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. 

May the Force Be With You (May 4th) Zen Wisdom From Star Wars! The Dao of Jedi

May 4th has become an iconic day for Star Wars fans across the universe.  “May The 4th Be With You” becomes “May The Force Be With You” quite nicely.  (If you already knew this, stifle that groan young Jedi, some of us didn’t know). And on this day, what better time to introduce one of the stranger and more delightful books to come out this year in Japan: Zen Wisdom From Star Wars (スター・ウォーズ 禅の教え エピソード4・5・6). It’s written by noted Soto Zen Buddhist priest, Shunmyo Masuno (枡野 俊明) and takes scenes and dialogue from the good episodes of the series to illustrate Zen Buddhist sayings and wisdom. (A full review will come later this month).

Zen Wisdom From Star Wars
Zen Wisdom From Star Wars

The book is well-written, with just enough English sprinkled in to make the book semi-accessible to those who can’t read Japanese or are still struggling to do so.  The books works better than you might imagine.

Zen Buddhism, was heavily influenced by Taoism, and George Lucas freely admits to having borrowed heavily from Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and Japanese culture in the creation of the Star Wars mythos.

FullSizeRender 6

The book includes such pearls of wisdom as:

山川草木悉皆成仏 (Sansen Somuku Shikkai Jobutsu)/Everything is filled with the light of life (Everything has Buddha-nature).

安閑無事 (Ankan Buji)/Feel gratitude for everything no matter how small. Or rather: appreciate peace and quiet, health and safety. Because that won’t last forever. For example, affordable health care in America? Gone. (安閑無事が懐かしい)

FullSizeRender 7

閑古錘 (Kankonsui)/Maturation and calm come as you accrue diverse experience.

Well, remember that Star Wars is just fiction, but good science fiction, and the words of wisdom in the movie were not said by Taoist sages or Jedi masters but written by screenwriters. However, if you want to know the philosophy and sayings that inspired the film, this book is a good place to start.

Or better yet, buy yourself a copy of The Tao Te Ching, and substitute the word “Force” everytime it mentions “Tao”.  According to the Star Wars English Japanese Dictionary, the Force (フォース) is all the energy derived from every living thing. The Tao, which is often described as being indescribable, is close to the same thing.

 

So for your further education, here are few words from The Force Te Ching

Force Te Ching

by Yoda- chapter 81

Truthful words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not truthful.
Good men do not argue.
Those who argue are not good.
Those who know are not learned.
The learned do not know.

The Jedi never tries to store things up.
The more he/she does for others, the more he/she has.
The more he/she gives to others, the greater his/her abundance.
The Force of The Light Side is pointed but does no harm.
The Force of the Jedi is work without effort.
(adapted from the Tao Te Ching translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English)

 

So until next year, May the Force Be With you!

フォースと共にあれ!

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Tokyo Olympics could breed new COVID19 variant that kills “on a number even unthinkable in a conventional war.”

by Chihiro Kai

Dr Naoto Ueyama, Chairman of Japan Doctors Union called upon the international community to unite and pressure the Japanese government to cancel the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to commence in July. 

“I don’t think it can be said that the Olympics can be held in a safe way,” he said. 

Ueyama said the international competition, which would gather over 80,000 people including athletes and staff from 200 countries, could distribute existing variants such as the U.K., Brazilian, South African and Indian strains across the globe, or behave as a petri dish for a new potentially more fatal mutation. 

“And if that were to happen, the number of victims indeed would be on a number even unthinkable in a conventional war,” Ueyama said. 

He noted it’s possible that the games could even produce a variant known as “The Tokyo 2020” strain, something that would make the games live forever in infamy.

Ueyama explained that viruses undergo constant mutations. This is why the annual flu vaccines are updated to accommodate that year’s most prevalent variant. Covid-19 will continue to change, in the process adapting existing mechanisms that circumvent the human immune system to infect a host’s cell with greater efficacy. Ueyama said slow vaccine rollouts that delay the development of herd immunity or gathering large groups of potential carriers together rik giving the different variants further opportunity to mutate. 

“The IOC should recognize that they are calling upon the athletes, the people of Japan and global citizens to take on these risks,” Ueyama said. “We will be facing a situation where lives aren’t being lost in a battlefield but lives are being lost as a result of something which should be a peaceful celebration or even a celebration of peace itself.” 

Not only could variants be less susceptible to available vaccines, they could also avoid detection by multiplying in areas that aren’t swabbed by current PCR tests. Ueyama said a variant that reproduces in the lungs, for example, would be difficult to catch with PCR tests that collect samples from saliva or nasal swabs. Such a “Tokyo Olympic strain,” as Ueyama coined it, would not only jeopardize developing countries or regions in conflict without access to running water or health care, but endanger vaccinated individuals in countries with aggressive immunization campaigns like the United States. 

“The IOC should recognize that they are calling upon the athletes, the people of Japan and global citizens to take on these risks,” Ueyama said. “We will be facing a situation where lives aren’t being lost in a battlefield but lives are being lost as a result of something which should be a peaceful celebration or even a celebration of peace itself.” 

Japan’s hospitals are already overwhelmed by the relatively low infection to population ratio. Ueyama said in the city of Osaka, a Covid-19 hot spot under an extended state of emergency, the medical system is facing collapse as patients are told to stay home due to the lack of hospital beds for infected patients. The chairman, who lost a colleague to the virus, said an increasing number of nurses are quitting their jobs as the rising number of patients and work hours strain their other obligations to their children or elderly relatives. The organization is also seeing doctors, especially in the Kansai area, suffer from severe exhaustion and stress. 

Covid-19 is highlighting the nation’s deficit in medical personnel. When asked whether university hospitals in Tokyo would begin accepting more covid patients in case of an Olympics induced surge, Ueyama said even if the hospitals provided sufficient treatment facilities or beds, they lack the doctors and nurses needed to fully utilize them. Critical resources are also being stretched thin. Japan is one of many countries suffering the consequence of a serious global anesthetic shortage, without which critical patients can’t be intubated. The inability to implement proper treatments for those in need compounds the strain placed on weary medical practitioners riding Japan’s fourth virus wave. 

The timing of the Olympics could further exacerbate the shortage in medical staff and resources. Ueyama said the months of July and August are characterized by a spike in heat stroke patients requiring urgent care. Three years ago, a heat wave following the end of the rainy season hospitalized a record number of people from heat exhaustion. In response to the Japanese government’s request for hospitals in Tokyo and surrounding prefectures to reserve beds for Olympic personnel, Ueyama said that would be implausible. 

“During that season, if we imagine also that Covid-19 will not yet be under control, and not only this, we may see a continuing increase in the India strain, it will not be possible for hospitals to provide special treatment to those involved in the Olympics,” he said. 

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics may live on as a new strain of COVID19.

Ueyama said Japan’s belated vaccine rollout is also unlikely to affect Olympic safety. The current phase targeting the 65 and up demographic that makes up 20-30% of the population, is scheduled to conclude at the end of July, overlapping with the first week of the games. Regardless of whether Japan meets this ambitious immunization timeline, the Olympic volunteers that will be interacting with the athletes and their staff are under 65 years old, and therefore ineligible for the vaccine. Ueyama said the daily pcr tests for all Olympic personnel proposed as the compromise in the Tokyo 2020 playbook is insufficient to control and contain the virus. 

The doctor criticizes the IOC’s insistence that it is safe to host the games in Japan. He recommended the establishment of a global framework enforced by an international body similar to the IAEA or the UN’s Security Council to deal with the current and future pandemics “to save all of humankind from this crisis.” 

“Such a decision (to host the Olympics during a pandemic) is not something just to be made only by the IOC or only by the one host country. I am a fan of the Olympics. However, I do not believe they should go ahead while putting many people at danger and holding them will force many people to make sacrifices even in regard to their life, in order for them to take place.” 

Tokyo Governor Mulls Pulling Plug On The 2020 Olympics: The Empress VS Baron Von Ripper-Off

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is considering calling off the Olympics.

According to several sources in the Tokyo assembly, over the last week, Koike has had meetings with several top advisors, in which she has asked for their opinions on holding the games with no spectators–and even canceling the games altogether. In the meetings, Koike has been uncharacteristically quiet, asking many questions and listening intently to the answers.

A former advisor to the governor says that this is typical of Koike, when she’s about to make a dramatic unilateral decision. The former advisor told JSRC, “She has no great love for the Games, per se. She was not instrumental in bringing the Olympics to Tokyo and she has no real attachment to them. Public opinion against holding the Olympics is growing all the time. You’ll notice that Koike has not tweeted about the Olympics for weeks now.”

If you have a good memory, you may also recall that as late as March 12th 2020, less than two week before the Olympics were postponed, Koike stated dogmatically, “I can’t even conceive of the Olympics being cancelled or moved to another date.” Apparently, her powers of conception have improved since then.

In the early days of COVID, Japan, under the rule of Shinzo “Bon-Bon” Abe and Tokyo, led by Koike, downplayed the virus in an attempt make sure that the Olympics were held as scheduled. Widespread PCR testing was avoided, because it might have yielded unpleasantly high numbers.

Koike was remarkably silent about the growing infection until the Olympics were officially canceled on March 24. On March 25, Koike suddenly awakened to the rising number of covert covid19 cases in Japan and in her own domain, referring to it as an explosion of infections. She began lobbying for a state of emergency to be declared, bringing the word “lockdown” (ロックダウン)into the popular Japanese vernacular.

Koike is a remarkable political opportunist, as most of her constituents now realize. The contract between the IOC and the city of Tokyo, to hold the Olympics, clearly gives the IOC power to decide whether or not to hold the games, but if Koike openly demands for them to be halted, it’s likely that other Japanese politicians will fall in line.

She may be weighing all her options before becoming the first person in power to say the obvious: holding the the Olympics in COVID19 ravaged Tokyo is a terrible idea. In Osaka, people are dying at home while waiting for hospital beds. Unless Japan remarkably turns back this new wave of infections, things will only get worse before the Olympics begins. Tokyo has asked several prefectures to provide hospitals to take care of the athletes in the case of a major outbreak of disease at the games, and already two have publicly refused.

The lackluster safety measures in place for the Olympics are also alarming in their carelessness.Only 2% of the nation is vaccinated with less than 80 days to go before the games begin. Olympic volunteers and staff, numbering in the thousands will not be vaccinated nor will quarantines be required for those arriving from overseas. Even daily PCR tests for the volunteers will not be provided. The handbook for staff, does not inspire confidence, letting volunteers know, “if you get ill, tough look.” It says bluntly, “We trust that the measures laid out will mitigate the risks and impacts involved in participating in the Games, and we fully count on your support to comply with them. However, despite all the care taken, risks and impacts may not be fully eliminated, and therefore you agree to attend the Olympic and Paralympic Games at your own risk.

Residents of Japan “may” be asked to take a COVID19 test before their games role or participation in Games events begin. In fact, volunteers will not be vaccinated, nor quarantined upon arrival in Japan, and most will not have daily PCR test for COVID19. Athletes will all be vaccinated and tested regularly. Ordinary people bear all the risks.

The Japanese government under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is using the same old tired measures to deal with a virus that has grown more virulent and infectious. What once worked will not work anymore. Japan still continues to undertest, ensuring that non-symptomatic carriers, which are the majority of those infected with the virus, will spread the disease to a wider number of people. Even the lapdog experts who feed the Japanese government the advice they want to hear, are beginning to show signs of panic. One of them advised this week that Japan at least make extensive use of cheap and fast antigen tests, like those used in Germany, in an effort to keep the virus under control.

That’s not to mention the fear that with over 80,000 people coming to Japan from overseas with no mandatory quarantine, that new and more deadly variants of COVID19 will be introduced to Japan. The unvaccinated volunteers who will commute from home, may become the perfect vectors for carrying new lethal strains of COVID19 into Japan–and back to their homelands when they leave this island country.

Kenji Utsunomiya, the lawyer who launched a cancel-the-olympics petition–which gained a quarter of a million signatures in less than two days–hopes that Koike will make the right decision. He has run against her for the office of governor and knows that she is shrewd politician. He is hoping that if she doesn’t listen to public opinion, she might listen to her own political instincts.

Koike has a Trumpian ability to read the winds of public sentiment. While the IOC does have the ultimate authority to cancel the games, by demanding a stop to the fiasco out of professed concern for the safety of people living in Tokyo in Japan and the world, Koike has a marvelous chance to play hero.

If the IOC bends, and postpones another year – which would ensure that Japan is fully vaccinated and that everyone participating in the games is relatively safe, she wins. If the IOC refuses to call off the games and because of the overloaded healthcare systems people –or god forbid athletesdie, the IOC is the villain and not Tokyo. Once again, Koike would be the hero. If the IOC agrees and cancels the Olympics, but then tries to extract ridiculous penalties from Tokyo, they risk alienating other countries from holding the Olympics. And once again Koike, would come out as a hero, one who stood up to an international bully.

For many people here, the IOC with its blatant disregard for the lives of Japanese people–because it desperately wants to collect billions in television rights for the games–is reminiscent of the worst of the yakuza. The IOC motto seems to be: Money before lives, money before honor, money first. If the Olympics are held as planned, you might not have a hard time making citizens here believe that IOC stands for “International Organized Crime”.

Japan is in its third state of emergency now. Koike, facing rising infections this month, warned outsiders, “Do not come to Tokyo now.” A member of Komeito in the National Diet says that Koike also shared that message to Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, who abruptly cancelled his May 17th trip to Japan. Is it true? Perhaps, Bach cancelled on his own, because visiting Japan to promote the Olympics during a state of emergency and rising COVID19 infections and deaths, would not have earned him a warm welcome. In Osaka, at least 17 people have died waiting for admission to a hospital. Ambulances in Tokyo and other areas are facing long waiting times–several hours– before they can find a hospital that will accept emergency patients. Maybe Koike really did send him a message that he was not welcome right now.

In a recent column in the Washington Post, Sally Jenkins ridiculed IOC Chairman Bach as a conman and dubbed him Baron Von Ripper-Off. In Japan, that was translated as [ぼったくり男爵] and it immediately became one of the most trending words of the years. 

Koike is expected to pay a visit to her political godfather, Toshiro Nikai, the Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party before making her stance public. But in his earlier remarks this year, which indicated that the Olympics should be called off if they posed a public health hazard, she may already feel she has public approval. All the members of the Tokyo Assembly are on edge wandering what Koike will do but past experience has shown them, the only person who knows what Koike will do is Koike herself. She plays her cards remarkably close to her chest.

Mortal Kombat 2021! The Empress (Yuriko Koike) Versus Baron Von Ripper-Off (T. Bạch, IOC)?
At stake, the lives and welfare of the unvaccinated living and working in Japan where vaccination is less than 3%. photo and rights @akasan (on twitter)

A great book about Koike was published in the last year called, 女帝 (The Empress). It describes how manipulative, powerful and savvy Koike can be when she wants to be. I know that betting is not part of the Olympics, just as bribery is not supposed to be part of the Olympics (cough, cough) but in a showdown between the Empress and Baron Von Ripper-Off, I’d put my gold (medals) on the Empress, even at double the odds. She’s got magical powers, the ability to metamorphisize at will, and sometimes has courageous judgement. They don’t call her the green werebadger-dog (緑の狸) for nothing.