Japan’s Death Wish Resurges Like A Plague

by Kaori Shoji

Suicides in Japan are like wildfires in California: tragic, inevitable and seemingly unsolvable. According to the National Police Agency, 1805 people killed themselves in September and suicides amongst women were disproportionately rising.

Still, cases of people offing themselves had gone down in the past 10 years, and 2019 closed out the year with 20,169 cases – the lowest number of deaths since 1978 when the government first started keeping records, and minus 10,000-plus cases during the early naughts. Strangely enough, though the Japanese government is secretive and reticent about almost every other glitch found in the archipelago, they’ve always been upfront about the nation’s suicide rate. Few countries in the world are so ready to reveal the numbers but not in Japan. 

Suicide has never been taboo here. Back when Tokyo was called Edo and the nation was closed off to foreigners, the suicide rate in this city was said to be twice what it is now, among a population of a mere one million, which is one-fourteenth of what it is today. 

There was a collective mentality that dying by one’s own hand is the best and most effective way to make a statement or erase problems, and the legacy still holds. 
Popular belief has it that every Japanese person goes through life knowing at least one person who committed suicide. (I myself have known six, but that’s fairly common.) 

This year, suicides were low until June, but from July to August, the figures kept climbing. This was more or less in the cards – some experts had predicted as early as March that under the Covid-19 pandemic, more people will kill themselves than be killed by the virus. In August alone, 1854 people took their own lives of which 119 were women under 30 years old. This figure is alarming, but mainstream media seems too distracted to shed much light on why this is happening. Those who bothered however, tracked down Dr. Toshihiko Matsumoto, a psychiatrist who works almost exclusively with suicidal patients. According to Matsumoto, there had been an increase in young women with suicidal tendencies since Golden Week (early May), and those who couldn’t make it through the spring drove themselves over the edge during the summer. 

Matsumoto said that in Japan, women commit suicides for different reasons from men. “Men’s problems almost always stem from work or the workplace, whereas women are much more social and are apt to encounter snags in their personal relationships. In pre-pandemic days girls could meet their friends for coffee, and just vent. But they were deprived of this pastime during the stay-home period. When the only people you see are family, there’s a lot of material for depression.” He has a point. Most Japanese daughters are diligent and dutiful, but they’re not ready to discuss life problems with mom and dad. “They don’t want to let their parents down,” explained Matsumoto, a logic that in itself is a breeding ground for suicidal thoughts. 

Another factor triggering the suicides of young women could be the recent wave of self-inflicted deaths among actors/performers. These were celebrities who seemingly had everything to live for, and still chose death as a way out. In late May, professional wrestler Hana Kimura (22) was found dead in her home after being plagued by social media bullying. In July, the body of Haruma Miura (30) – one of the most popular actors in the industry, was found in his kitchen. After Miura came the death of actress and model Sei Ashina (36). The most recent shocker is the death of Yuko Takeuchi (40), an A-list actress whose career spans 25 years, and who had just remarried a co-star in February. There are five deaths so far, and only one of them left a note – actor Takashi Fujiki (80), whose body was found in a cheap, tiny apartment in Nakano ward.

Media analysts have mostly steered clear of the topic, fearful of stepping on the landmines strewn about on social media. Even a polite statement may be construed as offensive, hurtful or most damning of all – inspire others to die by their own hand. 

Misako Noguchi, who has worked as a casting director for the past 30 years, says that she has never seen anything like it. “No matter how bad things got in the real world, it was very rare for performers to die of their own accord. The repercussions of something like that on the larger society would be enormous, and most stars were aware of that.” Noguchi says she blames Covid-19 – “when a performer is forced to stay home for weeks and months on end, it takes a huge toll on their mental health. I myself was going crazy, trapped inside the four walls of my apartment, broke and depressed. Imagine how a big star like Yuko Takeuchi would feel. She was used to being under the spotlight 12 hours a day, surrounded by cameras and people. Then suddenly, bang! Work dried up. She couldn’t even go outside.” 

At this point, most Japanese have struck a deal with Covid-19. We’ll wear masks, disinfect vigorously and try to avoid crowds. Just please let us return to a semblance of normalcy. But for some Japanese, it may be too little, too late. Now mental health professionals fear that suicide rate will soar again in December – traditionally a month when many Japanese seek escape from year-end financial troubles by taking their own lives. Unemployment and failed businesses could push more people over the edge, and unlike the summer months, the deaths are expected to occur among people in their 40s to 60s.  

It seems mind-numbingly strange that in a country famed for longevity and its super-aged society, suicides should be a leading cause of death. As Dr. Matsumoto says, “maybe what this society needs now isn’t protection measures but far less social distancing and more non-essential excursions.” 

Maybe non-essential excursions are what we really need in life?
Artist:Utagawa Kokunimasa
Title:Beach Party (1893)

*****

If you’re considering suicide or know someone who is, this site in Japanese offers a number of ways to get counseling.

https://www.mhlw.go.jp/mamorouyokokoro/

In case of an emergency, please call 119 in Japan for immediate assistance. The TELL Lifeline is available in English for those who need free and anonymous counseling at 03-5774-0992. You can also visit them at telljp.com. For those in other countries, visit www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

Reflect on Racism, Diversity & Inclusion in Japan this Wednesday! (10am Japan time/Tuesday 6pm to 8pm USA/PST)

Is there really no discrimination or racism in Japan?

This is a question that the creators of Japan’s beloved feminist podcast, SuperSmashHoes Podcast, and writer Yukari Peerless decided it was high time to ask. In a time when racism and police brutality in the United States have drawn global interest in the Black Lives Matter movement and the problems of intolerance all over the world, it’s certainly a question worth asking. Join Reflection on Racism, Diversity & Inclusion in Japan to find out more. Much of the discussion will be in Japanese but hopefully accessible.

Super Smash Hoes Podcast, hosted by Erika X and Fahreen Budhwani, and Yukari Peerless working with other NGOs have invited a group of experts and Japan hands to discuss issues of discrimination and racism in the shadows of the rising sun. Panelists include award-winning documentary film maker Miki Dezaki, Japan’s first black idol and sex worker rights advocate Amina du Jean, and Aerica Shimizu Banks,an engaging public speaker on the topic of diversity and an advocate for women of color who has accomplished much in her career. The speakers will talk about their own personal experiences with racism, ignorance, and prejudice and how to combat it.

If you wish to join the livestream, you are requested to contribute ¥1,000 yen which will be donated to two anti-racism charities. One is the Anti-Racism Information Center. The Center is an NGO that combats hate speech and raises awareness of the problems with xenophobia and misconceptions about race in a civil society.The other group is Save Immigrants Osaka which supports foreign immigrants detained in Osaka immigration center. https://www.facebook.com/saveimmigrantsOsaka/

Date: Wednesday, June 24
Time: 10am – 12pm Japan time (6pm – 8pm PST Tuesday June 23)

The Format:
Round table discussion. It will be a “Webinar” on Zoom. The audience can watch but will be muted during the webinar. After the panel discussion, they will open up the floor and the audience can ask questions.

Admission: 1000 yen to a Paypal account. 100% to be donated to a charity.

Here is the registration link: https://bit.ly/June24reg

And while you’re here, for more on feminism, human rights, and subcultures in Japan, be sure to check out SuperSmashHoes podcast.

Singing The Terrace House Blues In Japan

They say it takes more than a death to change the world but perhaps that’s not true in the case of 22-year old Hana Kimura (木村花). She was a professional wrestler and one of the cast members of Terrace House, the now defunct reality TV franchise that first launched in 2012 and went on for eight seasons. For the uninitiated, Terrace House follows the relationship dynamics of three boys and three girls as they live as housemates in a posh seaside house with a terrace. Hana-chan as she was called, starred as herself – an up and coming wrestling star with pink hair who was eager to get ahead in the entertainment industry. In an episode aired on March 31st, Hana-chan unleashed her anger over a laundry mishap committed by a fellow (male) housemate. The two made up, but the whole thing exploded right in Hana-chan’s face.

Hordes of Terrace House fans posted Hana-chan hating comments – upwards of 300 a day – and many demanded that she either leave the show or die, immediately. It’s said that the Covid-19 induced isolation further drove Kimura over the edge. Alone in her home, she couldn’t help but read and obsess over the hellish comments on social media, directed straight at her. 

On May 23rd, Hana Kimura was rushed to the hospital after friends found her lying on the floor in her apartment, but it was too late. The details of her death have not been disclosed, but she left a note, apologizing to her friends and thanking her mom for “bringing me into this world.” Astonishingly, the anonymous cyber bullies who were at least partly responsible for her death resumed their bashing, accusing her of being ‘weak and needy’ and ‘not cut out to endure the hardships of working in the entertainment industry.” 

All that hate though, faded away after Fuji Television Network, the creator of the Terrace House franchise pulled the plug on the show five days after Hana-chan’s suicide. Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Sanae Takaichi is now pushing for a law to hunt down those who post hate comments, and slap them with fines or worse. Even Prime Minister Abe has moved on the issue, remarking that “hateful comments on the Internet have the power to do irreparable damage, and they should be stopped, if possible.” Since then, things have been pretty quiet. Hana Kimura’s critics have seemingly disappeared off the face of the Net at least for now, and news commentators are continuing to express their ‘profound regret’ over her death. 

That said, a certain apprehension hangs in the air; it seems that the Abe Administration is milking the Terrace House tragedy to its own advantage. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, PM Abe’s popularity has hit an all-time low and the belated delivery of two “Abenomasks” per household that he promised back in March, has become a running joke. It seems that most things he does these days is being ridiculed. The death of Hana Kimura may have been a welcome respite from having to deal with the social ills spawned by the lingering coronavirus, and the pile of political embarrassments racked up during the nation’s 49-day shut-down. Moritomo scandal, anyone? 

it seems that the Abe Administration is milking the Terrace House tragedy to its own advantage.

In the meantime, media pundits are pointing out that both the Abe Administration and the Japanese populace should have their minds on other, more relevant issues, like the racial protests tearing the US apart, and now raging in Europe as well. 


Political columnist Takashi Odajima observed in Nikkei Shimbun that the pandemic has afforded the US an opportunity to take a hard look at social injustice, while in Japan that same pandemic has given the government an excuse to cover things up. “In Japan, the government hides its scandals and inconvenient truths under the masks they insist on wearing,” he wrote. 

You don’t have to be a pundit like Odajima, to get that sinking feeling: once again, Japan lags way behind the west when it comes to grappling with stuff that truly matters, in spite of, or maybe because of, an ongoing pandemic. While we’re still wrapping our faces and panicking about the number of new infections cropping up in Tokyo (more than 10! How horrifying!), protesters across the Pacific are risking their lives for racial justice. The comparison is scathingly humbling. Gosh, we’re small. And scared shitless of direct conflict. 


Odajima pointed out that the Japanese are hopelessly bad at arguing a point,  or any form of adverse social interaction unless it’s done among family members. He’s right. The bad stuff happens mostly at home and behind closed doors. In some cases they continue for years before anyone finds out. There’s anonymous groping on trains, and faceless bullying on the net but public protests in broad daylight rarely occur unless the protesters are hiding their faces behind masks. This explains why Hana-chan got so much flack – she dared to express rage over public airwaves, in her own name. And though it’s been pointed out that the show’s producers obliquely coerced her to do so, many Terrace House viewers were too naive to see the difference between the ‘reality’ of reality shows, and real life. 


Maybe that’s just the way the Abe Administration wants it. Passive silence behind masks is vastly preferable to outright self-expression, in whatever situation. Imagine if the Japanese took to the streets to protest income inequality, the plight of temp workers, foreign laborers, and single mothers, domestic violence and rampant child abuse–just a few items off the top of an endless list?  


The truth is that at this point, the nation needs many more Hana Kimuras–brave enough to express anger and negative feelings without fear of being punished for it. Hopefully, we can do that better, once the masks come off.

Hana-chan, Japan needs you.

Japan’s Monster Mermaid Amabie is Here To Save You From COVID19! (Maybe)

People have different ways of dealing stress and fear, especially during a protracted battle with a worldwide pandemic. Some Japanese are claiming that superstition saved us (as opposed to the two cloth masks per person promised by Prime Minister Abe), along with praying at Shinto shrines and guzzling detoxifying green tea.

As fears over a Covid-19 ‘infection explosion’ very gradually recede in the rearview mirror, more people are in a mood to agree with these theories.

Your lucky lady

After all, rural and traditional Japan remained largely unscathed by Covid-19, and these are the areas where people routinely visit local shrines, carry omamori (お守り・talismans), ask for ‘oharai’ (お祓い) –which is the practice of having a Shinto priest chase out bad spirits and demons lurking in one’s immediate vicinity, and down a lot of tea after the ceremony.  If you get a Buddhist priest to do it, it’s yakubarai (厄払い). Add to that list, the drawing of an Amabie and posting it on social media. You may have just the armor needed for pandemic warfare. 


A what? An Amabie (pronounced ama-bi-eh) is a yokai (妖怪)which can be translated as apparition, phantom creature or monster. She has the appearance of a three-legged mermaid with a beak in lieu of a mouth and she’s been around since the mid-19th century, according to Edo-Period documents. Though the typical Japanese yokai is often grotesque and loves to play pranks on humans, the Amabie is a beach chick that emerges from the sea to foretell epidemics. If you carry around her picture, she can ward off mass contagion and the effect is doubled if you draw it yourself. A lot of people in Japan and elsewhere have tried their hand at drawing Amabie, and she now has a definite presence on social media, on #Amabiechallenge and others. 

Strangely enough, the Amabie has become a thing that may actually work. As of May 20th, the Japanese government has lifted the State of Emergency order for most of the nation, excluding the Tokyo metropolitan area. But the capitol city has been reporting less than 20 new infection cases for a week. Day care centers are talking about reopening as early as the 25th. Some local bars are welcoming customers again, even if masks are mandatory and draft beer is a thing of the past. Yes, the economy is in shambles and there’s nothing on TV but at least we’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. 

This isn’t the first time modern Japan has turned to superstition and yokai for solace and guidance. The late manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, creator of the mega hit yokai manga series  Ge ge ge no Kitaro (Spooky Kitaro) had always held that the yokai was what kept Japan from teetering over the edge into the abyss of disaster. Without their presence and powers, he said, the archipelago would just be a dreary sinkhole of greed and corruption. The yokai is a familiar figure in Japanese folklore, and some date back a thousand years. Some function as avatars for Shinto gods. Others do mischief and love to disrupt people as they go about their lives. The yokai can be friendly too, and will make good companions, as long as you respect tradition, revere nature and refrain from harming others. 


Mizuki hails from Tottori prefecture, a very traditional region that has racked up a total of three– count ’em three!–Covid 19 infection cases and zero deaths so maybe his take on the yokai was right. Mizuki’s own illustration of the Amabie has been posted on social media since mid-March, courtesy of Mizuki Production, and apparently this has been printed out and carried inside wallets or folded into omamori sachets. A friend of mine in Tottori reports that local reverence for Mizuki has soared, and the 800 meter long “Mizuki Shigeru Road” in his hometown of Sakaiminato, which is marked with yokaistatues and merchandise shops, has seen a lot of (masked) tourist action. These people hang out bv the various yokai figuresto take photos, and leave little notes of prayer for the pandemic to end. 

Shigeru Mizuki died in 2017 at the age of 93 but if he were around today, he would no doubt have had plenty to say about the government’s handling of the pandemic. Mizuki was a WWII veteran who lost an arm in combat in Papua New Guinea, and the harrowing experience shaped his views on authority and Japanese society. After the war Mizuki struggled to survive before settling down to write manga, which he continued doing right up until his death. For many years, he could barely make ends meet but his career took off when the Kitaro series hit prime time TV in the late 1960s. However, success didn’t turn his head or soften his judgement on what he saw as crimes committed by the Japanese government, be it throwing the nation into war, or going whole hog on nuclear energy. His manga was never cute or very accessible – they depicted the Japanese as desperate and conniving, with caricatured features like bad teeth, squinty eyes and terrible posture. His portraits of the typical Japanese male were so unflattering they resembled the Yellow Peril posters propagated by the US military during WWII. According to Mizuki, the only way these unattractive Japanese could achieve a slightly higher level of humanity, was to befriend a yokai

Mizuki’s drawing of the Amabie though, is soft and friendly-looking. She really does seem concerned about the welfare of this archipelago. It’s not a bad picture to carry around, especially in a time when everyone is masked and avoiding eye contact as if the very act of acknowledging another person is a risky undertaking. If a picture of a three-legged mermaid is going to make people feel better about each other, it should probably be framed and put up inside the Diet building. 

Unemployed in the Pandemic: First-Hand Accounts from Hello Work

by Farrah Hasnain

The COVID-19 outbreak has hit Japan hard as of late. Classrooms remain empty after spring break, restaurants begin to provide take-out, and factories stall upcoming projects. The number of workers who are predicted to lose their jobs due to the novel Coronavirus was projected in the upwards of 1,021 people last month, according to the Ministry of Labor. Prime Minister Abe did declare a State of Emergency on April 7th, and the Ministry of Finance announced that ¥100,000 would be given to residents (and eventually confirmed that foreign residents were included) but some experts argue that this declaration occurred too late.

While April would normally be the start of new jobs for many in Japan, this April seems to have an opposite turnout for most job-seekers. Lines outside of Hello Work* buildings all over the country would be twice as long as lines for masks outside of drugstores. Certain locations have also reduced the amount of staff members on-duty, causing longer waiting times at local Hello Work branches.

(Hello Work is an employment service center operated by the Japanese government, under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Its main role is to help connect job seekers to companies in need of skilled labor.)

In early April, I became a part of this statistic. My 6-month contract at a city hall in Osaka was not granted for renewal, and the job openings for tourism and English education in the area seemed to have vanished as the governor also declared a state of emergency. I decided to reach out to Hello Work to see if I was eligible for any benefits and to search for jobs through their system.

I arrived on a Thursday morning around 11AM. The line encircled the entire building and moved slowly. There was little distance between us and we stood outside of the building for about two hours. Bottles of hand sanitizer were available to use before entering the building. It reminded me of Disneyland for a brief moment.

 

Once I entered the Hello Work office, I was greeted by an energetic staff member. Everyone in the office, including the job-seekers, were wearing masks. We were told to sit two to three seats apart from each other, and the seats for the computer lab were 1 seat apart. There appeared to be no multilingual support at this Osaka branch. Many of the people in the room appeared to be elderly or recently graduated from university. Some of the job-seekers previously worked in factories or in retail.

After about an hour, it was my turn. Since my previous contract was only for six months, I was unable to receive any benefits. But the staff member who assisted me thoroughly searched and found about fifteen jobs that I could apply for. The process itself took about 10 minutes. I turned around and saw the computer lab filled to the brim with anxious job-seekers. Most of them has 0 search results, and the staff would try their best to experiment with different search entries to find a match.

 

 

Hello Work branches all over the country seem to be facing the same dilemma. For many newly unemployed residents in the Chubu region, they faced the most difficulty with their former employer. “I did not know much about the paperwork I needed to file for unemployment”, said Guillerme Okada. “At the factories, we were suddenly told that we couldn’t work anymore. I had to ask several of my friends first.” Okada had brought someone with him as an interpreter to explain to his Japanese supervisor that he needed to give documents for Okada to receive unemployment benefits. “It is a common issue with factory workers in this area. If I struggle to get legal documentation, I struggle to trust this system. I came with my interpreter to Hello Work, but there were two already available to help me. I had a lot of support from my community and from them during this time.”

Other employers would also push back start dates and avoid paying the contracted salary despite the legal 60% minimum requirement. Maria M., a Tokyo resident, would get last-minute notices and conflicting information about her start date and paycheck.

“I had already given my previous job a month’s notice and quit to start this new one. I was supposed to start during the first week of April but they changed it. It’s at a store so telework is impossible.”

About four or five days later, she was asked to Skype with the human relations chair. Her hiring date was moved to May 15th with no pay in advance. She contacted the labor bureau about her situation. “They confirmed that my company was responsible for me. My friends [who also worked at the company] said that they were receiving part of their salary in April. When I told my employer that I contacted the labor bureau, they quickly agreed to offer me part of my contracted pay.”

During these uncertain times, it may be difficult to navigate unemployment and economic stability on top of acquiring the basic necessities for surviving the pandemic. As the numbers of infected individuals steadily increase, the ratio of available job positions drop to its lowest level in three years. However, with the national and local government bringing out new sources of financial aid for individuals and businesses alike, there is room for growth in the economy and policy change.

 

In Japan, there’s no visible coronavirus epidemic because the government won’t test you for it?

On March 18th, the Japan Medical Association announced that there were 290 cases of doctors deciding that a patient needed to be tested for coronavirus, and even then the patients were not tested. The term used by JMA “不適切事例” literally translated means “inappropriate/unsuitable cases”.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems intent on keeping the official numbers of infected down and that means not only making the standards for getting a test very high (for example, you must have a fever of over 37.5 degrees Celsius for four days) but it also seems to be actively discouraging tests.

Japan tests roughly 117 people per million for coronavirus as of March 19th. South Korea tests 6148 people per million. Do the math.

Japan’s testing for coronavirus falls severely behind many other countries. see https://ourworldindata.org/covid-testing

Nathalie Kyoko-Stucky interviewed one woman who was denied testing in Tokyo. This is her story.

Patient Zero, age 31 is a project manager in Japan working for an IT firm. She asked for her name to be omitted and some details of her story obscured for fear of being stigmatized socially. She lives in Tokyo.

“I started to feel very tired March 7th and had a low fever of 37.2. Thought i was just tired from work. On Monday, I felt really tired at work and on Tuesday, I struggled to go to the office and only stayed 2 hours and came home. Tuesday night, I started to get a cough and by 10pm I felt i was getting sick and my fever was 37.5 degrees.

Wednesday morning I woke up feeling sick and extremely tired and had a fever of 38 degrees.

Over the next few days, I stayed in bed sick. I started feeling a pain in my chest and it was getting painful to breathe. On Saturday, I called the Coronavirus hotline because by that point I had fever over 37.5 for 4 days. 

I called them because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go to a normal hospital and accidentally spread it so I called for advice. 

The lady told me that the Shinagawa Healthcare Center (品川保健所)is closed on the weekend, and I should call them on Monday when they opened. 
But, she said if I became sicker, I should just go to the hospital. 

On Sunday there was still no improvement. I had pneumonia when I was in high school and my body felt similar to that time so I was a bit worried. So I called the hospital and told them my story and that at the minimum I wanted an x-ray. They told me, “Okay please come in.”

At the hospital they asked if I went to an onsen, had overseas travel, or if was in direct contact with a COVID-19 patient. I said no.

Luckily my x-ray came back clear for pneumonia, but the doctor diagnosed me with pleurisy. 

Note: (Pleurisy (PLOOR-ih-see) is a condition in which the pleura — two large, thin layers of tissue that separate the lungs from the chest wall — becomes inflamed. Also called pleuritis, pleurisy causes sharp chest pain (pleuritic pain) that worsens during breathing. It can be caused by viral infections, pneumonia and other conditions

I felt the doctor was kind but his hands were tied.

On Monday, my fever was will going between 37.5-38, and my boyfriend called the health care center. It took hours to get through because the phone line was always busy.

After getting through to someone and explaining the situation, the women answering the phone said she can’t authorize a test because I have not traveled abroad and I have no direct contact with a COVID19 patient.

Her advice was, ” If it is still bad or gets worse in a few days, go back to the hospital and beg the doctor himself to call the healthcare center and request a test for me.

At that point I realized it’s impossible to get a test. I didn’t want to risk going outside and accidentally infecting someone. 

Unfortunately, the part which is most frustrating for me now is that I don’t know if I actually have it or not.I was considering trying to go back to the US to help my mother who is in her seventies, but I cannot risk going back and spreading it to her. 

Luckily today, on March 21, it was the first day that I haven’t had a fever since March 7. I lost my voice and talking still irritates my lungs but most of the chest pain is gone. 

So I had fever for 14 days. It’s very surreal.

I was so surprised why they set up the hotline to call, but advice from both numbers was “just to go the hospital”.

I expected they would tell me where to go for example or perhaps advise me to stay home in quarantine. 

What’s the point of a hotline if the advice is “just go to the hospital”?

Personally that made me feel like there is not much fear about it spreading in the medical establishment. This worries me.

Also as a side note, I had been extra careful , carrying hand sanitizer everywhere I went and also never was outside without a mask. I even was using taxis the majority of the time to avoid the train. 

****

This is just one example of a person who most likely should have been tested for the virus and was not. If you have experienced something similar, please write us with the heading CVTESTS at japansubcultureresearchcenter@gmail.com

The Art of Sakoku(鎖国) – Keeping Cool and Aloof Behind Closed Doors in Japan (for future reference)

by Kaori Shoji 

A priority item on the agenda of the first Shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Iyeyasu when he seized power in 1603, was to limit foreign travel to Japan. He issued several orders like the ones we’re seeing around the world at this moment: urging the Japanese to stay put in their own communities and urging all foreigners to get the hell out. By foreigners, Iyeyasu specifically meant the European missionaries who were spreading ideas – like a virus!  – about an omnipotent God that transcended traditional Japanese values. They also extolled the virtues of non-violence and giving to the poor; two factors that the new Shogun viewed as particularly harmful to his authority. The ‘aliens’ had to go, and those who didn’t, were eventually executed or banished to Dejima Island, off the coast of Nagasaki. Iyeyasu’s son and grandson tightened the screws on the lockdown as they in turn, became the Shogun. Japan effectively bolted its doors to the outside world and  Sakoku*・鎖国(shutting down the country)’ went into effect. 

Initially, other clan lords were skeptical about this sakoku thing. Before Iyeyasu came along, Japan had a fairly robust import/export system, supported by a prosperous merchant class in Osaka. Without inbound travelers and foreign business, these merchants were sunk, as was the burgeoning currency economy. But Iyeyasu shrugged off their complaints and worries. He chose reclusive isolation over commerce and progress, and for the next 265 years, Japan became a ‘hikikomori (shut-in)’ in the global community. Everything passed us by: the Industrial Revolution and the locomotive, colonialism and corsets, Mozart and coffee, the printing press and chocolate. Everything. 

*Writer’s Note – Contrary to the belief that the Tokugawa Shogunate coined the term ‘sakoku’ which literally means a ‘country in chains,’ it was actually invented by German explorer Engelbert Kaempfer in the late 17th century and later translated into Japanese.

In the meantime, the Japanese got a lot of practice on keeping calm and carrying on behind closed doors, in spite of or because of everything happening in the larger world. Sure, sakoku sucked in a hundred ways but it also created a uniquely weird culture that continues to enthrall or amuse people all over the world. Iyeyasu’s capital city of Edo – now called Tokyo, was a haven of stability and prosperity with an unparalleled ecological and recycling system. 

The sakoku mind-set made all this possible – a willful and deliberate closing of the shutters to the outside world while making sure that plenty went on inside. Call it aloofness, coldness or a thick-skinned pragmatism. In times like this, such traits can come in pretty handy. 

You may have heard that the Japanese aren’t very expressive – well that’s just not true. The Japanese are THE LEAST expressive people in Asia which probably makes us the most rigid people on the planet. Long before this virus thing the Japanese have been wearing masks – as a prevention against all ills including a bad skin day and questionable breath. The mask was also fashionable among teenage girls, as hiding their mouths made them feel more attractive. (Kissing with masks was a real thing in the early aughts too, because many young couples deemed it erotic.) We were also adamant about washing hands, gargling and refusing to eat off communal plates. 

Smiling and laughing in public, talking to strangers, physical displays of affection – these things are normal in western cultures but they’ve never taken off here unless it became a fad. Like being friendly to foreigners and embracing diversity was a fad that many Japanese felt pressured into doing because hey, globalism and the Olympics 2020. But now COVID-19 has given the Japanese a very good reason to go back to the way we were. Unrelenting, inexpressive, rigid and distanced. It’s all cool. Show me a person with a secret stash of face masks and 30 rolls of toilet paper and I’ll show you a model Japanese citizen.

As for touching one another,  it’s a whole other issue unto itself. The Japanese just don’t do this, and never had. Though many of us love the idea of casual cheek kisses a la Francaise, we just couldn’t muster the courage to try it on a Tokyo street. Now, we don’t have to pretend anymore. Social distancing may be a new and scary concept for the west but to us, it’s very familiar, like our parents to whom we pay the obligatory visit over New Year’s. 

Speaking of which, I don’t ever remember being hugged by my late father, who devoted much of his life to wedging a good, 1.7 meter distance between himself and the rest of the world. It wasn’t just him of course, many Japanese males can’t bring themselves to get close to anyone they know, which paradoxically explains why there’s so much groping on the trains. But the virus has resolved that snag–what with schools closed and people ordered to work remotely, the morning trains are far less crowded and consist mostly of masked salarymen clutching phones with one hand and briefcases in the other, studiously avoiding all eye and physical contact. 

You might say the Japanese are good at this. There is little of the sense of deprivation and loneliness that say, an American person might feel about the loss of casual physical contact. We’re not touching, we’re not smiling, but who’s to say we’re not having fun underneath our face masks?

Editor’s Note: And judging by the hanami crowds this weekend and in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s “Let’s go outside!” admonitions, it seems like Japan’s 鎖国(sakoku ) period may end very soon.

Just for the record, while big concerts and public events are not happening, there’s still plenty going on in Tokyo and most restaurants and department stores have stayed open. Other venues include: 

1) Shinjuku Gyoen Park 
Located in Sendagaya, this place is heavenly for a stroll among the greenery and themed gardens. 

2) Oedo Onsen Monogatari 
The popular bathhouse in Odaiba is alive and doing good business, along with the fancy La Qua Spa in Tokyo Dome

3) Tokyo Tower and Shibuya Sky 
In case you want look down on the city and laugh at its petty problems. 

4) Tama Zoo 
The animals are fine and chilling out. We should do the same. 

5) Fujikyu Highland Amusement Park 
Scream your head off on the roller coasters, at least until 3PM when the place closes. 

6)Brick

Most bars are open but this place in Ginza is a personal favorite, with one of the finest selection of whiskeys in Tokyo. 

END

What You Should Do When Your Employer Tells You “Don’t Come to Work” In Japan (because of the coronavirus)

“How will I eat without my salary?”

by Makoto Iwahashi

As of March 1st, Japan has already seen more than 900 people get infected by the deadly coronavirus. To avoid contributing to the spread, many businesses have decided to suspend operations; schools in some prefectures are closing for a couple of weeks. 

Naturally, you might wonder how you are going to survive all of March if your employer suddenly cancels some or all of your shifts. This has happened to a number of teachers already. Here is a guideline which summarizes everything you need to know to still receive your salary. 

If you were Hired by Board of Education and Teaching at Public Schools

If you are employed by a board of education, teaching language classes, or working for a public school in any way, you should contact your employer (it would most likely be the prefectural board of education) and ask whether you will still be guaranteed your March salary. Essentially, it’s up to your employer (board of education) whether to continue to pay for the classes you were forced to miss. The Tokyo Board of Education has decided that part-time lecturers/teachers would still be guaranteed the same amount they would have received even if schools are closed due to coronavirus. (授業がないと給与が払われない? 一斉休校による「非正規」教員への影響)

Remember, this particular rule only applies if you work for a public school and are employed by a board of education. Thus, assistant language teachers (ALTs) who are employed by dispatching agencies do not have to worry about contacting their local board of education. 

Everyone Else 

If you are NOT employed by a board of education, then this is what you have to know. Unless it is you who decided not to go to work, due to various reasons–such as the fear you might get infected commuting–you should still be paid for the time missed. It does not matter if you are working full-time or part-time, whether you work as a regular employee (seishain) or on a temporary, fixed-term contractor (hi-seiki), every worker has the right to receive the full amount. 

No matter what the reasoning behind closing operations temporarily, employers must pay at least 60 percent of your salary if they tell employees not to show up. Article 26 of the Labor Standards Act which states that “in the event of an absence from work for reasons attributable to the Employer, the Employer shall pay an allowance equal to at least 60 percent of the Worker’s average Wage to each Worker concerned during said period of absence from work.” 

For example, your March shifts had already been set, and you had ten days/shifts, 8 hours a day, in March, and your hourly wage is 2000 Yen, for a total of 160,000 Yen. Your employer canceled all of your shifts because of the coronavirus. You should still be able to receive at least 60 percent of that 160,000 Yen which is 96,000 Yen, according to the Labor Standards Act, no matter what your employer tells you or what the reason for closing the company operations. 

On top of that, 60 percent is the absolute minimum that your employer must pay to avoid being persecuted for violating the Labor Standards Act. You have the right to demand that your employer pay 100 percent of your missed salary since it was not your fault that you could not work. It might not be your employer’s fault that the coronavirus is spreading so rapidly and we are in a total chaos  (Japan Shows Coronavirus May Be a Gift—for Would-Be Dictators https://www.thedailybeast.com/japans-coronavirus-cruise-ship-debacle-shows-epidemic-can-be-a-gift-for-would-be-dictators?ref=author) , but what matters in receiving renumerations is that it was your employer (and not you) who told you not to come to work. 

In order to still receive your salary, make sure to keep track of your missed shifts (dates, hours) and calculate how much you ended up not getting paid. When your March payday comes, and you find out your employer did not bank transfer your March salary, then you can write a letter to your employer demanding that it pay your March salary. If your employer still decides not to compensate, then you can go to the labor standards office, which oversees the district where your workplace is (not where your company headquarters is) and have an officer investigate.

Or you can contact labor NGOs or labor unions for assistance. There’s a labor NGO called Posse, which is running a coronavirus hotline for foreign workers on March 4thfrom 5 pm to 8 pm, offering legal advice in English free of charge (WE ARE STARTING A CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) HOTLINE FOR FOREIGN WORKERS! https://blog.goo.ne.jp/posse_blog/e/0125cd742806a2d9b201bbae5d7c29b1).

What if the company wants you to come, but you don’t want to show up?

You have two options. The first option is to use your annual paid leave. Article 39 of the Labor Standards Act guarantees ALL workers that you are entitled to receive at least a day of paid leave after working for the same employer for six months. If you work full time, then you should have at least ten days per year after six months of being employed by the same employer. The chart on page 42 tells you how many days of paid holidays you should have (https://www.hataraku.metro.tokyo.jp/sodan/siryo/29-5rodojikan.pdf) and you could have more if your contract states otherwise. You have the right to decide when you want to use your annual paid leave. It would be illegal for your employer to restrict you from using your paid leave.

The second option is to apply for a benefit called “shou byou teate kin (傷病手当金)”. You can receive a payment from your health insurance provider if you are sick and have to take more than three consecutive days away from work. You need to have missed your paycheck and have to have your doctor fill in the paperwork to receive a payment, which guarantees you get 67 percent of your monthly salary.

What if You Are Infected with Coronavirus during Work?

This might be the worst-case scenario, but if you are (or if you think you are) infected with the coronavirus during work, you should apply for workplace injury compensation (Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance is the official English translation of the Japanese term,  rosai 労災). It’s up to the labor standards office to determine whether your infection is work-related or not, but if it does so, you should receive free medical services, and 80 percent of your salary is guaranteed. For the 20 percent of your salary the insurance does not cover, you have the right to demand your employer to cover that part since it is a workplace injury. No employer can terminate a contract of an employee who is taking a leave due to workplace injury. 

See Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare: Industrial Accident Compensation Insurance Guideline for Foreign Workers 

https://www.mhlw.go.jp/new-info/kobetu/roudou/gyousei/rousai/dl/zentai/eigo2.pdf

So, What You should Do

So what should you do if your employer tells you not to come? First, you should make sure to keep track of how many days or hours you are forced to miss. If you use an online calendar in which your employer can delete your shifts easily, make sure to take a screenshot of your schedule before your shifts get removed. Then you should demand your employer to still pay for the time missed. If you are not sure about what to do, there are several NGOs and labor unions which you can contact in English. There’s Tokyo General Union (https://tokyogeneralunion.org/), which mainly organizes language school teachers, and there’s Posse (https://foreignworkersupport.wixsite.com/mysite/english), a labor NGO working on behalf of foreign/migrant workers.

(This post is based on the material published in the article written first in Japanese by a labor activist/researcher Haruki Konno. Some parts of the original material are modified. If you are looking for similar information in Japanese, please refer to the link below)

新型コロナでひろがる出勤停止  知っておきたい「休業時の生活保障」の知識https://news.yahoo.co.jp/byline/konnoharuki/202

Op/Ed From Ex-Prosecutor: Ghosn must respect Japanese Justice Statistics

Hiniku Taro, a former special prosecutor, implores Ghosn to respect Japan’s rule of law

Shame on you Mr. Ghosn, for not allowing us to prove you’re guilty in our very fair system of 99% conviction Japanese law!

It is most regrettable that Carlos Ghosn, the convicted criminal, former CEO of Nissan has cowardly chosen to escape from Japan rather than face a fair trial and inevitable conviction in Japan’s prestigious courts. This is very disruptive of our justice system and the prosecutor conviction statistics.

I think there is a cultural misunderstanding on the side of Ghosn-san that has led to this rash decision. As you may know, Japan is a country where justice works on the presumption of innocent until proven guilty. Which is the tatemae–like when your mama makes you a rice cake with zoni and you say it is good even if is not so tasty. Some have said, that in Nippon you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. This very true—up to certain point. That certain point, in my experience, being when we decide whether to indict or not. If it is not a slam dunk case, then we presume you are innocent because we don’t like to lose.

But once we indict you, we have 99% conviction rate. So post-indictment, you are presumed guilty until proven guilty. And Ghosn has unfairly denied us the right to prove his guilt. This is a great shame.

We only denied Ghosn 6000 files in preparing his defense and only kept him in jail for 129 days before his trial. We most benevolent but no no thank you from him. Just whine whine whine. He would have had a fair trial and been fairly convicted based on the incredibly slanted, selective testimony and evidence the prosecutors had arranged and altered, and a stark refusal to allow in any testimony that might exonerate him,.

Even then, he would still have a 1% chance of being found not guilty of some or all of the charges. Of course, since the prosecution can appeal cases in Japan, and we like to do, we’d probably have convicted him the second round. Yes, because you can get tried for the same crime here but we have no double jeopardy–in theory.

Ghosn is a bad fellow and deserving the full wrath of the mighty prosecutor’s office for the public good. If he was a bureaucrat who simply forged documents, shredded files to cover up Prime Minister Abe’s political machination– (Osaka prosecutors close Moritomo Gakuen case after reconfirming no bureaucrats will be indicted over scandal)–, that wouldn’t have been a problem. Or if he was close friend of the Prime Minster who allegedly raped a journalist, we would never have detained him and torn up the arrest warrant–as police were going to arrest him–and dropped all charges as soon as we knew he was going to publish a laudatory biography of Herr Abe.

But Ghosn is not a Japanese CEO, like the hardworking ones at TEPCO who were completely aware that a tidal wave might knock out the electricity to the generators causing a triple-nuclear meltdown. We never arrested them and refused to prosecute them. And look, the courts let them off, because they know, as we do, that justice is not our job–protecting the powerful JAPANESE elite is what we do. This is why we didn’t prosecute anyone at Toshiba for a billion dollar accounting fraud--because that was…a mistake. When a Japanese company like Takata makes defective airbags that result in deaths–overseas–that’s not our problem either. (But those American meddlers! So corrupt Us system be!) Why we don’t prosecute them? Because the executives are Liberal Democratic Party supporters and Japanese. Japan has tatemae justice system and this doesn’t apply to Jokyukokumin (上級国民) . And what are Jokyukokumin? If you have to ask, you aren’t one! It is like Zen koan.

How do we know what’s a serious crime? Well, when a foreigner does it, it’s a serious crime. It is in the unwritten Roppo. When Coincheck, loses over a billion dollars worth of virtual currency–was there a crime committed? We don’t care. When Mark Karpeles, a FRENCHMAN, running a virtual currency exchange is hacked out of a half billion worth of virtual currency, we arrest him on whatever charges possible. knowing he must be guilty. And we hold him for 11 months, questioning him with no lawyer present, because we know he’s guilty. And when the IRS, Homeland Security and US authorities arrest the real hacker, we try to block that evidence from being submitted into court. And when the court finds him not guilty on major charges, and the crazy judge rebukes us?

We don’t talk about that. Not good idea to talk about that. And what about Enzai (冤罪) –wrongful convictions? This only happens in case of Japanese, who are very old and probably going to die in prison, so we say okay, maybe not guilty. Oh and that Nepalese guy wrongfully convicted of murder. Oops. Prosecutors are humans, too. PS. Don’t read those back issues of that magazine devoted to cases of injustice in Japan. Very old now. Much changed!

We work very hard to find or make evidence that will our make case. Ghosn and his lawyers were very uzai. Why would we want evidence that could exonerate the accused when we already have enough to win the case? We get so tired of whiny liberal lawyers who want a ‘fair’ trial for their client. L-o-s-e-r-s. This is why we will find any reason to deny them crucial evidence or share it with them—and also because we can!

The judge is almost always going to give us what we want. That’s how the system works. And as a long time resident of Japan, Carlos Ghosn must respect that system. It is the honorable thing to do. It very simple.

A Guide To The Japanese Prosecutor’s Office

You do or not do a crime.

Someone reports the crime to the police, who may or may not make an arrest. THEN

A) If you are politically connected to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his friends, or LDP and bonus points if you are wealthy business executive, the case is stopped early and investigation quashed.

If gung ho police insist, or foolish lower level prosecutors take papers from police, we wait until Japan wins Olympic bid or some big event and then announce that we won’t prosecute—so nobody notice.

B) If you are politically connected, you report crime to the police or even better, special prosecutor, and make back-door deal. Plea bargaining now welcome, welcome.

We arrest suspect (dirty foreigner or vocal critic) on lesser charges! Go to jail. If you don’t confess, we go to friendly judge and say, “He/she will destroy evidence or escape while we work little bit more. Can we keep them 10 more days?” Judge says, OK! We can hold you for up to 23 days, easy-peasy. Then like fish on a hook, we let you go–then rearrest! We hold them in jail until they confess and rigorously interrogate them every day.

If they don’t confess, it’s only because they’re guilty. And if they do confess, well we were right, they’re guilty.

Get With The Game, Ghosn!

This is Japan and everyone must play their part. We make occasional politically motivated public arrest of big person, but not anyone close to the Prime Minister. We leak like crazy to Japanese media bad things about suspect–even that they confessed. We prepare for the trial, hoodwink the lawyers, refuse to show them our evidence–because we can get away with it and the law doesn’t force us to do it, nor will the judge, and then we win. 99% of the time. And if we lose 1% of the time, well we win on the appeal. 😜

The role of the indicted is to either confess early or endure the proceedings and then get convicted anyway, but winning or escaping–that’s not an option.

Shame on you, Carlos Ghosn. You have made a mockery of the Japanese system of injustice justice. And what is even more unforgivable is that your selfish act may actually lower our conviction rates to less than 99%!

Hiniku Taro is a former prosecutor, now in private practice, after resigning from office when he was discovered to have forced a local politician to confess to being a serial underwear thief, ‘on a hunch’, in 2002. He says, ‘Even though I may no longer be a prosecutor, I never forget the valuable lessons I learned on the job such as yakuza and foreigners have no human rights’. For more information see the webpage for Hiniku and Tanuki Sougo General Law Horitsu Jimusho, located in Chiyoda-ku, Otemachi.

*Parody.

Insult Comedy Goes International as Tokyo Roast Battle Takes on Shanghai

Tokyo Vs Shanghai in a stand-up competition guaranteed to make the authorities rise up in anger and amusement.

Competitive insult comedy takes a huge step forward as Tokyo Roast Battle squares off against the Shanghai League in Asia’s first ever international Roast Battle competition, the winning city taking home the inaugural Chalice of Malice trophy.

Shanghai will be represented by three comedians flying in for  the show. The card is headlined by Fukuoka TV personality and Japanese Champion Bobby Judo (USA), who faces stand-up comic and Shanghai tournament winner Eric Alexander (Canada) to determine who will become the first East Asia Champion.

Note: To really get into the spirit of Chinese comedy, facial recognition technology will be employed at the venue to see who laughs at the Red China jokes, so they can be rehabilitated at at a later date. Visitors from Hong Kong can get masks at the front desks but are not allowed to vote. Any jokes pertaining to Japan’s Conspiracy Laws should be reported to the Abe Cabinet Intelligence office after the show.

Roast battle is a 7 year old comedy format that originated at the World Famous Comedy Store and is now being performed all over the world. Comedians go head to head in hilarious insult battles reminiscent of rap battles, only much funnier & meaner. Roast Battle has had 3 successful seasons on Comedy Central and has spawned spinoffs in the UK & Canada. 

Tokyo Roast Battle (TRB) was founded by Canadian comedian JJ Wakrat in 2017. Although there had been a handful of one night tournaments and events in Asia. TRB was the first league of its kind. It has been very well received in straight-laced Japan, selling out every single show to date.

According to JJ, what makes this show so special is how it embraces diversity without pulling any punches. “This show is super intense. It’s just about the least polite thing you can witness in Japan. But what makes it work is the love and affection the comedians have for their opponents”.

Regular shows and tournaments have since been promoted in cities like Shanghai, Bangkok, Saigon, & Singapore. With the growing popularity of Roast Battle, it was inevitable that some form of International competition would develop. Tokyo Roast Battle: Shanghai vs Tokyo is the first Intercity friendly match, but certainly not the last.  An All-Asia Invitational tournament is planned for the spring with Roast Battle on Comedy Central Season 2 Champion Frank Castillo set to judge.

Tokyo Roast Battle: Shanghai vs Tokyo takes place October 18th at Good Heavens in Shimokitazawa. Reserving tickets ahead of time is strongly recommended: www.tokyoroastbattle8.peatix.com

Full Fight Card

Main Event: (3 rounds)

TV Host Bobby Judovs Eric Alexanderfor the East Asian Roast Battle Championship.

Co Main Event: #1 Contender bout (3 rounds)

2 Time Tokyo ChampionBill Millervs Shanghai Roast Battle finalist Gene George.

Tokyo comedy legend Vinay Murthymarks his Roast Battle return against Shanghai show-runner Dan R. in a tit-for tat shootout. 

Tokyo Closet Ball founder Tatiana faces off against Vietnam’s Stefani St. Sl*t in Asia’s first ever Drag Queen battle.

Venue

Good Heavens British Bar Tokyo (SHIMOKITAZAWA)

Address:5丁目-32-5 Daizawa, Setagaya, Tokyo 155-0032

Time & Date 

Friday, Oct 18 @ 8:30. 

Promoter

Stand Up Tokyo

Contact

jjwakrat@gmail.com 

Tickets:

www.tokyoroastbattle8.peatix.com