My Japan Times JBC column 101: “US and Japan votes: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (Oct 3, 2016)


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US and Japan votes: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
By Dr. ARUDOU, Debito. The Japan Times, Just Be Cause column 101
To be published Oct 3, 2016

I love elections. Anywhere. It’s fascinating to see how politicians craft public appeals. No matter how flawed the process, it’s how nation-states recharge their legitimacy and publicly reaffirm their mandate to govern.

During this season of the world’s most-watched presidential campaign, JBC will assess “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of how the United States and Japan run their elections. […] I want to talk about the expression of political culture and momentum that has grown from generations of campaigning, and how it brings out the “good” (things that are healthy for a representative democracy), the “bad” (things that aren’t), and the “ugly” (the just plain ludicrous)…

Read the rest in the Japan Times at


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Kickstarter: “Go! Go! Second Time Gaijin” a mockumentary film by Primolandia Productions starring Debito Arudou


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UPDATE JUNE 4, 2016:


Preview of movie:  “Go! Go! Second Time Gaijin”

More details and Kickstarter support page to fund this project at

“Go! Go! Second Time Gaijin” is a mockumentary that focuses on a Caucasian expat living in Japan who, after receiving a blow to the head, wakes up believing that he is a member of an ultranationalist right wing group (the “uyoku dantai”). An idealistic amateur “director” (in the scheme of the mockumentary) is making a documentary film about this odd character because he believes that it will propel his own filmmaking career towards prominence. As the director and his subject’s views begin to diverge though, things begin to fall apart. “Go! Go! Second Time Gaijin” is a story about identity, delusion, myopic nationalism, ascendent conservative trends in Japan’s current government, other big words, and how those beliefs do not accurately reflect the political and social reality of Japanese society. Only the best ingredients for a controversial comedy.


Debito Arudou (Actor) is a writer, blogger, and human rights activist. He was born in the United States and became a naturalized Japanese citizen in 2000. He is the author of Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan, Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan and has recently published Embedded Racism: Japan’s Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination (Lexington Books).

Shintaro Naka (Actor) is an educator and actor in Southwest Japan. He has performed in several short-films, including A Portrait of No One in 2009, as well as performing as Toshio in Kazuhiko Konoike’s Sensitive (2012) and the follow-up film Suddenly (2013).

Robert Nishimura (Writer/Director) is among the last generation of “Zonians,” born and bred in the Republic of Panamá. In the last two decades, under the Primolandia Productions label, he has produced short films, TV documentaries, video installations, provided art direction for Japanese fashion magazines, and designed promotional material for films in Japan and the US. Based in Japan for the past 11 years — and now a permanent resident — he currently is the co-owner and curator of an art gallery in southwest Japan.

Stirling Perry (Writer/Producer) is an educator living in Hiroshima, Japan. He previously co-wrote and directed Gokurōsama (2008) with Robert Nishimura, a short film shot exclusively for the Akira Kurosawa Short Film Competition. Stirling is currently writing several feature films, with the first slated to go into production in 2016.

Paul Leeming (Cinematographer) began his film career in Sydney in 2005 and graduated from the Sydney Film School in 2006, majoring in Directing, Cinematography and Sound. In 2007 he moved to Japan and started Visceral Psyche, writing and directing several award-winning films and shooting many more as a cinematographer. Paul is now living in Berlin with his sights set firmly on Hollywood.

Kazuhiko Konoike (Producer/Assistant Director) began his production career at Tsuburaya Productions (creators of Ultraman) and GAGA Distribution before starting his own production label, cinepos, in 2008. Since then, Kazuhiko has made several short films and promotional videos, with many more to come.

More details and Kickstarter support page to fund this project at

Tangent: NYT Op-Ed: Foreigners Are Attacking … American TV, within US TV programs. Contrast with Japan.


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Hi Blog.  In my previous blog entry, I mentioned the disenfranchisement of foreigners from Japanese media, and my upcoming book (out in November) will discuss further the effects of that in terms of tolerance of difference and counteracting public defamation.  As a Tangent, let’s contrast this with the degree of access that foreigners in America have to influence the domestic narrative and talking points.  I don’t know how unusual this is on a country-to-country scale ( Readers are welcome to mention the foreign anchors/pundits holding court outside the US and Japan), but given the influence that American media has worldwide, this is not a small matter.  The NYT does a survey below.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


Foreigners Are Attacking … American TV!
By VIKAS BAJAJ New York Times MARCH 30, 2015

American late-night television shows have probably never had so many anchors with foreign accents as they will have soon. Trevor Noah, a South African comedian, will become at least the third non-American native to host a popular TV comedy show later this year when he takes over “The Daily Show” from Jon Stewart. He will join two Britons, John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” and James Corden, who recently started hosting “The Late Late Show” on CBS.

Mr. Noah is an unconventional choice to host a show on American television, which has had plenty of British actors and comedians over the years. He was born to a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father and is from a country where mixed race unions are still uncommon. And, perhaps most important, many Americans have never heard or seen him perform.

But Mr. Noah’s foreignness might be just what the “The Daily Show” and American television broadly need. It is hard to remember now, but when Mr. Stewart took over the show and later spun off “The Colbert Report,” fake news was not a big part of our comedy diet. Yes, there was the Weekend Update segment on “Saturday Night Live,” but it came on just once a week and did not always deliver the goods.

Maybe what we really need now is to have foreigners apply their brand of satire to the United States — its politics, culture and race relations — to tell us something about ourselves that our homegrown comedians are not capturing. And they can perhaps also enlighten us about what’s funny and tragic in the rest of the world as Mr. Oliver has done ably on his show. Aside from a few jokes about Europe, most late-night shows rarely dwell on international subjects.

Still, Mr. Noah’s appointment has disappointed some fans of “The Daily Show” who had hoped that Comedy Central would pick a woman like Samantha Bee, who is leaving the show to start her own satirical program on TBS. It is disappointing that none of the several late-night shows on the air now are hosted by a woman. Perhaps, Ms. Bee will so successfully shatter that glass ceiling that the executives at other networks will seek out more women to be hosts.

There will probably also be criticism from some quarters that Mr. Noah, Mr. Oliver and Mr. Corden represent a foreign invasion of television that is depriving hard-working American comedians of important jobs. Just last week, a columnist for suggested that some deserving white actors were not getting roles on new TV shows because the industry was designating many more characters as reserved for nonwhite actors.

I for one am looking forward to Mr. Noah’s stint in the anchor chair. I found his three appearances on “The Daily Show” to be funny in a unique way — watch him explain why it was bad for the United States to try to lure top chess players away from other countries. And I laughed at clips of his standup act in which he mimics the odd speaking style of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. I hope he is just as unsparing to our politicians.


My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 72: “Don’t let ANA off the hook for that offensive ad”, Jan 25, 2014, “Director’s Cut”


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Hi Blog. Only a few days into the case of racialized advertisement from ANA, I got tapped by the Japan Times to cover it. Readers and Facebook Friends certainly gave me plenty of food for thought, so thank you all very much. Here’s my more polished opinion on it, which stayed the number one article on the JT Online for two full days! What follows is the “Director’s Cut” with excised paragraphs and links to sources. Thanks as always for reading and commenting to Arudou Debito


Don’t let ANA off the hook for that offensive ad
The Japan Times, JAN 24, 2014, Column 72 for The Community Pages

Making headlines recently has been a commercial by ANA, one of Japan’s flagship airlines.  Released last Saturday, its 30-second spot shows two Asian men (one a comedian named Bakarizumu, but let’s call them A and B) standing at an airport window speaking English with Japanese subtitles.

(See the ad at

Looking out at the jets, A says, “Haneda Airport has more international flights nowadays.”  B replies, “Finally.”  Then their exchange goes, “Next stop, Vancouver.”  “Next stop, Hanoi.”  “Exciting, isn’t it?”  Then B says, rather oddly, “You want a hug?”  When A only gives him a nonplussed look, B continues, “Such a Japanese reaction.”  When A explains, “But I am Japanese,” B counters, “I see.  Let’s change the image of Japanese people.” And A, smiling broadly, agrees to it.

Alright so far.  Except that, as you can see in the picture below, A is now wearing a strapped-on long nose and a big blond wig.  Off they fly to their destinations.

This has occasioned considerable debate and media coverage.  Many commenters in the English-language online forums have called this advertisement “racist” (one even said “Debito bait”; I’m chuffed), and have made motions to take their business elsewhere.  Others have said the advertisement isn’t racist, just lame.  A few managed to find a deep pocket of latent irony, saying it’s actually poking fun at the Japanese people and their insular attitudes.  Meanwhile, within Japanese-language forums, according to a Yahoo Japan poll, 82% of respondents see no problem with it.


(NB:  Note look how the question is worded. It introduces the issue by saying that a comedian (Bakarizumu) performed the act (read: it’s a joke!), and says that the complaints came “from foreigners” (read: not from Japanese) of “racial discrimination” (read: misleading representation of the issue). So we’ve set up the question as “we joking Japanese” vs “those kvetching foreigners” “taking a madcap jape” too seriously, and bingo, you get a vast majority of people wondering what the problem is.)

It probably comes as no surprise to you that JBC objects to this ad.  If ANA had really wanted to “change the image of Japan,” it should have avoided racializing their product.  Instead, it’s just business as usual.

Consider some other racist marketing strategies from not so long ago (visuals and reports archived at

Last year, Toshiba marketed a bread maker with an obnoxiously overexuberant Japanese girl speaking katakana Japanese, wearing a blond wig and a big nose.  (Ad archived at


In 2010, Nagasaki Prefecture promoted its “foreign” buildings by showing Japanese tourists wearing—you guessed it—blond wigs and big noses.  (Ad archived at

In 2005, Mandom sold men’s cosmetics with a Rasta-man motif, juxtaposing black people with a chimpanzee.  (Ad archived at

Dare I mention the resurrection of book “Little Black Sambo” in 2005, which inspired overtly racist nursery-school songs in Saitama about black butts?  (See Matthew Chozick, “Sambo racism row reignites over kids’ play,” Zeit Gist, April 13, 2010.)

And how about the Choya plum saké commercials in 2008, featuring three girls (two Caucasian, one Japanese), the latter sporting a big plastic nose and stick-on paper blue eyes?  Although most of these ads were soon pulled after complaints, you can still go to Amazon Japan or Tokyu Hands and buy your own “gaijin” stick-on blue eyes and nose (with the caption “Harō Gaijin-San”) to sport at parties!

Har har.  Can’t you see it’s all just a joke, imbued with a deep sense of irony subversively directed at Japanese people?  Except that, as I’ve pointed out in JBCs passim, irony as humor is not one of Japan’s strong suits.

Moreover, remember when McDonald’s Japan was using a nerdy white guy to hawk newfangled burgers?  JBC argued (“Meet Mr. James, Gaijin Clown,” Sept. 1, 2009) that stereotyping of this nature only works as humor if, among other things, there is a “switch test” – i.e., everyone is fair game for parody.

But in Japan it’s not fair game.  Japanese society and media takes quick umbrage to being lampooned by the outside world, especially in a racialized manner.

Case in point:  To commemorate the publication of “Little Black Sambo,” I drew up a parody called “Little Yellow Jap” to put the shoe on the other foot (  I made the protagonist as stereotypically exaggerated as the ink-black gollywogs in the book:  bright yellow skin, round glasses, buck teeth, and clad in a fundoshi loincloth.  I pointed out on every page that this was a parody of Japan’s Sambo, and contextualized it with a full explanation in Japanese of why racialized books for children are bad.

Yet for years now in the Japanese version of Wikipedia’s entry on me, this parody is cited as an example of my “discrimination against Japanese.”  Clearly turnabout is not in fair play.

Or consider the case of British TV show QI (Philip Brasor, “Cultural insensitivity no laughing matter,” Media Mix Jan. 30, 2011, discussed here).  Producers were forced to apologize for a joke about a recently-deceased Japanese who in 1945 unluckily travelled to Nagasaki, after experiencing the first atomic bombing, to catch the second one.  A panelist had dryly quipped, “He never got the train again, I tell you.”

That’s not funny!  That’s insensitive.  And insulting!  And racist, according to the more unified online communities in Japan, backed up by protesting Japanese government officials, all of whom clearly understand irony.  (For the record:  I’m being ironic.  Please laugh.)

Back to ANA.  I bet the omnipotent gerontocracy at corporate headquarters didn’t think anything amiss (obviously; they approved the ad), because, as is often claimed in these situations, Japanese in fact “admire” (akogareru) white people.  This ad is, if anything, a paean.  After all, look at him!  He looks like Robert Redford, one of the prototypical kakkō-ii foreigners of our generation!  (They could do with a Brad Pitt update, I guess.)

In tepid apology letters, ANA uses the standard disclaimer:  “We didn’t mean to offend anyone.”  Okay.  And I’m sure many of your potential customers didn’t “mean” to be offended either.  But many were.  And if you have any pretentions to being an international company, you wouldn’t get in these sticky wickets in the first place.

(Two apology letters
UK Independent on the apologies

To be fair, this campaign was probably cooked up not by ANA, but by one of Japan’s advertising oligarchs (no doubt Dentsu, with nearly a third of Japan’s market share).  Anyone with an eye on the Japanese media knows how they make silly amounts of money on silly stereotypes (including the one that Japanese don’t hug), while reaffirming the binary between “Japan” and “the rest of the world.”

Nevertheless, ANA deserves its lumps, because reps simply don’t know what they’re apologizing for.  In fact, they clumsily reinforced the binary, stating in press releases that complaints have “mostly come from foreign customers” (as opposed to real customers?), before finally pulling the ad last Tuesday.

Now consider this:  Gerry Nacpil, Supervisor of ANA Sky Web, wrote in his apology: “The intention of this commercial was… to encourage Japanese to travel abroad more and become global citizens.”

So… “global citizens” equals White people?

Now the ad is even more problematic.

To quote a friend, in an open letter to ANA:

“Dear ANA:  Are you aware that most of your foreigner customers are from places like Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, Singapore, Manila, and Kuala Lumpur?  And that most of them probably don’t have blond/orange hair?  Oh, and even the ones with blond hair probably don’t have noses like a tengu goblin.  And pretty sure that Japanese people enjoy being hugged and have emotions.  Well, at least the Japanese who aren’t sticks-in-mud CEO boardroom types with no sense that the world doesn’t really resemble their 19th-century, ‘we are so different from you funny-looking white gaijin’ Meiji-Era mentality.

“Look forward to seeing your 2020 customers.  They may surprise you.  Sincerely, A Big-Nosed White Guy who speaks Japanese.”

Touché.  Look, Japan, if you want to host international events (such as an Olympics), or to have increased contact with the outside world, you’ll face increased international scrutiny of your attitudes under global standards.

For one of Japan’s most international companies to reaffirm a narrative that Japanese must change their race to become more “global” is a horrible misstep.  ANA showed a distinct disregard for their Non-Japanese customers—those who are “Western,” yes, but especially those who are “Asian.”

Only when Japan’s business leaders (and feudalistic advertisers) see NJ as a credible customer base they could lose due to inconsiderate behavior, there will be no change in marketing strategies.  NJ should vote with their feet and not encourage this with passive silence, or by double-guessing the true intentions behind racially-grounded messages.

This is a prime opportunity.  Don’t let ANA off the hook on this.  Otherwise the narrative of foreigner = “big-nosed blonde that can be made fun of” without turnabout, will ensure that Japan’s racialized commodification will be a perpetual game of “whack-a-mole.”


ZakSPA!: “Laughable” stories about “Halfs” in Japan, complete with racialized illustration


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Hi Blog. Reader CJ submits the following ZakSPA! page talking about Japan’s genetic internationalization in tabloid style: How “funny” it is to be a “half.”

Reading through the articles (enclosed below), I’m of two minds about this. On one hand, it’s good to have the media acknowledging that there are Japanese kids of diverse roots and experiences out there, with some tone of saying how silly it all is that so many people get treated in stereotypical ways (with a “roundtable of halfs” at the end giving their own views on the situation). On the other hand, the level of discourse gets pretty low (“some foreigner talked to me in Narita Airport in English and it was so frightening I felt like crying”), and an opportunity to actually address a serious issue of how Japan has changed is wasted on parts laughing, parts crybabying, parts confirmation that treating people as “different” because they look “different” is a natural, if not inevitable, part of life in Japan. I’ll let Readers read for themselves and decide whether this important topic is being broached properly.

Definitely not cool, however, is the topic page with the prototypical illustration of a “half”:

We have not only some phenotypical “othering” going on here, but also the trope of “being foreign means you can’t use chopsticks”. One would think that most multiethnic Japanese (not to mention anyone regardless of nationality — it’s a skill) would have few problems with that. But it’s supposed to be funny, in a “microaggressive” sort of way. Har har. Arudou Debito



★[一般人ハーフ]のトホホな日常 ZAK X SPA! 2012.10.09







「『ハーフなのに背が低いよね』ってよく言われます。ベッキーだって158cmで、 私と一緒。背の低い白人ハーフもいることを知ってほしい(笑)」(ロシアとのハーフ女性)



「学生の頃はよく『金髪紹介しろよ』『妹いないの?』『姉さんいないの?』とか言われました(笑)」(ハンガリーとのハーフ男性)って、妹や姉がいたら何する気だ!?さらに「お母さんはキレイか?」とも聞かれたそうだが、いったい何を期待してるのやら。 ハーフにエロな妄想を抱く日本人は男女を問わないようで、「ガイジン顔(白人系)だからか、『エッチ好きなんでしょ』と言う人も。ルーマニアハーフの友達は『このおしり、本物?』と女性に触られたとか」(ドイツとのハーフ女性)とは、同性でもセクハラの域。


































































































■司会 サンドラ・ヘフェリンさん ドイツ育ちの日独ハーフ。日本在住歴15年。著書『浪費が止まるドイツ節約生活の楽しみ』(光文社)、『ハーフが美人なんて妄想ですから!!』(中公新書ラクレ)ほか。HP「ハーフを考えよう」

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column 54 Aug 7, 2012: “For nikkei immigrants in Japan, it doesn’t have to be a bug’s life”


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Hi Blog. My latest, up for comments. Thanks for making it a Top Ten Most Read once again and an Editor’s Pick to boot! Enjoy. Arudou Debito


The Japan Times, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012
For nikkei immigrants in Japan, it doesn’t have to be a bug’s life

As Beto awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his futon into a gigantic cockroach.

“What’s happened to me?” he thought. In his native land down south, he had been a person — if at times underprivileged due to his nikkei status. So, years ago, he “repatriated” to Japan, attracted by promises of better milk and honey. Yet now he felt even more marginalized by the locals here, who called themselves “people” yet treated him at times like he was an insect.

Beto scurried off to work, where people shied away and refused to sit by him in the train cars. But as the end of the line approached, the coach filled up with fellow cockroaches, and people stopped paying attention.

The people at his factory also took no notice of his metamorphosis. His supervisors were used to dealing with cockroaches. Bugs seemed an inevitable part of lower-rent circumstances. As in the train, it seemed some people had learned to “co-exist” with them in close quarters.

In public, however, reactions were different. Alone, Beto was often seen as something exotic, maybe even collectable if there was a curious person flitting about who was interested in “speaking bug.” But if seen as part of a swarm, people’s knee-jerk reactions were to take steps against them. Bugs might overrun the place, making it feel less the realm of the masters, more of the roaches.

Speaking of the masters, politicians were calling for strict controls of the cockroach population. For what did the gokiburi (sometimes dissed as “gai-kiburi”) actually do? Nothing visibly important, and they were always found in the dirtiest places. What kind of house were we keeping if cockroaches were around?

Cockroaches, after all, weren’t like other insects. They were compared unfavorably to the skilled worker bees from rich countries, who were overtly adding to the national honey pot. Also, remember, worker bees have a sting. You had to respect that — not rattle the nest if you wanted to keep scraping at the luscious honeycombs they built.

But the politicians warned against wasps. Sure, those yellow jackets served some pollinating function in the wilting countryside, but they should never be allowed to build nests. For they too had stings, and deviously stung in hordes. Approach them carefully, for they were unpredictable, emboldened by the world’s biggest hive just a short flight away.

Even stronger stings were found among the white-faced hornets. Their nests here were very secure, kept because they offered Japan considerable honey. So as long as the hornets mostly policed themselves on some rock far from the mainland, their stings, kept in full public view and sharpened often, managed to scare off the yellow jackets.

In contrast, cockroaches like Beto had no sting. They didn’t even bite. They just scurried about doing their business, quietly collecting crumbs through their allotted niches in society, unrecognized for their long-term contributions to Japan’s food chain.

That’s why cockroaches were so easily kicked around. Few people raised a stink if someone stomped on them, for example, for being grubby while sorting rubbish on garbage day.

Beto recalled how past insects had been kept under control. Remember the stink bugs of yore who sold fake telephone cards? They incurred the vindictive wrath of Japan’s then-largest corporate giant, who convinced the authorities to fumigate — closing off entire parks to any insect, and stamping them out through visa nonrenewal. For good measure, the pheromone of public money was used to attract them into building sports stadiums. Once hastily completed, the stink bugs were bottled up and booted out.

That should have put the insects in their place. But a decade ago, a self-styled Sanitizer-General claimed Japan was breaking out in hives, and campaigned about “cleaning house.” Whole areas of Tokyo were apparently so infested that public stability — even purity — was imperiled. The Sanitizer got all his wishes, including Japan’s first neighborhood security cameras, antiterrorist legislation, and routine public harassment of anyone who bugged him. Plus reelection no matter how old and vitriolic he got.

Fortunately, cockroaches were distant from Tokyo, so they managed to keep their clusters. But their turn came during the economic downturn of 2008, when the government sprinkled pheromones on airplanes and spirited a clutch of them away.

Beto himself stayed on. Factory work was what he did well, and he thrived quietly within his nook. He stayed past 2011 — when the honey turned sour, then salty and hot. He even stayed when all the other insects, so long decried as pests, somehow metamorphosed into rats and then were decried for leaving a sinking ship.

But as of this morning, when he realized that he was just a cockroach, Beto began to wonder if it wasn’t time to claim his place in the food chain.

That would require acting like a person, with a sense of entitlement in Japan. He would have to emerge from his exoskeleton and become more articulate in the language. He would have to start convincing fellow roaches to come out of the cracks. They would have to build more hives in public view — not just cluster around the occasional ethnic restaurant or local samba festival.

They would also have to stop letting the people convince them that, despite decades of contributions to the national honey pot, bugs were here only by the vicissitudes of labor-migration economics and the good graces of an indifferent government.

Beto could — dare he think it out loud? — even refuse to fill the honey pot until they were acknowledged and respected like worker bees. With stings. With the will to unionize, then strike if their nest was rattled enough. Striking was something those in the most secure jobs — the public servants — couldn’t even do.

Still, the public-servant drones didn’t need to. Drones were already people, not insects, even though they had hidden stings of their own. The bugs, on the other hand, would have to swarm upon Tokyo to show off their stings.

Of course, it would be difficult for people to ever see immigrants as anything more than bugs. But it was worth a try. After all, people can only spend so much of their life bottom-feeding, crushable at any time with no reprisal or payback just because they happen to be underfoot. Beto scuttled off to become human again.

With apologies to Franz Kafka. Debito Arudou’s latest publication is the Hokkaido Section of Fodor’s Japan, on sale now. Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to

Mainichi: JHS teacher arrested for defrauding insurance companies by repeatedly claiming his luggage was stolen by foreigners!


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Hi Blog. Chalk this one up to the idiocracy that springs up whenever unquestioned hegemonic discourse (i.e., “foreigners commit crime”) in a society leads to too much giving the benefit of the doubt. We have some Japanese guy (a junior high school teacher, no less) repeatedly “losing” his luggage while traveling and then successfully getting insurance paid out on it due to claims of “thefts by foreigners”. (The idiot did it with enough frequency that cops became suspicious because they remembered his claims.)

Frauds and blaming foreigners are nothing new. I wrote a whole Japan Times column in 2007 on how foreigners have been targets of a “Blame Game” for many years now. But often it goes beyond comical. We have a trucker in 2004 who overslept his appointment and then formally blamed it on being kidnapped by foreigners. We have a bosozoku biker gang that same year who killed somebody and tried to blame it on a foreign gang.  And we have murder suspects in 2006 who tried to blame a homicide on a lurking “blond man” (in a city with very few foreigners to boot).

Clearly the “foreign crime wave” which was fabricated by Tokyo Gov. Ishihara from 2000 has cast a long shadow. As submitter Becky says, “No wonder they get microaggressive, look at all the crime we commit!” Arudou Debito


Police nab man for allegedly claiming theft of non-existent luggage
Mainichi Japan April 05, 2012, courtesy of Becky
(no Japanese version found)

OSAKA — A man was arrested here on April 4 for allegedly reporting a non-existent bag stolen at Kansai International Airport and claiming insurance money for it.

Satoshi Kita, a 39-year-old junior high school teacher, received a 236,433-yen travel insurance payout after claiming his bag containing a laptop computer and other items had been stolen by a foreign couple near the airport train station on Aug. 4 last year, when he returned from a trip to Taiwan. An officer with the Osaka Prefectural Police’s Kansai airport station who remembered Kita’s original theft report became suspicious of his claims after reviewing airport security camera footage that showed Kita had not been carrying the bag in question.

“It’s absolutely true that I submitted a fake theft report,” Kita was quoted as telling police.

Police also suspect Kita may have pulled the same trick on four other occasions, including an August 2006 incident in which he claimed his overnight bag had been stolen from a bench while he was giving directions to a foreigner, for which he claimed 320,000 yen in insurance benefits. He has also filed theft claims at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and in Seoul.

My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column #48: “These are a few of my favorite things about Japan”, Feb. 7, 2012


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Hi Blog.  This essay was again in the top five “most read articles” on the Japan Times all day yesterday, thanks everyone!  And according to my editor, I have pioneered the use of the word “turtle-heading” in the JT (aw, shucks!).  Enjoy!  Arudou Debito

The Japan Times Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012
JUST BE CAUSE, Column 48

These are a few of my favorite things about Japan

The excellent illustrations, as always, by Chris Mackenzie.

The Just Be Cause column has been running now for four years (thanks for reading!), and I’ve noticed something peculiar: how commentators are pressured to say “nice” stuff about Japan.

If you don’t, you get criticized for an apparent “lack of balance” — as if one has to pay homage to the gods of cultural relativism (as an outsider) or tribal commonalities (as an insider).

This pressure isn’t found in every society. Britain, for example, has a media tradition (as far back as Jonathan Swift, William Hogarth and George Cruikshank) where critics can be unapologetically critical, even savage, towards authority (check out Private Eye magazine).

But in Japan, where satire is shallow and sarcasm isn’t a means of social analysis, we are compelled to blunt our critique with pat niceties. Our media spends more time reporting nice, safe things (like how to cook and eat) than encouraging critical thinking.

Likewise, Just Be Cause gets comments of the “If Debito hates Japan so much, why does the JT keep publishing him?” ilk — as if nobody ever criticizes Japan out of love (if we critics didn’t care about this place, we wouldn’t bother).

Moreover, why must we say something nice about a place that hasn’t been all that nice to its residents over the past, oh, two stagnant decades (even more so since the Fukushima nuclear disaster)? Japan, like everywhere else, has problems that warrant attention, and this column is trying to address some of them.

Still, as thanks to the readership (and my editor, constantly put off his beer defending me in bars), I’ll succumb and say something nice about Japan for a change. In fact, I’ll give not one, but 10 reasons why I like Japan — enough to have learned the language, married, had children, bought property, taken citizenship and lived here nearly a quarter-century.

Leaving out things like cars, semiconductors, consumer electronics, steel, etc. (which have been written about to death), Japan is peerless at:


News photo


10. Public transport

Overseas, I’ve often found myself saying, “Curses! I can’t get there without a car!” but even in Hokkaido I could find a way (train, bus, taxi if necessary) to get practically anywhere, including the outback, given a reasonable amount of time.

How many cities the size of Tokyo can move millions around daily on infrastructure that is, even if overcrowded at times, relatively clean, safe and cheap? Not many.


News photo


9. Seafood

Japan’s irradiated food chain notwithstanding (sorry, this has to be caveated), dining in Japan is high quality. It’s actually difficult to have a bad meal — even school cafeterias are decent.

World-class cuisine is not unique to Japan (what with Chinese, Italian, Thai, Indian, French, etc.), but Japan does seafood best. No wonder: With a longer history of fishing than of animal husbandry, Japan has discovered how to make even algae delicious! Japanese eat more seafood than anyone else. Justifiably.


News photo


8. Onomatopeia

I am a Japanese kanji nerd, but that’s only the bureaucratic side of our language. Now try gitaigo and giseigo/giongo — Japanese onomatopoeic expressions. We all know gussuri and gakkari. But I have a tin ear for pori pori when scratching the inside of my nose, or rero rerowhen licking something, or gabiin when agape.

Japanese as a language is highly contextualized (say the wrong word and mandarins just sit on their hands) and full of confusing homophones, but the universe of expressiveness found in just a couple of repeated kana is something I doubt I will ever master. My loss.


News photo


7. Packaging

Stores like Mitsukoshi cocoon your purchase in more paper and plastic than necessary. But when you really need that cocoon, such as when transporting stuff, you’re mollycoddled. Japanese post offices offer boxes and tape for cheap or free. Or try the private-sector truckers, like Yamato or Pelican, whom I would even trust with bubble-wrapping and shipping a chandelier (and for a reasonable price, too).

If you don’t know how to pack, leave it to the experts — it’s part of the service. As Mitsukoshi demonstrates, if it’s not packaged properly, it’s not presentable in Japan.


News photo


6. Calligraphic goods

I’m used to crappy Bic ballpoint pens that seize up in the same groove (and inexplicably only in that groove, no matter how many times you retrace), which you then summarily discard like used toothbrushes. But in Japan, writing implements are keepers, combining quality with punctiliousness.

People prowl stationery stores for new models (with special buttons to advance the pencil lead, twirl cartridges for multiple colors, or multicolored ink that comes out like Aquafresh toothpaste) spotted in specialty stationery magazines (seriously!). Maybe this is not so mysterious considering how precisely one has to write kanji — but I know of only two countries that put this fine a point on pens: Germany (whose companies have a huge market here) and Japan.


News photo


5. Group projects

Yes, working in groups can make situations inflexible and slow. But when things work here, they really work, especially when a project calls for an automatic division of labor.

For example, when I was politically active in a small Hokkaido town, we would rent a room for a public meeting. Beforehand, without ever being asked, people would come early to set things up. Afterward, attendees would put everything back before going home.

I’ve done presentations overseas and the attitude is more, “Hey, you take care of the chairs — what are we paying you for?” Sucks.

It’s nice to be here, where pitching in often goes without saying, and everyone has a stake in keeping things clean and orderly.


News photo


4. Public toilets

Sure, public conveniences exist overseas, but they are frequently hard to track down (shoppers overseas must have enormous bladders) and when found, they can resemble a war zone.

Japan, however, generally keeps its toilets clean and unstinky. Comfortable, too. Sure, I hate it when I’m turtle-heading and can only find Japan’s squatter types, but I also hate being trapped overseas in a stall where strangers can see my ankles under the door.

Besides, whenever I need a public time-out, I head for the nearest handicapped toilet and bivouac. Ah, a room to myself; it’s a love hotel for my tuchus. And that’s before mentioning the washlets, bidets, warmed toilet seats . . .


News photo


3. Anime

I’ve been reading comic books since I was 2 years old, and have long admired Japanese animation and comic art. I can’t resist anime’s clean lines, sense of space and forcefulness, and storyboard style of narrative.

Once underrated overseas, Japan’s comics are now one of our coolest cultural exports. Resistance is futile — watch the knockoffs on Cartoon Network (love “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Samurai Jack”)!

Consider one knock-on benefit of a society so consumed by comic art: Japan’s average standards for drawing are very high. I came from a society with an enormous standard deviation in artistic talent: You either get stick figures or Pat Oliphants. In Japan, however, contrast with the following example.

I once tested my university students on spatial vocabulary. I drew a room on the answer sheet and said, “Under the table, draw Doraemon.” Amazingly, 98 of 100 students could draw a Doraemon that would infringe copyright — complete with propeller, collar bell, philtrum and whiskers.

Try getting people overseas to draw a recognizable Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat or even just Snoopy and you’ll see how comparatively under-practiced drawing skills tend to be outside Japan.


News photo


2. Silly cute

Nobody combines these two quite like Japan does — simultaneously campy, tacky and kitschy. Some pundits lament how the culture of cute has paved over genuine time-tested Japanese iconography. But if you avoid being a curmudgeon, you’ll wind up giggling despite yourself.

Where else are you going to get Marimokkori (algae balls with superhero capes and inguinal endowments)? Try resisting Hello Kitty when she’s affecting regional dining habits or clothes (I love Pirika Kitty and supertacky Susukino Kitty, both homages to Hokkaido). And all those cellphone mascots! And there’s plenty more crap out there, some finding markets overseas.

What’s the appeal? My theory is that the Occident just can’t do cute or silly without sarcasm seeping in (even Disney resorts to wise-cracking). Shooting for it include France’s Barbapapa (which comes off as “easy to draw,” not cute), Finland’s weird Moomins (with that evil-looking Little My character) and Britain’s even weirder Teletubbies (arguing its cuteness will give you a hernia; watch while stoned). They all could do with a cute J-makeover and a firm J-marketing push.

Look, campy, tacky and kitschy eventually become ironic, cheap and tiresome. But Japan’s brand of straight-faced silly manages to (thanks to that intrinsic lack of sarcasm) remain tirelessly unironic. As long as you keep developing new and unexpected permutations, you never quite get sick of it. Instead you just giggle.

People need that. Silly-cute makes life in Japan and elsewhere more bearable.


News photo


1. Onsens

Of course. If you can get in. Ahem.

Illustrations by Chris Mackenzie. A version of this essay appeared in the now-defunct Sapporo Source magazine in December 2009; an expanded version can be found at Debito Arudou’s latest book is “In Appropriate” ( Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments and story ideas to


End-year Irony #2: Japanese cast as Roman in “Thermae Romae” despite J complaints about Chinese cast as Japanese in “Memoirs of a Geisha”


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  Here’s another bit of irony from Japanland.  It’s quite petty, so I kept it as a year-end frivolous tangent:

Japanese movies can cast Japanese as NJ, but NJ movies apparently cannot cast NJ as Japanese.  Works like this, according to Reader JDG:


December 1, 2011
Hello Debito, Hope you are well.
Saw this on Japan Probe:

in THERMAE ROMAE, and thought that it was a bit rich to cast a Japanese guy as an Italian, considering the outcry in Japan when a Chinese actress starred in the film adaptation of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, the showing of which was even banned by some theaters in Japan on that basis!

It’s a double standard, and the apologists are all over it already. The very fact that the producers can’t find a European looking, Japanese speaking actor for the part (who is well known enough in Japan to pull in a crowd), is a direct result of Japan’s insularity.


COMMENT:  To head those apologists off at the pass:  There is indeed a long history in Hollywood to cast Asians fungibly — Chinese cast as Japanese in WWII propagandistic movies, some quite odd ethnic Japanese cast as “real” Japanese or even other Orientals (e.g., Mako, Gedde Watanabe), etc., etc., and that’s before we get to the outright racial stereotyping done in period-piece embarrassments such as Mickey Rooney’s Mr Yunioshi in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S. Doesn’t take much to dig up the same phenomenon anywhere in world cinema.

But this is becoming unforgivable in this time of greater globalization, migration, immigration, and general ability to research, travel, and understand different people. People in the media should be trying harder. And they certainly are not in the THERMAE example. Nor were they in SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO (2010) — the live-adaptation of the manga and anime starring Kimura Takuya, in which the whole human galaxy is exclusively Japanese! (according to the IMDB full cast list)  Even the STAR TREK crew casting did a bit better than that way back in the mid-1960’s!  (Incidentally, I love how again-fungible-Asian Mr. Sulu is translated into “Mr. Katou” for the Japanese audience… But I digress.  Then again, at least the cast is diverse enough to allow for that.)

I’m no doubt opening a can of worms (I can hardly wait until someone brings up the deliberate cultural insensitivities of BORAT…), but let’s end the year on a relatively frivolous note, since 2011 was probably the worst year on record for Japan and its residents in my lifetime. More on that in my upcoming Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column, out on Tuesday, January 3, 2012.

Have a happy remainder of the year, everyone, and thanks for reading! Arudou Debito

Weekend Tangent: Saturday Night Live skit on Japan-obsessed American youth; scarily accurate?


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog.  As a Weekend Tangent, here’s Saturday Night Live poking fun at American kids obsessed with J-pop culture.  I found it very funny, and from what I’ve heard it’s scarily accurate (although I wouldn’t know — been out of the US for too long).  What do you think?

Here are some stills:

Clips are not viewable everywhere in the world, unfortunately; you might have to use a proxy, like I did.  If you can’t find it, Google SNL J-pop.  More elaborate write up and stills here.

UPDATE:  Just found a Russian server playing it outside of the U.S. without proxies.  Try here:

Arudou Debito


Japan Times guest column: “Top 10 most useless Japanese Prime Ministers” (I contribute Murayama)


IN APPROPRIATE, A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan, By ARUDOU Debito
New novel IN APPROPRIATE, on child abductions in Japan, by ARUDOU Debito

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Hi Blog. I was invited last week to contribute a bio of who I thought was one of Japan’s “most useless” Prime Ministers.  I was surprised to find that Murayama was not taken.  So here’s my writeup (#5, ordered by when they held office).  There are nine other biographies done by some very knowledgable writers and observers of Japan, so have a read of them here.  Enjoy!  (And if you think there are some even more useless PM notables, mention them in the Comments Section below — but give concrete reasons why, please!). Arudou Debito


The Japan Times, Tuesday, Sep. 27, 2011

No-nos for Noda: Japan’s top 10 most useless PMs

(excerpt, illustration by Chris Mackenzie)

5. Tomiichi Murayama (1994-96)

News photo

Short tenures, imprudent public statements, poor character judgment, weakness under pressure — when we think of useless prime ministers, all this seems like standard operating procedure. However, Tomiichi Murayama’s particular brand of uselessness was peerless. Essentially, everything he touched turned to sh-te.

It’s not as if Murayama had a hard act to follow. His predecessor, Tsutomu Hata, only lasted two months, and was most famous for arguing (when agriculture minister) that beef imports were unnecessary because Japanese have long intestines.

But Murayama was a case study in gutless leadership. His pattern of playing evasive games with the media and the Diet served him poorly during 1995’s Kobe quake, when it took him a day to recognize the disaster and send assistance — and several days more before he even visited the site.

Even potentially notable acts stunk. Murayama’s general apology for Imperial war atrocities was caveated into meaninglessness by both sides of the political spectrum, not to mention overseas observers. He barely developed a concrete platform beyond the perpetual narrow-focus leftist issues (the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty and war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution), while ironically giving even more power to the already very-powerful Japanese police (through the Anti-Subversive Activities Act, a reaction to the Tokyo sarin gas attacks).

He was the first Socialist Party prime minister, and the last. Having made a Faustian bargain to take the top job, he then proceeded to sell his party’s soul so blatantly that in his wake the Socialists were moribund and fractured. He proved to Japan’s voters that the left cannot govern, putting the corrupt Liberal Democrats back in power for 13 more years.

No other PM can be credited with setting back Japan’s development into a two-party democracy while killing his own party in the process. Yet. For that, he gets my vote not only as Japan’s most useless, but also its flat-out worst postwar prime minister.

Debito Arudou is the Just Be Cause columnist for The Japan Times
The other nine Most Useless Japanese Prime Ministers can be found on the Japan Times at


Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column: “Charisma Men, unite against the identity enforcers”


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Charisma Men, unite against the identity enforcers

The Japan Times March 1, 2011


English teachers in Japan get a bum rap. Not always taken seriously as professionals, and often denied advancement opportunities in the workplace, they are seen as people over here on a lark. They get accused of taking advantage of Japanese society to earn easy money, canoodle with the locals, then go home. They even get blamed (JBC, Sept. 7, 2010) for the low level of English in Japan.

They are also often derided as “losers,” as evidenced by the comic strip “Charisma Man.”

First featured in a Nagoya newsmagazine and later collated into a book, “Charisma Man” tells the story of a scrawny Caucasian nebbish who escapes his job serving fast food in Canada, comes to Japan, and instantly transforms into a buff, lantern-jawed lothario, able to seduce Japanese women in a single bound.

He can defy all Japanese rules, coming out on top of any situation through charisma alone. His nemesis is Western Woman, who sees through the facade and reduces him back to nebbish status with a single glare.

To be sure, “Charisma Man” is a hilarious series, offering home truths for people frustrated by the lack of professionalism in their colleagues, or by the disparate ways in which men and women are treated in Japanese society.

The problem is, like many comic strips about an employment sector, it stereotypes dangerously: It makes anyone in eikaiwa look like frauds, as if they’re “faking it” as unqualified professionals. Unable to get a job “back home” in anything meaningful, they’re merely marking time in Japan. I know several professional educators who hate the strip, because their students read it and ignorantly point at them as an example.

But there is one aspect of the “Charisma Man” phenomenon that is little talked about: what I will call “Immigrant vs. Identity Police.” Let’s take Charisma Man’s side in this column, and suggest why he too might have been given a bum rap.

Charisma Man is initially a tragic figure. He’s stuck in a dead-end job “back home” and derided for being a dud. His predicament might be his fault (due to a lack of education or motivation) or might not be (due to a lack of economic opportunity in his neighborhood). But either way, he’s depicted as a loser.

So he comes to Japan and is again stuck in a dead-end job. But this time he winds up being a “winner” in some respects. He is finally getting something always denied: a modicum of respect. Earned or not, respect can be transformational in a person’s development. Charisma Man remakes his identity.

However, then come the Identity Police, be it the reader or the (rather offensive stereotype of) Western Woman. They’re trying to force Charisma Man back to the predestination of failure.

That’s unfortunate. One of the problems with the world is the lack of social mobility — the lack of opportunity for people to realize their potential, to decide their own fate, to redesign themselves as they please.

Either by bad luck or poor guidance, many people get slotted from an early age into social roles that are disadvantageous, e.g., “geek,” “loner,” “fat chick,” “spaz,” “slacker,” “weirdo,” “psycho” . . .

This leads to broken dreams and embittered souls. Witness the phenomenon of the hikikomori (social dropouts who can’t even leave their bedrooms), or the Akihabara knifings of 2008 (where the killer was expressly sick of being part of the make-gumi, or loser class). As some people disparagingly say, these people need to go out and get laid.

Well, that’s exactly what Charisma Man did. He got out of his “burger-flipping class” and found himself on the sweeter side of society here.

Point is, why should anyone be stuck somewhere they’re not able to make a better life for themselves?

That is the very essence of the immigrant: Someone who was dealt a bad hand in their birthplace emigrates and gets a fresh cut of the cards. If they move and provide a valued, profitable service to their new society, bully for them.

Now, of course, Charisma Man is not a template. He’s a humorous stereotype about someone who gets what he really doesn’t deserve.

But he must be viewed in the proper perspective — not as an indictment of English teaching or of teachers in general. Charisma Man is a bubble-era social parasite. He will probably not remain in Japan for good, because he has little incentive to learn about the society that is treating him so well.

So what I’m speaking out against here is the Identity Police. Why should they be given carte blanche to force people back into the inferior positions they managed to escape from?

Whenever somebody insinuates “You don’t really belong in Japan” or “You’re really a loser back home,” that person should be told: “Japan is my home and I belong here just fine. I’m not just coasting along on charisma.” A decent job and a secure income is sufficient proof of socially acceptable services rendered.

In other words, tell the Identity Police to go police somebody else’s identity. All you readers out there being derided as Charisma Men — unite. Be proud that you’re making a better way for yourself. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a second chance at life.

Arudou Debito has completed a new novel entitled “In Appropriate,” on child abductions in Japan. On sale in March. Twitter arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Send comments on this issue to

Weekend Tangent: BBC show QI gets scolded by J media and embassy for insensitivity re atomic bombings


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Hi Blog.  As a Weekend Tangent (for the record, I have no particular stance on this issue), here’s another bit following yesterday’s blog entry about official GOJ reactions to overseas media:  The BBC One show QI and its segment on the “unluckiest (or luckiest, depending on how you look at it) man in the world”:  a survivor of two atomic bombings who died recently at the age of 93.  It has engendered much criticism from the J media and cyberspace.  Here’s a comment from Reader JS:


Hi, Dunno if you want to cover this, but NHK Newswatch 9 have just done a substantial piece on the coverage of a double A-bomb survivor on a BBC show called QI that involved the anchors lecturing us on the insensitivity, ending with “shame on them”. This is the offending clip:

And the coverage:

Japan protests to BBC over treatment of ‘double A-bomb survivor’
(Mainichi Japan) January 21, 2011

Tokyo (Kyodo) — The Japanese Embassy in London lodged a written protest against the BBC and a TV production agency, arguing that they insulted a deceased Japanese man who survived both the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, embassy and other sources said Thursday.

In a comedy quiz show broadcasted by the BBC on Dec. 17, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, whose international profile has been raised as a double hibakusha and who died at age 93 last January, was introduced as “The Unluckiest Man in the World,” with pictures of his face and atomic clouds presented in the studio.

A producer of the popular quiz show, “QI,” has already apologized to people who sent protest e-mails, noting “we greatly regret it when we cause offence” and “it is apparent to me that I underestimated the potential sensitivity of this issue to Japanese viewers.”

But the producer added the program has often featured the tragic experiences of Americans and Europeans in a similar manner.

On the show in question, the host explained that Yamaguchi was badly burned by the atomic bomb when he was in Hiroshima on business and after returning to Nagasaki, he was atomic-bombed again.

One of the guests asked whether Yamaguchi got on a train to go to Nagasaki. The host said, “Even though the atom bomb fell, the trains were working. So he got on a train to Nagasaki and a bomb fell again,” drawing laughs from the show’s personalities and the audience.

According to the embassy, it sent the BBC and the production agency a letter on Jan. 7, saying it is inappropriate and “insensitive” to pick on Yamaguchi in that way.

In Japan, Toshiko Yamasaki, 62, Yamaguchi’s oldest daughter living in Nagasaki, expressed her anger about the issue, saying on Friday, “I cannot forgive (the quiz show) as it looked down on my father’s experiences when the world is moving toward nuclear disarmament.”

She added her family had laughingly talked about her father being unlucky, but “it is a different story when (my father) was treated in that way in Britain, a nuclear-capable nation.”

Such a problem happens due in part to “a lack of seriousness about nuclear reduction,” she said.

Born in Nagasaki, Yamaguchi suffered the A-bombing in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and another bombing in Nagasaki after returning home three days later.



BBC 被爆者をコメディーに
NHK 1月21日 21時15分




Japan protests to BBC over treatment of ‘double A-bomb survivor’
Kyodo News/Japan Today Friday 21st January, 05:34 PM JST

LONDON —The Japanese Embassy in London lodged a written protest against the BBC and a TV production agency, arguing that they insulted a deceased Japanese man who survived both the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, embassy and other sources said Thursday.

The Japanese Embassy received on Friday a letter of apology from a producer of the popular quiz show, ‘‘QI,’’ dated Monday, after the producer had apologized to people who had sent protest e-mails.

The content of the letter to the embassy was similar to the producer’s e-mail response to the people who protested, and said that ‘‘we greatly regret it when we cause offence’’ and ‘‘it is apparent to me that I underestimated the potential sensitivity of this issue to Japanese viewers.’‘

In a comedy quiz show broadcast by the BBC on Dec 17, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, whose international profile has been raised as a double hibakusha and who died at age 93 last January, was introduced as ‘‘The Unluckiest Man in the World,’’ with pictures of his face and atomic clouds presented in the studio.

But the producer added in his message that “QI” is not the type of program that makes fun of featured subjects and it introduced Yamaguchi’s experience without misrepresenting it.

On the show in question, the host explained that Yamaguchi was badly burned by the atomic bomb when he was in Hiroshima on business and after returning to Nagasaki, he was atomic-bombed again.

One of the guests asked whether Yamaguchi got on a train to go to Nagasaki. The host said, ‘‘Even though the atom bomb fell, the trains were working. So he got on a train to Nagasaki and a bomb fell again,’’ drawing laughs from the show’s personalities and the audience.

The show prompted the Japanese Embassy to send the BBC and the production agency a letter on Jan 7, saying it is ‘‘inappropriate and insensitive’’ to present Yamaguchi in the way that it did, it said.

In Japan, Toshiko Yamasaki, 62, Yamaguchi’s oldest daughter living in Nagasaki, expressed her anger, saying on Friday, ‘‘I cannot forgive (the quiz show) as it looked down on my father’s experiences when the world is moving toward nuclear disarmament.’‘

She said her family had laughingly talked about her father being unlucky, but ‘‘it is a different story when (my father) was treated in that way in Britain, a nuclear-capable nation.’‘

This kind of problem occurs due in part to ‘‘a lack of seriousness about nuclear reduction,’’ she said.

Born in Nagasaki, Yamaguchi suffered the A-bombing of Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945, and the bombing of Nagasaki three days later after returning home.

For the record, QI is a general knowledge quiz show with liberal doses of humour (points are awarded not for being correct, but for being “quite interesting”). They were actually quite complimentary about Yamaguchi and the Japanese resolve in the face of adversity, but apparently it was enough to merit a formal complaint and prime-time news coverage. Oh, and apparently Yamaguchi used to call himself “the unluckiest man in the world”, and he and his family laughed about it. I would say, as a Brit, that they’re laughing at the irony of the situation, not at Yamaguchi personally.

There are lots of warm, understanding comments on YouTube… JS


The most interesting comment so far on Japan Today I think is this one:


Frungy: QI is dark, intelligent and biting, typical English humour. Textbooks in Japan are dark, simple and tragic, typical Japanese stories. There’s a fundamental mismatch between their approach to sensitising an issue. When dealing with something tragic the English will make a joke of it, allowing people to dispel the tension by laughing. When dealing with something serious the Japanese will tell the story simply and tragically, and then cry inside.

Of the two I find the English approach more healthy. It allows them to move on and discuss the difficult issue having approached it head on, removed the sting, and made it possible to deal with without constant pain.

The Japanese on the other hand bottle up the feelings and they simmer inside. That’s why it’s impossible to really discuss the atomic bombings in Japan, the issue simply makes most Japanese people feel too sad and miserable for words. They’ve never really removed the sting.


Conclusion for me: I think there is a strong case that can be made for nontransferability of humor, particularly irony, across cultures.  Arudou Debito

Japan Times satirical piece on Gunma Isesaki bureaucrat beard ban


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Hi Blog. Here’s an excerpt of a satirical piece that appeared in the Japan Times Community Page earlier this week. On the Gunma-ken Isesaki City Bureaucrat Beard Ban. Thought it very funny. Especially when it brings up the nationality of my own beard! Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Gunma city does battle with beards
Local government’s hairy-chin ban sets example for nation

I would like to draw readers’ attention to the outstanding work of the municipal government of Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture. After receiving complaints that citizens find bearded men unpleasant, Isesaki — just as all levels of Japanese government often do — took decisive action to address an important public concern: The city announced a ban on beards for municipal workers.

Isesaki deserves our thanks for recognizing that allowing beards is the first step along a slippery slope. If we let government workers get away with improper grooming, the next thing you know they will start being creative and ask inappropriate questions like, “If we are actually trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, maybe we shouldn’t make expressways toll-free?” or, “Why don’t we budget more to ease the national shortage of child-care facilities instead of giving parents a per-child payout every month?”…

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has been quick to point to surveys that show government workers with beards are more likely to be supporters of voting rights for non-Japanese residents than clean-shaven employees. Excessive facial hair could even be used to mask an individual’s foreign roots, meaning that many of the hirsute could be naturalized citizens or children of naturalized citizens…

A legal defense committee led by human-rights advocate Debito Arudou (of course he has a beard) and law professor Colin P. A. Jones is looking into whether Isesaki used off-budget secret funds to operate a barbershop in the basement of City Hall and provided free haircuts and shaves to public employees. Arudou reportedly tried to enter the barbershop but was refused access because his beard didn’t look Japanese, even though he insisted that his beard did, in fact, become Japanese several years ago.

Professor Jones has apparently filed a freedom of information request for documents detailing whether, and how much of, taxpayers’ money was used for the secret project. In response, the city said that no such documents could be found, no such barbershop exists, and furthermore it would be a violation of the privacy of the barber to say anything more…

Rest of the article at

Holiday Tangent: “Lifer” cartoon on “Things to do in a Wintry Hokkaido”, Happy May


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Hi Blog.  Here’s a holiday tangent:  Things to do during a Hokkaido Winter, by “Lifer”.  Published in Sapporo Source last January (forgot to blog).  Since the seasons finally flipped yesterday in Hokkaido (we went from a crappy April to a warmer and sunny May at noon yesterday, like clockwork), we are now officially as far away from Winter as possible.  In commemoration, have a chuckle.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Japan Times: Arudou Debito gives up on activism due to poverty


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The Japan Times, April 1, 2010

(Sapporo)  April 1:  Activist Debito Arudou announced in a press conference today that he will be hanging up his gloves and quitting activism.

“It sucks to support the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Debito was quoted as saying.  “I’m tired of being a poor, huddling mass breathing for free.”

Debito claimed dire poverty.  “Money (that’s what I want),” he said, citing the Beatles.

“From now on, I’m going to be a Japanese government shill, representing our incorruptible, self-sacrificing, and endearing bureaucrats as a bridge to explain our country’s noble and altruistic motives to the rest of the world.  We are unique, after all. That line pays better.”

Clutching two burlap bags with dollar signs on them, he said, “Pay me in yen next time.”

When asked if this was not a departure from the standard Debito Doctrine, Debito said, “I’m a Japanese citizen now, so call me by my last name with a -san attached!  Or I’ll sue you.”

Debito refrained from further comment, except to say, “Kora!  I thought I just told you to call me ‘Arudou-san’!”





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皆様こんばんは。有道 出人です。大晦日として、大栗さおりさんの大成功したシリーズ「ダーリンは外国人」の映画化を祝いたいと思います。おめでとうございます。4月ロードショーとなりますので、どうぞ皆様お楽しみに。

ちなみに、メインキャラクターの「トニーラズロ」(Tony Laszlo)の描写と実物のことは色々違いがあるように気にしてならなりません。なので、このマンガはパロディーとして載せさせていただきたいと思います。どうぞ宜しくお願い致します。良いお年を!


Oguri’s “Darling wa Gaikokujin” becomes a movie, with parody cartoon about the “Darling Dream” being sold by all this


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Hi Blog.  I want to offer my congratulations to Oguri Saori, very successful author of the “Darling wa Gaikokujin” series (translated as “My Darling is a Foreigner”, but officially subtitled “My Darling is Ambidextrous”), for the news just out this month that the first book in the series will be made into a live-action movie (starring Inoue Mao and Jonathan Share as Saori and Tonii respectively).  The empire built upon the dream being sold to Japanese women for marrying a white foreigner keeps on gathering strength.  See the movie trailer here.

More interesting to me is the mutation of the Tonii character.  It’s apparently based upon Tony Laszlo, one-time unicyclist, “journalist”, “activist” and self-proclaimed leader of unregistered NGO “Issho Kikaku” (a long-defunct group — you can’t even find their once-copious archives on the Wayback Machine because they have been blocked by the site owner — see what’s left of it at, and now happy multimillionaire thanks to his partnership with and characterization by his very talented wife.

Although portrayed in the movie by the very handsome and disarming Jonathan as a “grass-eating man”, Tonii in real life is not as he is cartooned.  Laszlo is a big fan of putting his funds into threatening lawsuits, for one thing.  And of deleting internet archives.  And more.

It just so happens I found a cartoon parodying this phenomenon of the contrasts.  As the last post on for this decade, enjoy.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo, wishing everyone a happy new year.  For Oguri Saori, it looks to be a fine one indeed, so, again, congratulations.

(click on image to expand in your browser)


Merry Xmas: LIFER! cartoon on “End-Year Holiday Activities in Japan”


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Hi Blog.  For the holidays, here’s a timely cartoon by Lifer in SAPPORO SOURCE.  How to enjoy the end-year holidays in Japan, with a twist.  Download the entire December 2009 issue of SAPPORO SOURCE here in pdf format.  Enjoy.  And for those who celebrate it, Merry Christmas, everyone!  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

(Click on image to expand in browser)


Sunday Tangent: SAPPORO SOURCE DEBITO Column on the power of humor and how it preserves sanity


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Hi Blog.  Time for a Sunday Tangent.  My latest tangental column in SAPPORO SOURCE — not on human rights, but on humor.  And the power it has over us.

Download the entire issue of SAPPORO SOURCE here in pdf format.  Cover, scanned page, and text of the article follows.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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SAPPORO SOURCE Column 5 to be published in November 2009 issue

Look at my photo above. I look like a real sourpuss, don’t I? (Hey Editor: Go ahead and insert witty comment here.) But don’t judge this puss by his fur. I am in fact the Cheshire Cat — a man who smiles and laughs a lot. In fact, without humor, I think we would all go insane.

Humor is a funny thing. Nobody can exactly define what a “joke” is, why something is “funny”, or how one develops or cultivates a “sense of humor”. But we all know its effects.

Humor, as you know, causes that wonderful instant reaction where you lose control of yourself — and emit a smile if not a full-on loud laugh. The longer you laugh, the better you feel. It is a catharsis.

You can tell when somebody’s been under a lot of stress lately when they laugh long and loud even at the lamest joke. Why? Like a volcano erupting, laughter releases the toxins of stress that build up in this modern world.

But it goes beyond that. Consider the power humor has over us.

There’s the “likeability” quotient: We might dislike a politician or opinion leader, but one good gag from him and suddenly he is “charming”. Televised debates in Japan must have the occasional joke or they get overbearing — viewers crave that spoonful of sugar for entertainment value. I know at least one politician who gets elected on amusing charisma alone. And look how much pressure is on Democratic Party of Japan’s Okada Katsuya just to smile!

There’s the popularity factor: Have a good jester attend a soiree, and suddenly he’s the “life of the party” and soon invited back. Remember your Class Clowns of yesteryear? (It’s easy to, isn’t it?) They often go on to bigger things. Some of the richest people in the world are comedians, literally laughing all the way to the bank.

Humor even influences love. One common reason for choosing a spouse? “He makes me laugh.”

Humor is also a powerful analytical tool. Consider one variant — irony — and the social service it provides. For example, listen to what comedian Stephen Colbert said about former President Bush in 2006 during a speech at the White House:

“The greatest thing about this man is that he is steady… He believes the same thing Wednesday as he did Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday.”

Not only did many laugh at that, but some also realized the Emperor Has No Clothes. A joke can penetrate farther into the psyche than reams of political commentary. Public figures: Alienate the stand-up comedians at your peril.

In Japan, however, the lack of irony as a source of humor severely impairs political analysis (one exception: outstanding political impressionist group “Newspaper”). But not to worry: Japan too has its fount of silliness and wordplay.

Thanks to a language replete with homophones, and a set time and place for laughter (be it manzai, rakugo, or konto), Japan has no shortage of belly laughs. Humorwise, I am at home here, being an incorrigible punster (so don’t encorrige me!). In fact, bring out the booze and the stereotypes of the sexes and suddenly you have an evening of mirth and jape.

Although Japan sometimes seems to have rules just to spoil your fun, it sure knows how and when to let loose and party. And laugh.

Back to my personal relationship with humor. I talk about serious topics every single day on my blog, — so much so that people have said I depress them, and they ask why I don’t depress myself. Easy. Every single day, for at least an hour a day, I find something that is funny.

I own all of “South Park”, a show that defies gravity by getting better over the years. I collect “Simpsons”, “King of the Hill”, “Monty Python”, George Carlin, Stuart McLean, and Robin Williams. I subscribe to comic books and Britain’s Private Eye magazine (with so much irony you can’t take regular articles seriously again). I get silly in conversations with friends, and try to work in the occasional dirty joke. I guffaw at night and get back in my groove by morning.

So should you. As people who can understand English — and that means you, readers of this column — you can tap into a wellspring of well-developed humor culture, including racial and ethnic humor, accents, sarcasm, and no-holds-barred parody. Take advantage of it.

Because it is the people who do not laugh and erupt in small doses who wind up erupting in large doses — rending asunder all around them. The humorless never let themselves lose control however momentarily, and they smother their soul in the process.

Beware: It is the soulless who make the most inhumane decisions. Consider the company of some humorless historical figures: Spain’s Franco, Zaire’s Mobutu, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe, Turkmenistan’s Niyazov, Burma’s entire ruling junta. Not to mention Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and the Kims.

I agree it’s certainly less enjoyable to be laughed at than laughed with, but the people who cannot laugh at themselves are the ones who, given enough power, actively stop anyone poking fun at them. Those paranoid about not being taken seriously are the ones most likely to become dictatorial, suppressing their public until they are straddling their own political volcanoes. Yet all you have to do is laugh at them, and the walls around naked emperors come crashing down.

Humor is what will save mankind from itself, for it rehumanizes people and puts things in perspective. So, everyone, every day find a way to laugh yourself silly. Even if it means just going down to the beach alone and sniggering at the seagulls. It’s good for you. No matter what’s bothering you, I guarantee you’ll have the last laugh.

“Lifer” Cartoon in SAPPORO SOURCE: “Things to do in Hokkaido”


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Hi Blog.  Time for a Saturday Tangent.

SAPPORO SOURCE, our city’s only free bilingual newspaper, has just this month started featuring cartoons by “Lifer”, a Sapporo resident who has enough time on his hands to scribble down some doodles.  Here’s the first in the series, RANDOM HOKKAIDO COMIX, click on it to focus in your browser:


Download the entire issue of SAPPORO SOURCE here in pdf format.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Fallout from “The Cove”: TV’s “South Park” takes on Japan’s dolphin slaughters and whale hunts


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This is making the rounds of the blogoverse.  South Park takes on the Japanese dolphin culls and whale hunts, thanks to the publicity from “The Cove“.  It’s worth seeing.  As a South Park fan, I must say this is all within character for the show… and it as usual ties the issue up into large intellectual knots, and pushes the frontiers of “taboo humor”.  Enjoy, I guess.  Debito in Sapporo

Tangent: Wash Post’s Mensa invitational on coining new words and meanings


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Hi Blog.  As a complete diversion on a Sunday, when it’s too nice to stay inside (and probably few are reading this due to the rare September 5-day weekend here in Japan), here is a tangent, sent me by James in Monbetsu. As an aficionado of words and word play (gotta be for my writing), I got a big kick. And I’m happy to say that due to years of blogging, I’ve come up with the word “sarchasm” on my own. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Here are the winners of this year’s Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational which once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition:

1. *Cashtration* (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. *Ignoranus*: A person who is both stupid and an asshole.

3. *Intaxication*: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. *Reintarnation*: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. *Bozone* (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating.. The bozone layer unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. *Foreploy*: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. *Giraffiti*: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. *Sarchasm*: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

9. *Inoculatte*: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. *Osteopornosis*: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

11. *Karmageddon*: It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.

12.. *Decafalon* (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you..

13. *Glibido*: All talk and no action.

14. *Dopeler Effect*: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

15. *Arachnoleptic Fit* (n.): The frantic dance performed just afteryou’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.

16. *Beelzebug* (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

17. *Caterpallor* (n.): The colour you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.


The Washington Post has also published the winning submissions to its yearly contest in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. And the winners are:

1. *Coffee*, n. The person upon whom one coughs.

2. *Flabbergasted*, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.

3. *Abdicate*, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.

4. *Esplanade*, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. *Willy-nilly*, adj. Impotent.

6. *Negligent*, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.

7. *Lymph*, v. To walk with a lisp.

8. *Gargoyle*, n. Olive-flavoured mouthwash.

9. *Flatulence*, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.

10. *Balderdash*, n. A rapidly receding hairline.

11. *Testicle* n. A humorous question in an exam.

12. *Rectitude*, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

13. *Pokemon*, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.

14. *Oyster*, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation withyiddishisms.

15. *Frisbeetarianism*, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there..

16. *Circumvent*, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

LA Times: “Charisma Man: An American geek is reborn in Japan”


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Hi Blog.  One of the most controversial characters I’ve ever seen come out of the NJ (Eikaiwa) community has been the character of “Charisma Man”, as described in the LA Times below.  Compare and contrast him with McDonald’s “Mr James”.  I won’t right now, but readers feel free.  Arudou Debito in Tokyo



Charisma Man: An American geek is reborn in Japan

The anime character is coming back from hiatus to his Calvin and Hobbes-type fantasy world in which he is super. But he has his own version of debilitating kryptonite.

By John M. Glionna September 1, 2009

Reporting from Tokyo

From his window seat in the Roppongi bar district, Neil Garscadden eyes an exotic street parade: the reggae-styled hipsters, the Nigerian nightclub hawkers, the soft-stepping geishas, the secretaries in miniskirts and impossibly heavy eye shadow.

The nuances of the scene, Garscadden insists, would be lost on a mere tourist.

This, he says, is a job for Charisma Man.

With his blue eyes, tousled blond hair and foreign passport, Charisma Man is a sake-sipping man about town, suavely negotiating the intricacies of Japanese culture. Women adore him. Men respect, even fear, him. Life in the East bends to his every whim.

“It’s great to be a Western guy in Asia,” he says. “I’ve got lots of money, chicks dig me — everybody respects me.”

Well, not everybody.

In this land of anime, Charisma Man is a comic strip character created in 1998 by Larry Rodney, a Canadian then teaching English in Nagoya, to lampoon what he saw as the absurd hubris of many Western men in Japan. Capitalizing on their novelty status, they prowled for cheap thrills, an easy paycheck and sex — not necessarily in that order. Many were slackers posing as teachers (a job for which they were underqualified) to continue the charade of their low-wattage celebrity.

Even with Charisma Man’s limited knowledge of Japanese language or culture, he nonetheless sees himself as a self-styled Superman — albeit with a debilitating kryptonite: Western Woman.

“She sees him as the loser he really is,” says Garscadden, who penned the comic strip after Rodney returned to Canada. “When she’s around, he reverts back into an average Joe Blow.”

After an eight-year run in an alternative expat magazine, the black-and-white five-panel monthly strip was discontinued in 2006.

But now Charisma Man is back.

Following their 2002 collection of the first four years of Charisma Man adventures, Rodney and Garscadden are teaming up to publish a book containing both old and new installments. And there’s even talk of a new monthly strip.

(They dismiss Charisma Man comics between 2002 and 2006, saying the writers took the character in an uncharismatic direction after Garscadden also left the picture.)

The reprise comes at a much different time than the 1990s heyday, when fewer Westerners living in Japan meant bigger egos for the ones who were there.

But Charisma Man still reigns supreme, the pair says.

“Part of his success comes from the fact that many Japanese women are frustrated by their choices — Japanese men who often are very conservative, old-fashioned and not very romantic,” says Rodney, 41, who now lives in Vancouver.

“And even after all these years, many still have a romanticized view of what Western men are all about.”

Stereotypical fantasy is a main theme of the comic strip. Charisma Man is like the boy in the Calvin and Hobbes comic whose stuffed tiger comes alive only when he’s alone.

In the presence of Japanese women, Our Hero is a muscular he-man. Readers only see his true loser self when Western Woman shares the frame. Likewise, the Japanese girls in Charisma Man’s arms are all Barbie-like — until someone else shows up. Then they’re often rather plump.

“I guess I spent too much time on trains without much else to think about,” Rodney says of his inspiration for Charisma Man. “Maybe I saw too many of these geeky social misfits living above their station in Japan. Something snapped.”

In the strip, Charisma Man hails from the planet Canada, where he works as a McDonald’s fry cook, scorned by the opposite sex.

In an early strip, he snags a job in Japan over a much more qualified Western Woman, leading his foil to seek revenge.

One favorite strip by Garscadden, a former editor at the now-defunct Alien magazine, which carried the series, features the character as Commander Charisma, a submarine captain who spots an approaching battleship just in time to save his crew.

The final frame shows Charisma Man at a bar with his cronies hiding from “the battleship”: Western Woman, who strides through the joint.

For years, Charisma Man ruled Tokyo, at least among expatriates.

“I found references to Charisma Man in academic journals dissecting cross-cultural aspects of Asian studies,” Rodney says. “Years after I moved back to Canada and forgot all about the character, I mentioned to some guy who used to live in Japan that I invented Charisma Man. He shook my hand like I was Mick Jagger.”

There were some critics. One reader of the 2002 collection complained that the entire strip was one joke repeated.

“I loved that,” Garscadden says, “because that’s exactly what Western Woman would say about Charisma Man.”

Garscadden, 43, from Dayton, Ohio, says he recently called Rodney about reviving the character: “I just said, it would be stupid to let this guy die.” Under the new arrangement, Rodney will write the strip and Garscadden will edit.

“I’m already thinking of new directions,” Rodney says. “There might be a new foil other than Western Woman — a new sexy Western Man who threatens to usurp Charisma Man’s powers.

“That would be his worst nightmare.”


Aso Cabinet Email Mag: Aso explains himself away to the outside world as he asks for renewed power


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog. On the eve of Aso finally dissolving his Cabinet and reading the country for another election, bashing politicians resumes its role in society as one of the national sports. And it times like these one enjoys watching politicians kinda squirm to explain themselves. Here’s Aso doing his, asking for more tenure because, well, he’s entitled to it. Direct from the Aso Cabinet, his mail magazine justifying himself. Enjoy it as a time capsule of attitude and rhetoric, as he flies his LDP into the group. Assume crash positions, everyone. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

From: “Cabinet”
Date: July 15, 2009 11:27:11 PM MDT (CA)
Subject: [Aso Cabinet E-mail Magazine No.39] (July 16, 2009)
Courtesy of Peach
Aso Cabinet E-mail Magazine No.39 (July 16, 2009)
“A time of decision”
— Message from the Prime Minister (Provisional Translation)

On Monday this week, I made the decision to dissolve the House of Representatives early next week.

Since taking office last September, I have consistently stated that the responsibility of politics is to ensure the peace of mind of our citizens and to safeguard people’s daily lives.

In order to discharge this responsibility, my cabinet has focused all its energies on economic and stimulus measures. Abnormal circumstances require extraordinary countermeasures. We have passed four budgets.

Although we are still facing austere economic circumstances, the policy effects are gradually appearing, bringing some bright signs in the Japanese economy. Production has started to grow in business with many related industries and a broad base, such as eco-cars and energy-saving home appliances.

We have placed particular emphasis on maintaining employment. For businesses which fail to increase sales despite all efforts and find it difficult to maintain employment, we have expanded the employment adjustment subsidies, thus supporting the employment of more than 2.5 million people.

We have also enhanced support for micro, small and mid-sized enterprises. Approximately 800,000 companies, or one in five of about 4.2 million small and mid-sized enterprises nationwide, are making use of a total of approximately 16 trillion yen in loans and credit guarantees. Securing their cash-flow has led to the job security of a great many people, numbering more than 5 million.

I will resolutely pursue economic countermeasures so that Japan will regain its vitality and each household and micro, small and mid-sized enterprise can sense economic recovery.

Meanwhile, I have also done my utmost for the security of Japan.

We have strengthened the Japan-US alliance, the cornerstone of Japanese foreign policy and the pillar of our security. In close communication, President Barack Obama of the United States and I are collaborating in efforts to address issues, not least the financial crisis and others including the North Korean issue and the fight against terrorism.

North Korea’s missile launches and nuclear tests are a real threat to the safety and peace of mind of the Japanese people in their daily lives. Japan took a leading role in the United Nations Security Council in sending a resolute message to North Korea. We are currently preparing a law for inspection of North Korean cargo, so as to render the Security Council resolution effective. The bill has already been passed by the House of Representatives, and I call for the cooperation of the opposition in the Diet for its enactment.

To Japan, which relies on the Middle East for 90 percent of its crude oil, measures to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden and the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan are of vital importance for maintaining our livelihoods. In order to achieve peace in the region, we have responded boldly in cooperation with other countries around the world.

The responsibility of politics is none other than to safeguard people’s daily lives and to protect Japan.

As I am in a position of responsibility, I must clarify the fiscal revenues for policies and the path to restore fiscal health in the long term. I must also show a clear diplomatic vision to protect the people. I will work together with the people to create a vision of the future of Japan.

How do we balance the enhancement of the social security system, such as pensions, medical care, and nursing care, with the rebuilding of public finances? How do we work with the international community to address the North Korean issue, which threatens the security of Asia, and the piracy issue, and to fight against terrorism?

For these difficult issues, I will listen to what the people have to say and dedicate myself to fulfilling my political responsibility to safeguard people’s daily lives and to protect Japan.

Lastly, on the website of the Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet we created a new section under the title of a “Japan which I Seek to Achieve,” which introduces my views on the following four topics*: achieving a society providing peace of mind; foreign policy; growth strategy; and global environmental issues. Please take a look.

* The section is currently prepared in Japanese only. For the English translation of the Prime Minister’s speeches and the transcript of a press conference on these topics, please click below.

– Speech by Prime Minister Taro Aso on A “Society Providing Peace
of Mind which I Seek to Achieve” (June 25, 2009)

– Japan’s Diplomacy: Ensuring Security and Prosperity Speech
by H.E. Mr. Taro Aso, Prime Minister of Japan (June 30, 2009)

– Japan’s Future Development Strategy and Growth Initiative
towards Doubling the Size of Asia’s Economy (April 9, 2009)

– Speech on the Environment by Prime Minister Taro ASO (June 10,

* Profile of the Prime Minister

[What’s New in Government Internet TV]

<1ch>Prime Minister
[Prime Minister’s Week in Review]
– Ceremony to Present the National Honor Award and other topics
(June 29 – July 5, 2009)

* Please click below to open “Japanese Government Internet TV”
in English.

[What’s up around the Prime Minister]

– Ministerial Council on Monthly Economic Report and Other Relative
Issues (July 13, 2009) and other topics

* Please click below to open the online magazine
“Highlighting JAPAN,” which introduces the main policies of
the Japanese Government, as well as Japan’s arts, culture,
science and technology, among other topics.

[Aso Cabinet E-mail Magazine]

– Click below to make comments on this e-mail magazine

– Subscription, cancellation, and backnumber of this e-mail

General Editor : Prime Minister Taro Aso
Chief Editor : Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Jun Matsumoto
Publication : Cabinet Public Relations Office
1-6-1 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8968, Japan


SAPPORO SOURCE July 2009, Column 2 on Sapporo’s Summer of Love. Every Summer.


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in JapansourstrawberriesavatarUPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito

Hi Blog. My second column for the new Sapporo free paper SAPPORO SOURCE came out a few days ago, again as last time talking about something completely different: The weather. Last time was the hell of Sapporo Winters. This time the heaven of Sapporo Summers. Enjoy. I am. Arudou Debito in Summery Sapporo


ARTICLE (click on image to see in full on your browser)

Complete magazine downloadable here.

Column 2 for the SAPPORO SOURCE “DEBITO” column
To be published in the July 2009 issue

Last column I talked about our wretched Hokkaido winters. Now for the polar opposite: our seductive summers!

Come what May, Hokkaido bursts into color. Unlike down south, where the flowering trees stagger their blossoms (first plum, then cherry weeks later), we go full bloom practically overnight. Like fireworks beginning with the finale, then tapering into a latent green. Like black-and-white Dorothy opening the door to a Technicolor Oz.

Then by June visits the long-awaited perfect summer. And I mean perfect. July, August, and half of September are usually sunny. Not too hot, not too cold, with a cool breeze at night. While the rest of Japan swelters and kvetches about stuff like “heat islands”, few Dosanko even buy air conditioners.

No wonder. Although during Hokkaido winters you hunker in your bunker, summers you open up your heart and let the outside in. My windows are apert 24-7. In my first apartment I even removed my sliding balcony doors, and had no wall for two months. I was effectively camping out all the time.

I’m not alone. The entire island of Hokkaido — all 78,000 square kms of it — becomes a playground. Take any mode of transportation you prefer (me, bicycle) and explore the outback. Thousands of motorcyclists escape the south to meadowcrash, pitch tents, sleep cheap in people’s garages, and just plain tour — sampling barbecue, seafood, and produce from locals taking advantage of the summer windfall. It’s the Happy Season; even the lonely parts of Hokkaido are awash in cash.

Hokkaido summers are better for early birds. If you check a Universal Time map, Hokkaido is on the far eastern edge of our time zone (Sakhalin, directly north, is an hour behind, and the Russian province due north of Nemuro is two hours back). Moreover unlike Russia, Japan won’t institute daylight savings time, so Hokkaido’s outback sleeps through a 3:30AM sunrise at solstice. Even with sundowns at a wastefully early 7PM, our long calm twilights, with the smell of outdoor grill wafting through the curtains, still bring out the night owls.

Hokkaido summers are a celebration of life and creation. The forests are growing full blast (after all, they only have a window of five months), all the crops you love (from hops to potatoes) are ripening, and anything green and flowering is filling the air with fresh oxygen and fragrance. Everyone is getting some while they can. Birds are doing it. Bees too. And humans?

Well, summer’s peak is for me the beer garden in Sapporo Odori. Bacchanalia beckons an orgy of unbuttoned shirts and diaphanous skirts. Like every northern territory worldwide (consider Scandinavia), everyone’s outside getting their licks and kicks while they can. Guzzle any night and you can sense pheromones, ringent rosebuds moistening, and windows of opportunity opening. It’s sexy. Even the flowering acacia trees smell like nocturnal emissions. Afterwards, the revelers repair to Susukino. Or maybe a block or two beyond.

Summer is what keeps me here. The first time I suffered through that long cold lonely winter, I wondered how why a million people would ever congregate in Sapporo. Then in 1988 I experienced my first July and August. Got some, got plenty. I cycled the city practically every night, listening to crickets bray in gardens, weird bug-birds caroming through the night, and fading police sirens chasing revving motorcycle gangs, all echoing down the warm dark cityblock corridors.

It was a siren song. I was smitten with Sapporo then and I still am now. Like the first time you hear a great melody, and it introduces you to an entire musical genre you explore for years, I’ve spent my life trying to recapture the peace and calm I felt those nights.

To this day, I still cycle Hokkaido after sundown, sometimes all night, to see how far I can get (I’ve reached Asahikawa and Oshamanbe). Why travel outside this August playground when all you need is right here?

To be sure, Hokkaido summers almost — and I stress, almost — make up for the dire winters. It’s still worth the wait. You can experience the Summer of Love in Hokkaido. Every summer. Take advantage. Get some.


Interview with Debito on TkyoSam’s Vlog: Shizzle!


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog.  Recently I sat down with Sam (a prolific vlogger, or video blogger), who turned his passport-sized camera on me for a bit of the young lingo and beer and chicken basket.  What you don’t see is how afterwards we repaired with a group of friends for a lot more beers and some fascinating conversation with a drunk that Sam handled admirably.  Sam grew up on manga and anime, and talks like those characters fluently (which is perfect for reducing any other pop-culture-immersed J-drunk into titters and tears).  Yoyoyo, word!  Feel the generation gap of the Bubble-Era-Older-Hand meets J-Pop Awsum Dude.  Shizzle!  And it’s a fun interview too.  

Start here:


Xmas List: Ten things Japan does best


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog. Merry Christmas.

As another distraction (hey, even The Economist Newsmagazine has a special Christmas Issue every year with all manner of off-topic articles), here’s my Xmas present to readers:  Ten things that I think Japan does best.  

(Please feel free to comment if you think I’ve left anything out.  My personal Ground Rules: Skip over things like cars and semiconductors and consumer electronics and steel, because they are obvious even to those who have never set foot in Japan, moreover are not very interesting to write about.  Stick to things that require extensive experience and knowledge of Japan — that way we get a more interesting set of opinions.  Hey, it’s the blogosphere.)



TEN) SEAFOOD.  As you know, food in Japan is high quality just about everywhere (even school cafeterias offer more than just edible fare).  But good food is not unique to Japan — there are many world cuisines (Chinese, Italian, Thai, Indian, French…).  Where Japan particularly excels is in seafood — both in preparation and in training on how to eat it.  

One of the things about being surrounded by coast in teeming waters and not much meat (animal husbandry here has only been around for a century or so) is that you HAVE to eat what’s on offer in the ocean.  You make do.  Fortunately, Japan doesn’t just “make do” — it has discovered how to eat just about anything from the sea — even algae — deliciously!  Once you get used to it (which doesn’t take long), you start lobbing things in your gob without holding your nose.   Sure, I still order fish and chips whenever I go into an Irish pub in Japan.  But that’s a heavy-salt and malt-vinegar soul-food break from the seafood I’m eating on a near-daily basis anyway.  Because it’s so good in Japan.  

And Japanese, justifiably, eat more seafood than anyone else.


NINE) PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.  Japan has its own problems with moving people around (to wit:  overcrowding on subways, chikan molestation, and, er… that’s about all the downsides I can come up with).  But even in Hokkaido, I can find a way, be it bus, train, and finally taxi if necessary, to get somewhere, including the boonies, if I have enough time.  In other countries, I keep running into, “How are you going to get there if you don’t have a car?” situations.  There’s often no other option there.  Besides, even with the problems mentioned above, how many other cities the size of Tokyo can move this many people around on a daily basis (okay, London, and perhaps Mexico City)?  Yet do it on such a clean (oops, that’s New York City out), reasonably comprehensible (oops, that’s Paris out) and cheap (oops, that’s Taipei out) basis?  And extend it essentially across the country (okay, that’s Greater London and beyond out) so safely (oops, that’s India out)?  Not many.  I drive, but I’m increasingly realizing that I probably don’t need to (and I definitely wouldn’t if I lived in Tokyo).  It’s a matter of time and convenience, and Japan has made a very good effort to make transit times approach and excel car ownership, probably as much as anywhere else in the world.


EIGHT) ONOMATOPOEIA.  Where to start on this one.  No matter how many words I learn (and it helps if I have the kanji to get the root meaning), I am absolutely blind to the feeling of gitaigo and giseigo/giongo, Japanese onomatopoeic expressions.  We all know guttari and gussuri and bon’yari and gakkari.  But how the hell will I ever hear pori pori when I scratch the inside of my nose or rero rero when licking something, or gabiin when agape, or bosun when something, well, ejaculates?  As inflexible as I find Japanese words, given how highly-contexualized the language seems to be (just hunting for that magic word to open the veto gate in any bureaucratic negotiation is a memory-taxing nightmare), there is incredible expressiveness in just a couple of repeated kana that I doubt I will ever master.  My loss.  Japanese is a language rich in expressiveness, and onomatopoeia is a huge part of it.


SEVEN) PACKAGING.  We hear about the Japanese department stores (Mitsukoshi first comes to mind) that essentially cocoon your purchase in more paper and plastic than is necessary (I too have to refuse half the plastics when just getting fast food and convenience store goods).  That’s the downside.  The upside is that when you really DO need cushioning for transportation, Japan really comes through.  

Walk into any regular post office:  You can buy a box and find tape and other packaging goods going for cheap or free.  Go to a 100 yen shop and you’ll find spare newspapers lying about for you to package your just-purchased glass goods for the journey home.  And then there’s Mitsukoshi…

Allow me to illustrate with another example:  In September I came home from the US (having tried to send through the USPS some bulk items home in advance:  talk about a rip-off; everything cost quite a bit and took its time getting here) and was glad to arrive in Narita (for a change!).  Because the trucking delivery companies (Yamato, Pelican, etc) were just poised for me to fill one of their boxes (they had a selection) with goods I didn’t want to shlep around Japan during my September two-week book tour.  In less than 30 minutes, Yamato had helped me pack, bubble wrap, and send off for a very reasonable price a bunch of sundries back north.  If you don’t know how to pack, leave it to the experts.  Over here, it’s part of the service.  Because if it’s not boxed properly, it’s not presentable.


SIX) CALLIGRAPHY GOODS.  Here’s something I bet many haven’t considered:  Germany and Japan are two otaku countries that are just plain nuts about how to write things with style.  I’m used to crappy American Bic ballpoint pens that seize up in the same groove (and inexplicably ONLY in that groove, no matter how many times you go back and rewrite) or just decide to quit mid-cartridge.  Plus I’m not used to fountain pens (I clench the pen too far down the neck and get ink on my hands), and I cannot see the use of spending a few dozen dollars or so (or even much more — there seems to be a Rolex league for pens out there) for something I might leave in a pocket or on a table somewhere or lend to somebody, whatever.

The attitude is diametric in Japan, where I have friends who specifically prowl stationery stores just to find a particular model (with special buttons to advance the pencil lead, or twirl cartridges that give you up to six different colors or pen/pencil combinations, or ink that comes out in multicolors like Aquafresh toothpaste) that they’ve seen advertised in some stationery magazine (yes, magazines devoted to bunbougu!).  Poohie to those who think pens should be disposable.  I too find myself prowling my students during writing assignments to see what they’re twirling (rather gracefully) while thinking.  You’re just not going to get this much attention to fine-point durable pens in many other countries, when you consider how precisely people have to write (what with the finesse of kanji), plus this rich a society with near-unbelievable attention to detail.  Germany, perhaps.  But definitely Japan.


FIVE) GROUP PROJECTS AND ATO KATAZUKE.  Sure, we hear the downside of how working in groups makes situations inflexible and slow.  But the good news is that when things work here, they really work, especially when the division of labor becomes automatic when faced with a project.  Two examples come to mind:

One is whenever I was involved in setting up speeches and getting politically active in my former hometown of Nanporo (three essays on this herehere, and here).  We’d rent a room at the local kumin center for a speech or town meeting, and a couple of friends on their own volition would always up early to help set up chairs and tables.  Then when the proceedings were done, just about everyone would lend a hand in putting everything back exactly as they had found it before going home.  I’ve done presentations overseas and found this phenomenon less frequent, if not nonexistent.  “Hey, we paid an entry fee — you take care of the chairs.  That’s what we paid you for,” is more the attitude.  Sucks.

But my favorite example is when I was cycling between Sapporo and Abashiri via Wakkanai (yes, look at the map, it’s quite a ways) a few years ago.  Here I was, soaking away in Japan’s northernmost onsen (Doumu), having accomplished the marathon cycle to Wakkanai (the last 68 kms between Teshio and Wakkanai is dry, so pack your own water — and pray for a tailwind).  Suddenly, all the other cyclists (all half my age) and I had struck up a conversation about all the trials we went through getting up here too.  An hour later, they were asking me where I was staying, and I pointed to the grassy knoll over yonder that looked like public space where I had set up my tent.  They asked if they could join me (who was I to refuse?) and within minutes we had a tent city, and a bunch of kids who were perfect strangers not an hour ago deciding who was to make the fire, who would make the hot water, who would go on a beer run, who would collect the money for bento.  etc etc.  I couldn’t stay awake for the full project (I have a strict regimen:  in bed by 8PM, up by 5AM when cycling; I’m old.), but this is the magic of people who automatically slot into roles when groups form, especially when those people are determined to have fun. 


FOUR) PUBLIC TOILETS.  One of the first things I miss about Japan whenever I go abroad are the public lavatories.  Sure, they exist overseas; but they are frequently hard to find (I think shoppers overseas must have enormous bladders), and the free ones usually look like they’ve been been through Lebanon or Somalia.  Japan, however, is uncanny at its ability to keep its toilets clean and unstinky.  And free (take that, you French!).  Sure, I hate it when I’m turtle-heading and can only find Japan’s squatter-types.  But I also hate being trapped behind a door where chance entrants can see my trousers dangling around my ankles and peep through the cracks in the toilet-stall partition; I pucker.  Besides, whenever I’m on the road for several weeks in Japan and need a time-out, I just head for the nearest handicapped toilet, steer in my Monolith suitcase, and camp for fifteen minutes.  Ah, a room to myself; it’s like a love hotel for my tuckus.  With the added bonus of: 


THREE) TOILET CULTURE IN GENERAL.  The Western flush toilet has survived remarkably unchanged since the days of Thomas Crapper.  Like musket innovations in the 1600s, it took the Japanese to innovate toilets to include washlets (a quantum leap for those who tend to swaddle toilet paper until the bog chokes), with those lovely heated seats (overseas the flash-frozen toilet seats, not a shower or a cup of coffee, shocked me awake every morning) and hand-wash spouts on top of the tank.  

Hey, when you’re not ashamed of your poop (it’s fair-game dinner-table conversation in Japan’s Working Class), you get creative.  Japan, remember, is the place that shamelessly produced female urinals (which I cannot imagine anyone using; this is a nation where women waste immense amounts of water flushing while peeing to cover up the noise of their discharge; so add another innovation:  flush-sounding noisemakers in their stead.  But I digress…)  

Anyway, shut the door, enjoy complete privacy (except for the grunting person next door; Japanese quack scientists claim that Japanese have the most fibrous turds in the world, therefore the lavatory lobby argues we cannot import toilets from overseas; no comment).  And if somebody knocks to see if it’s occupied, just knock back twice; no voice needed (which helps when I do dumps at my university near students I’ll be teaching in a few minutes).  Just be thankful if you skipped those traumatic years in Japanese grade school, when crapping is associated with smelliness, and kids wind up constipated just because they don’t want to make a stink.


TWO) SEXUALITY.  Here’s where I’m going to get into trouble, but I’ll say it:  Japan in terms of sexuality is surprisingly liberal.  I’m not just talking about the love hotels (not sleazy or embarrassing, and privacy is at a high standard, notwithstanding the hidden cameras behind some mirrors).  Nor am I just talking about the porn or near-porn (artists here love the female form and know how to depict it perfectly in line, see below) one sees on a daily basis.  I’m talking about attitude.  People keep sexual liaisons here quite quiet, as long as it’s not a matter of celebrity (which means it’s fair game, like just about anywhere in the world anyway).

Case in point:  People don’t “take it upon themselves” to tell others “for their own good” that their boyfriend/girlfriend is sleeping with others (in fact, multiple partners here seem to be a national sport, especially when people are not married.  Actually, I take that back…)  Sex is a private thing, and the sore lack of sex education here notwithstanding (the learning curve here is pretty steep, and seems to inch younger every year), it’s between consenting people and only between them.  Kubi o tsukomanai koto.

Sex is also something that people engage in, without requirement of marriage or love (whatever that means), or fear of birth control or abortion, etc. — all those things that force people into making irrational and life-changing decisions that they’ll regret later.  In modern Japan, where average marriage ages just keep getting older, sex is just sex.  As long as people are informed about possible outcomes (AIDS, STDs, etc) and precautions, I think that’s the attitude that one should have.  And Japan has it, and provides safe, clean, and often informed outlets for it.  

And if you think this is only a recent thing, compare the US with Japan in The United States vs. One Package of Japanese Pessaries [as in contraceptive diaphragms] (1936), where Japan could develop this form of contraception but the US couldn’t, due in part to the Comstock Act.  Other countries have liberal attitudes too, of course (Scandinavia and Holland come to mind).  But I’m here, and I see it.  Like it or not (more for the NJ male of either sexual orientation, less the NJ female, admittedly), Japan a very sexy country.


ONE)  ANIME. I’ve long admired Japanimation and comic art. Even though I never went all that deep; I still subscribe to 2000 AD and JUDGE DREDD THE MEGAZINE (British comics, think equal-opportunity former DANDY and BEANO reader too), as I have since both comics started, the former back in 1977, where I picked up the inaugural copy of 2000 AD from a London newsagent at age 12. But there’s just no resisting Japan’s clean lines, its sense of space and forcefulness, and its storyboard style of storytelling.

I knew for a long time that Japan’s Manga were underrated and deserved more attention overseas. Nowadays, Manga and Anime seem to be one of Japan’s largest cultural exports (the words have even entered the English language), with knockoffs surfacing all over Cartoon Network (I’ll admit it: I’m a big fan of POWERPUFF GIRLSSAMURAI JACK, and just about anything by Genndy Tartakovsky).  Resistance is futile.

But one of the knock-on effects of a society so consumed by comic art is that the general standards for line and face in the Japanese public are very high.  I come from a society where the standard deviation for drawing talent is very high:  you either get Pat Oliphants or stick figures, excellence or hopelessness.  In Japan, however, consider this example:

I once gave a final exam where I had drawn a room on the answer sheet, and to test their spacial vocabulary skills, I said, “Under the table, draw Doraemon.”  There were about 100 students.  But EVERY student, save two, drew a clearly-recognizable Doraemon, many complete with spinner and collar bell and philtrum and whiskers.  Some drew him airborne bumping his head on the table.  Others had him can-canning, or waving his wand.  I was overjoyed.  The creativity (okay, cookie-cutter standardization for you cynical readers) within a set style was common to 98% of the students.  Try getting people overseas to draw a recognizable Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Mickey Mouse, even just Felix the Cat, and you’ll see how comparatively low and underpracticed drawing skills tend to be.



ZERO) SILLY CUTE.  Nobody quite combines silly and cute quite like Japan does.  Yes, Alex Kerr lamented how the culture of cute was paving over genuine time-tested Japanese culture in his book LOST JAPAN (this is how bluenose Kyoto rubs off on people).  But if you allow yourself not to get too curmudgeonly about it, there are lots of giggles and laughs to be had.  

Where else are you going to get Marimokkori (they’re algae balls, for crissakes, with capes and endowments of a nonfinancial nature!)?  Try resisting the Hello Kitty goods when she’s adopting regional clothes (love Pirika Kitty and the super-tacky Susukino Kitty) or dining habits.  Lots more characters and amusing crap in Japan, just look around.  And they’re even finding markets overseas.  

The reverse isn’t as true.  Disney notwithstanding (and even that has gotten ironic in recent decades to broaden its audience), the West just can’t do cute or silly without sarcasm seeping in.  Even those who shoot for it:  France’s Barbapappa just comes off as “easy to draw”, not cute.  Finland’s oddly-shaped Moomin even has that evil-looking Myy character (Finland is just plain weird anyway).  Even the BBC’s Teletubbies (which will give you a hernia if you argue their cuteness; they’re apparently good to watch while stoned) had a short shelf life.  They would have lasted longer if they’d gotten a J-makeover and a firm J-market.

The way I see it:  Camp is imbued with a sense of irony.   Tacky and Kitsch both come off as cheap.  And all eventually become tiresome.  But Japan just keeps up the cute and silly and manages to (thanks to a lack of sarcasm here) remain unironic, with a straight face throughout.  Hey, it’s cute, what’s not to like?  As long as you keep the permutations coming, you never quite get sick of it.  Because it’s tacky, kitschy, and campy all at the same time, but only we non-natives seem to realize it.


That’s the ten best.  Merry Christmas, readers.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Humor: Cracked Mag Online on unappetizing restaurants


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

Morning Blog.  More humor for a national holiday:  Some restaurants (according to Cracked Magazine, which I thought was a poor second cousin to Mad Magazine, until I started reading the cutting online version) that defeat their purpose by offering food in very unappetizing ways:

Now I don’t believe for a second that there is a place in Roppongi that allows you to diddle your meal before you eat it (in fact, I found this site due to a trackback to exposing the source as the deep-sixed Mainichi Waiwai).  But it’s still a good read, and I love the (what seems to be verified) idea of airborne meals even if it is a hoax.  The entire idea is like the scene in the Bunuel movie “The Phantom of Liberty” switching meals and toilets (in fact, one of the featured restaurants specifically plays on that theme).  It makes you think about something you do, often without really thinking about it, three times a day.

By the way, foreshadowing:  The end of the year is a good time for reflection, and lists.  I’m working on the top ten best and worst of Japan, as well as ten things that changed my world this year.  I’ll have them out between Xmas and New Years.  And my next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column (due out January 6) will be on Japan’s top ten most important human rights advances in 2008.  Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Humor: Robin Williams stand-up comedy on Obama’s election


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

Hi Blog. More festivities for the end of days. Here’s a very funny stand-up piece by Robin Williams (introduced by an oddly wheelchair-bound former Minister of Silly Walks) regarding Obama’s election and the outgoing Bush Administration. Courtesy again of Dave Spector. Enjoy. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Humor: “Beware of the Doghouse”: For you men with thoughtless gifts


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog.  First off-topic festive humor entry, particularly for hetero men readers out there:

What follows is a link to the “Beware of the Doghouse” website, something well worth looking at because it’s a smart, funny, and well-produced five-minute mini-movie about men who don’t think deeply enough about what sort of gift to give their wife/female partner.

Click on the movie projector at the site and let things spool away.  I watched the video three times in succession, it was so good.  Thanks to Dave Spector for sending me the link.

You’d also never guess who created it.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but afterwards you just might realize how effective a marketing tool the Internet is becoming (this is too long and edgy for most TV, for example, and would cost too much to put anywhere else but online).  

Just be careful about watching it with a woman.  She will definitely relate to the female characters.  And if you’re not careful, she might even add your name and picture to The Doghouse.  (Yes, she can, you know.)

Enjoy!  Debito in Sapporo

JapanZine parody of Japan Times, “Gaijin Activist Successful in Obtaining a Ban on Racial Slur”


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

Hi Blog.  JapanZine (Nagoya’s free magazine for the international community) recently did a parody of the Japan Times, calling it the “Gokiburi Gazette”.  Front and center, an article about activist “Tepid Naruhodo”, who gets the word “gaijin” banned, only to have its replacement shortened to the same thing.  It’s very funny.  Seriously.  As are the other articles and the masthead advertisements.  Well done.  Debito in Sapporo

(click on image to expand in browser)

Japan Times Tokyo Confidential with amusing anecdotes about G8 gifts and local offput business…


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan
Hi Blog. Some amusing anecdotes on what bennies were on offer for G8 Summit attendees. Some people get all the breaks, it seems.  Not the local businesspeople, however. Debito


TOKYO CONFIDENTIAL:  Japan Times Sunday, July 13, 2008

G8 goes ‘B-class’ as smokers fume

By MARK SCHREIBER, courtesy of the author

After devoting seven pages of punchy news items about the G8 Summit at Toyako in Hokkaido — including a full page concerning the latest gossip about France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla — Shukan Shincho (July 10) provides readers with three pages of amusing tidbits of the kind in which the weekly revels, which is headed “B-class News.”

News photo

One concerns the special souvenir gifts distributed to the foreign-press corps attending the summit.

It seems at the previous summit in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture eight years ago, the government was lambasted for shelling out over ¥60 million on expensive gifts, which included deluxe business bags, IC recorders, stationery, and a limited-edition “Licca-chan” doll dressed as a Ryukyuan folk dancer.

So this time they’re cutting back, with expenditures only about one-fourth that of the Okinawa Summit. Participants will receive a bag embroidered in the style of Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu. In keeping with the conference’s ecological message, press kits handed out to reporters in “eco bags” were made from recycled materials. Other commemorative souvenirs such as furoshiki (a wrapping cloth used for carrying items) and chopsticks were also made from recycled materials.

Perhaps, the magazine remarks, foreign newsmen who recall Japan’s magnanimous generosity at the previous Nago Summit were a bit disappointed this year.

Among the local delicacies the foreign visitors could partake, Shukan Shincho continues, was Mame no Bunshiro Kazuno Natto, a gourmet variety of fermented soybeans, which are typically disdained by many foreigners due to their unfamiliar odor and texture, from Donan Hiratsuka Shokuhin Co. The beans also contain reishi (Ganodermalucidum), an edible fungus that boasts medicinal properties.

“We usually sell it in 50-gram packs, but since that’s too big a portion for the breakfast buffet, we supplied an order for 500 25-gram packs,” says Masao Hiratsuka, the company’s president. “This natto doesn’t smell bad, so foreigners can eat it too.

“We’d be honored if the president and first lady of France, where food culture is highly developed, would deign eat some,” says Hiratsuka.Alors, pourquoi non?

While some local businesses benefited from the onslaught of visitors, rigorous police security appears to have heavily cut into turnover at the area’s love hotels.

“Usually, toward the end of the month our business picks up, but in June, it declined,” the owner of an establishment in the vicinity of Toya Spa tells Shukan Shincho. “On Saturdays and Sundays we’re often fully booked, but customers didn’t materialize then either. Business is off by more than 30 percent.”

“With so many security checkpoints, no wonder people are staying away,” sighs a second hotelier. “When they stop you and ask, ‘Where are you going?’ what can you tell them?”

A detachment of riot police took over an entire no-tell hotel for use as their billet. Up to June 28, the hotel had accepted regular customers in its vacant rooms, but the presence of cops lurking on the premises was a major turnoff.

“Would you go in a love hotel crawling with cops?” one sarcastic blogger posted.

Rest of article at:

Tangent: China bans terrorists during Olympics (Shanghai Daily)


 Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan

Hi Blog. Every now and again we do need a reality check. I’ve been heavily critical of Japan’s paranoid rules about G8 Summitry and security. Well, let’s cross the pond and see how even more silly China comes off regarding security during their Olympics (these sorts of things would never exist in China without foreigners bringing them in, of course):

China bans sex workers, terrorists during Olympics
By Li Xinran June 2, 2008

Courtesy of PM

OVERSEAS visitors suspected of working in the sex trade, of smuggling drugs or belonging to a terrorist organization will not be allowed to enter China during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, organizers of the Games said today.

Foreigners with mental or epidemic diseases, including tuberculosis and leprosy, will also not be issued visas to visit China, the Organizing Committee said in a circular published on its official Website. 

Entry would be banned to anyone with “subversive” intent upon arriving in China, according to the rule.

“Foreigners must respect Chinese laws while in China and must not harm China’s national security or damage social order,” the rule states. 

The pamphlet, in Chinese only, also banned foreigners from carrying weapons, replica guns, ammunition, explosives, drugs, and dangerous species. 

Publications as well as computer storage devices with content harmful to China’s politics, cultures, morals and economy are also prohibited, the circular said. 

However, visiting foreigners may bring one pet during their visit. 

During their staying in China, overseas visitors shall also obey public rules. Drunkards in public areas might be detained by police, according to the pamphlet. 

Visitors are not allowed to sleep outdoors and shall keep passports, ID or driver’s licenses with them at all times, the pamphlet said.

Some areas in the country are not open to foreigners and overseas visitors will not be allowed to enter, the rule said. 

“Foreign spectators will not necessarily automatically get visas just because they have bought Olympic tickets. They need to apply for visas in accordance with rules at Chinese embassies,” the list said. 


The pamphlet also outlines six activities which are illegal at cultural or sporting events, including waving “insulting banners,” attacking referees or players, smoking, and lighting fireworks in venues. 


Yahoo News/AP: Newest “Yokoso Japan” rep: Hello Kitty!



Hi Blog. Guess what. Hello Kitty has joined author Alex Kerr as a Yokoso Japan Ambassador! She’s in good company.

Still, if I were a real grouch, I’d talk about felled trees (or wasted electrons) devoted to this story, and herald the fall of modern civilization. But I’m not that grouchy today, and like it or not, people have a weakness for cutsies, anime, dollies, fat beasts, stuffed animals, etc. (hell, Japan will even make honorary residents of them, instead of real live taxpaying foreigners). So the following story is within character.

But I wonder–given that she lives in London (yes!): Does Hello Kitty get fingerprinted every time she re-enters Japan? Or if she is actually a Japanese citizen, whether she faces ijime for being a kikoku shijou (or if she is an adult, she gets told she’s not Japanese enough since she lives overseas). Well, she’s got the perfect poker face–no mouth to frown with, or speak with to be judged on her Japanese language ability…

Okay, I’m getting overly grouchy 🙂 Enjoy the story. The tactics appear to be working–tourism to Japan continues to hit record levels. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Hello Kitty is named Japan tourism ambassador
By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Writer
Mon May 19, 2008 Yahoo News/AP
Courtesy of Chad Edwards

Hello Kitty — Japan’s ubiquitous ambassador of cute — has built up an impressive resume over the years. Global marketing phenom. Fashion diva. Pop culture icon. Now the moonfaced feline can add “government envoy” to the list. The tourism ministry on Monday named Hello Kitty as its choice to represent the country in China and Hong Kong, two places where she is wildly popular among kids and young women.

Officials hope that tapping into that fan base will lead to a bigger flow of tourists into Japan, and closer toward their goal of attracting 10 million overseas visitors every year under the “Visit Japan” campaign.

Last year the number of foreign tourists traveling to Japan hit a record high of 8.35 million, up 60 percent since the government began the marketing effort in 2003.

Arrivals from China and Hong Kong, who accounted for 16.5 percent of visitors to Japan last year, are poised this year to become the second-largest group of tourists after South Koreans.

At a press conference, Sanrio Co. President Shintaro Tsuji called Hello Kitty’s new appointment “an honor” and pledged to “work hard to attract many visitors.”

Japan’s other goodwill tourism ambassadors include Korean singer Younha, Japanese actress Yoshino Kimura and Japanese pop/rock duo Puffy AmiYumi.

Although this is the first time the tourism ministry has tapped a fictional character for the role, the foreign ministry in March inaugurated blue robo-cat Doraemon as Japan’s “anime ambassador.”

Designed in 1974 by Sanrio, Hello Kitty first appeared on a plastic coin purse. Her image today has become one of the most powerful brands in the world, adorning some 50,000 products in 60 countries.

In China, Kitty-fever has already broken out.

A multi-million-dollar musical featuring Hello Kitty opened earlier this year in Beijing and is in the midst of a national tour. “Hello Kitty’s Dream Light Fantasy” is then scheduled to travel to Malaysia, Singapore and the U.S. over its three-year run.

According to her official profile from Sanrio, Hello Kitty lives with her family in London. It does not mention how often she visits Japan.

Humor: Sankei Sports Pure-Ai Keitai dating service advertisement


Hi Blog. Let me open with a disclaimer. Every time I finish a book, I’m essentially sick of writing for a little while. I never fight this feeling (I usually play video games every evening for a couple of weeks), and instead just wait until it passes (and it always has). But nowadays with commitments (including a Japan Times column, people contracting me to write new articles, and this daily blog), I’m really having trouble taking a break. So if I must write, I’m going to make it kinda fun for awhile until I’m ready to get serious again. (And if anything, this should demonstrate that I’m not here just to criticize; rather I am merely an avid student of things Japanese, and take delight in things I see around me…)

In that vein, I saw the following advertisement on the plane yesterday. From Sankei Sports. I love reading sports shinbun because their advertising and appeals are, quite often literally, so nakedly clear. Look at this keitai dating service ad for “Pure-I” (very aptly titled, with meanings possible of pure eye, pure ai (love), or pure me). Comments follow.

Part one (click on images to expand in your browser):
Part two

The reason I like this ad so much is not the basic “naked clarity” aspects. Yes, we have the promise of hooking up the predominantly male readership with somebody cute (Ogura Yuuko has the ideal face for this market, as you can see in the second half of the scan, below where she’s holding up the keitai; she has the perfect anime-style tokimeki eyes), slightly shy, but with a great rack nonetheless. Perfect for the otaku. Of course, he’s 29 and she’s 23, all perfectly average and ideal (despite the realities in recent years), for marriageable ages in this society.

No, what I love about this ad is the story being told. Contrast the female lifestyle (who get Pure-I service for free, unlike poor Atsushi-kun) with the male. In the course of an afternoon, Manami-chan has gone from interested consumer, to relaxing parker, nutritious supper, soap-bubbling bather, and finally home-bound early sleeper ready to make a date for the weekend.

But Atsushi-kun, in contrast, goes from eating a simple late lunch (4PM) in the park (note milk carton), to harried worker, to hopeful but harried commuter, to drinking and smoking salaryman with an unhealthy diet in the izakaya, to snatching tomorrow’s breakfast at the convenience store at 10PM.

Look very closely at that 10PM panel and you’ll see the convenience store is entitled “ALONE MART’; being a bachelor myself, I know EXACTLY the feeling of going to the convenience store for a late dinner (happened to me the night before as I finished my last speech in Fukuoka), and think just how lonely it is, with that overbright fluorescent light dazzling you against a cold dark sky, to have nobody waiting at home.

It’s enough to drive the average hardworking single solitary salaryman to his keitai (whereas, note, the woman has a much richer, healthier, relaxed life and can basically “take it or leave it” at whim).

Finally, however, it’s a happy end, as they meet for the first time and get drunk (she’s already looking nanpa and tipsy by the last circular photo), all ready for a bit of chome chome.

It’s all in fun. But I consider this to be a lovely bit of Japanicana, offering some insight on the state of love relationships in present-day Japan. End of digression. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Humor: Charles Kowalski letter to Yomiuri on Ishiba’s UFO fears


Hi Blog. This is so good I couldn’t just let it languish within the comments section of this blog. It deserves an entry all its own.

Charles Kowalski sent this letter to the Yomiuri when Defense Minister Hashiba (inter alia) was getting all nerdy about defenses against a theoretical UFO invasion late last year. Charles takes the issue and runs with it. Hilariously. The Yomiuri, not known for any sense of humor (or for brooking any criticism of Japan from outsiders), wouldn’t publish it. So I will. Debito in Sapporo



To Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba:

I urge you to reconsider your comment that UFOs “can’t be categorized as coming from a foreign country” (Yomiuri December 21, page 2). Please take a moment to think about the dangerous precedents this policy would set.

If UFOs could enter Japanese airspace without resistance, they could easily spirit away Japanese citizens. Japan has enough abduction issues already! But even worse, what if the extraterrestrial visitors liked our beautiful country so much that they decided to stay – and without the limitations that apply to humans from other countries?

First of all, with no visa restrictions, they could take jobs away from Japanese citizens. In the fields of astrophysics and aeronautics, an interstellar pilot would have a grossly unfair advantage over a Japanese graduate who shuffled through university with a perpetual hangover. Do you want more of our young people to become NEETs?

And if men from Mars, or women from Venus, were to marry Japanese citizens, what would prevent their names from being recorded in the juminhyo? Tama-chan was cute as a one-time joke, but do you really want to see Qrlzak Wzaxo from Jupiter listed on equal terms with Hanako Sato from Morioka? And their children, with one parent from a planet with higher gravity, would always beat their Japanese classmates in athletic competitions! How unsporting!

Our course of action should be clear: Treat extraterrestrials the same as any other aliens. When they arrive at the UFO terminal at Narita, take prints of their claws, tentacles, antennae or whatever they use for fingers. Make them carry Space Alien Registration Cards that the police could inspect at any time. Interplanetarization is all very well, but we Japanese must take measures to prevent these aliens from going where no gaijin has gone before.

Comedian Dave M G on New News: parodies of current events


Hi Blog. News is piling up, but I promised more holiday tangent:

Turning the keyboard to comedian Dave M G, with news about a comedy show he’s doing as a non-native speaker on domestic events.

I’ve seen Dave in action many times before (he’s an amazingly funny guy, and I’ve spent a lot of time studying his sense of timing). Now he’s turning his edge towards the Japanese market. It’s about time. Political parody is in short supply in this society–where are the Daily Shows, where are the Have I Got News for You?s to lay bare fundamental truths in the form of humor?

(We do have the comedy troupe “Newspaper”, equally excellent in its impersonation of political figures, finally gaining traction after twenty years of performing. But Dave’s a friend.)

Here is his correspondence in order of receipt. Courtesy of The Community mailing list. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


November 16, 2007:

Myself and some comedians I regularly perform with are going to be starting a new project – a news comedy show for Japan.

Comparisons with “The Daily Show” are inevitable, and we can’t deny that it’s a huge influence. I’m a big fan of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”. But at the same time, I’ve drawn inspiration from news comedy going back to SNL, SCTV, Brass Eye and more.

Of course, ultimately we want to find our own voice, one that works for Japan, and brings in a new style of comedy.

This show is in Japanese, and it is intended entirely for Japanese speakers. And while I know a lot of you speak Japanese (better than me!), I’m mainly bringing it to your attention because the material will of course be based on the social and political news headlines that are of interest to members of this group.

So I hope you’ll want to check it out. We’re going to film it and YouTube it, so I’ll put a link up here on Tuesday or Wednesday.

But I’m telling you now because we’re going to perform it live on Monday night in Nishi Azabu. I’m hoping to get a few audience members to come and watch. There will be some stand up comedians performing as well, rounding out the show. It’s free as well, so if you can make it, you can’t lose.

Please spread the word to your friends who are looking for Japanese comedy that isn’t the same old “dotabata” stuff that Yoshimoto keeps pumping out. Come be a part of the launch of our experiment with comedy that’s new to Japan.

Details on the location and times are on this web page. The web page refers to it as a show called “Nihongo De Comedy”, which is the show we regularly perform at that venue. “The New News Show” is a new segment in the middle of that show:


November 29, 2007:
[Community] First shot at news comedy

Community List, I say “first shot” in the subject line because, well, things never go as perfectly as you’d hope.

Anyway, as mentioned before, I’m working with some others on making a news comedy show.

We finished our first go at it, and uploaded it to YouTube:

I could go on and on about the things I’m not happy with… Anyway, there it is. We’re going to try and work to make things better for next time, and if anyone is interested in participating in this kind of project, let me know.


December 21, 2007:
Our news comedy show for this month is up and on the web.

This time it’s shorter, and the production is a little smoother.

On The New News web site:

Or on YouTube:

If you know anyone who is interested in comedy about Japanese politics and news, please pass the above web addresses along.

Kaoru/Coal manga on the “Mischievous Stealth Provocateur Debito”


Happy Boxing Day, readers. As another special treat, let me send you this manga created by fellow naturalized citizen Kaoru, who scribbles with great aplomb on a situation I’m bound to encounter sooner or later. In great manga style–so that’s how I look to some… Love it.

Blogged here with permission, original page at Provocateur Debito in Sapporo

(Click on image to expand in browser.)

GOJ now worried about aliens. No, not foreigners.


Hi Blog. It must be Christmas or New Year Holiday craziness (I too intend to limit myself to one blog entry per day, off the beaten track from the usual fare on–but get a load of this:

Japan’s defence minister braces for aliens
AFP Dec 19, 2007
Courtesy Monty DiPietro

TOKYO (AFP) — As Japan takes a more active role in military affairs, the defence minister has more on his mind than just threats here on Earth.

Shigeru Ishiba became the second member of the cabinet to profess a belief in UFOs and said he was looking at how Japan’s military could respond to aliens under the pacifist constitution.

“There are no grounds for us to deny that there are unidentified flying objects (UFOs) and some life-form that controls them,” Ishiba told reporters, saying it was his personal view and not that of the defence ministry.

Ishiba, nicknamed a “security geek” for his wonkish knowledge of defence affairs, noted that Japan deployed its military against Godzilla in the classic monster movie.

“Few discussions have been made on what the legal grounds were for that,” the minister said with a slight grin, drawing laughter from reporters.

Due to the US-imposed 1947 constitution, Japan’s de facto military is known as the Self-Defence Forces and has never fired a shot in combat since World War II.

But Japan has gradually sought a greater global military role, sending troops to support US-led operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Ishiba said he was examining different scenarios for an alien invasion.

“If they descended, saying ‘People of the Earth, let’s make friends,’ it would not be considered an urgent, unjust attack on our country,” Ishiba said.

“And there is another issue of how can we convey our intentions if we don’t understand what they are saying,” he said.

“We should consider various possibilities,” he said. “There is no need at all to do this as the defence ministry, but I want to consider what to do by myself.”

Ishiba’s remarks came after the government this week said it had no knowledge of UFOs, prompting a surprise rebuttal from the top government spokesman.

“Personally, I absolutely believe they exist,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said on Tuesday.

Japanese Minister O.K.’s Fighting Godzilla
By MARTIN FACKLER The New York Times: December 21, 2007

TOKYO — Japan’s defense minister stirred a minor media squall after joking with reporters about possible invasions by space aliens and movie monsters during a regular news conference.

Responding to a question, Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba told reporters on Thursday that he was studying whether the nation’s pacifist Constitution would limit a military response to an attack by space aliens.

“There are no grounds to deny that there are unidentified flying objects and some life-forms that control them,” Mr. Ishiba said, smiling at first, but then launching into a straight-faced explanation. “If Godzilla attacked, that would probably be a natural disaster relief operation,” making military action legally permissible, he said.

But the legal grounds for mobilizing militarily against a U.F.O. would be less clear unless the aliens attacked first, he said.

The comments drew widespread disbelief here, coming after verbal gaffes that helped sink the previous prime minister’s administration, and days after the chief cabinet secretary, who is the government’s top spokesman, professed a belief in U.F.O.’s.

COMMENT: No mention if Godzilla or E.T. would be fingerprinted upon entry. Or whether E.T.’s “ouch” finger would fit properly into the biometric machinery.

An off-the-cuff remark here or there, okay. But this discussion has gone on too long and taken too much media and time from real govt. business. And these representatives of the world’s second biggest economy still want to be taken seriously? Are there not more important things to discuss, such as the ongoing Nenkin debacle? I told you in my most recent Japan Times essay that Japan’s legislative peerage was out of touch with reality. They lining up to prove it?

Somebody call a snap election and get these fools out. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Dream: “Japan is a Hugh Grant society.” Continue this story, everyone.


Good morning, Blog. It’s not like me to put dreams up on this blog (except maybe the pipe dreams, like a Japan with a law against racial discrimination 🙂 ), but I just had such a zinger that I thought I’d put it up. And give readers a chance to complete the story themselves in the Comments section, as I woke up laughing before the next person in line in the dream could take up where I left off.


Scene in the dream: The back of a bus in a long road trip, destination unknown, with a bunch of bored people including for no apparent reason (this is a dream, remember) Hugh Grant, Hollywood actor. People wanted to poke fun, so we decided to create a chain-letter style story where one person would take up the story where the last one left off. It was my dream, so I started:

“When the Hugh Grant woke up that morning, he had no idea what kind of a day he was in for.

“Hugh had lived quite a successful life, developing a character built on personal embarrassment, charm, stuttering, and all manner of endearing and self-effacing characteristics that his fans found appealing and his detractors couldn’t really fling mud at. He was a profitable character too, ingratiating himself into many situations around the world, showing himself as willing to do what it took in public to give himself a good image (as that was the very nature of his job, of course–to be an appealing character), and leaving a positive impression lingering long after he had left the building–of somebody you’d like to see more of. Even if the only lingering memory Hugh himself had of any of these situations was the fact that he had been present there. And it was very, very difficult to imagine Hugh’s other side, like of him on the toilet having long and loud bowel movements, or of having predilections for late-night trysts with ladies of the night, or of lacking the shy yet sticking-to-it character that was omnipresent wherever he went. And if he were caught with his pants down, he would offer charmingly tearful apologies in public. Awww… never mind, people would say. Good job. Mission accomplished.

“Japan was much the same if you thought about it. A society that loves to show the outside world in its shy, stuttering, self-effacing manner, that Japanese were a group of uniformly ‘shiny, happy people’ and ‘hardworking ganbarujans’ in its media, music, catchy train ringtones, video games, etc.. How whenever Japan went overseas and faced the foreign public, be it media or individual homestay host, it was the job of every Japanese to act as an ingratiating cultural representative, leaving a nice impression lingering that we were a nice friendly people living in a nice friendly place with a shy but huggable persona, something you’d like to see more of (and would even pay money to do so). Even if many memories of these lucky plucky kokutai volunteers was ultimately the fact that they had made a good impression on others, less the impression the others had made on them. No matter. It served some sort of purpose–Japan as a character was profiting nicely.

“And it covered up the elements of Japan’s dark side: the fingerprinting of foreigners at the border as suspected terrorists and criminals; the racial discrimination so endemic and systematic that it was ignored, even justified by some as a matter of culture; the long and current history of dalliances with sexual slavery; the fundamental problems of inequality and squander created by a powerful (and largely unquestioned) ruling elite, one that has long forgotten (if it ever knew) what the common person needs; the unanswered questions of why hikikomori, why ijime, why the odd dichotomy between the purported crime-free society and the constant media focus on crime (except when it was white-collar or otherwise organized crime), why the largest pay differential between men and women in the OECD, why an ardent refusal to play by international rules and accept global standards…? No matter. People liked Japan for the image it put out. Just don’t come here and try and scratch the surface by staying here too long–you’d only get confused by the public persona and the reality. And if they were caught out in the Grand Kabuki, they would offer charmingly tearful apologies in public and get back to business as usual. Good job. Mission accomplished.

“And as Hugh Grant woke up that morning in the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo, he had no idea what kind of a day he was in for. He was about to enter Hugh Grant Society himself…”


This was where I woke up, laughing, rats. So I blog this for a bit of fun. Nothing against Hugh Grant, seriously (I have no idea why he’s in this dream!), but who wants to fill in the next part of the story? Or fill in the next segment for somebody else to take up the baton?

Japan as the Hugh Grant Society. Enjoy. Debito

James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly on NJ Fingerprinting


Hi Blog. They fingerprinted the wrong guy already… Given how critical Jim Fallows was when he lived in Japan more than a decade ago (famously writing “Containing Japan” for The Atlantic in 1989–something I read in grad school!), this was not long in coming… And as always he produces angles we never thought of–such as how if China instead had instituted this, the Western Media would be talking about “Big Brother in Beijing”. Touche. Arudou Debito in Hirosaki.


Not so thankful for this at Thanksgiving (Japan Big Brother dept)
The Atlantic Magazine online 24 Nov 2007 09:39 am
By James Fallows, courtesy of Yanpa

Flying from Beijing to Tokyo this morning — generally an invigorating experience! Japan looks startlingly neat and organized even if you’re arriving from Switzerland. And when you’re coming not from Switzerland but from China…. Anyhow I arrived excited at the prospect of a few days here.

Unfortunately Japan’s way of ushering in the Thanksgiving holidays has been to institute mandatory fingerprinting and photographing of all foreigners entering the country. Let me put this bluntly: this is an incredibly degrading, offputting, and hostility-generating process. The comment is not anti-Japanese: when the U.S. does this to foreigners, it’s wrong and degrading too (as many people, including me, have pointed out over the years). But Japan has just ushered in this procedure, and they deserve to take some heat for it.

Partly this is a nuisance because of the sheer time drag. Today’s flight time Beijing->Tokyo: 2 hours, 50 minutes. Today’s time spent in the passport clearance line for foreigners at Narita: 1 hour, 30 minutes. But mainly there is no getting around the insult factor of having entry to the country be like getting booked into County Jail.

In specific this means: you have to stick your left and right index fingers simultaneously into a scanner, and press them down until a signal shows that the system has captured both prints. A sign that flashes up in a variety of languages — Korean, English, Portuguese, Chinese, Spanish, etc — tells people that if “for whatever reason” they are “unable” to offer prints, then they can ask to see the supervisor. I assume that they’re talking about people who have no hands etc. (Or Japanese gangsters, yakuza, who often get fingers cut off as part of their careers? Oh, wait: they’re not foreigners.) I was considering saying that my “whatever reason” is that I objected to the policy. Then I realized how much good that would do, and stuck my fingers into the contraption.

Five seconds after the prints, a camera snaps a picture. As a long time admirer of Nick Nolte, and in a state of mind enhanced by the forced-fingerprinting, I made sure my photo looked very much like this:

Does this requirement make any practical difference to me? No. I’ll only be here a few days, and if I’m going to rob a bank in that time, I’ll put tape over my two index fingers so they’ll never catch me. Presumably most of the several million foreigners who are long-time permanent residents of Japan, and who will be required to go get prints and photos too, will avoid the practical consequences as well.

But it’s worth saying this is a bad policy, because:

– The reasoning is predictably fatuous. A video explains the change as an important anti-terrorist tool. Puh-leeze.

– It’s one thing, and wrong enough, for the U.S. to apply similar measures in the panicky, immediate, “we’re for anything that is called ‘anti-terrorist’ ” mood of the 9/11 aftermath, which is when the U.S. began discussing similar “biometric” measures. It’s even worse to do it six years later, after a chance for cold deliberation about the prices society is and is not willing to pay to keep itself “secure.”

– Fewer tourists are visiting the U.S. because we’ve made it such a nightmare for foreigners to get in. That is just deserts for a misguided policy on America’s side. Japan is repeating the same mistake — with eyes wide open.

– Think how the alarm bells would go off if China tried to impose a scheme like this! The editorials about “Big Brother in Beijing” practically write themselves. But now the two countries that apply the most intrusively big-brotherish surveiliance over those trying to visit are two liberal societies: the United States and Japan.

C’mon Japan, set a good example for America rather than imitating something stupid we do now. The people around me in the passport line — and, in 90 minutes, we had time to talk – were from a dozen different countries and many walks of life. But they were united in one sentiment as they moved toward the fingerprint machine, and it’s not one that Japan’s diplomacy is designed to foster.

“YOKOSO JAPAN” parody poster, T-shirts and video


Courtesy Larry Fordyce

Courtesy Nick Wood

Hi all, There have been several posts on various sites asking for a t-shirt designed to wear through Japan immigration & customs control to protest the recent policy of biometric I.D. for foreign nationals.

I am pleased to say that we have come up with such an item and encourage those who wish to wear them proudly as they pass through the passport control and I.D. process.

To view or order the “Yokoso Japan 11/20 commemorate t-shirt” please visit
or email

I will also be proudly wearing my shirt(s) throughout the JALT conference this weekend in Tokyo. Should you wish to speak to me about the tee design, ordering, or the policy itself I would be happy to oblige. I will also be bringing a limited number of shirts that may be purchased for 2500 yen, saving the shipping and handling fees.

Regards, Jon Dujmovich

If you haven’t already done so, please view and sign the petition to have
the policy abolished:

Another PDF file courtesy of John Brodie:
Welcome to Japan 20.pdf

Mainichi: Iranian acquitted of indecent assault over lack of evidence


Hi Blog. Here’s a bit of hope for Mr Idubor, accused similarly of a sexual crime and still being held for eight months now despite no evidence.

A person’s (a NJ, to boot) case has been dismissed for “lack of evidence”. Good. Pity it took over a year and a half to come to this conclusion.

What I also find rather amusing about the case below is the “fondling”, causing “slight neck injuries”? What are we talking about here, hickies?

Case dismissed. Debito.


Man acquitted of indecent assault over lack of evidence
Mainichi Shinbun September 28, 2007
Courtesy of Ben Shearon

YOKOHAMA — A man has been acquitted of the indecent assault of a woman at his home in January last year, due to lack of evidence.

The Yokohama District Court found the defendant, an antique goods dealer and an Iranian national, not guilty for a lack of evidence. Prosecutors had demanded that the accused spend four years behind bars for indecent assault, resulting in injury.

Presiding Judge Kenichi Kurita pointed out that the alleged victim’s testimony changed during the trial and could not be trusted, declaring, “It cannot be concluded that the man molested her despite her will.”

The man was charged with fondling the body of a 32-year-old acquaintance at his home in Midori-ku, Yokohama, on Jan. 28, 2006, causing her slight neck injuries. (Mainichi)


強制わいせつ:イラン国籍の男性に無罪 横浜地裁
毎日新聞 2007年9月28日 11時26分

Mainichi Waiwai: Tokugawa ancestors face their own sakoku


Hi Blog. The ancient Tokugawa Clan (which as daimyo closed off Japan for 250 years to foreign influences, known as the “sakoku” [closed country] period) are facing their own sakoku. Their heir apparent has married a foreigner!

Read on, from the Mainichi Waiwai Page, translated by Ryann Connell. Arudou Debito


Tokugawa clan looks to slam the gate on future chief’s marriage to foreigner
Mainichi Waiwai Page, Sept 18, 2007
Courtesy of MS and Doc

Modern day members of the Tokugawa clan — the xenophobic dynasty of Shoguns that shut Japan off from the world for centuries — are up in arms because the man set to one day become head of the family has married a non-Japanese, according to Shukan Shincho (9/20).

Iehiro Tokugawa, who is poised to one day become the 19th head of the clan that ruled the country as Shoguns from 1603 to 1868 and maintained a rigid ban on foreigners entering Japan, has tied the knot with a Vietnamese woman.

But his father, Tsunenari, the current clan chief, is among the members of the family who are supposed to be outraged that the most Japanese of non-Imperial families is about to receive an injection of non-Yamato blood.

Iehiro Tokugawa graduated from posh Keio University before completing a doctorate of economics at Michigan University. He went off to work for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, spending time at its Rome headquarters before being transferred to its Hanoi branch. The 42-year-old heir apparent of the Shogun’s dynastic name now works as a translator.

“He met the Vietnamese woman about 10 years ago,” a close pal of Tokugawa’s tells Shukan Shincho. “He was working at the FAO’s Vietnam office at the time and met her through his work. She comes from a good family. She’s petite and pretty. She’s a complete contrast to Iehiro, who is only 174 centimeters tall but weighs 105 kilograms. She’s 11 years younger than him, too. And she looks even younger still. Iehiro said he fell in love with her charms.” Iehiro apparently set his mind on marriage not long after he started dating, and he soon let his parents know of his intentions.

“Iehiro knows that he is a member of the Tokugawa clan and fully realizes exactly what that status entails. He told his parents he spent three years in elementary school in the United States and that he has very liberal ideas about marriage. On top of that, she is the woman he chose,” the buddy says. “But Tsunenari, important as head of the clan, and his mother were bitterly opposed. They said they didn’t mind if their son dated a foreigner, but there was no way they were going to let him marry one.”

Over the past few years, Iehiro’s Vietnamese partner traveled back and forth between her country and his before finally settling down together in his home.

“He’s got a photo of when they went on a trip together to Kamakura displayed prominently in his study. They’ve visited the Tokugawa family in Gotenba and have also been on trips together to Hakone and Karuizawa. Iehiro has often gathered his friends at his home and let them taste her delicious Vietnamese cuisine. They’re having a great time no matter how much his parents may oppose their bond,” the future clan head’s friend tells Shukan Shincho.

The opposition of the clan boss to the union has not deterred the loving couple.

“They actually registered their marriage a year ago,” the friend says. “They’ve tried countless times to get his parents to approve their marriage, but the parents have steadfastly refused. It’s more convenient for her to be married if she’s in Japan, so they formalized their bond. Iehiro has often said he’s going to have a big wedding ceremony in the spring of next year.”

Even if the couple is actually married as the friend claims, Iehiro Tokunaga’s worries don’t stop there.

“Only a few very close friends and relatives actually know about the marriage. And they haven’t reported it to anyone in the Tokugawa clan. He’s gonna face huge problems if their marriage goes public,” the friend says.

Meanwhile, Iehiro remains dignified about the situation.

“I’m going to do exactly what I have been doing until now,” the future head of the once xenophobic Tokugawa clan tells Shukan Shincho. “I’ll keep trying again and again. I believe in the end they will approve my marriage.” (By Ryann Connell)

September 18, 2007

TPR “Last Word” essay on “Why I love Japanese Elections”


Hi Blog. Got inspired on my way down to Tokyo yesterday, and wrote this on the fly for Trans Pacific Radio. I also read it for TPR as part of its news segment (trying my hand at podcasting there for the first time) for July 27, 2007. Have a listen at

Some interviews we did for them also coming up (one due out tomorrow on some crystal balling for the elections), so have a look at their site. Arudou Debito in Tokyo.


The Last Word

Hello Trans Pacific Radio listeners. Arudou Debito from here. Okay, I’m going to give you another one of my outlandish opinions. Wouldja expect anything less from me? Here it comes:

I love Japanese elections.

Yeah, I know, there’s a lot to be sick of. Sound truckery full of meaningless platitudes at high volume. Cookie-cutter candidates in thrall to money politics. And an electorate that never seems to throw the bums out.

But I say it again, I love the stuff.

I admit a natural bias. I was a government major in college, and I always found the science of popular appeal to be fascinating. How can you be a man (usually a man) for all seasons, saying as little as possible as many times as possible, and not alienating any potential votes by tailoring your talks to the audience? Especially in other systems (not enough in Japan, I admit) where the press tags along more, to hold candidates’ feet to the fire whenever there are contradictions in their platform.

But the main reason I love hanging around Japanese elections is because I can vote. I’ve voted four times now in national and local elections, and always love to hang around candidates during the only times they’re out of their bolt holes, and want anything to do with you. I mean when they’re speaking, or out cupping hands with the public.

Witness my sociological experiment:

You can’t see me, but I’m a six-foot white boy, aged 42, who is learning how to wear more colorful clothes as I get older. Anyway, whenever I come onto the scene, the reactions are always indicative of what kind of campaign is being run.

Up in Hokkaido, where I’m from, I’ve watched three candidates speak this election. One from the far-right “Shinpuu”, or “New Wind” party. They don’t like foreigners much, as they are the only party out there this election that even mentions public safety as part of their platform. Their handlers, who pass out pamphlets around the trucks, wouldn’t give me one, even after I asked for one. Within character. Burn in hell.

I also saw Ms Tahara, the fabled Ainu candidate, this morning in her sound truck. She’s running under convicted felon Suzuki Muneo’s splinter party. Her handlers gave me a good wave, but she saw me, she quickly averted her glance, and focused her bows and smiles on people she though would be more worth the extra second or two.

Pretty stupid, really, since even if I couldn’t vote (which I can), I might just have family here which I might influence with a bit of bad-mouthing. Bad-mouthing politicians over booze in this country is a national sport, so she’s obviously not professional enough to avoid alienating people.

Then just before I got on the train to the plane down to Tokyo this morning, there was the Social Democratic Party’s Mr Asano stepping down from his sound truck and catching the tail-end of the morning rush. He’s quite left wing, has a clear and emotive campaign stump, and basically hasn’t got a hope in this election.

Ah, so what. I like underdogs, especially when they are on my side of the fence, and actually happened to vote for him yesterday during absentee balloting. So I went up and told him so.

He turned out to be very friendly, especially after I told him I was on facetime terms with party leader Fukushima Mizuho. But more to my liking was that he even knew about the “Japanese Only” Otaru Onsens Case, and recognized me after that. He then said all the things I wanted to hear without a whiff of irony. Five minutes later out of his busy schedule we had exchanged meishi and seen each other off with waves. Godspeed. Glad I wasted my vote on him.

Anyway, the lesson to be learned here: Elections are as inevitable as taxes, and when they’re not, the country is in trouble. So if you have to learn to live with them, learn how to enjoy them.

One thing I suggest you do is to actually wave at the sound trucks. As a veteran of sound trucks myself, I speak from personal experience when I say we really appreciate it. Somebody is paying attention to us. Even if you can’t vote–or rather, especially if they think you can’t vote, the reaction you get is usually priceless.

‘Cos if they don’t wave back, don’t even deign to treat you like a human being, then let others know. Politicians of all people have gotta learn that foreigners are people too. And that some of them, no matter how they look, have got the vote now.

Listen Now:


TASS: Russian arrested in Nemuro on beer run


Hi Blog. Just a little humorous aside.

Nothing like a little casual illegal entry to help make one of the world’s disputed borders (the Northern Territories, islands seized by USSR at the end of WWII and reason why there is no peace treaty to this day (only an armistice) between Japan and Russia) more disputed. Especially when it’s over a case of beer.

Russian fishermen dropping into Japan to buy beer detained
ITAR-TASS 08.04.2007, 06.20

TOKYO, April 8 (Itar-Tass) — A Russian fisherman catching sea urchins decided to “drop into” Japan quickly to buy beer and was arrested on Saturday for illegally entering the country.

The incident took place in Nemuro on the eastern coast of Hokkaido close to the Southern Kuriles.

The Japanese police said, referring to the detained man’s words, that he together with his colleagues fished near the Southern Kuriles. While his fellow fishermen picked sea urchins from the seabed, the 29-year-old man decided to quickly go on a rubber pneumatic boat with an engine to Nemuro to buy beer. He presented a 10,000-yen bill (about 83 dollars) and bought a box of bottles of beer.

However, members of a local fishing cooperative informed police about the suspicious boat, and the police thwarted the attempt of the man, who had no documents to enter Japan, to leave Nemuro.

The man was arrested at 11:48 local time (06:48 Moscow time), about an hour after he reached the coast. He remained in the police office in Nemuro. The police suppose the fisherman had no bad intentions, but say he had alcohol smell.

Japanese authorities informed the Vladivostok sea rescue centre that the detained person was a crewmember from a Russian schooner. Supposedly, the vessel is from the Sakhalin port of Nevelsk.

The Nemuro police do not remember such incidents happening ever before. At the same time, 30 years ago, in 1977, Soviet border guards detained a Japanese who managed to swim to Signalny Island that is within the territory claimed by Japan.


Thanks to

As the posters to this site poignantly ask, whatever happened to the beer? Debito