Hi Blog. Arudou Debito here with a special edition of the debito.org newsletter for the holidays. This offers lighter fare, some personal musings, and other things to read during a festive occasion (much like the year-end holiday double issue of The Economist newsmagazine). Here goes:
1) INTERVIEW WITH J-SELECT MAGAZINE
2) BECOMING A LAWYER IN JAPAN: THE BIFURCATED J BAR EXAM
3) JOEL DECHANT AND HIS GUIDED TOURS OF BEPPU
4) TEN THINGS WHICH CHANGED MY LIFE IN 2006
and finally… DEBITO.ORG A DECADE ON…
By Arudou Debito (www.debito.org, firstname.lastname@example.org)
December 31, 2006
1) INTERVIEW WITH J-SELECT MAGAZINE
What follows is an interview which took place a few months ago with Elliott at J-SELECT MAGAZINE (http://www.jselect.net), featured in their December-January issue currently on sale. Give the interview a try–we don’t even talk about onsens or lawsuits!
Interview with J-Select’s “Back Chat–Life in Japan from a Different Perspective”
Japan Select Magazine, December 2006–January 2007, page 74.
Name: Arudou Debito
Occupation: Author, Columnist, University Prof
1. WHAT FIRST BROUGHT YOU TO JAPAN?
A woman. Hey, I was only 21.
2. WHAT’S KEEPING YOU HERE?
A woman. Kids. Steady job. And oh yeah, Japanese citizenship.
3. WHO IN JAPAN DO YOU MOST ADMIRE? WHY?
There are too many people to mention. And I cannot narrow it down to one person because none of them are saints. To be expected. Any decent study of history and biography reveals dark sides and shames in anyone. Guess the best thing to say is: I hope to become a composite of the best parts of people I admire.
4. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BASE YOURSELF IN HOKKAIDO AND NOT, SAY, CENTRAL TOKYO?
Again, cherche la femme. Hokkaido was the first place I visited in Japan, and it was summertime. Anyone who’s ever been up to Sapporo in summer will know what I mean. Inertia did the rest.
5. WHERE DO YOU GO TO ESCAPE HOKKAIDO? WHY?
Down south. Speeches, academic conferences, beers and homestays with friends. Japan is incredibly easy to travel around–if you have money and can read a map.
6. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE JAPANESE WORD OR PHRASE? WHY?
“Keizoku wa chikara nari”. “Continuation becomes its own strength.” It demonstrates the power of patience, precedence, and tenacity. Because the longer you keep on the path, fortifying a life’s work, the more likely that people are going to take you seriously. Then they will hopefully acquiesce, help out, or just plain get out of the way.
7. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PHRASE IN ANY LANGUAGE? WHY?
“Somebody’s gotta do it. It might as well be me.” Think I’ll make that my epitaph.
8. WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH?
The way the Japanese language uses onomatopoeia and twists foreign loanwords. Who says Japanese aren’t creative?!
9. WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?
The way I watch people around here treat every tree like it’s a bonsai. Chop them to shreds because branches might get tangled in phone lines, or poke somebody in the eye! I’m serious–that’s an actual reason once given me by zealous bureaucrats with pruning shears! It’s called tree growth, honey. It’s not something to stunt at the expense of shade and oxygen.
10. IF YOU HAD TO LIVE BY YOURSELF ON A DESERTED OKINAWAN ISLAND FOR A YEAR, WHAT THREE ITEMS WOULD YOU MAKE SURE YOU PACKED IN YOUR SUITCASE?
My computer with internet access, so I could keep sending out my newsletters.
If I have to be alone on the island, that one item should do, really. As long as I have my iPod and Skype as well. It’s kinda like my lifestyle anyway when I’m in the middle of writing a book.
11. WHAT’S THE MOST USEFUL PRODUCT/GADGET YOU HAVE BOUGHT IN JAPAN?
My Japanese electronic dictionary. Keeps me plugging away at kanji. Thanks to many a boring faculty meeting, I now even know the characters for metric units!
12. WHAT’S THE MOST EXCITING/OUTRAGEOUS THING YOU HAVE EVER DONE?
My summer cycle trips around Hokkaido are supremely exciting. Done three so far, last one August 2006 totalling 940 kms. The fact that I can still cycle more than 100 kms a day even at the age of forty is a confounding certification of health. 200 kms in one day is my best. People who see the size of my stomach are amazed I haven’t keeled over as roadkill yet.
Okay, something more outrageous and dishier, then. Out boozing one night with a friend from Finland. Overimbibed some evil 64-proof Suomi aniseed brew [salmiakki]. Wound up getting sick all over the front steps of Hokkaido Jingu, the capital of Shintoism up here. Er, on second thought, let’s keep that incident between you and me…
13. WHAT’S THE STRANGEST REQUEST YOU’VE EVER BEEN ASKED IN YOUR LINE OF WORK?
Probably the time I was asked to join in the okama-kon festival at my university. By that I mean, where all the guys dress up like girls and act feminine for prizes. Dressing in drag has got quite a history over here, thanks to Kabuki.
Anyway, my supervisor stuffed me into a dress and covered me in otherwise unusable make-up she bought in Russia. I went up on stage with my eight-month-old daughter sleeping in the crook of one arm, as proof of my obvious fertility. Nobody got the joke, and I didn’t even place in the top three. Surprisingly enough, this is NOT the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in Japan…
14. DESCRIBE YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT IN JAPAN.
I was once asked to interpret at an international wedding, where a drunk old fart decided to go on a gabbing bender. Then he blabbed about the breezy day when he got lucky–an upskirt view of one of the women in the audience. Pity that woman happened to be the bride! I bunted and refused to translate it.
I later asked professional translators how they would have handled this situation. They said I should have compared her to Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grating. Naruhodo. Interpreters deserve every penny.
15. WHEN YOU BECAME A NATURALIZED JAPANESE CITIZEN, WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE NAME ARUDOU DEBITO AND NOT, SAY, WATANABE KEN OR ISHIHARA SHINTARO?
Wouldn’t want to be confused with them. Or with anyone else. I wish to be a Japanese on my own terms, and that starts with my name.
Anyway, my name was once Dave Aldwinckle, and that comes out as Arudouinkuru Debito in katakana. Shortened the last name and picked the kanji to fit.
16. WHAT IS THE BEST PART ABOUT BEING A NATURALIZED JAPANESE CITIZEN?
How surprisingly accepting people are of it. Seriously. It opens so many doors and settles so many arguments.
17. WHAT IS THE WORST PART ABOUT BEING A NATURALIZED JAPANESE CITIZEN?
The fact that you’d better speak Japanese pretty naturally before people accept you as one. Most people still equate nationality with face and race. And foreigners are the nastiest about it.
18. AS A LONG-TERM RESIDENT OF JAPAN, IF THERE’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD LIKE TO OFFER SOMEONE WHO HAS JUST STEPPED OFF THE PLANE AT NARITA, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Learn Japanese. If you want to do anything at all with a degree of comfort and control in Japanese society, you must learn how to speak, read, and write. More advice in a “GUIDEBOOK TO LIVING IN JAPAN” a lawyer friend and I will be publishing next year.
19. WHAT’S THE BEST ACTION TO TAKE WHEN CONFRONTED WITH A SIGN THAT SAYS “JAPANESE ONLY”?
Take a photo of it with time and place and send it to me at email@example.com.
If you’re really daring, ask the management why they have that sign up. Then ask them calmly to take it down, since it invites misunderstandings–the biggest of all being that “foreigners” can be excluded with impunity. This situation must not be left alone, because it’ll only get worse.
20. IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT’S THE SINGLE BIGGEST MYTH THAT HAS BEEN PERPETUATED ABOUT JAPAN? BRIEFLY SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT?
The myth that Japanese laborers are workaholics. Leave the mania of Tokyo for a while and you’ll see just how laid back people get. Even in many Japanese companies, learning how to look busy is a fine art. Kinda like tax evasion. That said, the generally high commitment in Japan to a job well done more than makes up for any secret skiving…
22. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP?
A person who can make the best decision at all times. Hopefully sagacious without cynicism.
23. DO YOU HAVE ANY WORDS OF ADVICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE?
Enjoy your youth for as long as possible, since you should have many twilight years to enjoy your age. Still, Japan is a society which largely wastes the energy of its youth. But the upside is that life gets easier as you get older in Japan. If you learn the rules of getting along, that is.
(See, I told you this newsletter would have a different tone…)
2) BECOMING A LAWYER IN JAPAN: THE BIFURCATED J BAR EXAM
A friend of mine studying to take the Japanese Bar wrote me a fascinating essay too good to be for my eyes only. It’s on the sea change in how lawyers are becoming qualified in Japan. There are currently two Bar exams to take (“New” and “Old”, with the Old being phased out by 2011), and the whats and whys (with copious comments from cyberspace) are available at http://www.debito.org/?p=101
Japan’s bar exam (shihou shiken) is no longer called that–it’s called either the kyuu shihou shiken or the shin shihou shiken.
1. Kyuu Shihou Shiken–the “Old Bar”
Since the 1950s, Japan’s bar association has operated a very simple procedure for becoming a lawyer: pass the bar exam. That’s it. No law schools. No pre-exam training. Applicants did not even have to graduate from a university. After you passed you went and did [an internship] (shihou kenshuu), managed by the Supreme Court, and then you were a lawyer (or prosecutor, or judge). End of story.
While that might sound liberal, the results were not egalitarian… i.e. the opportunity was equal but the results were not. The pass rate was typically 1%, and half of all attorneys are from Japan’s top six universities (Todai, Kyodai, Keio, Chuo, Waseda, Hitotsubashi). More than 90% have undergraduate degrees in law, the average attorney passes the exam on the fifth try, and the average age of admittance to the bar is 28. That means many, many hopeful attorneys wasted years of their lives studying hard for the exam, many of whom had to give up in their 30s (or even 40s), having lost much of their young professional lives….
2. Shin Shihou Shiken–the “New Bar”
Japan took a major step towards revolutionizing its legal sector in 2004 when it opened American-style law schools. The standard course is three years (or two years for students with undergraduate degrees in law). The first “new bar exam” was held this past May, and the pass rate was 48% (for comparison purposes, that’s the same as California.)
However, the functional results are the same. I mean, 40,000 people applied for these new schools, 3,000 got in, only 2,000 sat for the exam, and 1,000 passed. So from 40,000 applicants to 1,000 lawyers means the bar is accomplishing the same result, in that many, many people who sit for the old bar will never pass it, and rejecting them from the get go is a more effective way of not getting the hopes up of people who will never become lawyers… [snip]
4. Reasons to change
A. A “quota” (i.e. we will admit 1,500 lawyers this year) as opposed to a score (everyone over 80% passes) means that the quality of lawyers varies by year in accordance with the respective competition…
C. Despite studying for five or more years or however many years, most lawyers aren’t very good! They’re trained in the theory of law, but not the practice, and are often bookworms or introverts, and not made to go out and reassure clients that they are representing them to the fullest.
D. The demand for lawyers had forced the pass rate up. Until 2000, the pass rate was 1%. By 2005 the pass rate was 3.8%, but lowering the bar pass rate given the incumbent exam regime just aggravated problem C.
E. The lack of competent business attorneys has meant a massive influx of foreign attorneys, who have maneuvered into a position where they come close to dominating the major transactions in the Tokyo legal world…
EXCERPT ENDS. Rest blogged at http://www.debito.org/?p=101
3) JOEL DECHANT AND HIS GUIDED TOURS OF BEPPU
Friend Joel has become something of a celebrity down in Kyushu with the burgeoning onsens tourist trade. He sends word of government-sponsored ads for tours in part hosted by him. If you’re in the area, look him up. Turning the keyboard over to him:
Friends and colleagues: My worldwide debut is now available for all to see in 6 different languages.
If this link gives you trouble, try accessing from the front page http://web-japan.org/jvt/en/index.html
(Or try YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvdQrIbyJv8 )
This was produced by NHK International for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who has distributed this to hundreds of Japanese embassies worldwide, in addition to providing the streaming link online.
It’s only 5 minutes long, so please have a look. Regards, Joel
Joel has also been featured on TV several times, most accessibly here (TV Tokyo):
Well done. Hope to see more of you.
4) TEN THINGS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE IN 2006
Now we get into the realm of personal stuff. Here are ten things that changed my life in 2006, in ascending order:
TEN) AUDIBLE.COM. Since discovering this website, I have stopped listening to music in my car, and just stick the iPod in my ears every commute or cycle trip. I have downloaded hundreds of soundfiles, ranging from full books (Chomsky, Shakespeare, Malcolm Gladwell) to speeches, debates, and hearings (US presidential candidate debates, US Supreme Court oral arguments, Inaugural Addresses from every US president since FDR, Congressional Hearings on Iraq, WMD, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Bolton), and NPR radio broadcasts. Prices range from ten or so dollars US to completely free, and I have a full-year’s subscription to NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross (which is quite, ahem, engrossing). Brain broccoli on a daily basis.
NINE) BASEBALL, BY KEN BURNS. This auteur and darling of the US TV network PBS crowd just keeps on doing it again and again. From his breakout series THE CIVIL WAR, Burns continues to crank out documentaries of incredible quality and accessible history. I own most of his movies already, but this year’s purchase of BASEBALL (which charts the origins and effects of the game on American society) was well worth the hefty price tag. Each installment (or “inning”) is well over two hours long, and there are ten innings. Is it compelling? Speaking as a non-baseball fan, I find them breathtakingly well-assembled and seamless in narrative, even touching upon issues such as gender and racial equality, labor unions, and immigration and assimilation. No, it’s not all baseball scores and people running rounders. Completely convincing as to why anyone should care about the game.
EIGHT) THE YAMATO DAMACY INTERVIEWS. I generally hate appearing before TV cameras–I freeze up and become all self-conscious, kinda like me on a dance floor. However, these podcasted interviews by Rahman and Jeshii are startlingly good: great fun while covering a lot of ground. I still enjoy watching them from time to time, and think, “Is that really how I come off when I’m in ‘The Zone’? Gee, even *I* like me!” See them for yourself here: Episode One: http://yamato.revecess.com/?episode=13 Episode Two: http://yamato.revecess.com/?lang=en&episode=15 Episode Three: http://yamato.revecess.com/?lang=en&episode=20 And the best one: Episode Four: http://yamato.revecess.com/?lang=en&episode=23
SEVEN) JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL TEXTBOOKS. After perusing the textbooks my daughters will be reading in secondary education, I actually took the advice of friend Chris (who also mastered Japanese this way) by picking up a seventh-grade Kokugo textbook (“Tsutae Au Kotoba”, Kyouiku Shuppan, Monkashou Kokugo 709) for myself, and devoted time to doing at least two pages a night. Found that it was just about the right level–in that I could read it without having to refer to a dictionary at any time, but the topics and points covered were insightful as to what kids should understand about written language, both historical and current, as a means for expression and preserving the past. And no, it was not cold and militaristic, as I almost expected Jr High School education in Japan to be. It has a gentle yet persuasive tone that even I, a very skeptical person given PM Abe’s recent changes to the Basic Education Law, could buy into. For a reality check, I guess I’m going to have to pick up a history book once I work my way through HS Kokugo…
SIX) MANGA “KISEIJUU”, BY IWAAKI HITOSHI. This bestselling comic series (10 books, published by Kodansha 1990-1995 by Afternoon KC) was something I rediscovered in a treasure trove of my old books. Story is about space parasites which try to take over the earth, in the best traditions of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Won’t develop further, as it already sounds hokey, but the story gets into issues of identity, life, and ecology, and has several different types of written tone in advanced Japanese. It is also well-rendered, with perfect line and facial characterization, mature enough to avoid pandering to silly comic exaggeration so common to Japanese manga. Why it made a difference to me is that for the first time in studying Japanese, I actually read something in Japanese for pure enjoyment, not merely because I need the information. That is very promising.
FIVE) THE “JAPANESE ONLY WORLD TOURS”. Last year, I gave speeches at 24 different university and educational institutions (thanks!). The most interesting were the 10 speeches I was asked to give in the US and Canada, in that I was addressing a fundamentally different audience, some of whom knew very little of Japan outside their manga, video games, and cursory social studies classes. Others (such as those at NYU Law and Columbia Law) asked questions from a legal perspective for which I had difficulty coming up with answers. Still others just wanted to know why the universality of human experience would allow for racial discrimination to remain unchallenged in a society as rich and developed as Japan’s–which to me was the hardest question of all. A wonderful way to keep my mind from going stale and the issue fresh and growing. Similarly:
FOUR) AL GORE’S “AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH”. I watched this movie three times in a row on the airplane going to Canada last October and twice going back. It is a wonderful documentary from the master of the slide show–former presidential candidate Al Gore making his well-rehearsed and utterly compelling speech on Global Warming. Al has nearly single-handedly changed the debate from prevaricating inertia to implausible deniability… and shown us how an intellectual may not convince the beer-drinking crowd that he is worthy of a presidential vote, but is certainly worth a respectful audience for his earnest work (when driving my rental car through Vancouver traffic, the radio advertised tickets to go see his slide show live; I had to pull over and recompose myself, I was laughing and clapping so hard with joy). Personally, it showed me that my slide shows (now Powerpoint presentations) on racism in Japan do have a future, and when enough of them happen (as they did for Susan B. Anthony in her decades of tours promoting woman suffrage in the 1800’s), it is possible to just keep on keeping on and reach a tipping point. Bravo, Al.
THREE) MY NEXT BOOK: “GUIDEBOOK FOR NEWCOMERS SETTING DOWN ROOTS IN JAPAN”. To be published next year, but written in 2006. This collaborative effort with a legal scrivener friend promises to put into print the advice that many long-termers have but haven’t collated. More and more people are immigrating to Japan. It’s time somebody told them how they can get a leg up in this society. The Japanese government has been complacent in its guidance, if not outright complicit (with, for example, its Trainee and Researcher Visa programs) in keeping foreigners as temporary and exploitable labor. On a personal note, it has demonstrated to me as well that I can write about more than just onsens and lawsuits…
TWO) MY THIRD CYCLETREK AROUND HOKKAIDO. This two-week trek, covering 940 kms from Sapporo to Abashiri via Wakkanai (alluded to at http://www.debito.org/?p=25) with friend Chris was again a wonderful expedition and vision quest. My first Cycletrek (1999, available at http://www.debito.org/residentspage.html#cycletreks) is still one of my favorite essays. This trek, travelling around with another person the whole time (a first, as I usually do these ordeals alone) proved to me that even a lone wolf by temperament and pace such as myself can keep up with another person more than ten years my junior both mentally and particularly physically. I intend to do this every August from now on (for why leave Hokkaido when the weather is so perfect and we’ve suffered so much snow waiting for it?), so anyone else is interested in joining me, let me know. I intend to break 1000 kms next summer.
ONE) MY DIVORCE. This has forced the largest recalibration of my life’s direction up to this point, my integrity as a person, and my preferences for the future. Lasting nearly three years, this experience is something I would never wish on anyone else. Enough said. I finally plucked up the courage to web my December essay on it at
ZERO) And one more, just because I don’t want to end the list on a sad note: AERIAL, BY KATE BUSH. This bestselling musical album, in the era of where iTunes downloads of individual tracks are outdistancing CD purchases, reassured me that my upbringing as an aficionado of music in ALBUM form (i.e. two sides of a record or a cassette tape, midway taking you into a special musical zone that cannot be reached otherwise) is not dead. After nearly two decades waiting for Kate to come out with this, she does not disappoint in any way, and it’s one of those rare albums you can keep flipping over and over again. (And for what it’s worth, other albums you can do the same with: Genesis “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here”, Depeche Mode “Ultra”, Genesis “Trick of the Tail” back to back with “Wind and Wuthering”, The Police “Synchronicity”, Seal’s eponymous debut album, Sade “Stronger than Pride”, Djivan Gasparyan and MIchael Brook “Black Rock”, Abdelli’s eponymous debut album, Beatles “Sgt. Pepper” and “Abbey Road”, Duran Duran’s eponymous “Wedding Album” and Arcadia “So Red the Rose”, Tangerine Dream “Turn of the Tides”, Roller Coaster (South Korea) “Absolute”, Blur “13”, B-52’s “Bouncing Off the Satellites”, The Fixx “Phantoms”, Men at Work “Business as Usual”, Moody Blues “Days of Future Passed”, George Michael “Faith”, Sting “Dream of the Blue Turtles”, U2 “Joshua Tree” and “Unforgettable Fire”, Talking Heads “Buildings and Food”…) Made me feel like my overwhelming preference for the contained collection of songs as an essay, as an art form, still matters.
AND FINALLY… DEBITO.ORG A DECADE ON…
2007 marks the tenth year of debito.org’s existence, and it has grown from a backlog of personal essays to an award-winning database of several thousand articles and documents about life in Japan. It has become something I add to practically every day (thanks to my Blog, opened last June, at http://www.debito.org/index.php, now with 116 posts already), and occasions comments from people around the world with an interest in Japan, and who want to know more before coming here and trying to make a go of it.
And it just keeps on growing. The number of visitors reached record levels this month, growing from an average of about 2000 hits and page views and 700 visits on average throughout 2006, to nearly 3000 hits and page views and 1300 visits PER DAY in December. This has never happened before, and being a writer who loves to be read, this is extremely satisfying.
A more accessible statistic is this: According to the Technorati website, which tracks blog links worldwide, as of today debito.org has 159 links from 70 blogs–making it (out of all the millions of blogs out there) the 46,809th ranked blog worldwide. (http://www.technorati.com/search/www.debito.org)
Being in the top 50,000 in the world for a personal website is I think pretty impressive, and I thank everyone for their support. I hope to continue being of service, and will start with a brand new information site on my 42nd birthday, January 13. Eyes peeled.
Have a safe and prosperous 2007, everyone! Arudou Debito in Sapporo
December 31, 2006
DEBITO.ORG HOLIDAY EDITION NEWSLETTER 2006 ENDS