It’s time for the naysayers to capitulate regarding the Fukushima Crisis; referential articles

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

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Hi Blog. While I still want to reserve the summer for cycling and outdoor non-blog stuff, one thing has to be said: Fukushima is a mess, just like we suspected it would be. More than five months later, the Japanese public still has insufficient information about what’s going on down there, and people are being slowly poisoned as radiation percolates through the food chain and begins to be picked up overseas. As I’ve said before, this is Japan’s long-burning tyreyard fire, and there is still no end to the crisis in sight.

But one other thing also has to be said.  Back in March, when Debito.org merely had the audacity to raise some questions about the situation and the information we were getting, we were roundly criticized for being “alarmist”, “ignorant”, “wrong”, “reputation-damaging”, and even “racist”.  One even said, “The greatest health effects of all nuclear incidents have been due to the anxiety that people like you are doing their best to ramp up. Thanks a lot for contributing to the problem.”  That’s pretty bold — as if we were trying to instigate a panic and damage people’s health just because we wanted to know more information (which the nuclear industry worldwide keeps a lid on, down to the very science, to keep the public in the dark about their shenanigans and corruption).

Well, guess what critics — five months later, clearly YOU were wrong.

The Fukushima Crisis has exposed the inability of the GOJ (whether you mean politician or bureaucrat) to respond in a timely or safe manner, to follow the rules and safety standards (even changing safe radiation levels to suit political exigency), to show proper leadership or even adequate concern for its citizens in harm’s way, to release facts of the case so that people could make an informed decision, or to acknowledge there had even been a meltdown (something other observers knew based upon reasoned analysis of reactors’ output, but the GOJ would not admit), for months!  The political culture which enables people in power in Japan to evade responsibility is now slowly poisoning Japanese society, if not eventually parts of the world, and that has to be addressed in the arena of public opinion.

Back in March, we at Debito.org did try to err on the side of caution and give some benefiting of the doubt (even shutting ourselves up when we had insufficient information).  We wanted to wait and see how the cards fell.  They clearly fell in favor of our original assertions that we were not being told the full story, and that things were far worse than was being let on.  Now, critics, let’s have some honest capitulation on your part.  You know who you are.  It’s so easy to be a critic, but much harder to admit you’re wrong.  Have the cojones to do that, especially about something as serious and society-changing as this.

Some referential articles follow, showing 1) the slow poisoning of children by Fukushima (NHK World), 2) how deep the institutional rot runs (NY Times), 3) more on the science of radioactivity and how seriously matters are not being taken (Japan Focus), and 4) the new attempts at spin-doctoring the situation, for starters.  Knee-jerk defensive comments that do not reflect a careful reading of these references will not be approved.  I think we’ve had quite enough knee-jerk-ism regarding this subject here already.  Arudou Debito

REFERENTIAL ARTICLES

(Debito.org Readers who wish to post more articles in the Comments Section, please do so with date, link, and pertinent excerpt if not entire article.)

More Fukushima-related articles on Japan Focus, a trustworthy academic site, can be found by plugging in keyword “Fukushima” in their search engine, see http://japanfocus.org/site/search

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Radiation effect on children’s thyroid glands

NHK World Sunday, August 14, 2011 02:16 +0900 (JST)
http://www3.nhk.or.jp/daily/english/13_26.html Courtesy BCH
A survey shows that a small amount of radioactive iodine has been detected in the thyroid glands of hundreds of children in Fukushima Prefecture.

The result was reported to a meeting of the Japan Pediatric Society in Tokyo on Saturday.

A group of researchers led by Hiroshima University professor Satoshi Tashiro tested 1,149 children in the prefecture for radiation in their thyroid glands in March following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Radioactive iodine was detected in about half of the children.

Tashiro says radiation in thyroid glands exceeding 100 millisieverts poses a threat to humans, but that the highest level in the survey was 35 millisieverts.

Tashiro says based on the result, it is unlikely that thyroid cancer will increase in the future, but that health checks must continue to prepare for any eventuality.
ENDS

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Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril

By NORIMITSU ONISHI and MARTIN FACKLER
Published: August 8, 2011

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/world/asia/09japan.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all

FUKUSHIMA, Japan — The day after a giant tsunami set off the continuing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, thousands of residents at the nearby town of Namie gathered to evacuate.

Given no guidance from Tokyo, town officials led the residents north, believing that winter winds would be blowing south and carrying away any radioactive emissions. For three nights, while hydrogen explosions at four of the reactors spewed radiation into the air, they stayed in a district called Tsushima where the children played outside and some parents used water from a mountain stream to prepare rice.

The winds, in fact, had been blowing directly toward Tsushima — and town officials would learn two months later that a government computer system designed to predict the spread of radioactive releases had been showing just that.

But the forecasts were left unpublicized by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism. Japan’s political leaders at first did not know about the system and later played down the data, apparently fearful of having to significantly enlarge the evacuation zone — and acknowledge the accident’s severity.

“From the 12th to the 15th we were in a location with one of the highest levels of radiation,” said Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie, which is about five miles from the nuclear plant. He and thousands from Namie now live in temporary housing in another town, Nihonmatsu. “We are extremely worried about internal exposure to radiation.”

The withholding of information, he said, was akin to “murder.”

In interviews and public statements, some current and former government officials have admitted that Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster — in order, some of them said, to limit the size of costly and disruptive evacuations in land-scarce Japan and to avoid public questioning of the politically powerful nuclear industry. As the nuclear plant continues to release radiation, some of which has slipped into the nation’s food supply, public anger is growing at what many here see as an official campaign to play down the scope of the accident and the potential health risks.

Seiki Soramoto, a lawmaker and former nuclear engineer to whom Prime Minister Naoto Kan turned for advice during the crisis, blamed the government for withholding forecasts from the computer system, known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or Speedi.

“In the end, it was the prime minister’s office that hid the Speedi data,” he said. “Because they didn’t have the knowledge to know what the data meant, and thus they did not know what to say to the public, they thought only of their own safety, and decided it was easier just not to announce it.”

In an interview, Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, dismissed accusations that political considerations had delayed the release of the early Speedi data. He said that they were not disclosed because they were incomplete and inaccurate, and that he was presented with the data for the first time only on March 23.

“And on that day, we made them public,” said Mr. Hosono, who was one of the prime minister’s closest advisers in the early days of the crisis before being named nuclear disaster minister. “As for before that, I myself am not sure. In the days before that, which were a matter of life and death for Japan as a nation, I wasn’t taking part in what was happening with Speedi.”

The computer forecasts were among many pieces of information the authorities initially withheld from the public.

Meltdowns at three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors went officially unacknowledged for months. In one of the most damning admissions, nuclear regulators said in early June that inspectors had found tellurium 132, which experts call telltale evidence of reactor meltdowns, a day after the tsunami — but did not tell the public for nearly three months. For months after the disaster, the government flip-flopped on the level of radiation permissible on school grounds, causing continuing confusion and anguish about the safety of schoolchildren here in Fukushima.

Too Late

The timing of many admissions — coming around late May and early June, when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited Japan and before Japan was scheduled to deliver a report on the accident at an I.A.E.A. conference — suggested to critics that Japan’s nuclear establishment was coming clean only because it could no longer hide the scope of the accident. On July 4, the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, a group of nuclear scholars and industry executives, said, “It is extremely regrettable that this sort of important information was not released to the public until three months after the fact, and only then in materials for a conference overseas.”

The group added that the authorities had yet to disclose information like the water level and temperature inside reactor pressure vessels that would yield a fuller picture of the damage. Other experts have said the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as Tepco, have yet to reveal plant data that could shed light on whether the reactors’ cooling systems were actually knocked out solely by the 45-foot-tall tsunami, as officials have maintained, or whether damage from the earthquake also played a role, a finding that could raise doubts about the safety of other nuclear plants in a nation as seismically active as Japan.

Government officials insist that they did not knowingly imperil the public.

“As a principle, the government has never acted in such a way as to sacrifice the public’s health or safety,” said Mr. Hosono, the nuclear disaster minister.

Here in the prefecture’s capital and elsewhere, workers are removing the surface soil from schoolyards contaminated with radioactive particles from the nuclear plant. Tens of thousands of children are being kept inside school buildings this hot summer, where some wear masks even though the windows are kept shut. Many will soon be wearing individual dosimeters to track their exposure to radiation.

At Elementary School No. 4 here, sixth graders were recently playing shogi and go, traditional board games, inside. Nao Miyabashi, 11, whose family fled here from Namie, said she was afraid of radiation. She tried not to get caught in the rain. She gargled and washed her hands as soon as she got home.

“I want to play outside,” she said.

About 45 percent of 1,080 children in three Fukushima communities surveyed in late March tested positive for thyroid exposure to radiation, according to a recent announcement by the government, which added that the levels were too low to warrant further examination. Many experts both in and outside Japan are questioning the government’s assessment, pointing out that in Chernobyl, most of those who went on to suffer from thyroid cancer were children living near that plant at the time of the accident.

Critics inside and outside the Kan administration argue that some of the exposure could have been prevented if officials had released the data sooner.

On the evening of March 15, Mr. Kan called Mr. Soramoto, who used to design nuclear plants for Toshiba, to ask for his help in managing the escalating crisis. Mr. Soramoto formed an impromptu advisory group, which included his former professor at the University of Tokyo, Toshiso Kosako, a top Japanese expert on radiation measurement.

Mr. Kosako, who studied the Soviet response to the Chernobyl crisis, said he was stunned at how little the leaders in the prime minister’s office knew about the resources available to them. He quickly advised the chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, to use Speedi, which used measurements of radioactive releases, as well as weather and topographical data, to predict where radioactive materials could travel after being released into the atmosphere.

Speedi had been designed in the 1980s to make forecasts of radiation dispersal that, according to the prime minister’s office’s own nuclear disaster manuals, were supposed to be made available at least to local officials and rescue workers in order to guide evacuees away from radioactive plumes.

And indeed, Speedi had been churning out maps and other data hourly since the first hours after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. But the Education Ministry had not provided the data to the prime minister’s office because, it said, the information was incomplete. The tsunami had knocked out sensors at the plant: without measurements of how much radiation was actually being released by the plant, they said, it was impossible to measure how far the radioactive plume was stretching.

“Without knowing the strength of the releases, there was no way we could take responsibility if evacuations were ordered,” said Keiji Miyamoto of the Education Ministry’s nuclear safety division, which administers Speedi.

The government had initially resorted to drawing rings around the plant, evacuating everyone within a radius of first 1.9 miles, then 6.2 miles and then 12.4 miles, widening the rings as the scale of the disaster became clearer.

But even with incomplete data, Mr. Kosako said he urged the government to use Speedi by making educated guesses as to the levels of radiation release, which would have still yielded usable maps to guide evacuation plans. In fact, the ministry had done precisely that, running simulations on Speedi’s computers of radiation releases. Some of the maps clearly showed a plume of nuclear contamination extending to the northwest of the plant, beyond the areas that were initially evacuated.

However, Mr. Kosako said, the prime minister’s office refused to release the results even after it was made aware of Speedi, because officials there did not want to take responsibility for costly evacuations if their estimates were later called into question.

A wider evacuation zone would have meant uprooting hundreds of thousands of people and finding places for them to live in an already crowded country. Particularly in the early days after the earthquake, roads were blocked and trains were not running. These considerations made the government desperate to limit evacuations beyond the 80,000 people already moved from areas around the plant, as well as to avoid compensation payments to still more evacuees, according to current and former officials interviewed.

Mr. Kosako said the top advisers to the prime minister repeatedly ignored his frantic requests to make the Speedi maps public, and he resigned in April over fears that children were being exposed to dangerous radiation levels.

Some advisers to the prime minister argue that the system was not that useful in predicting the radiation plume’s direction. Shunsuke Kondo, who heads the Atomic Energy Commission, an advisory body in the Cabinet Office, said that the maps Speedi produced in the first days were inconsistent, and changed several times a day depending on wind direction.

“Why release something if it was not useful?” said Mr. Kondo, also a retired professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo. “Someone on the ground in Fukushima, looking at which way the wind was blowing, would have known just as much.”

Mr. Kosako and others, however, say the Speedi maps would have been extremely useful in the hands of someone who knew how to sort through the system’s reams of data. He said the Speedi readings were so complex, and some of the predictions of the spread of radiation contamination so alarming, that three separate government agencies — the Education Ministry and the two nuclear regulators, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Nuclear Safety Commission — passed the data to one another like a hot potato, with none of them wanting to accept responsibility for its results.

In interviews, officials at the ministry and the agency each pointed fingers, saying that the other agency was responsible for Speedi. The head of the commission declined to be interviewed.

Mr. Baba, the mayor of Namie, said that if the Speedi data had been made available sooner, townspeople would have naturally chosen to flee to safer areas. “But we didn’t have the information,” he said. “That’s frustrating.”

Evacuees now staying in temporary prefabricated homes in Nihonmatsu said that, believing they were safe in Tsushima, they took few precautions. Yoko Nozawa, 70, said that because of the lack of toilets, they resorted to pits in the ground, where doses of radiation were most likely higher.

“We were in the worst place, but didn’t know it,” Ms. Nozawa said. “Children were playing outside.”

A neighbor, Hiroyuki Oto, 31, said he was working at the plant for a Tepco subcontractor at the time of the earthquake and was now in temporary lodging with his wife and three young children, after also staying in Tsushima. “The effects might emerge only years from now,” he said of the exposure to radiation. “I’m worried about my kids.”

Seeds of Mistrust

Mr. Hosono, the minister charged with dealing with the nuclear crisis, has said that certain information, including the Speedi data, had been withheld for fear of “creating a panic.” In an interview, Mr. Hosono — who now holds nearly daily news conferences with Tepco officials and nuclear regulators — said that the government had “changed its thinking” and was trying to release information as fast as possible.

Critics, as well as the increasingly skeptical public, seem unconvinced. They compare the response to the Minamata case in the 1950s, a national scandal in which bureaucrats and industry officials colluded to protect economic growth by hiding the fact that a chemical factory was releasing mercury into Minamata Bay in western Japan. The mercury led to neurological illnesses in thousands of people living in the region and was captured in wrenching photographs of stricken victims.

“If they wanted to protect people, they had to release information immediately,” said Reiko Seki, a sociologist at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and an expert on the cover-up of the Minamata case. “Despite the experience with Minamata, they didn’t release Speedi.”

In Koriyama, a city about 40 miles west of the nuclear plant, a group of parents said they had stopped believing in government reassurances and recently did something unthinkable in a conservative, rural area: they sued. Though their suit seeks to force Koriyama to relocate their children to a safer area, their real aim is to challenge the nation’s handling of evacuations and the public health crisis.

After the nuclear disaster, the government raised the legal exposure limit to radiation from one to 20 millisieverts a year for people, including children — effectively allowing them to continue living in communities from which they would have been barred under the old standard. The limit was later scaled back to one millisievert per year, but applied only to children while they were inside school buildings.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Toshio Yanagihara, said the authorities were withholding information to deflect attention from the nuclear accident’s health consequences, which will become clear only years later.

“Because the effects don’t emerge immediately, they can claim later on that cigarettes or coffee caused the cancer,” he said.

The Japanese government is considering monitoring the long-term health of Fukushima residents and taking appropriate measures in the future, said Yasuhiro Sonoda, a lawmaker and parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office. The mayor of Koriyama, Masao Hara, said he did not believe that the government’s radiation standards were unsafe. He said it was “unrealistic” to evacuate the city’s 33,000 elementary and junior high school students.

But Koriyama went further than the government’s mandates, removing the surface soil from its schools before national directives and imposing tougher inspection standards than those set by the country’s education officials.

“The Japanese people, after all, have a high level of knowledge,” the mayor said, “so I think information should be disclosed correctly and quickly so that the people can make judgments, especially the people here in Fukushima.”
ENDS

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Radiation Effects on Health: Protect the Children of Fukushima

Kodama TatsuhikoProfessor, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, the University of Tokyo Head, Radioisotope Center, the University of Tokyo

Talk at the July 27, 2011 meeting of the Committee on Welfare and Labor of the House of Representatives

…In that case, the total dose is not much of an issue; rather, the density of radiation in each individual is the focus. However, following the recent accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, 5 μSv within 100 kilometers and 0.5 μSv within 200 kilometers from the complex were recorded. And as all of you know now, radiation reached further beyond to affect Ashigara and Shizuoka tea leaves.When we examine radiation poisoning, we look at the entire amount. TEPCO and the government have never clearly reported on the total amount of radiation doses resulting from the Fukushima nuclear accident. When we calculate on the basis of the knowledge available at our Radioisotope Center, in terms of the quantity of heat, the equivalent of 29.6 Hiroshima a-bombs leaked. Converted to uranium, an amount equivalent to 20 Hiroshima a-bombs is estimated to have leaked.

What is further dreadful is that, according to what we know so far, when we compare the amount of radiation that remained after the a-bomb and that of radiation from the nuclear plant, that of the former goes down to one-thousandth after one year whereas radioactive contaminants of the latter are reduced to only one-tenth.

In other words, in thinking about the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, the first premise is that, as in the case of Chernobyl, an amount of radiation equivalent to tens of a-bombs was released and far greater contamination remains afterward compared with the a-bomb…

Rest of the article at: http://japanfocus.org/-Kodama-Tatsuhiko/3587

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Fukushima forced depopulation, Japanese plead world aid

, Human Rights Examiner, August 22, 2011, Examiner.com, courtesy BCH (excerpt)

After “off-scale” radiation contamination at Fukushima was reported in early August, this weekend extremely excessive radiation contamination around Fukushima reported by the Ministry of Science and Education is forcing the Japanese government toward what New York Times termed “long-term depopulation” with an announcement making the area officially uninhabitable for decades, as Japanese people, including radiation refugees, plead for global help to survive human right to health violations experienced since March when Japan’s ever worsening nuclear power plant catastrophe began.

The government is expected to make a formal announcement telling many of the radiation refugees that they will be prohibited from returning to their homes indefinitely according to several Japanese news reports over the weekend reported the New York Times on Monday.

“Broad areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could soon be declared uninhabitable, perhaps for decades, after a government survey found radioactive contamination that far exceeded safe levels, several major media outlets said Monday.”

Fukushima area being uninhabited for decades is no surprise to many independent nuclear experts or lay persons aware that has been case for areas around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine after its 1986 catastrophic accident. Today, an estimated five million people in the Ukraine suffer Chernobyl radiation deformities and cancer, many of whom were not born when that catastrophe began, according to a recent Australia CBS report. (See: “Fukushima now radiating everyone: ‘Unspeakable’ reality,” Dupré, August 16, 2011)

Examiner colleague, Alfred Lambremont reported in early July that, “Leuren Moret [MA, PhD (ABT)] released her court statement as expert witness in a lawsuit brought to force government officials to evacuate more than 350,000 children from the Fukushima area where they are being forcibly exposed by the government to lethal doses of radiation.”

The anticipated Japanese government relocation announcement would be the “first official recognition that the March accident could force the long-term depopulation of communities near the plant” reported The New York Times.

This forced depopulation issue is one that “scientists and some officials have been warning about for months” and criticized the government for not doing sooner. New York Times reports that:

“… evacuations have been a sensitive topic for the government, which has been criticized for being slow to admit the extent of the disaster and trying to limit the size of the areas affected, despite possible risks to public health. Until now, Tokyo had been saying it would lift the current evacuation orders for most areas around the plant early next year, when workers are expected to stabilize Fukushima Daiichi’s damaged nuclear reactors.”

U.S. involvement in nuclear genocide abroad and at home has been recorded by Leuren Moret who wrote in her Court statement:

“Instead of evacuation, the government gives the children (sick with radiation symptoms) film badges to measure the external exposure dose… another study group like U.S. govt. studies on Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims (they are still being studied), Iraq victims, Gaza victims. And the U.S. government did the same thing to Americans during 1300 nuclear bomb tests in the US.”

Radiation deniers foster nuclear industry

There have been Japanese government televised programs espousing Plutonium is good for humans.

After the Fukushima nuclear power plant catastrophe began, the nuclear industry urgently redoubled efforts to convince the world that nuclear radiation is safe and even more, “they are trying to say that radiation is actually good for us” according to Noel Wauchope.

“The whole idea of radiation is good for you is not new,” said Nuclear News editor Christina MacPherson in an email to Dupré.  “It was pushed a few years back by Frenchman Bruno Comby with his ‘environmentalists for nuclear power’ campaign.”

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Continue reading on Examiner.com Fukushima forced depopulation, Japanese plead world aid (video) – National Human Rights | Examiner.com http://www.examiner.com/human-rights-in-national/fukushima-forced-depopulation-japanese-plead-world-aid-video#ixzz1W3AdOlmn

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More Fukushima-related articles on Japan Focus, a trustworthy academic site, can be found by plugging in keyword “Fukushima” in their search engine, see http://japanfocus.org/site/search
ends

Excellent Japan Times article on GOJ reforms (and probable non-reforms) of child custody system post-divorce

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

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=「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 Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog.  An article came out today in the Japan Times that is so good it merits breaking holiday silence, from legal scholar Colin P.A. Jones on legal reforms to the post-divorce child custody system.  It mentions something we’ve talked about on Debito.org before:  How the signing of the Hague Convention on Child Abductions will probably be ineffectual, as both the legislative and judicial branches find ways to exceptionalize Japan from it, maintaining Japan’s status as a safe haven for international abductions.  Excerpted below, please go to the JT site and read the whole thing.  Now for me it’s back outside and on the bike.  Arudou Debito

==========================================

Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011

The Japan Times

THE ZEIT GIST

Upcoming legal reforms: a plus for children or plus ca change?

Domestic revisions designed to ease fears over Hague Convention could actually encourage parental abduction

http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20110809zg.html

By COLIN P. A. JONES

Those focused on the government’s stumbling efforts to protect the children of Fukushima from radioactive contamination may find this hard to believe, but Japanese family law just got more child-friendly — maybe. If Japan finally signs the Hague Convention on child abduction, as it appears it will, it could become even more so. There is a big “maybe” here too, so it remains to be seen whether these two steps taken by the Diet will steer the country away from its status as a black hole for parental abduction or leave it treading the same sorry path.

On May 27 a law was passed amending a number of provisions in the Civil Code relating to children and their parents. First, Article 766 of the code was revised to require parents seeking a cooperative (i.e., nonlitigated) divorce to decide upon visitation, child support payments and other matters relevant to their children’s upbringing after divorce. Furthermore, the new provision says that the welfare of the children must be the primary consideration when these matters are decided….

Another significant change in the law will make it possible for public authorities to suspend for up to two years the parental authority of those who abuse or neglect their children. The supposed inability of child welfare officials to act aggressively has been cited in recent high-profile child abuse cases. Under prior law the termination of parental authority was permanent, rendering it a very blunt instrument.

Of course, any change that clarifies the principles underlying the laws relating to children in Japan is certainly a welcome step forward. Yet at the same time, I believe that the character of these amendments reflects a continuation of what I see as the core problem with Japanese family law.

Both the amendments described above approach the problem by addressing deficiencies in Japanese parents. Other amendments to the Civil Code making it clear that even nondivorcing parents must exercise their parental rights and responsibilities for the benefit of their childrenfurther reinforce this impression…

Meanwhile, on the Hague Convention front, a legislative committee appears to be considering domestic legislation that will ensure no abducted child ever has to be returned after Japan signs it. A basic premise of the convention is that judicial determinations about children after their parents separate should be made in the country where the children have been living. Children who are unilaterally removed to another country should thus promptly be located and returned to their country of habitual residence.

The convention does contain an exception that says a child does not have to be returned if there is a “grave risk” that doing so “would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place him or her in an intolerable situation.” The Japanese government appears poised to drive truckloads of abducted children through this very limited exception.

Based on current proposals that I have seen, Japanese authorities may be allowed to refuse to return a child if (a) either the child or taking parent have been subject to abuse (including “violent words”), (b) the taking parent cannot return to the child’s home country because of fear of criminal prosecution upon return, (c) the taking parent is the primary caregiver but cannot raise the child in the home country for financial or other reasons, or (d) the helpfully vague “there are other circumstances” making return potentially harmful to the child.

This may seem well-intentioned, but it is important to understand that the Hague Convention is not about “keeping” children in their home countries. It is about parents respecting the law of the countries in which their children live before they unilaterally change their residence…

Full article at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20110809zg.html

Related article:

The Japan Times Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2011
News photo
Act now: Rep. Chris Smith (center), standing with relatives of American children abducted to Japan, urges swift action by Washington on the issue last September on Capitol Hill. AP PHOTO

 

Hague campaigners doubt Japan’s sincerity

By WILLIAM HOLLINGWORTH
Kyodo

LONDON — Campaigners in Britain welcome Japan’s plans to sign up for a treaty on settling cross-border child custody disputes but feel new procedures are needed to effectively implement the agreement.

Rest at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110809a4.html

Drunk interview with vlogger Tkyosam, Tokyo, July 27, 2011

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

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=「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 Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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Hi Blog.  As a complete tangent (and to show you how human a lot of glasses of beer/wine renders a person), here we have an interview with vlogger Tkyosam done at the FCCJ Tokyo July 27, 2011, with a bunch of friends.  It’s pretty silly, but dreadfully amusing, and it makes a good case for why humans need the outlet of booze.  Kanpai, everyone.  Debito

Part One:

Part Two:

Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column, August 2, 2011, “The loneliness of the long-distance foreigner”, about the difficulty for NJ to make long-term J friends

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

Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\" width=「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 Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
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The Japan Times Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011
JUST BE CAUSE

The loneliness of the long-distance foreigner

Courtesy http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20110802ad.html

A few months ago I had beers with several old Japan-hand guys (combined we have more than a century of Japan experiences), and one of them asked an interesting question:

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“After all our years here, how many close Japanese male friends do you have?” (Excluding Debito, of course.)

We glanced amongst ourselves and realized that none of us hadany. Not one we would count on as a “friend.” Nobody to whom we could talk openly, unreservedly, and in depth with, about what’s on our minds. Or contact for a place to stay because our spouse was on the warpath. Or call at 3 a.m. to announce the birth of our latest baby. Or ring up on the spur of the moment because we didn’t want to drink alone that evening. Or who would care enough to check on us in the event of a natural disaster. Not one.

This occasioned much discussion and theorizing, both at the table and on my blog later (see www.debito.org/?p=8933)

(A quick note to readers already poised to strike with poison pens: None of the following theories are necessarily mine, nor do I necessarily agree with them. They are just to stimulate further discussion.)

One theory was that Japanese salarymen of our age group are generally boring people. Too busy or work-oriented to cultivate outside interests or hobbies, these one-note-Taros generally “talk shop” or resort to shaggy-dog stories about food. We contrasted them with Japanese women, who, thanks to more varied lifestyles and interests (including travel, language and culture), are more engaging and make better conversation partners (even if, my friends hastily added, the relationship had not become physical).

Another idea was that for many Japanese men, their hobby was you. By this, the speaker meant the culture vultures craving the “gaijin shiriaiexperience” or honing their language skills. This was OK in the beginning (especially when we first got here) but it got old quickly, as they realized we wanted to learn Japanese too, and when they weren’t willing to reciprocate. Not to mention that we eventually got tired of hearing blanket cultural explanations for individual issues (which is how culture vultures are hard-wired to see the world, anyway).

Another theory was that after a certain age, Japanese men don’t make “friends” with anyone. The few lifelong friends they would ever make were in school; once they entered the job market, all other males were treated as rivals or steps to promotion — meaning you put up a mask and didn’t reveal potentially compromising personal information. Thus if Japanese men were going to make friends at all, they were going to make them permanently, spending enormous time and energy imprinting themselves on precious few people. This meant they had to choose wisely, and non-Japanese — generally seen as in Japan only temporarily and with unclear loyalties — weren’t worth the emotional investment.

Related to this were issues of Japan’s hierarchical society. Everyone was either subordinate or superior — kōhai or senpai — which interfered with friendships as the years marched on: Few non-Japanese (NJ) wanted to languish as kōhai, and few Japanese wanted to deal with a foreign senpai. Besides, went the theory, this relationship wasn’t something we’d classify as a “friendship” anyway. Conclusion: Japanese men, as opposed to Japanese women with their lifetime coffee klatches, were some of the most lonely people on the planet.

Another suggestion was that this was just part of how life shakes down. Sure, when you’re young and carefree you can hang out willy-nilly, spend money with abandon and enjoy the beer-induced bonhomie (which Japan’s watering holes are very good at creating) with everyone all night. But as time goes on and people get married, have kids, take on a mortgage and a nagging spouse (who doesn’t necessarily want you spending their money on your own personal fun, especially if it involves friends of the opposite sex), you prioritize, regardless of nationality.

Fine, our group countered, but we’ve all been married and had kids, and yet we’re still meeting regularly — because NJ priorities include beers with friends from time to time. In fact, for us the older the relationship gets, the more we want to maintain it — especially given all we’ve been through together. “New friends are silver, but old friends are gold.”

Still another, intriguing theory was the utilitarian nature of Japanese relationships, i.e. Japanese make friends not as a matter of course but with a specific purpose in mind: shared lifestyles, interests, sports-team fandom, what have you. But once that purpose had run its course — because you’ve exhausted all conversation or lost the commonality — you should expect to lose contact. The logic runs that in Japan it is awkward, untoward, even rude to extend a relationship beyond its “natural shelf life.” This goes even just for moving to another city in Japan: Consider it normal to lose touch with everyone you leave behind. The thread of camaraderie is that thin in Japan.

However, one naturalized Japanese friend of mine (who just turned 70) pooh-poohed all these theories and took me out to meet his drinking buddies (of both genders, mostly in their 60s and 70s themselves). At this stage in their lives things were less complicated. There were no love triangles, no senpai-kōhai conceits, no “shop talk,” because they were all retired. Moreover they were more outgoing and interesting, not only because they were cultivating pastimes to keep from going senile, but also because the almighty social lubricant of alcohol was omnipresent (they drank like there was no tomorrow; for some of them, after all, there might not be!). For my friend, getting Japanese to lower their masks was pretty easy.

Fine, but I asked if it weren’t a bit unreasonable for us middle-aged blokes to wait for this life stage just to make some Japanese friends. These things may take time, and we may indeed have to spend years collecting shards of short interactions from the local greengrocer before we put together a more revealing relationship. But in the meantime, human interaction with at least one person of the same gender that goes beyond platitudes, and hopefully does not require libation and liver damage, is necessary now for sanity’s sake, no?

There were other, less-developed theories, but the general conclusion was: Whatever expectation one had of “friends” — either between Japanese and NJ, or between Japanese themselves — there was little room over time for overlap. Ultimately NJ-NJ relationships wound up being more friendly, supportive and long-lasting.

Now it’s time for disclaimers: No doubt the regular suspects will vent their spleen to our Have Your Say section and decry this essay as overgeneralizing, bashing, even discriminating against Japanese men.

Fire away, but you’d be missing the point of this column. When you have a good number of NJ long-termers saying they have few to no long-term Japanese friends, this is a very serious issue — with a direct connection to issues of immigration and assimilation of outsiders. It may be a crude barometer regarding life in Japan, but let’s carry on the discussion anyway and see how sophisticated we can make it.

So let’s narrow this debate down to one simple question: As a long-term NJ resident in Japan, how many Japanese friends do you have, as defined in the introduction above? (You might say that you have no relationship with anyone of any nationality with that much depth, but that’s awfully lonely — I dare say even unhealthy — and I hope you can remedy that.) Respondents who can address the other sides of the question (i.e. NJ women befriending Japanese women/men, and same-sex relationships) are especially welcome, as this essay has a shortage of insight on those angles.

Be honest. And by “honest”, I mean giving this question due consideration and experience: People who haven’t been living in Japan for, say, about 10 years, seeing how things shake down over a significant portion of a lifetime’s arc, should refrain from commentary and let their senpai speak. “I’ve been here one year and have oodles of Japanese friends, you twerpski!” just isn’t a valid sample yet. And please come clean about your backgrounds when you write in, since age, gender, occupation, etc. all have as much bearing on the discussion as your duration of time in Japan.

Above all, remember what my job as a columnist is: to stimulate public discussion. Respondents are welcome to disagree (I actually consider agreement from readers to be an unexpected luxury), but if this column can at least get you to think, even start clacking keyboards to The Japan Times, I’ve done my job. Go to it. Consider yourself duly stimulated, and please offer us some friendly advice.

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Debito Arudou’s new novel “In Appropriate” is on sale (www.debito.org/inappropriate.html) Twitter arudoudebito. Send your comments to community@japantimes.co.jp