“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

Biking up and down Arakawa

I have finally discovered what a great service Flickr is! You can check my photos here.

My first slideshow for you is a set of pictures I took this afternoon on a bike trip up and down a fairly nondescript section of Arakawa, spanning Adachi and Arakawa wards.

The route was a circle on either side of this section of the river:
View Larger Map

Like many big rivers in Japan, the Arakawa has a paved road along the shore and is lined with dozens of athletic fields, open spaces, marshes, parks, and homeless encampments. It’s refreshing to see all the energy of that area- baseball players, soccer moms, skateboarders, hip-hop dancing high school kids.

Late night supermarket salarymen

Nikkei had some interesting coverage of a new social trend – men in supermarkets!

Besuited Men Begin To Haunt Supermarkets Late At Night

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Suit-attired men have become a conspicuous late-night presence at urban supermarkets. They often buy stuff for breakfast the next day or snacks to have with a drink or two before hitting the sack. At some supermarkets, late-night sales are beginning to surpass last year’s figures.

Most of these men buy something to munch on while they unwind with a drink or two. Croquettes, fried potatoes, packages of sliced fish as well as canned mackerel and saury sell well at these stores. Also popular are sushi, instant-noodle cups, frozen food, cut fruit and other ready-to-eat items.

One reason besuited men are haunting supermarkets late at night is the economic downturn. Japan’s armies of white-collar workers are going out to drink with coworkers and friends less often these days as they try to save money. But they are also loath to cook. “My wife fixes dinner,” one male grocery shopper said, “but I buy these snacks just for myself.”

Late-night shopping used to be done at convenience stores, but lower supermarket prices have given some night owls an irresistible choice. At supermarkets, a package of sliced tuna that goes for 400 yen during the day is often marked down to half that at night. Bread and side dishes sell for 30-50 yen less at night. “It’s difficult to ask my wife for a raise in my monthly allowance,” a man in his 30s said. “But I can cut costs by buying these discounted things.”

Could the translator have chosen the term “haunting” as a reference to the salaryman’s typically defeated, dead-inside demeanor? A blogger can only speculate.

One thing I have really noticed as a salaryman who shares grocery shopping duties with my wife is that I am something of a rare breed. Ito Yokado is overwhelmingly filled with housewives shopping for dinner, even at night. But occasionally (and I guess there are more than before but I feel like it’s been constant for at least the past year) there are the salarymen who line up with just three items – a ready-to-eat piece of food, some ostumami beer snack, and the ever-popular but morally reprehensible happoshu or other near-beer. There seem to be more of them shopping at the discount supermarket Big A than Ito Yokado, which is a more traditional supermarket/department store. In addition, Big A is where the off-duty construction workers buy their own happoshu-and-otsumami sets.

If these men are foregoing drinking sessions with their colleagues in favor of quality time at home, so much the better!


Check the Adamukun blog for Adamu’s shared articles and recommended links.

FREE MONEY in Adachi-ku, Tokyo – apply “between late March and early April”

Out of my deep civic pride and dedication to the cause of getting FREE MONEY NOW from the government, here is my translation of the announcement from Adachi-ku about the current status of preparations to hand out the free cash. Watch your mailboxes to receive application forms between late March and early April:

We are currently preparing to pay out the fixed-sum cash handouts, etc.

Updated: March 5, 2009
We plan to  send applications to eligible payees by registered mail (kan’i kakitome) between late March and early April.

[Eligible recipients]
Persons who meet either of the following conditions as of the reference date (February 1, 2009)
(1) Persons listed in Adachi-ku’s official residence registry [tr: anyone registered as living in Adachi-ku in their juuminhyou]
(2) Persons listed in the official alien registry (gaikokujin touroku genbo) [tr: this means anyone with an alien registration card (gaikokujin tourokusho)] (persons on short-term visas are excluded)

[Payable amount]
12,000 yen per household member
(persons aged 65 or older or 18 or younger as of the reference date will receive 20,000 yen)

[Application procedures]
(1) Enter your account number on the application form and affix your official stamp (mitome-in) (you cannot use a stamp seal) [tr: Not sure, but you should be fine using the seal you used to open your bank account]
(2) Place the application form in the attached reply envelope and drop it in the mailbox.

* Due to the large number of eligible persons, we expect it will take 1-2 months for the funds to be deposited in each specified account. If you give a Japan Post Bank account, it will likely take even longer.

We will also pay a Child-rearing Support Special Allowance (for second children, third children, etc., born between April 2, 2002 and April 1, 2005) at the same time as the cash handouts.

Please watch out for fraud schemes posing as the official cash handout process.

If you receive a suspicious phone call regarding the cash payments, please contact your nearest police station (or call the police consultation line (9110)) or the Adachi-ku office assigned to cash handouts.

Use the attached sample for help filling out the application form (PDF).

Adamu’s best posts of 2008

Following up Roy’s latest, I thought I would post my personal favorites from 2008:

  • 40% of Japanese blogs are spam — This wasn’t my own discovery or anything, but it was nice to see a reality check from the oft-cited “Japan is the bloggingest nation” myth.
  • The New Yushukan — Reflection on my trip to the war museum connected to Yasukuni Shrine. No pictures, but I was very pleased with the discussion it generated.
  • Why does Japan need more foreigners again? — I look at some of the recent arguments calling for calm, rational debate on Japan’s immigrant question, and conclude that Japan needs a comprehensive but conservative immigration policy.
  • No photos please, this is a press conference — I was shocked — SHOCKED! — to learn that pop stars don’t like fans taking unauthorized photos of them.
  • Japanese TV is full of dangerous frauds — I again express righteous anger at the prospect that the people on TV might not have my best interests at heart.
  • Where will all the eikaiwa teachers go? — Some tough love for all those unemployed English teachers out there. Again, if your best job prospects in Japan aside from English teaching are truck driving or electronics sales, it’s time to think about boning up your resume.

I also wrote some pieces for David Marx’s Neojaponisme project, all of which I am fairly happy with. In addition to a review of TV drama Change, I co-translated a series on the WaiWai scandal and contributed two essays to the site’s year in review, on Roppongi Hills and the lay judge system.

Though 2008 was a light year for posting, I feel like there was more substance to what I did end up writing. This year, I acquired a taste for persuasive writing (not sure how many people I persuaded…), and my experience with Neojaponisme in particular has made me a better essayist. My goals for next year are to keep up the stream of thoughts on both sites, read more books, and hopefully get a better grasp of the media industry, a topic I have really struggled to understand but will no doubt be facing new challenges during this economic recession.

Happy new year everyone!

Things I’ve been meaning to post

1. Neojaponisme – Despite the confusing, infuriating “manifesto” this project from David Marx of Neomarxisme fame (and others) is inspiring and I will be watching it closely and hopefully contributing some time soon.

2. Sweet pictures of Meiji/Taisho era Tokyo from the National Diet Library – As a recent Tokyo convert, I am struck with a healthy dose of fake nostalgia every time I look at these. A favorite:


people hanging out in Hibiya Park, Japan’s first western-style garden/park built over what used to be part of the Imperial Palace’s moat (and right next to my workplace for another two weeks until we move… I will miss it!)

3. Anti-death penalty demonstration in Kosuge/Ayase (near Tokyo Detention Center) – A testament to how well the Justice Ministry’s policy of executing prisoners with no prior public announcement whatsoever works to suppress dissent, a 60-person protest of the death penalty was held more than a week after 3 prisoners were hanged on Aug 23 as one of former Justice Minister Nagase’s final official acts before leaving office. Pictured is an elderly woman hailing all the way from Oita prefecture in Kyushu holding a sign that says “Abolish the death penalty!”:

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.