Friday, June 29, 2012

The Art of Protesting

Tokyo(Shusho Kantei Mae)- Out of tens of thousands (maybe more) she was the only one who would hold still long enough for me to take a picture of her placard.

Painting the crowd by the number
Here's a roundup (as of midnight) of crowd estimates for this week's regularly scheduled Friday night anti-nuclear protest outside the Japanese prime minister's residence. 

Asahi Shimbun (newspaper): 150-180,000
NHK TV: more than last time
Police: about 17,000
Rally Organizer: 150,000
Sankei Shinbun (newspaper): less than 20,000
TBS TV: 200,000
TV Asahi: 40-50,000

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Roadwork Ahead

From the rumor mill

The word on the street today is that there is roadwork ahead. According to a little bird on Twitter, road repairs are scheduled to be carried out in front of the prime minister's residence this week. If any maintenance work of the kind were to take place, it would likely block the ever-expanding anti-nuke protests that occur at that spot every Friday evening. 

Even if this unsubstantiated rumor should turn out to be true, it's unlikely that it would stop the country's budding anti-nuclear movement, dubbed the "Hydrangea Revolution." Over the past months this flowering rebellion outside the prime minister's window has been largely overlooked since the domestic media has been reluctant to report on the growing weekly demonstrations. That all changed last Friday when the gathering drew numbers that were just too big for the press to ignore. Reports on the size of the crowd ranged between ten to forty thousand people strong.

Yet this past Saturday, one day after the historic public gathering, the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda seemed to have no problem simply ignoring the voices of the people. Despite opinion polls that have consistently shown overwhelming public opposition to restarting Japan's dormant atomic reactors, Noda gave the thumbs-up to restarting the Oi (a.k.a. Ohi)reactor in western Japan. 

While the massive weekly rallies are a clear sign that the people of Japan are trying to pave the way to a nuclear-free future, signs from the powers that be indicate that there's plenty of roadwork still ahead.

Later: Word also has it that author Takashi Hirose along with the Jonan Bank and others will charter a helicopter to capture a bird's-eye-view of this Friday night's anti-nuke rally in Tokyo. On board the helicopter I believe will be flying, Hirose, a professional cameraperson, and famed anti-nuclear activist and actor, Taro Yamamoto.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Taken for a Ride

”Crime Stopper Patrol ”

It was just sitting there, smack dab in the middle of a heap of special bulk pick up garbage, lovingly nestled between a broken down baby stroller and an old beat up chest of drawers, and it was perfect. Maybe not perfect, but it had essentially everything a bicycle needed, two wheels, a chain, a handlebar and most importantly brakes. I was tempted to rescue it from the pile and use it myself. Then fear got the better of me. I've heard rumors of foreigners who had done the same and wound up on the wrong side of the law. Technically, once trash is put out on the street, it becomes the property of the municipal government. Taking it was tantamount to stealing, a felony perhaps. That's when I remembered Kevin and the unfortunate fate that most certainly befell him. 

Like me, Kevin was a foreigner, and like me he also attended the free Japanese language class taught by volunteer instructors at the neighborhood culture and sports center run by the city. We were unalike in many ways too. He was younger than I and also wiser. He had been living in Japan for nearly a decade when we met, and spent most of his time here in the US armed services on the island prefecture of Okinawa. I guess that's where he learned all the ins and outs about life in Japan and lucky for me he was willing to let me in on some of the secrets he had discovered during his long sojourn here.

One night while walking home from class he let me in on a little known transportation tip. 

"Did you ever see those bicycles that have the yellow tin plates with the writing on them?" 

I asked, "You mean the ones that say 'Bohan Patrol, Nantokanantoka Elementary School PTA (Crime Stoppers Patrol, Somethingsomething Elementary School PTA)'?"

"Yeah those," he said. "They are like shared bikes. If you see one with nobody on it, you can just take it, ride it around, and leave it wherever you want when your finished with it."

"No way," I said.

"Yes way," he assured me. "My girlfriend told me and she's Japanese."

Well that was good enough for me. It was pointless to argue the point any further. He had to be right about the bikes. He had just played the Japanese girlfriend card. It's the second most powerful trump card in the deck. There was no questioning his authority on the subject now. Still, before I actually tried testing his thesis, I decided to do a little extra research and asked around a bit.

No one I talked to had ever heard of anything like it, which could only mean one thing I surmised. Kevin, thanks in part to his girlfriend, was more in the know than I had previously thought. Yet, before hopping on one of the shared rides, I thought it would be best to check with one last source. I asked my wife, Em. I guess you could call her the wild card.

"What! Nooo way Jose," she said. "That's stealing. You'll get arrested. Those bicycles belong to people. That guy, whatever his name is, has abosolutely NO IDEA of what he is talking about."  

She seemed to be pretty confident about what she was saying. So I  thought I might rephrase her reservations to Kevin at our next Japanese class but he never showed. In fact I never saw Kevin again after that night he told me about the little known nationwide shared bike program. I eventually came to the realization that there could only be one explanation for his sudden and sustained absence. Perhaps Em was right. In the end I guess Kevin had been somewhat misinformed about the shared bicycles. Now looking back on everything he told me, it looks as if Kevin may have been taken for a ride.

Related post: Speaking the Same Language

Friday, June 22, 2012

Thoughts from Temple U.

Updated 2012/06/22 15:45, see correction below.

That's Temple University Japan, not Temple Valley University (which doesn't exist - yet).

In this captivating(45 minute) lecture from Temple University Japan, Ben Karp* speaks on "Japan & African Americans from the Russo-Japanese War to Pearl Harbor." After the lecture Karp half-jokingly notes that "in America this would be really obscure, and interesting to about eight people and I'm not even sure I'm one of them." "But," he adds, "it's a really important time period and I think some of the questions of nationalism and also racial romanticism really still matter today. Especially since we're not finished with empires at all in this world..."  

So sit back and prepare to be enlightened as Ben Karp spotlights this "obscure" but important chapter in America and Japan's shared history. You can read a little more about Ben Karp's lecture and lots more @ BlackTokyo.

*Karp is a doctoral candidate at Yale University focusing on African American - Japanese relations from the period 1905 to 1941. He will return to lecture at Temple University's Japan campus on July 5th.

Correction: I had earlier spelled the speaker's name, "Karp," with a "C" and provided an erroneous link to Ben Carp, another smart guy with the same name only spelled like the fish. I hope I've got it right this time.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sins of Omission

Today the Tokyo Shinbum apologized to its readers for failing to cover the gigantic no-nukes protest held outside Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's residence this last Friday, the day before the Japanese government gave the go ahead to restart the first of its now dormant atomic reactors. Then there was this in The Japan Times:

and that is all.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stickin' & Kickin'

Don Doko Don - A "documentary about a taiko drum group from Fukushima, Japan, evacuated from their community due to radiation from failed nuclear..." 

Read all about it at Kickstarter.

More from the drum beat: Can't Beat This

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Returns Accepted

The Womb clothing boutique
in Kichijoji, Tokyo
"A desire to return to the warmth and security of the womb, far from being retrogressive and infantile, is perfectly natural and even admirable, in the opinion of 41-year-old Desmond Morris, English biologist and ethologist...,"  wrote Virginia Lee Warren in her February 19, 1972 New York Times review of Morris' Intimate Behavior (1971), a followup to the researcher's two now classic works, The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo. Not only that, if you return this week you'll discover that unmentionables are fifty percent off.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In Plain Sight

News reports and onlookers in front of
lockers at Craneview Station
Temple Valley - Yesterday the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department announced the arrest of Katsuya Takahashi, the last remaining suspect wanted in connection with the 1995 Tokyo subway poison gas attack. The earlier arrest this month of another wanted fugitive, Naoko Kikuchi, had led police to discover the whereabouts of Takahashi. Both suspects had been hiding for over a decade in plain sight. Kikuchi lived in Tokyo, where she worked as an adult caregiver and Takahashi in the adjacent city of Kawasaki, where he worked for a construction company. 

Takahashi was finally found hiding out in one of Tokyo's many all-night manga cafes. The Aum Shinrikyo cult member and wanted fugitive had apparrantly also visited the Temple Valley area over the last week as he evaded a police dragnet. A bag, containing a large sum of money, that Takahashi had been widely described as carrying, was found stashed in a locker at the local Craneview Train Station

Over the last 24 hours news cameras have been keenly focused on both the empty chair in the manga cafe where Takahashi had been found sitting as well as the empty locker that once held his stash of cash. Meanwhile in front of the Prime Minister's residence, thousands gathered on Friday to rally against today's decision by the Japanese government to begin restarting the country's dormant nuclear reactors. In comparison with the media circus surrounding Takahashi's arrest, domestic news outlets have given scant attention to what is perhaps the largest single protest of its kind this year. Anti-nuclear critics have been quick to note that as the media spotlight has moved on to the arrest of Takahashi, the administration of Prime Minister Noda has been left alone to work in the shadows. They say that the shift in news coverage has enabled the government to virtually hide any opposition over its decision to restart Japan's nuclear engines in plain sight.


As of Sunday reporters were still covering the
empty locker at Craneview (aka Tsurumi) Station
but had still not uttered a peep about the massive
demo in front of the prime minister's residence

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In the Balance

Last week's arrest of  Naoko Kikuchi, one of the last two fugitives from the deadly 1995 Tokyo subway poison gas attack that was carried out by the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult, has rekindled  painful memories here. Former journalist, Yoshifu Arita, has been quoted in the press as saying “Japan still hasn’t come to terms with what happened,” adding “most Japanese just try to put it out of mind as an extreme act done by extreme individuals.”

Kikuchi's surprise arrest has also led to the discovery of the whereabouts of Katsuya Takahashi, now the last remaining wanted suspect in what has been described as the most heinous act of domestic terrorism in Japan's history. Until just a few days ago, Takahashi had been living a hop skip and a jump away from Temple Valley in nearby Saiwai ward, Kawasaki CityIn fact the wanted pair had apparently been hiding in plain sight for over a decade, Kikuchi working as an adult caregiver and Takahashi for a building contractor. In the wake of her arrest the New York Times notes that many have come to see Kikuchi "as an almost tragic figure, someone misguided as a youth who later just wanted to live a normal life."

Now the country is once again on high alert as the police enlist the eyes of the nation to help them track down Takahashi, the last remaining Aum holdout who is now on the run. This past weekend Temple Vallians awoke to the sound of whirring chopper blades hovering over their rooftops.  A voice emanating from the sky-high Kawasaki BK117 whirlybird blurted an urgent message to be on the lookout for Takahashi, a male of medium build with black hair and dark eyes...(the rest was kind of drowned out by the helicopter engine and wind currents). It was an alarming call, especially since the description fit half the people in my neighborhood (excluding me - thank God). 

Given the fact that every other Aum member convicted in the subway sarin gas attack has been handed a death sentence, there wouldn't seem to be much incentive for Takahashi to turn himself in. In light of the information available to the public it would also seem that Takahashi and Kikuchi have been leading quite ordinary lives over the decade and a half since the commission of the criminal act for which they have been accused. Again according to the Times "Ms. Kikuchi’s apparent desire for a second chance reminded some Aum observers of what they say is the continued vulnerability of Japanese youth to cult leaders who fool them with promises of some greater cosmic meaning and an escape from the rigid confines of their lives." The statement suggests a root cause behind the 1995 subway attack that stretches beyond the individuals directly involved. While the recent surfacing of these two fugitives has opened old wounds, maybe it offers the nation an opportunity to look into its soul as well. 

I wonder if Takahashi were captured and tried along with Kikuchi under the country's three-year-old citizen judge system, how much weight a panel of their peers would give to the kind of lives the two have led while on the lam. Would they tip the scales of justice in favor of leniency and allow them to live out the balance of their lives in a way that could benefit society or would justice turn a blind eye to any hope for the redemption these two individuals and perhaps us all?