of Japan’s marriages are sexless. Chronically long hours may contribute to that–overwork may not always kill you as in 過労死 (karoshi) but it sure as heck will kill your libido.

Get married or miss out is the new/old message bombarding women in Japan. And of course, looking great is part of the package.

Women in Japan: they’re looking at jobs that don’t involve overtime, competition or stress. They’re looking at companies with paid maternity leave packages and assurance that they’ll rejoin the work force after childbirth. Young Japanese women aren’t against working, but they ARE against the idea of working like a man. Indeed, over 60% of women in high-powered jobs end up quitting within 10 years and that time span is getting shorter.

Some women get the wake-up call well into their 30s. My friend Kanako, who did the “Kakekomikon (the last chance, last minute marriage)” at the age of 39, said the reason she finally tied the knot with her on again, off again boyfriend of 10 years, wasn’t out of love. It was because she was afraid of turning into her father. “When I was young, I thought marriage was for losers like my housewife mother,” she said. “But after 35, I saw I was becoming my father, which was far worse.”

The message of one popular author in Japan is essentially “Women get married now or walk home alone for the rest of your life.”

Sad but true – on late night trains in and around Tokyo, you’ll see legions of exhausted women, their make-up worn off and their painfully swollen feet forced into heels, contemplating the end of yet another grueling day. Around them are equally tired men, carrying discount suit jackets and staring at their phone screens. In spite of the Abe Administration’s much touted (and reviled) Work Style Reform Law that recently kicked into effect, not much of anything has changed for the white collar worker. In fact, it’s gotten worse. People staying in the office until midnight? Check. Spending an hour or more in commuter trains? Check. By the time they get back to their homes in the suburbs, most folks are too tired to do anything but chill in front of the TV – WITH NO OVERTIME PAY. This has been the lifestyle for generations of salarimen, and though men had carried the bulk of the misery, this past decade has seen more women on the old treadmill, giving their all to the company and almost nothing to their personal lives or well-being.

Back to my friend Kanako – she was a powerhouse warrior who battled through tough workplace problems but was stumped when it came to relationships. She married her “sometimes boyfriend” after he was demoted at his company, staring at a 30% pay cut, and losing his hair and confidence. “The money thing wasn’t important for me anymore,” she said. “I was sick of working and earning. I wanted real down time, a home life, someone to laugh with. My father had none of those things and when he retired, he had to face the fact that no one wanted him around. He had done nothing to invest in his personal life and now that neglect was taking its revenge.”

In an ideal world, sexless marriages wouldn’t be 50% in Japan, but it’s not an ideal world.

Now 3 years into their marriage, Kanako and her husband are buddies. They cook together 3 nights a week, take day trips to a favorite onsen and board the same commuter train to get to work every morning. “We’re not romantic at all,” laughs Kanako. “I see him more as a comrade than a husband. But he has my back, and in the end that’s all I really need.”

HodoBuzz: New York-based Japanese Filmmakers Tackle Japan’s Sexism and Press Freedom With Crowdfunding

As Japan spiral downs the gender equality rankings each year with impressive speed(114th out of 144 countries), progress, on the other hand is being made at a snail’s pace in every corner of society.

But Japan’s death spiral towards the bottom isn’t just the status of women, it’s also with freedom of the press. Japan ranked 11th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) annual world press freedom survey in 2010, this year (2018) it came in at 67.  The only reason it wasn’t lower was that under the influence of President Donald Trump, press freedom has taken a punch in the gut all over the world—Japan remains essentially just awful.  The media here has never been much of a watchdog, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has turned much of the press into simpering lapdogs. NHK has become Abe TV thanks to political appointments.  Japan’s few investigative news programs have been cancelled or so neutered they no longer have bark or bite.

But what if….there were still some journalists, fighting the good fight. and what if, it was a woman?

A crowdfunded Japanese drama “Hodo Buzz” depicts a female reporter trying to get real news out while battling all the obstacles inherent in Japan’s media machine.

A new show “HodoBuzz” made by Japanese filmmakers based in New York City takes on these very topics and JSRC is excited to support and watch a show about Japanese people who aren’t afraid to speak the truth and champions a tenacious and outspoken woman(!) who will not be silenced.

Read on to learn more and support their fundraiser campaign!

Derrrrruq!!!, a New York-based Japanese filmmaking team, launched a Kickstarter campaign last month for its new journalism drama HodoBuzz. The campaign seeks to raise $30,000 by September 4th to complete post-production, release, and promote the show.

HodoBuzz Kickstarter Page

http://kck.st/2u8rx8o

The project will only be funded if it reaches its goal of $30,000 by Tue, September 4 2018 11:59 PM EDT.

The creators have a good reason as to why they had to turn to crowdfunding. The show focuses on issues that the Japanese entertainment industry tends to avoid discussing: media sexism and press freedom in Japan. You can check out the series trailer made for the Kickstarter campaign. Don’t forget to turn on the subtitles!

Link: https://youtu.be/TxRQt5vA83g

HodoBuzz is a story about Asuka Wada, a Japanese female reporter. Tired of sexism and objectification in Japan’s TV industry, Asuka quits her job as a game show host in Tokyo to pursue her long-time dream: becoming a news anchor. 

A Japanese version of The Newsroom would be a thrill to watch.

Asuka moves to New York City, the world’s leading journalism center, to work for HodoBuzz, a digital news company.

The first sensitive issue HodoBuzz deals with is the rampant sexism in the Japanese media. In Japan, female TV reporters are constantly objectified. They are often referred to as “joshi ana”, or “girl announcers,” whereas male reporters are called simply, “announcers”. Female reporters have to dress up in a way that entertains the male audience. It is not uncommon for some female reporters to be assigned sexually charged assignments, such as reporting from a beach in a bikini. However, the most obvious point regarding the sexism female journalists face in Japan is that hard news or more “serious” topics are almost exclusively reported by male journalists.

Even at HodoBuzz, which is based in New York, Asuka’s boss, colleagues, and several viewers underrate her skills, because of her past as a game show host. Asuka will experience intense online harassment and bullying, due to the belief that she was hired for her looks, not her abilities.

The second issue the show uncovers is the constant breach of ethical journalism standards in Japan. In HodoBuzz, characters discuss real news, cite actual political commentary, and refer to known false reports by existing Japanese TV networks and newspapers. This has never been done on a Japanese TV drama, due to the strong and complicated codependent relationships among the news industry, political parties, TV stations, sponsor companies, and major talent agencies.

The nature of HodoBuzz has made it very challenging for the creators to get enough investment and distribution support. And it’s safe to assume that HodoBuzz won’t get good coverage from Japanese legacy media, either. Due to the time-sensitive topics discussed, Derrrrruq!!! decided to turn to Kickstarter.

Kickstarter video Link: https://youtu.be/AuhIUjyFGUk

Their team name, “Derrrrruq!!!,” was inspired by the Japanese expression “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”, which describes the conformist nature of Japanese society. Derrrrruq!!! aspires to be the nail that sticks out, a “disruptive” voice in the industry.

For the readers of Japan Subculture Research Center, Derrrrruq!!!’s three creators, Mari Kawade, Maho Honda, and Tsukasa Kondo, might look familiar. Their previous work, 2nd Avenue, was also a bicultural show set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The entire series of 2nd Avenue is available on YouTube to watch.

Link: https://youtu.be/9jbXtOYNS1w

Like 2nd Avenue, Derrrrruq!!!’s aim with HodoBuzz is to create a show that is hard to find in the Japanese entertainment industry. To learn more about HodoBuzz and to make a donation to the crowdfunding campaign by the September 4th deadline, please visit http://kck.st/2u8rx8o.

HodoBuzz Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/derrrrruq/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/derrrrruq

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/derrrrruq/

Website: https://www.derrrrruq.com/

 

Japan’s Secret Shame (The Story Behind The Story)

Shiori Ito is a brave journalist who has taken on Japan’s rape culture and has pursued justice in her own case. The BBC released a documentary “Japan’s Secret Shame” about Japan’s lack of ability to deal with sexual assault in the country and why her accused assailant was allowed to walk away, even after an arrest warrant on charges of rape were issued by the police. The documentary is hard to view outside of the UK, so if you’d like to know mere, here’s everything you should know until it’s released here. Many of these articles were written for The Daily Beast, which has been supportive of the investigative journalism behind these stories.
Also, it should be noted that weekly magazine, Shukan Shincho (週刊新潮), was the first periodical to write about this story and pulled no punches in accused the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of blocking a rape investigation.
Below is a list of articles that we’ve written on the case, some at a time, when no other major news media outlet would touch the story.
The stories are in chronological order here and the final entry is being updated when possible.
The cover-up (June 2017)
Shiori Ito came forward to talk about her rape and the lack of investigation of sexual assault in Japan.

Snake Venom, Bee Toxin, Horse Oil, Snail Slime: Saving Face in Japan is Icky Fun

The Face and Lip Mask Haul
The Face and Lip Mask Haul

Japan is a country where saving face is paramount—even if that means covering it with snake venom, bee toxin, horse oil, or snail slime. One company in Japan has been tremendously successful by catering to the Japanese love for looking good, thus saving face, and exotic ingredients. Their array of face masks, which are applied to the skin as shown in the photos, are almost all reasonably priced at 100 yen and are always exciting to find in the local pharmacy. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the tingly sensation and fresh skin feeling you get from spreading cobra venom on your face?

How To Face Mask

Headquartered in central Tokyo’s glitzy Roppongi district, Sun Smile was founded in 1997. The company, which sells everything from cosmetics to bags, has seen their sales rise in the last 6 years. In 2009 they made 3 billion 997 million yen and in 2014 they posted sales of 8 billion 673 million yen. They produced over 100,000,000 masks since they went into business. Their biggest seller is the essence of pearl mask but it’s the other “natural” items that raise eyebrows (and lift lines).

They’re known best for their cosmetics line, Pure Smile. Pure Smile makes facial masks in every flavor imaginable—and some that are unimaginable. Their Essence Mask series features types as tame as lemon, rose, and pomegranate, but if you want something a bit more “wild” you can try their biodiversity series, which includes snake venom, snail slime, and sea cucumber. If you have no qualms, you can even lather your face with a horse oil mask, which, although smells slightly leathery, leaves your skin feeling as silky as a horse’s mane. (The horse is not as popular as the snail, according to the firm’s representatives). The popularity of these exotic ingredients started in South Korea and soon moved across the sea to Japan, where women have the image that Korean cosmetics are of good quality, in addition to being cheap, which has allowed Japanese women, who would tend to be grossed out by the idea of putting snake venom on their faces, to more easily accept these weird ingredients.

 

There are, however, some who even question the effectiveness of slathering exotic ingredients on your faces and whether it would have a noticeable, if any effect on your skin.

 

Wacky discount chain store, Don Quixote, even sold a special line of their facial masks that come in types such as blueberry cheesecake, cacao, and crème brûlée that smell good enough to eat.

 

There’s even an Amazonian series of facial masks made with the extracts of fruits only found in the rainforest such as guarana and camucamu.

The best are the Oedo Art Masks printed with the rosebud mouths, slanted eyes and pinched faces of ukioe paintings. The mask will most definitely make people think Halloween came early but the age-defying collagen, hyaluronic acid, and Vitamin-E in the mask will leave your face feeling smooth and supple.

The company also makes masks to hydrate your dry elbows, knees, and lips. The lip masks, make you look like a clown when you put them on, but leave your lips feeling moist.  According to the packaging, a suggested application (and definitely one of the strangest) is to put the lip masks on your nipples to remove any blackheads that may appear. It seems Pure Smile has literally thought of everything.

Most of the masks are made in South Korea, with the exception of the high-end whitening masks that bleach your skin. In Japan, where Snow White-like skin is favored over a glowing tan, there’s a huge market for creams and serums that bleach your skin white. Kanebo, one of Japan’s most well-known cosmetics companies, was forced to recall its skin whitening products in 2013 after several women were left with permanently unsightly white blotches on their skin. (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/09/16/editorials/kanebos-costly-scandal/#.VNcguN7ufww)

 

 

I tried a few of the face packs myself and this is what I noticed.

IMG_20160329_2
Before The Mask Adventures

I decided to go down the line in descending order of scariness.  I wanted to get the snake venom one out of the way, deciding that nothing is as intimidating as cobra venom.

 

SNAKE VENOM

 

Snake Venom Essence Mask
Snake Venom Essence Mask

First Impression:  As soon as I put the mask on I felt a strong cooling sensation.  The essence of the mask is fairly thick, but not sticky.  It definitely made me feel confident that the mask was doing something positive. This combined with the extreme moisture of the essence was pretty soothing.

 

What does snake venom essence smell like?  I can’t quite pinpoint the smell but it’s light, like cucumbers and water.

 

In 3 minutes, I started to feel a bit of stinging above my lips and more intense cooling sensation on my forehead and chin. I felt one with the snake who sacrificed their venom essence. Ssss. (Technically it’s just the amino acids found in the venom but you get the idea!). Towards the last five minutes I felt more of a slight stinging around the bottom half of my face.  The stinging was somewhat pleasant actually. I have high hopes for this venom.

During and After My Snake Venom Encounter
During and After My Snake Venom Encounter

The majority of the cooling sensation was on my chin, T zone, maybe it’s doing its venomous magic?  After 15 min I peeled off the mask.  My skin felt very refreshed, moisturized, and dare I say plump!  I can see why this would be good to apply before makeup as my face felt pore-less and clean.

 

Verdict:  If the stinging wasn’t there I would buy again for daily use.  Overall it was relaxing so maybe those with less sensitive skin might have more luck. Still, this would be a great mask to wear before makeup on a shoot!

 

CHOOSY FRUIT

Next, I decided to pair my facial with a lip pack.  I was feeling adventurous and decided to go with the fruit type since it was daytime and NYC needs some happy color, to encourage spring weather to come.

CHOOSY Fruit
CHOOSY Fruit

I’ve never heard of a lip spa and as someone who diligently moisturizes her lips, I never even thought that this existed or was necessary.  Well here we go.

 

How To CHOOSY - Fruit
How To CHOOSY – Fruit

 

First Impression: The mask has a very strange texture, like that of silly putty.  2 min in I started getting a burning sensation.

Also, the smell was a lot more subtle than I expected, like a fruity lipgloss.

It works as advertised since I definitely felt the needles on my lips.  Although very fun to touch, the pricking was too uncomfortable and I took off the mask the 8 min mark.

I guess they felt softer than before so it’s a nice addition if you have nothing on however, I will still probably reach for a chapstick over a Choosy pack. which I won’t need to leave on my face for so long.

Post CHOOSY Fruit
Post CHOOSY Fruit

Verdict:  Skip. I wouldn’t purchase this.  I am still not sure of its effectiveness.  Looking forward to trying the honey and seeing if it has a more dramatic effect.

 

BEE VENOM

 

Bee Venom Essence Mask
Bee Venom Essence Mask

What I love about these face masks in general is that the scents are always fairly subtle which in our world of extremes is very pleasant and relaxing.

I waited 2 hours to apply another mask just to give my skin a break.

My skin still felt refreshed after almost 2 hours. The snake venom is definitely great for  photoshoot prep!

I washed my face and was confronted with a lovely mix of honey flowers upon opening the Bee Toxin mask.  This had to be the most pleasant bee poison in the world.

Bee Venom smells so good!!!
Bee Venom smells so good!!!

 

First Impression: I immediately noticed that the essence consistency was more thin, watery, and sticky than the snake mask.

It wasn’t as prickly as the snake venom but had a much more greater cooling sensation, especially on my forehead.  It felt a lot like a gentle, lovely smelling version of Icy Hot.

Mask Struggles and Post Bee Essence
Mask Struggles and Post Bee Essence

It’s very moisturizing but my skin didn’t feel as tight as it did with the previous mask.

Verdict:  It was very refreshing. Would definitely try again!

 

CHOOSY HONEY

The smell is similar to the bee toxin mask but stronger, a bit too strong.  My lips became very tingly 2 min in, like pins and needles.  Again, I’m not a huge fan of these.

CHOOSY Honey
CHOOSY Honey

After removing the mask, my lips felt sticky. The huge size of the mask is a little unsettling as the stickiness covered below my nose to my chin.

Post CHOOSY Honey
Post CHOOSY Honey

Verdict: Skip.  Yes, your lips are soft but there’s nothing drastic.

 

SNAIL

I took  a break from my all-day pampering to attend a friend’s birthday party.  I chose to end my late night with a nice snail essence mask since I figured it would be the most soothing of the exotic choices.

Snail Essence Mask
Snail Essence Mask

First Impression: When I opened the pack the comforting smell of dew entered the air.  In my exhausted state the cooling effects of the mask were incredibly relaxing.  The serum in this pack has a fairly thick consistency and I felt the majority of the cold on my chin.  I felt no stinging whatsoever which was a nice surprise.

 

Late Night Snailing
Late Night Snail-ing

The mask left my face feeling moisturized but slightly tight.  I expected to feel a larger difference in my skin and the effect was less noticeable than the others.

 

Verdict: It’s a gentle soothing mask that is nice to wear after a long day. In terms of effectiveness for skin I’d say my favorite is still the Bee Venom.

 

ROYAL JELLY

 

Pre Royal Jelly
Pre Royal Jelly

 

I decided to treat myself with Royal Jelly the following morning.   Royal jelly is a bee secretion used to nourish larvae and the Queen Bee in a hive.  This was a great name choice on Sun Smile’s part.  Here’s to hoping it will start the day off right!

 

It gave off a soft flowery smell. Upon application it felt warmer than the other masks,  and gave a nice calm sensation This was definitely a good choice for a chilly morning as it gently wakes you up.

Post Royal Jelly
Post Royal Jelly

Verdict: Would use again!  My face feels so nice!!

 

So there you have it.  The masks are definitely worth trying, they aren’t magical but they will give you a mini-spa experience in your home.  They are super affordable so really why wouldn’t you want to lather your face in the essences of snake and bee toxins? And even if you would rather not, they are great cheap gifts to bring back from Japan. Because if you know anything about Japan, going on a trip and not bringing back a souvenir might bring some shame. But spend a few hundred yen on these and everyone saves face—including you. (If you pack some for yourself, double face savings!)

 

 

 

Update! Larceny Is Part of Family Love in Cannes Winner “Shoplifters”–Showing With English subtitles on June 21 (木)

『UPDATE: There will be a showing of the film with English subtitles at 7pm on June 21, at the Roppongi Hill Cinema. There will be a Q & A with the director afterwards. Details of the showing are after the review』

The titular family in “Shoplifters” give a new slant to the term “living in squalor.” (The film is partially based on true events)  Their house looks more like a bizarre crime scene than an actual dwelling for normal people but – and this is a crucial point in “Shoplifters” – the family is HAPPY. They enjoy the kind of freedom that one rarely sees in Tokyo families. The 10-year old son doesn’t go to cram school (or any kind of school for that matter). The dad is not an over-worked salariman whose only solace is the company drinking party. The mom couldn’t care less about keeping up with the Tanakas. And grandma – she’s an entertaining but cantankerous piece of work who drives well-meaning social workers up the wall.

1) One Big Happy Family – clockwise from right, Mayu Matsuoka, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Jyo Kairi, Miyu Sasaki and Sakura Ando.
Title: The Shoplifters
©️2018 Fuji Television GAGA AOI Pro.
Distributed by GAGA

Amid the filth and debris they huddle together for warmth and comfort. At mealtimes, they poke chopsticks into ramen tubs and food cans. The catch in this cozy utopia is that they must steal almost everything they need. The other catch is that dad has just kidnapped a 5-year old girl named Yuri. She had been neglected and abused by her biological parents, so the dad just had to rescue her. “We’ll return her to her folks in the morning” he says, but then he doesn’t and Yuri joins their little clan, adding another item to their history of crime.

“Shoplifters” just won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival – a first for a Japanese director in 21 years. The last time this happened was back in 1997, when Shohei Imamura came out with “Unagi,” and put leading man Koji Yakusho’s name on the international map. In Japan however, “Unagi” didn’t exactly break box office. It was artsy, dark and posed too many philosophical questions. While these ingredients worked wonderfully at Cannes, the general feeling in Japan was that everyone would rather watch Keanu Reeves.

“Shoplifters” is another animal. Keanu Reeves isn’t in it (too bad) but the director is Hirokazu Kore-eda: a constant contender at Cannes and other major international film festivals for the past two decades. He’s also a former TV documentarian with a shrewd sense of business. Shohei Imamura was an auteur of the old school, but Kore-eda has a nose for what sells. In his films, art never overwhelms commercialism and on the other hand, it’s not all business either. Kore-eda knows that in the international market, the biggest appeal of a Japanese film is its Japanese-ness and in “Shoplifters,” he adopts a Zen-like approach, letting the characters do their thing at their own pace, in their own space. A lot of things are unexplained or left for the audience to surmise. And pretty soon, the squalor of that awful house starts to grow on you. The ancient and no doubt odorous tatami mats, the wild, unruly shrubbery that grow all over the garden, the stained and mildewed bathtub – somehow, these things begin to assume a patina of Japanese charm. After all, we’re so used to seeing spanking clean Japanese homes inhabited by perfectly manicured people, at least in the media and after awhile, the hypocrisy of this set-up just gets to you. Such a house and family appear in the story for about 5 minutes and the contrast between them and the Shoplifters is jarring.

The Shoplifters’ house is a real one, sleuthed out by Kore-eda’s staff who combed the northeast wards of Tokyo for weeks before hitting upon the perfect specimen. Surrounded by high rise apartment buildings on all sides, the house is a tiny, crumbling Showa era relic. In the movie, it belongs to the grandmother, Hatsue played by Kirin Kiki. Divorced before becoming a widow, Hatsue still keeps her ex-husband’s photo on the ‘butsudan (miniature buddhist shrine)’ and takes out his pension every month to supplement her own. It’s the only steady source of income the family has, since the mother Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) and dad (Lily Franky) earn minimum wage doing part time work and even that’s jeopardized when their employers install a workshare program. “What’s work share?,” asks the son and the dad’s response – “ahhhm, it’s when you share the work.” It also means less pay and less income to share with the family.

Nobuyo’s younger sister Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works at a ‘JK (short for ‘Joshikosei, which means high school girl) sex shop, which entails dressing in a school uniform and opening her legs in front of a two-way mirror. Aki’s wages are 3000 yen per session and upon hearing this, grandma Hatsue lets out a sigh of real envy. “That’s such a well-paid job!”

Of course, even working an honest job at minimum wage or a shady job at 3000 yen per hour, isn’t enough for a family to survive on and so shoplifting supplements their income. The movie was partly inspired by real events.

Partners in crime – the son Shota (Jyo Kairi) cases the joint with dad Osamu (Lily Franky).
Title: The Shoplifters
©️2018 Fuji Television GAGA AOI Pro.
Distributed by GAGA

The film is full of dark humor but it is also a biting criticism of modern Japan. Kore-eda is not a fan of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The film references how the rights and wages of workers keep deteriorating and a growing number of people live in poverty, while “Abenomics” only benefits the elite.

The Japanese family has cultivated a certain image – that they revere their elders, that fathers work themselves to the bone, that the kids are models of scholastic excellence and good manners. In real life, that image is shattered again and again – consider that 1 out of 6 children live in poverty while the number of abused kids have been on the rise for the past 20 years. In the movie, Yuri’s biological mom is beaten by a rat of a husband and she takes out her anger on her daughter. And for all the love they show the son, the Shoplifter parents think nothing of depriving the boy of his future by keeping him home and teaching him to steal. The son, played by Kairi Jyo, is a compelling figure to watch – he loves the couple who have raised him, but at the same time he knows theirs is not a sustainable relationship. They have good times together but the son comes to realize that they’re bound more by crime and money than blood and love.

So, like a Bruce Springsteen song, it had to end. For me, the final scenes were blurred by a blizzard of tears, triggered by a longing for a raucous, uproarious, hugger-mugger childhood that never happened.

Shoplifters (万引き家族) opened nationwide in Japan on June 8th. 

The English subtitled screening and Q&A session of “Shoplifters” will be taken place on Thursday, June 21st.

【Date】Thursday, June 21st
【Time】19:00~(Q&A session after the screening)
【Venue】TOHO CINEMAS ROPPONGI HILLS
【Guest (tentative)】Kore-eda Hirokazu (director)

<How to buy the ticket>
・By PC & smart phone : Ticket site will be opened from Saturday, June 16th 0:00 at internet ticket vit (https://www.tohotheater.jp/vit/)
・Ticket counter at the theater : Ticket will be on sale from the opening on Saturday, June 16th at the theater (if the tickets are available.)

<Price>
Standard price *This film is rated PG12
※Additional costs will needed for Premium box seats. Please check the theater website.
※Movie tickets can be used.
※Free admission tickets can not be used.

<Caution>
※The screening is with English subtitles.
※Press will cover the Q&A and there will be a possibility that the audience could be on camera.
※The guests and Q&A session are tentative and are subject to change without notice.
※Reserved seating only and the ticket is for only 1 screening. You must obtain the seat for this screening to attend the Q&A.
※Resale is strictly prohibited.
※No camera (including by phoens) shooting or recoding are strictly prohibited.
※Once paid, ticket fees are non-refundable/non-changeable.

 

State Shinto Nightmares in Abe’s Japan

Army and Shinto

Like many foreigners observing the Moritomo Gakuken scandal play out, I am fascinated by the interplay between Shinto, nationalism, and government. There are questions that come with the scandal: Why is it a problem? Why shouldn’t the school use the Imperial Education Rescript? Why is the world watching so carefully? (Originally published in Spring of 2017) 

The problem is State Shinto.

Although most Westerners continue to conflate State Shinto and Shinto, they are not the same thing. It is important to note that, although Shinto is mentioned constantly, what is fueling nationalism is not what the Western world would call the “religion.” It is secular Shinto, also known as “State Shinto,” and it is not a religion so much as an ideology. That is why many politicians now feel they can revive it. To the Japanese, it never was a “religion.”

Many international scholars of Japanese history and Shinto have pointed out that there is a significant difference between the two ideologies, but the issue is inherent in the definition of Shinto itself. There is no one definitive definition, which often makes discussing Shinto difficult. One issue, for example, is that scholars have been arguing about when Shinto actually began. There are many Shinto scholars such as D.C. Holtom and Hirai Naofusa who claim that Shinto is aboriginal and began before Chinese writing came to Japan in the seventh century. Meanwhile, scholars like Kuroda Toshio insist that it did not develop until the 19th century, after the burgeoning desire for a national identity and the blossoming of intellectual thought sprouted in Japan.

This is important, of course, because of the aforementioned 19th century intellectual movement’s search for the true “Japanese culture and nature.”[1] Towards the end of the Tokugawa regime, there had been enough peace and stability that Japan had developed a monetary free market–a form of modernization. While they enjoyed the peace of isolation and stability, across the seas, China endured the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860). Although they were not involved, the Japanese received news of how the West had taken over the once-great country, something that made them both contemptuous of China’s weakness and worried that they were next.

These are a few reasons that caused the Japanese began to look back to their roots. Japanese history, however, was not documented prior to the seventh century, when the Chinese writing system was adopted. As such, they only had the great books of mythology: the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. Here, again, however, the issue becomes one of intent. Any history book of Japan documents the early days of the writing of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki as attempts by the imperial family and their high-ranking associates to ensure their lineages were linked to the gods, specifically, in the case of the imperial family, to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess.

As such, for many Westerners, Shinto is seen as an animistic, shamanistic, beautiful religion, but–in reality–its two definitive books were based on the format of ancient Chinese histories and were written to lay the dynastic foundation we still see today.

Meiji Restoration and Imperialist Japan

The Meiji Restoration through the lens of Shinto is a bit different. Shinto developed through the Intellectual Schools of the late 19th century as a seed of national identity. The late 19th century Japanese clung to the idea of inherently divine genetics and purged the most of the foreign ideologies and religions—such as Buddhism–that had helped develop the country until then. They also sought out Western modernization and pushed the development of Japan from 1868 on to emulate the winning and powerful Western societies the Japanese saw destroying Asia and claiming its wealth. This included dissembling the shogunate and writing a constitution to rebuild the country with Western ideologies.

As such, the Japanese “shunned Asia” and decided to “join Europe” to avoid being swallowed by the Western imperial machine. The driving core, again, was State Shinto, a secular propaganda machine that served to add ritual to activities and indoctrinate from school children up as the Japanese began required, systematic, national education. The glorification of the Emperor became an intrinsic aspect of Japanese life, and it began with the Imperial Rescript of Education.

Let me pause a moment to focus on the term “secular,” as used by Shinto scholars. “Secular” has different meanings in many fields, but secular, as applied to State Shinto, means that it is not religious. The secularity is based on the government use of Shinto to manipulate the population. Shinto, as a religion practiced in Japan, is not secular. And, of course, Shinto, the social philosophy, is not secular as it refers to the spiritual and common beliefs of Japanese society.

I did mention Shinto was difficult to define and its aspects are not easily distinguished. It is reason why the Western use of “Shinto” in its reporting is not a good idea. Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), with the Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference) behind them, are using State Shinto, a propaganda machine.

Allow me to illuminate:

The Meiji Constitution’s key concepts of emperor worship and propaganda intensified in the twentieth century, as the wars (such as the Sino-Japanese wars, Russo-Japanese war, World War I) and expansion required a reevaluation of the basic terms of the Constitution, channeled through the ambitions and emotions of nationalism and ethnic imagination.[2] This developed into questions of the relation of the “political” nation to that of an “ethnic” nation (asserting the Japanese pure ethnicity) and the place of “race” when discussing colonial peoples such as in China and Korea.[3]

By the time World War II and Pearl Harbor occurred, the indoctrination process of Japan having divine blood and blessed land had already been in motion for going on 50 years.

U.S. Occupation

Although bushido is often (anachronistically) referred to as a means of manipulating the Japanese imperial troops, it was State Shinto that was the ideology behind the war. The U.S. recognized Shinto as the core of Japanese national identity and the inherent problem of their determination the deification of the emperor. After the surrender in August 1945, the Japanese desperately tried to shield Emperor Hirohito from any blame, but they could not shield him from being undeified.

Along with the new Constitution by the U.S., there was also the development of the Shinto Directive of December 15, 1945, or the “Abolition of Governmental Sponsorship, Support, Perpetuation, Control, and Dissemination of Shinto.” The purpose of the document was:

“to lift from the Japanese people the burden of compulsory financial support of an ideology which has contributed to their war guilt, defeat, suffering, privation, and present deplorable condition.”

“In order to prevent a recurrence of the perversion of Shinto theory and beliefs into militaristic and ultra-nationalistic propaganda designed to delude the Japanese people and lead them into wars of aggression.”

“In order to assist the Japanese people in a rededication of their national life to building a new Japan based upon ideals of perpetual peace and democracy.”[4]

With this, State Shinto–and all the ideology and policies that accompanied it–were prohibited. Only sect or local Shinto was allowed, given the same protections and freedoms as the other religions for private practice.[5]

But State Shinto is not a religion.

Contemporary Japanese scholars–such as Shinto Scholar Isomae Jun’ichi and religion scholar Shimazono Susumu–have argued that State Shinto has never gone away.[6] Because the U.S. described a “religious” State Shinto in the Shinto Directive, it failed to abolish it as it was never religious but secular.[7] In the broader sense–as defined by religion scholar Murakami Shigeyoshi–State Shinto refers to the combination of State, Imperial, and the ideology of the national essence (kokutai). In finer terms, it basically includes the prewar emperor system and its ideology of “national morality.”[8]

Why this matters now?

Abe PM during his controversial Yasukuni Shrine visit
Shinzo Abe during his controversial Yasukuni Shrine visit

Just recently the LDP had announced that the Imperial Rescript on Education was allowed to be taught in school.[9] The problem with allowing this is that the Imperial Rescript on Education was used to indoctrinate school children in the Meiji and Taishō eras of Japan. Now, with the Moritomo Gakuen and their schools being examined for their ultranationalist leanings, it is important to see the stance the LDP has overall taken in terms of trying to reignite the nationalist and nativist spirit of Japan. Most Westerners are not aware of Article 14 of the Basic Education Law that stipulates “that schools, including kindergartens, must not conduct political education or other political activities that support or oppose certain political parties.”[10]

Note that the Imperial Rescript on Education not only asks for morality and purity, but it also “called on the people to serve the imperial nation, especially in sacrificing one’s life when Japan faced a major crisis.”[11] A copy of the rescript used to hang in school and the public had to bow to it, as it was the emperor’s words and very closely tied to State Shinto. Now, the rescript is understood to have been used to unify the people under the deified emperor and encouraged the totalitarian state of World War II: Pacific Theater.[12] Because of that, parliament passed resolutions in 1948, confirming that “the rescript should be abolished because it violated basic human rights.”[13] For this fact alone, Moritomo Gakuen and its director, Kagoike Yasunori, are both being investigated. The school scandal also spread to the current parliament, as Defense Ministry Inada Tomomi also defended the rescript as a “good thing.” But this perspective is not surprising when both she and Kagoike are also known to be members of Nippon Kaigi. As a result, the organization is again in the spotlight, not just in Japan, but internationally.

It is because of these issues that it is problematic, in my opinion, to conflate the spiritual entity known as Shinto and the secular nationalist propaganda machine that is State Shinto in the media. The West needs to reevaluate its use of the word, because we are careful to say “militant fundamentalists” when referring to radical Muslim or Christian ideologues. State Shintoists are of the same ilk: fundamentalist nativists who want to make Japan “great” again. It is an indoctrination machine the world needs to keep an eye on.

Irene Unpingco currently lives in Las Cruces, NM, USA, and works at New Mexico State University’s History Department. Her interests include following Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) activities in State Shinto, and she is working towards her PhD in Asian History. 

[1] There are two schools: Mitogaku (Mito school) and Kokugaku (National learning school) where the intellectual schools flourished from and spread nativism.

[2] Helen Hardacre, Shinto: A History, New York: Oxford University Press 2016, 406.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Shinto Directive, PDF, Nagoya: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture, 1.

[5] Sect Shinto is based on the teachings of certain Schools during the Tokugawa era; local Shinto is private practice Shinto.

[6] Jun’ichi Isomae, “Deconstructing “Japanese Religion”: A Historical Survey,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, 32nd, no. 2 (2005): 235-48. Accessed March 13, 2017. doi:10.18874/jjrs.32.2.2005.235-248, 239.

[7] Ibid., 26.

[8] Ibid.

[9]Osaki Tomohiro, “Imperial Rescript on Education making slow, contentious comeback,” The Japan Times, April 11, 2017, accessed April 17, 2017, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/04/11/national/imperial-rescript-education-making-slow-contentious-comeback/

[10] Kenichi Mizusawa and Takashi Ishihara, “Kindergarten ‘crossed line’ by teaching pupils to cheer for Abe:The Asahi Shimbun,” The Asahi Shimbun, February 28, 2017, accessed March 22, 2017, http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201702280087.html.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

CICADA by Yu Shibuya Limited Screening with English Subs

CICADA

Yu Shibuya is a quiet force to be reckoned with. As a rare bilingual and exceptionally talented playwright, screenwriter and director he has won multiple awards with his shorts and features across the world. His works are often painfully tragic yet peppered with subtle humor, resulting in a poignant and hopeful aftertaste. His ability to depict Japan with a loving gaze of one that knows it from the inside and out, uniquely teases out the mundane and obscurities alike, creating a distinct and irresistible world.

His latest feature CICADA(千里眼) is no exception. It was made in 2014 in Japan with a Japanese cast but with an entirely American crew. The director Dean Yamada is a Japanese American whom Shibuya teamed up with in 2009 to create the short “Bicycle” which was chosen as an official selection at major film festivals, including the 66th Venice Film Festival and Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival.

CICADA has won many awards including three Grand Prizes at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, Guam International Film Festival, and the Pan Pacific Film Festival and is now showing for a limited run at Ikebukuro Humax Cinemas with English Subtitles. Shunji Iwai, legendary director of  90s New Wave films became a fan of Shibuya’s work after watching Bicycle and flew to LA to watch CICADA, subsequently casting Yugo Sasou the leading man in his own films.

JSRC recommends film lovers in Tokyo to seize this opportunity to enjoy his work on the big screen while they can.

STORY (TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJc2iQdfKSw)

Cicadas live underground until their final stage of adulthood. When they surface, they attach themselves to a tree bark, shed their skin and fly away, leaving behind their exoskeleton still clinging fully intact to the tree.
Much like the cicada, Jumpei, a mild-mannered schoolteacher, is sheltered. Introverted almost to a fault, Jumpei has finally found a woman he is ready to marry. Ever weary and careful, Jumpei decides to take a series of premarital tests and finds out that he is infertile. Devastated, he keeps the news from his girlfriend.
In the meantime, Jumpei’s nine-year-old nephew is being bullied in school, and his distraught mother and clueless father are at their wits’ end. Jumpei is enlisted in helping out the family. While Jumpei’s prospects of having a family of his own seem to be non-existent, despite attempting several alternative cures, he is forced into his sister’s dysfunctional family life, and what transpires is a series of comical and heartbreaking events.

IKEBUKURO HUMAX CINEMAS

〒170-0013 Tokyo, Toshima, Higashiikebukuro, 1 Chome−22−10

Limited run until 2/23 at 20:20 every night, with post screening talks with Yu Shibuya and guest.

http://senrigan-movie.com/

If you cannot make it to the screening, enjoy his work here

The Apology (100年の謝罪)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPr6wH2VwWY

Bicycle(自転車)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I_rok_FMW0

 

Another tragic case of death from overwork (過労死) highlights a culture of labor abuse. Reform is needed.

As the Abe administration tries to accelerate “work style reform” to address the issue of chronically long working hours, probably in an ultimately negative way, another case of karoshi (過労死) also known as death by overwork, was made public by family members of a victim last month. A 51-year-old sales manager working for Sansei, a mold manufacturing company in the city of Oshu in Iwate Prefecture, passed away after an intracerebral hemorrhage in 2011. The family waited many years before finally deciding to take the case to court. The man had been working up to 111 hours of overtime in a month. Family members of the victim insist that the company should have taken necessary measures to lessen his workload. They held a press conference this month.

The business friendly Japanese government fails to prevent death by overwork.  In January, the Labor Ministry did put up signs saying” Stop Karoshi”,  urging an end to death by overwork, “for a society where people can continue to labor”. In essence, “work overtime but don’t die on the job”.

 

The father of two children, the karoshi victim, was hired as an engineer working at the company’s plant in his hometown of Oshu in 1989. After being assigned to sales manager’s position, his daily tasks included sending out invoices and promoting the company’s supplies to potential customers, making several business trips a month. In addition to those tasks, he had to assess the work of his team members to determine their bonuses. He was also asked to organize company sponsored softball games and annual end-of-the-year parties. His workload began to gradually increase and the records his family members were able to collect show he continuously worked 60 to 80 hours of overtime a month since 2002. His son recalls that since he always left home at 7:00am and came home very late at night, sometimes later than 11:00pm. They were able to dine with him just once a week, on Sunday nights.

Even the worker himself became aware of being dangerously overworked. He once told his wife, “I’m working way too much so that if something happens to me, don’t hesitate to sue the company.”

Several months after he collapsed in his home on a Saturday afternoon in front of his family, his wife, certain that it was the work condition that pushed him to die, applied for worker’s compensation which was later accepted by the labor standards inspection office in Hanamaki, Iwate. However, the company insisted it was actually his preexisting health conditions that was the main cause and refused to apologize or compensate for his death. His wife and the two children decided to take the case to civil court. “The government concluded after investigation that this is karoshi but the company decided not to admit. Now, it needs to be held responsible for what it has done to my father,” the son stated. The first hearing is to scheduled to be held in January 2018.

Cases like this are not at all uncommon in Japan. It was 1978 when a doctor specialized in occupational diseases first introduced the term karoshi, literally translated as “death from overwork” in Japanese[i]. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, one in eight (12.6%) full time workers work more than 60 hours per week; the government considers death from overwork becomes a serious possibility if working more than 60 hours a week[ii]. The government finally passed legislation, the act on promotion of karoshi prevention countermeasures, in 2014, amid increasing pressures mainly from a group of karoshi victim family members[iii]. However, the number of karoshi incidents has been held steady. In 2016, 198 cases of suicide karoshi (or karojisatsu) were filed to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in addition to 261 cases of karoshi from brain and heart related disorders[iv]. Experts say this is an extremely conservative figure because many workers and their families simply do not know what to do when their loved ones suddenly pass away. Even if they come to conclude work is the cause, they must find ways to prove victims actually worked excessive overtime. Many companies forge timesheets, ordering to clock in and out on a fixed time everyday, and the rest do not keep track of work hours at all.

“It is extremely difficult for family members to find evidence of overwork. They are not experts of labor law and often those companies hide the evidence or even try to persuade family members not to speak out by offering a small compensation,” Haruki Konno of POSSE, a labor rights organization that has been supporting the family in this case. “There must be so many cases that fly under the radar. We need to support karoshi victim family members or those faced with bad working conditions so that they can to take actions against management.”

 

[i] http://www.ilo.org/safework/info/publications/WCMS_211571/lang–en/index.htm

[ii] http://www.jil.go.jp/kokunai/blt/backnumber/2017/01/064-072.pdf

[iii]https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2014/11/15/editorials/getting-a-grip-on-karoshi/#.Wi4TzUtpHOQ

[iv] http://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/houdou/0000168672.html

Write Hard To Live Free: Happy Year Of The (Watch)Dog! 番犬報道の年ですよ!謹賀新年

 Today marks the start of The Year Of The Dog. I like dogs and I like them because I think journalists should be the guard dogs of a free society. We bark, we bite, we protect democracy and the public right to know. That’s our duty. ワンワン.

If you’re a lapdog for the powers that be, like executives at Fox News or News Corporation, journalism may be a rewarding and easy job.

Being a free-lance foreign correspondent and investigative reporter in Japan these days is a lot like being the private detective in the Dashiell Hammett novel, Red Harvest. You’re working for a newspaper editor who’s dead before you ever get to meet him (sounds like the newspaper business in general) and you have to struggle to get paid the money owed to you. You deal with gangs and thugs and crooked politicians, pitting them against each other, appearing to take work from anyone and at the end of the day, if you’ve brought someone to justice and you’re the last man standing: you’ve won. Collect your cash and go home.

Actually, it’s not really like much like that at all, but I wanted to start this article with a hard-boiled simile.

Jokes aside, making a living as freelance reporter in Japan these days is rewarding, but risky and unstable, and there are fewer and fewer of us doing it full time.

 

There are a lot of reasons for that. The number of working journalists is decreasing every year, while the number of people working in public relations keeps going up. Newspapers and magazines that have bureaus in Japan or that will pay for stories from Japan keep declining in number. Time’s Tokyo Bureau closed years ago. Newsweek folded. Dow Jones culled a large number of senior reporters this year. Reuters hires and fires at a schizophrenic pace. Bloomberg downsized. CNN and CNBC are barely here. The Los Angeles Times bureau once existed but I can only barely remember it. It used to have an office in the Yomiuri Building,

To my delight from spring of 2015 until the fall of 2016, I was a special correspondent for the L.A. Times. Then the newspaper ran out of money. No more budget for Japan.

Well, if you read the expose from the L.A. Times Guild (the labor union formed this year) it may not even be that they ran out of money – but rather that TRONC, Inc., the corporation running the newspaper into the ground, just sucks up all the profits and awards them to its executives, not the reporters. It certainly doesn’t spend more than it has to on paying for actual reporting. The problems at the Los Angeles Times are a microcosm of what’s happening all over the media – fewer and fewer people are asked to do more work with fewer resources. That’s the case for regular employees.

I applaud the union for actually standing up for members’ rights as workers and against mismanagement.

Maybe they’ll accomplish something.

Maybe some rich philanthropist will buy the newspaper as Jeff Bezos of Amazon did with the Washington Post, and restore it to glory.

And maybe I’ll do that job again if that happens. It was a great gig.

 

Mark that word, gig. Martin Fackler, who tried freelancing for a while but has now returned to the New York Times, says the experience taught him that “Freelancers are the Uber drivers of the new journalism gig economy. Everything is on a transactional basis, with no benefits or guarantees. You get more freedom, but pay for it with lower living standards and no job stability – like the rest of the gig economy.”

I’ve been a journalist since 1993–in Japan. Next year, I’ll have been doing it 25 years, a quarter of a century, more than half my life. At 48, I have now been a journalist half my life.

Half of those years (12.5, to be exact) were spent working as a regular employee at the world’s largest newspaper. I was a reporter and a regular employee for life aka (seishain/正社員), with the promise of a pension, all my insurance covered, paid vacation with use of the company’s corporate vacation facilities, an actual expense account, a bonus twice a year and a stable income. Sure, I worked 80-hour weeks but I didn’t have time to think about the work-life balance because there was none. Life was work and since I liked the work – investigating, interviewing, writing – it worked for me.

I’ve been working freelance since 2006. I’d like to say that it has gotten easier but in fact, even as you become well known, or relatively well known, life doesn’t get any easier. The joy of freelance work is that you can to some extent pick and choose the stories you want to write and who you write them for. The sadness of freelance work is that income is so unpredictable that you can’t really walk away from a gig and you have to pay constant attention to the news for a story that someone might want because it’s timely.

I currently write regularly for the Japan Times, ZAITEN, the Daily Beast and Forbes. I write for other publications as well but those are my main gigs. And I’m happy to have them.

However, to make my rent, I have to write a lot and I do part-time jobs. I do consulting work. I appear on Japanese television shows. I write short books and I write long books. I run a blog.  I am constantly hustling.

Every day, I spend an hour or more reading newspapers and magazines in Japanese, looking for what may be a good story. I scan the articles and put them in a file. I make appointments and send out letters requesting interviews for the stories that I think are interesting. I answer email. I meet people in the afternoon, or attend press conferences. In the evening, I try to meet up with sources and maintain those relationships. I don’t have an expense account, so cheap bars and izakaya I like. If it’s an expensive place, I eat cheap somewhere first and then just have drinks.

You don’t have job security as freelancer and sometimes you don’t even get respect.

At least in Japan, you can get public health insurance, at an affordable rate. It’s one reason I can’t afford to leave Japan. That is a great perk of being a freelancer here.

By the way, the term for non-regular correspondents in the industry is “stringer.” It makes you sound sort of like a barnacle.

Below the stringer is “the fixer.” Fixers set up the meetings for the reporters coming to Tokyo, often doing the interpreting and translation of the materials. They are often not even credited for their work.

I rarely do fixing for anyone but I will for one public radio station because their correspondent is great; she credits me for the work I do on a story. That’s nice.

I’m not alone in struggling with the freelance life. Willie Pesek, author of Japanization: What the World Can Learn from Japan’s Lost Decades and recipient of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers prize for commentary also joined the freelance ranks this year. What he has to say is worth hearing:

Six months into my freelance existence, the very first of my career, I’m struck by George Orwell’s observation: “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the great bulk of mankind, happiness is better.” Having a full-time journalism gig strikes me as a similar tradeoff. The certainty of a reliable paycheck, medical benefits and access to an HR department has its merits. But the liberty freelancing affords – who you write for, which topics, which arguments -– is its own joy after two decades with major news companies.

But the biggest pros of this existence -– like working when I want to -– can also be key drawbacks. The main challenge, I’m finding, is maintaining a reasonable life/work balance. At times, while juggling various writing assignments, my inclination is to work around the clock. Creating boundaries -– like closing the laptop and having a life –- is a work in progress for me. So is knowing when to say “when.” Quality and actually has never been more important in this Orwellian fake-new world, but the quantity imperative gets in the way. Part of the tension, of course, relates to making a living –- one’s natural reluctance to turn down writing assignments. Finding a balance is something all freelancers will struggle with more and more in the years ahead. It’s a fact of this trade that quality comes first.

Then there’s the Tokyo problem. In my 15 years in Asia, I’ve always been a regional writer, which is proving to be an asset as a freelance. Lots of demand for columns for China, India, North Korea, the Philippines. Japan, not so much. Sadly, many overseas editors favor “weird Japan” items over, say, reality checks on Abenomics. But, hey, Tokyo is still a great, great city in which to live. The domestic story here, though, can be a hard sell. The Abe government using this latest electoral mandate to make big things happen would be the gift that keeps on giving for freelancers.

Willie, has a good point. Japan isn’t as important as it used to be.

I kind of wish sometimes that I hadn’t focused so much on Japan. But I’m okay with that. In the end, I may be working more hours now than I did as a regular employee. And as any freelancer will tell you, you also have to spend a lot of time on social media, getting people to read your articles, responding to those who have read them. Now and then you have to munch on the trolls who plague anyone who writes about Japan in a critical way.

Sometimes, people close to me ask me why I don’t change jobs. Here’s the best answer I can give.

Japan is my home. I love Japan. My children are Japanese. Most of my friends live here. Many Japanese people here are hard-working, honest and polite.

That doesn’t mean the society doesn’t have problems, such as child poverty, gender inequality and discrimination against: the handicapped, women, foreigners, especially Korean Japanese. Japan has a pestilent well-entrenched mob. There are nuclear dangers, staggering injustice in the legal system, repression of the free press, sexual assault on women with impunity for many assailants, rampant labor exploitation, death by overwork, and political corruption. Ignoring the problems doesn’t make them better. If you are offended by that, rethink your love of Japan.

I believe that journalism, especially investigative journalism, is a force for good and for maintaining a healthy society. It’s a vocation, not just a job. Sure some of the work is crappy, including writing about a series of crap-themed kanji instructional books for children—but you also get to do some enormous good.

Weird as it sounds, this year I took the vows to become a Zen Buddhist priest and I am one now. Not full-time.

It’s not easy being an investigative journalist and keeping the Ten Grave Precepts of a Soto Buddhist priest but there is a point where the two professions match up.

To paraphrase the Hokukyo, this is what we do.

Conquer anger with compassion.

Conquer evil with goodness.

Conquer trolls with humor and sarcasm.

Conquer ignorance with knowledge.

Conquer stinginess with generosity.

Conquer lies with truth.

The monetary rewards are not so great. Sometimes, the spiritual rewards make it seem like the best job in the world.

 

 

 

 

This was originally published in The Number One Shimbun, the periodical of The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan.  It has been slightly modified for New Years.