Mrs. Adamu now blogging!

I am overjoyed to announce that after years of watching from the sidelines, Mrs. Adamu will now be sharing her thoughts with the world at her new Japanese-language blog, The Bibouroku. She decided to start writing as a way to record her experiences along with profiles and reviews of interesting people in the news, movies, music, and so on. So far she’s got posts on the film Slumdog Millionaire and singer M.I.A., who recently made a spectacle of herself by performing at the Grammys just days before she gave birth to her first child.
While I have to admit a bias here, trust me when I say Mrs. Adamu (writing under the mysterious pen name “Shoko”) offers a unique perspective on these issues thanks to her background studying in the States, traveling through India, and working with the underprivileged in Thailand.

Followers of Mutant Frog will know that Mrs. Adamu is my co-adventurer here in Tokyo. What you might not know is that much of my posting activity would be impossible without her kindness, patience, and support. I hope you’ll all join me in wishing her the best in this new initiative!

PS: You can subscribe to updates at the blog’s RSS feed.

Google Reader shared items meets the Adamukun blog!

Now my shared items are easier to view than ever — check them out as the top post on the new and improved Adamukun blog! I have also beefed up my sidebar.

As always I will keep my juiciest tidbits for the MFT audience (and occasionally Neojaponisme), but for right now I am having fun messing around with the Blogger settings and posting complete randomness.

While I am here, allow me to place the unqualified Adamu seal of approval on my new favorite band, Mates of State. I’ve been annoying my colleagues by humming this same tune for the past week or so:

Also, just curious: anyone else going to see Death Cab next weekend?

Free Aung San Suu Kyi Free Free!

As part of Tokyo’s Earth Day festivities last weekend, author/rapper Seiko Ito held a poetry reading set to techno music, dedicated to the message of setting Burma free from tyranny. From the Burma Info website:

In the following video clip of the performance, Ito can be seen reading his statement, demanding that the military regime stop killing, beating, and imprisoning monks, and enter into dialogue. Htin Aung, the Democratic Voice of Burma stringer in Tokyo , reads out a statement in Burmese.

With a double DJ, Ito’s reading quickly turns into a hip-hop event. The audience rises, and many begin dancing and responding to Ito ‘ s calls, waving arms, signs, and in some cases, babies. It was likely the first time ever that this many Japanese in one place expressed their support for a free Burma.

Watch the video here.

Here is my unauthorized translation of the poem:

You must not intimidate the nonresisting monks
You must not beat the nonresisting monks
You must not imprison the nonresisting monks
You must not kill the nonresisting monks

For they are outside the realm of power
And live under a wholly separate Law

Intimidating, beating, imprisoning, and killing such people is an overwhelming failure to understand, an overwhelming act of violence, in short the destruction of the other.

And, we too are the Other!

You must not intimidate the nonresisting monks
You must not beat the nonresisting monks
You must not imprison the nonresisting monks
You must not kill the nonresisting monks

For they are outside the realm of power
And resolutely possess a freedom to live under a wholly separate Law

Intimidating, beating, imprisoning, and killing such people is an overwhelming failure to understand, an overwhelming act of violence, in short the destruction of the other.

You must not destroy others
You must not destroy them, nor us

Don’t intimidate them!
Don’t beat them!
Don’t jail them!
Don’t kill them!

The junta in Myanmar
The Chinese government!

Free Aung San Suu Kyi!
Free Aung San Suu Kyi!

Free the Dalai Lama!
Free the Dalai Lama!

We are they
And they are we!

You must not refuse dialogue!
For dialogue is the sole path to connect the other with the other
If the other and the other are not connected, hence springs intimidation, hence springs beatings, hence springs imprisonment, and hence springs murder!

So talk to them! Talk to them!
Communicate for the sake of dialogue!!
Freedom of speech and freedom of the press exist to prevent intimidation, beatings, imprisonment, and murder
Calling for dialogue and communication is to stand in the way of intimidation, beatings, imprisonment, and murder

The junta in Myanmar
The Chinese government!

Talk to them! Don’t intimidate them!
Talk to them! Don’t beat them!
Talk to them! Don’t jail them!
Talk to them! Don’t kill them!

Talk to them!

We are they
And they are we!

Falun Gong theatre in New York

The NYT has a rather funny article about New Yorkers who attended what they thought would be a traditional Chinese New Year theatrical spectacle at the Radio City Music Hall, but ended up seeing a very different kind of show.

Then the lyrics to some of the songs, sung in Chinese but translated into English in the program, began referring to “persecution” and “oppression.” Each time, almost at the moment a vocalist hit these words, a few audience members collected their belongings and trudged up an aisle toward the exit.

Before long came a ballet piece in which three women were imprisoned by a group of officers, and one was killed. At the end of the number, more members of the audience, in twos and fours and larger groups, began to walk out. At intermission, dozens of people, perhaps a few hundred, were leaving.

They had realized that the show was not simply a celebration of the Chinese New Year, but an outreach of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice of calisthenics and meditation that is banned in China. More than three years after flooding city corners and subway stations to spread the word about the Chinese government’s repression, Falun Gong practitioners are again trying to publicize their cause. Only this time, it involves costumed dancers and paying audiences in that most storied of New York concert halls, Radio City.

The article then goes on to mention that Faul Gong is well known for their elaborate street theatre protests around the city, in which they use props and stage makeup to dramatize the torture their compatriots are undergoing in China, as they hand out literature on the subject. Here are some photos I took of one such protest back in May of 2005.







Has anyone ever seen something like this anywhere besides New York? I saw Falun Gong protesters in Hong Kong, by Victoria Bay, and handing out flyers and DVDs outside of Taipei’s National Palace Museum (prime location to find tourists from the mainland) but never anything like this sort of dramatic reenactment.

Video: Obsolete songs, part 2 – Sayuri Ishikawa “Tsugaru Straits Winter Scene.”

Much to the annoyance of Mrs. Adamu, I have a soft spot for enka, Japanese-style country music that sings of tragic loves, unhappy marriages, and the sheer beauty of Japan’s natural landscape. One aspect of this music that I like is that, perhaps thanks to Japanese colonialism, this style of music is found all over Asia with the requisite local twists. Wikipedia’s article is a great summary:

Modern enka (演歌 — from 演 en performance, entertainment, and 歌 ka song) came into being in the postwar years of the Shōwa period. It was the first style to synthesize the Japanese pentatonic scale with Western harmonies. Enka lyrics, as in Portuguese Fado, usually are about the themes of love and loss, loneliness, enduring hardships, and persevering in the face of difficulties, even suicide or death. Enka suggests a more traditional, idealized, or romanticized aspect of Japanese culture and attitudes, comparable to American country and western music.

This video features a recent NHK performance of Sayuri Ishikawa’s 1977 hit song “Tsugaru Straits Winter Scene.” The singer’s haunting wail and that swank, sleazy saxophone pay tribute to the utter sadness of taking the four-hour ferry connecting Honshu and Hokkaido. Specifically, the woman in the song takes the (then 13-hour) trip from Tokyo to Aomori before getting on the boat. According to pre-song banter, the ride was a good way for women leaving their lovers in Tokyo to come home to Hokkaido to “get their thoughts together.” Here is a quick, fairly unpoetic translation of the lyrics:

Since the time I stepped off the train originating in Ueno
Aomori Station is surrounded by snow
The masses heading back to their homes back north are silent
Listening only to the sea
I get on the ferry, alone
I stare at the gulls in the cold
I am crying
O, Tsugaru Straits winter scene

“Look! that’s the Tappi Headlands, far to the north!”
Says a stranger, pointing
I wipe the the window, which has steamed with breath
All I can see is mist in the distance
Farewell, my love! I am going home
The sound of the wind sways my heart
As if commanding me to cry
O, Tsugaru Straits winter scene

Farewell, my love! I am going home
The sound of the wind sways my heart
As if commanding me to cry
O, Tsugaru Straits winter scene

So what makes this song obsolete? The opening of a highway tunnel in the 80s meant that the main ferry (the Hakodate Ferry) closed and this melancholy feeling, perhaps experienced by thousands of women hailing from Hokkaido, is now a thing of the past. It’s worth noting that since this song was such a huge hit and Ishikawa has stuck around as an enka veteran, its obsolescence hasn’t affected its status as a classic.

Video: ZEEBRA in the Snickers dimension

I just saw ZEEBRA’s new single “Shining Like a Diamond” on MTV and had to share it. In part of what seems to be a trend of blatant advertising in music videos (which are themselves supposed to be advertisements for a single … my head is spinning).

The narrative: May J fellates a Snickers bar to lure Japanese rapper Zeebra into what I call the “Snickers dimension”, which consists of a multi-racial harem and mountains of Snickers bars. I don’t know how the women keep so trim with nothing but Snickers to eat. Just watch:

Obviously, the other product pushed in the song is diamonds (though Bacardi gets a token mention), which I have seen quite often in Japanese music videos lately. Quite unlikely to be coincidence (just as the sudden Japanese “acceptance” of depression is less a sign of social progress as it is of pharm. companies looking to turn a profit).

One distinction I want to draw – the flashy consumerism that US rappers tout in their songs is more fixated on high-end items like expensive jewelry, Bentleys, and other rewards for making it big against all odds. While there are examples of very crude product placement (Nelly’s “Air Force Ones” comes to mind) in general there’s a process to either (a) select products that are a natural part of the lifestyle (pouring Cristal on strippers fits right in, for example); or (b) at least make the argument that they belong there when there’s some discrepancy (“gangsters don’t dance they… lean back” in promoting the “two-step” dance or 50 Cent bragging about his investment prowess in a line about how Coca Cola purchased his energy drink startup).

This video is totally gratuitous in its pushing of Snickers – the song has nothing to do with it and there’s nothing really indicating how Snickers gained the magic power to transport people to magic multi-racial orgyland. Of course, it’s kind of missing the point to expect US-style product sensibilities from 36-year-old Zeebra. The single father of two is a salaried member of SOLOMON I&I PRODUCTION and as a result could never dream of US-style sky-high record deals, and I’m willing to bet 120 yen (the going rate for a candy bar in Tokyo) that he doesn’t see much in the way of extra cash from the Snickers deal. It sure wasn’t his idea in the first place.

Anyway the sheer artlessness of it all made me laugh my ass off as I finished up the dishes tonight.

Another Casualty of JASRAC’s Fun Police

I recently came across this sad story in my referrals:

Live music spots are disappearing one by one in Japan!
I am a live Jazz fan, and often go to Jazz clubs in my home town. Recently I visited one of my favorite clubs and was informed that live jazz was to be canceled at the end of the month.

I couldn’t believe it, and asked why this was going to happen. The owner replied “JASRAC (Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers, equivalent to ASCAP) ordered retrospective fee payments for the last 10 years of the club’s operation. There’s no way I can afford to pay, so I’ve decided to stop live music”. The JASRAC representative then presented a scrap of newspaper with a story reporting a recent lawsuit and subsequent closure of another Jazz club that had fought, and lost, a similar situation. In the end, however, the owner decided to submit to JASRAC’s demands and pay the fees.

JASRAC also refused to negotiate future licensing costs, and stated that a fixed fee must be charged regardless of how many live performances are held. The club could have one live show each week, or a show every day of the year, and the cost would be the same. JASRAC also refuses to reveal how they calculate fees for each club.

In Japan, NHK(National publicly funded television) fees must be paid by all people that own TVs. However some people manage to avoid paying fees, are unaware of fees, or simply slip though NHK’s administrative cracks. When these people are discovered, NHK usually just asks these people to begin payments from the next month onwards. JASRAC, however, demands payments for the past 10 years.

Does JASRAC truly protect the rights of musicians? I often by CDs from musicians playing at live Jazz clubs. I believe live Jazz promotes CD sales and helps artists succeed.

It’s just appalling that JASRAC can nitpick and police even the most minor activities. The hyper-aggressive protection of intellectual property is not just limited to JASRAC, mind you: Johnny’s Talent Agency (the promoters of SMAP etc) fiercely guard their superstars, a practice that leads to odd rivalries and ridiculous news like Takuya Kimura refusing a major movie award for no apparent reason. Disney is also particularly heavy-handed. I read (on 2ch mind you) that Disney once forced a school to remove an image of Mickey Mouse from their pool that was to be used in an event. How can a culture of openness, ambition and imagination flourish when there’s an environment that often punishes even modest forms of creativity?

Sankei gets slammed! over Supreme Court lay juror promotion scandal — why not Dentsu, too?

A scandal in which two newspapers (Sankei Shimbun and Chiba Nippo) paid temp workers and Sankei-affiliated deliverypersons to attend events promoting the new lay judge system to be introduced from 2009 has inspired this latest use of my favorite journalistic cliche:


Court slams payments to public forum attendees
Kyodo NewsTwo newspaper publishers acted inappropriately when they paid participants to take part in public forums intended to popularize the lay judge system, the Supreme Court said Monday.

The Osaka headquarters of the Sankei Shimbun and Chiba Nippo, a local newspaper in Chiba Prefecture, have acknowledged paying 3,000 yen to 5,000 yen to some participants at the events, which they cosponsored with the top court.

The court announced that it learned of the situation from a “journalistic institution” on Jan 26 and began investigations henceforth. I wonder which institution of fine journalism earned the privilege of ratting out its competitor? At least one blogger has noted that Asahi’s reporting reads “as if they were taking advantage of the situation“, but I won’t point any fingers myself.

Kibashiri Nikki reminds us that the last bit of fakery took place earlier this month, right after Sankei was extremely critical of the Abe administration for its handling of the faked town meeting scandal just last month.

But it is worth noting that Sankei and Chiba Nippo may not be the only ones who deserve to get slammed:

According to contract documents obtained by The Asahi Shimbun under the information disclosure system this month, the Supreme Court placed an order with advertising giant Dentsu Inc. to hold such forums at 50 locations across Japan from 2005 through 2006.

Dentsu said in its project proposal that the forums could be made known to readers of newspapers with a combined circulation of about 19 million.

So it paid local newspaper publishers to secure the sites for the forums and for other expenses. Each newspaper advertised the forums.

saibanin_image_nakama.jpgThe newspapers are taking the blame for this, and if they were the ones making the payments that’s their responsibility. But isn’t it quite a coincidence that we’re seeing Dentsu involved once again in promoting government policy through so-called “public forums.” You may remember that Dentsu was the main contractor managing the scandalous “faked town meetings” a few months ago. In both cases Dentsu’s clients have been slammed for mobilizing “sakura” (slang for decoy participants) to make the forums look like more of a success. The general sequence of events is the same in both the town meeting scandals and this incident: Govt contracts to Dentsu > Dentsu places responsibility for the project to someone else (local government officials and the newspapers, respectively) > that someone else gets in trouble for poisoning the well. It must be nice for Dentsu to be able to keep its profits and its reputation of being the far-and-away top promotion company in Japan, such that even the government seems content to rely on them.

The Homeku blog sums up the situation well:

If you’re wondering why the newspaper company went that far to support the promotions, it’s because a feature story on the details of the meeting was printed the day after the forum, along with an advertisement for the Supreme Court’s lay judge system.

I think the real story is something like they got overeager in their desire for ad revenue. And anyway, we are talking about that newspaper company. They seem to have a weak sense of mission and ethics as an institution of journalism.

At last night’s press conference it was explained that both companies [Sankei and Chiba Nippo] bore the costs of paying the sakura. But that is inaccurate. These “Nationwide Forums on the Lay Judge System” were contracted out by the Supreme Court to Dentsu (Again?!) and Dentsu paid local newspapers the costs to manage them. Accordingly, the source of the money paid to the sakura was originally from the Supreme Court, in other words it was paid from tax revenues.

Another thing that bothers me is that there seems to be a problem with the Supreme Court spending money to promote the lay judge system. It seems like this deviates from the Supreme Court’s role.

The sequence of events in both the lay judge forums and the town meetings cases is that the government used tax revenue to have Dentsu promote the govt’s own policies to the public. It might be easy to understand if you consider that these scandals occur because the motives are impure.

ZAKZAK on why Michael Jackson cancelled his Xmas party in Japan

Phenomenal talent but unrelenting freakshow Michael Jackson saw himself back in the news this week when he cancelled a Xmas party that was to be held in Japan. ZAKZAK takes a closer look at what happened:

The truth behind the sudden cancelleation of Michael’s Xmas party
Confusion over hiring Dave Specter as host

Fans of American singer Michael Jackson (age 48) were peeved at the sudden cancellation of the planned “Premium Christmas Party” to be held at Studio Coast event hall in Shinkiba, Tokyo on December 19. A spokesperson for Michael explained that the reason behind the postponement was “to engage with as many fans as possible” and rescheduled the event for March 8-9 of next year. The postponement is enshrouded in mystery, and claims have been made of Michael’s poor health and poor sales of the most expensive Platinum Tickets, priced at 400,000 yen apiece.

According to sources close to the issue, the party originally planned for 200 Platinum Tickets (priced at 400,000 yen each that would have included a photo and handshake with Michael), and 1400 Golden Tickets (just a handshake for 200,000 yen). Jackson himself was not scheduled to perform, but spokespeople explained that “Michael was to watch a show, consisting of gospel and band performances, along with his guests from a VIP area on the 2nd floor.”

Planners began additionally selling 50,000 yen tickets from December 5. Event planners repeated boastful explanations that “Sales of Platinum and Golden Tickets have only amounted to a few buyers, but we have filled the hall.”

At the “do-over” party to be held in March, a “Premium VIP Party” will be held on March 8 with tickets selling for 400,000 yen apiece, and on March 9 ticket prices will be lowered to 15,000 yen for a fan appreciation event.

Michael fan sites have recently expressed mixed opinions, from hopeful (“No matter how expensive it is, there is a corresponding value to Michael in the flesh”) to opposed (“This is a simple ploy to make money and will tarnish Michael’s image”).

The confusion continues, with episodes such as when television producer Dave Specter, approached by event planners to host the March party, declined the offer after protests from Jackson fans.

Dave commented, “Since I have before now made many (critical) statements about Michael as a journalist (tr: He hosted the Japanese version of that interview from a few years ago when Michael insisted that sleeping in the same bed with young boys is all right), I had no choice (but to decline the hosting gig). There are many excitable fans who worship Michael as if he were a god.” He also noted that for the March party “He will probably come on the scheduled date and time since there is a proper contract. The tickets are certainly expensive, but I have heard that inquiries from abroad have been impressive.”

There have been reports that Michael’s health is in bad condition, such as when US tabloid Globe has reported: “He is addicted to painkillers and wine.” However, it looks like Michael will continue to make his fans inpatient right up until the March party.

Comment:It looks like Michael sees Japan as the only place where he can make profitable public appearances these days. What I don’t get is why won’t he perform? If he wants to make money that seems like the most logical way to do it.