Japan’s execution chamber opened to the press

Japan’s justice minister has allowed media to come in and look at the gallows where the executions take place:

Here is a video from TBS with more details. Apparently, the whole place smells like burning incense. The reporter has a good description of the room – 無機質 which literally means “inorganic” but I guess would be more naturally conveyed as sterile and banal.

The room is located at Tokyo Detention Center, which is a 20-minute or so walk from my house. It’s always a little disturbing to think this is where it all goes down.

I would strongly encourage people to read the NYT’s article, written by superstar Japan reporter Hiroko Tabuchi who should go down in history as their best ever Japan correspondent.

According to accounts in local news outlets, journalists were taken to the execution site in a bus with closed curtains, because its exact location is kept secret. There are seven such sites across Japan, the Justice Ministry said.

The journalists were led through the chambers, one by one: a chapel with a Buddhist altar where the condemned are read their last rites; a small room, also with a Buddha statue, where a prison warden officially orders the execution; the execution room, with a pulley and rings for the rope and a trapdoor where the condemned inmate stands; and the viewing room where officials witness the hanging.

The inmate is handcuffed and blindfolded before entering the execution room, officials said. Three prison wardens push separate buttons, only one of which releases the trapdoor — but they never find out which one. Wardens are given a bonus of about $230 every time they attend an execution.

Satoshi Tomiyama, the Justice Ministry official who later briefed the foreign news outlets and others excluded from the tour, said that wardens take the utmost care to treat death row inmates fairly and humanely.

The Buddha statues can be switched with an altar of the indigenous Japanese Shinto religion for followers of that faith, he said. For Christians, the prison provides a wooden cross. Inmates are given fruit and snacks before their execution, and sentences are not carried out on weekends, national holidays and around the New Year.

What amazes me is that this system has been in place for so long even when just about everyone, including death penalty supporters, knows there are serious problems. If nothing else, the government needs to reform the itinerary for carrying out executions. It just seems exceptionally cruel and Kafkaesque to keep the execution date secret for so many years and only tell them at the last minute. I also see no reason why the justice ministry should be allowed to hide their decision-making process on when to execute people.

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Hiking in Hannou-shi, Saitama

Hannou-shi in Saitama Prefecture is located along the Seibu Ikebukuro line outside Tokyo. Closer to outlying Chichibu than urban Tokyo, the town’s look and feel are like a scene out of the recent Oscar-winning film Departures (which I highly recommend!). Mrs. Adamu and I decided to hike there after finding the town randomly on a web search. It was an extremely convenient trip – after an hour and a half train ride it was just a 10 minute walk to reach the trail. We followed this route on the Hiking Map website.

Anyway, here is what we saw!


This is a monument to local deaths from industrial accidents. Not sure why they died or when.


Going up Tenranzan mountain we came across these oddly shaped Buddhas. The fifth Tokugawa shogun apparently called a monk from a temple near this mountain to heal him with chanting, and it worked. The statues are somehow related to this.
Continue reading Hiking in Hannou-shi, Saitama

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Travels to Tsushima, Part 2: Sights to See

Part 1

Tsushima has lots of fun places to visit. What I like particularly is that, despite traveling on a weekend in the pleasant spring season, there were literally no tourists to be found at all the sites I visited. This post will overview some of the highlights — and save the very best place for part 3.

Tsushima Guide Map

1. Russo-Japanese War Memorial
The Battle of Tsushima was the decisive naval battle where Japan decisively won the Russo-Japanese War. On the northern tip of Tsushima sits the memorial to the battle, erected a few years later when the locals were in a nationalistic mood. A hundred years later, Russia and Japan together erected a new memorial nearby, commemorating Russian-Japanese friendship. That monument also lists all of the victims of the Battle of Tsushima, and the roster is telling — there are thousands of Russian names, and just a handful of Japanese names.

Continue reading Travels to Tsushima, Part 2: Sights to See

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Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 6 of 10) – Nobuyuki Nakayama (New Komeito)

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Next up is the second Komeito candidate, Nobuyuki Nakayama. His Komeito backing makes him a sure-fire winner in this election for the reasons I outlined in my previous post. He is also the only Adachi-ku candidate to sport a Cindy Crawford-esque beauty mark.

Unlike his party ally Tomotoshi, however, there is little doubt that Nakayama is a dyed in the wool Soka Gakkai member. His entire education from middle school to his master’s degree was spent in the SG school system (and read below to find out how much he respects SG leader Daisaku Ikeda).

Nakayama is finishing out his first term in the prefectural assembly. Before entering politics he earned the right to promote himself  as a “lifestyle and welfare expert” by spending 18 years in the welfare office of Meguro-ku (meaning his career closely resembles that of JCP candidate Yoshie Oshima).

A look through his blog shows that he tends to be positive and reserved except when he talks about Communists. He has no sympathy for teachers who refuse to sing the national anthem and accuses JCP assemblymen of negotiating in bad faith in budget resolutions.

Something interesting: Nakayama maintains two blogs: one for his official duties, and another “personal blog” ostensibly for his private thoughts and visits to factories and industry associations.

NakayamaOne thing I learned from reading through the personal blog is that Adachi-ku is home to the RSS Group, a maker of “high-quality” oshibori (wet-naps for use at restaurants) that are sold through a “rental” system wherein the company takes care of all cleaning and maintenance. Also, every fall the local wholesale market holds a festival where they sell fruits and vegetables and have a produce-themed roulette game. And there is a ginormous meat wholesale market in Shinagawa.

His favorite quote comes from a slogan issued by Beijing residents on the occasion of the death of former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai during the Mao years: “The people love the people’s premier / The people’s premier loves the people.”

Nakayama’s thoughts on Soka Gakkai

Seemingly rare for a Komeito politician, on May 17, 2007 he gave a candid explanation of his personal connection to Soka Gakkai and his party’s relationship with it. In a gushing blog post about SGI leader Daisaku Ikeda, he calls Ikeda a “philsophical giant” (思想的巨人) and describes his thought and achievements as “no less than a feat of greatness in human history” (まさに人類史的な偉業そのもの). The post was inspired by an article in the Seikyo Shimbun (Soka Gakkai’s official daily newspaper) covering yet another honorary title bestowed on Ikeda, this time from the John Dewey Society.

Interestingly, he has a subtle and critical take on the role of his party in Japan’s democracy, which I will paraphrase here:

He is proud to be an assemblyman from the Komeito, the party founded by Dr. Ikeda. The Komeito, though a minority party, has boasted many shining achievements, thanks to the battles fought by senior members who have never forgotten the spirit of the party’s foundation “together with the masses,” and their dedicated supporters.

However, compared to the amazing greatness of founder Dr. Ikeda, the Komeito’s achievements are but a trifle. In addition, many supporters have been gnashing their teeth in anger at the recent political situation. He feels that the Komeito has become an “unprincipled party… that prioritizes controlling the government over the interests of the people.” Specifically, he is disappointed that the party did not hold Ishihara accountable for the mismanagement of Shinginko Tokyo.

One reason Komeito founder Ikeda is so widely recognized by global research institutions and universities is that his thoughts and beliefs are backed up by actions and achievements that these institutions recognize as “miracles.” Most of Ikeda’s followers work in their respective fields with a sense of mission and have produced results that are appreciated by many.

He then pledges to do his best as a local politician to stretch beyond the boundaries of status, philosophy, and belief to bring peace and happiness to as many people as possible and help the less fortunate.

I appreciate his forthrightness, though I personally cannot support his party’s mission to use the tools of government to realize Ikeda’s vision.

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Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 5 of 10) – Haruhisa Tomotoshi

As the election looms, I am frantic to get these profiles done. To that end, tonight I will cover one of the New Komeito candidates: Haruhisa Tomotoshi (63). He is an incumbent and (like fellow Komeito candidate Nobuyuki Nakayama) has a near-certain chance of keeping his seat – LDP estimates of their party’s chances to keep control of the assembly assume that all 23 Komeito candidates will win.

Thanks to close ties with lay Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai, the Komeito enjoys a solid base of support among believers in Tokyo. Adachi-ku is also home to Akihiro Ota, the current president of the national New Komeito.

Some also speculate that the Komeito systematically inflates voter rolls by instructing Soka Gakkai followers across the country to move into election districts three months before the vote (the minimum residency period to become a valid voter). This may be true, but I would be kind of surprised if other parties didn’t at least try and employ similar tactics if they work so well.

Mrs. Adamu and I have a hard time supporting Komeito candidates because, like the Communists, they claim to be moderate but in fact have a hidden agenda. In the Komeito’s case, it is to protect the interests of Soka Gakkai, the Buddhist sect that provides election funding and sets their political agenda. The agenda itself tends to be quite mild, but I find the sum of their activities unacceptable: they inject religion into the political process, they maintain an aura of intense secrecy and refuse to explain why Soka Gakkai feels the need for political representation, and their activities appear to openly flaunt the democratic process to to protect a very narrow segment of society.

Anyway, let’s look at these guys.

Haruhisa Tomotoshi

From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

As this poster might suggest, Tomotoshi “the man who really gets it done” does not feel he needs much introduction.

He is a veteran politician who spent five terms as an Adachi-ku assemblyman before moving on to the prefectural assembly, where he is currently on his second term. According to a JANJAN video, he was born in Manchukuo in 1945 just as WWII ended. He was never able to attend high school after his father died around 1960 when Haruhisa was 15. He had to work to support his mother and siblings before becoming an elected official at age 38.

One of the toughest fights of his political career was against Communist-backed Adachi-ku mayor Manzo Yoshida. Yoshida, who was mayor from 1996-1999, cancelled an unpopular building project and pushed to expand welfare services. Tomotoshi and other conservatives in the assembly fought Yoshida tooth and nail, and eventually successfully ousted him through a no-confidence motion.

As for his accomplishments, Tomotoshi takes some of the credit for completing the Tsukuba Express and Toneri Liner (two new train lines that run through Adachi).

It is unclear whether he is a Soka Gakkai believer.

In closing, watch this paranoid anti-Komeito propaganda video. They claim that the Komeito are being used by Soka Gakkai in an anti-Japanese plot to destroy the Japanese people’s lives:

Love the Final Fantasy-esque background music!

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Khaotan, the traditional Thai snacks that know all about you

A friend of Mrs. Adamu’s brought us these “Khaotan” puffed rice crackers – “the traditional Thai snack” according to the package. Unlike many Thai snacks, these were actually not too sweet. They had a more subtle flavor that complemented the taste of the crunchy rice without overwhelming it.

We ate all the actual crackers already (Mrs. Adamu was especially fond of them), so here’s a random picture from the Internet to show you what they look like:

rice-crackers

Hailing from Lampang in northern Thailand, Khaotan is part of the “One Thambon One Product” (OTOP) program sponsored by JETRO, an organ of the Japanese government. JETRO provides funding and expertise to help local areas develop their products for export to places like Japan or New Zealand.

My favorite part of Khaotan was the extensive personality assessments on each face of the package. On the back is a chart of personalities based on the day of the week you were born (this day of the week system is pervasive among Burmese people as well), and a list of male/female personality types lines each side. The part about female personalities struck me as especially harsh – they have about twice as many different types as the men, but almost every type is just a different shade of dishonesty, vindictiveness, or irresponsibility. Just in case you can’t read the photos I will transcribe them for you:

Thai snack May 2009 003
The prediction according to the day of birth

Sunday: Smart at thinking and live happily until the end of life

Monday: Always cheerful and when death comes, one is supposed to be in heaven

Tuesday: Be brand and no fear of any danger

Wednesday: Clean and clear and can make dream come true

Thursday: Lots of properties and wealthy

Friday: Lots of fun till others envy

Saturday: No sad at all and has many followers

Thai snack May 2009 004
Types of male

One who is a typical male

One who is slug

One who is fed by wife

One who is a gallant

One who is inferior

One who is a sluggard

One who keeps himself from others

One who is indolent

One who is always in bad temper

One who runs away from and comes back home several times

One who cares family and relatives

One who is patient

One who has many wives

One who is praised by others

One who has hospitality and sacrifice

One who works hard for the better life of his family

One who is easy to persuade

Thai snack May 2009 002
Types of female

One who is lady

One who is dirty or lazy

One who is pregnant before marriage

One who appreciates the bandit as a hero

One who tells husband lies

One who has many lovers

One who enjoys the entertainment

One who always sleeps

One who loves complaints

One who loves to order others

One who loves to plead

One who is a liar

One who is of easy virtue

One who is too mentally calm

One who is touchy

One who is hasty

One who helps others but neglects her

One who is diligent

One who is good at words

One who participates the nonsense wander

One who blames others

One who has a big mouth

One who goes against others

One who is extravagant

One who is fierce

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Good morning

I was awoken at around 6 or 7 this morning by a brief earthquake, and then again at about 8:30 as a series of monks, in their straw sandals and wide-brimmed woven-reed conish hats, starting wandering back and forth down the road, chanting at the top of their lungs. I wonder perhaps if there was a causal relationship, some sort of special prayer or spell given in the wake of an earthquake to calm the restless earth dragons. Even some of the Japanese neighbors seemed startled and amused by this curious occurance, and the entire family in the house just across and over from mine got out to watch in mild wonder this anachronistic scene, and one monk stopped to give a personal blessing to their little girl.

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The Viceroy’s many connections in the Orient

Two of the three bloggers at Cominganarchy, who go by the online handles of, Curzon and Younghusband, were in the same university in Kyoto where Adam and I did our undergraduate study abroad exchange program while we were there. Curzon, like Adam and Joe, had previously participated in a one year high school study abroad exchange in a different part of Kansai (and a different program from the one Adam and Joe were on), and even before that-12 years ago now-had done a summer program in which he stayed for a month with a host family in Otsu, a small city in Shiga Prefecture located just across the mountains to the east of Kyoto.

Although Curzon spent his first few months of undergraduate study abroad living in the same international students dormitory that Adam and I later lived in (Curzon arrived before us), and which Younghusband had lived in a couple of years earlier, he soon moved out and into one of the very cheap and very old fashioned dormitories that lie somewhere on the continuum of housing between hovel and tenement, with facilities so bare that they would never even be considered a legal residence back in the United States. I say dormitory because while each resident has an individual room-which cost a measly 13,000 yen (around $130) per month-for that price you got just a room, with only a shared toilet and no bathing facilities anywhere in the building. This sort of arrangement used to be typical in Japan, where neighborhood bath houses are still common in many areas, but has understandably fallen out of fashion in a period when most people can afford better.

When I returned to Kyoto earlier this year, I spent the entire month of April living in the spare bedroom of a friend’s apartment, down in Kyoto’s far southern ward of Fushimi so that I would have a base from which to look for someplace else to live. Since I have another friend who was in fact studying with Cuzon, Adam and I back in 2002-03 who will be moving back to Kyoto in September to engage in some other study program, we had decided that, so we would be able to live cheaply and yet still have a decent amount of space, we would rent a house to share after he arrived. However, not wanting to be stuck with a double share of rent for the intervening months, I decided that it would be best to find somplace both cheap and temporary, and if at all possible also located close to campus.

The biggest difficulty here has to do with the way rental leases are often structured in Japan. Even when the actual monthly rent is low, is it typical here to pay an outrageous reikin (often translated as “key money” equal to several months rent, in addition to a month or two of rent upfront, and a deposit equal to a couple of months rent. I considered living in one of those foreigner guest houses for a couple of months, but I visited one and it seemed fairly lame, and I thought I could do cheaper. And I did. I managed to get very lucky and find a place which is very cheap, very well located, and has a contract that I can leave with no penalty. The building is, rather oddly, owned by a monk who actually lived inside the temple on Hiezan, the holy mountain on the NE corner of Kyoto, who is so seriously monk-y that he spent twenty years engaged in a special Esoteric Buddhist meditation where, although he could interact with people, he did not leave the mountain at all. Needless to say, his grasp of modern technology is rather weak.

The apartment is, while old, low-class, and rundown, is however, unlike Curzon’s aforementioned former place, actually an apartment. A small one, to be sure, (a single 6-tatami room and a 2.5 tatami kitchen area separated by sliding doors) but with a (very basic) kitchen, a (Japanese style) toilet, and a bath. What it lacks, however, is a shower. And the bath tap only produces cold water, so you have to fill it up, heat it up with the gas bath heater-that very annoyingly must be turned on from the veranda- and then wash yourself by sitting next to the tub and pouring water on yourself in a sort of poor-man’s psuedo-shower. But, at least there is an air conditioner. While far from ideal, the price was right. ¥25,000 a month, with no reikin, and only a one-month deposit that the monk landlord promises I will get back as long as there is no extraordinary damage. But considering the ragged tatami and old paint that was here when I moved in, the bar for that was set low. I believe that this is the lowest price you could possibly get in Kyoto for a room with private bath, and while on the shabby side, is still a solid two or three steps above the ¥13,000 room.

The landlord occasionaly drops off various gifts, senbei, expensive chocolates, fancy tea, etc. which I find hanging on my door handle every few weeks when I get home from somewhere. These are most likely gifts brought to the temple by parishioners, which the monks then redistribute for some reason. Two days ago I returned home to find a new treat, with an envelope containing the following note attached.

Mr. Roy Berman

It is my very pleasure and astonishment that you and Mr. Curzon my acquaintance should be good friends from the same province.As you know, he stays in Tokyo now, and orders me to serve you as possible!

Koutai

Naturally perplexed, I emailed Curzon to see how this might be, and it turns out that Mr. Koutai (first name) was a friend of Curzon’s host father from his very first stay in Japan, 12 years ago in Otsu. The hostfather had taken the then-teenaged Curzon up Hiezan to meet the monk, and they met again a couple of weeks ago when Curzon visited the old host father in Otsu.

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Link clearage time

As often happens, I have a pile of interesting pieces that I meant to save, which have just been sitting in my open tabs, so time for a brief roundup.

  • Howard French of the New York Times has an article on how Tibetans protest Chinese commodification and colonization of their culture through nonviolent protest, such as lack of participation in PRC-sponsored festivals that are claimed by the Chinese MC to be “[their] very own Khampa Festiva,” and observance of the exiled Dalai Lama’s recent ban on the wearing of endangered animal skins.
  • Asahi reports that an announcer on North Korean state television may actually be a Japanese citizen abducted in 1988. I am unclear from the article whether he is announcing in that amusingly over the top militaristic enunciation that DPRK television announcers seem to be trained in.
  • The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has rescheduled the launch of their Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) for September 13, 10:35 JST, the largest Lunar exploration mission since Apollo. Although it is unfortunately not a manned mission, having three satellites in orbit around the moon bodes well for the future, as far as I’m concerned.
  • A recent survey (admittedly sponsored by Taiwanese interests) shows that Taiwanese are “model immigrants” to the USA. This follows on the heals of Taiwan’s entry to the shortlist of countries being considered for 2008 expansion of the USA visa waiver program based on such factors, determined by US government studies, extremely low rates of visa rejection and visa overstaying, which may bolster chances for Taiwanese (ROC) citizens to gain visa-free temporary entry into the US, much as they were recently given visa-free entry rights to Japan in September of 2005. 
  • In related news, Japan is expected to amend their traffic regulations to accept Taiwanese drivers licenses as valid in Japan, starting on September 19. This will add Taiwan to the short list of countries whose licenses are considered valid in Japan-a list which notably does NOT include the United States.
  • The NYT had a very interesting article (unfortunately it’s already entered the subscriber-only sections, so most readers may not have access) on July 31 on the past and future of language in East Timor. The gist of it is that Portuguese, formerly the official language of the country when it was a Portuguese colony but which was later banned by Indonesia after they annexed it in 1975, is now once more the official language of courts, schools and government. Although Tetum, the most common language, and Indonesian, the language of their larger neighbor which was also official in East Timor during the period of Indonesian rule, are both vastly more widely recognized than Portuguese, but Tetum is considered unsuitable for government business and modern education due to a lack of a sophisticated technical vocabulary, and Indonesian likewise considered unsuitable due to the general resentment of decolonization. Portuguese, despite itself being a former colonial language, is apparently fondly regarded by the older generation, and has also left a serious impact on the vocabulary of native languages, and presumably also left behind a large body of legal texts and other literature dating back to the period of Portuguese rule.

    I find this an interesting case for comparison with Taiwan, where the Japanese language forced upon the Taiwanese population during their 50-year span of colonization by Japan was also looked back with some degree of sentimentality-along with Japanese rule itself-following the island’s  subsequent “colonization” by the Chinese Nationalist government of the Republic of China. Although Japanese has never become an official language of ROC/Taiwan and has also never regained widespread usage, based on this article it does seem to occupy a psychic space similar to that of Portuguese in East Timor.

  • Very cool article, also originally from the NYT, but reposted on the Taipei Times website (thankfully avoiding the NYT’s lame archival process) on the prevalence of foreign languages and translation in the New York City public school system. Here’s the meat of the article:

    Forty-two percent of the parents of children in the school system, the country’s largest, are not native English speakers, and communicating with them about their children’s education is an immense challenge.

    That is especially the case at a time when the system is offering ever-increasing school choices, but is also requiring students to go through a complex admissions process for high school and certain programs.

    So, prodded by advocates for immigrants, schools chancellor Joel Klein created a unit three years ago to translate a never-ending flow of school documents, like news releases, report cards and parent surveys, into the eight languages most commonly spoken in New York, after English: Spanish, Chinese, Russian, Bengali, Arabic, Urdu, Korean and Haitian Creole.

    It has since expanded to an office with 40 employees and a US$4.5 million budget, and is the largest of its kind in any school system in the US, said Kleber Palma, the unit’s director. In one respect, the office even surpasses the translation division at UN headquarters, which translates most documents into only five official languages other than English: Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.

  • ESWN brings us more news on Harry Potter in China. University and Secondary Students Were The Main Forces in Citizen Translations of Harry Potter Book 7.
  • The NYT has also posted publisher’s summaries and a few brief excerpts of eight fake Harry Potter sequels published in China. They do have Harry Potter and the Big Funnel (better known as Harry Potter and The Filler of Big), but seem to have missed Harry Potter and Beaker and Burn. Amusingly, just before this was published I was contacted by a prominent American monthly magazine (who shall remain nameless), asking me for assistance in obtaining copies of the same Harry Potter books for a similar translation feature. I put in about three hours of effort before the NYT published this feature, and the magazine canceled their plans. But don’t worry, they’re still paying me for my time, and even sent me some entirely unrelated Japan-related research work.
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