Politician From Japanese Cult “Happy Science” at CPAC

(Anyone who enjoyed this post would probably be interested in my 2008 piece about ties between historical revisionary conservatives and Japan’s current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.)

The baby-faced alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos lost his speaking gig at this week’s CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference, essentially a conference of the American Republican party) for being increasingly gross, but we aren’t here to talk about this boring child.

Instead, We’re here to talk about the man who replaced Milo on CPAC’s schedule, Jikido “Jay” Aeba (饗庭直道、あえば直道), a former high-level member of the extremely wacky right-wing Japanese cult religion Happy Science, who went on to found their subsidiary political party, the Happiness Realization Party, and is now working to develop a career as a kind of self-appointed ambassador between the Japanese and American right, as part of the substantial Japanese right-wing media industry. There’s a lot of threads to follow, so I’m just going to give a brief overview here and then follow up with additional posts in the near (ish) future. Let us also note that his Twitter handle, @ultraJedi, is pretty sweet.

This week will be Aeba’s second appearance at CPAC, following his 2016 speech, below, where he was hailed as the co-founder of the Japanese Conservative Union (JCA), an organization which ostensibly aspires to be a clone of the successful American Conservative Union (take note of how Aeba took the URL conservative.or.jp, in transparent imitation of the ACU’s conservative.org), but in reality gives all indication of being little more than a fancy website to give his one-man operation a veneer of institutional legitimacy. Neither the English or Japanese version of his profile on the JCU website mention his history with Happy Science or the Happiness Realization party, which makes his resume look oddly thin.

Aeba’s earlier CPAC speech is a pretty bland collection of right-wing talking points common to both countries, with a hefty infusion of pandering to his audience.

The video, posted by the ACU but possibly produced by Aeba / JCU, begins with a clip from Reagan’s speech before the Japanese Diet on November 11, 1983, in which he affirms that America and Japan “are united in the belief that freedom means dedication to the dignity, rights, and equality of man”, which is given the caption “for the conservative partnership between US and Japan…” This is followed up by a triumphant little montage in which Aeba meets a series of American conservatives including Grover Norquist, Ben Carson, and ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp, who wants to tell him “how honored we are that you come to see us. That you want to collaborate and partner with us”, which is certainly true. The CPAC crowd is fairly sedate, but he gets a few moderate to strong applause lines when he generically praises conservatism, the America – Japan alliance, accuses China of planning to steal Hawaii and Okinawa, and that he arranged for the Japanese translation of Clinton Cash to be published, and gets a laugh when he accuses the American and Japanese Democratic Parties that both took power in 2009 of being “socialistic”, and calls the promise of entitlements “free stuff”. But he also gets very little reaction to parts of his speech that he clearly cares greatly about, in particular the controversy over American military bases in Japan.

In fact, although this was Aeba’s first speech at CPAC, it was not his first time in attendance. The Atlantic Magazine published an article about Aeba’s early attempts to schmooze with the CPAC crowd, back in 2012. (And good for The Atlantic for providing what seems to be pretty much the only English language coverage of Aeba prior to this post I’m writing.)

Early one Saturday in February, as the conference entered its third and final day, the three men sat down in the Marriott’s dimly lit bar to compare notes on what they had seen so far. Behind them, a man dressed in full Founding Fathers drag, complete with wig and tricorne, strolled past; at an adjacent table, two young men with CPAC badges were loudly comparing their hangovers. […]

Aeba, one of the leaders of Japan’s right-wing Happiness Realization Party, was accompanied by Yuya Watase, the founder of the Tokyo Tea Party; their interpreter, a Happiness Realization Party official named Yuki Oikawa; and Bob Sparks, their American political consultant. Together, they said, they were on a mission to export American-style conservatism—the gospel of small government, low taxes, and free enterprise—to the Land of the Rising Sun.

[…] If they had gathered nothing else from CPAC, the Japanese conservatives had clearly internalized the American right’s language of alarmism and crisis.

Aeba clearly kept up his connections with the CPAC crowd, and as mentioned above, took inspiration from them in creating his (The “Japan Tea Party” didn’t go anywhere, but Watase Yuya is still active. I’ll take a look at him in some future post.)

But what was that about a strange religious cult and the political party that they sponsor? Oh right, Happy Science, and the Happiness Realization party.

Happy Science (in Japanese: 幸福の科学 / koufuku no kagaku) is a Japanese “new religion”, that was founded by Ryuho Okawa in 1986 and has gone onto be one of the most successful of these eccentric cults. The theology itself seems to be a melange of traditional Buddhist cosmology with a wide assortment of generic new-age pablum, topped with a very strong layer of veneration of the “Master Okawa”. I don’t want to get into their highly entertaining cosmology in this post, except to say that reading a Happy Science-published book on the subject several years ago made me wonder if I was reading a Japanese translation of the Dungeons and Dragons Manual of the Planes.

To get a taste of their style, as well as the eclectic basket of influences they draw upon, here are a couple of brief excerpts from their official website:

El Cantare is the Lord, Buddha and Savior. He is the supreme God of the terrestrial spirit group who has the highest authority over the planet Earth and is directly connected to the Primordial Buddha or Primordial God – the Creator of the whole universe.

Lord El Cantare has also sent down parts of his own consciousness – brother souls – to guide humanity in the right direction at the most important times in history. El Cantare’s brother souls who have been born to Earth in the last twenty thousand years are:

  • La Mu – 17,000 years ago on the Mu continent
  • Thoth – 12,000 years ago in Atlantis
  • Rient Arl Croud – 7,000 years ago in the Incan Empire
  • Ophealis – 6,500 years ago in Greece
  • Hermes – 4,300 years ago in Greece, Crete Island
  • Gautama Siddhartha (Shakyamuni Buddha) – 2,500 years ago in India.
  • Ryuho Okawa – present reincarnation of El Cantare

Needless to say, that last line about the cult’s leader being a reincarnation of the creator of the universe is the most significant teaching in the entire religion, and the core of the entire enterprise. Although they claim that “The grand mission of Happy Science is to create utopia – a world filled with love, peace, harmony and prosperity”, Okawa from the beginning combined his religious teachings with a hard-right political ideology. I found a 1991 AP story, that describes him as follows:

Lights go off. White smoke rises on stage. A round-faced, chubby man in a dark business suit appears in a spotlight before thousands of admirers. He claims he is Japan’s Messiah, the reincarnation of Buddha.

The man portrays the Japanese as a chosen people destined to destroy the United States and the Soviet Union and make China “a slave.”

[…] In his book “Nostradamus: Fearful Prophecies,” Okawa asserts that only the Japanese Leviathan will survive the imminent end of the world after destroying the United States and the Soviet Union:

“In the 21st Century, there will be no enemies for Leviathan. It will slash throats of the old eagle and the exhausted red bear, and laugh at the aging Europe. It will use China as a slave and Korea as a prostitute.”

The same article briefly describes his business model, which may sound familiar to readers who have read about Scientology.

Annual revenues are about $45 million, most of it from donations, according to Teikoku Data Bank, an independent research company.

Group spokesmen admit that up to 90% of their members do nothing more than subscribe to a monthly magazine, “Science of Happiness,” for $100 a year. But they say as many as 200,000 people have become “true members.” Critics put that number as low as 20,000.

To become a true member, one has to read 10 of Okawa’s books and pass exams on them.

You may have noticed mention above of a book entitled “Nostradamus: Fearful Prophecies,” which is strongly representative of Okawa’s prodigious output. Of the astonishing 714 titles currently credit to him on the Happy Science online bookstore, a large proportion consist of alleged posthumous interviews with the souls of deceased figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Adolf Hitler, Walt Disney, Albert EinsteinNelson Mandela,  Zhou Enlai, Isaac Newton, Georg Hegel, Oda Nobunaga, Sakamoto Ryoma, and many dozens if not hundreds more1. He also publishes what he claims are interviews with the “guardian spirits” of living celebrities, such as this book in which he discusses the secret of beauty with the guardian spirits of Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley, or this interview in which the guardian spirits of the famous AKB48 girl-pop group explain the secrets of marketing.

Happy Science has been in the Japanese news quite a lot recently, due to the decision of young actress Fumiko Shimizu to retire from showbiz entirely and devote herself fulltime to the cult, under the priestly name of Yoko Sengen. Shimizu had allegedly been a member of Happy Science since childhood, and seems to have embraced it fully as a means to escape from a career that she seems not to have enjoyed very much.

The Happiness Realization Party is also not new, and was first discussed on this blog back in 2009, when Adam wrote a series of posts about the candidates running for a seat in the Diet’s lower house, representing his district in Tokyo. The party had only been founded that year, and the candidate Adam wrote about, Kazumasa Fujiyama, only won about 1% of the vote. In the May, 2010 election, the HRP won their first Diet seat when Yasuhiro Oe, who had been elected as a proportional member representing the Japan Renaissance Party, decided to change his affiliation to HRP post-election. As my co-blogger Adam explained back in 2010:

The Wakayama native [Yasuhiro Oe] first became an upper house member in 2001 as a PR candidate on the LDP ticket, then as a DPJ candidate in 2007. He later joined JRP as a founding member in 2008, citing problems with the DPJ’s methods. In terms of policy, he has adopted some typical right-wing positions – he’s pro-Taiwan, a firm Nanjing Massacre truther, and a vocal supporter of the victims of North Korea’s kidnapping program. He comes up for reelection in 2013.

A 2009 Campaign Poster for the Happiness Realization Party featuring Jikido Aeba, with the English language slogan “Start! Japanese Dream!” written phonetically in Japanese.

As mentioned above, Jikido Aeba was the original leader of the HRP when it was founded on May 23, 2009, and he boasted that he “Wanted to lead as the Barack Obama of Japan.” Instead, he handed over the position to Kyoko Okawa, wife of the cult leader and “reborn Aphrodite and bodhisattva of wisdom and intellect”, who he later divorced in 2011, after their candidate list was finalized on June 4 for the election mentioned above, in which they won no seats at all.

The platform of the Happiness Realization Party includes many elements of mainstream Japanese conservatism that overlap with the ruling (conservative) Liberal Democratic Party, as well as some elements that diverge sharply from any mainstream party. To quote from Adam’s 2009 post:

Among their chief policy proposals:

  • Revise the constitution to allow a pre-emptive strike on North Korea if necessary.
  • Eliminate inheritance taxes and consumption taxes.
  • In the cities, “bring work and home closer together” by building offices and residences in the same building.
  • Build an enormous monorail around the entire city of Tokyo.
  • Allow massive immigration and promote reproduction to increase Japan’s population to 300 million by 2050

Some of their most radical proposals can be found in their draft constitution:

  • Make a directly elected president the head of state. The president would have the right to issue presidential orders apart from parliamentary legislation. If an order and legislation contradict each other, the chief justice of the supreme court would decide which to follow. But if there is no decision in two weeks, the presidential order will take precedence.
  • The emperor “and other traditions” would be kept on but with their power limited by law.
  • The chief justice of the supreme court would be directly elected.
  • Payment for public bureaucrats would be based on performance (this would be in their constitution!)
  • “Equal opportunity” and total freedom within the law.
  • The state must always aim to have a small government with low taxes.
  • “The mass media must not abuse their power and must act responsibly to the people.”

So, back to Aeba.

He remained involved in Happy Science and the Happiness Realization Party, holding positions such as HPR Director of Public Relations (2011) and Director of Investigations (2013), until he resigned in 2015 to start the Japan Conservative Union. During the last few years of his tenure in the HRP he seems to have been laying the groundwork for this transition, not only with schmoozing such as the 2012 CPAC visit mentioned above, but publishing a small selection of books tactically chosen to bolster his credentials to conservatives in both Japan and America as a conduit to the other country.

It is vital here to make note of his co-founder in the JCU, Shun Eguchi, who spent his career in the Sankei Shimbun, Japan’s conservative, business focused newspaper that can be thought of as similar to the Wall Street Journal, and he ended his career as president of their more specifically business-focused publication, Fuji-Sankei Business Eye. Eguchi is also a graduate of Takushoku University, considered to be a hard-right institution, with ties to many figures known for conservative revisionist historical views.

In 2011 he published the book The Strongest Country – Japan’s Decision, and the from the book’s official description on Amazon it sounds like some pretty generic conservative pablum about strengthening national defense and the economy, mixed with criticism of welfare states such as Sweden.

More recently, he published The Trump Revolution, which came out in March of last year, and supervised the Japanese translation of the infamous Clinton Cash, which was produced by an organization run by Trump’s Leninist fascist political advisor Steve Bannon.

He has also supervised a fairly weird looking pro-Trump book called Presidential Feng-shui, co-authored by a wacky Feng-shui huckster by the name of Dr. Copa ((His real name is Kobayashi Yoshiaki, and the book was co-written with his son, Kobayashi Teruhiro)). In this book, Dr. Copa explains how Trump (perhaps inadvertently, I’m only reading so much of this nonsense) used the power of feng-shui to win himself the White House, in particular via the magico-spatial relationship between the White House and the location of the Trump hotel in Washington’s Old Post Office Building. The magazine Weekly Shincho reported that Dr. Copa is such a big fan of Trump that he was a paying audience member at Trump’s inauguration, so that he could be closer to his “research subject”. And, unsurprisingly, it was Aeba – who was also in attendance at the inauguration and “Liberty Ball”, according to his persona blog, who served as the intermediary to obtain the tickets. In an interview with Shincho, Dr. Copa briefly explains his theory of how Trump used the architectural feng-shui power of the Old Post Office in an identical way to how the location of Toyotomi Hideyoshi‘s camp relative to Kiyosu Castle allowed him to achieve a surprise victory at the 1582 conference at that castle that contributed to his consolidation of power.

On a brief search I don’t see any direct connection between Dr. Copa and Happy Science, but it is hardly surprising that a (former?) member of a weird science-fiction inflected cult is also interested in pop-parapsychology.

 

The Shincho article on Dr. Copa mentioned as an aside that Aeba had described himself as an “Advisor” to the American Republican party, but that there was no evidence of this. Buzzfeed Japan has an article on this exact topic from November of last year. In this piece they list his repeated claims, both online and in media appearances in Japan, that he is an official advisor to the GOP. They describe how, in addition to doing online research, they had their colleagues at Buzzfeed America do some investigation. It turns out that nobody at the Republican National Committee (RNC) knows who Aeba is, but Buzzfeed Japan emails Aeba to ask for clarification.

As evidence of his claim, Aeba forwards them an English language email from Bob Sparks, the American political consultant who worked as a fixer during the 2012 CPAC visit reported by The Atlantic. According to Sparks, Aeba was an “unpaid advisor to Sharon Day“, who is currently the co-chair of the RNC, but Day did not respond to queries and no additional proof was offered. Their seemingly correct conclusion is that while Aeba may have been informally told by Day herself that he was her advisor on US-Japan relations, but that he never had any official position with the RNC or any affiliated organizations. However, he continues to proudly misrepresent himself

As I mentioned earlier, despite having a genuinely substantial political career with the Happiness Realization party, Aeba makes absolutely no mention of them or Happy Science on the Japan Conservative Union website, despite describing himself prominently as an advisor to the GOP. (Although his personal blog, which goes all the way back to 2009 when the HRP was founded and is still updated regarding his current activities, so at best he has made a half-hearted attempt to truly hide his past.)

In that same article, Buzzfeed noticed that he had likewise never made note of his former HRP affiliation on any of his recent media appearances, and none of his hosts organizations or publishers had identified him as such, and so they asked Asahi Broadcasting, Fuji Television, Futaba Publishing, and Sankei Shimbun for comment.

Only Futaba, the publisher of his 2016 book The Trump Revolution, replied, saying that they had avoided mention of his ties to Happy Science in consideration of his telling them that, his “relationship with the Happiness Realization Party is not good.” Does this mean that the HRP is angry at him for cutting ties with them and starting his own personal brand, or is he simply making an excuse?

It is unclear to me whether Aeba retains any ties with Happy Science, but it is clear that his goals align with theirs. In October of last year, Ryuho Okawa published yet another of his spirit interview books, in which he “interviewed” the ghost of George Washington and the guardian spirit of Donald J. Trump, and explained that Trump is in fact the reincarnated spirit of America’s first president. “If candidate Trump becomes President, 300 years of future prosperity are promised for both Japan and America, but if it is Hillary, then America will lose its leadership role in the world.” The sequel, containing more interviews with Trump’s guardian spirit is already out, and new-age spiritual mumbo-jumbo aside, I suspect one would be hard pressed to tell the content apart from any of the speakers at CPAC.

Hopefully Aeba’s new speech will be up soon so I can see how it fits in with everything else, and I will find time in the near future for more writing on related topics.

  1. One that stood out to me on a quick skim as particularly offensive was his book of “spiritual testimony” from the great manga creator Mizuki Shigeru, claiming to have been recorded on the 12th day after his death in late 2015. []
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Good things about 2016, Part 2 – Best J-drama, Hibana

My list of the best stuff of 2016 continues with my favorite Japanese drama  – actually it’s the only one I watched this year:

At some point in my time here I had given up on Japanese dramas – they always felt so cookie-cutter, constantly covering the same themes and using wooden acting and stage direction.

But here comes Hibana, Netflix’s first original series for the Japan market, to set the bar very high. The mini-series, an adaptation of a book with the same title by well-known comedian Naoki Matayoshi, tells the story of a struggling comedy duo who must decide whether to sacrifice their art’s authenticity for a shot at mainstream success.

Until seeing this series, I might have claimed that the Japanese entertainment industry, with its salaried talent, collusive management agencies, and reliance on rehashing the same content and stars year after year,  was fundamentally incapable of producing a series on par with The Sopranos or True Detective. But in my view this series reaches those heights on all fronts, in terms of a compelling story, realistic and interesting acting and dialogue, and character arcs that make sense.

And the biggest surprise to me was the theme – after years of watching Yoshimoto comedians (like Matayoshi) deliver same-y content for years, never in my life did I think that Japanese comedians considered the artist’s struggle for authenticity to be so critical! (of course that probably says more about my shallow knowledge of the Japanese entertainment industry).

If you have a Netflix account, I highly recommend giving it a chance, especially if you have ever had an interest in the world of manzai. It’s a funny but touching story of friendship and careerism that also has its fair share of wacky surprises. I will be watching the team who made this to see if they have a good follow-up.

 

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Good things about 2016, Part 1 – Best podcast, No More Whoppers

2016 is getting a really bad reputation as the worst year ever. I can understand why, but I have good reasons why this doesn’t sit well with me (mostly because this year I added a Little Miss Adamu to the family).

To try and show why 2016 wasn’t all bad, I have decided to run down a few of the good things that either happened or that I read/saw/listened to, starting with my favorite podcast discovery of the year:

No More Whoppers

No More Whoppers might just be my favorite podcast of all time. It’s not perfect by any means, but with podcasts personality is everything, and their special mix of silliness and seriousness is just right for me. 

The hosts are two early 30s white-dude American friends who met more than a decade ago as young video game journalists and have kept in touch. 

Alex moved to Japan, first to teach English and now to run his own retro game themed bar in Nagoya, while Ray has continued writing about games and just recently began trying to make his own. 

They crack silly in-jokes (making surprisingly effective use of an audio soundboard), tell stories about their day-to-day lives, and do various segments modeled after their favorite podcasts. 

As podcasts go, the production is aggressively middling. They release whenever they can schedule an episode, so a lot of the time one is very hung over and half asleep. They get irritated with each other on air and it can get uncomfortable.  The talk is often aimless – literal recapping of the mundane details of their day. At one point one of the hosts  ran out of ideas and started commenting on what he saw out his window.

So having said all that, why do I like it so much? First, when it works, the laughter between two good friends is really infectious. But more importantly, binge listening to the show helped shed some light on transitioning to my mid 30s just at just the right time in my life.

To listen to Alex and Ray is to observe two tortured souls struggling to make sense of and make the best of this world

Much of the lighter talk on the show is about video games, but the juicy stuff is when they vent their frustrations.

As an English teacher, Alex was endlessly tormented by the absurd Kafkaesque bureaucracy of a Japanese school, and the powerlessness of being an outsider (students grab his crotch for a laugh, every seemingly nonsensical rule is justified with “it can’t be helped!”). Now as the owner of his own bar he ostensibly has more freedom but can’t afford to turn away the business of customers he finds loathsome and spends all his profits drinking after hours with other local bar owners, seemingly because he needs to keep up with “the scene”. Is he better off? Where is this heading?

Ray’s journey on the other hand starts out bleak – the podcast starts with him  unemployed and with no real prospects smack dab in the middle of the Great Recession, and one of the best episodes is when he rages at not being able to find work even after asking his friends for help. But he ends up finding a place for himself as an editor at an established game company to the point that he feels comfortable branching out into other projects. 

Along the way both get serious girlfriends and at least Alex is moving toward getting  married. 

It has been fascinating to see how the two hosts’ relationship has evolved over the years. 

In the course of conversations over many episodes since early 2012, they gradually renegotiate the parameters of their relationship. Here and there, you hear, for example, Ray drop hints that Alex should pay more deference to his skills and experience as a copy editor. Or Alex lavish praise on a hyper-masculine, ex-military drinking buddy in what comes off as a subtle dig at Ray’s more introverted (and alcohol free) lifestyle. 

These are the kinds of statements that end friendships. How many times have I had to concede that “he’s gone hardcore christian” or “she is all about her kids now” or even “I need to keep bad influences away for the sake of my family”?

Lesser friends might interpret these assertions of “things are different now” as signs they need to move on. But remarkably and commendably the two have kept at it and continue to bond over the things they still enjoy together. 

They have not lost their easy rapport that not only lets them improv off each other, it makes for consistently earnest discussions when the time comes to get serious.  That takes courage and I think we are all richer for it. 

Of course this all comes with the caveat that with any podcast, listening to them for hundreds of hours makes me feel like I know them, but I’m really just hearing a version of themselves they choose to present.  Still, real or not or in between their conversations have been enlightening for me. 

So anyway that is my way too serious take on what is really a fun comedy podcast. I hope they keep going for a long time and know that people are rooting for them!

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Google Translate is now better at Japanese-to-English, but still not good enough to make me unemployed

This year, Google made changes to its Translate service that are aimed at making translations more accurate. They use a “Recurring Neural Network” method that “considers the entire input sentence [instead of just parts of the sentence] as a unit for translation.” I have to admit I gulped at the news – is this what will finally make my role as a Japanese-English translator redundant?

The New York Times fanned my fear with this glowing article that led with the claim that Google Translate is now a better translator than Haruki Murakami (at the very least, he did a great job translating The Giving Tree, in my humble opinion).

That prompted me to test out the site. Here are some examples of Japanese-to-English translation that I pulled:

News articles I would say are unacceptably inaccurate:

This one (about discussions over who should pay for the 2020 Olympics) gets a minister’s name and gender wrong, can’t seem to recognize that 都 means the Tokyo prefectural government and 国 means the Japanese national government, and in general is just incoherent for most of it.

A man is suspected of cutting a police officer in the neck with a knife. But according to Google Translate, he is first “suspected of killing himself” and then “he cut off the police officer ‘s neck with a knife…  The policeman was injured.” !!!

It seems to do best with press releases – these actually seem to give a pretty accurate and readable translation:

… But not so well when it comes to long-winded technical financial announcements: 

The best I can say for it is that, unlike the earlier version, every sentence appears to be grammatically correct and make logical sense. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to be able to translate things in context or keep track of omitted subjects.

All in all, I can say it looks more useful for Japanese-to-English, especially if it is used with “made-to-translate” Japanese. I might even use it myself as a starting point for some documents (and that is definitely not something I would say about the old version!) But for now at least I am happy to report it isn’t yet ready to force me to start a new career, which is good because I have no idea what I would even do…

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Trams in wartime Hiroshima reenacted

I originally wrote most of this post all the way back in March of 2011, a few months before the 65th anniversary of the bombing on August 6 of that year, but never posted it. Since the anniversary date was only a few months later I had intended to publish it then, but forgot, so here it is now for the 70th – with a modern coda.

I first wrote this post a month ago when the Asahi first ran the article I quote below, but then realizing that the bombing anniversary was coming up I decided to sit on it until now. The atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, but since this story is more concerned with what happened three days later, on August 9, I have decided to publish it on that date.

The English Asahi has a short article on a very interesting sounding play entitled Momonomi (Peach), about an obscure aspect of wartime Hiroshima – the trains.1 Photos of the production included in this post are from the theatrical troupe’s web page.

The beginning of the play, on a real (albeit more modern) tram.

Six women who served as streetcar drivers or conductors in Hiroshima in 1945 were invited to ride one of their trams again Sunday to watch a play immortalizing their efforts to resume some transportation just three days after the city was leveled by atomic bombing. The drama, “Momonomi” (peach), is being presented by the Tokyo-based troupe Mokele Mbe Mbe Project on board streetcars around Japan.

The play depicts the life of students at a girls’ high school that was set up by Hiroshima Electric Railway Co. in 1943 to make up for a shortage of workers during the war.

Thirty of the students were killed in the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Survivors pulled together to get the trams running again only three days later.

Riding one of the two tram cars that survived the atomic bombing and are still in service, the six women wiped tears and sang along with the troupe as they watched the one-hour play.

“Remembering those days, I was moved to tears,” said Naoko Hata, 81. “I am pleased that young people will pass along what we did then.”

Morino Nakamura, also 81, said: “There were hardships, but I am proud of my service as a driver. I’ve never forgotten those days.”

The sign reads, “Recruiting for the inaugural class of the Hiroshima Electric Railway Girls’ School of Home Economics”

But despite sadly having missed the play, this is still a good opportunity to read a little bit more about the history that it depicted. So, I would like to take this chance to compose a grim sequel to my February 10 post on Trams in Japan.

According to the Hiroshima Electric Railway Co. (present name) article on JA Wikipedia, at the time of the August 6 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the electrical transformer for the Miyajima had already been moved to the outskirts of the city in anticipation of (presumably conventional) bombing. This transformer, along with cars from the Miyajima line, were used to restart service from Koi(己斐) to Nishi-tenman-machi (西天満町) on the 8th or 9th (as mentioned above), just a couple of days after the city had been devastated.

The website of the theatrical troupe gives a bit more information.2

In 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, there were schoolgirls who drove the electric trams. There was a school of home economics established with the purpose of compensating for the labor force of men who had been mobilized in war. It was a school where labor was combined with study, but as the flames of war burned harsher the work became full-time. But they would be forced out of their jobs when the men returned after the war, and the girls’ school would close. These schoolgirls lived through the atomic bomb, and looked after their compatriots who had nearly died, despite their own injuries, all while restoring train service…

Pop culture depictions of how women ended up moving into formerly male-dominated roles during wartime do have some presence  in America (one famous example is the 1992  film A League of Their Own, which depicted the real, and short-lived, All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, or Rosie the Riveter), but I must admit that I do not know offhand of prominent Japanese examples. I’m sure that this is just my own ignorance, and I would love to be pointed towards well known (or other lesser known) examples.

 

Rosy the riveter

Regardless, the play seems to have unfortunately already nearly finished its run, aside from one final weekend of performances in Nagasaki on the 10th and 11th. (As an aside, don’t you get annoyed when you see a newspaper article about a great live event AFTER it’s already happened, rather than announcing it in advance so you have a chance to go. I would have been very interested in heading over to Osaka for this.)

Another interesting detail hinted at in the article was that cars that had actually been damaged by the nuclear blast are still in operation in Hiroshima.

Hiroshima train car that survived nuclear blast

(This last bit is updated based on a new article.) As part of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary, one of the three still functional surviving train cars (Model 650) from that era has been restored, and repainted in vintage colors.

Model 650 tram, car number 653 of the Hiroshima Electric Railway. It survived the atomic bombing, and has now been restored and given its original paintjob.

Among the crowd who observed the streetcar’s departure on June 13 was Sachiko Masuno, a 85-year-old “hibakusha” A-bomb survivor who worked as a driver and conductor for Hiroden tramcars during the closing months of World War II after enrolling in a women’s vocational school operated by the railway company in 1942.

Masuno, who continued working as a conductor for two years after the atomic bombing, said that the Hiroden trams still remind her of many former colleagues who lost their lives that day.

Of the 1,241 Hiroden employees at the time, at least 185 were killed in the A-bombing, while 108 streetcars, or nearly 90 percent of the company’s trams, were destroyed or damaged. Of her 300 classmates, about 30 also died in the tragedy.

“It is very moving to see the same streetcar that endured the city’s heinous experience still running in its original color,” Masuno said. “It is a very precious peacetime treasure.”

Two other Model 650 tramcars, No. 651 and 652, which were repainted in green and cream colors after the end of the war, still operate on the light rail network that stretches across the southern Japanese city.

While we have all missed the performance of Momonomi by several years, anyone in Hiroshima who wants to ride the restored No. 653 car will be able to do so on weekend and national holidays by making a reservation at 082-222-1155 (weekdays only).

  1. Note: this link is long-dead. []
  2. The troupe website still exists, but the page with the details for this play seems to be gone, so the Japanese language description they gave is given here. 「1945年、広島に原爆が投下されたとき、路面電車を運転していた女学生たちがいた。
    戦時中、男たちが出征したあと労働力を補う目的で設立された家政女学校。学業と勤労を兼 務した学校だったが、戦火が激しくなると終日勤務に。しかし戦後、男たちが復員して来るため職を追われ、女学校は廃校となる。原爆投下の廃墟を生き抜き、 自らも傷つき、瀕死の仲間たちを看病しながら、電車の復旧に尽くした女学生たち・・・」 []
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Foreign Tourists to Japan Love Love Love Japanese Food

Just a quick post of some fun data I came across.

In the tourism agency’s 2014 survey of foreign tourists (see Annex 9 in this spreadsheet), there is a clear pattern that emerges:

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So to recap, eating Japanese food is the thing that foreign tourists most wanted to do before they arrive, it was their best purchase during the trip, AND it’s what they found most satisfying about their stay!

To be sure, as a Tokyo resident it didn’t surprise me to see that foreign tourists like Japanese food, but it was a bit surprising to see it’s their favorite thing about the country.

As you will see in the data, there is some variation between countries. For example, South Korea found going to Japanese hot springs to be the thing that they most wanted to do again if they came back, and mainland Chinese are more interested in shopping than food before they arrive. But overall the numbers speak for themselves.

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Three Years of Coney Island Mermaid Parade Photos

Tomorrow (June 21, Saturday) is the 32nd Coney Island Mermaid Parade. The Mermaid Parade, a moderately venerable tradition dating back to 1983, describes itself asthe largest art parade in the nation”, and celebrates the old time beachfront, boardwalk, carnival sideshow culture of the neighborhood.

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9139010022″ title=”IMG_3600.jpg by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7405/9139010022_ecb5a71d63_z.jpg” width=”600″ height=”400″ alt=”IMG_3600.jpg”></a>

This will be my fourth consecutive Mermaid Parade, but I grew up being taken often to Coney Island in the summer by my grandparents, who lived nearby, off the Avenue U subway stop, to visit the beach, Astroland Park, and the New York Aquarium. Coney Island was probably nearing the nadir of popularity then. Homeless men squatted under the boardwalk, lighting fires to keep warm that would often get out of control and burn large out sections of the boardwalk above. I vividly remember gaping, charred holes marked off with yellow warning tape. Adults warned not to wander unsupervised far past the boardwalk into the surrounding non-amusement park neighborhood, which was considered particularly dangerous.
<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9136657667″ title=”IMG_3362.jpg by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7443/9136657667_c5fe2053ba_z.jpg” width=”640″ height=”427″ alt=”IMG_3362.jpg”></a>

Many of the once-proud amusement parks of Coney Island had already closed when I used to go as a kid, with Astroland then the main survivor. Even that eventually closed, in 2008, leaving the venerable Cyclone—the famous wooden roller coaster that opened in 1927—and the primary location of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs among the last major traditional attractionsin the area. Of course, other than the beach itself. (For readers who expect everything posted on this blog to have a Japan connection, the July 4 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is where Japan’s greatest athlete first rose to fame.)

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9138886722″ title=”IMG_3374.jpg by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5349/9138886722_83a70fccfb_z.jpg” width=”640″ height=”427″ alt=”IMG_3374.jpg”></a>

Throughout the Bloomberg administration (2002 – 2013) there were continual attempts to redevelop the area, usually as a massive unitary complex with a large indoor shopping mall feel that would have been utterly at odds with the history and style of the neighborhood, but which would have provided better facilities for the blandly tasteful year-round activities that clueless developers and mayoral officials thought were more in demand.

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/5856455950″ title=”IMG_8804 by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2632/5856455950_5255f49237_z.jpg” width=”640″ height=”427″ alt=”IMG_8804″></a>

These potential deals all fell apart after the real estate bubble burst, paving the way for today’s more natural revitalization, which has seen new amusement park rides for the first time in decades, including a new Luna Park, named after a long-defunct Coney Island amusement park and built on the former site of Astroland, and even a major new steel roller coaster, the Thunderbolt, itself named after a long-gone 1925-built wooden coaster, which opened only a week ago as of this post.

A big part of what kept Coney Island’s local culture on life-support long enough to return is the non-profit organization Coney Island USA, based in the landmarked Childs Restaurant building, who run the Coney Island Museum, Sideshows by the Seashore, and the Shooting Gallery/Arts Annex. And, most relevant, they are the official organizers of the Mermaid Parade.

To get a nice summary of Coney Island history, check out this podcast (Part 1, Part 2) by The Bowery Boys, who do a New York City podcast I enjoy, or see the accompanying blog post with some cool old photos.

Naturally, I took a whole lot of photos all three times and even after winnying them down to good one still had a few dozen for each year, so I’m embedding a handful of photos in-line and then linking to the Flickr galleries.

2011 Mermaid Parade Photo Gallery

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/5855900077/” title=”IMG_8799 by Mutantfrog, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3060/5855900077_b9c60d92c6_z.jpg” width=”600″ height=”400″ alt=”IMG_8799″></a> <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/5856464348/” title=”IMG_8884 by Mutantfrog, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2711/5856464348_7dc965c8d5_z.jpg” width=”427″ height=”640″ alt=”IMG_8884″></a> <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/5855918773/” title=”IMG_8943 by Mutantfrog, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5109/5855918773_4a4e1036f8_z.jpg” width=”600″ height=”400″ alt=”IMG_8943″></a> <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/5855921175/” title=”IMG_8956 by Mutantfrog, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5142/5855921175_c19c13debd_z.jpg” width=”600″ height=”400″ alt=”IMG_8956″></a> <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/5856481772/” title=”IMG_9033 by Mutantfrog, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5183/5856481772_d2dc6624fb_z.jpg” width=”600″ height=”400″ alt=”IMG_9033″></a>

2012 Mermaid Parade Gallery

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9138844693/” title=”IMG_0262 by Mutantfrog, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5456/9138844693_96b34c37cd.jpg” width=”600″ height=”400″ alt=”IMG_0262″></a> <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9141093102/” title=”IMG_0417 by Mutantfrog, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7308/9141093102_536e99de7e.jpg” width=”600″ height=”400″ alt=”IMG_0417″></a> <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9138890769/” title=”IMG_0524 by Mutantfrog, on Flickr”><img src=”http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2894/9138890769_b64eb4a09a.jpg” width=”400″ height=”600″ alt=”IMG_0524″></a>

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9138892019″ title=”IMG_0530 by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2894/9138892019_3a253c4ff9_c.jpg” width=”534″ height=”800″ alt=”IMG_0530″></a>

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9138926741″ title=”IMG_0654 by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm3.staticflickr.com/2872/9138926741_8532607a2a.jpg” width=”600″ height=”400″ alt=”IMG_0654″></a>

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9141157994″ title=”IMG_0665 by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3780/9141157994_e6e221334d_z.jpg” width=”600″ height=”400″ alt=”IMG_0665″></a>

2013 Mermaid Parade Photo Gallery

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9138899752″ title=”IMG_3399.jpg by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5476/9138899752_1a368ea8ec_c.jpg” width=”534″ height=”800″ alt=”IMG_3399.jpg”></a>

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9136666059″ title=”IMG_3394.jpg by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7386/9136666059_f0114c2651_z.jpg” width=”640″ height=”427″ alt=”IMG_3394.jpg”></a>

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9136718875″ title=”IMG_3480.jpg by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7357/9136718875_3fe819ee40_h.jpg” width=”534″ height=”800″ alt=”IMG_3480.jpg”></a>

<a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/mutantfrog/9136742431″ title=”IMG_3528.jpg by Roy Berman, on Flickr”><img src=”https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3751/9136742431_ecfe3be9f9_c.jpg” width=”534″ height=”800″ alt=”IMG_3528.jpg”></a>

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If I were making Tokyo Vice with Daniel Radcliffe, here is what the story would look like

The Tokyo Vice movie starring Daniel Radcliffe is apparently moving forward – Mr. Radcliffe has already started studying Japanese for the role of Jake, a young American who studies in japan and eventually lands first job as the first Western reporter for a Japanese newspaper.

I have read the book and am really rooting for this movie to be good. If successful it could inspire a new generation of young Americans to come study or live in Japan.

But I am worried that the story won’t have enough sizzle if the screenwriter (apparently a first timer) skews too closely to the source text.

In that spirit I offer my own version of the story that the film makers can feel free to draw from if they see anything interesting:

The movie opens with Jake hot on the trail of yakuza boss Goto. He is about to blow the lid off Goto’s illicit, FBI-brokered liver transplant, but one day a black Cadillac pulls up and forces Jake inside.

It turns out Jake’s been kidnapped and will be forced to fight in an underground cage fighting tournament. He wants to tell them to just fuck off and kill him now, but he wants to survive long enough to get revenge on Goto for killing his hostess girlfriend Lana all those years ago (we will learn Jake’s background through flashbacks). He would then fight progressively tougher bad guys with various gimmicks (nunchucks, poison-tipped blade fingernails, a dog).

Of course along the way Jake would develop a love interest with Goto’s daughter, the gun moll with a heart of gold who hates her father and wants to escape the mob life. She will be the one who sneaks him food and weapons to help him win.

Finally Jake would reach Goto who has had his brain and heart migrated to an android body after his replacement liver gave out and the FBI wouldnt let him have another one.

Robo-Goto would deliver an extended monologue about how weak and pathetic Americans are and how only the weakest loser Americans move to japan. And how does he know this for sure? Because (here’s the big twist) Goto killed Lana to take her liver and it only took him 7 years for his raging alcoholism to wear it out!

This obviously sends Jake into a blood rage (“Lana was British you ignorant sonofabitch!!!”) and he delivers a perfectly aimed jump kick into the glass casing that houses Robo-Goto’s heart, killing Goto and sending him careening off the top of Yakuza Tower (the robot body explodes in mid air)

A heavily breathing and bloodied Jake is joined by the Goto daughter and the two exchange a desperately passionate kiss followed by some banter (“oh Jake I thought you’d never make it!” “Babe, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all the hard work it took to become the first Western correspondent for a major Japanese newspaper, it this: never EVER say never”) and he carries her off to a better life as the girlfriend of a freelance reporter, which we learn from a caption that pops up as we fade to black.

***

So there you have it – I realize there are a lot of blanks to fill in, but there is some rich character development potential. There could be scenes of Goto smacking around his subordinates just for the hell of it, Jake in his lowest moment screaming whyyyyyyyy toward the ceiling of his holding cell at a seemingly uncaring God, a flashback of Goto and Jake giving each other the evil eye across the room at a smoke-filled night club, etc.

For a change of pace you could use the flashbacks to show Jake as a fish out of water learning Japanese culture, bungling chopstick use, getting sprayed in the face by the washlet. And there could be tender scenes of Lana and Jake on a date cruelly broken up by the murderous Goto.

Anyway, I hope you are as excited for this movie as I am!
Please let us know your story ideas in the comments section or who you would cast. For Goto and daughter, I would use the father daughter team from Transporter, Ric Young and Qi Shu.

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Don’t hate Yoichi Masuzoe for what he said — just look at what he has done

Yoichi Masuzoe has just been elected Governor of Tokyo after being the front runner more or less since the election race began. Predictably, the Western media is already finding the most superficially controversial angle to present him to the world: as far as I can tell, the usual offenders are parroting talking points that started out on the blog of former Socialist leader Mizuho Fukushima — more precisely, this post just over a week ago, where she dug up a 1989 article that quoted him as saying that women are not fit to lead government because they focus on single issues and have menstrual cycles. (She also cited a slightly more recent interview, in which he criticized local NIMBY types who sought to block nuclear plants, as evidence that he is a nuclear supporter.)

I will not defend Masuzoe’s statements about women, which are pretty heinous, but some context is necessary. 1989 was twenty-five years ago and Japan was still stuck in the “Mad Men” era when it came to gender relations. It was ten years before Masuzoe ran for political office and he was not that well known yet. I am pretty sure that he got over whatever strain of foot-in-mouth syndrome he may have had at the time, because Masuzoe’s detractors were hard-pressed to come up with a single damning quote from him since about 1995. Characterizing Masuzoe based on what he said about women back then is unfair — and also unnecessary given that there are more real issues with his governorship.

One concern I have comes from Masuzoe’s official resume. Summarized in one paragraph, Masuzoe started out as an academic studying French politics at Tokyo, Paris and Geneva, gradually gained notoriety as an author and TV commentator, and made a pretty decent showing against Shintaro Ishihara and Kunio Hatoyama in the 1999 Tokyo gubernatorial election. He won an LDP seat in the House of Councillors the next year. Despite his being critical of pretty much everyone else in the Diet, he was put in charge of the LDP’s constitutional reform commission and then became Health and Welfare Minister under Abe, Aso and Fukuda, during which time he came out as a quasi-hero in two major scandals. By 2009, he was the most popular politician in Japan. He bailed from the LDP as it fell from grace under Taro Aso, starting a new “Shinto Kaikaku” party amid hopes from the likes of Tobias Harris (link) that it would be the kind of force that would tank the LDP for good. It proceeded to do absolutely nothing, the LDP returned to power under Abe 2.0, Masuzoe declined to stand for re-election in 2013 and begged the LDP for forgiveness in order to run for governor under their quasi-endorsement. Summarized in one sentence, Masuzoe is a showhorse and not a workhorse, an Obama type of guy who can give a good press conference but who is not likely to actually do anything in a political context without seriously cocking it up, and that is not enough to run one of the largest subnational governments in the world.

Then there is the unofficial resume from the tabloids. Taking all of the tabloid stories I have seen at face value, Masuzoe supposedly met a Japanese woman while in France and they had a lovely wedding, but somehow didn’t actually get married. His first de jure marriage was to a French woman, but they were divorced for undisclosed reasons. (My wife recalls Masuzoe saying on a TV show that this first wife made rice pudding for dessert at one point, and he was enraged at the concept of rice being a sweet dessert.) After returning to Tokyo, he married his second wife, Satsuki Katayama, a promising young Ministry of Finance bureaucrat. The marriage lasted in earnest for only a few months, as Katayama discovered that Masuzoe had a short temper, and kept a collection of about twenty kinds of knives. They separated in short order and were officially divorced in 1989, but before the divorce was final, Masuzoe found a mistress and fathered his first child. He had two more children, at least one of whom was with a different mistress, and at some point married his secretary, who had two more of his children, for a total of five kids with three women. In the nineties he got serious about his horse racing hobby and started buying horses; two of them won the Japan Derby, in 1997 and 1998, but he got out of this business just before going into politics. At some point, he put his wife in charge of his “research institute” shell company, and transferred most of his valuable assets into it, including a 300 million yen house in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward and two vacation houses in Yugawara and Kawaguchiko. He reported a total of 360 million yen in assets when he was in the Aso cabinet, but insiders reckoned he was worth more like 1 billion and hiding most of it under his wife’s shell company. After leaving the Diet in 2013, he petitioned a court to reduce his child support payments to his first child (who is disabled) because his monthly income had fallen to just 100,000 yen; Katayama was quoted in the Mainichi Shimbun as being reluctant to support Masuzoe because of this. One tabloid speculated that he may have lost a ton of money betting on horses and needed to adjust his obligations for that reason.

I am doubtful that Masuzoe will last for four years. He has what appears to be a fairly weak electoral mandate, with less than 50% of the vote in an election that appears to have had relatively low turnout (the snowstorm in Tokyo yesterday likely kept many undecided voters from going to the polls today). Like his predecessor Inose, Masuzoe does not have a record of coalition or consensus building, but rather a record of being outspoken and confrontational, which will not serve him well given that the Tokyo legislature is not the single-party paradise that the National Diet has become. I also suspect that, given all that the tabloids have already dug up, Masuzoe must have some more skeletons in his closet that could take him down if a political foe were willing to utilize them. So don’t worry, reporters, this guy has plenty of potential to be interesting without sticking his foot in his mouth.

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