Happy new year from a happy Adamu in Japan

A milestone for Adamu as we approach the end of 2006 — I’m officially getting married! Mrs. Adamu and I finally let her parents know our intentions, and while Mrs. Mrs. Adamu has some issue with mixed marriages, she won’t oppose our union and Mr. Mrs. Adamu and Brother Mrs. Adamu were happy to hear the news. Yay!

Three hometowns, compared

I’m spending the holidays with my family in South Carolina, after studying and working in Tokyo for the past year or so. Next week, I’ll be headed off to Philadelphia to finish my studies, then back to South Carolina to hunker down behind bar review books. Coming back after all this time reminds me of why I love this “home,” and also why I love my other “homes.” Continue reading Three hometowns, compared

Abe to quit in May??

Hot off of Kikko’s Blog (via Livedoor News but not a direct translation, just a summary of the report with my own commentary):

Rumors are being reported that Prime Minister Abe, who within weeks after taking office had already started mentioning goals for a second term, might be forced to step down in May, after an assumed poor showing in April local elections. A Livedoor News article reports that “voices within the LDP” are calling for his resignation before the Upper House electios in July. He and his team have become a lightning rod for scandals, some of which we’ve detailed (faked town meetings, faltering on tax reforms, scandals among his policy team etc).

The new prime minister could take office after the end of the regular Diet session, allowing Abe to save face. This would follow the same pattern as even less popular PM Yoshiro Mori in 2001.

The most likely successor to Abe is Foreign Minister Taro Aso, an LDP more senior and even more right-wing than Abe, who earned more rank and file LDP member support than expected in his run against Abe in September. He has hardly stopped campaigning since, coming out with major foreign policy objectives and announcing the formation of his own intraparty faction just last week. The likely rival to Aso would be Yasuo Fukuda, whose candidacy in the last election sputtered for its low prospects of victory and health concerns. A source quoted in the article suggested that Koizumi could even make a comeback. Oh, I can only pray that happens…

China’s animation industry set to overtake Japan’s?

The latest issue of Japanese news weekly AERA (more like a Japanese version of Time magazine than many other weeklies) contains an interesting bit on China’s animation industry that fits in nicely with my last few posts. Full translation follows:

Anime to make a comeback in China, where it started

by Reiko Miyake

China has been “invaded” by Japanese-made animation, but in fact this was the former world power that taught animation to Japan

China as a nation is currently putting its efforts into developing “Donghua.” Donghua is Chinese for animation and comic books. In the past 3 or 4 years, 19 cities nationwide including Shanghai, Changchun, and Hangzhou have been equipped as “Donghua headquarters” or centers for the animation industry. Schools to develop talent and studios are being established in earnest.

According to sources close to the issue, the scale of China’s animation character market amounts to as much as 100 billion yuan (approx. 1.5 trillion yen). Japanese animation such as Pokemon and Case Closed are enormously popular, and up to now a multitude of pirated versions have been distributed. While dominated by Japanee animation and Disney, here and there original Chinese-made animation has started to come out such as “Indigo Cat.”

A longer history than Japan’s

Inspections of imported animated works are strict, in part because of protection of domestic works. The first company to truly attempt to export to China was Mulan Productions. They are very skilled at the business of managing copyrights in China. They have produced many hits, starting with Crayon Shinchan in 2002 and following up with Dragonball and Fruits Basket.

Takashi Mita, chief of the company’s International Business Headquarters, explains: “First of all, the quantity of foreign animation that is shown in China is is restricted as a whole. It is subject to a strict inspection from the perspective of public order and morality, and works that contain many portrayals of sexual activity or violence are taboo. All in all, the condition for export is that the works are healthy for children.”

Looking just at the situation in the past few years, Japan looks like a developed country while China looks like a late bloomer in terms of their respective animation industries. However, it is not very well-known that China’s animation history is actually longer and had a major impact on the developing stages of Japanese animation.

At a Tokyo cinema in 1942, a young Osamu Tezuka watched “Princess Iron Fan,” an animated film based on the Chinese epic Journey into the West that was produced in Shanghai, which was an animation production center at the time. The fact that the intense emotion he felt at that time formed the basis for Tezuka to produce animation is an anecdote known by those in Japan’s animation industry. After becoming a comic book artist, Tezuka met with Princess director Wan Lai-Ming time and again.

After WW2, Wan and others gathered in 1957 to create the Shanghai Art and Film Production Studio, a nationally-run animation studio. These are the roots of Japan’s animation industry as well as China’s.

Decline due to the Cultural Revolution

Subsequently, Japanese animation has developed as both an art and an industry to take a 60% share of the $25 billion animation market. Meanwhile, China’s industry declined due to the Cultural Revolution after peaking in the 60s and 70s.

So, Chinese animation industry is now attempting to revive itself once again. The works that the Shanghai Art and Film Production Studio created from the 60s to the 80s will be shown from December 16 at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

Features gaining the most attention are 4 ink-painted short films. The Tadpole Searches for His Mother, made in the 60s, is a classic in which the movements of frogs and tadpoles are drawn in ink style, which though slightly blurred is very lively. It was shown at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival, where it won Honorable Mention.

Almost 50 years later, focus is once again on ink expression in China’s animation productions as students of a Chinese technician development school produce a 3-D animation using the techniques of ink animation. Director Wan’s long-format “Sun Wukong on the Rampage” will also be shown.

LDP faction wants to deny forcing of comfort women

I don’t normally like to just cut and paste news articles (translation is of course a different story) because it’s just a lame way to blog without having any ideas, but The Yomiuri does not keep their stories accessible online for an indefinite period, and this one from today’s edition is a critical followup to my little essay of two days ago. Ask yourself, what would these men consider “conclusive evidence”? About a month ago I attended a lecture at which three old women from Taiwan came to speak about their experiences as sex slaves to the Japanese army, which I personally found extremely convincing. (I have been meaning to write a long blog entry about that lecture, so someone people remind me to do so.)

LDP split over ‘comfort women’ / Lawmakers plan to seek revision of 1993 statement on culpability
Continue reading LDP faction wants to deny forcing of comfort women

Japan’s animation industry hollowing out?

Japanese weekly business magazine Shukan Toyo Keizai (Weekly Oriental Economy) has given me a very nice Xmas present: They finally post some free content online! I was even more delighted to discover that one featured article discusses a topic that’s come up in a recent post: the “decline” of Japan’s animation industry. According to animation critic Ryota Fujitsu (who incidentally also is on the selection committee for the Nippon Otaku Awards) argues that rather than declining per se it’s “hollowing out” due to outsourcing of animators. I decided to translate it in full since it brings up some interesting issues. Let’s have a look:

The Hollowing Out of Japan’s Animation Industry Continues


Currently, Japan’s animation industry wouldn’t be viable without the presence of Korean and Chinese subcontracting companies. Why must the industry rely on foreign outsourcing? If you trace the causes of this dependence, you’ll find the answer lies in the low production costs. Normally, production costs of a 30-minute program amount to around 10 million yen apiece. However, it costs even more than that for a more elaborate project, and there are also many works that are produced for prices lower than 1 million yen. This situation has been going on for years, and you could say it has become entrenched. So as a result, the issue of low wages for animation staff, chiefly represented by the animators, has been repeated in the media. This is despite the facts that dozens of animated programs are shown every week, and animation has been proclaimed as “a subculture representative of Japan” by the media.

One third of animators make less than 1 million yen annually

The typical lifestyle of a contemporary animator was detailed in the 2005 study “Status of Activities and Lifestyles of Performing Artists” conducted by the Japan Council of Performers’ Organizations (tr: report available here in Japanese only).

According to this source, animators work an average of 10.2 hours a day, an estimated 250 hours per month. Despite this, 26.8% of the make less than 1 million yen per year, 38.2% earn an average annual income of between 1 million and 3 million yen annually. Meanwhile, 80% of in-between (douga) animators are paid by quantity, with per-cel prices averaging 186.9 yen. 73.7% had annual incomes of less than 1 million yen.
Continue reading Japan’s animation industry hollowing out?

Christmas in Japan

As a total atheist and a Jew, Christmas means absolutely nothing to me except for school vacation, annoying music, and an annual party at my friend Alistair’s house, but for some reason it has made a huge impression throughout the world, even in many countries like Japan where Christianity is virtually nonexistent. I’m not going to try and do any boring analysis about why, but I want to show two different news stories that discuss Christmas in Japan.

First, we have this really boring article about Santa Claus, written for Slate by David Plotz.

In Japan, a department store recently stumbled into the yuletide spirit by displaying Santa Claus–nailed to a crucifix.

This would be a pretty funny mistake if it were true, but it only took me ten seconds of fact checking (typing “Japan crucifix santa” into Google and finding a thorough Snopes.com article debunking this story) to find that it never actually happened.

Then we have this “foreigners eat weird food”Reuters article from Reuters, which tells us the incredible truth that people living in countries without Turkey don’t eat Turkey on Christmas! (I thought Christmas was ham or goose anyway? Aren’t most Americans still sick of turkey from Thanksgiving?) Anyway, here are the Japan bits:

In Japan, many people head to Kentucky on Christmas — Kentucky Fried Chicken, that is.

The fast food joints do a roaring trade over the Christmas period, with restaurants turning away customers on December 24 if they haven’t booked their chicken in advance.

“Over the period from 23rd to 25th December, sales can be as high as ten times normal levels,” said Sumeo Yokokawa, of the public relations department at Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan.

The Kentucky Christmas habit started in 1974, after a foreign customer mentioned to a store manager that he had come to buy fried chicken because he was unable to find turkey in Japan. His words inspired a sales campaign that paid off.

“The fashion at the time was to have a nice American-style Christmas,” said Yokokawa. “So we offered the chicken as a set with a bottle of wine and it was very popular.”
In Japan, many families opt for a plain sponge cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries. As delicious as it sounds, the term “Christmas cake” was long used to refer to unmarried women over the age of 25, who were said to be past their best, like cakes after December 25.

All of this is actually totally true. Not just KFC, but also Lotteria (crappy McDonald’s knockoff, apparently soon to be replaced by its parent company with a Burger King franchise) offer Christmas promotions on fried chicken, as do supermarkets, and even the small but excellent fried chicken takeaway I found in the Demachi area shoutengai this past Sunday. I would also like to congratulate the reporter for indicating that the totally old fashioned and no longer used “Christmas cake” expression for unmarried women is in fact no longer used. I’ve seen Western media touting that expression as recently as a year or two ago, and it’s nice to see that news of its demise is filtering abroad.

The day’s news in Patriotism and rememberance

Glancing at today’s top stories at The Japan Times, I am struck by how thematically linked many of them are. Now, of course it is a slow-news Sunday with few actual current events to report on, which leads the news people to slot the historical stories into the front page, but we can still see an interesting congruence of themes in four of today’s top stories.

The big story is that the New ‘patriotism’ education law takes effect. All readers of this blog already know that this law has been in the news for some time, it has been debated by everyone, protested against by citizens groups, teachers unions, parents and students, and contested by a coalition of the DPJ and other minor opposition political parties, who in the end failed to stop its passage by the eternally ruling LDP. While I haven’t read the actual text of the law [available here] yet (which I really should do soon), we do all know that the controversy stems from one particular section of the comprehensive education law-containing many provisions on reforms generally accepted as necessary-in which it states that “an attitude that respects tradition and culture and loves the nation and homeland that have fostered them” should be promoted by throughout compulsory education, which incidentally I believe has also been extended to include high school for the first time, in one of the less politically charged provisions of the law.

This rather innocuous sounding passage sounds like part of the basic curriculum of lower education in pretty much any country, and one could argue does not even sound any different from what is already taught in classrooms throughout Japan, but many people think of the recent case of teachers being disciplined for not singing the national anthem and feel a worry that the actual implementation of these newly mandatory provisions is another stage in the resuscitation of a particular pre-war style of nationalism. In reality, the debate is not over whether patriotism and shared national values should be taught to children, but what meaning that patriotism has, and what those values are.

The worry among the opposition camp is that the official patriotism will be a doctrine of subservience to the state, which could someday lead to a return to the military days of the past. The fact that the education law was passed in the same parliamentary session as the bill elevating the head of the Self Defense Forces to a cabinet level minister does not appear to them to be a coincidence. But the opposition has their own narrative of patriotism, primarily based on the doctrine of pacifism and anti-militarism that was embraced throughout Japan after the multifaceted disaster of Japanese Imperialism and the Second World War. The relentless defense of these principles, primarily in the guise of Article 9 of the American imposed postwar Constitution-the protection of which seems to be invoked in virtually every campaign poster of a politician campaigning against the LDP-represents a particular vision of Japan, which they are proud of and want to protect. This is an attitude that I think should be considered a form of patriotism.

While statements by the reigning Emperor tend to be somewhat bland and cryptic, this seems to be the attitude expressed by Akihito, the Heisei Emperor, in remarks made on his birthday-which was also a top story today. Although I mentioned above that it was The Japan Times in which these four stories were placed next to each other, I’m going to present the somewhat longer quote from the BBC article (also the front page of that site).

“Now that the number of those who were born after the war increases as years pass by, the practice of mourning the war dead will help them to understand what kind of world and society those in the previous generations lived in,” Emperor Akihito said, in remarks made on Wednesday, but only made public on Saturday.

“I sincerely hope that the facts about the war and the war dead will continue to be correctly conveyed to those of the generations that do not have direct knowledge of the war so the kind of ravage of war that we experienced in the past will never be repeated,” he added.

However, the emperor avoided touching on how people should honour those who died in World War II.

(The original Japanese statements can be found here at the Yomiuri)
Somewhat limp statements like these are a result of how it is generally considered inappropriate for the Emperor to engage in any political activity, or suggest or endorse any particular thing or action, lest it remind us of the bad old days. If you read the entire statement of the”symbol of the State and of the unity of the people,” you can see that he is very careful only to specifically reference the deaths of Japanese soldiers and civilians and the general horror of war, but he also hopes that the “history of both Japan and the world” should be “properly conveyed to the generation of people who have not directly experienced war” so that “the horrors of war like those of the past shall not be repeated.” Right wing supporters of the new education law may argue that children will be upset by learning about evil things done by their own country in the past, but it is difficult to believe that this sort of education encourages the strong anti-war sentiment in present day Japan. Could anyone really say that the Emperor’s desire for the history of war to be taught in such a way that it helps encourage students to be anti-war is unpatriotic?

The concept of “patriotic” education is not inherently nationalistic or jingoistic. I believe that growing up I was taught about American history in a way that was intended to strongly foster patriotism, but not by entirely white-washing the past. Among the things I specifically recall studying in American History class at some point over elementary school, middle school and high school classes are: slavery and segregation (lesson plans inspired in no small part by the fact that the public schools of Montclair, New Jersey were in the twelve years I spent there roughly 50% black/white), smallpox blankets, the Salem Witch Trials, Manifest Destiny, industrial revolution child labor, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, the Wounded Knee Massacre, the Trail of Tears. And this is not even a complete list of the various injustices committed by the United States of America that I was taught about in history class.

A Kobayashi Yoshinori or Shintaro Ishihara might think that I went through a history curriculum written by anti-American rabid communists or something, but as I already said these were actually patriotic lessons. How could that be? Well, slavery had Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad and the abolitionist movement-lessons of heroism and virtue. Segregation brought us Brown Vs. Board of Education-a lesson that our system of law is eventually a system of justice and the civil rights movement, with Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and other heroes, and of course the eventual end of legalized segregation. The Salem Witch Trials lead to separation of church and state, a fundamental principle of American society. The dark side of the industrial revolution eventually led to the labor movement and various legislation and a significant improvement in worker’s rights. And so on. I do not recall if it was ever spelled out, but in retrospect the basic narrative is clear. Not “America is perfect,” but “America’s founding principles are good, and if we work at it, someday they can be fully realized.” How similar my education was to the national average I have no idea, but I expect that this core narrative is standard. And today’s third article, telling us that President Bush has signed a law providing for the preservation and restoration of all the Japanese internment camps from World War II. “The objective of the law is to help preserve the camps as reminders of how the United States turned on some of its citizens in a time of fear.”

Right wingers in Japan deride the teaching of things such as comfort women, war crimes and colonialism as anti-patriotic, saying that it will make children feel bad about their country. But it is all about the approach. Certainly teaching children about the mistakes and excesses of the colonial decades makes them feel bad about that time, but presented correctly it makes them feel good about living in today’s Japan: a nation which has moved past that stage. Perhaps by being over-reactionary about terms such as “patriotism” and “nationalism,” peace activists, politicians and teachers in favor of actually teaching kids about the past are in fact making a serious strategic error. By saying patriotism=right wing makes it all too easy for the rightists to label them as unpatriotic, when many of them are actually very patriotic.

And now the fourth and final article, Sex slave exhibition exposes darkness in East Timor, which describes the findings of a Truth Commission by the East Timor government on the systematic rape of East Timorese woman by Japanese soldiers in so-called “comfort stations” during Japanese occupation of the then Portuguese colony, as well as the far less organized rape of East Timorese women by Indonesian soldiers during their occupation of the now independent country. While all of this is very interesting, particularly how characteristics of the local society led to different recruiting practices of comfort women from certain other colonies, the following passage is the one relevant to the current essay. [Emphasis added]

Citizen groups concerned about the lack of accountability for the wartime sex-slave atrocities convened a people’s tribunal in Tokyo in 2000 that found the late Emperor Hirohito and high-ranking Japanese military officers guilty of crimes against humanity. The verdict was later censored from an NHK documentary on the trial amid allegations by a major daily newspaper that two heavyweight Liberal Democratic Party politicians — Shoichi Nakagawa and Shinzo Abe — paid a less than comfortable visit to the public broadcaster before it was aired. [Detailed article on this case here at Japan Media Review]

Charges of government censorship of NHK, which seemed sensational and cynical at the time, are now quite believable in the wake of news that now Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered NHK to focus on the North Korean abductee case. Fears that Japan is returning to 1930’s style thought control are both premature and somewhat hysterical, but increasing interference with NHK and education is inarguably more of a step in that direction than away from it. However, while the LDP did manage to pass this bill, opposition to it was fairly strong, and the Abe administration is not looking particularly popular, so it is always possible that we have another amendment of the education law by a future administration to look forward to. Yet, I think the return of education that teaches Japanese kids to take pride in their country is here to stay. The big question is, what will teach them to be proud of? German style guilt based education is entirely off the table, but that does not mean that history class has to be sanitized. There is a big difference between teaching children to be ashamed of the past and teaching them to be proud of having surpassed it.