As I ease into this blogging thing again, I figured I’d give a little update into some of the stuff I’ve been into lately – and if I’m feeling frisky, I might even do a follow-up post with my dislikes!
Fortnite: This game is unbelievably popular among American kids. I wasn’t into it until I watched people play on stream for a while and got a feel for how it works. And it’s actually a lot of fun! It’s hard to win, but there’s something very satisfying about gathering materials and giving it a shot. If I’m being honest, I really don’t have any business playing the game because I am horrible and will die to any 11 year old boy who has even a little skill. But there are times when the matchmaking system pushes me down to a low enough rank that I can actually outbuild people and even sometimes win a game. And that’s suuuuper satisfying. Reach out if you’d like to join the Mutant Frog squad (Look for “Radamukun”).
Pokemon Go: A top-10 thing I miss about Japan is the Pokemon Go scene. In central Tokyo there are so many players it made the game much easier to play, especially the higher-level raids. Even so, my interest in the game has held up even here in the States. I live within walking distance of gyms and stops, and the game keeps adding enough new content that I never get tired of it.
Cooking: I taught myself to cook in Japan because I was sick of not being able to eat American staples like lasagna, cookies, and roast chicken. Now that I have an oven those things are easier to come by, and I’ve been able to broaden my horizons a bit too. Now I make roasts and baked ham in the oven, burgers and hot dogs on the grill, spaghetti sauce and Cuban rice and beans on the stovetop, and Indian-style curry in the slow cooker. Mrs. Shoko has continued making Japanese food, so with a few glaring exceptions (we almost never have sushi now) we are enjoying a wider variety of foods here in the States.
Hip-hop, especially Soundcloud rap: Despite their reputation for being drugged-out and lazy, there is a lot of talent among today’s big rappers – it’s too bad they all seem to die at 21… I love Lil Peep, Juicewrld, Yung Lean, Yung Pinch, NBA Youngboy, and so many more. I started getting more into newer rap in Japan after discovering Riff Raff, and since moving here my obsession has only grown. It might be one of those things that I’m way too old for, but I don’t care.
You’ll see that “blogging about Japan stuff” isn’t on the list, partly because the fire inside me to do that has largely gone out. As I mentioned in the last post, I do a lot of that sort of thinking for work, which kind of ruins it when I want to do something that takes me my mind *off* of work.
These are all things I do with what little free time I have – most of my waking hours are spent working, taking care of kids, or dealing with house-related issues. But everyone needs a hobby or two! These have helped me get through the various difficulties of real life, particularly during quarantine. What has everyone else been up to? Sound off in the comments!
I can’t tell you how happy I am to see Mutant Frog Travelogue back online.
I have fond memories of when MFT was at its most active — it was so fun to pull together an argument or report on some development in Japan and see people sounding off in the comments section. It was even fascinating to get negative reactions like having our blog posted in an Asian identity forum as an example of toxic white men who like Asia too much.
I don’t know if I mentioned it here but blogging here even helped me professionally – it was a place for me to hone translation and skills, and at one job, a key person in the hiring process found my blog on Google and apparently liked what he saw. So as ephemeral and meaningless as Internet discourse can seem, this blog has been an incredibly fruitful place for me to invest my creative energy.
Sadly, creative energy is something I am in short supply of these days. In fact, ever since taking that job over ten years ago I’ve found that a lot of the work I do uses the same part of my brain that blogging does. So when work is done the last thing I want to do is try and pull together a coherent essay. And with kids, getting distracted by social media, and all the other crap going on in my life there hasn’t really been room for blogging.
But with the pandemic going on, and Roy finally getting around to getting the site back up, now might be a good time to give it a go again. We’ll see! I hope all our regular readers have been well and will return once we start posting again.
Another year draws to a close – in the Adamu household 2018 has been nothing short of momentous. Long story short – in August we moved from Tokyo to the greater DC area!
For the most part moving here hasn’t really changed my life all that much (certainly not compared to the rest of the Adamu household) – I still commute to work every day and do more or less the same job. All the same, there’s a lot that has been different – it feels really weird because having lived in Tokyo for the past 11 years I have never really had to live as an adult in the U.S. before.
For this post I will just list out and rant about some of the stuff I have noticed:
1. Basically no one speaks Japanese or cares one way or the other about Japan
This makes conversation hard sometimes because until now (and even now still) my whole life has been wrapped up in all things Japanese. The other day at a work lunch somebody brought up sumo and I couldn’t help but enter into my spiel about how the game is rigged and the wrestlers are all doped up because there is no drug testing. Of course most of the people at the table couldn’t change the topic fast enough.
2. I can walk the streets without sticking out as the only “foreigner” around, and I am not constantly asked why I am living here
This might be the single biggest thing that makes living in the U.S. more comfortable than living in Japan. It feels cliched to repeat, but it’s true that as a Westerner in Japan you’re constantly facing the same conversation topics (can you use chopsticks? can you eat natto? how did you learn Japanese?) that can get a little tiresome but also (being the surly unfriendly sort that I am) end up making me feel “othered” – can’t I ever just have a normal conversation? No, not in Japan.
But here I just look like your average everyday American, and I get the privilege of having normal everyday small talk like everyone else – weather, kids, traffic, and all the rest (although that has its drawbacks as well…).
3. I can just speak my mind in my native language and most people will understand me (though I have had to retrain myself to speak “normal” English)
My Japanese was fine by the time I left, but no matter how well I could get by in Japanese, expressing myself always required me to think about what to say and make sure I was saying it correctly. Funnily enough, I was speaking Japanese with a colleague recently – basically my first extended Japanese-language conversation for a while – and he could tell it was making me physically tired.
It just feels good to be understood. One thing I have noticed, though, is that in Japan I had become used to speaking simplified English for the benefit of non-native speakers. Now that I am in contact with Americans all the time I have had to retrain myself to speak normally – using all the idioms, word play, cultural references, etc. that are common to everyday conversation.
4. I am actually treated like an adult and expected to be a part of society (and I hate it!!!)
As a gaijin living in Japan I was never really held fully accountable for all the usual adult responsibilities. Part of that was structural (even if I applied for a credit card I was always denied) but part of it was just people seeing me and assuming I don’t know what I am doing. It’s a tiny example, but I always found it remarkable that basically no one EVER asked me for directions in Japan (except for tourists in Shinjuku a couple times). And at work it was usually the Japanese employees expected to do things like fire duty and even answering the phones in our island of desks. Mrs. Adamu was always the one dealing with anything that went wrong in the apartment, etc.
Here, however, I am most definitely an ADULT and have all manner of responsibilities – part of it is that Mrs. Adamu is kind of unfamiliar with how things work, so now most of the negotiating and dealing with contractors, real estate agents, and all that falls to me. It’s definitely a new layer of stress that I didn’t really have to deal with as a pampered foreigner.
And if in Japan I got tired of being asked the same questions about my personal background over and over again, here I get tired of having to repeat the same small-talk with people. But now I kind of get how small talk is a part of being an adult – if you step beyond it into topics like jobs, TV shows, or (god forbid) politics, you’re taking a risk of alienating someone that you have to deal with on a daily basis (a coworker, a neighbor, your kid’s classmate’s parent, etc.). This must sound incredibly obvious to a lot of people, but it really is a new feeling for me.
5. Businesses in America are MUCH more tech-friendly than in Japan
In Japan, I almost never texted anyone besides friends and a few coworkers.
But in the U.S., I am in a text message-based relationship with almost everyone I come in contact with, including almost every company I do business with.
I am texting photos for real estate inspections, signing contracts electronically, and even getting in heated text arguments with some of them. This would be unthinkable in Japan where just about anything official needs to be accompanied by a hand-delivered, handwritten form. I’ll never forget the number of times I have had to write out my address by hand in Japan (and of course when the staff see me write it in kanji they often ask how I managed to learn such a hard language!).
Four months in, I can’t really say I miss Japan or that I like living one place or the other better. Too early to tell! But it has been a big change for sure. I do hope to get back sometime soon if for no other reason than to keep from forgetting Japanese…
I hope you enjoyed this – stay tuned, I might do a few subsequent posts to list out some of the good things about the year.
This year was one of my best years for gaming in quite a long time. A lot of really fun games came to my attention, including Battle Royale games (I haven’t played the real PUBG yet, but there are a couple of knock-offs that I have liked)…
But one game has stood above all others, and that game is Pokemon GO.
I played casually when the game was released last year, but it didn’t really take hold.
That changed when I redownloaded it this summer to have something to do in case my son and his friends needed entertainment at the park one day. It turns out there is a LOT going on in this game that I had no idea about.
Playing together with the kids got me and Adamu Jr. hooked and now it is basically our number one topic of conversation. Every night when I come home from work he asks “Did you catch a new Pokemon?”
And when we can play with other kids too it is always a good ice breaker and bonding experience. I was happy to learn that the game is pretty popular in the US too and not just Japan!
The fun of this game has been slowly figuring out how it works – it requires a lot of intuition, research, and practice because the game itself doesn’t have much in the way of a tutorial.
Some of the fun elements include:
Catching new Pokemon – Right now there are 300 some-odd Pokemon that you can catch with various strengths and rarity. This is the part that energizes Adamu Jr.
Figuring out the Pokemon stat system – Every Pokemon caught has a CP value, level, and HP, but these are abstractions from their “real” stats, which is a system too complicated to get into here.
Walking around and exploring – There are a lot of incentives to get out and explore in the game – you can go find Pokemon, battle in gyms, and walk to hatch eggs. A downside of this is there is an incentive to walk while looking at your phone, which makes players basically an accident waiting to happen. Fortunately I have not had any issues so far.
Gym battling and raid battles – Taking over a gym and keeping it for long enough to earn serious gold is quite satisfying. And there is a sense of accomplishment from taking down a tough raid boss. Playing in Tokyo makes it easy because there are tons and tons of players that will gather to take down raid bosses, especially the legendary ones.
As fun as it is I still have my gripes – until the new generation of Pokemon was released just recently, it could get pretty repetitive to constantly catch the same Pokemon all the time.
And there are lots of weird bugs and quirks – for instance, there is a hard cap that limits the amount of gold you can earn by defending gyms to 50 per day, which creates a lot of complicated issues that are too dorky to get into here
But overall it is a lot of fun and something that I have really enjoyed playing both on my own and with my son.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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!
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…
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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).
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・・・」 [↩]