Category Archives: Conspiracies

Police oversight in Japan

I love Japan, but there are a few things which I really hate about it. The police are one big issue in my mind.

Case in point: Their recent knife kick. I read an outrageous story on Debito’s blog about a 74-year-old American tourist getting arrested for carrying a pocketknife over the maximum legal length (which was recently shortened). It seemed unbelievable until a commenter there pointed out a similar fate for a Japanese manga artist, and then our own commenter Durf shared a story about getting searched for knives.

Fortunately, my few run-ins with the Japanese police have been tame. I’ve been carded a couple of times while biking around central Tokyo, and once got into a spat with a cab driver late at night which the local koban cop helpfully mediated without even checking my papers. Still, reading others’ experiences makes me believe that police here, while helpful when they want to be helpful, also have an undue amount of power and very little responsibility for misusing it.

On paper, this is not how it should be. On paper, there are officials who oversee the police, both on a national level (through the National Public Safety Commission) and on a local level (through prefectural public safety commissions). They are appointed by elected officials (the prefectural governor/assembly or the Cabinet) and serve fixed terms.

But these are woefully ineffectual bodies plagued by systemic problems, as laid out by Japanese Wikipedians:

  1. Each commission is located on the premises of the prefectural police headquarters and police officers perform its clerical functions, so there is no guarantee of neutrality or confidentiality.
  2. The prefectural government has no authority vis-a-vis the police, so there is no way for local government to investigate or punish the police without going through the commission.
  3. The commissions are often packed with local elites who have little experience or interest in police or criminal justice matters.
  4. This often creates a conflict of interest, because such individuals won’t want to effectively challenge the local police in many instances.
  5. The police end up being taken more seriously and can effectively dictate policy to the commissions. This happens on a local level as well as a national level (between the NPA and NPSC).

For illustrative purposes, the NPSC currently consists of the following individuals:

  • Motoo Hayashi (chairman): LDP legislator and state minister in the Aso cabinet (for disaster prevention, Okinawa and Northern Territories policy, and possibly other irrelevant portfolios as well)
  • Yukio Sato: Former diplomat and president of the Japan Institute for International Affairs
  • Nobuyuki Yoshida: Senior director of the Sankei Shimbun, responsible for its right-wing editorials
  • Yoshiyuki Kasai: Chairman of JR Central
  • Mariko Hasegawa: Professor in the School of Advanced Sciences at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies who apparently specializes in sociobiology and has a strong academic interest in the biology of sexuality
  • Kenjiro Tao: Chief judge of the Hiroshima High Court (an intermediate appellate court), somewhat famous for handing down the verdict against serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki.

N95 masks could help prevent you from spreading H1N1, but won’t prevent it

Again, masks are just about unnecessary for average people during this outbreak:

They think wearing a mask protects them from swine flu. The mainstream media perpetuates the myth, broadcasting images of people wearing the masks, all while talking about people “protecting themselves” from swine flu. If it wasn’t a potentially life-and-death situation, it would all be quite hilarious.

But let me ask you a question: Have you ever had surgery or visited a surgery room? Did you ever notice that the surgeons and medical staff are all wearing surgical masks that are very similar to the N95 face masks being used by people afraid of swine flu?

Did you ever wonder WHY they are wearing those masks? Here’s the question: Are they wearing those masks to protect themselves from the patient’s germs? Of course not! They’re wearing those masks to prevent their own germs from infecting the patient!

N95 masks, you see, have but one purpose: To prevent the wearer from infecting others. To use blunt medical terminology, they work by preventing snot, spit or other virus-carrying particles from becoming airborne. Thus, if the wearer sneezes, coughs, drools, spits or talks excitedly, his or her infected fluids will be trapped in the mask and will not infect others.


The writer goes on to try and sell you an audio seminar and seriously suggest people invest in gas masks, but hey, at least the first half of the article made sense.

(via @Matt_Alt)

Max Blumenthal at the 9-12 rally in DC

Just thought I’d pass this amazing video along.

Some of the interviews are unfair “gotcha” material, but it’s great to see people get confused when he asked them why they’re so opposed to health care reform and what exactly will happen when the “Obama revolution” goes down. These people really should stop and ask themselves what they’re getting so paranoid about.

Japan Lower House election – Meet the candidates Part 4: Kazumasa Fujiyama (Happiness Realization Party

The final candidate in Tokyo’s 13th district is Kazumasa Fujiyama, running under the Happiness Realization Party ticket.

Before I get to this guy’s profile, I want to quote from an excellent piece on the party from the Irish Times:

Founded earlier this year to offer voters a “third choice”, the HRP has an eye-catching manifesto: multiply Japan’s population by 2.5 to 300 million, overtake the US to become the world’s premier power, and rapidly rearm for conflict with North Korea and China.

If elected, its lawmakers will inject religion into all areas of life and fight to overcome Japan’s “colonial” mentality, which has “fettered” the nation’s true claim to global leadership.
...
A new book, The Guardian Spirit of Kim Jong-Il Speaks , by party founder Ryuho Okawa explains that earlier this month at a session in the party’s Tokyo headquarters, the voice of Kim’s guardian angel warned of his plans. But at least Kim is alive – Okawa also claims to be able to receive the thoughts of Japan’s notorious wartime monarch, emperor Hirohito (1901-1989), and his deceased predecessors.

Being able to commune with the dead is but one string to Okawa’s bow. A reincarnation of Buddha, he achieved great enlightenment in 1981, according to the party’s website, “and awakened to the hidden part of his consciousness, El Cantare, whose mission is to bring happiness to all humanity”.

Before he founded the Happy Science religion in 1986, Okawa wrote books under the names of Muhammad, Christ, Buddha and Confucius. Conveniently, if improbably, speaking in Japanese, some of the prophets had much the same message: Japan is the world’s greatest power and should ditch its constitution, rearm and take over Asia.
...
The Happies boast that they have sold 11 million copies of their bible, Shoshin Hogo (The Dharma of the Right Mind), in Japan since 1986, and opened 200 temples.

Okawa’s books, mixing new-age philosophy with self-improvement tips and political views, have sold millions more, apparently providing the funding for the campaign. Translating those beliefs into political power, however, has proved easier said than done. Tokyo voters shunned the Happies’ candidates in this month’s municipal election, which ended LDP rule in the city and set the DPJ up for a historic national win next month.


Also, you might be interested to see the Happy party’s new manifesto video. It’s very similar to the one they produced for the Tokyo assembly elections (that animated treasure was unfortunately taken down), only this time slightly more professional:

Now, to the candidate:

Fujiyama happy party SN390094

Profile: An architect by trade, Fujiyama became a full-time Happy Science member in 1995 and has since risen to become a leader in Tokyo – he previously served as the head of the Science’s Nippori Branch and Adachi Branch before being named deputy leader of the Tokyo Branch in 2009.

Before becoming a full-time Happie, Fujiyama was an employee of Haseko Corporation, a construction/engineering firm that’s listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It’s unclear whether he was a member of Happy Science before 1995 or if he

One of Fujiyama’s bases of operations is the Science’s Nippori branch (seen here on Google Street View), which I happened to spot during a walk the other day:

Policy: As all Happiness Realization Party candidates appear to be carbon copies of one another, it’s no surprise that Fujiyama supports all the planks mentioned in the above video – slash taxes, smash North Korea, and somehow make Japan the world’s biggest economy by 2030 (I suspect they’d have to destroy all other countries to do this).

When asked in an Asahi questionnaire about how he would like the world to see Japan, he answered as “a great economy.” (経済大国)

Fujiyama claims in a blog post that the owner of a building near Kameari Station said she’ll support him because she hates paying consumption taxes.

Something interesting: Fujiyama bears an eerie resemblance to party founder and leader Ryuho Okawa:

Fujiyama:

Fujiyama asahi P_20090626SNSA0030S

Okawa:

ryuho_okawa_profile

OK, I’ll admit that their parts are on opposite sides, but don’t you think they both have a sort of “divine salaryman” look going on?

***

My next and final profile post will look at a few of the Tokyo proportional representation candidates.

Amazing expose on internet “pranksters” from The Smoking Gun

I direct all MFT readers to read this amazing, detailed expose from The Smoking Gun identifying and incriminating the the denizens of “Pranknet” an online community of highly destructive and juvenile practical jokers, whose exploits include the following:

Late on the evening of February 10, a call to Room 306 at the Best Western in Shillington, Pennsylvania roused a sleeping traveler. Jonathan Davis at the front desk was calling with scary news: A ruptured gas line was threatening hotel guests, some of whom were already feeling lightheaded and dizzy.

Noting that he was following a “protocol sheet,” Davis instructed the male guest that he needed to quickly unplug all electrical devices and place wet towels at the base of the room’s door to keep carbon monoxide from entering the space. After the guest took those precautions, Davis then directed him to bust out a 5’ x 5’ section of window. The man, who happened to be a glazier, asked, “Are you serious?” When Davis urgently assured him that the drastic measure was required for his safety, the guest replied that he would put on clothes and “bust this fucker.”

Using a chair, the guest then smashed a window. As broken glass cascaded into the room, Davis then advised that the television screen would need to broken since the tube contained an electrical charge that could spark an explosion. Davis suggested the use of the toilet tank cover to disable the television. But when the guest threw the porcelain lid at the TV, it broke. So Davis directed the man to toss the set out the window. Stepping gingerly around glass shards, the guest complied.

At this point, Davis’s supervisor, Jeff Anderson, joined the call and determined that the guests in 306 had co-workers in the adjoining room. Anderson then called Room 304 and advised the man answering the phone to “remain calm.” He told the guest of the gas leak and advised him of the safety measures that had already been followed next door. The man in 304 also unplugged electrical devices, placed wet towels at the door, smashed a window, and tossed the television to the sidewalk below. Anderson then directed the guest to pull the fire alarm. As a siren wailed, the guest asked Anderson, “Can we get out of this motel? Why can’t we just leave the building?” He had previously remarked, “I hope this ain’t some kind of joke.”


This is a really impressive investigation. The author writes with a well-deserved satisfied tone and seems to almost taunt the Pranknet members with his ability to expose them. Do yourself a favor and spend the next half hour reading through it and listening to some of the calls. You’ll see what a public service it is to hopefully stop these people.

In America, try not to kancho your friends

(Updated)

A few weeks ago NYT ran this great article about the difficulties of raising a son in both Japanese and American cultures:

My Un-American Son

By KUMIKO MAKIHARA

Getting Yataro ready for his first sleep-away camp overseas is turning out to be much more than counting T-shirts and towels. I’m having to review the way children interact here to see which behaviors would go against American codes of conduct. American parents have higher standards than Japanese when it comes to acceptable behavior among children.

Take “kancho” for instance, a popular prank where kids creep up on and poke each other with pointed finger in the behind, shouting “kancho!” or enema. That would likely have the camp counselors in America alleging sexual abuse.

Kancho certainly isn’t encouraged in Japan — a friend of mine is convinced her daughter failed a preschool entrance exam because she playfully jabbed her mother in the rear during the interview. But Japanese parents usually bestow only a mild rebuke.


Please head on over to NYT to read the original article!

Other differences mentioned:

  • In Japan, racial epithets directed at her half-white son tend to be tolerated (and he is apparently not fazed by them), but in America they would be a cause for great concern.

  • In sports, coaches and other players tend to use positive reinforcement, while in Japan when her son makes a mistake he is told to “stop screwing up.” This might mean her son could take praise far too seriously and not understand where he needs to improve (his English language skills, in this case).

  • As someone from a country where communal bathing is common, her son might not understand the more chaste attitudes toward nudity and privacy in America.

  • Her son has never been given truly “free” time or open-ended choices, while the summer camp he is to attend consists of almost nothing but free time and freedom to choose.

  • In Japan she wouldn’t think twice about scolding using insults to scold her children, but American parents who see that behavior might think it’s abusive.

All these observations ring very true, though obviously your mileage may vary. I thank my lucky stars every day that I’ve never been kancho’d.

What I like best about this piece is that she resists the temptation to theorize or lecture about which society has the better practices. That’s the right approach because proclaiming one country’s education/child-rearing regime to be superior to the other’s does nothing to help Yataro navigate his new summer camp. By talking from her own experiences as someone who has had to navigate both societies (and offering some speculation about how Americans at the summer camp will react), she is able to shed light on cultural differences without getting into ultimately unhelpful broad conclusions. And in the process she has given us an entertaining and enlightening case study in the form of her own son. I look forward to the follow up article to hear how Yataro fared.

(A Google search for “Maki Katahira” “Kumiko Makihara” reveals several other articles about her son and life in Japan, along with this right-wing conspiracy theorist who implies she must be a CIA agent and part of the Trilateral Commission’s plot to control Japan because she was married to former Newsweek Japan bureau chief William Powell (though apparently they divorced) and once worked as an executive assistant for a firm partially owned by private equity group Ripplewood. I don’t want to lend any credibility to this crackpot, but even if she is working for the man, this is still a pretty great article)

Nemutan’s revenge – some fact-checking and reaction to the NYT story on anime fetishists

The New York Times has an article in its Sunday magazine section by Tokyo Mango author Lisa Katayama about a “thriving subculture” of men who prefer “2D women” to real women, sometimes engaging in serious relationships with anime characters. On the website, the story is billed under the tagline “Phenomenon” which would give readers the impression that this sort of thing is common in Japan.

Seeing as it comes from America’s most prestigious and influential news outlet, the article has already been widely read (see here for a Japanese translation of a Korean-language summary), and reactions have ranged from uncritical acceptance of the reporting (wtf is wrong with Japan?!) to absolute incredulity (she just ripped off an Internet meme and borrowed from WaiWai so this “phenomenon” is completely overblown and is an example of the NYT exploiting Japan for cheap thrills).

Responding to the reaction, Katayama said on Twitter, “imho, responses to my 2D article reflect readers’ biases + issues more than the offbeat situation of story subjects.” So at the risk of revealing my biases plus issues, I am going to respond to this article.

But before I get to my overall thoughts, I want to point out what appear to be two small but important factual errors. While the article focuses on profiling individuals who are either examples of the “2D love” phenomenon or who promote the concept, at one point she cites some government statistics to bolster her claim that there is indeed a thriving subculture of men who literally think a pillow is their girlfriend:

According to many who study the phenomenon, the rise of 2-D love can be attributed in part to the difficulty many young Japanese have in navigating modern romantic life. According to a government survey, more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins; 50 percent of men and women in Japan do not have friends of the opposite sex.

 After I asked the author via Twitter where she got the numbers, she helpfully directed readers to “the gov’t agency that monitors population and social security” which in proper noun terms means the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

So I looked around to find where she might have gotten the information. The results? I could find nothing to credibly back up either of those statements, but there are survey results that show similar but critically different results. Let’s take them one by one.

Friends of the opposite sex

First, the good news – there is rough statistical backing for the claim “50 percent of men and women in Japan do not have friends of the opposite sex.” A 2004 study “The Japanese Youth” conducted by the Cabinet Office shows that only 43.7% of Japanese youth aged 18-24 reported having friends of the opposite sex.

The only relevant figures from the population institute I could find were from its most recent survey from 2005, which state that around half of unmarried men and women are not currently dating anyone of the opposite sex as friends, as a serious boyfriend/girlfriend, or as a fiance.

Still, both figures are much different from saying that half of all Japanese people have no friends of the opposite sex. As kids grow up they are much more likely to have platonic friends, though it’s true that this is less common than in the US. But that in no way backs up the argument that men and women are isolated in Japan. And as for the stat on single people dating, it really is a coin flip whether a person surveyed will be dating someone or not at the time. And it’s completely irrelevant to the “2D Love” story.

Are a quarter of Japanese 30-34 year-olds virgins? No way.

Now let me repeat the other claim: “According to a government survey, more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins.”

Think about those numbers for a minute – if true they would be staggering news and quite possibly a major cause of Japan’s demographic problem. Yet in all I have read about the topic this article marked the first time I have ever seen that claim made. (Mostly it’s attributed to long life expectancies and low birth rates caused by late marriage, quality of life factors, etc.). 

It turns out that the real statistic from population institute states that around 25% of unmarried 30-34 year olds are virgins. It doesn’t say anything about the population as a whole. Note that a separate survey finds that around two thirds of men and women have lost their virginity by the time they are in university, so I find it very hard to believe that another 15% or so won’t have met someone special in the intervening 10 years.

I’ll admit that I have not scoured the entire Internet, so there may be a survey that I just didn’t come across. So to give her the benefit of the doubt, let’s see if this claim is even close to realistic. According to the institute’s 2005 survey (PDF in English, page 15), single people with no kids aged 30-34 (defined as one-person private households) make up 34% of all households in the age group.  On the other end, 54% of private households whose head of household is in that age bracket are married. That means in order for more than one quarter of all Japanese adults aged 30-34 to be virgins, one of the following must be true:  either a) almost all unmarried people at that age are virgins (and we already know that’s wrong); or b) even a good portion of married people fail to consummate their marriages several years into their lives together. And that I am afraid is next to unfathomable.

The WaiWai Connection?

So what happened? Some have accused the author of using the notorious WaiWai as a source. WaiWai is a discontinued feature of Japanese national daily Mainichi Shimbun’s website that specialized in creative translations of Japanese tabloid articles. It was taken down in 2008 after angry Japanese internet users discovered it and found scores of misleading, exaggerated, and false stories depicting Japan as a perverted and even deranged society.  

Katayama has claimed that the government reports were her sources and specifically denied using WaiWai. But thanks to James at JapanProbe, I have found the following June 2007 article that contains a passage very similar to one claim made in the NYT story: 

 The Japan Cherry Boy Association is facing a crisis after the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research revealed that almost one in four Japanese men aged 30 to 34 remains a virgin, according to Weekly Playboy (7/2).

Obviously I wasn’t there when she wrote the story, so I can’t tell where that number came from. But it could easily have come from this source as it makes the same mistake of omitting the key fact that the survey in question only covered unmarried men and women.

Getting facts like this wrong can lead to some unfortunate consequences. Already, the Korean daily Joong Ang Ilbo has posted a summary translation of the article in Japanese (and presumably Korean), complete with a verbatim repetition of the claim “more than a quarter of men and women between the ages of 30 and 34 are virgins.” Without a correction, this idea is likely to spread and might end up becoming a commonly cited myth about Japan, much like the similarly unrealistic but widespread claim that over 90% of Japanese women in their 20s own a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Without these numbers, the background for this story becomes somewhat undermined. While the isolation between men and women in this country is commonly cited by both foreign and Japanese observers, this gap tends to be reflected in the different ways adult men and women spend their time, particularly married couples. For some fascinating anecdotes on the gulf that opens up between housewives who never leave their neighborhoods and their husbands who never leave the office, read this fascinating interview with author Sumie Kawakami.

 

Overall thoughts

Aside from the statistics issues, I think Katayama and NYT did readers a disservice by making Nisan the focus of the story, because that turns the real story on its head.

Yes, there is a subsection of otaku who are unapologetic about their dedication to anime porn and proudly wear their virginity on their sleeves. But it’s a stretch to characterize all moe anime fans as walking a blurred line between normalcy and 2-D Love, and it’s even more of a stretch to equate all 2-D Lovers with Nisan, who is clearly in a class by himself. It would have been much fairer to start with the Okayama character. He is a collector of body pillows but isn’t public about it, which is far closer to the typical consumption pattern for these products, though even he is on the extreme side. Most American men have seen porn, but you know you’ve lost your way if you buy one of those fake rubber vaginas. In Japan, most men are probably more like economic commentator Takuro Morinaga who grew up on a diet of anime and maybe even dabbled in some “2D Love” content but never made the plunge into Nisan territory (btw, Morinaga is not one of “Japan’s leading behavioral economists.” He teaches at Dokkyo University but only has his bachelor’s and is best known as a populist TV pundit who commonly makes no sense).

It’s also important to note that since at least Evangelion in the late 1990s there’s been an element of eroticism present in most popular animated series aimed at teenagers and adults, and in general sexual content in manga and anime is much more common and accepted in Japan than it would be in the US. So most otaku may in fact own things Americans might consider erotica such as sexually explicit manga or suggestive figurines (not exactly 2D), but that does not make them Nisan- or Okayama-style 2D Lovers nor even place them outside the mainstream. The US and Japan also have the first and second largest live-action pornography industries in the world, so I think that makes both populations rabid 2D Lovers in their own ways. The key difference is the preference in Japan for underage girls (both real-life and 2-D) as objects of desire, a topic that’s not discussed in the article but deserves its own investigation.

To the extent that 2D love is a real phenomenon, it is driven by pop culture and consumption preferences led by people like Toru Honda and Momo who have books and pillowcases to sell. The market for this stuff is a relatively small niche of the overall otaku market, and I don’t see much of a serious ethos that goes far beyond a kind of brand loyalty (but please by all means prove me wrong; you could say the same thing about NASCAR fans but no one doubts NASCAR’s importance and influence on the identity of certain subsections of the US). And yes, the erotic body pillows are a popular accessory among that demographic. But Nisan and the few people who have an abnormal attachment to their pillows are merely the extreme example of what is largely a story of private porn consumption. And while I have never met or spoken with Nisan, how much do you want to bet he carries his pillow around either as an elaborate joke or to prove his otaku street cred? The whole idea of a proud life-long virgin has the air of a joke about it, and you can read any 2-channel thread on the topic to get an idea of how common it is for people to riff on this meme.

I want to be clear that I am not necessarily against this type of reporting. Far from it, I would say that all weird stuff everywhere should be documented and presented to the world. It’s an amazing world out there with countless stories waiting to be told. Lisa Katayama wrote an interesting story in her field of specialty, so I don’t hold it against her for publishing this article or trying to entertain by finding interesting aspects of Japan to present to the world. And as someone who loves to dig through government reports, I hereby offer that the next time she wants to write a story she is more than welcome to enlist my help if she wants to know what government studies are actually saying about Japan. It’s just in this case she got a couple of facts wrong and mischaracterized what I see as the real situation.

To be honest, if I didn’t notice the potentially groundbreaking statistics, I don’t think I would have bothered to write about this story. The “weird Japan” theme in the English-language media is what it is – viewed from the outside a lot of what happens in Japan does seem odd. And the New York Times is in the business of presenting the world to Americans in an entertaining and digestible manner. Producing stories that cast Japan as a backward country that got modernization wrong lets the readers feel better about their own country and confirm the basic rightness of the American dedication to social progress. But Japan is interesting enough without having to resort to exaggeration.

(Thanks to James at Japan Probe for help with some of the research in this post)

Is a national lack of English skills Japan’s Berlin Wall?

Critics of English teaching in Japan have put forth many arguments - it’s ineffective, it’s counterproductive, it attracts the wrong crowd, it starts too late, it focuses too much on English at the expense other languages, you name it. But this post from finance blogger Kazuki Fujizawa (likely a pen name) is the first time I have seen someone argue that English education in Japan is being intentionally undermined by the education ministry.

He starts by noting that the recent political developments in Japan (upcoming election) can be kind of hard to understand. This is only natural because as a free society power is not concentrated in one place – it is a complicated interaction of various interests. On the other hand, it is comparatively much easier to understand how dictatorships like North Korea or the former East Germany are governed – North Korea has its massive propaganda machine and terrorizes the population, while East Germany kept its people from escapting to the West by building the Berlin Wall.

With that in mind, he tells the story of what you might call Japan’s Berlin Wall, which I have translated below:

I think the time has come for the education ministry to abolish its policy of undermining Japanese people’s English abilities.

Viewed from the perspective of the rulers, the question of English language education was a sticky problem.

That is because if the people ever became able to speak English fluently, the talented Japanese people and firms might have gone overseas to get away from the world’s highest personal and corporate income tax rates. But to take in Western technology and develop the country, they had no choice but to give the people English language education. The rulers of Japan wanted to keep the people in bondage while simultaneously collecting as much information from abroad as possible.

The Japanese bureaucrats’ answer was to create an English language education system without precedent anywhere else in the world that was perfectly suited to meet these two opposing demands. They made the extremely specialized skill of mechanically replacing English sentences with Japanese the central focus of the compulsory English language curriculum.

Forcing middle schoolers with young minds to repeat these exercises again and again was wildly successful at disabling the people’s English language communication skills. People educated to turn English sentences into Japanese by moving the word order around become completely unable to speak English.

To the rulers, this was a very wonderful thing.

Unable to communicate in English, the Japanese people could thus be prevented from fleeing overseas without resorting to violence.

The amazing part of this English education system is that even though the Japanese people are rendered incapable of communicating in English, they can still understand written English such as English-language scholarly works. This way, the bureaucrats could disable the Japanese people’s English-language communication skills while at the same time giving them access to the vast archives of English-language written materials.

This system was a key component of Japan’s high rate of economic growth following World War II.
Even as English-language information entered Japan from around the world, the Japanese could only read English but not speak it or write it, meaning that there was almost no outflow of information from Japan to the outside world. This one-way flow of information made it possible for post-war Japan to rapidly industrialize.

But as Japan caught up to the advanced Western nations and caught the “developed nation disease,” this policy of disabling people’s English abilities began to crack at the seams.

Without English skills, Japan’s diplomacy is weak.
There is also little transmission of culture to the world.
A whole range of manufacturing products in Japan are incompatible with those sold in global markets due to Japan-specific standards.

Importantly, most Japanese companies can no longer survive in a shrinking Japanese market as the country’s biggest problem is the shrinking and aging population, which is progressing at the fastest rate in the world.

The era when Japan could shut itself off from the world, import information, manufacture products in Japan, and then sell them to the Japanese market has ended. Nowadays, Japanese people and companies must go abroad and sell their own products. That means they must have communication skills in English, the world’s lingua franca.

Looking throughout the world, in small advanced countries where businesses cannot succeed only in their home markets, the people can speak English almost without exception. Middle school students in the Netherlands and Sweden all get nearly perfect marks on the TOEFL test.

In Japan, our own market will shrink more and more, so we must now go abroad to survive.

Don’t you think it is high time for the education ministry to abolish its policy of disabling the Japanese people’s English abilities?

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 10 of 10) – Sachiko Miyamoto (Happiness Realization Party)

I am wrapping up this profile series on the final night of campaigning. All ten candidates have had their vans drive by my apartment at least once. Since the average time someone can listen to a passing van is about 3 seconds, the candidates’ strategy seems to be “forget about policy, just repeat your name again and again.”

Last but not least is Sachiko Miyamoto, the candidate sponsored by the infamous Happiness Realization Party:









From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

The Happiness Realization Party was formed in May of this year as the political wing of Buddhism-based new religion Happy Science, which claims to have somewhere around 10 million followers (compared to between 12-20 million for Soka Gakkai), an enormous rate of growth for a faith that only started in 1986. I am not sure exactly why Happy Science decided now is the time to enter politics, but they seem to be very well-funded and serious about trying to get elected (their resources quite obviously outstrip someone like Osato Ichikawa).I have probably gotten more literature from HRP than anyone else during this election cycle. Also, they make no attempt to hide their affiliation with Happy Science – it says so right there on the literature.

Whatever else the HRP might have wrong with it (and there’s a lot), you cannot accuse them of thinking small. Every proposal they have is radical and sweeping. This video from their official Youtube channel makes it look like they are prepared to conquer the earth just to install a high-speed rail network:

As you can see from the video, the HRP is promising to build nothing less than a utopia in Japan – prosperous, safe, and above all happy. Unfortunately they are light on details on how they could bring this about.

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.”

I am not sure how exactly this is related to the Happy Science teachings, and frankly I don’t care. Their mythology is complicated to the point that it’s just about impenetrable. All anyone needs to remember is that Happy Science is that it is a personality cult above all else. They believe that the founder Ryuho Okawa had a vision in the 80s that he is essentially the savior of mankind. If you’re interested in learning more I am sure they’d be happy to talk to you.

Career: Miyamoto’s website offers precious little information. She apparently moved around a lot as a kid – born in Itabashi-ku, then moved to Wako-shi in Saitama through middle school followed by Koshigaya for high school. After studying French in college, she worked for the Palace Hotel company for two years until she got married in 1981. From then until deciding to run for office, she has apparently held no job or responsibility besides raising her two boys to adulthood.

Policy: The main point of her candidacy is to spread the message of the national HRP. To do that, in her speeches she constantly repeats that the HRP is “the party of zero consumption taxes.”

In her more detailed campaign literature, she says Tokyo needs a “transportation revolution” with the following main policies: build another highway on top of the most crowded sections of the Shuto Expressway; make intersections and rail crossings “three-dimensional”; and install double-decker train cars for use at rush hour.

Something interesting: Miyamoto is a mysterious blank slate, so I don’t know what to say here.









From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

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And so ends my attempt to humanize these people! Once the election is over I will be back with some reflections on voting and analysis of the results. Just for the record, here is my projection of the winners, in descending order of votes:

  1. Satoru Onishi (DPJ)

  2. Haruhisa Tomotoshi (New Komeito)

  3. Nobuyuki Nakayama (New Komeito)

  4. Yoshie Oshima (JCP)

  5. Naoki Takashima (LDP)

  6. Katsuhiro Suzuki (DPJ)

That’s right, I am predicting the LDP will walk away with just one seat. One anonymous Adachi-ku assembly member put the chances of this happening at “around 70-80%” and I am inclined to agree.

Tokyo assembly election: Meet the candidates (Part 7 of 10) – Naoki Takashima (LDP)

In our next installment we turn our attention to the other LDP incumbent running for re-election, third-term assemblyman Naoki Takashima (59).









From Tokyo Prefectural Assembly Election

Takashima is your typical career politician, with one kick-ass difference – he is the president of his own anko (red bean paste) factory. Born and raised in Adachi-ku, after graduating from nearby Dokkyo University Takashima became a staffer for a prefectural assemblyperson. After that, he spent two years working at the bean paste factory before running and winning a seat at the Adachi-ku assembly in 1983, where he would stay until attempting to move to the next step in his career. He  lost his first attempt at the prefectural assembly in 1993 but won on his second try in 1997 and has been there ever since. Since August 2008 he has been the secretary general for the assembly’s LDP caucus.

Policy: As a loyal LDP man, Takashima supports all of Ishihara’s controversial policies, including the bailout of Shinginko Tokyo, moving Tsukiji Market to Toyosu, and bringing the Olympics to Tokyo in 2016. He also promotes a series of building plans and, of course, juicier welfare options for Adachi residents.

Chances of winning: Takashima’s position appears to be solid, barring a complete collapse in support for the LDP. Unlike fellow LDP incumbent Masatsugu Mihara, he’s never been voted out of office (though he lost his first attempt at the prefectural assembly) and thus is less likely to get drawn into the strategy of some of the minor candidates to split the conservative vote, which I’ll get to in a later installment.

Something interesting: Like a true playa, Takashima’s campaign office doubles as a bean paste factory. And since he is a powerful local politician, he’s been able to keep the decrepit building standing in the shadow of several enormous apartment complexes. Here’s the Street View image of the building:

Takashima Red Bean Paste

He considers himself to be computer savvy, bragging in his profile that he communicates with prefectural bureaucrats via e-mail. But since he is used to the keyboards on older Japanese PCs – he mentions the If-800 model from Oki Electric – he claims to have trouble typing Japanese characters using romanized spelling. Older keyboards in Japan used a unique keyboard layout that assigned a key to each kana character (the relics of that system remain on the current keyboards).

691px-BMC_IF800_20_03

(Wow, there’s a printer inside the keyboard…).

In 2002 his koenkai (support association) held a dance party, resulting in some precious moments of seniors having fun:

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David “Lizard People” Icke in Kitasenju

Now, don’t get me wrong – Takashima has nothing to do with infamous conspiracy theorist David Icke. But thanks to the magic of Google Maps, I now know that in 2008 Icke gave a talk just a few blocks from Takashima’s bean paste factory. Let’s watch:

Personally, I want to know where I can get a sweet gig interpreting speeches for David Icke. I bet he pays pretty well. Icke’s Japanese page is here. You can read his theories of how humanity is controlled by lizard people here in the original English.