Tokyo 2020 Olympic Composer Tortured Disabled Children; Japan Says To The World, “Eat shit, no problem”

by Jake Adelstein and Chihiro Kai

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are turning into a coronavirus spreading festival of bullies. Despite allegedly having a theme of harmony and diversity, the Olympics appear more and more to be symbolic of cruelty and callousness. The latest case in point: this week, composer Keigo Oyamada, 52, who is the composer for the opening and closing ceremonies was revealed to have brutally tortured and bullied special needs students through elementary to high school. He said on record to two separate magazines in the 90s that he forced his victims to eat feces and masturbate in public. He ridiculed them, beat them, and egged on other accomplices. His gleeful retelling of these hate crimes resurfaced a day after his role in the Olympics was announced. 

He issued an apology on Friday (July 16). He won’t step down and the Tokyo Olympic Committee issued a statement late in the evening the same day that they won’t fire him. 

However, as we have already seen in the long history of Tokyo Olympic debacles, when the tone-deaf organizers finally hear the voices of dissent, they will probably eat their previous words, but unlike Oyamada’s victims—they won’t literally have to eat shit. 

“I’d strip (one disabled kid) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.”

That’s too bad. 

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Organizing Committee announced on July 14 that musician and composer, Keigo Oyamada, would be overseeing music at the Tokyo opening ceremony. He is a world-famous musician, also known by his moniker, Cornelius. However, it didn’t take long for his ugly past to emerge, and the hashtag “Boasting About Bullying” began to trend the next day, racking up over 10,000 retweets. The original tweet cited two interviews in the past in which he appeared to be proud of his younger years as a bully. The interviews appeared in the January 1994 issue of music magazine, Rockin’ On Japan,  and the March 1995 issue of subculture magazine, Quick Japan

In the interviews, Oyamada confessed to bullying classmates from a nearby special needs school from elementary school all the way through high school. In Rockin’ On Japan, he describes what he did as follows: “I’d strip (one guy) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.” In the interview with Quick Japan, he admitted that he also made gleefully fun of kids with Down’s Syndrome attending a nearby school. He alluded to spurring others to bully the special needs children, “providing ideas”. Also, in another interview he seems to have admitted to what could be construed as attempted murder*, “Remember that case where kids rolled up another kid in a mattress and killed him? We did that sort of thing (to the special needs kid) and stuffed them in the vaulting horse…” 

*A boy died in Japan Jan. 13, 1993, after being rolled up in a mattress in the school gymnasium’s storeroom by bullies. The mattress was placed vertically in the storage area and he was placed in it upside down; he died of asphyxiation and/or suffocation. 

One of the magazines followed up Oyamada’s interview by contacting the family of his victims, who told the reporter that the bullying had nearly driven their son to suicide. 

Here is the truth. Oyamada has confessed to committing sexual assault, assault, forcible indecency, public indecency, and attempted murder.

 The actions Oyamada took would normally be crimes in Japan, but the statute of limitations has long passed. 

In a statement released to the press Friday (July 16), the composer admitted that he did not show any regret when he spoke to the magazines years ago and he deserved the criticism he was receiving. He said that he would not step down and implied would atone for his past by contributing to the Olympics. 

Ironically, the unifying concept of Tokyo 2020’s opening and closing ceremonies are “Moving Forward,” something the formerly respected musician must be praying for. The theme of the opening ceremony, which he is responsible for, is “United by Emotion.” The overarching disgust of the Japanese public at his criminal past has achieved exactly what the Olympic and Paralympic committee wanted. The entire country is united by repulsion.

“I am deeply sorry for how my words and actions hurt my classmates and their parents. I regret and take responsibility for taking the role of an antagonizer rather than a friend during my school years, a time that should be filled with fond memories,” Oyamada wrote in his Twitter apology essay on July 16.

However, in his sincere apologies to the world, and to the victims he traumatized, the singer clarified that not every heinous act recorded in the interviews were factually accurate. 

“Regarding the contents of the article, as I was not able to confirm the final draft before it was published, there are many parts that deviate from the truth. However, there is no doubt that my classmates were hurt by my words and conduct. Therefore, I felt personally responsible, and chose at the time to not point out any mistakes or exaggerations in the story,” he defended himself in his Twitter post. 

Perhaps the first magazine article published in 1994, followed up by a 22 page Odyssey retelling of his psychotic escapades in 1995, contained some factual errors that made it to copy. Instead of forcing a fellow student with a disability to eat feces, maybe he presented it to them on a clean plate with napkins. 

What Oyamada did not do in his lengthy apology was resign as an Olympic and Paralympic ceremony composer. 

“In hindsight, I should have declined the position offer considering some people would be displeased by my participation for various reasons. However, in these difficult times with its numerous challenges, I consulted the creators of the opening ceremonies who were making strenuous efforts to build the best event possible. After much thought, I chose to accept the job out of a hope that my music would bring some good to the ceremony,” the singer explained his noble self-sacrifice. 

“In addition, I have invested considerable effort into this musical project,” he continued. Whether the Paralympians competing in this year’s games will be so forgiving is not certain. 

The Tokyo Olympic Committee issued a statement acknowledging a failure to screen Oyamada properly, adding that, “We would like him to continue to do his utmost in preparation until the very end,” expressing no desire to have him resign or fire him. They also added in his defense, “Oyamada clearly regrets his past words, has reflected on them, and is currently maintaining a high moral standard while dedicating himself to creative activities.”  One might note that the Committee recognizes that Oyamada regrets speaking about his inhumane activities but is vague about whether they believe he really regrets what he did. Words are cheap. The Olympics are inevitably, “Moving Forward.”

The reaction of the Japanese public has been overwhelmingly negative, calling the decision to employ him for the Olympic music “a fatal mistake in the selection process.” One twitter user, posting an article about Oyamada’s past bullying, noted wryly,  “Well, after all, it’s like the Olympics itself is making the public eat shit.” A few days ago International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach appeared to be the most hated man in Japan, but in the low-bar race for a gold medal in unpleasantness, Oyamada may now be the leading contender. 

Mark Bookman, a historian of disability in Japanese and transnational contexts, and Postdoctoral Fellow at Tokyo College, part of the esteemed Tokyo University, emailed us, his understanding of the problem, taking time to explain the significance of the games. “The Olympic and Paralympic Games provide activists, policy makers, and members of the public opportunities to reflect on the past, present, and future of disability rights on local and global scales. They have helped catalyze change and lead to improvements in accessibility and social welfare for diverse demographics of disabled people in multiple countries, including, but not limited to, Japan.”

But he also points out there is a downside to the games.

“However, the games do not always lead to positive results. On many occasions, their spectacle has shifted public attention away from the needs of ‘ordinary’ disabled people in favor of elite athletes. Indeed, the games have helped to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and foster unfavorable outcomes for many individuals, in part due to awareness issues and lack of resources for carrying out reforms.”

Bookman warns that ‘going forward’ with Oyamada may actually roll back advances for the disabled in Japan, and more. 

“While stakeholders involved in the games, myself included, have worked to mitigate such negative consequences and use the games as a platform to promote inclusivity, one cannot help but question the Tokyo Olympic Committee’s decision to ‘move forward’ with Oyamada Keigo as a key figure. By elevating (him), who has confessed to committing harmful acts against disabled individuals, the committee is (perhaps unwittingly) creating a space for people who sympathize with his actions. As rates of abuse against disabled persons continue to climb in Japan due to stresses on the nation’s care economy (tied to its rapidly aging population, declining birth rate, and shrinking labor force), one cannot help but wonder what kind of future might come from the Tokyo Committee’s decision. Indeed, as conversations about ‘selecting lives,’ eugenics, and equitable distribution of resources continue to unfold around us in relation to COVID–19, their decision may have dire consequences.”

Michey Peckitt, who runs the blog, Barrier Free Japan, had this to say. “I’m only disappointed. Obviously I did not grow up or go to school in Japan, but Oyamada’s behaviour does not surprise me at all. At school in Britain I was treated in a similar fashion. Being made to eat sh*t is pretty standard bullying behaviour in my experience, although being made to masturbate in public is a new one. I’m glad I didn’t have to do that as it’s difficult to masturbate when your hands don’t work because you have cerebral palsy. As a disabled person living in Japan I’m sad Oyamada’s music is being used in the Olympics, but ultimately nothing surprises me about the Tokyo Games now.”

The Music of Cruelty

The theme of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics opening ceremony was supposed to be diversity and harmony; the composer in charge of the music, Keigo Oyamada, tortured and bullied special needs students when he was young–and bragged about it. He literally made them eat shit, forced them to masturbate in public, ridiculed them, beat them up, and egged on other bullies. He gleefully boasted about his misdeeds in magazine interviews that resurfaced a day after his role in the Olympics was announced. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee said he’s apologized, so okay, and the games must go on.

The casual attitude the Tokyo Olympics Committee shows towards what he did also shows how the ruling elite in Japan really feel about people with disabilities. They don’t care. If they did, they might have spent some of the millions of dollars wasted on building fancy Olympic stadiums to make public transport in the city more barrier free. But that’s another issue.

Perhaps, as there are with many crimes, there should be a statute of limitation on terrible things said in the past, but the problem isn’t just Oyamada’s words; it’s his actions. But in another way, maybe he really does represent the spirit of the modern Olympics: bullying, venal, ignoring the misery of others, and placing victory above all else. If winning is the only thing that matters, then hey, it’s okay to beat up the losers, right?

Here are some choice quotes from his interviews in the January 1994 issue of music magazine, Rockin’ On Japan,  and the March 1995 issue of subculture magazine, Quick Japan. He was in his mid-twenties at the time of the interviews.

原文「うん。もう人の道に反して。。全裸にしてグルグルにひもを巻いてオナニーさしてさ。ウンコを喰わしたりさ。喰わした上にバックドロップしたりさ

“Yeah, I did inhuman things. I’d strip (one guy) naked and roll him up in cords and make (him) masturbate. I made him eat shit and then performed a belly- to-back-drop wrestling move on him.”

(Rockin’ On Japan)

原文「マットレス巻きにして殺しちゃった事件*とかあったじゃないですか、そんなことやってたし、跳び箱の中に入れたり (学校の体育館倉庫で)

“Remember that case where kids rolled up another kid in a mattress and killed him? We did that sort of thing (to the special needs kid) and stuffed them in the vaulting horse…” (At a school gymnasium storage room)

*A boy died in Japan Jan. 13, 1993, after being rolled up in a mattress in the school gymnasium’s storeroom by bullies.

(Quick Japan)

Keeping Oyamada on as the composer for the Olympics Opening Ceremony makes a mockery of everything the Olympics is supposed to stand for. But then again, when the government of Japan and the IOC insist on holding the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic, ignoring all warnings of the public health risk, maybe he is the perfect composer. Who better to write an ode to the callous cruelty and winning-is-the-only-thing-that matters attitude of the IOC? And like the IOC, he probably stands to earn a lot of money from the Olympics that over 70% of the Japanese people don’t want.

—The Japan Subculture Research Editors

What This Means (a short-story about love and marriage in Japan during the pandemic)

by Kaori Shoji

credit: Kaori Shoji

Rikako, my wife, was staying with her best friend from university, the one that hung around her all these years and never got married. She was pretty attractive too, the last time I saw her, which was what, 10 years ago? Now I couldn’t remember what this friend’s name was. Something that didn’t end in ‘ko’ meaning ‘child.’  In Japanese, the ‘ko’ at the end of a name indicated that the person was female which in this day and age, can raise questions about misogyny or gender discrimination but let’s just put that aside for now. 

In Rikako’s case, the written characters of her name stood for ‘wisdom,’ ‘fragrance,’ and ‘child,’ and Rikako said she often felt uncomfortable by the sight of her written name. “It’s a little demeaning,” she had said, wrinkling her nose as if she smelled something bad. “Makes me feel like a little girl.” Then Rikako would get that look on her face, which was supposedly a cue for me to say something like “but you are my little girl. You’ll always be a young girl to me.” And then she would pretend to pout which was another cue for me to massage the back of her feet, and then we’d head off to the bedroom or just fuck on the floor. But for years I hadn’t taken that bait. I mean, come on, we’re both 45. That kind of ritual just doesn’t work anymore, not that it did when we were in our thirties. 

Back then we were just living together and not officially married. But Rikako loved planning what she phrased as ‘the inevitable event’ down to the last minute detail. She showed me sketched drawings of ‘my ideal dress’ and ‘the ultimate bouquet,’ and littered the living room with brochures from tons of wedding companies. She was adorable in her adoration of all things wedding and I would steal glances at her profile, poring over the menu cards or venue decorations. Not that it made any sense to me. All that trouble and fuss, not to mention the expense! It was horrendous. But if my little girl wanted to get married in a ridiculous white dress, then it was up to me to smile and nod approval and go along with it. 

One of the things I least like about Rikako is how she continues to think and behave like a young woman when very clearly, she’s not. Not, not, not. The topics she chose to talk about, her gestures and her ‘weekend loungewear’ supposedly chosen to stimulate our sex life, ended up being embarrassing, especially during these past few months of a global pandemic. Suddenly, we were  trapped in each other’s company for weeks on end, since both our companies mandated that we work from home. I didn’t know what to do with her, how to be with her and certainly not on a 24/7 basis in the confines of a cell-box Tokyo apartment. And she, on the other hand, was  annoyed by every little thing I did, or didn’t. That’s not precisely why she left but I’m choosing to blame it all on Covid. 

On the last Saturday of July 2020, Rikako announced that she was leaving “this life” with me, so she could “learn to breathe deeply again” in the house of her friend who didn’t have a ‘ko’ at the end of her name. She spent the morning packing, made some coffee which she poured out for the both of us, said something about the laundry and walked out the door with the big Samsonite, the one we both took turns using in the days when frequent business trips were the norm. I almost said, “Wait, I may want to use that” but I didn’t because I wouldn’t. Ever again, if the news was anything to go by. At this rate experts said, we would be lucky to start traveling again in late 2023 or thereabouts. 

I knew what she was expecting. That I would turn up at her girlfriend’s place, looking worse for wear, abashed and contrite and promising to do better. That I needed her, oh so much. That we would go away to an onsen for the weekend, and tell each other that the last three months hadn’t done any damage to our marriage. Just thinking these thoughts made me ore than slightly queasy, or inclined to kick the toilet lid which stayed flipped open, thanks very much. 

I didn’t. Go out to whatshername’s place, that is. I just stayed in our apartment for which I paid the mortgage every month and suddenly seemed airy and spacious. I worked during the day. Sometimes I did the laundry, otherwise I let my underwear pile up in the washing machine. I lost interest in mealtimes and ate whenever I felt hungry, on whatever tasted like something I wanted to eat. I played Assassin’s Creed until dawn. 

Now, three weeks after Rikako’s departure I would go for nocturnal walks around the neighborhood and stand by the river to watch the surface of the water break into choppy ripples. I would cruise the convenience stores and stock up on packets of salami and cheese. It was so intensely pleasurable, so immensely liberating, that on these walks I would take off my mask to let out a silent scream of joy. 

Marriage is hugely overrated. I was told it was the only route to happiness but I realize now it was a device that worked only when Rikako and I were putting in eighty-hour weeks at our respective jobs, and so burned out that self-reflection and long, winding discussions and bringing each other up to speed on what we wanted out of life I don’t know, all the stuff that married couples seem to do in Hollywood movies–seemed like an obscene waste of scant resources. 

Then the pandemic whirled into our lives and presented a whole new playing field. I was fine with being married to Rikako, but I sure as hell was not prepared to be with her day and night. No man should be asked to do that, at least not in a one-bedroom condo with both of us trying to work and Zoom and use the toilet, sometimes all at once. 

She claimed it was much worse for her and was relentless about letting me know it. 

“I hate the sight of you in those sweats.” “

You’re playing games all the time, can’t you rent a car and take me out on the weekends?” 

“I’m not your mother, don’t make me pick up your clothes.” “

The toilet’s dirty, you never clean it.” “

I’m not your mother, I can’t make your meals all the time.” “

I’m not your mother, stop acting like an overgrown kid.” 

In the old days, Rikako and I were buddies most of the time, united in our shared lifestyle choices. Our own condo unit in a nice Tokyo neighborhood. Both of us were career driven, with a joint savings account. Overseas vacations, preferably twice a year. And no kids, never. That discussion was over and done with when we decided to make it all official, and hold a ‘resort wedding’ in Karuizawa. Rikako had said at the time, and I’m quoting verbatim here: “I have no interest in becoming a mother and sacrificing my career and my looks and identity to that undertaking. It’s so meaningless, it’s so thankless.” 

“I have no interest in becoming a mother and sacrificing my career and my looks and identity to that undertaking. It’s so meaningless, it’s so thankless.” 
credit: Kaori Shoji

Did I judge her for that? Hell no. My mother shook her head and told me I would be lonely in my old age and that it wasn’t too late to walk out of this relationship and find a nice girl who would give me a family. I told my mother it was none of her business and stuck by Rikako. We had shared too much of our lives together to call it quits. Besides, she still looked good at 35 and I wasn’t getting any younger. I doubted I would run into anyone so desirable again. 

Mostly though, I was too exhausted from work to deal with it. I’m an aeronautical engineer and one of the core members of a government sponsored team that designs manned space vehicles. For the last 15 years, I was flying out to Houston to work with NASA every month or so, and deadlines popped up on my screen every 15 minutes. I was working weekends,   past midnight, sometimes until dawn. Until the pandemic hit, I could honestly say that Red Bull was my dearest friend. 

When Rikako and I finally tied the knot ten years ago, I was already looking forward to old age and some rock-solid downtime. Retirement seemed to me a glorious mirage of frosted cocktails, glimpsed in the burning desert of my work routine. I was Ralph Fiennes in “The English Patient,” trudging on the hot dunes forever and ever but knowing that eventually, Juliette Binoche would turn up to dress my wounds and whisper to me with a French accent that “everything was going to be okay.” We had the movie on Blu-ray. It was Rikako’s favorite and we would watch it on Saturday nights when I managed to be home. I kept losing the thread of the narrative because I always fell asleep but in the end, yeah, I got it. Ralph Fiennes: What an old dog. The guy is dying and delirious and he still can’t keep his mind off women. 

These days though, I think about old Ralph a lot. I ask myself what images would parade through my brain when I’m ready to kick the bucket and I have to admit, it’s not work. Women. It would be women, whether they had the ‘ko’ on their names or not. No doubt Rikako’s face would be one of them but there would be others. My life isn’t completely barren. There are some unforgettable visages and bodies and they’ll all come back to me as I lie there on a hospital bed. 

There’s one woman I’m sort of obsessed about now. I haven’t slept with her. I don’t know her name. She’s around 14, probably in her second year of middle school. Yes I know what this sounds like but I promise, this isn’t heading in that direction. This woman – this girl whom I privately named ‘Naoko’ after a girl in my neighborhood when we were both growing up – is someone I used to see in the subway station every morning as I commuted to work. 

Naoko is tall for her age, lanky and lean and tanned, with short hair that’s carefully tucked behind her ears. She’s always carrying around a big sports bag emblazoned with her school logo, and printed underneath are the words ‘Track and Field Team.’ She’s a runner, and I’m betting by her physique that she goes for the 400 meter. I was an 800 meter boy myself and I see all the signs of a mid-distance sprinter: the way she holds her head, the snatches of conversation I sometimes overhear when she’s talking to her friends, the condition of her calves extending from her pleated uniform skirt and ending in socks and a pair of brown loafers. 

The sight of her takes me right back to the days when I was training night and day to compete in the nationals and get a full-ride scholarship to one of the good universities. She even looks a little like my girlfriend of those days, whom I could  see only once every three weeks because the rest of my time was eaten up with running and school. 

Am I lusting after Naoko? To my utter relief, the answer is no. It’s a huge relief to be able to say that because otherwise I would be betraying the straight-backed, fresh-faced teenager that I once was. No, I just yearn to talk to her, encourage her, be a part of her life somehow. I think about how wonderful it would be if I had a daughter like her. We would share running stories and I could coach her on pacing and rhythm. I would tell her that mid-distance sprinting is the most intelligent of track sports and how rewarding it was to…

A buzz on my phone. I go take a look at it and it’s a message from Rikako. “I want to come home. I’ll see you in two hours or so. I’m sorry about having left but I think we both needed this break from each other.” 

After about 10 seconds of rumination, I send back a smiley face and the words: “I’ll be waiting.” 

My imaginary conversation with Naoko had already shattered into a million pieces and those pieces were floating around in the air. I sigh, turn off the air conditioner and go open some windows. I’m still trying to process the fact that Rikako will be back, marking the end of my days of freedom. I guess what this means now is that I have to do the laundry and clean the toilet before my wife gets back. 

FINIS

The Vaccination Game: The Self-Defense Forces Vaccination Center was run smoothly but no-appointment days are over

6:50 a.m. June 26th

The large-scale Self-Defense Forces vaccination center near Otemachi, Tokyo, doesn’t open for another 70 minutes, and there is already a line of people looping around the large, brown, 16 story building. It is not only the elderly waiting for their first dose. The majority of people in the last section of the line are adults, ranging from their twenties to fifties. Most people are sitting on the ground or a chair they brought from home.

The sun, unobstructed in the cloudless morning sky, shines directly onto the line. Its rays are hot enough to irritate the exposed back of the neck in under a minute. Men and women take shelter under umbrellas and wide-brimmed hats as they check their phones, read a book, or doze off to pass the time. Some have pulled out their feet from their shoes and rest them on compact picnic tarps. 

“The people in line, please confirm that this is your first vaccination dose. If this is your second dose, we cannot vaccinate you at this facility today.”

A security officer reminded the queue through a megaphone so muted it was barely audible. 

In the past 20 minutes, three more adults join the back of the line with over one hundred waiting ahead of them. There’s no telling when the person at the very front arrived. 

A sign posted in front of the vaccination facility asks entrants whether they are over 18 years old, have a form of identification and their vaccine ticket with them. 

People with 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. reservations rest on chairs they brought to or borrowed from the facility. The sun feels warmer than the 23 degrees Celsius temperature, and queue use hats and umbrellas to keep cool. 

Officers begin to collect the chairs they lent to the line and place them back into an outdoor collection bin beside an entrance to the building. Everyone stands up, and the line begins to move. 

“The facility will momentarily open at 7:30. Please move slowly down the line while maintaining a distance with the person in front of you,” a security guard called out. 

“Be sure to check your belongings, so you don’t leave anything behind,” another guard said. 

The line moves forward in 10-meter increments as the clinic begins processing the first groups of people.

Around the corner at the back of the building, businesses, including the Nippon Travel Agency, are vaccinating their employees. 

At 7:30, a Self-Defense Forces truck pulls up and parks by the end of the line. It is rare to see a military-grade vehicle around civilians in a nation with no army and a small self-defense force. 

Two SDF soldiers get off the truck and walk toward the back of the building, away from the line.

The line moves for the second time, progressing less than 10 meters before halting. At this pace, it could be another hour before the last group step through the facility’s doors. 

“I got here before 7 a.m. But my husband arrived at a later time to get vaccinated two weeks ago, and he was further ahead in the line,” a woman in front of me said. “I saw on television that there are people who line up in the middle of the night to receive their shot as early as possible.” 

From the 28th, the center will switch to administering the second dose of the vaccine, making it nearly impossible for those seeking their first dose to reserve a slot online. Furthermore, this facility, which can administer up to 10,000 doses a day, and its sibling in Osaka, capped at 5,000 doses a day, will no longer administer doses meant for a canceled reserved patient to those who came without an appointment. 

In the beginning, a Ministry of Defense executive said the department “does not want to turn away senior citizens who came and waited in line,” even if they didn’t have a reservation. As Japan lowered the vaccine qualifying age to 18 and up, the younger demographic began to form lines throughout the night, hoping for a lucky shot. According to a report by Asahi Shinbun, this increased the number of repurposed doses from 100 up to 300 per day. In response, to complaints about people lining up late at night, disturbing the peace of his usually empty office building island, the ministry announced it would cease this no-appointment immunization process from the 28th. However, it appears this policy is already in practice at the Otemachi facility, as multiple signs in English and Japanese reminded those in line that they would not receive a shot if they didn’t present proof of reservation.  

The last group in line for the 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. slot arrived at the first checkpoint stationed within multiple outdoor tents. Inside, an extensive volunteer force patiently guided people through bag inspection, temperature checks, documentation review, and relocation to the next checkpoint facility inside the building.

 A freshly vaccinated woman passes the main sign in front of the first checkpoint reminding entrants that they need their vaccination ticket, photo ID and pre-screening form to receive their shot. The display screen on the left says the staff is currently seeing people reserved for the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. slot.

Inside the first outdoor checkpoint, entrants are greeted with a sign saying their temperature and baggage will be checked. The male volunteer in the blue shirt, center, positions people in front of a screen that records and prints their temperatures. As far I could tell, everyone who had lined up got their shots.

“Everyone was just really wonderful, and that is one point I wanted to emphasize,” British reporter Phoebe Amoroso, who was vaccinated at the Otemachi facility on the 25th, said. “You went through many different stages, rooms and checkpoints. Up an elevator, down the elevator, honestly. And I was never once confused or uncertain about where to go, and I felt really completely welcome.” 

Amoroso arrived at the clinic at 3:45 a.m. the day after the ministry announced it would cease vaccinating on-the-day arrivals without reservation from the 28th. She said personal accounts posted on facebook’s COVID-19 Japan discussion group of people arriving hours before their appointment and still settling at the back of the line prompted her to go as quickly as possible. Despite her concerns about the facility’s staff not permitting early arrivals from forming a line, she said everyone waiting for the vaccine was treated with excellent care by the two security guards on duty. 

“The man was like, ‘oh, thank you, everyone, for your patience. If you want to go to the toilet,’ and periodically he’d be like, ‘let me tell you where the toilets are again everybody. You need to go out to the road and turn left for the public toilets. Be sure to tell the person behind you that you are going to the loo so they’ll save the spot for you,’” she said.  

Two volunteers wait to direct people who have received their shots to the shuttle bus headed for Tokyo station. 

Two volunteers wearing vests labeled “Free shuttle bus staff” wait for the next vaccinated group to exit the facility.

A female volunteer gives directions to people who just got off at a bus stop near the clinic.

“The government’s whole setup is crazy. A million shots a day? They should have done that sooner. There’s a lot of inefficiencies, but that’s a whole different conversation. The people on the ground were so wonderful,” Amoroso said. 

According to Amoroso, a volunteer checking her paperwork told her that all staff had been vaccinated. 

If you want to make a reservation for a vaccine dose at the Otemachi clinic, click here. Note that from today, the facility is only accepting people applying for their second shot. 

The People of Tokyo Hate The Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Why do they protest?

Yesterday, June 23rd, marked one month before the opening of the “cursed” Tokyo 2020 Olympics and hundreds of residents marked the occasion by holding a protest in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Headquarters. As the delta variant of the novel-coronavirus spreads rapidly and public health concerns are rising, the clamor to call-off the Olympics is increasing. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike was not there to hear the voices of protest yesterday; she is in the hospital due to “fatigue.” The government swears it’s not due to COVID-19 and of course, we believe them. 

(Update) The protest will begin at 18:00 by the front entrance on the second floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.1, and will migrate to the Shinjyuku ALTA building at 19:00. Further guidelines for the protest can be found at the hangorin group’s (anti-Olympics) tumbler page. The organization will also livestream the protest on YouTube from 18:00.

In collaboration with this domestic demonstration, international anti-Olympic organizations in Los Angeles, U.S., Pyeongchang, South Korea, and ironically Paris, France, where the IOC was born, are scheduled to hold simultaneous protests.

Continue reading The People of Tokyo Hate The Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Why do they protest?

"Where Is The Romance?"–a hard-boiled meditation on mating rituals in Tokyo (for V-day)

In a departure from our usual somber posting, I’ve written an original prose-poem, which is for a friend’s upcoming “Where is the Romance” theme party in Tokyo–a pre-valentines’s day event.  I’ve been in Japan (not just Tokyo) for over twenty years now and it seems to me that this city as overpopulated as it is, is also a very lonely place.  I’ve heard more dating horror stories than any man should hear in his entire life.  If Hong Kong is the graveyard of marriages–Tokyo is where the infanticide of them is widely practiced–and marriages, when they happen, seem to last as long as the cherry blossoms or linger on, liked fish being dried in the sun. Of course, this also a city where fake marriages run 3,000 dollars for foreign women wanting to work in the entertainment industry, and gay men marry women to maintain appearances, and marriage fraud schemes are a semi-institutionalized crime.

I should say that I’m parodying one well-known author/poet with this masterpiece and whoever figures out who it is gets a pack of dried umeboshi and honorable mention on this humble blog. Hopefully, those of you familiar with Tokyo will get some of the subtler references.  By the way, remember on Valentine’s Day in Japan–the women buy chocolate for the men.

Continue reading "Where Is The Romance?"–a hard-boiled meditation on mating rituals in Tokyo (for V-day)

Pandemic highlights Japan’s historical lack of leadership and management

By Chihiro Kai

“My evaluation of the Japanese COVID measures is that they are purely optimism based with no evidence, no grounds, as well as with very much a normative bias involved in there as well. And this has been consistent throughout this period, and it has only led to confusion and delays. And, I think particularly the delays in vaccinations is our definitive failure.” 

Yukio Edano, the leader of the most competitive opposition party in the upcoming October 21 general election, said to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan on June 11.

The Constitutional Democratic Party leader further said the Olympics could invite an unprecedented domestic explosion in infection cases compounded by immigration and increased domestic travel due to summer vacation.

Edano said Japan historically lacks the leadership and management skills required to guide its citizens during turbulent times, an unresolved flaw from the mid to post-war era particularly highlighted by the pandemic.

Despite the anomalous nature of the pandemic, Edano said the COVID-19 subsidy program enacted in April 2020 during the Abe administration foreshadowed Japan’s fragmented and floundering response to the pandemic. The confusion and lack of organization that plagued local governments in their distribution of the 100,000 yen relief funds was the red flag the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, responsible for prefectural and municipal COVID-19 operations, failed to address. 

“We could already see the logistic failures, the lack of capacity and the disparities and so on in the local governments at the time,” Edano said. “The fact this was not noticed, and there was no overall management, no overall control tower, and no overall strategy put in place from that period when it should have been noticed is the key factor in regards to the vaccination program issues.” 

He then critiqued the current administration’s track record with PCR testing, hospital bed acquisition and vaccine rollouts. All three criteria for analysis held the overarching theme of a leadership vacuum. 

  • PCR testing 

Edano said the National Research Center on Infectious Diseases in the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare claimed jurisdiction over PCR tests and testing administration. This federal presence deterred the private sector and university institutions from getting involved, contributing to the low testing numbers. 

“And the issue there is not so much only with the research institutes, but the fact that the government never stood out and said ‘this is a problem, and that way of doing things is not right,'” Edano said. 

  • Hospital beds 

Edano said the MHLW ran away from its obligations to public health by pushing the responsibility of securing hospital beds to the prefectures. He said the government chose to cut spendings instead of providing the financial support each prefecture’s medical system required to buy necessary medical gear. Edano said this was “the reason that there was not this shift or these improvements in the number of hospital beds.” 

  • Immunization campaign 

Edano said that as local governments are responsible for implementing vaccination plans, what each body required to execute their operations effectively varies depending on the region’s population and size. He said the MHLW and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications should have listened to these municipalities’ diverse requests and helped them prepare a personalized program from the very beginning. 

“This would have been one way to adapt and to have a much smoother progress in regards to this (vaccination initiative), but both of the ministries responsible for this did no such thing.” 

————————————————————————

Edano further said the responsibility for the mismanagement of the Olympics and COVID-19 also lies with the previous administration. 

“The decision which was made by then prime minister Abe last year to postpone the games for one year rather than two when there was still no view in sight at all of a vaccination program and so on. I think his responsibility for only postponing for one year at that time is something severe that we should look into as well,” he said. 

Both prime minister Suga’s and Abe’s COVID-19 measures have drawn criticism from Japan’s doctors, scientists and their representative bodies. On a May 27 FCCJ press conference, the chairman of Japan Doctors Union, Naoto Ueyama, called upon the international community to pressure the Japanese government to cancel the Olympics at the risk of public health and the birth of a new “Tokyo Olympic strain.” 

The CDP leader said both administrations’ COVID-19 measures symbolize their prime ministers’ views on science. He said he thinks both leaders attempted to use scholars and their opinions to justify their political decisions when innately, scientific knowledge should provide the materials for crafting policies.  

“There are times when politicians need to make decisions which aren’t the same as those suggested by science. That happened 10 years ago. If we had gone ahead following exactly what was being recommended by scientists and academics at the time of the nuclear explosion, we would not be sitting here today,” he said. “Ultimately, it is politicians; it is politics that take responsibility for those final decisions.” 

If the CDP were to replace the LDP as the ruling party, Edano said his administration would tackle the critical strategic management flaw in Japanese governing and ensure precise coordination between joint administrative bodies during policy implementations. 

Profile of CDP leader Edano Yukio: the exhausted face of a nuclear disaster

Edano was the chief cabinet secretary and spokesperson for the government during the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster. He gained notoriety for his nearly hourly press conferences following the meltdown and the light-blue emergency workmen jumpsuit he donned at all times in front of the press. #edano_nero, translating to “Edano, sleep,” trended on Twitter in the days following the March 11 earthquake as the deep bags beneath the chief cabinet secretary’s eyes grew and rumors spread of him neglecting sleep for 100 hours immediately succeeding the disaster.

As the leader of a nine-month-old party posing the greatest threat to the Liberal Democratic Party, Edano has spoken at numerous press conferences this past year. In March, as the nation marked the tenth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the former chief cabinet secretary said he aims to eliminate nuclear power in Japan. 

With the general election less than four months away, Edano promoted his book “Edano Vision” during the FCCJ press conference. 

“The neoliberalism which has been so pervasive in recent years is now becoming a thing of the past. The system of mass production that has been in place since the Industrial Revolution and looking at that as the way to create wealth is also something of the past. And we are now seeing the importance of the redistribution of wealth and also recognizing the importance of essential work for the social and economic development which we are promoting,” he said. 

Despite the LDP’s and Suga’s plummeting approval rates, past fluctuations in public opinion for the ruling party did not translate to changes in voting behavior. Edano addressed his party’s poor performance in public polls and said he relies on entrance polls to gauge election results. According to Edano, entrance polls conducted by his party accurately predicted the April 25, 2021 election in Hiroshima and Hokkaido where two of his candidates won seats.

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 yokai statues 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. 

Japan Solves Coronavirus Crisis With Magical Math

By Chihiro Kai. Edited by Jake Adelstein

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

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

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

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

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


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

How The Magic Works!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BADGER AND THE STARS (a poem)

by Shoko Plambeck
The day my birth records were sent to a Shinto shrine
my father skinned a badger and hung its coat above my crib.
The tale of my birth supposedly unfolds like this:
The day I was born the stars were restless
and the earth was tossing a blizzard thick as cream
through the Nebraskan plains.
My father was on his way to work in his red Chevy
when he came across a dash of brown,
obscured by the snow like a fainting spell.
He shot it, thinking it was a soft furred marten,
but what he killed instead was a badger.
The badger of the plains. Symbol of earth, grounding
and consistency; finding her in such weather conditions
was like the moon waxing when it should wane.


Still, he put the creature in the back of his truck.
When he got to work, there was a call from my mother:
It’s two months early, but I’m going into labour.
My grandparents got the same call and flew in from Japan.
When my obaachan first saw me she announced,
This girl will be named Shoko, spirit in flight,
and years later when I moved from place to place,
hobby to hobby, man to man,
she’d lament naming me so irresponsibly.
In a shoebox, I went home.


The badger skin was nailed above my crib
and my birth records were sent to the monk at the family
Shinto shrine. The results came weeks later. My mother read
as I drank eagerly from her; she herself was a dark star
but at twenty-four she could not even imagine
what that would mean. Only years later
would she say that the badger had to be a mother
and the unimaginable must have happened
to make her split into the fatal snow.


My mother read: The child will need to seek grounding.
In the moment she was born the stars were restless
and they will reverberate through her blood forever.
Before she could read any further,
my grandmother snatched the fortune out of her hand
and read: bright as Sirius, inconstant as Mercury.

******

This poem was originally posted in Matador Review but was reposted with permission of the author.

Shoko Plambeck is a writer, traveler, and poet. She studied English literature at Temple University in Tokyo and the  University of Vermont. She currently lives in Japan but can’t wait to move back to the US to be with her cockatiel and poetry books again.