Uniqlo To Send Clothes To Refugees

Uniqlo’s starting a clothing recycle campaign. What does this mean? No, it doesn’t mean they’re morphing into a thrift store, silly. What’s happening is that twice a year, in March and September customers will be able to drop off used Uniqlo clothes at any of the 730 Uniqlo stores in Japan. And then Uniqlo will take those items and ship them off to places like Thailand and Nepal via the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (the UN agency formerly led by Japan’s top diplomat Sadako Ogata) and hand them out to displaced persons all over the world–like this guy here.

I love Uniqlo, by the way. SO much better than Muji. Maybe I’ll tell you guys about my Uniqlo lucky bag later, but for now, I’m just going to give the brand my full support.

Does Osama bin Laden count as a refugee?

Bullying Hotline Opens!

So it seems that Shinzo Abe’s new anti-bullying task force has finally got its shit together enough to launch the nation’s first 24-hour bullying hotline today. The hotline is based in Nara Prefecture, but it’s reachable from anywhere in the nation and is connected to counseling centers at each major city and prefectural education board. They’ll even have clinical psychologists on board during nights and holidays for special attention.

number of the hotline is 0570-0-78310.

Public Blue: Homeless In Japan

When I was in high school, we used to hang out at Miyashita Park, a long stretch of dirt and playground that paralleled the Yamanote Line tracks between Shibuya and Harajuku. Besides the occasional police training program and the couples making out on the benches, the park pretty much belonged to the homeless community. These guys had blue vinyl tents set up on the peripheries of the main walkway, and were always doing laundry or cooking. They hung their damp shirts on tree branches and ate off of makeshift stoves on stones and never, ever messed with the rest of society. Never asked for money, never asked for food. They simply lived there.

Anyway, I’m psyched they made this documentary about a similar community in Osaka. Japanese, American, and German filmmakers collaborated on this project, and the result is an insightful, breathtaking view of what it means to be homeless in Japan.

The Only Thing I’m Gonna Say About Foreigner Crime File

I’m trying to stay out of this "Foreigner Underground Crime File" fuss that’s been ricocheting among the ex-pat/English teacher community in Japan. Not because it doesn’t affect me, but because I just have too much to say on both ends of the spectrum that I don’t even want to get started. This is a fun blog, not a dumping ground for the complexity of political junk that is flowing through my head. But for those of you who have been following this topic and are curious to see WHY such a magazine exists, there’s an editorial published today, written by an editor at Eichi Publishing, giving the magazine’s response to why they did it:

although the ferocity of this reaction has surprised me, the basic
emotions have not. The topic of foreigner crime is taboo in Japan, with
people on both sides of the issue distorting the facts and letting
their feelings get the better of them…

if we can manage to openly discuss the issue of foreign crime in Japan,
we will have the opportunity to address our own problems as well. Sure,
we could continue to run away from the topic and remove books from
shelves, but in doing so we are losing the chance to become more
self-aware. What we need to understand is that by having a conversation
about violent and illegal behavior, we’re really talking about
ourselves—not as “Japanese” or “foreigners,” but as human beings.

Again, I’m keeping the bulk of my ramblings out of this, but I do believe he’s right in saying that this conversation needs to happen. The local and foreign community need to be much more engaging of each other–not just at the top echelons of diplomacy–in order to bridge the cultural divide that keeps the Japanese fearful and the foreign community out of the loop.

Evil Spirits Are Fake

Teikan Akiyama is a Buddhist priest in Hokkaido who was arrested last week for molesting a 17-year old girl while pretending do exorcise an evil spirit from her body. This reminds me of stories you hear about Catholic priests molesting little boys and people committing murder alleging that someone had put a curse on them.

My thoughts on this: If someone tells you that you are cursed or doomed or have bad kharma, don’t rely on an institutionalized pervert to save you from it. And definitely don’t kill anyone because a witch doctor told you to.

Death Row Policies Under Fire From AI

Remember how I told you about the four death row inmates who were surprised with their death on Christmas Day? Well, now the Japanese Justice Ministry is under heat from international human rights group Amnesty International for its death penalty. AI said of the Christmas day executions:

The retrograde step runs counter to the universal protection of human
rights and is at odds with the international trend away from the use of
the death penalty.

It’s true, the current Justice Minister Jinen Nagase is very gallow-happy, especially compared to the man who held the post prior to him, who didn’t order any executions during his 11 months in office.

Here’s how the Japanese death row system works:

1. You get sentenced to death.
2. You get put on death row.
3. You have no idea when you’re gonna die. Neither do your parents, or your lawyers. It could be tomorrow, it could be 50 years from now. The constant anticipation is part of your punishment.
4. One random morning, you’ll find out it’s your last day. I think you get a meal. And then you’re a goner.
5. An announcement is made in public that one prisoner was hanged that day. But they don’t say who. Nobody knows you’re dead, they just know that there’s one less dangerous criminal alive today.

Maybe the
growing prison population has something to do with it.

Health Minister Says I’m A Baby-Making Machine


I think Japan needs a new health minister.

71-year old Hakuo Yanagisawa, who currently holds this post, said the following in a speech on health and welfare today:

The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed. Because the number
of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed, all we can ask for is
for them to do their best per head, although it may not be so
appropriate to call them machines.

Interesting…I was not aware that my main purpose as a Japanese woman was to give birth. He must be very disappointed in me and all the other childless females out here. Sorry, dude.


Abe’s Bullying Solution

Here’s an important update for those who have been following the story of the bullying letters that started arriving in bulk at Education Minister Bunmei Ibuki’s office late last year. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided to step up to the plate by encouraging the minister to institute a policy whereby school bullies would be suspended. Half the nation thinks it’s a great idea, the other half thinks it’s stupid and will perpetuate backlash.

But the final word on this policy will be determined after Ryoji Noyori, the Nobel Prize-winning leader of Japan’s Education Rebuilding Council, presents his proposals and emergency measures on how to not have bullied kids committing suicide left and right in 2007.


The New Divorce Law: Men Hate It, Women Love It

Back in September, around the time the baby prince was born, I posted a blurb about a new divorce law that would grant women half of their ex-husband’s pension. The law kicks in on April 1st. Which means what?

As with almost anything in the world, there are two sides to every story. In this case, it’s the male side and the female side. Now let me give you the low down on both:

THE MALE SIDE. Men work their entire lives, day and night, slaving away under the gynormous meta-corporation that owns them until their final day. Sure, they had a few affairs here and there with their secretaries and the unmarried OLs in their tight little uniforms. But that was just a small bonus for the hours of labor necessary to feed the wife and kids. 48.4 percent of men enjoy spending time with their wives after retirement. They’ve waiting long enough to reap the benefits of their hard-earned down time.

THE FEMALE SIDE. The wives got married young, and pretty much raised
their kids alone since their husbands were always working, playing
golf, out drinking with their co-workers, or sleeping with their
secretaries. Now, finally, the kids are out of the house, the hubby’s
still working, and the women have some alone time to enjoy. They spend
their days watching soap operas, taking art classes, chatting with
their girl friends at the cafe or the park, and window shopping at the
station building. They go home in the late afternoon to cook dinner and
draw baths for their husbands, who are usually tired and grumpy and
demanding. But it’s only a few hours before they both go to bed and
another day of freedom begins. Only 27.1% of women actually enjoy
spending time with their retired husbands. Most of them would rather be

Continue reading

Merry Christmas! You Shall Die Today.

Picture_1_6In Japan, death row inmates are only given 24 hours notice before they die. We know that cult leader Shoko Asahara is gonna hang, but we don’t know if he has one day or 20 years to sit in his cell meditating on more subway gas attacks.

There’s been a lull at the gallows for the last 15 months. Until yesterday. 4 prisoners, ages 44 to 77, were hanged on Christmas Day in Japan. The death sentence in Japan is controversial, but experts say that the Ministry of Justice’s decision to execute on the last week of the year means they’re planning to stick by the current system.


Abe meets Bono and tries on his shades.

Nah…they look better on Bono. But at least the attempt impressed the singer, who said:

George Bush never put them on. The last Pope, John Paul, he put them on, and Prime Minister Abe. Very cool.

Bono and Japan’s new prime minister met to discuss the alleviation of poverty this week in Tokyo while U2 was on tour there.

Story here.

Prostitution: Exploitation of women or a tool of exploitation for women?

Dirty older man pays young innocent underage girl for sex.

Statutory rape, right?

Most of the time, it’s not so simple in Japan. Case in point: yesterday, 4 minors were arrested for extorting money from a 27-year old opthamologist who paid a 17-year old girl 10,000 yen for a night of fun. After she collected her cash, the girl and her friends blackmailed the doctor into giving them 130,000 and his million-dollar watch.

The doctor turned the kids in, getting himself in trouble for violating the Anti-Child Prostitution and Pornography Law but ending the cycle of violent exploitation that could have ensued.

This type of blackmail is actually fairly common. This instance ended with just one extortion, but there have been previous cases where the blackmail went on for months, and for millions and millions of yen.

I like this story because it reverses the conventional idea that prostitution is an exploitation of women.

Story here.

Gynecologist arrested for being a sick bastard.

Ugh! Every woman’s greatest nightmare comes true in the story of Kazuhiro Sekiguchi, director of the Sekiguchi Maternity Clinic in Saitama Prefecture, who was arrested this week for violating child prostitution laws. Sekiguchi went on an online dating site, met a 15-year old schoolgirl, and paid her 50,000 yen for sex.

You know, I always assumed that male gynecologists had some kind of natural exemption from being sick fucking bastards. Otherwise, how can they do their job?

Mr. Sekiguchi has definitely made me rethink that assumption.

Update: More suicide letters from bullied kids.

A total of 36 suicide letters have reached the Ministry of Education since the first one was publicized two weeks ago. Some could be hoaxes–like the one written by a lady employee at the Nagano municipal education board, pretending to be a suicidal teen–but others were actually signed by real kids at real schools. Ministry’s scrambling to find these kids to stop them from their fatal jump.

Like most things in Japan, it looks like suicide reportage is quickly gathering momentum as the new trendy thing to do among depressed kids. This time, though, it’s not about portable digital pets or cell phone straps. It’s a communal cry for help for deep-rooted societal woes.

Hokkaido lawyers sue California water heater company.

A group of Japanese lawyers are preparing to file a lawsuit against California company Paloma Industries for carbon monoxide poisoning caused by the company’s gas water heaters.

In July, the Ministry of Trade released a report documenting numerous cases of death by Paloma over the past decade. 10 people had died in Hokkaido from using these "tankless" heating devices in their homes.

The Japanese by nature tend to avoid conflict, so I was surprised by this initiative to challenge a bunch of sue-happy Americans in a court of law. It’s kinda like if Napoleon Dynamite fought Mike Tyson in a boxing ring. In any case, I’m rooting for the underdog.

School-related suicide follow-up: A principal sets a not-so-great example.

I promised an update on the bullying-related suicide letters send to the Education Minister last week. The good news is that there weren’t any school suicides on November 11th. Maybe the government’s subsequent establishment of a new study group to evaluate solutions to the bullying problem was enough to deter their deaths–even though the minister openly urged kids to stop writing to him about their problems.

What we did hear over the weekend was news of a 56-year old elementary school principal hanging from a tree in the forest in Kitakyushu.

The Japan Times writes:

During the past year at the school, eight fifth-graders had extorted some 100,000 yen from a female classmate, and the principal, Kenji Nagata, was criticized for having reported the incident to the city education board merely as "financial trouble."

Great example you’re setting there on how problems should be dealt with, Mr. Principal. But I shouldn’t be so hard on him. After all, social ills don’t just affect children, but often trickle down from generations above.

UPDATE: On the news this evening…Two middle school kids committed suicide today. A girl and a boy, both victims of bullying. And the mother of a 5th grade boy filed a complaint with  the regional education board when her son’s pleas for help were repeatedly ignored by school officials. The boy was being pantsed on an every day basis by his classmates, and–unable to deal with the embarrassment–tried to jump out a school window earlier this year.

Education minister responds apathetically to chain of suicide threats.

The Minister of Education received FIVE more letters today from kids threatening suicide. This is after an initial letter from an anonymous schoolboy a few days ago, and then a second from a girl in Tokyo who drew inspiration from the first.

Pressured to respond, the guy didn’t make any promises or proposals to change anything.  Instead, he said: "I ask those students to refrain from writing letters that can only confuse those people."

Uhmmmm….so if I was the person in charge of an entire population of youth plagued with such disturbingly profound problems at school that they no longer valued their lives–and if I was receiving a sudden stream of mail that is clearly a cry for help from the top down–I would not just tell them to stop writing.

But that’s just me.

The police are upping their surveillance of schools and their vicinity today, hoping that none of these suicide threats will come true. Hoping, mostly. And milling around the schools.

Meanwhile, a 17-year old Kitakyushu girl jumped from the 4th floor of her junior high school building and died yesterday.

YouTube videos trigger phone revolution against bullying.

This is a breaking story of how one online community is taking their own unique approach to address the problem of bullying at Japanese schools.

The two videos pasted here show a boy being harassed by his peers at a high school in Hokkaido. The first one shows him being ridiculed by a girl in a classroom; the other shows him being shoved around by a guy at the bus stop in front of campus. These incidents happened in March.

The video clips, which were taken by one student on his cell phone, were recently posted on the massive online BBS, 2ch.net, and on YouTube. An anonymous poster encouraged all readers to call the school after 8am on Thursday, November 9th in an attempt to bombard school officials–who have known about these incidents for months but have deliberately failed to respond–with inquiries about the videos, hoping to incite action. 8am was just a few hours ago in Japan, and the phones at the school have been ringing non-stop ever since.

With this and the disturbing story of the boy who sent a suicide notice to the Minister of Education happening within a day of each other, I’m hoping people will start to take this widespread problem–which causes more than 100 school-related youth suicides a year–more seriously.

Full story here.

Boy gives Nov. 11th suicide deadline in letter to the Education Minister.

Yesterday, Minister of Education Bunmei Ibuki received a letter from an anonymous school boy.

"I hereby declare that I will commit suicide on Saturday, Nov. 11. I wrote this letter because it’s hard to live," it read.

A recent survey of 13,000 Japanese school kids showed that more than half of them don’t think bullies are ever at fault. Usually, the perpetrators are the more popular kids in class, right? So I guess they’re sticking by that. The same survey showed that a fifth of kids admitted that they would not consult anybody should they be on the victim end. Even worse, more than half of junior high school kids believed that some kids deserved to be picked on. 

In 2005, over 20,000 cases were reported in elementary through high schools nationwide. 105 kids committed suicide because of bullying that same year.

Bullying most often takes the form of physical assault, humiliation, threats, and taking money. Lots of money, hundreds of thousands of yen, which kids often have to steal from their parents. The kid who wrote the letter to the Minister claimed to have had his pants pulled down in public. He also consulted a teacher but got absolutely no help.

Will the decision of the Education Ministry to expose this letter to the public stop one little boy from taking his life?

Find out on November 11th.