A Farewell To Japan’s King of Toxic Masculinity: Shintaro Ishihara

by Kaori Shoji

At least it wasn’t a long, protracted goodbye. Ishihara would have hated that. 

On February 1st, Shintaro Ishihara, long-time ex-governor of Tokyo and former Minister of Transportation (among other credentials) died. He was 89 years old. He was one of the last guardians of Japanese patriarchy as well as a charismatic politician. The unapologetic, racist, brash and chauvinist Ishihara had both supporters and opponents, including Yuriko Koike, the current mayor of Tokyo who was the first woman to hold the position. Ishihara referred to her on more than one occasion as ‘obasan (old woman)’ and Koike accused the man of running Japan’s capital city into the ground. 

(Editor’s note: Even Koike can be right. Shinginko Tokyo, the bank created by Ishihara using Tokyo’s funds was a tremendous failure, leaving huge debts behind. However it did provide a windfall for Kanto yakuza).

Ishihara hated outspoken women and liberal men; he had no kind feelings for the US and refused to be enthralled or intimidated by western culture. Ishihara reserved his most acidic venom for China. For thirty years, he railed against the government in Beijing and demanded that Tokyo annex the non-populated Senkaku Islands (located several hundred miles north of the Yaeyama Islands in Okinawa) instead of permitting Chinese fishermen to fish there.

In 2002, a group of Tokyo women tried to take him to court for inappropriate statements made on TV, in which he expressed agreement with a Tokyo University professor that “women who are past their child-bearing years should not live on until old age. Men can propagate the species until their 80s and 90s but women living into their 80s is a disease of civilization.”

The man was a rightist, elitist, racist, misogynist, patriarchal pig. I hope I didn’t leave out anything. 

But he also had an unmistakable, evocative allure, what in Japanese is known as ‘hana’.  It was hana that kept him in the Governor’s seat for over a decade and hana that launched his bestsellers, like The Japan That Can Say No and Genius.

Ishihara had a bit of Donald Trump in him but unlike the ex-prez he had no interest in flaunting his women and stuck with the same wife he married in 1955. As Tokyo governor he wielded an influence on par with New York counterpart Andrew Cuomo, though Ishihara never got slapped with a harassment suit. 

There were always rumors of shady doings going on inside his lavish office in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. A handful of young female aides quit with generous severance payouts. A male assistant tried to commit suicide because he couldn’t stand the Governor’s bullying. 

Now that Ishihara’s gone, any dirty secrets will stay firmly bolted in the closet (maybe). Japanese political staff are for the most part, exceedingly loyal and any boss worth their salt knows it. Back in 2002, I was at Ishihara’s press conference and was struck by how his staff anticipated his every word and the slightest of head-nods, rushing to follow his orders before they were even given. Tall, imposing and suave, he made most of his contemporaries look like scrapings from a drain pipe. One thing you have to admit: he was well-bred, well-read and carried himself accordingly. 

Born in Kobe in 1932 to wealthy parents, Ishihara was a novelist before becoming a politician, and a politician before becoming Tokyo’s longest serving governor. At the age of 21 when he was at Hitotsubashi University, Ishihara won the Akutagawa Award (Japan’s highest literary prize) for Taiyo no Kisetsu (Season of the Sun) which was adapted for the screen starring his younger brother Yujiro.

The hatred of women and smug arrogance permeates the literary work of Shintaro Ishihara. “A heterosexual Mishima without the finesse”

Editor’s note: That the book won a literary prize says terrible things about Japan in the 1960s. The book was later translated as Season of Violence and this review from GoodReads sums it up succinctly:

Heterosexual Mishima — which is to say not written with any grace or artful tact but with a similar vision of violent machismo and drama: erections breaking through paper (shoji) doors and young rapists clinging to life as they drag their cut apart bodies across the street, prostitutes at sea, cruelty as sport and pastime. Tatsuya in the eponymous novella is so terrible and frightening it made me sick.

‘What have I been to you all these weeks?’ 

“A woman,” he shrugged.

Together, the Ishihara brothers created a brand not unlike a powerful mafia family. While Shintaro sired four boys and did his best to dent what he saw as Nagatacho’s (Tokyo’s equivalent of Capitol Hill) slavish, pro-American policies. Yujiro formed his own film production company called Ishihara Gundan (Ishihara Army Corps), mimicking big bro’s penchant for strutting machismo. 

He had no offspring but had a knack for gathering tall, muscular male performers into the Ishihara brand orbit. Yujiro was probably the first Japanese male to pull off a leather jacket over tight jeans and have sex on the beach in front of a camera. Shintaro was a badass nationalist with a big mouth. In his youth, he wore bespoke suits and palled around with Yukio Mishima. When the latter committed seppuku, Ishihara arrived at the scene to show his moral support and politely tell the press to f*ck off. 

Yukio and Shintaro: buddies in misanthropy and homoerotic nationalism

Shintaro outlived his little brother by 35 years but cancer got him in the end. On the day, his widowed sister-in-law (herself an actress who starred in Season of the Sun) appeared in the media to express her sadness.His four sons, two of whom are politicians, appeared in the news to attest to their dad’s astonishing vitality. “He kept writing, right up until a week ago,” said second son Yoshizumi Ishihara, who is a successful actor and emcee. His eldest, Nobuteru Ishihara who two months before had quit his position as advisor to Prime Minister Kishida, after losing in the general elections to the daughter of a vegetable seller and single mother, said tearfully that he hoped he could live up to his old man. 

However, even Ishihara’s most vocal critics grudgingly admit that when the chips were down, he was someone you could rely on. 

When the 3.11 disaster struck Northeast Japan he moved to send aid and resources to Fukushima and the Tohoku area faster than any other prefecture. He worked to remove almost 170,000 tons of rubble and trash from the tsunami-hit region and cart the loads into Tokyo for disposal, despite strong opposition from the capital city residents. When asked how the Metropolitan Office should respond to irate Tokyoites, he held a press conference to say “These people should be told to shut up. There’s nothing else to say to them. I mean, how selfish can these people get?”

He arranged housing for people who lost their homes and was also responsible for building shelters for domestic violence victims. Personally, I was always grateful that he banned diesel vehicles from Tokyo streets and delivered much on his promise to green up the city. 

Ishihara was a monstrous mass of contradictions and in the end, he couldn’t keep up with newfangled notions of gender equality, BLM, diversity and tolerance and globalism. That being said, I know I’m not the only one who feels Tokyo has lost something. It’s probably for the better but all the same, we’ll never get it back. 

****

Shintaro Says The Darndest Things 

After Yoshiro Mori was fired from the Tokyo Olympics Committee for saying that women’s speeches tended to be too long, the same committee should have made clear the length of the speech(es) in question. Otherwise, it’s unfair. 

From his online column, Feb. 12, 2021 

The preface of the Japanese constitution reeks of white supremacy and is strewn with grammatical errors, as if it had been hastily translated from English to Japanese by a bad translator. 

From ‘Will’ magazine, July 2020 

The most stellar evidence of true manhood is self-sacrifice for the greater good. 

From sankei.com, Dec. 19, 2016 

Recently, I’ve been witnessing male actors impersonating females on television. What does this mean? Has the world decayed and gone mad? 

Tweeted in 2017

The rise in gays and lesbians….I can only think that these people are genetically subnormal. Poor things, they’re minorities in society. 

Statement made in 2010 

Driving In Winter With Haruki Murakami… and Why We Still Need Him

by Kaori Shoji 

Drive My Car which opened last August 2021, was one of the best things to hit Japanese theaters in years. Yet many Japanese cinephiles or people who footed it to theaters in spite of the pandemic, quietly gave it a miss. Two weeks later audiences were willing to sit through the new 007 movie with masks on throughout the nearly 3 hour duration, refused to pay the same tribute to what is effectively the first successful cinema adaptation of a Haruki Murakami short story by a fellow Japanese. Shame on us. Drive My Car bagged three awards at Cannes including Best Screenplay, (the first such feat for a Japanese filmmaker) and won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film. It’s now firmly placed on track for an Oscar. 

From 村上春樹語辞典 (Dictionary Of Haruki Murakami Words) There must always be something that vanishes, a mysterious girl (woman), jazz and coffee.

So never mind the box office beating. The careers of director/writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi and lead actor Hidetoshi Nishijima went on a meteoric ascent as Hamaguchi picked up the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for Wheels Of Fortune And Fantasy months before Drive My Car and is now being inundated with offers from Hollywood and Netflix. Veteran lead actor Hidetoshi Nishijima was all over the media in TV and film last year before giving his best performance yet in Drive...He was named Best Actor by the US Films Critics Award, the first for an Asian actor. 

Through it all, the 43-year old Hamaguchi appeared unfazed. In interviews he has stated that Japan isn’t his only playing field though he has professed a love for its cinema industry and in early 2020, he crowdfunded over 330 million yen to save arthouse theaters from Covid bankruptcy. Hamaguchi discipled under Kiyoshi Kurosawa, another auteur whose international reputation has come to overshadow his Japanese notoriety. Under Kurosawa, Hamaguchi learned the ropes of competing in the film fest circuit, dealing with foreign distributors and grooming his stories for global appeal. Otherwise, Hamaguchi is a visionary filmmaker with a special flair for intricate and nuanced storytelling, which comes to the fore in Drive My Car. He took a 40-page Murakami short story and leavened it up to a running time of 3.5 hours, adding Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, Korean actors and the Hiroshima City backdrop in the mix. Through Hamaguchi’s careful doctoring, Murakami’s original story was reborn with much more weight and muscle, able to grapple with emotions that have both urgency and relevance. This is some serious cinema alchemy we’re looking at here. 

On the other hand, Hamaguchi is respectful of Murakami and makes sure the film has the author’s logo stamped all over it. There’s no mistaking the elegant lassitude permeating the storyline, the finicky intellectualism and inherent narcissism of the characters. The only factor that strikes a non-Murakami chord is the presence of Toko Miura, who plays a woman named Misaki. She’s a chauffer with a skeleton or two in the closet of her mind and she’s at once fragile and tough, capable and vulnerable. In Murakami’s story, Misaki serves as a young, female sounding board for the protagonist’s inner musings. In Hamaguchi’s film, her importance goes up several notches and she’s recreated into a women with her own agenda and personal demons, who’s not there to be sexually objectified or soothe anyone. Miura, who used to work part-time at a Tokyo gas stand when she wasn’t working as an actress, is now one of the most watchable performers in the Japanese film industry and Drive My Car owes a huge chunk of its success to her prowess. 

Still, being a Murakami story, Drive My Car ultimately comes off as tale of male ego, or more to the point, the taming of it. Nishijima plays a slender, 50-ish man named Kafuku (an obvious play on the name ‘Kafuka’ from the Murakami bestseller “Kafka By the Sea”), a stage actor who discovers that his wife Oto (played by a splendid Reika Kirishima) has been sleeping around. Kafuku has been semi-aware of Oto’s infidelity but when confronted with the scene of her having sex with another man, his mind shuts down. That night, Oto is found dead from a brain hemorrhage and Kafuku retreats into a shell of wordless grief.

From 村上春樹語辞典 (Dictionary Of Haruki Murakami Words)

Two years later, Kafuku accepts a residency position in Hiroshima and he’s introduced to Misaki, who has been hired to drive him to and from the theater in his car (a Saab 900, of course). Through their brief conversations finds himself able to face Oto again, not as a wife who betrayed him but a woman in her own right. In the meantime he collaborates with Korean actors for the stage production of Uncle Vanya and builds a rapport with Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), who had been Oto’s last lover. 

Murakami’s story is part of a compilation titled Men Without Women, a fate which, in the Murakami scheme of things is akin to death by torture. Men cannot exist without women or their fantasies and much of Murakami’s words are devoted to describing the subtleties of their allure. In his fiction the female is never objectified outright but she’s not to allowed to exist outside the confines of the male ego, either. Murakami always hands over the reigns of power to his women characters, making sure they will never abuse it. If she gets too much for the man to handle, she tends to make a fast exit. Like Oto. Or Naoko from his trademark novel Norwegian Wood. 

This Murakami penchant is in perfect keeping with the Japanese literary tradition and reveals, that for all the Americanisms and western-liberal icons/props scattered across the pages of each and every one of Murakami’s works, the master is in fact, a traditionalist. The combination was dazzling and exotic back in the 20th century. Personally I likened a Murakami novel to a cool, fizzy drink ordered in a bar in an American military base, not that I could set foot in such a place. But two decades plus into the 21st century, the magic of Murakami’s words come off as nostalgic and quaint. It took an alchemist like Ryusuke Hamaguchi to filter out the antiquated grunge of the original short story and upcycle it into a masterpiece. 

For all that, many of us who grew up on Murakami are not ready to cancel him altogether. Generations of Japanese owe him for showing us a world outside the archipelago, for writing about jazz and beer and summer afternoons spent swimming laps at the pool, for dedicating an entire book to marathon running as a pleasurable hobby, for girls who enjoy sex and own up to their sexuality, for boys who are clumsy about relationships but bafflingly knowledgeable about coffee. We owe him for being easily translatable and comprehensible to an international audience that would otherwise equate Japan with anime and karoshi (death by overwork). 
Maybe Haruki Murakami can’t carry the brand on his own anymore but that happens to every established business with a recognizable logo. And now that Ryusuke Hamaguchi has set the precedent, more Murakami adaptations are sure to follow. If you’ll excuse the slightly nationalistic tone, it’s a good time to be Japanese.

Editor’s note: If you’re a fan of Haruki Murakami, with a sense of humor, be sure to avail yourself of a copy of 村上春樹語辞典 (Dictionary of Haruki Murakami Words) which is tongue in cheek tribute and guide to his writings. Even if you don’t read Japanese, the great illustrations, the haiku-like use of English, and the pin-pointing of his common themes and motifs is a delight to read.

From 村上春樹語辞典 (Dictionary Of Haruki Murakami Words)

To End Global Warming: We Need Oil…To Be Left In The Ground

by Eddie Adelstein (special guest contributor)

The earth’s core is a like a sun hidden within the earth.

Credit: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

Scientists have abundantly proven that global warming is real and causing havoc on the planet.  CO2 levels are rising with Earth’s temperatures, but the truth of the matter does not make the relationship a cause and effect. There is a rising level of CO2 with now 412 parts per million.  In addition to increased levels of methane and nitrous oxide, this is considered the primary reason for global warming. This theory, which receives strong support from scientists, may not be the only factor. This article proposes other mechanisms that may play a role in global warming.

There is a massive nickel-iron ball at the center of the earth with a diameter of 760 miles, spinning faster than the rotation of the earth and having a temperature of 5000°C.  It generates heat in the earth so that when you dig to 32 inches deep in Missouri the pipes don’t freeze.  Additionally, it produces magnetic fields that are easily measurable. Around this ball of solid iron-nickel is another layer with a  radius of 2,165 miles. It is believed to be made up of a liquid alloy.  There is an interface at this level with the outer mantle, and some scientists believe oil is produced there. Exactly how this heat is generated or the mechanism is unknown. It’s almost as if we have a sun buried deep inside the earth.

The origin of man or how we have been designed is a mystery to me, but lubrication is built into our physical self.  Our joints, eyes, and reproductive organs are lubricated.   There may be a mechanism in place at the interface with this giant heat-producing ball at the center of our planet that deals with the friction that it produces. Current theories suggest that the spinning ball and surrounding liquid iron might produce their own oil, reducing friction. The removal of portions of this oil may cause irregularities in the spinning ball, contributing to global warming and earthquakes.

Editor’s note: In short, we are pumping so much oil out of the earth, that we’re essentially running a car without oil, causing tremendous friction and making the engine overheat. 

Several scientists believe that oil is produced at the interface between the heated sphere and the carbon surrounding it.

This is the abiogenic theory of oil‘s origin.  As this oil seeps between the plates, Saudi Arabia has an infinite supply of oil, whereas when drilling in the Gulf of Mexico closer to its source, there were such great pressures that it took many months to stop the leak. 

We have not identified  any planets that support life as we know it.  We have the water vapor cycle, the carbon dioxide/oxygen system,  and  the nitrogen cycle.  How do we know that oil is not a vital component of the planet’s survival?  Approximately 135 million tons of oil have been extracted since 1850, yet the world is not running out of oil.

When the oil is taken from the earth, the spaces around it are apparently filled with water.  The water supply is affected but more importantly the water acts as a poorer insulation than oil, which could also contribute to the warming of the earth.   Many of our weather patterns are caused by the heating of vast amounts of water.  The heat produced causes global warming and an increase in hurricanes.  In recent days, we have witnessed tornadoes wreaking havoc on Kentucky and its neighbors. While glaciers are melting, ambient temperatures do not appear to be high enough to cause this. There is a possibility that the melting is caused by heat from the earth itself. 

The solution to global warming remains the same, stop taking oil out of the earth. We still have time. 

A very wise friend recently told me that it is unlikely we would find similar life forms on other planets–because they would have likely destroyed themselves already.  As a species, we are destructive, not only killing each other, but also destroying the planet. We have the intelligence to stop doing one thing that is undeniably bad for the environment, drilling for oil and using it. Next time the oil light in your car comes on, think about it. 

Back To The Matrix: The 4th Time Is The Charm. ★★★★

#MatrixResurrections Matrix Resurrections opened in Tokyo on December 17.

ALMOST SPOILER FREE REVIEW:

Matrix Resurrections opened on December 17 (Friday) in Tokyo. I went to the 9:20 am showing, giving up the chance to watch the 4D version, which is dubbed into Japanese. It’s a rare thing to see a US movie first in Japan. And that is the only justification I can find for posting a review here, on this Japan centered-blog.

If you loved The Matrix but the original Matrix trilogy left you feeling vaguely unsatisfied and lacking closure, then Matrix Resurrections is just the cure.  It’s not a reboot of the series, but a sequel with loving homage to the original. “The Resurrections” in the title is a big hint.

Neo is not dead but still somehow alive in a new configuration of the Matrix, once again as Thomas A. Anderson. Except this time, he’s a legendary computer game designer, whose claim to fame is having created the sprawling, highly interactive game, The Matrix, which made a generation of humans question their own reality. 

Yet, Anderson is plagued by visions of a past that he never had and imagines he is not in the real world but a construct, much like the game he designed. His benevolent psychotherapist tries to keep the suicidal Anderson on the straight and narrow path, with compassion, understanding and a ceaseless prescription of blue pills. 

Maybe those blue pills are also jumbo Viagra. Thomas Anderson seems perpetually depressed, like John Wick, after his wife died and a Russian gangster killed his dog. He also has the same shabby facial hair as John Wick, except Anderson is not a ninja assassin. A woman who may have been the model for Trinity in his game frequents the same coffee shop close to his office, but she seems more like a motorcycle riding soccer Mom, or computer geek idea of a MILF, than a world saving heroine.

From the very start of the film, we know that Anderson is not crazy. Anderson/Neo has not been forgotten. In a dark corner of the video game world he designed, someone or something  is trying to free him—or so he believes. He’s not incorrect. 

Of course, Agent Smith is also not dead, but he’s not the same program he was before. 

The gradual reappearance of heroes, heroines, and villains from the previous films is handled with grace, wit and subtle foreshadowing. The Oracle and The Architect are conspicuously absent. Morpheus also returns but not the way you remember him. The movie is well-written with delicious doses of dark humor and wonderfully choreographed action sequences.

One the best action sequences takes place on a Shinkansen in Japan. However, despite being set on a bullet-train there is no slow-motion “bullet-time” action on the train.

BTW, there is only a smattering of the “bullet-time” effects that made the first film so ground-breaking, but for good reasons. It’s two and a half hours of B+ grade sci-fi suspense with an ending that won’t leave you wishing you were dead. It did make me hope they don’t do another sequel.

It’s a fine open-ended conclusion. Let’s leave it at that.

Yes, it’s a love story, as every reviewer will tell you, but specifically about “the power of love” (pun intended). It’s also a story about making hard choices when the path of least resistance seems the most comfortable. 

Open your mind, lower your expectations, and you’ll find the trip back to the Matrix a worthwhile journey. 

International Idol Supergroup “KUROFUNECHAN” To Perform First and Final Concert On December 14

Alice, the founder of almost legendary international idol group, Maidoremi (2019-2020), former maid cafe meister, irreverent Twitterdachi, stealth commentator on Japanese culture is leaving Japan—-but not before she and four other idols, the gang of five, unite for their first and last concert together on December 14th as KUROFUNECHAN.  Yes, it’s the international idol community equivalent of the supergroup, CREAM, or for those in a younger generation, NKOTBSB (An American pop supergroup consisting of the members of American boy bands New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys). 

International Idols Assemble! 空前絶後の黒船チャン Kurofunechan will perform their first and last show December 14 in Shinkoenji.

Meet the other girls:

Riria, from Mexico. She’s lived in Japan for 3 years. She originally came because she wanted to be an idol but now she’s more interested in cosplay 

Yuriko, who’s Italian, but one of the most famous foreign cosplayers in Japan. She came here to be an idol. 

Heidi, an American, who graduated from a seiyu (voice actor) school in Tokyo and does voice work. She is currently producing her own idol group where she performs as three different characters and sings in three voices 

Raaya: she’s half Japanese, half—british, and 100% otaku. She used to be an idol but quit earlier this year, and now works at a cosplay bar. She considering getting back into the idol world so stay tuned 

Join Alice and crew for an epic twenty-minute set as they do newly choreographed covers of J-Pop classics. Alice assembled this super-team, much like Nick Fury assembling the Avengers. They hope to bring a little light to the gaijin stranded in Japan while the entry rules make leaving or entering this country a colossal gamble but also are there to support Alice perform her swan song.. It’s also Alice’s bittersweet farewell to a country that in the last two years has made everyone who feel like they belonged here uncertain of whether they are really welcome at all. 

Alice, who was born in England, speaks Creole, English, German and Japanese. She became interested in Japan as a pre-teen when she was making maze boxes in wood-working class. She was planning to decorate her wooden box with Egyptian hieroglyphics but evil classmate Olivia stole her idea. Alice decided to paint her box with kanji, but after noticing the character on the cover of a book about Chinese looked like a centipede (and she hates centipedes), Alice decided to use Japanese characters instead. That was beginning of her descent into the labyrinth of the Japanese language. 

In her teens, she became a huge fan of Hello Project associated idols like Morning Musume and Buono! (Buono! was initially formed as an idol project group to perform theme songs for the Shugo Chara! anime series, which ran from 2007 to 2010).  After studying Japanese intensively, she was able to come to Japan on a Lion’s Club fellowship, staying with several Japanese families and falling in love with this island country, even climbing Mt. Fuji. The following year, after writing to a talent agency, she was flown to Japan for auditions, turning 18 in the land of the rising sun. 

Unfortunately, the demanding talent agency told her to lose 13 kilograms if she wanted to perform in Japan. She told them to fuck off. Undaunted she returned to Japan for a working holiday and after some severe ups and downs, including an abusive Japanese boyfriend from Nagasaki, she managed to begin building a career for herself as a talento, appearing on Japanese TV, modeling, dancing and working odd jobs. Of course, she ran into trouble because she was told “your Japanese is too good and that’s boring” thus failing to fall into the desired stereotype of the hapless Japan-loving gaijin who can offend no one. 

Eventually, in 2019, Alice formed her own idol group, Maidoremi, which started small and grew to become a serious idol powerhouse. “At our early concerts, sometimes we performed for only one or two people. But that was all right.” They gradually developed a following and were filling live houses. Unfortunately, when the group was signed by a major production firm, things fell apart quickly as the girls lost autonomy and the overbearing push of the management became too much to bear. Since the group’s official dissolution in December of 2020, Alice has only performed a few times. Now she’s ready to hang up her idol shoes and head home. 

What did she like about being an idol? 

“I love dancing, singing and acting and as an idol you get to do all three. You become a different character with every song you sing. I had quite a good range of songs and that meant playing people in the same set. When people tell you that your performance made them happy—that’s a great feeling. The costumes, the singing, the adoration and the satisfaction from performing well made me really happy. And I also get tremendous happiness from watching other idol groups. It energizes me as well. There’s a wonderful synergy between the performers and the fans that I’ll miss.”

So let Alice and company share there joy with you one more time. The doors open at 6pm at Shinkoenji Loft X (新高円寺LOFT X) and Kurofunechan will take the stage sometime between 6:30 and 7:30. Yes, it’s a weeknight but what else do you have going on, anyway? Like the lunar eclipse we had several weeks ago in Japan, there will probably never be another event like this in your lifetime. 

Idol International ライブ詳細:

日付/Date:12/14

場所/Place:新高円寺LOFT X

18:00開演、19:20出演

Starts 18:00, Kurofune-chan performs at 19:20 

チケット料金:2500円+ドリンク

Tickets are ¥2500 + drink fee

Live from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Closing Ceremony

By Chihiro Kai

(This article was completed 22:06)

As I sit here in the Tokyo Olympic Stadium press section, the seats are vibrating from the music and bass blasting out of the speakers. Even before the opening ceremony began, all the Paralympians seated on the stadium field were celebrating.

The United Kingdom and Peruvian teams were ecstatically encouraging their international peers to take advantage of their circular seating arrangement to complete a whole wave. The wave would make it through 2/3 of the Paralympians before losing momentum in the last 1/3 section adjacent to the flag poles. After each attempt would die out on its final leg, the particularly invested athletes from Peru and the U.K. would stand up and urgently “gesture” to the responsible section.

Finally, when the wave accomplished a full lap “around the globe,” so to speak, you could hear the whole stadium, including those of us in the press booths which have been following the wave’s progress, cheer and clap at this spontaneous game. The wave’s informal and collective nature lent it an intimacy that elevated our joy at its success.

Now, it has been early 30 minutes since the wave experienced a natural death. And yet, despite the pageantry and impressive stage production of the closing ceremony, I don’t believe anything that has transpired on the field has made me and my fellow reporters laugh and smile as it did. At least, that was the case with the two Japanese reporters flanking me at my table.

20:51
Representatives from each participating Paralympic team have been adding circular mirrors to a miniature figure of Tokyo Skytree, the world’s tallest free-standing tower. Just now, the final paralympic deputy for the Japanese team attached the last piece to complete the model. The mirrors represent the windows and natural skeletal gaps on the tower.

Upon its completion, the current focal point of the Tokyo skyline was raised, “Flags of Our Fathers” style by the ceremony’s performers. Who knew relations between the United States and Japan were so tight? (Indulge me in my humor readers. I am both Japanese and American, and that gives me permission to make such dry jokes.)

21:00
The first Paralympic I’mPossible Awards are being presented to the first five recipients of the recognition. For further information on the I’mPossible Award, click here.

  • Best host country School: Kizarazu Municipal Kiyomidai Elementary School in Chiba, Japan
  • Best overseas school: Lilongwe LEA School, Malawi
  • Excellence host country school: Chiba Prefectural Togane (I could not catch the end. I believe it was Chiba Prefectural Togane Special Education School)
  • Best (Male) I’mPossible Paralympian Award: Lassam Katongo from Zambia. He is a track and race Paralympian and secondary school teacher.
  • Best (Female) I’mPossible Paralympian Award: Katarzyna Rogowiec from Poland. A three-time Paralympian and two-time Paralympic gold medalist in cross-country skiing. She is also a former ITC anti-doping committee member.
  • The awards for the two Paralympians were accepted by their respective national Paralympic Committees on their behalf.

21:23
The Tokyo Skytree “miniature,” which must be roughly five meters tall, accompanies other notable architecture that shapes the city’s skyline, including Rainbow Bridge. You guessed it, the “Rainbow” Bridge is not actually colored in seven distinct shades. However, after numerous complaints that the bridge’s namesake made little sense, a night-time illuminating feature was added.

The closing ceremony’s similarity to a Disneyland parade is as prominent as the August 24 opening ceremony. The fluorescent animal costumes adorned by dancing performers and the musical production remind me of the Mermaid Lagoon Theatre from The Litte Little Mermaid area at Tokyo DisneySea.

22:03

“The Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games have not just been historic. They have been fantastic,” Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in his closing speech. He said that despite the games’ accomplishments, the world has flaws with accessibility that no mask can cover.

“As we build back better, 15% of the world’s population cannot be left behind,” Parsons said. “People with disabilities should not have to do exceptional things to be accepted.”

Following a WeThe15 campaign commercial, a Japanese singer seated in his wheelchair sang “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong with a powerful voice would have made the raspy icon proud. The song’s second half was sung by a female singer with a visual impairment. The two voices converged in the final part of the ballad accompanied by a children’s choir.

As a piano player in the center of the stadium played the last notes of the iconic song, the egg-like encasing of the Olympic and Paralympic flame closed, extinguishing the fire that has burned since July 23.

And with that, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games had ended.

Thank you for following me and Jake Adelstein throughout our coverage of the Olympic and Paralympic Games! It has been a true privilege and honor.

My Brushes With the Yakuza – Reflections of Life in Akasaka, Tokyo

My first encounter with the ‘yakuza’ or the crooks and gangsters of Japan’s underworld, happened when I was 14 years old, on my way home from cram school. It was around 10 PM and having no friends who lived my way, I found myself walking alone through a deserted back street when a man in a loud red shirt and loose trousers seemingly materialized out of nowhere and stood blocking my way. In vain I tried to pass, and then brought my book bag up to my chest, probably to protect myself. “You’re out late,” he sniggered, edging closer. “Do you want to make some money? It will be so easy. Let’s go somewhere and we’ll talk about it.”


Could this really be happening? I felt the blood pounding behind my ears and my vision go black around the edges as I stood there paralyzed. After what felt like an hour but couldn’t have been more than a second or two, another voice came out of the dark. “What are you doing? Don’t waste time, we got things to do.” An older man drawing on a cigarette joined us. “What the hell are you playing at? Let’s go,” he said to the shirt and then to me, “sorry. Were you scared? You must have been. Be safe going home, your parents will be worried about you.”

Without a word, I fled and didn’t look over my shoulder until I was safely in front of my apartment building.

I learned later that this was an old yakuza tactic. There was always the younger guy who came on strong, and the older man who stepped in, seemingly to admonish him and then rescue you. But if you showed signs of hesitation at leaving, or showed up at the same spot the next evening, they would snatch you up. Later, they would blackmail the victim’s father into making cash payments in return for silence and the assurance that the incident will not crab his daughter’s chances of making a good marriage.

As anachronistic as this sounds, similar scenarios still play out all over Japan. Having any connection to the yakuza, even if it’s innocuous or remote, can spell disaster for the average, law-abiding Japanese. It could sabotage their chances of getting into private schools. Jeopardize their job applications to good corporations. And will likely botch up marriage prospects between respectable families. The yakuza are well aware of the fear and suspicion they trigger, and will milk it for all it’s worth. Blackmail and extortion continue to comprise a huge chunk of yakuza revenue. In 2020 alone, they made over 28.5 billion yen from just such practices, according to Asahi Shimbun.


That first encounter left a mark of some kind, subtly swerving my life in a certain direction. I longed to quit school and hang out in smokey coffee shops. I pined to get away from the boring, oppressive place called ‘home.’ My parents complained that I had ‘loose morals’ and would come to a ‘bad end’ unless I buckled down to my studies and became more serious about my future. “You’re not ‘katagi,” my mother would say, which means ‘solid citizen.’ In Japan, once you stepped off the rails of ‘katagi’ you were out of the game, and no one gave you a second chance. The opposite of ‘katagi’ of course, was ‘yakuza.’


In spite of my parents’ dire predictions, I somehow made it to adulthood, marriage and a baby. After about three years, my family and I moved into an apartment building in a town called Akasaka, famous for its criminally expensive real estate, high-end restaurants, exclusive bars, a lucrative sex trade and a sizable yakuza population. This was in the tail end of the 90s, when the Tokyo yakuza had the staunch support of right wing governor Shintaro Ishihara and were seemingly invincible. In Akasaka, they were the best-dressed people on the streets, with impeccably tailored suits and Italian silk ties. They were driven around in sleek German sedans and slurped their soba noodles in the same restaurant as the Cabinet Ministers who came down from the nearby Diet Building. Consequently the streets were perpetually crawling with security people, cops in uniform and police detectives. The combination of law enforcement, politicians and gangsters made it impossible for anyone to get out of line.


Akasaka was the safest place in Tokyo.


My neighbor, who lived on the same floor and whose daughter went to the same day-care as my own, was the son and heir to Tokyo’s most powerful yakuza clan. He drove a sparkling white Mercedes and would often give me a lift as I walked down the slope to the subway station. He was always elaborately polite with me and his wife and daughter often came over for dinner when he was “late at work.” By an unspoken agreement, we never talked about this “work” or even referred to him in conversation. One day when I suggested that we take a photo together with our girls, the wife looked uncomfortable and then refused outright. That night, realizing that I had committed an unforgivable faux pas, I couldn’t sleep. After that, she didn’t come around as much and a year later, announced that they were moving out of the building to a condo on the other side of Akasaka.

This thawed the ice between us and we laughed together like the old days. “We’re not abandoning Akasaka,” she said. “This whole town is just right for us.”


I too, found it hard to tear myself away from Akasaka even as I watched the oldest and richest properties being sold off to overseas investors, mainly from Hong Kong and China. From the early aughts to about 2012, the Japanese economy sank into the marshlands of a twenty year recession, and chipped away at the glamorous, old-money prestige of Akasaka. Companies went bankrupt. A famed record company downsized, and then moved away. Small businesses folded, and the premises were bought out by discount shop franchises.


I started working at a neighborhood cafe to supplement the dwindling income I made from journalism, for 900 yen an hour. It was a charming place, a real Tokyo coffee shop with Richard Ginori crockery and a little booth for roasting the beans, Fifteen minutes into my first shift, the owner/proprietor took a call on his cell phone and  after a few words, hung up and told me to cordon off the best table in the place, because ‘an important customer’ was arriving in exactly 45 minutes.

At the appointed time, a black BMW drove up to the cafe entrance. Two burly men were already waiting, and opened the heavy glass door of the cafe for an elderly man who had been helped out of the vehicle by his driver. The man came in, wielding a walking stick, and sat down at the table. No one said a word. My employer quietly poured out a cup of ‘blue mountain’ coffee which at 1200 yen a cup, was the most expensive item on the menu. The man picked up his coffee and sipped slowly. The tension was so thick you had to hack it with an ice pick, and I could feel the blood pounding behind my ears all over again. After he finished, the man spoke a few words to the two burly men, and one of them got up and paid the bill as the other got on his phone. In a matter of a seconds, the BMW was parked at the entrance and the elderly man got up. The three men left, and after making sure that they were truly gone, the owner gave me a sickly smile and said: “this happens at least once a week. You’d better get used to it.” It turned out that the elderly man was a yakuza boss and the cafe was his favorite haunt.


After that, I discovered that while the boss might show up once a week, his underlings and his personal driver was there most days. They monopolized the terrace seating area, smoking incessantly and ordering innumerable cups of coffee, talking in undertones or laughing raucously. When they were there, the regular customers – salarimen from neighboring web design companies and editors from a jazz magazine, avoided the place like the plague.


There was no denying that the yakuza were the cafe’s best customers and when they were there I rushed around with trays of coffee and cheese cake, replacing full ashtrays with clean ones and refilling glasses with iced water poured from a stainless steel pitcher. The yakuza are very particular about the establishments where they take their coffee which is why you won’t see any of them at a Starbucks. I became a little chummy with the boss’s driver who lived in the neighborhood. He told me to ignore him if we met in the street. “Pretend you don’t know me. Believe me, it’s for your own good. But in here, we’re friends, okay?”


In the mornings, the Korean hostesses working in the cabaret club owned by the clan, would come in to nurse their hangovers and air their complaints. Though they spoke Japanese well enough, they couldn’t read the text messages sent by their clients and often asked me to do so. Some of the messages were disgustingly racy, others were declarations of love or modest invitations to go out.


“So what does this guy want with me?,” asked Jun, a pretty 24-year old girl from Inchon who had the unfortunate habit of grinding out her cigarette in her piece of half-eaten marmalade toast. “Says he wants to play golf with you before taking this relationship to the next level,” I read out loud. “Ohhh. Is he going to pay me to play golf?” “I don’t know and you probably shouldn’t ask that over a text message.” “Japanese men are such wimps.” “No kidding!”


I worked at the cafe for two and a half years before the owner went bust and sold the place to a Korean businessman who happened to be a distant relation of Jun. In the end, my employer disappeared, owing me two weeks wages. I heard that he returned to Akasaka six months later, and was working in a rotisserie chicken shop. By that time, the cafe had changed completely, its air of old world charm completely quashed by the new owners. The clan stopped frequenting the place, and moved on to somewhere else. The driver was gone too, and I never saw him again.


In 2018, my husband said that he had had enough of Akasaka and wanted to move. I was inclined to agree. The entire neighborhood was a shadow of what it had once been. Small, green plots of land and shrine-owned gardens were paved over and turned into parking lots or hideous houses. The once flourishing love hotels were torn down and Internet cafes went up in their places, with cheap private rooms catering to salarimen and prostitutes. Little dark bars went bankrupt and were replaced by glaringly lit convenience stores. Korean restaurants with plastic storefronts muscled their way into quiet alleyways. In the midst of it all, many of the yakuza moved out. The streets filled up with Chinese tourists and digital nomads toting backpacks.


The boss with a penchant for ‘blue mountain’ coffee was in a posh nursing home, or so I was told by the gossipy grandma working the counter at a tobacco shop, which soon closed down.


After we moved, memories of working at the cafe and my brushes with the Akasaka underworld went sepia toned like a sequence in a cheesy Hollywood movie. And then it all came back this August, as I followed the trial of Satoru Nomura, head of the notorious Kudo-kai. This is Japan’s most powerful yakuza clan that had terrorized Kokura City in Fukuoka prefecture where they had their headquarters, for the last 3 decades. On August 24 Nomura was sentenced to death by the District Court in Fukuoka – marking the first time in the history of Japanese law that a gangster boss received such a verdict. Usually the bosses are immune to societal rules and their crimes go unpunished since the clans always have a set number of young thugs in the ranks to shoulder the blame. They go to prison with promises of being welcomed back into the organization once they get out, with hefty salaries and underlings of their own to kick around. And in the meantime, their families will be well taken care of, nothing to worry about there.


This time however, the District Court made it clear that they were trying Nomura as an individual criminal and not as a clan head, thus severing the chain of command that would have placed all the blame on an underling.


I had met just such an underling in the cafe, during my second August of working there and the memory has a special poignance because this man had seemed so pitiful, He came in at around 5PM, dressed in a suit that was too big for him, with a tie frayed on the ends. He looked around with something akin to sheer, delighted giddiness, saw there was a female on the premises and immediately started talking to me. He had just gotten out of prison. He hadn’t seen a woman in five years. He was longing to touch a woman’s skin, and the desire was enough to make him scream. Can he touch me please? (The cafe owner intervened at this point, and asked him not to harass the staff.)


He complained that his legs were aching from sitting in a chair, since he had gotten used to sitting on a prison floor with his calves tucked under his knees, like a Buddhist monk or a tea master. He had an upset stomach too, from eating restaurant food after years of prison fare. “My god, but this all feels so good! It’s so great to be out!”


I brought his coffee, which he spiked with many spoonfuls of sugar and a dollop of cream. “You don’t know how I’ve been waiting for this moment,” he said, before taking a big swallow and coughing most of it up, all over his shirt. He laughed it off and started to sip slowly. “I’m only 30, I feel like an old man. Five years of my life down the drain. But I’m determined to have a woman, every single night for a whole year! Just watch me!” By this time, the only remaining customer in the cafe was the yakuza who had come in with him, obviously the caretaker, who looked none too happy with his charge.


After that, the ex-con came to the cafe several times. He never tried to talk to me again, though he always had a smile plastered to his face and wore a new suit that fit. I heard him say to my employer that prison caused him to shed 15 kilos and he always felt tired. “But I can still have sex! That’s great, right? That’s what counts, right?”


The last time I saw him, he had taken off his shoes and was sitting with his calves tucked under his knees, atop the hard backed chair of the cafe. He was smiling beatifically, humming out of tune to a Coldplay song coming over the speakers. A short while later, two men who I’d never seen before came in and said a few words to him. He nodded, still smiling and put on his shoes. After paying for his coffee, he bowed deeply to my employer and then to me, before turning his back and walking out.

Lambda Is On The Lam In Japan

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

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

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

The Story So Far

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

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

Lambda On The Loose?

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

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

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

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

Know Your Lambda

On July 28, Japanese scientists posted a report on the Lambda variant eight days after its domestic detection. The document is yet to be peer-reviewed. 

In the document, the authors state that the Lambda variant is highly infectious, less susceptible to current vaccinations, and shows resistance to antiviral immunity elicited by vaccination. The report continues that because the “Lambda variant is relatively resistant to the vaccine-induced antisera” (blood serum containing antibodies produced in response to vaccination), “it might be possible that this variant is feasible to cause breakthrough infection” in already vaccinated populations. The scientists worry the variant’s categorization as a VOI instead of a VOC downplay the virus’s potential threat to public health. 

In the shadows of Hiroshima: Director Kurosaki takes on the story of Japan’s own WWII top-secret nuclear arms plan

Editor note: Japan had two different military programs working on developing an atomic bomb. The movie reviewed here only discusses one of the programs. Japan’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons was much more successful than imagined, click here and read What If Japan Had the Atomic Bomb First? For more details.

Review by Kaori Shoji

Gift of Fire (Japanese original title: Taiyo no Ko)” proffers an unsettling view from an old and familiar window. Directed by Hiroshi Kurosaki, the gist of this story set in the summer of 1945, is this: just weeks before Japan’s surrender in WWII, a team of graduate students at Kyoto University were hard at work on the creation of a nuclear bomb. While this piece of information may not be news to many western historians, the majority of the Japanese are bound to feel baffled. For generations, the Japanese were conditioned – by our elders, by the media, by the education system and history itself, to feel that we were the victims of a war that very few in the populace ever wanted to fight. And now a Japanese movie is saying we could have been the perpetrators of the world’s first nuclear bomb attack? That’s an incredibly heavy load to process, and still more to confront. 

After all, Japan had banked the struggle of the postwar years and the rapid growth era that followed it, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The horrors that happened on August 6th, 1945 in Hiroshima and then, a mere 72 hours later in Nagasaki, were recounted through generations and revived in the media more times than anyone could count. It was a legacy of suffering, a collective mantle of unspeakable sadness under which the Japanese toiled and labored for decades to come. 
At the same time, the two bombs exonerated the Japanese from having to explain and face up to wartime atrocities – the crimes committed in Korea, China, Singapore and pretty much the entire Asian Pacific Rim. Call it the a-bomb card, pulled out when the Koreans or Chinese got noisy about acknowledgement and reparations for war crimes. And whenever the Japanese people protested against the econo-centric measures of the government that irredeemably polluted oceans and mountains and quashed the livelihoods of  millions of traditional workers. For seventy plus years, the a-bomb card served Japanese politicians, their politics and the national conscience. We suffered enough, now leave us alone. 

But “Gift of Fire” says it may be about time to turn in that card. 

The Kyoto University lab was under close scrutiny by the Imperial Army and the scientists were pressed for results. If and when they succeeded in splitting the atom, the plan was to drop the bomb on San Francisco. The students were plagued by doubts and filled with anxiety, and who can blame them. Nightly air raids, frequent power outages and utter lack of resources prevented their experiments from moving forward when all the while, they were listening to American news on a hand-crafted short wave radio. The Americans were closing in on the Japanese Imperial Army though the propaganda reports from the frontlines said otherwise. “Should we even be doing this, in the comfort of a laboratory? Shouldn’t we be fighting and giving our lives to this country?” says one anguished student, who eventually quits the project to enlist in the Imperial Army. 

The truth was, the Kyoto University team lacked everything to build anything, let alone a weapon of mass destruction. Still, they forge on, fueled by a blind hope that an atomic bomb will change the course of the war or even end it. Besides, says Professor Arakatsu, the helmer of the project: “if we don’t build it the Americans will. And if the Americans don’t get there first the Soviets will. Why do you think this war started in the first place? It’s because the world is in a race to procure energy resources. Whoever gets control of the energy, gains control over the world.”  

By saying that, Arakatsu has shifted the concept of war from ideology and nationalism to science and technology. Fittingly, “Gift of Fire” is mostly devoid of sentiment and righteousness, preferring instead to sanctify the scientist and all that he stands for. In Arakatsu’s laboratory, scientific advancement is a religion, and the god at the altar is Albert Einstein. The highest prayer of course, is E=mc2. The film marks the first time a Japanese film has addressed the atomic bomb from a scientific standpoint, and bringing in an American voice to the proceedings. Kurosaki persuaded Peter Stormare to appear in a voice-only role that defends, honors and ultimately glorifies the scientific mission. 

Perhaps that voice belongs to Shu (Yuya Yagira) who is the most committed member in Arakatsu’s lab. Shu is responsible for procuring the much-needed uranium for their experiments, and turns to a local potter for his meager supply. The potter used to make beautiful things, but now he only makes funeral urns. “A lot of people dying,” says the potter matter-of-factly to Shu, pointing to the rows and rows of small white urns turned out in his kiln that day. Shu can only nod, bow and make his exit with the uranium powder stashed in his rucksack. Shu knows that Japan will hurtle toward a terrible defeat unless they can build the bomb before the Americans. At the same time he knows their chances of making that happen are practically zilch. Yet the thought of giving up never crosses his mind. A stubborn work-ethic and an obsessive regard for science dictates Shu’s actions and his MO, like the rest of his team, is to ‘ganbaru (do the best they can)’ until they drop. 

Director/writer Hiroshi Kurosaki is a seasoned television director, best known for his work on the NHK morning drama series “Hiyokko, (2017)” which means ‘youngster.’ Kurosaki has a flair for portraying youth and innocence under duress. “Hiyokko” was set in the post war years, with a young female protagonist (Kasumi Arimura) searching for her missing father in Tokyo. Arimura teams up with Kurosaki again for “Gift of Fire” as she plays Setsu, who is Shu’s possible love interest. Setsu, perhaps as a nod to our times, is not the typical docile young woman of wartime Japan. In one scene she lectures Shu and his brother Hiroyuki (played by the late Haruma Miura who committed suicide last summer. The film marks his final screen appearance) about their tunnel vision, exhorting them to look beyond the war and envision a future without violence. In the post-screening press conference Kurosaki said: “I wanted to portray what a young woman must have felt in the final days before the surrender. She’s young and has an intense desire to live and experience life, but death is always there.” 

Gift of Fire” is not without redemption. What permeates the otherwise dark and spartan narrative is the sheer innocence of the characters, especially Shu and Hiroyuki. In their separate ways, the brothers seek closure to a war that had come to define their identifites – Shu by creating the atomic bomb, and Hiroyuki by flying a plane right into an American warship. Defeat may be imminent but neither of them are about to surrender peacefully. “They made mistakes, they’re not heroes,” said Kurosaki. “They are ordinary young men, blundering on and doing the best they can.” Sadly that’s never enough to right a ship gone horribly awry. 
END 

Japan Reported The First Finding Of The Highly Infectious LAMBDA Variant Here, Three Days Before The Olympics Began

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases, which filed the report, has not made it public in Japan. 

By Jake Adelstein and Chihiro Kai

(Originally published at 12:08 am August 6. updated August 6, 8:35 a.m.)

For a multi-language database of clinics offering a wait-list for vaccine appointments, click here 

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases (Tokyo) reported the first finding of the highly infectious Lambda variant of COVID19 here to an international database three days before the Olympics Opening Ceremony. The Institute has not publicly disclosed the details in Japan yet. One scientist who worked on the report told Japan Subculture Research Center that it was detected at an airport checkpoint and had not made it “into the wild”. He believes it originated in Peru but public data suggests it came from the US into Japan. Please note, on August 5th, Tokyo alone recorded 5,000 new cases of COVID19, the highest number since the pandemic began in Japan. Many infected are being told to self-medicate as hospitals fill up with serious cases. The entry of the Lambda variant into Tokyo is not a welcome development. 

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases submitted a report to GISAID on July 20th recording the first finding of the highly infectious Lambda variant in Japan. The variant, first found in Peru, has now been found in 26 countries, not including Japan.

On July 20th, three days before the Tokyo Olympics began, Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases reported, for the first time, that the highly infectious Lambda variant (ラムダ株) had been found in country. The report was submitted to an international COVID19 and other infectious diseases database known as GISAID. The Japanese government has not formally announced that the variant, first found in Peru, had also been found here now, as well.  The variant has now been found in 26 countries. Japan could be the 27th country to host the virus.

Last month, a team of researchers at Tokyo University published an academic paper which noted that the Lambda variant was highly infectious and resistant to vaccines. In Peru, where the variant was first discovered, 80% of the infections are now traced to the Lambda variant. The research team at Tokyo University believes the variant “has potential to be a threat to the human race”.  (ラムダ株が人類社会に潜在的な脅威になり得る)

Japan has reported one case of the Lambda variant to the GISAID

The National Institute first reported finding the Lambda variant to the GISAID database on July 20. GISAID is non-profit organization that maintains a database for infectious diseases including COVID-19, founded in 2008. GISAID originally stands for Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. The database shared the first complete genome sequences of COVID19 in early January 2020 and there have been nearly 2.5 million submissions logged with the database since. Institutes submitting data to the group must have their credentials confirmed and agree to a database access agreement.

The variant was confirmed by the SARS-CoV-2 testing team at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (Tokyo) and the data submitted by the Pathogen Genomics Center at the same institute. Nozumu Hanaoka (花岡希) a senior research scientist at the Infectious Diseases Center for Infectious Disease Risk Management and several other researchers signed off on the submission. 

Unanswered Questions

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases has not responded to requests for further information about the discovery of the variant. For example, when was the variant found in Japan? Was it found at the airport and never made it to the wild? Was it brought to Japan by a participant in the Olympics? Where was the carrier of the virus located? Calls made to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare which oversees the institute were not returned. We will continue to pursue the story and get clarification.

Any information pertaining to the Lambda variant in Japan would be welcome. Please post in the comments, which are reviewed before being made public. If you wish to submit information without disclosing your name, let us know, we will contact you privately and remove the comment if requested. 

What You Should Know About the Lambda Variant

Lambda’s origin and WHO classifications for COVID-19 variants. 

The Lambda variant of COVID-19 was first discovered in Peru in August 2020. As of July 14, 2021, it made up roughly 90% of COVID-19 infections in the nation and is likely responsible for the spike in coronavirus cases in Peru’s second wave of infections this spring. The World Health Organization designated the Lambda variant as a “Variant of Interest” or VOI on June 14, 2021, the lower of two classifications used to survey the public health risks of existing COVID-19 strains. 

A Variant of Interest is defined as a COVID-19 variant with genetic changes that are predicted to affect the transmissibility, disease severity, and the ability of the virus to escape diagnosis and medical treatments. Furthermore, VOIs are identified to cause significant community transmission in multiple countries and suggest an emerging risk to global public health. 

The good news is variants under the VOI classification carry a “keep a close eye on it” designation where WHO and member states monitor the spread as a precaution. Although the emergence of a VOI in a new country, like Lambda’s introduction to Japan in July, should be investigated, medical and government officials are more concerned about Variants of Concern. 

A VOC is a variant that meets the definition of a Variant of Interest and is shown to be more contagious, induce heavier symptoms, and less responsive to available public health and social measures. The Delta variant, currently the world’s predominant strain as contagious as chickenpox, is categorized as a VOC. 

The Lambda variant in Japan. What we know so far. 

According to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data, GISAID, a primary international source for open-access influenza virus data, the Lambda case detected in Japan was transmitted from the United States.

The GISAID database shows the Lambda Variant of COVID19 traveling from the United States to Japan. It may have been detected at an airport checkpoint and never been “in the wild”.
NOTE: Pardon the bad graphics. This is a low budget operation.

It is currently unclear as to how, why, or where this transmission took place. However, there have been no other Lambda cases declared in the country. Whether this is due to a properly followed quarantine protocol or a lack of Japan’s ability to detect and report additional infections is unknown. Click here to access the complete interactive Lambda database. 

On July 28, Japanese scientists posted a report on the Lambda variant eight days after its domestic detection. The document is yet to be peer-reviewed. 

In the document, the authors state that the Lambda variant is highly infectious, less susceptible to current vaccinations, and shows resistance to antiviral immunity elicited by vaccination. The report continues that because the “Lambda variant is relatively resistant to the vaccine-induced antisera” (blood serum containing antibodies produced in response to vaccination), “it might be possible that this variant is feasible to cause breakthrough infection” in already vaccinated populations. The scientists worry the variant’s categorization as a VOI instead of a VOC downplay the virus’s potential threat to public health. 

What you can do to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19 variants. 

Although the Japanese scientists’ pre-print report suggests that Lambda may possess a greater ability to escape vaccine-induced immunity, currently available vaccines are still the best way to significantly decrease your chances of catching and transmitting the virus. Vaccines provide even better protection against severe illness and death from COVID-19. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the current surge in COVID-19 cases caused by insufficient vaccination rates gives the virus “ample” time to mutate into a more dangerous new variant in the fall and winter. 

“[Q]uite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness,” Fauci said to McClatchy Washington Bureau on August 4.

 “If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” he said. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else, also.”

As of Wednesday this week, only 32.39% of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The most effective way to prevent further illness and death from all variants of the coronavirus is to promptly get as many residents of Japan fully immunized. For a multi-language database of clinics offering a wait-list for vaccine appointments, click here

A guide to the Japanese underworld, Japanese pop-culture, yakuza and everything dark under the sun.