Report: 5,400 living crappily in net cafes

After reading the initial wave of articles about the new trend of homeless young “freeters” and “NEETs” living in net cafes, I tried sleeping at a net cafe in Shibuya once while I was in Tokyo back in April or May. How was it? While Adam may have enjoyed his stays in net cafes, I found it so unpleasant that I left at around 3am and wandered the streets of Shibuya, at that hour mainly filled with solicitious Chinese prostitutes trying to entice me to come inside for a massage, or as one put it “you can have sex with me for 6000 yen,” until I found the capsule hotel I had spied a few days earlier. My back hurt such much from trying to curl up on the floor of the little padded computer cell that I was briefly tempted by the shady massages just by the thought of being able to lay down for a while, but despite my quite literally feverish state still had my wits about me enough to make it up-hill to the capsule hotel. How did I feel in the morning? Well, according to the latest article on the subject of net cafe homeless, telling us that a new government study estimates their population at 5,400:

 In 2005, 13 people contracted tuberculosis at a Net cafe in Kawasaki that health officials suspect originated from the cafe’s homeless population.

That, plus the backache, pretty much sums how I felt the next day. My throat was so irritated by whatever infection I had that I still, all these months later, have slightly more of tendency to cough than I did before, and I would probably have a full-on phlegmy hack if not for the THREE doctor’s visits I made after coming back to the US and probably 7 or 8 different medications ingested over that course of time. The lesson? Thinking that a net cafe would be a safe place to sleep because it was cheap and had a small non smoking section was a bad idea.

Ayase Death Watch: Three Executed Morning of Aug 23, two at Ayase

From Mainichi:

3 death row inmates executed

Three death row inmates were executed at Tokyo and Nagoya detention centers on Thursday, Justice Ministry officials said.

Sources close to the case identified the three as Hifumi Takezawa, 69, and Yoshio Iwamoto, 63, who had been detained at the Tokyo Detention Center, and Kozo Segawa, 60, at the Nagoya Detention Center.

The executions bring the total number of convicts who have been hanged since Justice Minister Jinen Nagase assumed the post in September last year to 10. Death row convicts are executed on orders of the justice minister.

Thursday’s executions reduced the number of death row inmates in Japan to 103. (Mainichi)

Bloomberg has a timely piece covering Japan’s death penalty policy in the context of the soon-to-be-implemented lay judge system. It gives basic background on most of what I wanted to talk about:

The country’s bar association condemned the hanging of three inmates yesterday and called for a moratorium on executions until flaws in the legal system are corrected. To curb abuses, the government plans to team citizen judges with professional jurists to rule on serious criminal cases such as murder and rape.

Under the new system, to be implemented in May 2009, six lay judges chosen at random from voter roles will sit alongside three professionals. Decisions will be determined by majority vote.

“Once lay citizens start participating in trials, the conviction rate will decline,” Tomonao Onizawa, councilor general at the Supreme Court, told reporters earlier this year.

Critics say the proposal, coupled with plans to let crime victims and their families petition for specific punishments, may increase the number of executions.

“Victims will be able to make emotional pleas to the court, with lay judges thrust into a role to hear the most heinous crimes,” said Nobuto Hosaka, secretary general of the Japanese Parliamentarian League Against the Death Penalty. “We feel they will favor the most serious punishment.”

Emotional Rulings

At a June 3 mock trial to test the new system, many audience members wanted the defendant, accused of dangerous driving resulting in death, to receive a longer sentence than the eight years handed down.

“We should feel emotions to some degree in judging, but we shouldn’t let emotions control the ruling,” said Kyoko Hamada, a 48-year-old homemaker from Matsudo city, northeast of Tokyo.

Similar systems are used in some European countries, including Germany and Norway. The use of lay judges “assures a more open and transparent process,” according to Norwegian Public Prosecutor Linda Myrdal.

Instead of the proposed changes, the Justice Ministry should curb abuses that occur in police cells, where suspects may be interrogated for as long as 23 days, Menda said.

`Beatings, Intimidation’

Police tactics include “beatings, intimidation, sleep deprivation, questioning from early morning until late at night and making the suspect stand or sit in a fixed position,” Amnesty International said in a July 2006 report.

The cells are “a breeding ground for further violations” and drive the high conviction rate because “forced confessions” are rarely ruled inadmissible, Amnesty International said in a July 2006 report.

Menda said he confessed to killing a priest and his wife in 1949 after three weeks without enough food, water or sleep. He was released in 1983 after a retrial found he had been convicted with fabricated testimony and his alibi hadn’t been considered.

At the end of July, there were 105 people on death row who had exhausted all appeals. Almost all were convicted of multiple murders, or murder with another serious crime such as rape or robbery. The most notorious is Shoko Asahara, founder of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that killed 12 people in the 1995 sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway.

Public Support

Ten people have been executed since Justice Minister Jinen Nagase took office in October. His predecessor, Seiken Sugiura, refused to sign execution orders during his 11-month term.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations said systemic flaws uncovered during the appeals that led to the release of Menda and three other death-row inmates in the 1980s haven’t been fixed.

“The danger that mistaken death sentences will be handed down still exists,” the federation said on its Web site.

The government says public support for capital punishment justifies its use. In the most recent survey by the Cabinet Office, 81 percent of 2,048 registered voters contacted by phone supported the death penalty in “unavoidable circumstances,” while 6 percent wanted it abolished. The UN says public backing is misleading because of the secrecy surrounding these cases. The Justice Ministry didn’t identify the inmates executed yesterday. Their names were reported by Kyodo News, citing “informed sources.”

“There is an obvious inconsistency when a state invokes public opinion on the one hand, while on the other hand deliberately withholding relevant information on the use of the death penalty from the public,” the UN Commission on Human Rights said in a March 2006 report.

The government doesn’t inform inmates or their families about execution dates to prevent unnecessary “mental anguish,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on its Web site. Critics say the policy is inhumane and designed to suppress protests. For death-row inmates, it means each knock on the cell door may be the call to execution.

“Nothing has changed since the time I was arrested,” Menda said.

No time to outline my thoughts now, but I just want to say that Japan’s death penalty system makes me sick to my stomach, and not just because the prisoners are killed right near my house. It is really scary that the final decision of when and if these prisoners die lies solely in the hands of a political appointee (usually an elected official but not necessarily) who goes through no official vetting process, and on top of that no prior warning is given to the public, victims, or the convict or his or her family. You can debate the morality of killing criminals or the particulars of the legal process, but this absolute bare minimum of human dignity and open government could be easily rectified.

Some people are just dicks in any country

I am generally quite careful not to post anything work related on here, but this particular quote from an internal corporate employee survey I’m translating was just too choice, and utterly anonymous and unidentifiable.

I am opposed to foreigners in the front office. Since it is difficult to convey minor nuances of Japanese within the company it must be even more difficult for customers to understand when conversing with them. I have received two whole claims about this.  (One claim said they could not understand what they were saying, and the other said, a foreigner huh? A Japanese would be better.)

For contrast, here is an excerpt from a customer survey from some rich asshole country club in the US that was forwarded to me a few weeks ago.

I am personally upset about the use of the Mexican labor on the golf
course. I understand you have contracted, and it is the contractors
who are responsible for hiring, but the club is responsible for hiring
the contractor. We get letters about “responsibility” and “right and
wrong,” well, I think the club management had better look at itself.
If all these workers are legal, then I will apologize, but I very much
doubt they are legal. This is a very poor example of judgment and
sends the wrong message. I know I am not the only one that thinks like
this, and if my concerns are unfounded, then the club should issue an
explanation and correct the image.

It’s well worth remembering that there is a certain extent of xenophobia in any country, and I believe that suffering from it firsthand when traveling or living abroad-such as the minor (or major in some unfortunate cases) annoyances that many of us have experiences in places like Japan-is actually a rather good learning experience, which can make one more sensitive to despicable attitudes back home that one may have overlooked before.

Link clearage time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven Seagal blames FBI for loss of career

You may know that Adam is a huge Steven Seagal fan (check out his review of Seagal’s incomprehensible Into The Sun), but did you know that the reason we haven’t been seeing many Seagal movies recently is due to an FBI probe? Neither did I, but that’s what he’s claiming.

“False FBI accusations fueled thousands of articles saying that I terrorize journalists and associate with the Mafia,” Seagal told the newspaper. “These kinds of inflammatory allegations scare studio heads and independent producers — and kill careers.”


The FBI investigation stemmed from Seagal’s ties to former private detective Anthony Pellicano, who once was employed by many Hollywood stars, directors and producers, but is now in federal prison awaiting trial on wire-tapping and other charges.

The Pellicano investigation dates to 2002 when a free-lance reporter for the Los Angeles Times found a dead fish, a red rose and a note saying “Stop!” on her car. At the time, the reporter was researching Seagal and a former business partner.

Seagal told the Times that he and Pellicano had not been on speaking terms since the 1990s and the Times’ story said his lawyers told FBI agents that by 2002, Seagal and Pellicano had become rivals in a bitter legal dispute.

The actor said in October 2004, an FBI official told him that federal agents knew he had nothing to do with the Pellicano investigation. Still, Seagal claims they have not publicly exonerated him.

Both shockingly and disappointingly, Seagal was apparently suspected of links to the Italian-American Mafia, and not the Yakuza.

The Samurai and the Swami

Today’s New York Times article on the growing economic relationship between Japan and India contains the following line:

Consultants are trying, so far in vain, to coin the catchphrase, like “the Samurai and the Swami,” that will sum up the nascent strategic economic relationship between the countries.

Do the MFT readers have any brilliant suggestions?

Attempting to explain just what it is about Louis Vuitton and Japan

One of my favorite blogs at the moment is Marginal Revolution, which is run by a couple of academic economists who basically try to squeeze their science into every facet of life (á la Freakonomics).

A recent post is totally on point with what we talk about here at MFT: namely, Japan’s statistically insane obsession with luxury goods. What’s great about this post is not the post itself, but the wide variety of comments it generated from armchair analysts who all think they know why Japan loves expensive stuff so much.

Some of my favorite theories:

  • “Being in a warring society since 12th centuries until before their Meiji restoration, the craftsmanship and other manufacturing skills were cultivated by warlords in order to empower their army.”
  • “It might be a substitute for not being able to purchase land.”
  • “The Japanese fascination with brand names is an East Asian cultural thing. Having cool things gives one more “face” in society so they like to have things they can show off.”

I figure it might be that since people are living and moving around so closely together, they have more incentive to accessorize themselves since they’ll be coming into contact with so many people during the day. Of course, it could also be a happy mixture of all these theories with some sort of plus alpha on top. Any ideas?