DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER DECEMBER 20, 2009

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Hi All. This will be the last Newsletter for this decade. I’ve been doing these Newsletters for well over a decade now anyway, so let’s turn the page and conclude the year…

DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER DECEMBER 20, 2009

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NEW PET PEEVES
1) The ludicrousness of Japan’s Salary Bonus System: How it contributes to Japan’s deflationary spiral
2) Health insurance advocate “Free Choice Foundation” is fronting US health insurance business
3) One NJ exchange student’s rotten experience as a J MOE-MEXT ryuugakusei
4) Mainichi: Senior Immigration Bureau officer arrested on suspicion of corruption
5) NPA now charging suspect Ichihashi with Hawker murder, not just “abandoning her corpse”. Why the delay?
6) Bern Mulvey JALT presentation on flawed MEXT university accreditation system

OLD PET PEEVES:
7) Kyodo: GOJ responsible for hardship facing Ainu, incl racial profiling by J police on the street!
8 ) GS on Michael Moore’s rights to complain about being fingerprinted at Japanese border
9) US Congress Lantos HR Commission on J Child Abductions issue: Letters to Obama & Clinton, my submission for Congressional Record
10) UN News: “Ending complacency key to fighting discrimination worldwide”
11) EU Observer: “Racism at shocking levels” in European Union

HOLIDAY TANGENTS:
12) Debito.org Podcast December 20, 2009 (with un-serious articles for a change)
13) Behind the scenes from Copenhagen EcoSummit (COP15), Eric Johnston blog
14) Headachingly bad Japan travelogue by Daily Beast’s “new travel columnist” Jolie Hunt. Whale on it.
15) Next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column out Tues January 5, 2010.
Topic: Roundup: The most significant human rights advances in Japan in 2009.

… and finally …
16) SAPPORO SOURCE DEBITO column Dec 2009: Top 9 Things I Like about Japan (full text)
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By Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan (debito@debito.org)
Daily Blog updates, RSS feeds at www.debito.org, Podcasts at iTunes
Freely Forwardable

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NEW PET PEEVES

1) The ludicrousness of Japan’s Salary Bonus System: How it contributes to Japan’s deflationary spiral

Big news across Japan these past couple of days has been how the Winter Bonus has been slashed between 10 to 15 percent for bureaucrats. Some people might say, well, tough beans — these bureaucrats were being overpaid anyway, so it’s about time. The problem is that this practice is a bellwether: other industries see this as an excuse to cut their own salaries. My university (which is private-sector, but they directly cited the Bonus cuts to the national bureaucrats (kokka koumuin) as justification) cut all of our Bonuses this year and will continue to do so in perpetuity. As in: they cut our bonus multiple from 4.5 months’ salary total per year to 4.15 months’, and will not change that until the national bureaucrats revise their multiple upward.

I heard yesterday from a friend that he heard on the TV wide shows that only 14% of all people surveyed got a rise in Winter Bonus this December. Everyone else either had no change, a drop, or NO BONUS AT ALL. If this is true, and almost everyone is getting screwed by this system and losing money in real terms, it’s not just a labor issue anymore: We’re talking about a deflationary spiral, as domestic consumption decreases and domestic demand follows suit, and more companies find themselves yet again cutting Bonuses because they say they have to, but really because they can.

Conclusion: Lose the Bonus System. It is increasingly becoming a way to deprive workers of a third of their annual salary at corporate whim. And it only feeds the forces that are hurting Japan’s consumers.

http://www.debito.org/?p=5480

PLUS: DEBITO.ORG POLL: “What happened with your Winter Bonus 2009?”
Please tell us! Found on any Debito.org blog page.

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2) Health insurance advocate “Free Choice Foundation” is fronting US health insurance business

A friend writes, excerpt: “Moreover, Kessler K.K., the Free Choice Foundation, HealthOne and its sponsoring company, Legend Travelers, as well as “National Health Insurance Watch”–a website that shares different two ways (with a disclaimer!) how NJ can use deceit to get themselves off kokumin kenko hoken — all five are supported by the same internet server that is registered to [Free Choice Foundation chair] Mr. Kessler. In America no less!

“What is the real story? Is it about free choice? Fairness to NJ? Or simply arguing that Japan should ignore its own social insurance laws when it comes to NJ, so that someone else can make a business out of it?”

COMMENT: Yeah, come to think of it: As a person who has always had a difficult time scraping together much money for activism (believe me, I’ll always be impoverished by my activities), I was curious how this group was able to make all this money for a very flash website, lobbying, advertising in broadsheet publications…

http://www.debito.org/?p=5459

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3) One NJ exchange student’s rotten experience as a J MOE-MEXT ryuugakusei

Guest essay intro: My name is Laura Petrescu, and I am a Monbukagakusho-MEXT scholarship grantee that has been living in Japan for almost three years. When I came here, I was expecting a high-quality academic environment and an overall positive experience. I was disappointed time and again by irregularities, double standards, absurd situations and blatant displays of racism.

Therefore, I thought I’d share my ryuugaku experience so far. I think that by getting the word out I’m giving prospective foreign students a chance to learn ‘other’ truth about living and studying in Japan. On the surface, things might look good – after all, who would say no to going to college for free? Still, there are many things that can turn an average ryuugaku experience into a complete disappointment and a waste of time.

http://www.debito.org/?p=5423

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4) Mainichi: Senior Immigration Bureau officer arrested on suspicion of corruption

Let’s look how deep the rot runs. It’s not just human traffickers bringing in NJ on “Entertainer Visas” sponsored by the State. It’s not just factories bringing in NJ on “Trainee and Researcher Visas” to exploit as sweatshop labor — again, sponsored by the State. It’s even now according to the Mainichi article below the Immigration Bureau profiteering, using their power for rents-seeking (in the academic sense) to skim off money again from migrants.

Although not an elixir for all these problems, an Immigration Ministry with clear immigration policies (and not mere policing powers, given how unaccountable the Japanese police are; even below an “internal investigation” has been promised; bah!) would in my view help matters.

The big losers are of course the commodities in these exchanges — people, i.e. the NJ, who are here at the whim, pleasure, and profit of the powers that be. Sickening.

http://www.debito.org/?p=5398

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5) NPA now charging suspect Ichihashi with Hawker murder, not just “abandoning her corpse”. Why the delay?

Now here’s what I don’t get. Ichihashi’s charge has been upgraded from corpse abandonment to outright murder. But why wasn’t it before? What new information has been brought out since his apprehension? Police already knew about the body, the disposed-of hair, the fact that she accompanied Ishihashi to his apartment and was last seen there. And now suddenly his DNA matches bodily fluid found on her corpse. But didn’t the police know all of this before? It’s not as though Ichihashi’s interrogation revealed him admitting any new information (after all, he’s not talking).

Why is it that he gets charged with mere corpse abandonment (something that frequently happens when a NJ gets killed) up until now, whereas if something like this is done to a Japanese victim (as posters with Ichihashi’s fellow murder suspects indicate), it gets a full-blown murder charge? Why the delay until now? I wish I had the information to answer these questions.

Final thing I find odd: Good for father Mr Hawker being tenacious about this case. There are plenty of other murders (Tucker Murder, Honiefaith Murder, Lacey Murder, and Blackman Murder) and assaults (Barakan Assault) of NJ that the NPA and the criminal courts gave up on all too easily. Does the family of the NJ victim have to pursue things more doggedly than the police before the NPA will actually get on it (as they had to do for Lucie Blackman’s killer, and he still got acquitted for it)? It only took the NPA close to three years to get Ichihashi, and that was after a tip from a face change clinic (not any actual police investigation).

Why this half-assedness for crimes against NJ? Sorry, there’s lots of things here that just don’t make sense, and they point to different judicial standards for NJ victims of J crime.

UPDATE: For once, the Comments Section forces me to capitulate!

http://www.debito.org/?p=5413

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6) Bern Mulvey JALT presentation on flawed MEXT university accreditation system

Dr Bern Mulvey of Iwate University gave a presentation for PALE at the national JALT Conference last November. Entitled “UNIVERSITY ACCREDITATION IN JAPAN: PROBLEMS AND POSSIBILITIES“, it outlines how Monkasho (the infamous Education Ministry in Japan) certifies universities as teaching institutions, and what measures it takes to ensure quality control. The presentation shows a lot of the tricks and sleights of hands the universities do to keep their status (particularly in regards to FD — as in that buzzword “Faculty Development”, and peer review) without actually changing much. I asked his permission to reproduce his powerpoint on Debito.org, so here it is as fifteen slides and downloadable ppt format:

http://www.debito.org/?p=5503

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OLD PET PEEVES:

7) Kyodo: GOJ responsible for hardship facing Ainu, incl racial profiling by J police on the street!

Kyodo: A member of a disbanded government panel on policies related to the Ainu said Saturday that the panel wanted to send a message to the government and the public that state policy has imposed hardships on the indigenous people and caused discrimination against them. ‘‘We wanted to make it clear and tell the people in our report that the state was responsible for the suffering imposed on the Ainu and the disparities (between them and the majority group),’’ Teruki Tsunemoto, head of the Hokkaido University Center for Ainu & Indigenous Studies, told a symposium on Ainu policy in Tokyo…

[Ainu panelist] Tomoko Yahata said she was stopped and searched in Tokyo nine times over the six months through October. ‘‘Responding to my question as to why they had stopped me, the police officers said it is because there are many overstaying foreigners,’’ she said. Many Ainu must be facing similar difficulties as they now live nationwide, she suggested…

Tsunemoto was one of the eight members of the panel, which was set up after Japan recognized the Ainu as an indigenous people last year and issued the report in July this year. The panel urged the government in the report to take concrete steps to improve the lives of Ainu people and promote public understanding of them through education.

http://www.debito.org/?p=5401

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8 ) GS on Michael Moore’s rights to complain about being fingerprinted at Japanese border

Introduction: Through the blog of Mr. Arudou Debito (www.debito.org), I’ve read part of Mr. Moore’s interview in Japan, in which he reported his fingerprinting experiences at the border (see http://www.debito.org/?p=5347). Though through this web form my message probably gets to the inbox of a webmaster, I hope you may find my response interesting enough to patch through to him. I would like to provide him with some hopefully interesting food for thought about fingerprinting in general, and the J-VIS (Japanese border check) system in particular.

Mr. Moore apparently got the hostile response that if he refused, he would be deported back to the United States on his question why he would have to be fingerprinted. I guess a good introduction to my story would be to point his attention to Article 4 of the Japanese “Act on the Protection of Personal Information Held by Administrative Organs”…

Conclusion: And yet more food for thought. With almost every other identifier and keys, from physical keys to credit cards to drivers’ licenses to passports, the reason we have them is that we can replace them when the legitimate user gets into trouble because something goes wrong. We would find it unacceptable to hear: “Sorry, we found out your car key / credit card / passport has been copied / isn’t accepted as well as it should be / doesn’t fit / …, but you can’t replace it, so you just have to live with the problem.” Why then do we accept that with fingerprints…?

http://www.debito.org/?p=5469

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9) US Congress Lantos HR Commission on J Child Abductions issue: Letters to Obama & Clinton, my submission for Congressional Record

Last week I reported on the US Congress’s investigation of Japan as a haven for international child abductions, and a December 4, 2009 hearing that many of the Left-Behind Parents attended and issued statements to. The Congressman Lantos Human Rights Commission has since issued letters, signed by several Congresspeople, to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, requesting they personally meet with select representatives of the LBP and consider their issue. Scans of those letters enclosed below.

I was also invited to write a statement, as a LBP myself, for inclusion in the Congressional Record. The text of that follows the Obama and Clinton letters.

Conclusion to my statement: “In sum, it is my belief that, with Family Laws in Japan as they stand, nobody (Japanese citizen or non-Japanese) should get married and have children in Japan. The risk is just too great. Too many children are getting hurt by a system that encourages Parental Alienation Syndrome, and creates single-parent households that can be acrimonious to the point of deterring the children from becoming parents themselves.

“I urge Congress to encourage Japan not only to sign the Hague Convention on Child Abductions, but also reform its long-outdated Family Law structure. Allow for joint custody and enforced child visitation backed up by criminal law penalties — for the sake of not only American citizens, but also us Japanese citizens.”

http://www.debito.org/?p=5448

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10) UN News: “Ending complacency key to fighting discrimination worldwide”

UN News: The United Nations human rights chief today called on individuals everywhere to consider how they can fight discrimination beginning in their own homes and workplaces, stressing the need to overcome complacency which only contributes to the scourge.

“You cannot defeat discrimination by shutting your eyes to it and hoping that it will go away. Complacency is discrimination’s best friend,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a news conference in Geneva, ahead of this year’s Human Rights Day.

http://www.debito.org/?p=5429

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11) EU Observer: “Racism at shocking levels” in European Union

Excerpt from EU Observer: “The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency first-ever report, published on Wednesday (8 December), attempts to map the contours of discrimination across the bloc in a comprehensive, 276-page survey of over 23,000 individuals. It reveals that over a fifth (22 percent) of sub-Saharan Africans have been discriminated against at least once in the last year while looking for work, 17 percent of Roma say they have experienced similar incidents while being seen by a doctor or nurse and 11 percent of North Africans are subjected to racism when in or simply trying to enter a shop.”

COMMENT: Wish we could get some reportage like this in the J media about domestic discrimination. Oh wait, we don’t even use the word “racial discrimination” as a term of the debate here.

http://www.debito.org/?p=5433

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HOLIDAY TANGENTS:

12) Debito.org Podcast December 20, 2009 (which un-serious articles for a change)

As the year (and the decade) runs out, let’s make my last podcast something a little merrier. I read my first three SAPPORO SOURCE columns, on 1) Hokkaido Winters, 2) Hokkaido Summers, and 3) the concept of The Album (something that is fading as an art form due to “tracks” downloading). Give them a try. Twenty minutes. Plus Duran Duran and Tangerine Dream excerpts, of course.

http://www.debito.org/?p=5522
or from iTunes

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13) Behind the scenes from Copenhagen EcoSummit (COP15), Eric Johnston blog

A reporter I really respect, Eric Johnston of the Japan Times, is currently over in Copenhagen covering the COP15 UN Conference on Climate Change. He is maintaining a daily blog on what it’s like to be a scribe in the thick of it. Interesting reading (especially the entry on a day in the life — I’d burn out at that pace long before the conference ended). A nice diversion on a holiday morning, have a read.

http://blog.japantimes.co.jp/cop15/category/behind-the-scenes/

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14) Headachingly bad Japan travelogue by Daily Beast’s “new travel columnist” Jolie Hunt. Whale on it.

I saw one of the worst Star Trek (TOS) shows ever (one that makes you say, “Give me my 50 minutes back!”, and no, it wasn’t “Spock’s Brain” — it was “Catspaw”; enough said). In the same genre of howlingly bad copy and information, let me send along this little ditty of Japan travelogue by a Ms Jolie Hunt for you to scratch at:

Excerpt: “I hadn’t been to Tokyo in three years and what struck me on a recent three-day visit was how the city seems vaster, yet more accessible for Westerners, than it did when I was last here. Now nearly everyone, from your cabbie to your masseur, can manage a few words in English. And speaking of cabbies, Tokyo’s are glorious. All wear white gloves, have doily-adorned seats, and accept American Express. And no more renting one of those weird cellphones when you visit; 3G now works here. All these comforts and conveniences have a way of making Japan feel less foreign—almost, I dare say, like any other major city.”

Open season.

http://www.debito.org/?p=5435

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15) Next Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Column out Tues January 5, 2010.
Topic: Roundup: The most significant human rights advances in Japan in 2009.

Yes, it’s that time of the season, where we woolgather and hark back to what the past year has brought us.

And by annual tradition (okay, it’s only the second year running), I’ll be offering a round-up of the most significant human rights advances Japan has allowed us.

Out in the first Tuesday’s Japan Times in January! That’s Jan 5. Get a copy!

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… and finally …

16) SAPPORO SOURCE DEBITO column Dec 2009: Top 9 Things I Like about Japan (full text)

http://www.debito.org/?p=5319

JAPAN’S TOP NINE

SAPPORO SOURCE Column 6 published in December 2009 issue

By Arudou Debito DRAFT SEVEN

People often ask me, “Isn’t there something you like about Japan?” The answer is, plenty! Nine things I think Japan is peerless at:

9) PUBLIC TRANSPORT. Overseas I’ve often said, “Drat, I need a car to get around!” But even in Hokkaido, I can find a way (train, bus, taxi if necessary) to get somewhere, including the sticks, given a reasonable amount of time. Besides, in urban areas, how many cities the size of Tokyo can move millions around daily on infrastructure that is relatively clean, safe, and cheap? Not that many.

8 )SEAFOOD. Food in Japan is high quality, and it’s difficult to have a bad meal (even school cafeterias are decent). World-class cuisine is not unique to Japan (what with Chinese, Italian, Thai, Indian, French…), but Japan does seafood best. No wonder: with a longer history of fishing than of animal husbandry, Japan has discovered how to make even algae delicious! Japanese eat more seafood than anyone else. Justifiably.

7) ONOMATOPEIA. I am a Japanese kanji nerd, but that’s only the bureaucratic side of our language. Now try gitaigo and giseigo/giongo, i.e. Japanese onomatopeic expressions. We all know gussuri and gakkari. But I have a tin ear for pori pori when scratching the inside of my nose, or rero rero when licking something, or gabiin when agape? Japanese as a language is highly contextualized (say the wrong word and bureaucrats sit on their hands), but the universe of expressiveness found in just a couple of repeated kana is something I doubt I will ever master. My loss.

6) PACKAGING. Stores like Mitsukoshi cocoon your purchase in more paper and plastic than necessary. But when you really need that cocoon, such as when transporting stuff, you’re mollycoddled. Japanese post offices offer boxes and tape for cheap or free. Or try the private-sector truckers, like Yamato or Pelican, whom I would even trust with bubble-wrapping and shipping a chandelier across the country (for a reasonable price, too). If you don’t know how to pack, leave it to the experts. It’s part of the service. Because as Mitsukoshi demonstrates, if it’s not packaged properly, it’s not presentable in Japan.

5) CALLIGRAPHIC GOODS. I’m used to crappy American Bic ballpoint pens that seize up in the same groove (and inexplicably ONLY in that groove, no matter how many times you retrace). But in Japan, writing instruments combine quality with punctiliousness: People prowl stationery stores for new models (with special buttons to advance the pencil lead, twirl cartridges for multiple colors, or multicolored ink that comes out like Aquafresh toothpaste) that they spotted in specialty stationery magazines (seriously!). Maybe this is not so mysterious considering how precisely one has to write kanji — but I know of only two countries putting this fine a point on pens: Germany (which has a huge market here), and Japan.

4) GROUP PROJECTS. Yes, working in groups makes situations inflexible and slow, but when things work here, they really work, especially a project calls for an automatic division of labor.

For example: In my former hometown of Nanporo my friends and I were politically active, and we’d rent a room at the choumin center for a town meeting. Before the meeting, people would show up early to set up chairs and tables. Afterward, attendees would help put everything back before going home. I’ve done presentations overseas and the attitude is more: ”Hey, you proles take care of the chairs — what are we paying you for?” Sucks. Nice to be here, where pitching in often goes without asking.

3) PUBLIC TOILETS. Sure, public conveniences exist overseas, but they are frequently hard to find (I think shoppers overseas must have enormous bladders) — and when found, look like they’ve been through Lebanon or Somalia. Japan, however, generally keeps its toilets clean and unstinky.

And pretty comfortable, too. Sure, I hate it when I’m turtle-heading and can only find Japan’s squatter-types. But I also hate being trapped overseas in a stall where strangers can see my bare ankles under the door. Besides, whenever I’m on the road in Japan and need a time-out, I head for the nearest handicapped toilet and bivouac. Ah, a room to myself; it’s a love hotel for my tuchus.

2) ANIME. I’ve read comic books since I was two years old, and I’ve long admired Japanimation and comic art. I can’t resist anime’s clean lines, sense of space and forcefulness, and storyboard style of storytelling. Once underrated overseas, Japan’s comics are now one of our largest cultural exports. Resistance is futile: Knockoffs are all over Cartoon Network (I love POWERPUFF GIRLS and SAMURAI JACK).

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

I once gave an exam at a Japanese university testing spatial vocabulary. I drew a room on the answer sheet and said, “Under the table, draw Doraemon.” Amazingly, 98 of 100 students drew a clearly-recognizable Doraemon, most complete with propeller, collar bell, philtrum, and whiskers. Try getting people overseas to draw a recognizable Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, or even just Snoopy, and you’ll see how comparatively under-practiced drawing skills tend to be outside Japan.

1) ONSENS. Of course. If you can get in. Ahem.

900 WORDS

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That’s all for this decade! See you in 2010!

Arudou Debito
Sapporo, Japan (debito@debito.org)
Daily Blog updates, RSS feeds at www.debito.org, Podcasts at iTunes
DEBITO.ORG NEWSLETTER DECEMBER 20, 2009 ENDS

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