Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Banging the Drum

That's my backstage pass from a gig in Shimokitazawa (Below North Creek), a hip little pocket of Tokyo. That is, hip until sometime last month. That's when my band of drummers (Kitamada) and I teamed up with some cool kids from the isle of Hachijojima to play a small club there. That's the moment I'm afraid the whole place went Jersey (that's bowling talk for right into the gutter) and Shimokitazawa's cool straight up the creek. That's that I guess and that leaves nothing to do now but bang the drum slowly for what was once trendy.

That's a sample of Hachijo Taiko (a style of Japanese drumming unique to the isle of Hachijojima) from Kitamda's Yoshio and Harumi Endo. In the world of Japanese drumming, or wadaiko, hachijo taiko is an island unto itself where Yoshio Endo is something of a legend. The song is traditional but beyond that nothing is scripted here. There are no notes on paper and nothing to memorize. The rhythm just flows like waves on the water in a musical odyssey that sweeps you away in whatever direction the wind happens to be blowing that day. Born on an island that was once used to confine political dissidents and others, this misfit isle of music known as hachijo taiko is hemmed in only by that realm of endless possibilities known as the imagination. That is kind of cool after all I guess. 

Monday, June 10, 2013


Photo of AKB48 Theater in
Akihabara, Tokyo
 by Karl Baron via Wikipedi
Yokohama - This past weekend fans of Japan's all-female pop music phenomenon, AKB48, got the chance to vote for their favorite group member. The voting is traditionally (since ca. 2009 anyway) conducted via ballots that come packaged with what has been dubbed an "election single" by the band's producers and a stroke of evil marketing genius by critics

Anybody with a yen to vote was able to participate in this year's election process that was topped off with a jam-packed stage event featuring a bevy of performers from this Far Eastern nation's updated and more feminine answer to the Vienna Boys Choir. 

The winner of the periodic selection process gets the chance to stand front and center stage as the band's lead performer until she is voted out in the next election or reaches the group's ripe old retirement age somewhere shy of twenty five or so, which ever comes first.

This most recent vote proved to be an upset victory for the newest leader of a group which has been plagued by controversy in recent months. Just how upsetting was it? The expression on the faces of the less lucky contenders (pictured in the Tweet by Twitter user, @MnYooo_ij, embedded below) upon supposedly hearing the announcement of the winner may speak louder than the volumes of CDs the band has sold around the globe. Or maybe not, you can freely elect to make of them what you want.

Related reading:

Fountain of Youth Found @ The Temple Valley Times

Dancing to a Different Beat @ The Temple Valley Times

Friday, June 7, 2013

In the Eyes of the World

Japanese Rep Tells UN Body to "Shut Up"

(see correction below)

On Tuesday the Japan Times carried an article (“Rights groups tell Japan to fully tape interrogations of criminal suspects”) noting how “the U.N. Committee against Torture issued a statement pointing out that Japan’s criminal justice system should do away with its traditionally strong reliance on confessions by suspects, and demanded it implement “safeguards such as electronic recordings of the entire interrogation process” to prevent wrongful convictions.” 

It's a welcome statement from the UN’s Committee against Torture (CAT). I just wonder if Japan will take it to heart right away. According to reports on Twitter and in the Tokyo Shimbun, Japan’s human rights ambassador, Hideaki Ueda, made another statement at the CAT meeting which raised eyebrows. During the meeting a delegate from Mauritius criticized Japan’s criminal justice system as being “medieval.” Ueda quickly retorted, declaring that when it came to human rights Japan was “the most advanced country in the world.” Recognizing that he misspoke, the Japanese official soon corrected himself, saying that Japan was rather “one of the most advanced countries in the world” on human rights issues. When the gaffe earned less-than-veiled snickers from the other international representatives present at the forum, Ueda immediately fired back with a less-than-diplomatic “SHUT UP” and chided the group for laughing. The Japanese representative’s response seemed almost medieval in light of modern standards of international decorum. 

When state officials from anywhere behave so badly with the eyes of the world on them, I shudder to think what goes in their corner of the globe when no one is looking.


This appeared as a letter in the Japan Times on June 13 (entitled Medieval Standard of Décor). An online comment there points out that it contains factual errors regarding remarks made by Hideaki Ueda, Japan’s human rights ambassador to the U.N. The letter notes that, according to the Tokyo Shimbun, Ueda stated that Japan was “the most advanced country” in the field of human rights. In fact after exhorting the other diplomats in the room to "shut up" the ambassador simply reiterated that Japan was “one of the most advanced countr(ies) in this field.” After interviewing blogger Shinichiro Koike about the incident it seems that the Tokyo Shimbun didn’t go the extra step to check out his story and got some of the facts wrong. While Koike has since cleared up the minor misunderstanding on his blog, the factual errors continue to spread like a disease that has now infected the pages of this paper and I regret that I was the carrier. I should have checked the facts more thoroughly before dashing off my letter. It shouldn’t have been too hard to do, after all we no longer live in the middle ages.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Beyond the Outer Limits


"Television controls society. Now we will control Japan." 
No that's not from the opening voice-over for the Japanese version of The Outer Limits. It's what Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) chairman, Hiroshi Inoue told the television station's new employees back in 2002. The author of a blog called Ruinet recently gleaned the Internet* for some choice words of wisdom that have fallen from the lips of the Japanese media mandarin over the years. Among them were some of the following that Inoue has uttered during the last decade and a half in speeches welcoming new employees to the TBS fold. 

(Note: I think a couple of these quotes cry out for a pounding of the fist on a desk or something while shouting them out loud in a dictatorial voice.)

1998 "TV is a brainwashing machine. Even lies turn to truths once they've been broadcast."

2002 "Television controls society. Now we will control Japan."

2003 "Most Japanese people are stupid. They don’t know anything until we in television tell them what to do."

2010 "You are the chosen ones. You are on the side that moves the world via journalism. On the other side is the general public who are moved by the information we provide. It’s we, the chosen, who say what in Japan is black or white."

While they all sound pretty bad, Inoue may merely be channeling a mainstream sentiment that runs through a big chunk of the global media landscape. Sadly it's one that's taking ethics beyond the outer limits.

*Here and elsewhere.