Nara schoolgirls shun bare legs in favor of a vaguely Islamic aesthetic

Asahi Shimbun, 21 June:

At Kintetsu Yamato-Saidaiji Station in the evening, full of uniformed high school students, I watched with a distant eye, recalling myself in my younger days. And I noticed that the girls’ skirts were long–covering the knee as a matter of course, but overlapping the socks so that the legs couldn’t be seen at all. I thought it must be some school with harsh rules, but it wasn’t just one school. Watching each school as a high school baseball reporter, the miniskirts seemed to have fallen behind, as long skirts were in the majority. “Since about two years ago, there have been many students with skirts covering their knees,” says a male teacher at Koriyama Senior High. Under ordinary school rules the skirt must be long enough to cover the knees, but when I was in high school, it was usual to see 15 centimeters above the knees.

Why long skirts? “Chon-chon (short skirts) are tacky now,” says second-year Yuki Takahashi. “The shape of the skirt looks cute,” says third-year Ayumi Fujimoto (17). Another opines that “I don’t want a Pocky tan (where the socks leave a tan line), so I pull my socks up to the bottom of my skirt.”

This is a pendulum that should have swung the other way a long time ago. Although teachers complain about short skirts, the implicit acceptance of that aesthetic in popular culture has made Japan look like a nation of “hot, shallow and superficial sluts with knee socks and short skirts that live to exist like real world barbie dolls.” What’s interesting is that in Nara, it appears to be the natural forces of fashion that are taking short skirts out of favor and making more modest dress the “new hotness.”

I’m sure that Marxy has a lot to say about this…

News on the unfolding revolution in Iran

[Accidentally hit publish before I was done.]

I’ve been following events closely all week, and although I have no deep insight or analysis on the situation, I thought I would share my list of recommended sources for breaking news, in order of importance.

Tehran Bureau: An Iranian-American cultural magazine that has been providing some of the best analysis of and historical context for ongoing events. Also see their Twitter feed, updated almost minutely with quotes being forwarded from inside Iran. As I write this, they have just updated

from trusted FB source: Mousavi is reported to be speaking to protesters on Jeyhoon street. He said a few minutes ago:

I am prepared for martyrdom, Shame on you and your tricks the coup government. end quote

Here is their latest full dispatch.

Andrew Sullivan’s blog: Andrew has been following this story closely since it began in earnest a week ago, and is working all day long to make his site a constantly updated stream of links to and quotes of every single breaking development and rumor. Although Iran is not remotely his field of expertise and he has little deep commentary to add, his blog is currently the best centralized location for links related to the ongoing story.

NYT “The Lede” blog: The NYT breaking news blog has been doing much the same thing as Andrew Sullivan, but with a slightly more conservative journalistic approach to posting entirely unverifiable details, and with slightly more analysis.

Iran The name says it all. I believe this site has historically been focused more on watching Iran with a suspicious eye, as a possible military threat, but they seem to be doing a good job right now providing much-needed statistical analysis.

Juan Cole’s Informed Consent: A well known Middle East scholar’s ongoing commentary. This one, a blog devoted to statistical analysis of US politics, might be a surprising addition to the list, but in fact Nate Silver has been using his analytic tools to examine the potential validity of fraud claims re: the Iranian election and is well worth a read.

And finally, I urge everyone to read the graphic novel Persepolis, or watch the animated adaptation thereof.

From what I have seen, the legal constitutional basis of The Islamic Republic of Iran is now, as of last week , neither Islamic nor Republican. I truly hope the protesters succeed in what is increasingly looking like a true popular revolution, or perhaps the second stage of the 1979 revolution.

These popular uprisings, even if they succeed in the short term, often still end poorly. It’s worth remembering “EDSA 2”, the popular uprising in The Philippines which overthrew corrupt president Joseph Estrada, putting Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in charge. Well, President Arroyo is now widely regarded as worse than Ferdinand Marcos, responsible for unspeakable amounts of graft, and the extrajudicial killings of an unknown number of journalists and activists. In a sense, this is similar to the aftermath of the original 1979 Iranian Revolution, which began as a wide-ranging popular movement including Islamists, Socialists alike, to overthrow the Shah, but which was soon diverted in a heavily theocratic direction.

Based on the little I know of Mousavi’s pas, though, I hope he will be better. Many have said that Mousavi is “not a true reformer” or “not really that different from Ahmadinejad in policy terms” but I can’t help but believe that if he somehow manages to coast into power on this level of popular support he will find himself far more of a reformer than he imagined. Of course, if the uprising fails, they will kill him.

Organ Harvesting in Japan–Now Legal?

The Lower House voted yesterday to remove the major restrictions on organ transplants in Japan–an age limit and the need for family consent of the donor. Since the organ transplant law was passed, transplants have been difficult to get in Japan and are fairly rare–only 81 in the 11 years since the current law was enacted. Yesterday’s changes were spurred by pressure from the WHO, looking to stem the tide of “medical tourists” who go overseas to get transplants.

Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone agrees with the changes that were made. Many Japanese remain wary of organ transplants and the concept of “brain death,” necessary for organ transplants, is not as accepted in Japan as it is in the United States. Twice Dead, by Margaret Lock, details many objections Japanese people have; the most interesting one she cites relates to 贈答文化, exchange culture, in that a donee can not properly return the favor.

Now, this was nowhere near as interesting as the reason detailed in the newspaper handed to me this morning as I passed a group of protesters demonstrating outside the Diet. According to 関東「障害者」解放委員会, the Kanto “Disabled Persons” Liberation Committee, the law will allow the nefarious Japanese government to do what it has long wanted: harvest organs from workers and sell them on the global market. Social stratification in Japan has spread to the medical arena and politicans led astray by America’s neo-liberal influence are plotting to increase the number of its brain death diagnoses in order to save costs on emergency care and further oppress the working poor! Will the capitalists never cease their brutal exploitation of workers?

After getting over my shock in realizing I was actually reading the headline of the newspaper correctly, I found myself somewhat disappointed that the protestors couldn’t have put together a better case. It is possible to argue against organ transplants without sounding like a complete nut. Although the criteria for brain death are quite rigorous and misdiagnoses are nearly unheard of, there are rare cases of people being declared brain-dead and then coming back to life. The idea of brain death also conflicts with many religious and cultural notions of death.  These aren’t limited to non-Western cultures; according to Wikipedia, the orthodox Jewish community is divided over the issue.

Of course, these nuanced arguments are complicated. It’s much easier to simply say that Japanese politicians are selling poor people’s hearts and livers to line their pockets. Ah, politics! I can’t wait to see what I’m handed the next time I head to Nagatacho.

(Interestingly enough, Japan has had problems with people who allegedly broker “used” organs. Also, see Roy’s post about Japanese organ harvesting in Thailand.)

Japan’s Badge Phenomenon

I must confess to a certain nerdish habit when walking around central Tokyo — badge-spotting. Whether it be Japan’s many corporations and the uniform-like consistency in which employees pin the logos to their suits, or the guild-specific badges of many professionals, badges are everywhere. In particular, it’s fun to spot the legal/accounting/tax professionals, often based on a flower blossom motif. This post quickly summarizes the badges of such professionals that you are likely to see in any commercial district of Japan — if you pay close attention.


The Administrative Scrivener badge has a cosmos flower with the archaic “行” character in the center; the Attorney badge has the scales of justice in the middle of a sunflower, the flower designed to represent justice; the Judicial Scrivener badge is a paulownia, and is silver, apparently specifically to be in second place to the golden badge of the attorney.


The Tax Lawyer badge is a circle with a sakura cherry blossom in the top; the Patent Attorney badge is a chrysanthemum with an unknown symbol in the center; the Social Insurance and Labor Specialist badge is a chrysanthemum with sharp, not round, petals, with the roman letters “S.R.” for the romanization of the profession’s title, shakaihoken rodoushi,


The Land Surveyor badge is a paulownia with the archaic “側” character in the center; the CPA (certified public accountant), despite being perhaps the toughest of all state exams together with the bar exam, nonetheless has an utterly cheesy badge that simply bears the roman letters of the English translation of the title; and the Marine Procedure Agent has a badge that is a chrysanthemum with a ship’s steering wheel in the center.


The badge of a judge is not a flower but the Yata, a mythical mirror that is said to be part of the Imperial Regalia, with the character “裁” in the center; elected members of the Diet have a metal chrysanthemum badge pinned to a thick purple felt patch; and Diet Secretary badges are a wafer thin, red chrysanthemum.

Those of you wannabe lawyers and diet members out there who don’t want to go through the formalities of “passing the bar” or “being elected” are in luck — website PinJP sells replica badges that look just like the real thing. Just don’t actually engage in the act of immitating a lawyer or you’ll face jail time.

Japan’s newest SNS:

I recently joined, a Japanese social networking service (SNS) launched earlier this month. It’s a neat concept which may interest many in the English blogosphere.

(Disclosure: In a past life I helped the site’s coder-in-chief, Kristopher Tate, get set up in Japan, but I currently have no business relations with his company.)

Keireki is essentially a Japanese version of LinkedIn–a service aimed at professionals who want to expand their network. Unlike the big Japanese SNSs, GREE and Mixi, it is designed to be non-anonymous and (more or less) entirely public. Users are expected to use their real names and employers, although some choose to redact their employers’ names.

There are four components to a Keireki profile: profile

  1. Keireki (“work history”): Takes up the front page of each user’s profile and lists the user’s current and past jobs and schools in chronological order, just like a Japanese-style CV. Doesn’t have any space for qualifications, hobbies, etc., although those can be included in the “hitokoto” tab (below).
  2. Iitoko (“good points”): The most unique feature of the service. These are short tags added by other users to describe the person’s strong points: “good designer,” “bilingual,” “super hacker,” and the like. Each new iitoko has to be approved by the recipient, and if users agree with an iitoko they can click a link which says “Tashika ni!” (“Certainly!”) to signal their agreement. Clicking on an iitoko produces a list of all users nominated for that particular iitoko. The concept is generally somewhere between a LinkedIn recommendation and a Flickr tag.
  3. Kikkake (“opportunities”/”springboards”): A personal feed very similar to Facebook status updates. Each one-line post can be the basis of a comment thread below it. This appears as a separate tab on each user’s profile, while the main landing page for the site shows the collective kikkake of your connections (again, very similar to Facebook).
  4. Hitokoto (“a word”): The third tab on each profile is a free writing space which the user can fill as they prefer. It supports basic rich text formatting, hyperlinks and images, which puts it several steps ahead of even Facebook and LinkedIn. In practice, users seem to treat this like they treat their “personal introduction” space on Mixi: some write a sentence, while others fill the space with gobs and gobs of personal information, interests and links.

The site is still in alpha and has some minor annoyances: for instance, while it can handle foreign names (in katakana and romaji simultaneously), the order of foreign names often comes out differently in the input field and the final profile, which requires some fiddling. The sign-up process is also unnecessarily clunky and requires a Japanese mobile phone to complete (you have to send yourself an e-mail, then click on a link in your phone to get an access code). Some features are also conspicuously missing: there is no private user-to-user messaging, no RSS, no direct interface to other websites and fairly limited search functionality, but I expect that all of these features will be strengthened in future updates.

With some further development and good marketing, this could make SNS a useful business tool in Japan. I deleted my Mixi and GREE accounts a while ago because both sites seemed to be optimized for frivolity and little else. Keireki has the potential to be a serious platform for businesspeople and creative types to get together.

Keireki is currently invite-only, although several MFT bloggers and commenters have accounts already. It’s also only available in Japanese for the moment.

Employment law in Japan: the Civil Code, the Labor Standards Act and work rules collide (with a cameo by Northwest Airlines!)

Japan and the US supposedly operate on fundamentally different legal systems. Japan has a “civil law” system where all the rules ultimately have some source in a neatly-organized set of statutes, whereas the US follows the English “common law” system of letting ancient court cases govern large areas of law, such as contracts and real estate. Although this is what you’ll learn in a Law 101 class, the distinction is actually not so simple in practice. Both systems are fundamentally patchworks of overlapping statutes and judicial fiat.

Japanese employment law is a good example of this. The Civil Code (民法), which is the general basis of private legal relations in Japan (contracts, property and familial relationships), has some basic rules governing employment and labor contracts. The Labor Standards Act (労働基準法), enacted by the Diet after World War II, goes into more detail about workers’ particular rights. Since then, there have been even more statutes covering family care leave, temp staff dispatching and other more minute areas, and there have been a number of precedents which seemingly overwrite the statutes altogether. Lifetime employment, arguably one of the key principles of Japanese employment law, is not enshrined anywhere in the Japanese code books; it comes entirely from court cases playing fast and loose with the Civil Code.

In practice, people usually look to expert advice to figure out what’s going on. One of my favorite online resources is a law firm called Eiko, an outfit of eight horribly serious-looking Japanese lawyers and one not-so-Japanese lawyer based in Osaka. I have no clue how good they are in the courtroom, but they put out four short articles each month in Japanese through their “Business Law Front Line!” (ビジネス法務最前線!) newsletter. You can subscribe here.

This week, one of their topics is employer liability for economy-induced work stoppages. This is a phenomenon you’ve probably heard about in the news: many Japanese companies are shutting down entire lines and telling their employees to take some time off. The full article, by attorney Yukari Ikeno, is here. Here’s a translation of the meat of it:

Under the Labor Standards Act, when work stops “due to the fault of the employer [the company],” the company must pay wages (or salary) at no less than 60% of the ordinary rate.

On the other hand, under the Civil Code, when an employee is unable to provide labor “due to the fault of the creditor [the company],” the employee does not lose their right to receive the full amount of their salary.

Although it is hard to interpret which of these two standards applies to form a duty to pay, the Supreme Court held, in its decision of July 17, 1987 on the Northwest Case (ノースウエスト事件), that if the Civil Code standard is fulfilled, the worker may claim the full amount of their salary under the Civil Code provision.

As some additional color (and because I love to talk about the history of Japanese aviation), this was a case from the late 70s which arose during a Northwest Airlines employee strike in Tokyo. The strike forced the Tokyo station to close, halting Northwest’s continuing service to Osaka and Okinawa. Northwest told its employees in the latter cities (who were not striking) to stay at home and cut their salary for the duration. The Supreme Court used this opportunity to state that the Civil Code provision covered a wider range of issues than the Labor Standards Act provision — and then said that it didn’t really matter, because the strike was caused by the union and therefore the employees had no right to invoke either provision.


This interpretation gives rise to doubt as to why the Labor Standards Act, a law for the purpose of protecting workers, provides for a lower standard of payment than the Civil Code. It’s a bit confusing, but here is how we understand this point:

Under the Labor Standards Act, even language similar to that of the Civil Code would be rigidly construed against the employer from the general legal standpoint of protecting workers. Thus we understand that the company has an obligation to pay 60% or more in any case, except in cases of force majeure such as a factory being destroyed in an earthquake.

On the other hand, under the Civil Code, as the language states, when the employee has become unable to provide their labor, the employee must prove that there is some fault on the part of the company, thus limiting, moreso than the Labor Standards Act, the cases in which the liability of the company may be found.

So compensation under the Labor Standards Act, despite being lower in amount, also greatly relaxes the worker’s responsibility to provide evidence, and is therefore viewed as protecting the worker.

Views diverge as to whether losses from the current worldwide recession can give rise to the 100% payment under the Civil Code. One can believe that these would have to be determined judicially on a case-by-case basis.

Oh no! Litigation! But wait, there’s a solution:

To avoid this sort of dispute, a company should preventively provide in its rules of employment that “for days when a work-stoppage allowance is paid, the worker may not claim any salary in excess thereof.”

That’s why your company writes really long rules of employment; they don’t want to have to go through all that just to find out how much they owe you. That said, such a provision would likely be more of a deterrent than an actual bar to claiming full salary, since the law still applies regardless of what the work rules say.

“My Darling is a Foreigner” Manga disrespected in Ayase

I came across this depressingly soggy ex-manga on the road near my apartment:



This was a volume in the ダーリンは外国人 series (Literally translates as My Darling is a Foreigner but has been sold in English translation under the godawful title Is He Turning Japanese? Out of basic respect for human dignity I will use the literal translation in this post).

Whoever left this must really have not liked what they read since it looks like they took the effort of tearing the the binding apart into three pieces before leaving it to rot. I’ve read the first two volumes (one of Mrs. Adamu’s friends gave them to us as a gift appropriate for our situation), and while they weren’t my favorite they don’t deserve this level of disrespect.

But I always believe that when life gives you soggy manga on the street, you use that opportunity to write a review of that manga in the hope that something constructive can come out of such a senseless waste:

Adamu’s thoughts on My Darling is  Foreigner

The series, a semi-autobiographical episodic story of the daily life of the author, a Japanese woman with no international experience or English ability,  and her quirky, multilingual American husband, was a surprise hit in Japan. According to an undated article at the Hiragana Times, the first volume has had at least 28 print runs since the first edition hit bookshelves in 2002.

I might expect too much from a manga that wears its light-heartedness on its sleeve, but this title was a letdown when I read it a few years back. As a manga it is very well-drawn (I was especially impressed with the detailed closeups of Tony’s face), but the depiction of main character Tony (pictured above) leans too heavily toward a two-dimensional “Hello Kitty” caricature, someone who hasn’t got a personality so much as a list of quirky but endearing distinguishing traits (extremely obsessed with learning languages, generally kind-hearted but won’t change his mind once he’s settled on a decision, doesn’t like to be told how to wash the dishes out of a sense of respect for individuality, has deep-set eyes).

While Darling was basically very well-received by a public that’s used to being entertained by exotic-looking foreigners who love Japan and can speak their language, the manga was not without its detractors. Critical Amazon commenters, many of whom claimed to be in international relationships and to have received the manga from well-meaning friends, seemed turned off by the superficial observations and general dullness of confusing the routine aspects of married life with a deep commentary on international marriage just because the husband has a white face and commutes to Starbucks. Some speculated that the author’s lack of English ability and experience abroad led her to concentrate on the superficial aspects of Tony and fall short of all but the most amateurish insights. Interestingly, some pointed out that Tony seems far more integrated with Japanese society than your typical foreigner, while others got the impression that he’s just a miser who couldn’t fit in back home.

I felt a little disappointed to see a person reduced to such simplicity in the name of keepin’ it honobono, especially since the title implies he represents “foreigners.”  And I want to emphasize that Tony is in no way typical of the American population here. Some of Tony’s quirks – as seen in episodes where he badgers a pizza place into letting him use expired coupons and demands a waiter give them wine free of charge since he didn’t like how it tasted – are downright abrasive and share more in common with the stereotypical obatarian than an American man, let alone “foreigners,” which as a term is far too broad (though it fits in with the Japanese connotation of gaikokujin to mean a white Westerner first and foremost). More than any of that, however, I found it hard to stay interested in want of any compelling characters or really any story elements more complicated than your typical episode of Sazae-san.

Still I don’t see any reason to disrespect a perfectly good manga, especially when there is a used book store just a few hundred meters away.

Continue reading “My Darling is a Foreigner” Manga disrespected in Ayase

Read (part of) the unofficial final volume of Doraemon that the MAN doesn’t want you to see!

Doraemon fans: In you’re like me and missed this scandal back in 2007, take a look at this Flash sample of the dojinshi “final volume” of Doraemon that was suppressed by publisher Shogakukan for basically becoming too popular. This is just a sample, but the early pages promise much intrigue – Doraemon’s battery dies when Nobita is still a boy, so he vows to bring his best friend back to life by becoming the world’s premiere robotics engineer.

Here is a video of a 2007 Japanese news story describing the scandal.

According to Wikipedia, Japan’s copyright laws, based on a 1997 Supreme Court case, hold that while there is no copyright on a manga character, depicting those characters in a specific manga without permission would constitute a copyright violation. Usually, the publishers do not take action against dojinshi publishers because they are a valuable way for fans to get the most out of their favorite characters, and they serve as practice to develop the next generation of artists. However, this case “crossed a line” –  Shogakukan and Fujiko Productions were apparently worried that giving readers the impression that the Doraemon series is over would dampen interest in future movies or other derivative ventures. They demanded that the man cease selling the manga and give them whatever money he made from it, demands which the author agreed to. Tragically, it appears that he gave up drawing manga entirely following the scandal.

(h/t to Aceface for the links)

Which Japanese prefectures sell the most lottery tickets per person?

Ever wonder which parts of Japan gamble the most? No? Well, stick with me and you might learn something about which prefectures are most willing to line up and pay the poor tax.

Each year, Mizuho Bank (which has a special relationship with the lottery from its days as a government bank) tallies the total number of lottery (Takarakuji) tickets sold and divides that number into each prefecture’s population to obtain an average per capita spending total. According to their numbers for fiscal 2007 (as reported in the Nikkei), the top ticket buyers were Tokyo, Osaka, and Kochi prefecture in Shikoku. There was a huge gap between the top of the list (Tokyo’s 12,933 yen) versus the bottom (Yamagata’s 5,328 yen). The top prefectures tended be prefectures that house large cities, such as Aichi.

UPDATE: A typical lottery ticket in Japan costs around 300 yen, meaning that Tokyo residents buy around 43 tickets a year or just about one every week.

Prefectures with the lowest home ownership rates tended to buy more lottery tickets. Tokyo and Osaka, the first and second highest per-capita lottery players, also have the two lowest home ownership ratios, in the same order.  Okinawa has the third lowest, and its residents are Japan’s sixth biggest lottery gamblers. On the other hand, Aichi, another prefecture full of takarakuji hopefuls, had the seventh lowest home ownership ratio. (Bonus fact: Toyama prefecture had the highest home ownership rate in 2003 (around 80%). Toyama residents play it relatively safe with a middling per capita lottery spend of between 7,000-7,999 yen).

The outlier was Kochi prefecture, however, indicating that low home ownership, a signifier of relative poverty, does not make up the only factor explaining the results. An official from Kochi prefecture’s budget division speculated, “Perhaps the prefecture residents’ nature of determination and love of gambling had an impact.”

A brief overview of Japan’s lottery system

Though it only brings in about 1/20 the revenue of the almighty pachinko, Japan’s lottery, with its estimated 15,000 or so ticket booths outside train stations (more booths than pachinko parlors, one for every 8,600 people), has been a highly visible form of legal gambling in Japan throughout the postwar era, along with horse racing, yacht speedboat racing, bicycle racing, and mahjong.

According to Wiki Japan, lottery-style gambling in Japan got its start in the Edo period as Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples offered tomikuji (essentially the same as a lottery) in order to raise funds for repairs. Over the years, tomikuji faced various bans from the authorities, and private-sector lotteries remain criminalized to this day. In July 1945, a desperate wartime government instituted a lottery, but Japan surrendered and chaos reigned before a drawing could even be held. A national government-backed lottery was re-instituted during the US occupation in 1948, though it was abandoned in 1954, leaving only regional lotteries. Takarakuji took its current form in 1964 with the foundation of the Japan Lottery Association, a grouping of the regional lotteries.

According to association data, in fiscal 2007 (the period covered by the above survey) Japanese gamblers bought 1.0442 trillion yen in tickets, or about 8,200 yen per person. The US doesn’t have a national lottery per se, but the UK does – on average, UK residents spent 80 pounds (12,905 yen by the current exchange rate) per capita on national Lotto in 2008. The UK lottery’s press kit (PDF) claims that 70% of adults are regular players (but doesn’t cite a source), while a 2007 poll from Japan’s lottery association found that 55% of those polled had purchased at ticket at least once in the past year. The UK system, in which operations are contracted to a private company, appears to be more efficient than the one in Japan. According to the UK press kit, 10% of every pound spent on lottery tickets goes to operations and expenses (5% in dealer commission, 4.5% in operating costs, and 0.5% in shareholder dividends), versus 14.4% of each ticket in Japan (with 45.8% going to paying winners and 39.8% going into the general accounts of each prefecture and major cities).

The odds of winning a current popular Japanese game Loto 6 is 1 in 6 million, which is comparable to other lotteries I am familiar with in the US (and of course less likely than getting hit by lightning).

See the full list after the jump!

Continue reading Which Japanese prefectures sell the most lottery tickets per person?

Worst. Luck. Ever.

Japanese woman found dead in New Mexico

LOS ANGELES, June 11 (AP) – (Kyodo)—The body of a Japanese woman has been found in New Mexico, local police said Thursday.

Megumi Yamamoto, 26, a graduate physics student at a university in New Mexico, got lost while hiking in a mountainous area near Santa Fe and was rescued by a police helicopter after contacting the local police via mobile phone Tuesday evening.

But the chopper crashed after hitting a mountain during a storm.