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 Debito.org! Arudou Debito
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Hi Blog. As the sands in the 2011 hourglass trickle away, here are a couple of posts to be filed away under Ironies. Today’s deals with how the GOJ sees “Tohoku disasters relief measures” — both in terms of funding foreign tourists and in funding ships killing whales.
This autumn there were many reports about the Japan Tourism Agency proposing to give away 10,000 free flights to Japan in 2012. After the proposal was reported, people from around the world sent messages to Japan National Tourism Organization saying they would like to participate in the programme to visit Japan and to help revitalize Japan’s tourism industry following the March 2011 earthquake. So it is with regret that the Japanese Government announced the budget for this proposal has been declined, so the flight give away will not be going ahead.
Thanks to the support of the international community, Japan is making vigorous progress towards reconstruction in the earthquake and tsunami affected northeast of Japan, but recovery from the earthquake continues to be a pressing issue.
“We realise that this announcement is going to disappoint thousands of people around the world, but we hope people will understand how insensitive it would appear for the Japanese Government to give people free flights to Japan when the cities, towns and villages devastated by the tsunami are still in desperate need of funding for reconstruction. We also would not want people thinking that the generous donations given from around the world to aide [sic] those affected by the disaster was being spent on giving people free flights.
[“]The places most popular with visitors to Japan – Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Osaka, Hiroshima, Sapporo and Okinawa – were outside the earthquake and tsunami affected areas. Please do not let the fact that there will be no free flights put you off visiting Japan. There are lots of great deals available and Japan is ready and waiting to welcome back visitors more warmly than ever before,” said Kylie Clark, Head of PR & Marketing, Japan National Tourism Organization.
To find out more about the deals available on flights and holidays to Japan, please visit www.seejapan.co.uk.
For more information about this matter, please visit the Japan Tourism Agency website at www.visitjapan.jp and Japan National Tourism Organization’s global website at www.jnto.go.jp. The Japan Tourism Agency statement on this annoucement can be viewed here.
The project titled Fly to Japan! (to offer flight tickets to 10,000 foreigners with high potential to communicate Japan’s attractions), which had been covered in a number of media in autumn this year, was not approved as a governmental draft budget of FY 2012.
We express our hearty gratitude to a multitude of people for offering inquiries and messages to support Japan after its coverage.
As the recovery from the earthquake is an ongoing urgent task, Japan has been vigorously working towards its restoration with the support from the world. Almost all of Japan has been back to normal and ready to welcome visitors. We are sincerely looking forward to having you to see Japan with your own eyes. Japan Tourism Agency and Japan National Tourism Organization would like to inform you of the events and promotions in 2012. If you are interested, please register as a Visit Japan fan from the site below. http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/fb/index.html
You Won’t Believe How Japan Is Spending Extra Fukushima Relief Money Business Insider.com, By Dina Spector, December 08, 2011
Of the $230 billion in government funds allocated to rebuilding Japan post-tsunami, $29 million is going toward the country’s annual whale hunt, an official from the nation’s Fisheries Agency told the AP.
The yearly whale expeditions that take place in the Antarctic Ocean are extremely controversial, often sparking aggressive anti-whaling campaigns from environmental groups like Greenpeace and the Sea Shepard Conservation Society.
But Japanese officials argue that the seasonal hunt is largely carried out for research purposes.
This year, the commercial trip will also aid whaling communities still struggling to recover from the March tsunami.
The AP reports:
Tatsuya Nakaoku, a Fisheries Agency official in charge of whaling, defended the move, saying the funding helps support Japan’s whaling industry as a whole, including some whaling towns along the devastated northeastern coast. One ship on the hunt is based in Ishinomaki, a town hit badly by the March 11 tsunami, he said.
A portion of the funds is also being funneled into efforts to protect the fleet from attacks by environmental groups. For the third year in a row, Coast Guard boats will be sent with the hunting convoy as a precautionary safety measure, reports Yoree Koh of The Wall Street Journal.
Japan has long drawn criticism from the international community for its whaling practices, which the country considers an integral part of its culture. For decades, Japansese whaling fleets have wriggled their way around a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling by insisting that whales are captured for scientific research.
But according to Toko Sekiguchi of Time, “once a whale is killed, scientists collect data from the animal’s remains on its age, birthing rate and diet; the meat is then packaged and sold.”
Despite outrage from marine activists, whaling ships left Japan on Tuesday on a five-month journey that will return some 900 whales.
Now see what it’s actually like to go whale hunting >
In the text of this volume, Edward Seidensticker gives an interpretation of Japan based on more than 13 years of residence in the country, where he won a reputation as a sensitive intepreter of the Japanese people and as an incisive commentator on the contemporary scene. His knowledge of the country dates from 1945, when he served for a time as a Marine officer with the U.S. Occupation Forces. Mr. Seidensticker, who was born in Colorado, returned to Tokyo in 1948 for two years’ service with the Department of State and then did graduate work at the University of Tokyo. A noted translator of Japanese literature, he contibutes to general and scholarly publications in the United States and Europe. He is now a professor of Japanese literature at Stanford University.
Okay, time out. After I read this, I blinked and said, “Only 13 years in Japan and he gets this much credibility? What’s with that?” The Table of Contents offered me little solace (The Crowded Country, The Heritage of a Long Isolation, Storm and Calm in Politics, A Resilient and Growing Economy, Upheavals in Family and Society, Traces of Spirit, Diversions Borrowed and Preserved, The Tolerant Believers, Powerful Molders of Young Minds, and A Nation in the Balance), all broad strokes all in a slim volume of only about 150 pages including voluminous photos.
But let me type in the concluding chapter. Let’s see what you think about Seidensticker’s insights then and consider how much has or has not changed, both on the ground and in overseas discourse on Japan, fifty years later. My comments follow.
Chapter 10, A Nation in the Balance, pp. 145-151 By Edward Seidensticker
There is an imaginary border line skirting the ridges of Tokyo, which thrust eastward towards the bay like fingers. In the days when the city’s predecessor, Edo, was a fishing village, the ridges came down to the water’s edge. The shogunate later filled in the shallow fringes of the bay to provide a mercantile center for the city and a place for the merchants to live. The line between the eastern “downtown'” of the flats and the western “uptown” of the ridges therefore became the line between the easygoing, slangy, pleasure-loving townsmen and the austere members of the warrior class. Today it may be taken to symbolize the political division of the country. East of the line, in the flats, is the world of the Japanese who works hard, does not trouble himself much with transcendental thoughts and loves to have a festival now and then. Although he may not be deliriously happy with things as they are, he generally accepts them. In the hills to the west is the world of the professional and white-collar classes, of commuter trains, drab middle-class housing, the huge Iwanami Publishing Company and the influential and somewhat highbrow newspapers. Suspicious of the West and wishful, if at the moment confused, about the Communist bloc, this is the articulate half of the country, and it can be generally relied on for opposition to suggestions for an expansion of the American alliance. It is not from the poor low-lying districts east of the imaginary line but rather from the hilly white-collar districts to the west that Communists are elected to the Tokyo City Council.
Badly divided, with one half willing to accept fundamental principles that the other half wants only to ignore, Japan as yet finds it difficult to come forward as a nation and answer the question that is put to it: Which side is it on?
The Japanese should not be pushed for an answer, but they may not be ignored. They have accomplished too much during the last century and particularly the last two decades, and their position in the world is too important Until a few years ago, Japan’s economic stability was heavily dependent on the American economy. Today the dependence has been so reduced that some economist think Japan could weather a fairly severe American recession, though not a full-scale depression. If the resourcefulness of the Japanese stays with them, even the rising monster across the China Sea need not be as threatening a competitor as one might think it.
The Japanese economy is one of the half dozen most powerful in the world. Any transfer of such an economy to the other side in the cold war would be an event of tremendous moment. By tipping a delicate balance in Asia, it could, indeed, be the jolt that would send the whole precarious complex of world politics crashing into disaster.
Of all the great industrialized peoples of the world, the Japanese are the least committed, and so perhaps among those most strategically placed for administering that final push. It could be argued that France, with its own kind of polarization and its disaffected intellectuals, in an equally good position; but when the French underwent a crisis in 1958, they turned to help not to a Marxist but to a conservative and a Roman Catholic, General de Gaulle, and so back to the very sources of the western tradition. A shift to the other side would be for them a shattering revolution.
In the middle years of the 1960s, the Japanese, industriously building, and even occasionally hinting that they might like to assist the U.S. foreign-aid program, gave a surface impression of having allowed old uncertainties to recede into the background. Certainly the country leans to the West at present; yet only a relatively few observers would make the definite assertion that it would be impossible for Japan to shift to the other side. A few more years of prosperity, of Red Chinese truculence and of freedom from rankling incidents in relations with the United States might see the old uncertainties buried forever. The future, will tell, and it may be significant that the Left was unable in 1964 to make visits of American nuclear submarines to Japan into the issue that had been made over revising the Security Treaty with the United States in 1960. For the present, the wise ally ought still to be aware of a certain suspicion of U.S. motives on the part of some Japanese.
It is difficult to blame the Japanese for their lack of firmness. They are part of the western alliance not because they are part of its tradition but because they lost a war with its strongest member Material prosperity has not ended a feeling of restlessness. No number of washing machines can really substitute for a sense of mission. When Eisako [sic]Sato became Japan’s 10th postwar prime minister in 1964, almost his first words were: “Japan’s international voice has been too small”. What that voice will say is as yet unclear. Obviously, dreams of empire are gone, but the Japanese government apparently does wish to take a more active role in the free world’s fight for peace. The country is already giving $600 million in aid to underdeveloped nations. It would like a seat on the United Nations Security Council, and there have been proposals in Japan that the country contribute a peace-keeping force to the U.N. But Japan as a whole remains ambivalent about playing a strong international role.
By and large, the Japanese still dread the prospect of rearmament. Many Japanese — in a general way, those from east of the symbolic Tokyo line — are able to sink themselves into their work and so to accept the chiefly negative attractions of the American alliance. Others look to the Chinese or the Russians or waver between them.
United in fear of war and the atom bomb, to which they alone have offered victims, the Japanese are in a difficult position. The observer pities a country that cannot make up its mind to defend itself but cannot really make up its mind to have others defend it; that cannot live with armaments (especially nuclear ones) but cannot live without them. The observer can even understand, so emotion-ridden is the question, why those who resolve the dilemma by dismissing defenses and defenders show a strong tendency to try to eat their cake and have it too.
It is the articulate intelligentsia that does so, and in a way this is a new twist to the venerable Japanese institution of blithely accepting contradictory beliefs. The policy approved by the intelligentsia means, in effect, that a country can have security without paying for it. The policy in question is disarmed neutralism, and it has the support of the second largest party in the country, the Socialist party.
There are two cynical but logical ways of defending such a policy. One is the position of the few who have followed their Marxist assumptions through to a conclusion: that neutralism is a device for preparing to switch sides in the world conflict. The other is the hardheaded position held by such operators as President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt: that the two sides can be played off against each other.
For most of its supporters, however, disarmed neutralism is simply a matter of wishfulness and self-deception. Its advocates assume that an economically powerful country, situated far from the nearest help, would be safe if disarmed, because any invasion or fifth-column subversion would start a major war. In other words, it assumes that the United States, even if it were restricted to its own side of the Pacific, would come to the aid of the Japanese in an attack. Hence a self-deception arises that verges on willful duplicity: the West is simultaneously condemned and looked to for protection.
Yet intolerable though this attitude may seem to an American, it is after all one which might have been anticipated. The stronger party must accept it in good humor and hope that there will one day be an awakening.
The chances of an awakening certainly seem better than they were a few years ago. Although it is still far from victory, the Socialist party creeps a little closer to it with every election. In its eagerness to make the last push, it may turn to wooing the essentially conservative voter east of that imaginary downtown-uptown line. It cannot do so unless it stops talking revolution and tones down its hostility toward the United States, a country which continues to be popular east of the line. So far the talk has been ambiguous, with one clause contradicting the next in the same sentence. The whole argument apparently leads to the conclusion that there will be a revolution, but not quite yet, and a revolution that will not necessarily have to be achieved by forceful means.
However domestic politics alone might have altered its position, the Socialist party has recently been exposed to winds from abroad. The Chinese nuclear test and the belligerent position of Peking on revolution by force, as well as its attack on the nuclear-test treaty concluded between the Soviet Union and the United States early in 1964, have driven the Socialists into the arms of Moscow and to an acceptance of Moscow’s line of peaceful coexistence. By backing the treaty, the Socialists, for the first time since the Occupation, have taken a position in international affairs that is openly at odds with that of the Japanese Communist party. The Russians may move toward the West, and the Japanese Socialists may move with them, but on that possibility one can only speculate.
If the Russians, the Chinese and the Japanese themselves can influence this left-wing Japanese pole, possible influence on it from the United States must be listed as a poor fourth. Yes U.S. influence in Japan is not negligible, as witness the fact that the Security Treaty was, after all, accepted in 1960 despite all the fulmination from the the Left, and by the fact that successive postwar governments have affirmed their support for the U.S. alliance. In 1965 Premier Sato, on a visit to the United States, declared that Japan and the U.S. were bound by ties of “mutual interdependence.”
So many forces shaping the future of Japan are nevertheless out of Japanese hands, and therefore beyond the power of anyone to influence, that no country can afford to be unmindful of them. This can be said of any country, but it is particularly true of a country that remains divided.
For the West, and particularly its most powerful nation, a pair of injunctions would seem to be an apt conclusion to what has been said: Be quiet, and be strong.
Be quiet. If the troubles the United States had with Japan in 1960 taught a lesson, it was that the Japanese must not be pushed to a decision about their responsibilities in the world. They may eventually come to a decision by their own devices, but as things stand today, nothing should be done that might give the impression that the United States is applying pressure.
Proposals which demand of the Japanese more positive cooperation than they are now offering are still more dangerous. It may seem that every nation has an obligation to defend itself, particularly if on occasion its international monetary problems seem of less moment than those of its chief ally. Yet the Japanese are too important to the western world and too vulnerable to be left wandering unprotected, and today there are elements in Japan itself which seem to have reached that conclusion. There are even some important factions in Prime Minister Sato’s own conservative party that not ony recognize the necessity of U.S. nuclear defenses but also see a need for Japan to have nuclear weapons of its own. That is not a widely shared view; any proposal for adequate defenses flies squarely in the face of the American-drafted Japanese Constitution, and any effort to alter the Constitution would provoke violent opposition. So the disagreeable but undeniable fact, not likely to change for a long time, is that the United States must be responsible for the defense of Japan and expect considerable vituperation in return.
And the United States and the West must be strong. There is yet another important element in Japanese neutralism. In addition to being in some measure cynical, in some measure pro-Communist and in some measure wishful, neutralism is based on fear and opportunism, in this case closely intertiwned. There are Japanese who simply want to be on the winning side, and they think they see which side it will be. Hence, whether or not they have any convictions, they say favorable things about China.
It is possible to understand and even to sympathize with such people. The United States is across the Pacific, but the Soviet Union is within sight of the northernmost Japanese island, and across the China Seas lies the newest of the nuclear powers, larger in terms of manpower than all the others put together.
On a practical level, the strength of the American economy is important. Although Japan is not as dependent on the United States as it once was, it is nevertheless more dependent on the United States than on any other country.
A serious recession in America is the thing most certain to disturb the solid voting habits of the Japanese. To remain prosperous is perhaps the best thing the United States and the West can do for Japan. Economic stability may not answer all the questions, but economic disaster would be quite certain to produce all the wrong answers.
COMMENT: Seidensticker attempts what all good scholars try to do with the society they have devoted their lives to: Convince everyone else that they should be paying attention to it as well.
In this case, we have the classic Western assessments of a fragile Japan in balance, at the time teetering between the contemporary poles of Free World and Communist Bloc; an ignorant nudge from the United States just might send it crashing down on the wrong side and throw world politics into “disaster”. (Clearly the USG is the intended audience here, as it reads more like a policy prescription in Foreign Affairs than an exotic travelogue; I am reminded of George Kennan’s “X” Soviet containment article.)
Don’t get “pushy” with this “badly divided” and society mired in its “confused” exoticism? Clearly this is a much better route than getting involved in Japan’s minutia like the US was doing in Vietnam (later soon Cambodia and Laos), if this indeed is how dipolar the choices were seen back then. But if so, is there any wonder why Japan’s intellectuals showed such mistrust of the US?
In sum, this is a thoughtful article, and in 2000 words Seidensticker acquits himself well when it comes to knowledge and sensitivity towards Japan. But it’s clearly dated (not just because of smug hindsight to see how many predictions he got wrong); it’s clearly in the Edwin Reischauer camp of “poor, poor, misunderstood Japan, let’s not be ignorant or mean towards it”, meaning protecting the status quo or else someday Japan will attack us.
Yet now, fifty years later, Japan has essentially gotten everything it wanted from the West in order to develop and prosper. Yet I believe it’s heading back towards insularity today due to structures and habits that were NOT removed from Japan’s postwar bureaucracy and education system. Such as a weak investigative press, an economic system not geared beyond developmental capitalism, a lack of solid oversight systems that encourage rule of law rather than allow bureaucratic extralegal guidelines or political filibustering, a lackluster judiciary that cannot (or refuses to) hold powerful people and bureaucrats responsible, a public undereducated beyond a mythological and anti-scientific “uniqueness” mindset, able to understand equality and fairness towards people who are disenfranchised or who are not members of The Tribe, etc.
These are all essential developments crucial to the development of an equitable society that were stalled or stymied (starting with the Reverse Course of 1947) under the very same name of maintaining the delicate balance of Japan’s anti-communist status quo. Well, the Cold War is long over, folks, yet Japan still seems locked into unhealthy dependency relationships (unless it is able to lord it over poorer countries in cynical and venal attempts to influence world politics in its own petty directions; also unhealthy). Only this time, for the past twenty years and counting, Japan simply isn’t getting rich from it any longer.
Further thoughts, Debito.org Readers? Arudou Debito
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Hi Blog. Merry Xmas to those celebrating. As a special treat, allow me to connect some dots between terms of public discourse: How Japan gets kid-gloved in international debate because it gets treated, consciously or unconsciously, with religious reverence.
It’s a theory I’ve been developing in my mind for several years now: How Japan has no religion except “Japaneseness” itself, and how adherence (or irreverence) towards it produces zealots and heretics who influence the shape and scope of Japan-connected debate.
So let me type in two works — one journalistic, the other polemic — and let you connect the dots as I did when I discovered them last November. I hope you find the juxtaposition as insightful as I did.
I’ll do a couple more of these thinking pieces for the holidays as Debito.org enters 2012, its fifteenth year of operation. Thanks for reading, everyone. Arudou Debito
Excerpted from “Rice, the Essential Harvest”, from NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (USA) Vol. 185, No. 5, May 1994, pp. 66-72. By Freelancer Robb Kendrick of Austin, Texas.
NB: This section comes after the author takes us on a journey of other rice-centered countries. Watch the subcontextual treatment: First photos from 1) India, where its caption portrays rice as a means of avoiding starvation; 2) Japan, whose caption immediately resorts to religious subtext: “Colossal strands of rice straw entwine over an entrance to the Izumo Shinto shrine, one of Japan’s oldest. Denoting a sacred place, the rice-straw rope, — or shimenawa — is the world’s largest at six metric tons. Grown in Japan for more than 2000 years [sic], rice is woven through culture, diet, even politics. Small shimenawa often hang over doorways to ward off evil. One evil the nation cannot stop: skimpy harvests, which in 1993 forced Japan to ease its sacrosanct restrictions on rice imports.”; 3) Madagascar, seen as staving off hunger in the face of a dearth of harvesting technology; 4) The Philippines, where rice technology is supported under the International Rice Research Institute; and 5) China, where peasant children eat rice for breakfast in rice-growing Zhejiang Province.
Then we get two paragraphs of text talking about the religious symbolism of rice in Bali. Then the intercontinental versatility of rice growing and usage (as it’s even used in Budweiser beer), plus the research being done in The Philippines to make it even more so. Then mentions of low-tech production in The Philippines, with photos of rice being used in a Hindu wedding in India and in religious ceremonies in India and Bali. Further paragraphs depict how the Balinese meld both ritual and routine in perpetual harvests. Then we get into the history of rice’s migration from India through to China, and how China has been working on rice hybrids at the Chinese National Rice Research Institute. Thus the focus of this article has so far been more on the history and ubiquitousness of rice as a staple in many societies.
Then we get to Japan, and the tone of the article shifts perceptibly:
Next stop, Japan. At the Grand Shrines of Ise, 190 miles southwest of Tokyo, the most revered precinct of Japan’s Shinto religion, white-robed priests cook rice twice daily and present it to the sun goddess, Amaterasu, who, they say, is the ancestor of the imperial family.
“The goddess brought a handful of rice from the heavens,” a senior priest tells me, “so that we may grow it and prosper.” He adds that in the first ceremony performed by each new emperor, he steps behind a screen to meet the goddess and emerges as the embodiment of Ninigi no Mikoto, the god of the ripened rice plant. Then every autumn the emperor sends to Ise the first stalks harvested from the rice field he himself has planted on the imperial palace gorunds. All Japanese, says the priest, owe their kokoro — their spiritual essence, their Japaneseness — to the goddess, “and they maintain it by eating rice, rice grown in Japan.”
Japanese law, in fact, long restricted the importation of rice. “Rice is a very special case,” explained Koji Futada, then parliamentary vice minister for agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. “It is our staple food, and so we must have a reliable supply as a matter of national security. That is why we politicians favor sulf-sufficiency, the domestic growing of all the rice we eat.”
And also because the farmers exert disproportionate influence in elections?
“Yes,” he said, “that is also true.”
And so the government buys the rice from the farmers at about ten times international market prices. It also subsidizes part of the cost to consumers. Still, Japanese consumers pay about four times as much as they would if they could buy rice in a California supermarket. All this cost the government about 2.5 billion dollars in 1992. One result is that land will stay in rice production that might otherwise be available for housing, which is in short supply. About 5 percent of the city of Tokyo is classified as farmland, worked by 13,000 families. That would be space enough for tens of thousands of new homes. Does all this mean that Japanese rice farmers are rolling in money?
Thirty miles north of the capital, in the Kanto Plain, I visit the Kimura family in the town of Kisai — typical of most of Japan’s 3.5 million rice-farming households: Rice is not a major part of their working life. Grandfather Shouichi, 83, along with his son Take and Take’s wife, Iwako, both in their 50s, look after a prosperous gardening-supply business; grandson Masao, 25, commutes to an office in central Tokyo. Three out of four rice-growing families hereabouts have become “Sunday farmers,” relying on income from other sources, mainly jobs in factories that sprang up nearby in the past ten years.
The Kimuras farm two and a half acres — this modest size is typical too — and they tell me the work is not arduous: Excerpt for planting seeds in boxes in a shed, they do it all with machines — transplanter, tractor — in about ten working days for one person, plus a few hours for spraying fertilizer, insecticide, and herbicide. “Harvesting is no work at all. We hire a combine.” What do the Kimuras get out of it?
“Enough rice for us to eat for a year,” says Shoichi. “But no profit. Zero.” Expenses go up, rice prices don’t. It’s the same for most farmers around here. “We do this only because we inherited the land.”
But nature and international politics are forcing a change. An unusually cold and rainy summer reduced Japan’s 1993 harvest by some 25 percent, so more than two million tons of rice will have to be imported before the end of this year. And after that, a newly revised global treaty — the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, or GATT — will oblige to allow annual imports of 4 to 8 percent of its rice requirement. But will the domestic rice price drop? Hardly. The government still sets the wholesale price, and that’s likely to stay high.
That’s it. The rest of the article deals with a) liberalization of the rice markets in Vietnam, b) rice economies in Europe, c) in Africa, d) in the United States, and finally e) the future of rice technology and how production will have to accommodate growing populations.
Here’s my point: No other country is treated in this National Geographic article with such reverence and deference as Japan. Look: A parroted religious introduction citing an obscure deity is channeled into a discourse on national identity, and an alleged political need for self preservation by excluding outside influences (everyplace else mentioned is seen as increasingly cooperative in developing a reliable food supply). If anything, many other countries are seen as somehow less able to cope with their future because of their technological or economic insularity. Not Japan. It gets a free pass on cultural grounds, with a deference being accorded to “Japaneseness” as a religion. (There is, by the way, one more picture of Japan in the article — that of sumo wrestlers doing “ritual shiko exercise”, with attention paid to the dohyo rice ring in this “honored Japanese sport”. Cue the banging of gongs and the occasional shakuhachi flute…)
Why does this keep happening? My theory is that it is due to the politics of religiosity. For when you treat Japanese culture as a religion, the terms of debate change, putting rationality, logic, and overall fairness on their back foot.
Consider this excerpt from Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”, between pp. 20 and 23:
//////////////////////////////////////////////// A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts — the non-religious included — is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to any other. Douglas Adams put it so well, in an impromptu speech made in Cambridge shortly before his death, that I never tire of sharing his words:
“Religion… has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? — because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody think taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that’.
“Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative prty, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows — but to have an opinion about how the Universe… no, that’s holy? … We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore Richard creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you’re not allowed to say these things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.”…
[Dawkins continues further down:] If the advocates of apartheid had their wits about them they would claim — for all I know truthfully — that allowing mixed races is against their religion. A good part of the opposition would respectfully tiptoe away. And it is no use claiming that this is an unfair parallel because apartheid has no rational justification. The whole point of religious faith, its strength and chief glory, is that it does not depend on rational justification. The rest of us are expected to defend our prejudices. But ask a religious person to justify their faith and you infringe “religious liberty”.
This is why appeals to “Japaneseness” so many times take on a religious overtone. Why does the National Geographic feel the need to interview a priest as some sort of source about world rice? Allegedly, “because Japanese rice is as essential fundamental to the Japanese people as their kokoro“. Presto! It’s off the subject table for rational debate. Because once you criticize Japan’s rice policy, apparently Japanese are hard-wired to take it as a personal affront. After all, there IS so much pressure to somehow, somewhere, say something “nice” about Japan — especially if you’re being any way critical. For balance, some might say, but I would say it is because we feel the pressure to treat Japan more kid-glovey than we would, say, China, Russia, or any other nation, really. Why? Out of reverence for how somehow “special” Japan is.
I believe Japan is neither exceptional nor special (no more special than any other society), and it should be exposed to the same terms of critique and debate as anyone else. Yet it gets a free pass, as I saw during the Otaru Onsens Case, where for example many bought into the “foreigners must be excluded” thanks in part in reverence to some arguments being made, in paraphrase, were “Japanese baths are a very special place for Japanese people, and if they want those kept pristine and exclusive only for those who really understand Japanese bathing culture, then so be it.” No need to treat people equally just because they’re people anymore. Only those born with the sacerdotal kokoro need apply to bathe in these now holy waters.
This is my Xmas present to Debito.org Readers: Look at Japan-related discourse now through the lens of religious discourse. Watch the kid gloves come on. It is a very careful and deliberate means to defang political debate and stymie change in this society which badly needs it.
Again, “Japaneseness” as a religion with all the trappings — an analytical thought process in progress on Debito.org. Arudou Debito
Well, actually only one was in black, the other just had on a shirt and tie. Two men from the immigration office – waiting in their car across the street when I got home from shopping at about 3pm.
They show me their ID badges and say they are here to do a checkup on my application for permanent residency that I submitted in August. They give me a piece of paper to sign saying that I give them permission to come into the house and have a look round. I have had no warning they would be coming so it is just pure luck I’m not still in my PJs squiffing wine and watching horny housewife porn on an illegal streaming site.
The first thing they do is take a photo of the array of shoes in the genkan – focussing on the kids shoes. They ask me questions about the kids, where Granny K sleeps and then come into the lounge where they take a photo of the fire – the DVDs and the lego on the mantlepiece above it. We haven’t used the fire this season yet but when we do all the toys and shit will go and the big metal guard will come out – they asked about it. I offered to show them but that wasn’t necessary.
Then they wanted to know where the kids clothes were – as if shoes, lego, DVDs, and a pile of unfolded kids laundry on the sofa wasn’t enough. He even took a picture of a pulled out drawer with kids clothes in it.
I then got quizzed on the futon downstairs – was that the master bedroom? No, I said, it is where I am sleeping cause I’ve got a hacking cough and no point keeping hub up as well. Oh, so you and your hub aren’t sleeping in the same room? No, but we do usually. Would you like to see our bedroom – its upstairs.
So up we go where more photos are taken of our bedroom (bed miraculously made) and kids bedrooms. They inquire about the black and white photo of my parents when they were 20, don’t ask about the empty suitcase out in the hall but do ask about the big backpack by the front door. Hiking? No, that’s an evacuation kit. He wrote something down.
Am presuming it was highly safety conscious gaijin, with relatively clean house who obviously dislikes laundry and sleeping with her husband. Does appear to have all three children as stated on application…
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Hi Blog. Second in this series of arbitrary bureaucratic rule in Japan: Debito.org Reader J sends me this post about the tribulations he’s had getting his Permanent Residency, and how Immigration Bureau bureaucrats feel they are within their mandate to ignore the letter of the law. According to J, even when you show them their guidelines are unlawful under the law, they have replied, “That’s just a law.” Which of course calls into question the rule of law in Japan, and bureaucrats’ attitudes towards being constrained by legislation meant to preserve the consent of the governed in a democracy. Arudou Debito
November 8, 2011
Hi Debito, how’s it going? Who do you think is a good lawyer that has appealed a PR declination successfully before?
I think I have an undeniable open-and-shut appeal case in which the courts will most likely overturn an immigration officer’s illegal decline of Permanent Residency.
(Perhaps you remember, I had a car accident once 5 years ago in which I committed a crime – I received probation, since thankfully no people were hurt, only cars damaged.)
What makes [my] PR decline obviously “illegal” is that the following Law was ignored: (1) 素行が善良であること (2) 独立の生計を営むに足りる資産又は技能を有すること (3) その者の永住が日本国の利益に合すると認められること （注）日本人，永住者又は特別永住者の配偶者又は子の場合は，(1)及び(2)に適合することを要しない。 #1 reason for declination is: having committed a crime. #2 reason for declination is: being financially too poor. #3 reason for declination is: not being a profit to Japan. The Law then nicely goes on to state that reason #1 and reason #2 can NOT be used to decline spouses of Japanese citizens.
So, this means that if an immigration officer wants to legally decline Permanent Residency to a spouse of a Japanese citizen, he is REQUIRED to claim reason #3.
My case is: I’m married to a Japanese citizen (7 years) and yet the immigration officer declined my Permanent Residence using reason #1, “previous conviction”.
So again, who do you think is a good lawyer? I’m willing to pay his standard price, plus, a 500,000 yen bonus upon successfully overturning this illegal refusal of PR. Please let me know if you have any good ideas of who I should call. Sincerely, J
November 8, 2011
Hi Debito. Turns out I don’t need a lawyer after all.
Whoever wrote the original Law saying that reason #1 and reason #2 can NOT be used to decline spouses of Japanese citizens, their goal was clear: to let foreigners married to Japanese citizens become Permanent Residents, regardless of whether they were convicted criminals, or poor, or both.
But then, some bureaucrats within immigration with the opposite goal (limiting PRs) decided to write some new “Guidelines” which say the exact opposite.
These new “Guidelines” (which the Unelected bureaucrats proclaim “trumps” the Laws written by Elected Lawmakers) say that reason #3 includes convictions.
But now, check out this crafty Heisei 15/16 “update” to the immigration Guidelines (added by unelected immigration bureaucrats) look at the ア、イ、ウ、オ additions: (1) 素行が善良であること 法律を遵守し日常生活においても住民として社会的に非難されることのない生活を営んでいること (2) 独立生計を営むに足りる資産又は技能を有すること 日常生活において公共の負担にならず，その有する資産又は技能等から見て将来において安定した生活が見込まれること (3) その者の永住が日本国の利益に合すると認められること ア 原則として引き続き１０年以上本邦に在留していること。ただし，この期間のうち，就労資格又は居住資格をもって引き続き５年以上在留していることを要する。 イ 罰金刑や懲役刑などを受けていないこと。納税義務等公的義務を履行していること。 ウ 現に有している在留資格について，出入国管理及び難民認定法施行規則別表第２に規定されている最長の在留期間をもって在留していること。 エ 公衆衛生上の観点から有害となるおそれがないこと http://www.moj.go.jp/nyuukokukanri/kouhou/nyukan_nyukan50.html
Cute. So since the door was opened “too wide” by the original Law, just type up some “Guidelines” that moves the “crime disqualification” from reason #1 into reason #3, et voila!
Now, if I go to court, the court can simply say, “Well, according to this Heisei 15/16 update/addition to the immigration Guidelines (penned by Unelected bureaucrats) you lose. Boom.”
But, your honor, “reason #1” means “didn’t follow the law” (and “reason #1” doesn’t apply to spouses of Japanese citizens) so how can “didn’t follow the law” be added to “reason #3”?
Guidelines written by Unelected bureaucrats are REVERSING and TRUMPING the Laws written by Elected Lawmakers, plus let’s remember that these Guidelines are usually secret.
For example: the LAW says that Passports only have to be shown to immigration officers, but new GUIDELINES say that every Gaikokujin (for example: your single foreigner cousin, living in your house, with a valid visa, NOT RECEIVING KODOMO TEATE [child allowance]) must come allow the Kodomo Teate Section to copy his Passport, or else the couple with kids are penalized.
Perhaps your single foreigner cousin, living in your house, with a valid visa, NOT RECEIVING KODOMO TEATE, refuses to let some “Kodomo Teate city worker” to copy his Passport?
According to the new Kodomo Teate Guidelines, if ANY Gaikokujin living in the house refuses to hand over his Passport, the Kodomo Teate will be taken away from the couple with kids.
So now the couple with children must force any Gaikokujin roommates they are living with to submit to this unlawful new guideline, or else the couple with children will be penalized.
The couple with children do NOT have to ask their Japanese roommates to submit anything, this unlawful new guideline doesn’t dare ask JAPANESE citizens to show their passport.
The reasoning for this guideline is “foreigners spend Kodomo Teate money vacationing in Thailand, but Japanese citizens would never do that, so we don’t check Japanese passports.”
Try asking the Kodomo Teate section for a copy of this new Guideline, they won’t give a copy of it, they won’t even show it to you, because, “Our Guidelines are secret.” Seriously. (!)
Laws made by the Kokkaigin say that we DON’T have to show our Passport except to immigration officers and when getting our ARC, but: new Guidelines say Kodomo Teate as well.
If you are a Japanese person receiving Kodomo Teate, with a non-Japanese living in your house, the new Guidelines say ALL Gaikokujin MUST come show their Passport – or else.
Do the Elected Lawmakers know that their will has been reversed and trumped? Do the Elected Lawmakers know that these new guidelines are in direct conflict with national Laws?
My conversation recently with an immigration official summed it up perfectly, when I read him the Law stating that reason #1 can’t be used against me, he said, “That’s just a law!”
I couldn’t believe it, this officer actually said, in front of his co-workers, “それはただの法律だけ！” His tone was perfectly clear, “WE make the decisions around here, not laws.”
So, nevermind my request for a lawyer, I can see that since the bureaucrats within immigration have craftily moved crime from reason #1 down to reason #3, I can’t get PR, oh well.
Currently in Japan (in my opinion the best country relative to others) a sad state admittedly exists where Guidelines trump Laws: Unelected bureaucrats trump elected lawmakers.
Thanks anyway for the good work you do. Sincerely, J 🙂
PS – I wonder how the majority of Japanese citizens would feel about a Law that says, “From now, only Elected Lawmakers (and publicly-voted initiatives) can create Laws. And any Guidelines written by unelected bureaucrats CANNOT conflict with those Laws. Plus all Guidelines written by unelected bureaucrats must be Public: no Secret Guidelines.”
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Hi Blog. As we start the countdown to the end of the year, let’s turn to feedback from Debito.org Readers who have written in over the months to talk about the arbitrariness of Japan’s bureaucracy towards NJ. First off, check this out:
December 5, 2011
Hello! I love your site, first off, as it makes me feel like my frustrations, my concerns, all of it are understood by someone else. Thanks.
My fiance and I went to get married today, and from the second we walked in the door it was: “…oh.” I understand that there have been many occasions of abuse of the system, but my fiance called the offices to ask what we needed to register. We took everything, but the second we walked in the door, it all changed.
My fiance tried to convince me it was HIS fault that the office needed more “proof”. I told him to not give me a load of BS, and eventually he admitted that the staff even told him point blank: “Look, it’s different because you are marrying a foreigner. If she were Japanese you wouldn’t have this problem, but she’s a foreigner.”
We brought every single document that they asked for. He called, made a checklist, and we brought it with us. Now they need everything from all of my “foreign proof and documentation” translated, extra stamps, his parents permission for him to marry me, etc. They told him none of that would be needed when he called, but when it came time to actually “seal the deal”, and we were standing in front of them, that is what we were told. We double checked with my embassy, etc, and we got told the same thing: “You don’t need any of that in your ward, just what you already have”. The items they ask for aren’t even on the ward’s website.
What should I do, as I don’t feel this should be allowed. I looked at your site, but didn’t see it mentioned about what one should do if it is a governmental institution itself.
I’ve dealt with so many sideways looks, been asked not to enter into establishments down south, etc, all because I am not good enough. I am “gaijin”. I’m not sure how you take it. My Japanese professor in college told me he left after 20 years, despite having a fiance, as he couldn’t take it. No matter what he did, he was still always “gaijin”. I understand, finally, what he means.
You are a strong, strong person for having been here so long. My hat is off, permanently, to you. K
December 5, 2011
Hello K. What kind of a place was this? A country bumpkin area, a city ward office? It might take an hour or so to register, but no, none of this is required. My belief if that you got bum staff that day who don’t know what they’re doing (problem is, I don’t think the staff will change from day to day). My best suggestion is that you change ward offices (reregister your husband’s honseki at a different address, via a family member; someplace more modern and used to international marriages). Marriage in Japan is supposed to be pretty easy, comparatively.
Shall I blog this for more advice from others? I will anonymize your name, of course. Just make it clearer what kind of place this is (even if you don’t give the exact location). Please let me know. Bests, Debito
To which K replied:
December 5, 2011
Hello and thank you for replying so quickly. I know you must be a very busy person. I appreciate it.
Actually, it was in Edogawa-ku, Tokyo. I came home so mad I could spit, and bitter at the country. I was searching the Internet for advice about discrimination in Japan. I’d looked at your blog, but didn’t see information about discrimination by a government service so was checking elsewhere. You are, however, the only good site with good, current information that I could find, so I decided to email.
It is pretty surprising though, right? I’d expect Tokyo, and Edogawa-ku which is a family area, of all places, to have a more liberal view.
Please blog about it, if you’d like, as I’m interested if other Tokyoites have experienced the same. My fiancé said a lot of foreign women like me, but who wanted to become hostesses or some such, have abused the system so he was expecting some hassle. I say: why should it matter where I am from? Why should the system be so vastly different for foreigner and Japanese marriage in the first place?
I think what insulted me the most was the staff saying to him that the reason it was different because he was marrying a foreigner, straight to his face.
By the way, this was a separate office/branch of the city ward that only dealt with marriages and moving/change of residency. Thank you again! K
COMMENT: So, what are experiences of others out there? I certainly didn’t have this rigmarole, but I got married all the way back in 1989. My impression from others has always been that it’s pretty easy to get married in Japan to a Japanese, period. Have things recently changed? Arudou Debito
This is why we have press cartels in Japan to keep it quiet, since the ineptness of and obfuscation by the GOJ (with little apparent hope for things being fixed) makes for depressing reading. This in a domestic media that wants the public and the world to think “nice things about Japan”. Too bad. What’s happening is not nice at all, and without a full and frank public assessment, as I have argued before, people are going to get hurt in the afterglow.
From: H-Japan Editor Date: 10 December, 2011 To: H-JAPAN@H-NET.MSU.EDU Subject: H-Japan (E): More attempts at decontamination Reply-To: H-NET/KIAPS List for Japanese History
H-JAPAN December 10, 2011
Date: Sun, 11 Dec 2011 From: David H. Slater Subject: More attempts at decontamination
As decontamination continues, here are a few recent articles.
“Residents exposed to high doses of radiation” in the Yomiuri: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T111209006244.htm
Here is the goverment’s review of radiation exposure for residents. “A Fukushima prefectural government survey on residents’ external radiation exposure showed those in government-set evacuation zones were likely exposed to annualized radiation doses of up to 14 millisieverts, government sources said Friday.” The government-set
annual limit is 1 millisievert, which means relief workers must limit
their digging time.
“SDF battling with brooms, brushes”, the Yomiuri. http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T111209006358.htm
Here is a review of the SDF (Self-Defense Forces) and their uneven and
slow attempts to clear irradiated soil. It seems that they carry as
little protection as many of the ad-hoc volunteer groups. Some of the
work was outsourced to private companies, but all of the different
groups mostly work with shovels and buckets. “‘There’s no magical way to decontaminate the areas instantly. Our job is to prove our technology, even though it’s low-tech,’ said an official of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which is jointly conducting the decontamination project with the central government.” And “A dosimeter briefly displayed radiation levels of seven to eight microsieverts per hour during the cleanup. The central government has set a goal of lowering the radiation level to 20 millisieverts per year and 3.8 microsieverts per hour in the contaminated zones.”
Here is the New York Times article that gives a broader scope to the
issues, and problems, of decontamination. Fackler writes, “So far, the government is following a pattern set since the nuclear accident, dismissing dangers, often prematurely, and laboring to minimize the scope of the catastrophe. Already, the trial cleanups have stalled: the government failed to anticipate communities’ reluctance to store tons of soil to be scraped from contaminated yards and fields.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/07/world/asia/japans-huge-nuclear-cleanup-makes-returning-home-a-goal.html
A Fukushima prefectural government survey on residents’ external radiation exposure showed those in government-set evacuation zones were likely exposed to annualized radiation doses of up to 14 millisieverts, government sources said Friday.
This is the first statistical data indicating external radiation exposure among people living around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The prefectural government sent questionnaires to about 29,000 residents from Iitatemura, Namiemachi and the Yamakiya area in Kawamatamachi, which are designated as in either a no-entry zone or expanded evacuation zone, between late June and mid-July, ahead of those in other areas. The survey covered the four months after the crisis began.
The figure is based on analysis of questionnaires from 1,730 people who responded early. The prefectural Fukushima Medical University and the National Institute of Radiological Sciences analyzed the results of the survey.
About half of the surveyed residents from the three municipalities are believed to have been exposed to external radiation of at least the government-set annual limit of 1 millisievert, according to the sources.
While the prefecture projected the annualized external radiation exposure would be up to 5 millisieverts for most residents, the figure was 10 millisieverts or higher for about 10 residents.
Among those examined, a Fukushima plant worker was estimated to have been exposed to a maximum annualized dose of 37 millisieverts, while the highest dose among non-plant workers was 14 millisieverts. The resident is suspected to have gone through a highly contaminated area at the time of evacuation, according to the sources.
The prefectural government has been conducting health surveys on those who lived in the prefecture when the crisis broke out at the plant.
The prefectural government plans to release the survey results by the end of December.
Meanwhile, the city government of Koriyama, also in the prefecture, announced Thursday four primary and middle school students’ cumulative radiation exposure exceeded 0.40 millisievert in the month from Oct. 5. The dose translates into an annualized dose of 4 millisieverts or more, city officials said.
The data was obtained from measurements by dosimeters that gauge cumulative radiation exposure. The city government distributed the dosimeters to 25,551 primary and middle school students. The cumulative radiation exposure levels among the students ranged between 0.01 millisieverts and 0.45 millisieverts, the city said.
“Experts told us the figures [for the four students] do not represent health problems, but we’d like to question the students to find out why their radiation exposure levels were high,” a city official said.
The International Commission on Radiological Protection sets the annual limit for radiation exposure at 20 to 100 millisieverts at the time of an emergency and 1 to 20 millisieverts after the disaster has been contained.
Dai Adachi and Setsuko Kitaguchi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers (Dec. 10, 2011)
TOMIOKAMACHI, Fukushima–Self-Defense Forces members have begun decontamination work in the no-entry and expanded evacuation zones in Fukushima Prefecture, using only such low-tech implements as brooms, deck brushes and shovels.
The central government has commissioned private companies to do decontamination work in some areas on a trial basis, but they, too, lack sophisticated resources, and some Environment Ministry officials involved with the decontamination work are frustrated by its slow pace.
“The areas to be decontaminated are so wide. I wonder when the radiation levels will go down so residents can return home,” one official said.
As cold rain fell Thursday, decontamination work by SDF personnel was shown to the media in Tomiokamachi, about nine kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Some SDF members used brooms to gather fallen leaves, while others trimmed weeds growing under trees or shoveled mud from ditches.
At a first glance, it looked like a peaceful scene at a park. However, the about 300 SDF members were entirely covered by white protective suits, large surgical masks and green gloves.
On the third-floor balcony of the town office, several personnel used buckets and rope to lower bags of gravel taken from the office’s roof.
“We’ve no choice but to do this by hand,” an SDF official said.
SDF personnel also dug up soil in a 3,400-square-meter plot of grassland contaminated with radioactive substances, and carefully cleansed asphalt-covered areas such as a parking lot with high-pressure water sprayers.
A dosimeter briefly displayed radiation levels of seven to eight microsieverts per hour during the cleanup. The central government has set a goal of lowering the radiation level to 20 millisieverts per year and 3.8 microsieverts per hour in the contaminated zones.
SDF members will be engaged in the work for about two weeks.
“To attain the goal, we’ll have to make our personnel finish a substantial amount of work,” an SDF senior official said.
The central government asked the SDF to do the decontamination work as an advance party, with the aim of securing rest areas for private decontamination companies and bases to store materials before the government starts a full-fledged decontamination project in 12 municipalities in the no-entry and expanded evacuation zones from January.
About 900 SDF members currently are involved in that work at municipal offices in Tomiokamachi, Namiemachi, Narahamachi and Iitatemura of the prefecture.
“If we commissioned private companies to do the preparations, it would take about 2-1/2 months because we have to make an official notice and hold a bid. We wanted to secure at least storage bases by the end of this year,” said Satoshi Takayama, parliamentary secretary of the Environment Ministry.
At some places in the zones, the central government has commissioned private companies to do the decontamination, in model projects to find effective measures to rid the areas of radiation.
However, these model projects also lack high-tech equipment.
“There’s no magical way to decontaminate the areas instantly. Our job is to prove our technology, even though it’s low-tech,” said an official of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which is jointly conducting the decontamination project with the central government.
Some local governments in the zones still cannot start decontamination at all.
According to the agency, decontamination has begun at only five municipalities because it takes time to reach an agreement with local governments and residents over the establishment of temporary places to store removed soil and other matter.
Futabamachi, which hosts the nuclear power plant, has not yet agreed to hold an explanatory meeting on the decontamination work.
“It’s meaningless to hold [an explanatory meeting] at this stage as [decontamination] technology has yet to be established,” an official of the municipal government said.
Decontamination activities also are affected by the weather. If work is conducted in heavy rain, for example, removed soil will be washed away, which could spread radioactive materials.
Decontamination cannot be conducted if snow piles up because the snow will throw off radiation readings and workers might scrape away more soil than necessary.
The decontamination of roads and highways will be given priority and start in January, followed by residential areas including private houses.
However, a concrete operation schedule for the project has yet to be decided, as are specific instructions to private companies.
It still is not certain how long it will be before residents can return home.
“Not all the places have high radiation levels. There must be areas where people can return comparatively earlier. However, the targeted areas are large, so it will take a substantial time for some areas,” a ministry official said.
FUTABA, Japan — Futaba is a modern-day ghost town — not a boomtown gone bust, not even entirely a victim of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that leveled other parts of Japan’s northeast coast.
Its traditional wooden homes have begun to sag and collapse since they were abandoned in March by residents fleeing the nuclear plant on the edge of town that began spiraling toward disaster. Roofs possibly damaged by the earth’s shaking have let rain seep in, starting the rot that is eating at the houses from the inside.
The roadway arch at the entrance to the empty town almost seems a taunt. It reads:
“Nuclear energy: a correct understanding brings a prosperous lifestyle.”
Those who fled Futaba are among the nearly 90,000 people evacuated from a 12-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant and another area to the northwest contaminated when a plume from the plant scattered radioactive cesium and iodine.
Now, Japan is drawing up plans for a cleanup that is both monumental and unprecedented, in the hopes that those displaced can go home.
The debate over whether to repopulate the area, if trial cleanups prove effective, has become a proxy for a larger battle over the future of Japan. Supporters see rehabilitating the area as a chance to showcase the country’s formidable determination and superior technical skills — proof that Japan is still a great power.
For them, the cleanup is a perfect metaphor for Japan’s rebirth.
Critics counter that the effort to clean Fukushima Prefecture could end up as perhaps the biggest of Japan’s white-elephant public works projects — and yet another example of post-disaster Japan reverting to the wasteful ways that have crippled economic growth for two decades.
So far, the government is following a pattern set since the nuclear accident, dismissing dangers, often prematurely, and laboring to minimize the scope of the catastrophe. Already, the trial cleanups have stalled: the government failed to anticipate communities’ reluctance to store tons of soil to be scraped from contaminated yards and fields.
And a radiation specialist who tested the results of an extensive local cleanup in a nearby city found that exposure levels remained above international safety standards for long-term habitation.
Even a vocal supporter of repatriation suggests that the government has not yet leveled with its people about the seriousness of their predicament.
“I believe it is possible to save Fukushima,” said the supporter, Tatsuhiko Kodama, director of the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo. “But many evacuated residents must accept that it won’t happen in their lifetimes.”
To judge the huge scale of what Japan is contemplating, consider that experts say residents can return home safely only after thousands of buildings are scrubbed of radioactive particles and much of the topsoil from an area the size of Connecticut is replaced.
Even forested mountains will probably need to be decontaminated, which might necessitate clear-cutting and literally scraping them clean.
The Soviet Union did not attempt such a cleanup after the Chernobyl accident of 1986, the only nuclear disaster larger than that at Fukushima Daiichi. The government instead relocated about 300,000 people, abandoning vast tracts of farmland.
Many Japanese officials believe that they do not have that luxury; the area contaminated above an international safety standard for the general public covers more than an estimated 3 percent of the landmass of this densely populated nation.
“We are different from Chernobyl,” said Toshitsuna Watanabe, 64, the mayor of Okuma, one of the towns that was evacuated. “We are determined to go back. Japan has the will and the technology to do this.”
Such resolve reflects, in part, a deep attachment to home for rural Japanese like Mr. Watanabe, whose family has lived in Okuma for 19 generations. Their heartfelt appeals to go back have won wide sympathy across Japan, making it hard for people to oppose their wishes.
But quiet resistance has begun to grow, both among those who were displaced and those who fear the country will need to sacrifice too much without guarantees that a multibillion-dollar cleanup will provide enough protection.
Soothing pronouncements by local governments and academics about the eventual ability to live safely near the ruined plant can seem to be based on little more than hope.
No one knows how much exposure to low doses of radiation causes a significant risk of premature death. That means Japanese living in contaminated areas are likely to become the subjects of future studies — the second time in seven decades that Japanese have become a test case for the effects of radiation exposure, after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The national government has declared itself responsible for cleaning up only the towns in the evacuation zone; local governments have already begun cleaning cities and towns outside that area.
Inside the 12-mile ring, which includes Futaba, the Environmental Ministry has pledged to reduce radiation levels by half within two years — a relatively easy goal because short-lived isotopes will deteriorate. The bigger question is how long it will take to reach the ultimate goal of bringing levels down to about 1 millisievert per year, the annual limit for the general public from artificial sources of radiation that is recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. That is a much more daunting task given that it will require removing cesium 137, an isotope that will remain radioactive for decades.
Trial cleanups have been delayed for months by the search for a storage site for enough contaminated dirt to fill 33 domed football stadiums. Even evacuated communities have refused to accept it.
And Tomoya Yamauchi, the radiation expert from Kobe University who performed tests in Fukushima City after extensive remediation efforts, found that radiation levels inside homes had dropped by only about 25 percent. That left parts of the city with levels of radiation four times higher than the recommended maximum exposure.
“We can only conclude that these efforts have so far been a failure,” he said.
Minamisoma, a small city whose center sits about 15 miles from the nuclear plant, is a good place to get a sense of the likely limitations of decontamination efforts.
The city has cleaned dozens of schools, parks and sports facilities in hopes of enticing back the 30,000 of its 70,000 residents who have yet to return since the accident. On a recent morning, a small army of bulldozers and dump trucks were resurfacing a high school soccer field and baseball diamond with a layer of reddish brown dirt. Workers buried the old topsoil in a deep hole in a corner of the soccer field. The crew’s overseer, Masahiro Sakura, said readings at the field had dropped substantially, but he remains anxious because many parts of the city were not expected to be decontaminated for at least two years.
These days, he lets his three young daughters outdoors only to go to school and play in a resurfaced park. “Is it realistic to live like this?” he asked.
The challenges are sure to be more intense inside the 12-mile zone, where radiation levels in some places have reached nearly 510 millisieverts a year, 25 times above the cutoff for evacuation.
Already, the proposed repatriation has opened rifts among those who have been displaced. The 11,500 displaced residents of Okuma — many of whom now live in rows of prefabricated homes 60 miles inland — are enduring just such a divide.
The mayor, Mr. Watanabe, has directed the town to draw up its own plan to return to its original location within three to five years by building a new town on farmland in Okuma’s less contaminated western edge.
Although Mr. Watanabe won a recent election, his challenger found significant support among residents with small children for his plan to relocate to a different part of Japan. Mitsue Ikeda, one supporter, said she would never go home, especially after a medical exam showed that her 8-year-old son, Yuma, had ingested cesium.
“It’s too dangerous,” Ms. Ikeda, 47, said. “How are we supposed to live, by wearing face masks all the time?”
She, like many other evacuees, berated the government, saying it was fixated on cleaning up to avoid paying compensation.
Many older residents, by contrast, said they should be allowed to return.
“Smoking cigarettes is more dangerous than radiation,” said Eiichi Tsukamoto, 70, who worked at the Daiichi plant for 40 years as a repairman. “We can make Okuma a model to the world of how to restore a community after a nuclear accident.”
But even Mr. Kodama, the radiation expert who supports a government cleanup, said such a victory would be hollow, and short-lived if young people did not return. He suggested that the government start rebuilding communities by rebuilding trust eroded over months of official evasion.
“Saving Fukushima requires not just money and effort, but also faith,” he said. “There is no point if only older people go back.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 9, 2011
An earlier version of this article said the evacuation zone covered more than 3 percent of Japan’s landmass; in fact it is the area contaminated above an international safety standard for the general public that covers roughly 3 percent of the country’s landmass.
Japan looks to giant washer to clean Fukushima debris
TOKYO, December 2, 2011 (AFP) – Japan is looking to launder tsunami debris in a giant washing machine to get rid of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident, a researcher said Friday.
In a scheme they hope will result in finally being able to dispose of contaminated waste left by the waves that crushed towns on the country’s northeast coast, a cleaning plant will be built near the Fukushima Daiichi power station.
Shredded waste — including the remains of houses and cars destroyed by the tsunami — will be put inside a huge water-filled drum where steel attachments will scrub away radioactive particles, the researcher told AFP.
The plan is a joint scheme between Tokyo-based construction company Toda Corp. and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.
“We, as a general contractor, have experience of cleaning soil and hope that we will eventually be able to decontaminate soil as well as debris,” said a research at Toda Corp, who asked not to be named.
He said researchers will experiment with pure water and detergents to find the best way to decontaminate the waste and hope to be able to recycle the water using a series of filters.
In an initial test they will use a tub 120 centimetres (four feet) long and plan to install multiple washing drums three times larger than that once the project fully launches, he said.
Large areas around the Fukushima plant have been left contaminated with radiation since the tsunami of March 11 knocked out its cooling systems and sent reactors into meltdown.
The world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl has not directly claimed any lives, but has left tens of thousands of people displaced and rendered whole towns uninhabitable, possibly for decades.
The radiation that has leaked from the crippled reactors has contaminated the waste left behind by the tsunami, complicating the clean-up operation.
The Japanese government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power have pledged to bring the reactors to a state of cold shutdown by the end of the year.
Government planners have said radiation-contaminated debris could be stored in a facility in Fukushima prefecture for at least 30 years until its final destination is determined.
Tepco may dump decontaminated water from Fukushima plant into sea
TOKYO Dec 8 (Reuters) – The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant said on Thursday that it is considering dumping water it treated for radiation contamination into the ocean as early as March, prompting protests from fishing groups.
Tokyo Electric Power, (Tepco) the utility operating Fukushima’s Daiichi plant hit by a powerful tsunami in March in the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years, said it was running out of space to store some of the water it treated at the plant due to an inflow of groundwater.
“We would like to increase the number of tanks to accommodate the water but it will be difficult to do so indefinitely,” Tepco spokesman Junichi Matsumoto told reporters, adding the plant was likely to reach its storage capacity around March.
The admission is a setback for the utility which appeared to be making progress in its cleanup after building a cooling system that no longer required pumping in vast amounts of water. It also built a system, drawing on French, U.S. and Japanese technology, that decontaminates the vast pool of tainted runoff to supply the cooling system with water.
The company said representatives of a nationwide federation of fishing cooperatives on Thursday visited its Tokyo headquarters to protest.
Tepco said it is still assessing the potential environmental impact of releasing the accumulating water, but that if forced to do so it would discharge water expected to have the least effect the environment.
Tens of thousands tons of water contaminated with radiation have accumulated at the plant, 240 kilometres (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo after early on in the crisis Tepco tried to cool reactors that suffered nuclear fuel meltdowns by pouring in water, much of it from the sea.
“Our priority is also to look for ways to limit the inflow of groundwater into the buildings at the plant,” Matsumoto said.
The operator estimates that due to the inflow the amount of water requiring storage is increasing by 200 to 500 tonnes every day.
The utility released more than 10,000 tonnes of water tainted with low levels of radiation in April to free up space for water that had much higher levels of radioactivity, drawing sharp criticism from neighboring countries such as South Korea and China. (Editing by Tomasz Janowski)
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Hi Blog. A bit of a tangent, but an important one, as it’s a watershed moment. I saw some news three days ago that made me say out loud, “That’s torn it. The System is irredeemable.” According to the BBC and the SMH below, we have relief efforts that should be going towards helping its own citizens recover from a tsunami and botched corrupt nuclear disaster going towards a GOJ pet project, a corrupt one that essentially exists to thumb its nose at the world: whaling. Yes, whaling.
People might have excused the GOJ for botched relief efforts up to now because a) the scale of the disaster is unprecedented or facing too many unknowns, b) the infrastructure was too damaged for efficient cleanup and rescue, c) things just take time and money to fix. But there is NO excuse for diverting money away from relief efforts for this kind of vanity project. It’s porkbarrel at the expense of a slowly-poisoned public.
As coroner, I must aver: The GOJ has bankrupted Japan morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably. Arudou Debito
UPDATE: NB to Commenters: Please avoid getting the discussion bogged down in the petty politics of whaling (this has been discussed on much better forums). This is not a blog post about whaling per se, rather about GOJ corruption and money earmarked for disaster relief purposes being sunk into what is in this blogger’s opinion an unrelated industry. If you wish to debate cogently whether or not this activity counts as corruption, go ahead. But tangents and snipes about alleged ocean terrorism, Sea Shepherd tactics etc. will not be approved.
Japan has used funds from its tsunami recovery budget to subsidise its controversial annual whaling programme, environmental activists say.
Greenpeace says 2.3bn yen ($30m; £19m) is being used to fund extra security measures for the whaling fleet.
Japanese officials argued when they applied for extra funding that whaling helped coastal communities.
The whaling fleet reportedly headed for Antarctic waters this week, though Tokyo has not confirmed the reports.
There has been a ban on commercial whaling for 25 years, but Japan catches about 1,000 whales each year in what it says is a scientific research programme.
Critics say those claims are just a cover for a commercial operation, and accuse the Japanese of hunting the animals to the brink of extinction only for food.
Activists from the Sea Shepherd group have attacked the fleet as part of their campaign against whaling.
Last year Japanese abandoned its programme before it was completed, citing “harassment” from the group.
Earlier this year, the Japanese Fisheries Agency applied to the government for extra funding for its programme from the emergency budget aimed at helping communities recover from the devastating tsunami and earthquake.
The agency argued that some of the towns and villages affected relied on whaling for their livelihoods.
Activists say the agency’s funding request was approved and it has spent the money on extra security and covering its debts.
Junichi Sato, from Greenpeace Japan, told Australia’s ABC that there was no link between the whaling programme and the tsunami recovery.
“It is simply used to cover the debts of the whaling programme, because the whaling programme itself has been suffering from big financial problems,” he said.
The Australian and New Zealand governments have both criticised Japan’s decision to continue whaling.
They are both considering sending vessels to monitor the whaling fleet.
Sea Shepherd activists have promised to carry on their campaign against the whaling fleet.
A growing number of Japanese environmental and consumer groups are joining in protest against the use of disaster recovery funds to subsidise the loss-making whaling fleet.
The government recently gave the whalers 2.28 billion yen ($28.5 million) as part of a special budget for recovery from the March 11 triple disaster. Mr Kaz Inadome from the Japanese Consulate said no money from the disaster relief funds collected in Australia had been used. All that money had gone to the Red Cross in Japan.
Much of the extra funding will go towards security forces for the whaling fleet, which left Japan yesterday for the Antarctic, where conflict is expected with Sea Shepherd activists.
A total of 18 Japanese non-government organisations, including the Environmental Lawyers Federation and Consumers Union have signed on to a protest letter to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
“We demand the government not waste any more taxpayers’ money on the whaling program, but instead spend this money on projects that actually help the people, communities and region affected by the tragic March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis,” the letter said.
“It is clear that the Japanese government’s stated goal of resuming commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean is unachievable. The whaling program cannot survive without taxpayer handouts.”
Greenpeace Japan distributed the letter, because, according to executive director, Junichi Sato: “This is a new low for the shameful whaling industry and the callous politicians that support it.”
However, the Fisheries Agency of Japan said the funding was necessary because some traditional whaling communities were devastated on March 11.
Senior Agriculture and Fisheries vice-minister Nobutaka Tsutsui told a review committee recently the government was determined to continue its research program until it led to the resumption of commercial whaling.
Mr Kaz Inadome from the Japanese Consulate said no money from the disaster relief fund had been used.
Japan’s Antarctic whaling fleet has left port on its annual hunt, seeking to kill 900 minke whales and 50 fin whales for what it claims are ‘scientific research’ purposes. (The meat from the hunt is sold commercially.)
The hunt, already controversial, has attracted greater ire from critics with an admission by the Japanese government that it is using funds earmarked for earthquake and tsunami reconstruction to subsidize the fleet’s operations.
Greenpeace accused the government of diverting 2.28 billion yen (US$30m) from the earthquake recovery fund to help pay for this year’s hunt.
“It is absolutely disgraceful for the Japanese government to pump yet more taxpayer money on an unneeded, unwanted and economically unviable whaling programme, when funds are desperately needed for recovery efforts,” said Junichi Sato, the executive director of Greenpeace Japan, to The Guardian newspaper.
Japan’s Fisheries Agency stated that the money would be used for “stabilising whale research.” In the words of one official: “We will bolster measures against acts of sabotage by anti-whaling groups so as to stably carry out the Antarctic whaling research.”
That was a reference to the fact that last year’s hunt was called off a month early, with the fleet having caught only 172 whales, which the Fisheries Agency blamed on the attentions of Sea Shepherd. Japan’s Coast Guard stated that it would be sending an unspecified number of vessels to escort the whaling fleet. Some domestic news reports indicated that there would be two escorts.
Fisheries Agency official Tatsuya Nakaoku justified the use of funds by claiming that a successful whaling program would help ensure the recovery of some coastal towns devastated by this year’s tsunami.
“The government will support the reconstruction effort of a whaling town and nearby areas,” he told AFP. “This program can help it reconstruct food-processing plants there… Many people in the area eat whale meat, too. They are waiting for Japan’s commercial whaling to resume.”
However, Greenpeace sources told Discovery News that as far as they could tell, 2 billion yen was being appropriated as a straight subsidy for the Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR), the body that runs Japan’s ‘research’ whaling program. This is on top of an existing 700 million yen subsidy. (Update: This Wall Street journal blog quotes a Fisheries Agency official as confirming that 1.8 billion yen is for “supporting whaling research.”)
They also expressed confidence that the fleet would not come close to reaching its publicly-stated quota, pointing out that, two years ago, the number of ‘catchers’ – or harpoon-equipped hunting vessels – in the fleet dropped from three to two, and last year it dropped further, from two to one. This year, as last year, just one catcher will be used. Within official circles in Tokyo, the sources said, the target quota is much lower, largely due to a recognition that there is not enough demand for the meat.
“As always, it’s important to pay attention, not to what is said but what actually happens,” he told Discovery News. “On the one hand, the Japanese government is finding the funds to continue with this money-losing enterprise. On the other hand, all the signals – for example, at the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission – are that this may well be the last hurrah for Japanese whaling in the Antarctic. The current Prime Minister is a long-time advocate for and supporter of the whaling industry. But the number of those supporters in the Diet, and particularly the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, is dwindling.”
This month, let’s discuss the lack of cultural value invested in “fairness.” Consider these touchstones:
•”When respondents (to a Cabinet survey) were asked, ‘Should foreigners have the same human rights protections as Japanese?’ 59.3 percent said yes. This is a rebound from the steady decline from 1995 (68.3 percent), 1999 (65.5 percent) and 2003 (54 percent).” (Zeit Gist, Oct. 23, 2007)
•”We were taught that . . . foreigners have no human rights.” (Hiroshi Ichikawa, Saga Prefecture public prosecutor, May 23, 2011 — see www.debito.org/?p=8997)
•”(The Japanese Constitution) speaks of defining equality and ‘fundamental human rights’ as being conditioned on nationality rather than being human.” (Colin Jones, Zeit Gist, Nov. 1, 2011)
•”Now that you are a Japanese citizen, we (want to protect your human rights).” (“Japanese Only“, pg. 263)
I was told the last one on Oct. 11, 2000, the day I naturalized, by two representatives of Japan’s secretive Public Safety Commission, who now thought it appropriate to take action against the threats and harassment I had been getting during the Otaru onsens lawsuit. (Incidentally, they also asked if I knew of any illegal Chinese workers they could investigate.)
The point is, the authorities indicated that I had rights to protect when I became a citizen, not before.
This is how I’ve noticed, after two decades of arguing for equal rights and protections under the law, a clear presumption of unfairness in Japan.
To be sure, mention that something is “unfair” (fukōhei) and people do respond positively and emotively, not merely dismissing the situation with a blithe “Yeah, but life is unfair.”
But unfairness is systematic — even expected, particularly if (and because) you’re a foreigner in Japan. A few examples:
Want to live someplace or get a loan? Many landlords, realtors and credit agencies state up front that they will not rent or lend to foreigners; as long as there is no contract signed, there is generally nothing legally you can do about it.
Want to become a volunteer firefighter, a public-sector food preparer, a family court mediator or a manager in the bureaucracy? Sorry, citizens only. The same goes for the many job opportunities at “Hello Work” with unofficial nationality clauses, simply because bosses presume no foreigner can speak Japanese.
Want a fair trial in the judiciary? As has been discussed here before (Zeit Gist, Mar. 24, 2009, and Aug. 14, 2007), there are different standards in both Japan’s civil and criminal courts if you’re not a citizen. As Colin Jones writes in the aforementioned article, a 2008 Supreme Court decision made it clear that citizenship is essential to enjoying constitutional and human rights in Japan.
The point is, you are simply less human in Japan without Japanese nationality, and institutional practices back that up.
One reason these practices can be perpetuated is that the Japanese public tacitly (and not so tacitly) acquiesces to them, instead of reflexively helping foreigners fight against them. I believe the root cause is how little cultural value is generally assigned to “fairness.”
Allow me to illustrate by comparison: One of my students, after spending a year abroad in North America, remarked with great surprise how much the word “fair” was used, and what kind of effect that had.
“It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a citizen,” he said. “People said that as a person I had the same rights as everyone else. ‘It just wouldn’t be fair’ otherwise.” Complain that something was “unfair” and people would either seek to rectify it or exert themselves excusing it.
Not here. The common excuse given glibly, as if it were self-evident, is that you’re a foreigner, thus naturally treated differently. The more eloquent or legally versed proponents of unequal treatment will even argue that if foreigners want equal rights, they should naturalize.
The thing is, some of us have actually naturalized. And although some barriers do disappear, I can attest from personal experience after more than a decade as a citizen that not all do, meaning that you’re still stuck on a lower rung in a caste system.
Moreover, even after giving dozens of awareness-raising speeches in Japanese, I have discovered that appealing to public sensitivity is largely ineffectual.
I have to keep reminding listeners that foreigners are in fact humans with human rights. That sinks in, but people eventually reset to the default mind-set that “foreigners are not the same as Japanese,” and that recognizing difference (kubetsu) does not necessarily equal willful discrimination (sabetsu).
Except that it does. An unquestioned acceptance of difference between peoples in a society ultimately leads to inequality in practice (recall the machinations of segregation’s “separate but equal“).
Only an ironclad guarantee of “fairness,” a cornerstone of liberal societies and held in as high regard as “Do unto others . . .” will ensure equal opportunity and essential civil, political and human rights. One has to believe this, and have it promoted constantly in the public arena to raise awareness, until it too becomes an unquestioned given.
Consider what my student saw as cultural memes overseas: Everyone deserves a “fair deal,” enjoys a “fair playing field,” earns a “fair income” after doing their “fair share,” gets a “fair decision” after a “fair fight” by winning “fair and square.” “Fair is fair,” after all. Fair enough, you get the idea.
That’s simply not the expectation in a society as rigidly hierarchical as Japan’s, hard-wired to see shades of superior and subordinate in just about every possible interaction (down to the linguistics).
Thus anyone who’s not seen as belonging to Japanese society, deserving equality and a fair shake just as a human being, is at an insurmountable disadvantage.
This is but one more fundamental issue that must be dealt with if Japan hopes to provide more opportunities for its people and brighten its future. Thanks for giving me a fair hearing.
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Hi Blog. Sometimes it seems to me that rules in Japan are made just to keep people from having fun. For example, cultural conventions hinder swimming after Obon in the south (despite still being jolly hot outside — I’ve been in southern Shikoku in late August and found campsites closed and beaches deserted), and have seen police command the public get out of the ocean in Okinawa (I’m told there are some times of the year when ocean swimming in this semitropical climate is officially frowned upon) on New Year’s Day. We’ve been told we can’t play games (such as chess or euchre) at izakayas by barkeeps; similarly, in a Tokyo “Irish bar” during a JALT conference, we had Irish friends who brought out their pocket instruments to play Irish music, only to be told that it was causing discomfort to the customers (it wasn’t; people were clapping and tapping along), and they had to be quiet in favor of the canned Irish music being piped in. Japan’s frowning on outdoor screens during the World Cup 2002 (unlike in Korea, Japan’s fans had to watch the games within walls) due to alleged traffic control and crime prevention concerns. I’m sure Readers can come up with lots more examples — of anal-retentive people who use their power to summarily prevent public expressions of joy and release (that is, without the socially-accepted cloak of too much alcohol).
Now we have this actually legally-established ban on “dancing without a license” after 1 a.m. I could understand late-night controls on noise etc., but dancing?? Not only that, the cause of dancing is deemed to be foreign in origin. Yeah right, Japanese don’t dance. And when does dancing begin and just tapping out a rhythm end? And when does the accusation, made below, of making the neighbors uncomfortable because foreigners are around end?
Early Sunday morning, Tokyo Metropolitan Police entered clubs Gas Panic Bar and Club 99 in the Roppongi entertainment district and arrested managers Hidenori Wakita, 36, and Fumiki Nishihata, 35, for allowing dancing after 1 a.m. — a violation of the Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses.
A journalist who covers the adult entertainment industry says the chain of foreigner-frequented bars is popular for those on low budgets, but in recent times police have been taking notice of trouble. “Recently, poorly behaving foreigners from the Middle East and South-East Asia have started showing up,” says the source. “They make others not want to come around, and maybe some neighbors complained.”
The tabloid says that the raid of Gas Panic Bar occurred just before 2 a.m. “There were close to 200 customers in the place,” says a salaryman present at the time. “As the name says, it was a panic. At first, I thought they were targeting drugs or gangs. I was stunned that it was due to licensing problems since this sort of thing has been going on for 20 years.”
The issue concerns the type of license. Establishments within the Gas Panic chain are licensed as bars, which under the Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses are not allowed to provide entertainment, such as dancing, after 1 a.m. without special authorization. Only drinking, however, is permissible.
This was the second arrest in two years for Wakita. In 2009, police found similar violations at Club 99 and GP Bar, which is also within the Gas Panic chain, and took the manager into custody. After that, Gas Panic Bar installed a security camera at the door to alert management to turn the music down if police appeared.
Wakita was eventually convicted.
This latest bust sends a message, continues the adult-entertainment journalist. “The crackdown will expand,” the writer says. “There are tens of thousands of improperly licensed clubs. Gas Panic is a big name, and they have continued to ignore warnings. Perhaps the police are taking a step forward to show the serious consequences to everyone else.”
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Hi Debito.org Newsletter Readers. Again, before I start (since I’ve been on an internet diet of only one blog update every three days, meaning posts amount to one Newsletter a month), here’s a sneak preview of my next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column, out on Tuesday, December 6, 2011. Title uncertain as yet, but here are the opening paragraphs:
================================== LIFE IS UNFAIR, EXPECIALLY IN JAPAN JUST BE CAUSE By ARUDOU Debito Column 46 for the Japan Times Community Page To be published December 6, 2011
These past few columns have addressed fundamentally bad habits in Japanese society that impede positive social change. Last month I talked about public trust being eroded by social conventions that permit (even applaud) the systematic practice of lying in public.
This month, let’s discuss the lack of cultural value invested in “fairness.” Consider these touchstones:
“When respondents (to a Cabinet survey) were asked, ‘Should foreigners have the same human rights protections as Japanese?’ 59.3 percent said yes. This is a rebound from the steady decline from 1995 (68.3 percent), 1999 (65.5 percent) and 2003 (54 percent).” (Zeit Gist, Oct. 23, 2007)
“We were taught that … foreigners have no human rights.” (Hiroshi Ichikawa, Saga Prefecture public prosecutor, May 23, 2011, see http://www.debito.org/?p=8997)…
Have a read of the rest of the column in tomorrow’s Japan Times!
Now, on with the Newsletter:
DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER DECEMBER 5, 2011
Table of Contents:
1) David Slater and Yomiuri on how activism re Fukushima is being stifled, contamination efforts stymied 2) Movie about Ichihashi Tatsuya, convicted killer of Lindsay Ann Hawker, already in the works — based upon his book. Ick. 3) MOFA offers public comments on signing Hague Convention on Child Abductions; not much there 4) UPDATE: Post-divorce J child abductor Inoue Emiko DOES get book thrown at her in Milwaukee court, will return abducted child to custodial NJ father 5) Thai flood victims getting 6-month visas into Japan to maintain Japan Inc.’s supply lines, then booted back home 6) The tug of war continues: Fukuoka High Court overrules Oita District Court that doubted, then affirmed, Oita Prefectural Govt’s denial of welfare benefits to superannuated NJ Permanent Resident 7) Debito.org Dejima Award to Japan Rugby Football Union, blaming J losses on “too many foreign players”, including naturalized former NJ 8 ) Japan Times: Colin Jones on schizophrenic J constitution regarding civil and human rights of NJ residents 9) Japan Times: More NPA behavioral oddities re alleged murders of Scott Kang and Matthew Lacey Cases 10) Suraj Case of police brutality and death during Immigration deportation in Japan Times Nov 1, 2011 11) Have Your Say: Letters to the Editor re my Oct 4 2011 Japan Times JBC column, “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action”
…and finally… 12) My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column 45 Nov 1, 2011: “The costly fallout of tatemae and Japan’s culture of deceit”
By Arudou Debito (www.debito.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter arudoudebito)
1) David Slater and Yomiuri on how activism re Fukushima is being stifled, contamination efforts stymied
This is an email written by an academic in Japan sent to a public Japan listserv. It is a very indicative accounting of how protests and grassroots activism is systematically stifled and stymied in Japan (in the context of Fukushima), and how even local governments are given the wrong incentives and making weird (and wrong) decisions (e.g., the apparent public shame in decontamination). Plus the terminology (i.e., kegare) that is shifting the blame from the perpetrator of the contamination to the victim. Followed by an excellent conclusion that is worthy of print that the social effects of this disaster (particularly in terms of discrimination) will last a lot longer than anticipated.
DS: As the process of decontamination in Tohoku gets going, we see a range of often chilling representations and bad options, pollution and risk everywhere. “Contamination” today goes beyond the early reports of avoidance behavior and school bullying. Fear of this stigmatization is forcing some townships to forgo governmental relief and retarding local protest efforts…
In yesterday’s Yomiuri [full text below] there was an article about municipalities that have refused governmental help with the decontamination processes for fear of stigmatization. ‘”If the government designates our city [as subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination], the entire city will be seen as contaminated. We decided to avoid such a risk,” a senior municipal government official said.” Another official is quoted: “If our town receives the designation, it may deliver a further blow to our image, already damaged by radiation fears.” This, despite the fact these townships have already received excessive radiation measurements. Usually, the townships are afraid of hurting tourism or exports of agricultural products, but often the cost of decontamination is too high for them to pay themselves…
In a set of interviews that I have been doing among Fukushima women anti-nuke activists, one explained that it was very hard to enlist other women from her community for similar reasons. “It is sort of crazy… even though these women are afraid of radiation, and even though they actually know that areas all around [their children’s school] have high radiation, they do not want to say anything… because they are afraid of the being singled out.” This activist was frustrated with the other mothers, angry because their reluctance to say anything weakened the voice of the community in taking a unified position.
2) Movie about Ichihashi Tatsuya, convicted killer of Lindsay Ann Hawker, already in the works — based upon his book. Ick.
Here’s some ghoulish news. According to Yahoo News below in Japanese, there is a biopic in the works on Ichihashi Tatsuya, convicted killer of Lindsay Ann Hawker, coming out next year based upon his book (which we lambasted here on Debito.org last January as publisher profiteering) about his 2 1/2 years on the lam as a fugitive from justice.
Now, movies about killers are nothing new (including ones with overtones of hero worship; consider NATURAL BORN KILLERS), and biopics about Japanese killers (the very good VENGEANCE IS MINE, starring a lean and mean Ogata Ken, I saw back in college) are also out there (even though VENGEANCE, although it tries to analyze the killer’s motivations and mother complex, did not spare the audience of the horrific detail of his murderous activity). Maybe this movie will do the same (even though many of the details of what Ichihashi did to Hawker’s corpse have not been made public). But the article below says that the contents will focus on his life as a fugitive and offer insights into Japan’s low life (such as the day laborer sector of Airin Chiku; cue sympathy for the killer’s hardships?). In any case, I for one see this as just more profiteering. It looks as though this story will be depicted through Ichihashi’s eyes, and there is apparently already quite an online hero cult out there for this creep that the studios would love to cash in upon.
Again, this sort of media event has happened before, but this is altogether too soon — still seems like moviemakers trying to make a fast yen (and an unknown actor trying to make a directorial debut; he talks briefly below about his “feeling of responsibility” towards the victims, but mostly about how the killer’s account fascinates him, so methinks that’s what the flick will focus upon) before Ichihashi fades from public memory. Ick.
3) MOFA offers public comments on signing Hague Convention on Child Abductions; not much there
Related to Japan’s future signing of the Hague Convention on Child Abductions, here we have an official report about a public forum held on November 22, 2011 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (something I attended before and incidentally considered a very flawed and biased format). Present were academics, lawyers, the Ministries of Justice, Health and Welfare, Education, Internal Affairs, plus the Cabinet and the National Police Agency.
In the course of discussions about setting up a central agency to handle the enforcement of the Hague, 168 public comments were collected since the end of September and were brought up at this meeting. That report follows in full below, courtesy of TS. A few things I found noteworthy within it:
1) The term LBP (Left-Behind Parent) is now part of the Japanese lexicon.
2) In discussions about the right of both parents to have information about (if not access to) their children, the same old saws about DV (domestic violence, however unclearly defined, and in Japan that matters) came up, and the GOJ is as usual being called in to do something about it (apparently more than just mediate, which the GOJ gets all control-freaky and nanny-state about) — seesawing between the LBP’s right to know about their children and the custodian’s right to be safe from the violent boogeyman ex-spouse. This seesawing was also visible in an even more vague discussion about the GOJ holding onto passports of potential abductors and abductees, except under exceptional circumstances that were mentioned but left undeveloped.
3) The GOJ, regarding contact between LBP and child, plans to “support the respect of visitation rights”, but it also leaves measures vague and expresses caution about doing much of anything, really.
All told, this level of discussion was pretty low. I found little concrete here to sink one’s teeth into regarding advising toward future policies guaranteeing the lynchpins to this discussion: joint custody and guaranteed visitation that goes beyond an hour a two a month. Not to mention return of internationally abducted children to their habitual residence as per the Hague. Others are welcome to read the text below and squeeze out whatever interpretations I may have missed. But given how much duplicity has taken place regarding the rights of LBPs in Japan up until now, I sadly remain unhopeful.
4) UPDATE: Post-divorce J child abductor Inoue Emiko DOES get book thrown at her in Milwaukee court, will return abducted child to custodial NJ father
As was reported on Debito.org last October 28 regarding the issue of Japan as safe haven for international child abductions, the US courts looked like they actually might start enforcing their arrest warrants against Japanese child abductors. In this case, against a Japanese woman named Inoue Emiko who reportedly whisked the kid off to Japan despite a US court awarding the father, Moises Garcia, custody. Then Inoue used the time-honored tactic of abducting the kid anyway and getting a Japanese court to award her the kid instead regardless (with a gracious 30-day per year visitation allowed; thanks a heap). Then she presumptuously decided to have her cake and eat it too, coming back to Hawaii last April to renew her Green Card, whereupon the authorities honored the arrest warrant against her and sent her to stand trial in Wisconsin (leaving the kid in limbo with the grandparents in Japan).
Back in October I said that enough is enough, and that the American judiciary should throw the book at her. Well, guess what — they did, and it looks as though the mother will return the child to the custodial father. Bravo! Read on. Let that be a lesson to you, child abductors, and let that be an incentive for Japan to sign the Hague Convention.
Journal Sentinel: [Abducted child] Karina Garcia’s mother agreed in court Monday to have the girl home in Fox Point by Christmas. If she makes it, the 9-year-old would be the first of what advocates say are more than 300 children around the U.S. abducted to Japan in violation of American court orders to be returned through legal intervention. She also could become a poster child for how to solve a growing problem as international marriages increase in the global economy.
The girl’s father, Moises Garcia, was pleased but cautious in talking to reporters after the hearing, where his ex-wife, Emiko Inoue, pleaded no contest to the felony charge of interfering with child custody by other parent. She was found guilty, but a plea agreement could leave her with only a misdemeanor conviction if Karina returns and Inoue completes other conditions.
5) Thai flood victims getting 6-month visas into Japan to maintain Japan Inc.’s supply lines, then booted back home
JT: Several thousand Thai workers at Japanese firms operating in Thailand will be allowed to work in Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Friday, as companies shift their production in light of the impact of the massive floods in the Southeast Asian country…
Fujimura said the government is looking to accept thousands of Thai workers from about 30 firms for a fixed time frame of roughly six months. Among the conditions the government will impose on the firms is to make sure the Thai workers return to their home country…
COMMENT: File this yet again under Japan Inc. having its cake and eating it too. We wouldn’t want to have Japanese corporations losing out because of natural disaster overseas impeding our supply lines, now, would we? (And as a petty but definitely related tangent, where is the Japanese media when you need them to criticize the Japanese “fly-jin” fleeing the country instead of staying behind to help Thailand recover? They certainly did their bashing when NJ, and apparently only NJ, allegedly flew the coop post-Fukushima.) So we’ll temporarily export the workers to Japan, have them keep up with the conveyer belts for the apparent honor of being extant in our safe, clean, modern society (while no doubt working cheaper than native Japanese, as usual), then boot them back as soon as we can so they cause no disruptions to our safe, clean, modern society (like we did our Brazilian cousins back in 2009 when they outlived their usefulness; we get to keep their investments anyway and need show no gratitude). Good ole foreign workers. Under Japan’s visa regime, they’re just widgets in the Grand Scheme.
6) The tug of war continues: Fukuoka High Court overrules Oita District Court that doubted, then affirmed, Oita Prefectural Govt’s denial of welfare benefits to superannuated NJ Permanent Resident
Yomiuri: The Fukuoka High Court ruled Tuesday that permanent residents in in Japan with foreign nationalities are eligible to receive public welfare assistance, overturning a lower court ruling. The high court accepted an appeal by a 79-year-old woman who is a permanent resident in Japan with Chinese nationality. She filed the lawsuit, claiming that the Oita city government illegally rejected her request for public welfare assistance.
Presiding Judge Hiroshi Koga said in the ruling, “Foreign citizens with permanent residency [in Japan] are legally guaranteed the same status as Japanese citizens who receive the same treatment.” The high court overturned the Oita District Court’s ruling and nullified the Oita city government’s decision not to grant the woman public welfare benefits. According to a lawyer for the plaintiff, it is the nation’s first court ruling to present a legal basis for foreign permanent residents in Japan to receive public welfare benefits.
COMMENT: Okay, that’s good news and a good precedent. Glad they took it away from the denizens of Oita, who as I noted back on Debito.org last November clearly started saying “Chotto…” to the petty bureaucrats, then backtracked within two weeks as the wagons encircled to rule against the alleged foreigner (I would like to hear more about her, i.e., if she is in fact a Zainichi or not — there is a difference between ippan eijuusha and tokubetsu eijuusha, after all, and that will be noted by any legal exceptionalists who want to stop further positive precedent building). But the fact that she’s born here, raised here, speaks Japanese as her native language, and is approaching eighty years of age, yet STILL was denied benefits by heartless bureaucrats, backed up by the judiciary, is more than a bit scary. If this gets appealed to the Supreme Court (after all, the GOJ is a sore loser in court), I hope the judges are in a good mood when they start deliberating. Maybe we should send them sweets.
7) Debito.org Dejima Award to Japan Rugby Football Union, blaming J losses on “too many foreign players”, including naturalized former NJ
Allow me to present a very rare and coveted award (this is only the fifth one in Debito.org’s history) that Debito.org only gives out to egregious racists and offenders of the sensibilities: To people who are basically beyond any sort of appeal to logic or reason regarding treating other humans as equal and dignified human beings. A Dejima Award. And once again (this is the third time) it goes to that ever-encouraged admixture of bastion nationalism and Team-Japan-ism: A Japanese sports league. One that blames Japan’s apparently poor showing in rugby on the foreigners (apparently even those “foreigners” who are naturalized Japanese citizens).
Japan Today: All Blacks legend John Kirwan, due to quit as Japan coach after the Brave Blossoms’ disappointment at the rugby World Cup, came under fire Saturday for his use of foreign-born players. The criticism came at a board meeting of the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) which reviewed the World Cup in New Zealand, the union’s chairman Tatsuzo Yabe said…
“We talked about how our scrum went or how our breakdown went. We also talked about our mental side,” Yabe said. “Some argued that we had too many foreigners.” Kirwan picked a record 10 foreign-born players, half of whom have obtained Japanese nationality, for his World Cup squad. The previous highest was seven, also selected by Kirwan for the 2007 World Cup in France.
8 ) Japan Times: Colin Jones on schizophrenic J constitution regarding civil and human rights of NJ residents
The Japan Times Community Page does it again! Legal scholar Colin P. A. Jones on the loopholes and contradictions within the Japanese postwar Constitution, how they came about, and what they mean in practice in terms of NJ (and Japanese) civil and human rights. This is one of the most enlightening pieces I’ve read all year, connecting a lot of dots and answering questions I’ve had building up for years. What are you waiting for? Read it! Several times. Until it sinks in.
JT: Of course, the real Pandora’s box of constitutional paradoxes involves the rights of non-Japanese […]. The first paradox is presented by Chapter 3 of the charter, which in Japanese is titled “Rights and Duties of the Japanese People.” The clear linkage of rights to citizenship is missing from the official English version; to read it properly, you need to understand that where it says “the people,” the Japanese term used is kokumin, which clearly refers to Japanese nationals. In some places the term used is “person,” which lacks any nuances of citizenship, but it still appears in a chapter whose title appears to limit all rights to citizens.
This subtle but important discrepancy is the result of what historian John Dower calls “language games” on the part of the Japanese government team when it rendered the Americans’ English draft into Japanese. This form of passive resistance, together with another modification that the Americans inexplicably accepted (the elimination of “nationality” as a prohibited category of discrimination under the equal protection provisions of Article 14), has resulted in a Constitution that seems schizophrenic insofar as it speaks of defining equality and “fundamental human rights” as being conditioned on nationality rather than being human…
So what rights do foreign residents have under the Constitution? Well, according to the Supreme Court, they are entitled to all the same rights as Japanese people, except for those which by their nature are only to be enjoyed by Japanese people. Does that help?
9) Japan Times: More NPA behavioral oddities re alleged murders of Scott Kang and Matthew Lacey Cases
Speaking of odd Japanese police behavior towards NJ in criminal cases: We’ve talked about the Scott Kang and Matthew Lacey Cases here on Debito.org before. Fortunately, these cases have gathered traction thanks to caring family members, and tenacious reporters who don’t accept the NPA’s line that both of these deaths of NJ were mere accidents (while refusing to cooperate promptly and clearly on autopsy reports). I have argued before that Japanese justice operates on a different (and subordinate) track for NJ victims of Japanese crime (i.e., Japanese perps get off the hook, foreign perps get thrown the book). These articles in the Japan Times help to fortify that case (not to mention further illustrate how the USG’s missions abroad are woefully inadequate in providing service and protections to their own citizens).
JT: Nineteen-year-old Scott Kang was found lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood in the early hours of Aug. 26, 2010, in the sixth-floor stairwell of Collins Building 15, an eight-story high-rise of small hostess bars and clubs located near Shinjuku City Hall in Kabuki-cho. He remained in a coma for five days before dying of his injuries, his mother by his side, at the Kokuritsu Kokusai Iryo Kenkyu Center in Shinjuku…
The Kangs and their supporters strongly reject the police finding of accidental death and want to see the case re-opened. They are also deeply unhappy with the way the Japanese police carried out the investigation and their failure to inform the family when they closed the case [in February]… But according to Mr. Kang, he received no communication from the U.S. authorities about the investigation’s closure until early July when an officer from the U.S. State Department telephoned.
Kang says that the failure of the embassy to pass on such critical information in a timely fashion shows the embassy is not taking the case seriously. “I feel the U.S. Embassy acted as if Scott was not a U.S. citizen.”…
JT: Charles Lacey’s brother died mysteriously [in 2004] in Fukuoka and he’s still trying to learn the cause. He believes police bungled the investigation, wrongly concluded the death was due to an accident and are, like prosecutors, purposely withholding key information that could suggest foul play…
The English translation of the postmortem, which was prepared by Fukuoka police and not by the doctor who performed the exam, attributed the death to an “unknown external cause” and “it is suspected the subject was hit on the head.” To the family’s surprise, foul play was ruled out.
10) Suraj Case of police brutality and death during Immigration deportation in Japan Times Nov 1, 2011
Here we have more reported (thanks to assiduous folks at the Community Page at the Japan Times) on the Suraj Case, a mysteriously underinvestigated case we’ve mentioned here before of police brutality and death of an African during deportation. What gets me is that even some of the veto gates at the Japan Times, according to the editor of this article on his facebook entry, took issue with the use of the word “brutal” in the headline; given what finally came to light regarding the condition of Mr. Suraj’s corpse below, “brutal” is obviously appropriate. And it would not have come to light at all had not Mr. Suraj’s widow and these reporters not pursued this case with such tenacity. Keep it up, Japan Times. Who else in a milquetoast Japanese media that is generally unsympathetic to NJ issues would give a toss?
JT: Abubakar Awudu Suraj had been in Japan for over two decades when immigration authorities detained him in May 2009. The Ghanaian was told in Yokohama of his deportation to Ghana at 9:15 a.m. on March 22 last year. Six hours later he was dead, allegedly after being excessively restrained by guards…
The 45-year-old’s case has largely been ignored in the Japanese media and no politician has answered for his death. An investigation by Chiba prosecutors appears to have stalled. There has been no explanation or apology from the authorities…
An autopsy report seen in a court document notes abrasions to his face, internal bleeding of muscles on the neck, back, abdomen and upper arm, along with leakage of blood around the eyes, blood congestion in some organs, and dark red blood in the heart. Yet the report bizarrely concluded that the cause of death is “unknown.”
Any movement in the Suraj case is largely down to his wife, who wants to remain anonymous. She won a lawsuit against the Justice Ministry, which oversees immigration issues, demanding it disclose documents related to his death. The documents were finally released in May, more than a year after he died…
11) Have Your Say: Letters to the Editor re my Oct 4 2011 Japan Times JBC column, “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action”
Letter to the Editor: Ganbatte and gaman stifle debate, hinder recovery, Nuclear debate discouraged (excerpt)
Re: “Japan needs less ganbatte, more genuine action” by Debito Arudou (Just Be Cause, Oct. 4): I was wondering when such an article would show up in the newspapers. Thank you for finally commenting on some of the finer workings of how the triple disaster is being dealt with in Japan.
Like any event on this scale, the catastrophe has brought out the best and worst in Japanese culture. While one cannot help but admire the stoicism, calmness and composure in dealing with the events in March, the lack of discussion about the future of nuclear energy, food safety and lessons learnt is shocking.
For non-Japanese it is difficult to follow the social workings in Japan. Concepts such as ganbatte and gaman, which are raised by the author, play an important part in discouraging necessary debate. Also, the Japanese social convention of considering the expectations and feelings of others suppresses discussion….
12) My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column 45 Nov 1, 2011: “The costly fallout of tatemae and Japan’s culture of deceit”
On a personal note of thanks, I see that as of Midnight November 5, 2011, this column was in its fifth day after release still placing in the top ten “most read stories” on the Japan Times website (go to the story, look down the right-hand column at the Poll, and click on the upper tab that reads “Most read stories”). I think, other than my column last year on the JET Programme, this is the first time one of my columns has been read this much this long. I want to thank everyone for reading! Debito
Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011 Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE The costly fallout of tatemae and Japan’s culture of deceit By ARUDOU Debito
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Hi Blog. This is an email written by an academic in Japan sent to a public Japan listserv. It is a very indicative accounting of how protests and grassroots activism is systematically stifled and stymied in Japan (in the context of Fukushima), and how even local governments are given the wrong incentives and making weird (and wrong) decisions (e.g., the apparent public shame in decontamination). Plus the terminology (i.e., kegare) that is shifting the blame from the perpetrator of the contamination to the victim. Followed by an excellent conclusion that is worthy of print that the social effects of this disaster (particularly in terms of discrimination) will last a lot longer than anticipated. The bits I found most enlightening I’ve rendered in boldface. Arudou Debito
From: “David H. Slater” Date: 29 November, 2011 To: EASIANTH@LISTSERV.TEMPLE.EDU Subject: Re: [jaws] reports of bullying Fukushima kids, and roaming cows Reply-To: “East Asia Anthropologists’ discussion”
Just to follow up on an old thread–if anyone else has been working on these topics it would be interesting to share what we have…. dhs Levels of contamination: kegare in official designations, in community activism, in young bodies
As the process of decontamination in Tohoku gets going, we see a range of often chilling representations and bad options, pollution and risk everywhere. “Contamination” today goes beyond the early reports of avoidance behavior and school bullying. Fear of this stigmatization is forcing some townships to forgo governmental relief and retarding local protest efforts. These fears and choices are being played out in municipalities, communities and individual images of life course.
In yesterday’s Yomiuri [full text below] there was an article about municipalities that have refused governmental help with the decontamination processes for fear of stigmatization. ‘”If the government designates our city [as subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination], the entire city will be seen as contaminated. We decided to avoid such a risk,” a senior municipal government official said.” Another official is quoted: “If our town receives the designation, it may deliver a further blow to our image, already damaged by radiation fears.” This, despite the fact these townships have already received excessive radiation measurements. Usually, the townships are afraid of hurting tourism or exports of agricultural products, but often the cost of decontamination is too high for them to pay themselves. Here is the English version of the article: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T111127003736.htm
In Community Activism
In a set of interviews that I have been doing among Fukushima women anti-nuke activists, one explained that it was very hard to enlist other women from her community for similar reasons. “It is sort of crazy–even though these women are afraid of radiation, and even though they actually know that areas all around [their children’s school] have high radiation, they do not want to say anything…. because they are afraid of the being singled out.” This activist was frustrated with the other mothers, angry because their reluctance to say anything weakened the voice of the community in taking a unified position. She also understood their reluctance, albeit with some impatience. “I know, I know. If you object, then you are also bringing attention to yourself and maybe worse, to your community, as dirty, as full of radiation. I know that story.” But she said, “If we do not say anything, are we really protecting our community or even our families?” Later in a more reflective moment in the interview, when she was acknowledging the ambiguous progress that activism has made, she said “We mothers know that activism might puts these ideas into other people’s heads sometimes, and this might hurt us, mark us, for years. It is a hard situation, knowing what to do.”
In Young Bodies
In my class on oral narrative of disaster, one group of my students at Sophia U. is interviewing another group of college students from Fukushima University, old high school friends now separated by radiation. The result is alarmingly direct, intimate interviews. (Besides being gifted interviewers, they are also of the same age, which seems to be important.) In one interview, a Fukushima college student addressed her own fears in a way that frightened my students. She resents those who call it the “Fukushima” disaster, marking everyone who lives in the prefecture. And yet, she also called herself contaminated, using the work kegare, a Shinto term meaning unclean, impure, defiled. She wondered, seemingly more to herself than to the interviewers, if she would ever marry or have children, knowing that this is how she will be thought of, knowing this is how she thinks about herself. Then she snapped out of it to explain the many active and constructive programs and events that the young people in her college relief and support club were doing, how they were looking ahead (mae muki) to a fresh start to the next year.
Not knowing how far to push this religious connection, my understanding is that usually kegare is the result of natural occurring contamination, unlike tsumi, which is more the result of human transgression. If radiation were considered tsumi would there be some transgressive agent who might be held responsible (Tepco)? In either case, is purification possible? If so, does it coincide with the on-going decontamination procedures? In any case, radiation is not just science nor just ritual pollution, but because now it involves official government designation and the transfer of funds (or not), these labels have consequences beyond the reports of random discrimination that occurred almost as soon as people began to evacuate. By linking contamination to official nomenclature and funding schemes, marks of contamination might last far longer than the excessive levels of radiation.
— David H. Slater, Ph.D. Faculty of Liberal Arts Sophia University, Tokyo
MAEBASHI–Municipalities contaminated with radiation as a result of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are concerned that the central government’s plan to designate municipalities for which it will shoulder the cost of decontamination will stigmatize those communities, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.
As early as mid-December, the government plans to begin designating municipalities that will be subject to intensive investigation of their contamination, which is a precondition for the government paying for decontamination in place of the municipalities.
Municipalities with areas found to have a certain level of radiation will be so designated. The aim of the plan is to promote the thorough cleanup of contaminated cities, towns and villages, including those outside Fukushima Prefecture.
However, many local governments are reluctant to seek such designation, fearing it may give the false impression that the entire municipality is contaminated.
Based on an aerial study of radiation conducted by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in mid-September, municipalities in Tokyo and Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba prefectures were candidates for the government designation.
The aerial study examined radiation in the atmosphere one meter above the ground. Municipalities with areas where the study detected at least 0.23 microsieverts of radiation were listed as candidates. About 11,600 square kilometers of land, equivalent to the size of Akita Prefecture, reached that level, the ministry said.
The Yomiuri Shimbun has asked municipalities in the prefectures–excluding Fukushima Prefecture–whether they would seek the government designation as municipalities subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination. Fifty-eight of the cities, towns and villages that responded to the survey said they would seek the designation.
Almost all the municipalities in Gunma and Ibaraki prefectures had areas where radiation in excess of the government standard was detected. However, only 10 municipalities in Gunma Prefecture and 19 in Ibaraki Prefecture said they would seek the designation.
The figures represent only about 30 percent of the municipalities in Gunma Prefecture and about 40 percent of those in Ibaraki Prefecture.
The Maebashi municipal government said it would not request the designation.
In late August, radioactive cesium exceeding the government’s provisional regulatory limit was detected in smelt caught at Lake Onuma, located on the summit of Mt. Akagi in northern Maebashi. The opening of the lake’s fishing season for smelt has been postponed.
Usually, the lake would be crowded with anglers at this time of year, but few people are visiting this season.
However, in most of Maebashi, excluding mountainous regions, the radiation detected in the September study was below the regulatory limit.
“If the government designates our city [as subject to intensive investigation of radiation contamination], the entire city will be seen as contaminated. We decided to avoid such a risk,” a senior municipal government official said.
The Maebashi government wants to prevent the city’s tourism and agriculture from being damaged further, the official added.
Daigomachi in Ibaraki Prefecture, a city adjacent to Fukushima Prefecture, said the city has also refrained from filing for the designation. Usually about 700,000 people visit Fukuroda Falls, the city’s main tourist destination, every year, but the number has dropped to half since the nuclear crisis began, the town said.
“If our town receives the designation, it may deliver a further blow to our image, already damaged by radiation fears,” an official of the town’s general affairs department said.
In recent months, citizens in the Tokatsu region of northwest Chiba Prefecture have held protests demanding local governments immediately deal with areas where relatively high levels of radiation were detected. All six cities in the region, including Kashiwa, said they would file requests for the government designation. The Kashiwa municipal government said it had already spent about 180 million yen on decontamination.
“People are loudly calling for decontamination. We hope that the designation will eventually lower the cost of decontamination,” an official of the municipal government’s office for measures against radiation said.
Observers have said one of the reasons the six cities decided to request the designation was their low dependence on agriculture and other primary industries that are vulnerable to fears of radiation.
Kobe University Prof. Tomoya Yamauchi, an expert on radiation metrology, said: “It will be a problem if decontamination activities stall due to local governments’ fears of stigmatization. To prevent misunderstanding of radiation, the government needs to do more to disseminate correct information.”