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. 

 

Hope and Love in Hell: Former North Korean Captive Charles Jenkins Speaks

Charles Jenkins, a U.S. Army Sergeant who deserted his post in South Korea and allegedly sought refuge in the communist North Korea in 1965, died this week.  He spent nearly four decades inside the “worker’s paradise” before being set free along with his Japanese wife, Hitomi, who was abducted by North Korea. Below is our interview with him, reprinted. Rest In Peace.
The interview was conducted on June 27th 2013.
Charles Robert Jenkins in Sado Island (2013) Photo: Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky
Charles Robert Jenkins in Sado Island showing the wound left on his arm by the North Koreans (2013) Photo: Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky
In 1965, U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins deserted his post in South Korea and allegedly sought refuge in the communist North. He spent nearly four decades inside the “worker’s paradise.” After North Korea admitted to abducting Japanese citizens in 2002 and returned them to Japan, including Jenkins’s wife, Hitomi Soga, Charles Robert Jenkins re-emerged into the public eye–a relic of the cold war, an unsolved mystery and a figure of national interest. In July of 2004, North Korea finally let Jenkins leave. He turned himself in to the U.S. Army in Japan, was given a court martial and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. After his release, he relocated to Sado Island, off the coast of Niigata Prefecture, where he spends his days with his wife and family, working and remembering. This is part of his story. In his recollection of events, he raises questions about why he ended up in North Korea, contradicting his previous statements. Perhaps it is due to failing memory, or perhaps it is due to circumstances which even now he feels that he cannot divulge, no one– probably not even the man himself–knows completely.
The gift shop of the Sado Island Legend Museum was busy and noisy that summer afternoon. Japanese tourists, mostly retired men and women can’t wait to walk around the museum’s gift shop to take a glance at one man. He is in the corner, a tired old American, who looks like he has been working in the fields most of his life, not a gift shop. The man is quietly tending to his sole duty, which is to mechanically fill the local sweet biscuit boxes, despite the noisy crowd of people calling him from all sides, Jenkins-san!  Some of the tourists solicit him from time to time for a souvenir photo. The shy little man from North Carolina doesn’t smile for the photos, and he returns to his work; the pattern repeats itself until the day is done.He lived in North Korea for over 40 years after being captured inside the Russian embassy in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in 1965, when he defected from the U.S. Army.
When asked for an interview, he first shakes his head. “I cannot leave my post now. I’m on duty until 4 PM.” After asking permission to his superior, Mr. Jenkins agreed to talk.
Charles Robert Jenkins, 73, is known by everyone in the island of Sado, off the west coast of Japan, directly facing China and the two Koreas. Jenkins fled his U.S. Army unit in South Korea in 1965, when he was only 24 years old and was caught in North Korea after a failed attempt to be sent back to the U.S through the Russian embassy in North Korea. In 2002, his wife Hitomi Soga, was released a month after Japanese former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s historic visit to Pyongyang in September of that year. During that historic meeting, North Korea admitted to abducting Japanese citizens and holding them in the country to train spies for the regime. In 2004, After forty years of communist captivity, he was finally brought to Japan with his two daughters, Mika and Brinda. When Jenkins arrived to Japan, the U.S. military sentenced him to 30 days in jail and a dishonorable discharge for deserting his Army unit, among other crimes.Jenkins told JSRC that he was offered a job as a sergeant in Camp Zama, a U.S. Army post located in Kanagawa prefecture. Jenkins believes it was because the military could then question him anytime they wanted to. “They promised me a good salary but my wife didn’t want it,” he said. “In Kanagawa, they gave me a good house to live in.”
Jenkins later received a permanent resident status to remain in Japan with his wife and daughters.The reason for his desertion is still unclear, did he simply surrender to North Korea as many reported? Or did he intend to sneak into the Russian embassy in North Korea hoping that they would save him from serving out his time in North Korea? In both cases, it was huge risk. What was so intolerable in the U.S Army that pushed Jenkins and three other American soldiers to surrender? We might never get a clear answer as he swore to his army lawyer to never reveal the true reason for his decision.Jenkins told the LA Times in 2009 that he deserted because he wanted to avoid a “sure death” in Vietnam. He told JSRC that he wanted to go to Vietnam because he couldn’t make it anymore in Korea. The answer contradicts his previous statements and even after repeated questioning Jenkins would not divulge what he had promised his army lawyer never to reveal.
Why is that Charles Robert Jenkins  couldn’t make it anymore  in North Korea? What made him feel it was worth deserting the U.S. Army? He won’t answer. Jenkins did say he regretted almost each and every day of his captivity for the incredible act he perpetrated in 1965, until he met his Japanese wife, who is 20 years younger than him.
“Four American defectors lived in the same room. The first American to  go  to North Korea was Larry Allen Abshier. The second was James Joseph Dresnok, the third was Jerry Wayne Parish. Larry and Parish have now passed away. Jenkins was the number four. Right now there is only Dresnok left in North Korea that I know of. But there could be more American soldiers in North Korea from the Vietnam War.”
According to Jenkins, in the late 60s and early 70s during the Vietnam War, each time the Communists would liberate a village in Vietnam, they would take all the people that were capable, clever and young, to send them away to North Korea for ‘education’, in fear that they would fight back against their new rulers. “They were forced to learn electricity, plumbing, stuff like that, not really going to university. After the war was over, they were all sent back and I heard rumors that in return, Vietnam gave them American soldiers, that might still be prisoners of war today.”
Remembering the story of one Romanian man in North Korea who defected to the U.S.A, he recalls meeting two Romanians who told him that they had seen people in the North Korean fields working who appeared to be American soldiers. “That Romanian who defected was a weapons dealer who was about to be caught. But I did meet two Romanians in North Korea in a shop in Pyongyang. I asked them what they were doing. They said they were television technicians. They were building a television factory. The reason [why they saw those possible American soldiers] is because the government was building a 48 km long road from Pyongyang to Nanpo. North Korea didn’t have a road to land the airplanes. They were building a runway, not for airplanes but for a road. While they were building this road, they had to take a detour in the mountains. That’s how the Romanians got to see these other people. And the driver told them that they were prisoners. I haven’t seen them, and I haven’t heard much more about them.”
In North Korea, some high military officials trusted Jenkins more than they did some other North Koreans. Jenkins explained.  Why? “Well, when I worked at the military university, one time, I was down in my room eating, two generals and a colonel invited me over. The general kept talking to the other general and the colonel was talking to me. The general kicked the colonel out of the table, (He laughs), he said ‘Shut up’, the general looked at him and said  ‘Listen, we trust Jenkins more than we trust you.’
The colonel replied, ‘I’m a colonel in the Korean People’s Army, who do you think you are talking to me like this?’ The general says, ‘You could escape through Russia or China but Jenkins can’t. He is in Asia, he can’t go nowhere [because he can’t fade in the Asian crowd]. And he will never get out of North Korea, so we don’t care what he knows.” Jenkins smiles, “Well, they didn’t know I was going to marry a Japanese woman who would be sent back.”
Jenkins published a memoir, The Reluctant Communist, a book his wife didn’t want him to write as she feared North Korean retaliation. In the book, he describes how he became a reluctant celebrity when the North Korean government used him as the American villain in its propaganda films.
American actors in North Korean propaganda movies were extremely popular, according to Jenkins. People in the streets started to recognize Jenkins who appeared in small parts of about 10 movies.Jenkins: For the record… 
The following is from the interview with Charles Jenkins conducted on June 27th, 2013. At times Jenkins makes cryptic remarks and appears to contradict himself in places. We have reproduced the remarks as he said them.

When people saw me, they would recognize all four of us Americans in me. The producer of the movie ‘Confrontation,’ designed my character, (“Doctor Kilton”) with a horrible haircut.
Once, the other defector Parrish, asked the producer how does ‘Doctor Kilton’ look?  The answer he got from the North Korean producer was that Kilton’s age was about 40, but he had to make him look like he was 80. “We do not want Americans to look handsome,” the producer then explained.

xxx
Jenkins provided JSRC with a photo taken from the North Korean propaganda movie Confrontation The scene is from a funeral ceremony with half-Russian actors and Jenkins himself in the middle, with a bald head. “I was supposed to look ugly.”

I can’t tell you why I decided to leave the U.S. Army, because I promised my military lawyer that I wouldn’t tell anyone. I left on a January 5th’ [1965], about about 12 in the morning. I counted my soldiers, put them in position, I waited about an hour and it was very cold. I told them I heard a noise and that I was going to check it out. Then I said I would go back very slowly, it was 27 below zero. Anyway, that’s when I left. I took all my ammunition, I had a rifle, I had a T-shirt in my pocket, and tied it on my riffle, and walked all night like that. I walked across the biggest mine field in North Korea. They couldn’t believe that. They told me they had the biggest mines in that valley, in between these two mountains. ‘How could you possibly get through them?’ I told them, ‘Well, I know why.’ And I told them I ain’t gonna tell you why.’ They said, ‘Can ever a solider do that?’ I said, ‘Yes, any man can.’ But why in the world didn’t I hit the wires? If I had hooked the wires, I would be beheaded, phouh! (Jenkins mimed a mine explosion.) To avoid the wires, I had to step real high, and step real slow for two kilometers. (Jenkins motions the gesture by pulling his knees very high and getting them slowly down. Then when there wasn’t any man at all, the ground froze so hard, I couldn’t hit them (the mines.) It froze.
I also drank a lot of beer before leaving. But my lawyer said, ‘If you were that drunk you couldn’t have made a night walk.’ But before I left, my patrol leader, Lieutenant X, me and him exchanged our guns. Because they gave me a shotgun, I couldn’t keep the shields in it. So he took my shotgun and I took his rifle. If I was drunk, he wouldn’t have given me his rifle. He wouldn’t even let me go in that zone. I wasn’t drunk, my Lieutenant let me go. If I was drunk, he wouldn’t let me go, because they would have taken my rank away. I told no one that. I wasn’t afraid of the Korean war. I wanted to go to Vietnam, but they wouldn’t let me. I had been to Korea for 13 months and I had been to Germany for 3 years. And I didn’t want to go back to Korea, but they put me there because I could speak some Korean language at that time. But they didn’t let me in Vietnam. My 13th months was due in Korea, all I was expecting was to go back in Germany or France.
There are certain things I wanted to tell the U.S. I couldn’t do it in Korea. And that’s what I can’t tell. My plan was to go into Russia, they would turn me over to the American embassy and I would have gotten back to the U.S.A., straight to the Pentagon. But in North Korea they let nobody go nowhere. That’s for sure.
I was ‘caught’ in North Korea, in a sense. I tried, with three other Americans, to go to the Russian embassy in North Korea. We went into the Russian embassy as if we were Russians. The Korean guards, they thought we were Russians. (He laughs) So we just walked in. The Russian embassy would have notified Moscow. Anyway at that time, the Russian president ordered us to be kicked out of the embassy. We were sent right back into North Korea. I don’t know who did it, but they put us in a room, the ambassador came in and he whispered something to the interpreter. And the interpreter said, ‘Well, I’m sorry but we will have to ask you to leave.’ So that’s what we did.
Right after going to the Russian embassy, you wouldn’t believe how it was. We had one guard, all he could do was to scream at us all day. We were in a cell, and he would come in and beat on the table and scream. We were forced t sit on the floor with our legs crossed and arms crossed during one hour and after an hour we had to change over. That’s the way to punish you. And at times they would tie you up and beat the hell out of you. You see this scar? (points to chin) ‘ this is where my tooth came on to my lip.
You see that scar? (He shows a tattoo on his left arm.) There used to be ‘U.S. Army’ written up here. At the military university, they cut off my skin to the place where it was written U.S. Army. Some North Koreans had seen my tattoo one day as I was wearing a short sleeved shirt. They grabbed me, they don’t give no anesthetic, nothing. You know what they say? The medicines are for the battlefields. They give the medicines to the military, not to the hospital dispensary. That’s where they cut off my skin. They took scissors and cut it off.
The first seven years they saw us as Korean War veterans. The Korean people hated Americans. The colonels and the high ranked officials were not so bad, but the lower ranked soldiers hated Americans.
We weren’t sent to reeducation camps, we got educated right there in our place. In the prison, they were always threatening us. They said they would make an example out of us. And I was often the one made an example, because I made more trouble than anybody. Also because I was the highest ranked.
I regretted every single day I defected from the U.S. army until I met my wife. After that, I thought, ‘Well, if I wasn’t here, it would have been hard for her.” Because if she hadn’t married me, she would still be in North Korea right now. That’s for sure.
But then, when Koizumi came back to North Korea, to meet Kim Jong-Il the second time, that’s when Kim Jong-Il agreed, if I want to leave, I could leave. (crying) But they thought I would come back (to North Korea) because I would go to jail in the U.S.A. They knew that. So, that’s how I came back. If my wife wasn’t sent back (to Japan) I wouldn’t be here.

三菱UFJモルガン・スタンレー証券株式会社への質疑

質問。

1)ウッド氏の育児休業申し入れを、当初却下したと報道にありますが、事実でしょうか。却下した理由を教えて下さい。
⇒当社は、国籍、性別を問わず、従来から育児休業を取得していただくことを積極的に支援しており、グレン氏の育児休業の取得についても、誠実に取り組んでまいりました。
 
2)ウッド氏の育児休業取得中は、有給でしょうか。
⇒ 個別事案に係るコメントは差し控えさせて頂きますが、誠実に取り組んでまいりました。
 
3)なぜ、育児休業の申請に母子手帳の提出を条件としたのでしょうか。その根拠(就業規則など)を教えてください。
⇒当社規程上、育児休業の取得に際しては、母子手帳の写しの提出が必要となります。
ただし、社員の個別の事情に即して柔軟な対応を行っております。個別事案に係るコメントは差し控えさせて頂きます。
 
4)今回の訴訟に対してのご意見をお聞かせ下さい。
⇒当社は、国籍、性別を問わず、従来から育児休業を取得していただくことを積極的に支援しており、グレン氏の育児休業の取得についても、誠実に取り組んでまいりました。
グレン氏の就業継続についても、誠実に取り組んでまいりました。
今後の裁判所における手続においても当社のこれまでの真摯な対応をご理解頂くべく対応してまいる所存です。
 
5)貴社で育児休業を取得した労働者は創設以来、何人でしょうか。また昨年度の育児休業取得者数、および昨年度取得者の男女比率を教えてください。
⇒当社は、本件発生前から育休制度を設定し、性別、国籍を問わず育休の取得を積極的に支援しています。
2016年度の女性社員の育休取得率は100%、男性社員の育休取得率は42%となっています。
2017年度は男性社員の育休取得率についても100%を目指して推進中で、人事部と所属部署が連携し会社全体の取組みとして力を入れて推進しています。
 
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 三菱UFJモルガン・スタンレー証券株式会社
 広報・CSR推進部
 TEL 03-6742-1060 FAX 03-6742-1251
 E-Mailinfo@sc.mufg.jp
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三菱UFJモルガン・スタンレー証券株式会社

広報・CSR推進部 ご担当者様

 

お世話になります。

岩橋誠の上司で記者の、ジェイク・アデルステインと申します。

 

質問①に関して、質問に答えていただいていませんので改めて伺います。

最初にウッドさんが育児休業を申請した際、それを受理しましたでしょうか。それとも母子手帳がないという理由で受理しなかったのでしょうか。また、いつから彼の育児休業を認めたかを教えてください。

 

 

アデルステインさま

 

ご質問を頂戴した件に関しまして、以下の通り回答をさせて頂きます。

 

当社は、国籍、性別を問わず、従来から育児休業を取得していただくことを積極的に支援しており、グレン氏の育児休業の取得についても、誠実に取り組んでまいりました。

個別の事実関係については回答を差し控えさせて頂きたく存じます。

 

————————————

三菱UFJモルガン・スタンレー証券株式会社

広報・CSR推進部

 

Japan’s PSA: “Don’t Work Yourself To Death So You Can Keep Working!”

The Japanese government, particularly the Abe administration, has had a lacklustre attitude towards basic human right and worker rights, since taking power after Christmas in 2012. By 2013,  the word ブラック企業 (black company/burakku kiygo) meaning “evil corporations” had become a well-known buzzword. Japanese labor conditions are getting worse, hours are getting longer, and wages are stagnating.

Death by overwork has always plagued Japan but in recent months, one case after another has come to light. As noted in this article written for Forbes, Japan Is Literally Working Itself To Death: How Can It Stop, “NHK, Japan’s state-run news channel, reluctantly admitted this year that overwork had caused the death of a 31-year-old NHK female reporter in 2013. The Labor Standards Board reached the conclusion in 2014 but it was not publicized. Miwa Sado, who worked for NHK in Tokyo, died of congestive heart failure in July 2013. She had worked 159 hours of overtime with only two days off in the one-month period prior to her untimely death (She was found dead with cellphone in her hand). Chronic overwork, even when it doesn’t result in death, is a serious blight on Japan’s society. There’s even a word for it: karoshi (過労死). Her death is only one of the suspected thousands of deaths from overwork each year.”

Well, just when it seemed that Japan Inc. just didn’t care, the Ministry Of Health, Labor, and Welfare took decisive action. They declared November to be, “Special Month Of Raising Awareness Preventing People From Working to Death And Other Things”  and have adorned the stations with these powerful (not) eye-catching (not) posters.  But the unintentional irony is the sub-text of the poster which loosely translates all together as, “Don’t work yourself to death so we can have a society where you can keep working!”.

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare of Japan is combatting death from overwork (過労死)with a sign that says, “STOP death from overwork!”. Brilliant. The subtext is “(Don’t work yourself to death) so we can have a society where you can keep laboring away.”
Work will set you free in Japan, if you work hard enough.

 

 

 

 

Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare offers plenty of tips for not working to death but what is needed is a change in laws, more labor inspectors, and a fine for more than $5,000 dollars for companies that work their employees to death. Human life should be a little more valuable, one might think.

I searched for the words, “Work Will Set You Free”, but they haven’t added them yet. However, in consideration of how much the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his second in command, Aso Taro,  admire the Nazi regime— I guess it’s only a mater of time.

 

Note: Thanks to Rachel Padilla who copy-edited this article. 

Let’s not be angry? Debating “Quick To Anger” Japan on 外国人記者は見た! (TV)

Make Up Your Mind…by October 30th. aMaz(e)ing art by Ian Anderson

Ian Anderson, who’s “micro art” style often involves intricate mazes and patterns painstakingly drawn by hand, evoking Op Art, Keith Haring, Escher and more is holding an art-show at the Wieden Kennedy Tokyo art gallery until October 30th. It’s worth visiting.

According the artist’s website, “Ian Anderson was born in 1991 and grew up in Antipolo, Philippines. He moved to Los Angeles in 2001 with his mother and step father. Out of high school, Ian worked as a teacher of animation and video game design for 5 years at Exceptional Minds Studio. Having no formal art training, Ian was almost entirely self taught. His signature “micro art” style was developed at an early age.

‘I’m fascinated by the energy that something handmade gives. Sure, it would be more convenient to go on a computer and create a tile of my patterns, or to make the spacing and line quality absolutely perfect. But I like things a little wrong. Everybody knows what “Right” is supposed to look like, “wrong” is more interesting to me.”

The opening reception party for the show “Make Up Your Mind” was held on October 21st, featuring a live painting performance with guest artist, dominatrix and fashion designer Lehysl. Using ropes (縛り), paint, and a cooperative model and a body stocking, the three worked together to create a living painting. There were points before, during, and after the performance  that all three seemed to blend into the canvas, stepping in and out of the 2nd dimension and back into the 3rd dimension.

Lehysl and Anderson bonded over their love of lines—his are hand-drawn, hers are made out out silk or other materials and take shape as ropes. Lehysl said, “It was an honor and great fun to make temporary art from a different art, shibari, the art of rope tying. It was a liberating performance.”

There won’t be any models hanging upside down for the last few days of the exhibit but stroll by while you can. The gallery is located close to Naka-Meguro station and you can unwind at the Tsutaya Book Cafe close-by and further your study of art via some good book over decent coffee.