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February 20 2014

Ethnic North Korean Schools in Japan Face Ever-Hostile Situation

Koreans living in Japan‘ is a vague word glueing very different groups together under the same umbrella term. Based on their affiliation to North/South Korea and the timing of diaspora (whether it happened before/after the Japanese imperial rule during the World War 2 ear), each sub-group goes by a different name, sharing little similarities. Stark division between them is once again solidified by education system; North Koreans in Japan attend a special ethnic school that resembles ones that are in North Korea. Markus Bell, after visiting one North Korean school in Japan, wrote an extensive report on multiple threats those schools face, with some background information about the concerned ethnic group, as the financial help from their home country has been significantly reduced and also funding from the Japanese government was recently cut off. 

February 18 2014

Olympics Overshadow Evictions in Tokyo

反五輪の会のフェイスブックページに投稿された写真。ロシア政府は、19世紀にアレクサンドル2世によってチェルケシア人口のおよそ90パーセントが殺害されたか土地を追われたチェルケシア虐殺についていまだ認めていない。

Photos of an anti-Olympics group in Tokyo posted on Facebook. Banners show messages of opposition to holding the Sochi Olympics on the land of genocide and the 2020 Olympics in Japan. (photo by 反五輪の会[han-gorin-no-kai] used with permission)

[All links lead to Japanese-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

While many people in Japan are happy with the country's results of the Sochi Winter Olympics – notably, Ayumu Hirano, the youngest medal winner on the snowboard half pipe and Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan's first Olympic gold in men's figure skating, just to name a few – there are some who are speaking out against the Olympics, present and future.

Given some tens of billions of dollars are used to host the international sporting event, the Olympics are never without criticism. At the opening ceremony for the Sochi Olympics, courtesy of the so called “anti-gay propaganda” law that Russia passed last year, the US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among those absent [en]. Human Rights Watch has been urging the International Olympics Committee [en] to investigate over non-payment of compensations for construction workers for Sochi game-related facilities. Animal rights groups are anxious that the stray dogs swept out of Sochi would be killed [en]. 

But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended. Yuji Kitamaru, a Japanese columnist in New York, referred to the lack of human rights awareness in not just the leader, but its citizen:

The reason why all the European leaders being absent at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony was because of an overwhelming domestic pressure to increase pressure on Russia, rather than the leaders themselves putting pressure on Russia. This is domestic politics rather than a diplomatic move. Abe was able to attend not just because of his lack of awareness of human rights, but also because there is a lack of human rights pressure in Japanese public opinion.

The lesser known problem may be the history of Sochi [en]. The Circassian people has demanded [en] that the Russian government acknowledges the 19th-century Muhajir [en] (Circassian Genocide), during which about 90 percent of the local Circassian population was killed or displaced by Tsar Alexander II. “NoSochi2014“ is a website created to put more pressure on the Russian government and to gather support for the cause.

Japanese anti-Olympics group “Hangorin-no-kai” showed their solidarity with NoSochi2014 and published a message on Facebook[en/ja] declaring that they do not welcome 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the forced evictions it may cause:

To the people around the globe fighting against the 2014 Sochi Olympics, we send you a message of solidarity from Tokyo, the host city of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

We understand that Sochi 2014 is being held on a land where Circassian people were massacred by the Russian Empire, and today Russia is running the games on the biggest budget in the history of the Olympics.

We also recognize that for the Olympics development, more than 2000 people were displaced from their homes and extreme levels of environmental destruction were brought to the land.

[…]

Here in Tokyo the unnecessary redevelopment for the 2020 Olympics has already started with evictions of low-income populations from their homes.

The radioactive contamination by the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster is nowhere near stabilisation, let alone “under control” as Prime Minister Abe proudly announced to the IOC.

Tokyo is only swimming in the cloud of an illusion, while the people in Fukushima and many nameless radiation-exposed workers at the power plant are left without sufficient support from the state.

The Olympics is nothing but a nightmare.

What is happening in Sochi today, is what might happen to us in 6 years.

The concerns of the group are the evictions that often take place before hosting large international events. There have been cases where homeless people staying in public parks were forcefully moved out of their tents when big events took place nearby.

The group mentioned [ja] past examples on Twitter: Before the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 World Athletics Championships, homeless people squatting at Osaka's Nagai Park [ja] were forcefully evicted. Prior to the Aichi World Expo, tents of homeless people in Nagoya city's Shirokawa Park [ja] were forcefully removed. And, evictions in Tokyo already started in early March last year with tents and belongings of the homeless forcefully removed when an International Olympic Committee inspection group visited Tokyo.

2013年12月15日(日)反五輪の会が主催したデモの模様。写真:mkimpo.comより許可を得て掲載

Protesters organized by an anti-Olympics group march in Tokyo on December 15, 2013. Photo by mkimpo.com. Used with the permission

Eviction is not only for people squatting in public parks. According to AFP [ja], about 2,000 households at the Kasumigaoka public housing apartment in Shinjuku, Tokyo are facing eviction. Most of the residents are elderly.

A blogger named “定年おじさんのつぶやき”, which translates to “Blurbs of a Retired Old Man” wrote about the shadows of the Olympics:

日本での最初の五輪開催は、まさに日本が経済成長を遂げ先進国の仲間入りを果たしたことを世界に誇示する最高の舞台だった。
だが晴れの舞台の陰には多くの人々の犠牲がついて回る。
昔から「開発」という行為には必ず自然や環境の「破壊」ということばがついて回った。

戦争は何も生み出さない最大・最悪の「破壊」行為であるが、五輪開催という大義名分には中々反対の声は上げにくい。

とりわけ立場の弱い人たちは、「お上」の命令には逆らうことができない。
54年前、アジアで初めての五輪開催を控えて都は老朽化住宅の建て替えを始めた。

当時は建て替えられた新しいアパートに再び入居することができたが、そのアパートも逐50年も経ち高齢になった住民は、2020年の五輪に向けて追い出されることになった。

When Tokyo hosted the Olympics for the first time [in 1964], it was a great milestone to show off to the world that Japan has grown into a developed country thanks to economic growth.

But a grand occasion in the spotlight often comes with sacrifices.

Through the ages, an act of development always was followed by destruction of nature and environment.

War is the biggest, worst example of destruction that does not generate anything good, but when it comes to a good reason like the Olympics, it's hard to speak against it.

Especially marginalized people can never go against the orders of authorities.

Fifty-four years ago, Tokyo began reconstruction on old housing prior to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. People who had been asked to leave their old houses were moved to a newly built apartment building.

But that apartment building, now 50 years old, and its old residents face another eviction for the 2020 Olympics. 

For Kohei Jinno, a 79-year-old resident of the Kasumigaoka apartment building, it's his second time facing eviction because of the Olympics. According to Japan Times [en], his home and business were torn down to make way for an Olympic park around the main stadium for the Tokyo Games in 1964. Now he has been told he must move again to make way for the stadium’s redevelopment and expansion in time for 2020. 

Unlike the anti-Olympics group “Hangorin-no kai”, most people in Japan are not against hosting the games themselves, but some are against tearing down the existing stadium to build a new, larger one. 

A YouTube video made by architect Ken Aoki using Google Earth shows a 3D model based on information made public in March 2013 of the new national stadium:

Edward Suzuki, a Japanese architect, suggested on his blog fixing up the already existing national stadium rather than simply building a new one and called on people to join the campaign on online petition platform Change.org. The petition “Saving Meijijingu Gaien and National Stadium for Future Generations (unofficial translation) argues that throwing large amount of taxes away to build a new giant stadium which would be too huge, raising issues with emergency guidance and risk management in the event of disaster, will only prevent recovery efforts for areas affected by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011 and will destroy the city's scenery, such as Ginkgo trees and the blue sky. All this, the petition warns, will become a burden for future generations.

With the city headed toward a development push for the Olympics, Twitter user Nakajimayuki commented on the role of citizens:

Tokyo residents, as the leading actors for the city, must stay strong and pay close attention to this massive change that Tokyo will go through “for the 2020 Olympics”, not just the plan to rebuild a new stadium, so that such development will not proceed in an non-transparent way.

The thumbnail photo is from Hangorin-no-kai's Facebook page
The post was edited by L.Finch

February 16 2014

Collaborative Translation Project Promotes Civic Tech in Japan

Civic tech initiatives, which attempt to take advantage of technology to improve communities, have been springing up in recent years around the world. In Japan, innovators in various cities have held hackathons that have made ues of public data and resulted in software being developed in short periods of time. 

But for many Japanese, the word “civic” and “tech” are still foreign. It's not easy for them to imagine information and communication technology and civil society coming together to solve community issues.

In December 2013, volunteer translators gathered in the Shibuya district of Tokyo to discuss how to introduce a practical example of civic tech to Japanese. They found “Beyond Transparency“, a book by American non-profit Code for America, which compiles essays about community's learning around open data under a Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-SA-3.0), and decided to launch a collaborative project to translate it into Japanese. Participants ranged from freelancers and university teaching staff to employees at IT companies, and all of them were brimming with enthusiasm to attempt a joint translation.  

Hiroyasu Ichikawa, who leads the translation project, speaks about the benefit of collaborative translation on his blog [ja]:

今回日本語化翻訳プロジェクトを始めて思ったことがあります。それは1人では出来ないことも、同じ想いや目的を持った方同志で心地よくコラボレーションが行われた際、「1+1>2」が可能になるかもしれない!ということでした。

There's something I found out after starting the translation project: Even if one person cannot achieve it, when you collaborate with like-minded individuals – people with the same idea or goal – the result gets multiplied and enables “1+1 > 2!” 

This project uses Transfex, a platform that allows anyone to participate in translation projects, even if just for a few minutes of their free time. It is also planned that Code for Japan, which promotes civic tech in Japan, will provide editorial supervision. At present, 25 percent of the articles are already online and available to read in Japanese.  

Their goal is to have the project completed by around springtime. Once it's translated, it will help bring more civic tech initiatives to Japan, which will hopefully mean examples for the English-speaking world to look to in the future.

The thumbnail is a screenshot of the Beyond Transparency translation project's page.

Japan Slides Further Down in World Press Freedom Index

Japan has fallen even further on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2014, coming in at 59th of 180. The annual report pointed to the state secrecy law that the Japanese government adopted last year in December:

The “special intelligence protection bill” that the National Diet in Japan (59th, – 5) adopted in late 2013 would reduce government transparency on such key national issues as nuclear power and relations with the United States, now enshrined as taboos. Investigative journalism, public interest and the confidentiality of journalists’ sources are all being sacrificed by legislators bent on ensuring that their country’s image is spared embarrassing revelations.

The index also highlighted discrimination against foreign and freelance reporters when it comes to access to press conferences and information. 

In general, Japanese do not consider freedom of the press as a right because most people stick to receiving information passively from mainstream media. However, with the country continuing its slide in World Press Freedom Index rankings (Japan fell from 22nd to 53rd place in the 2013 index) and the at times whitewashed coverage of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, people are now starting to be critical about the condition of press freedom in the Japan.

Independent journalist Ryusaku Tanaka responded to the news on Twitter:

Japan is ranked 59th in World Press Freedom rankings? It's not that press is violently silenced by the state as it is in China or Russia. The Japanese mainstream media has a lot of power. It has the freedom to clamor, as much as it likes, for its own special privileges. Couldn't it be said, rather, that the degree of freedom possessed by the mass media is the best in the world?

Another user on Twitter, Daisuke Murakami, commented in disappointment:

The decay present in mainstream media is not something that has just begun recently, but it's now approaching a level that could be called “sick”. We'd better know what kind of coverage and reporting we ordinary people are seeing everyday. To put it bluntly, media is even less believable than a politician. 

User “soret” pointed out [ja] on social bookmark site hatena that the kisha club, the exclusive press club system of Japan's mainstream media, is contributing to the problem:

元々順位が低いのは記者クラブのせいだろうに。そこに一言も触れず原発事故と特定秘密保護法だけ取り上げるようなことをするから、ますます信用がなくなる

The original low ranking was probably the fault of the existence of the kisha club. And without mentioning a word in that regard, only picking up stories on the nuclear accident and the state secrets law, they lose more and more of their credibility.

Thumbnail photo is by Dick Thomas Johnson via Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)
Quotes were translated by Taylor Cazella

February 11 2014

International Open Data Day Set for February 22

Bloggers, hackers, designers, statisticians and other citizens who are interested in Open Data and Transparency will gather online and offline for the International Open Data Day on February 22, 2014. The event takes place to encourage governmental data openness.

Open Data Day is a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data to show support for and encourage the adoption open data policies by the world's local, regional and national governments.

Anyone can organize a local event in their city as long as the event is open for others to join. The attendees can participate in creating anything related to Open Data, be it with local or global applications, visualizations, scraping data from a government website to make it available for others or even organize a series of workshops with government officials, journalists or other stakeholders affected by open data.

The hashtag that will be used for the even is, #ODD2014. Some Twitter users have already started posting their comments on the hashtag.

Dozens of cities are participating in the hackathon.

International Open Data Hackathon

International Open Data Hackathon

Announcements are also made on Twitter for local events in different places.

The Open Data Day in Egypt, http://t.co/PdqDzokxcP

Add your city to the list if it is not already there, and start planning for a local event there.

Art Arises From Snow-Covered Tokyo

The heaviest snowfall in 45 years hit Tokyo over the weekend. The unusual amount of snow triggered traffic accidents, killing 11 and injuring thousands, and travel was disrupted across the country.

However, amid the cold and white, some used the snow to create beautiful, fun and sometimes strange artwork. RocketNews24 has compiled photos that were taken and shared by Japanese Twitter users.

Tokyo Snowfall Sends Voter Turnout Plunging in Governor Election

As a winter storm dumped the heaviest snowfall in 45 years on Tokyo, only 46.16 percent of voters went to the polls to cast their ballots for governor on Sunday, February 9, 2014, the third-lowest turnout in

People holding umbrellas in heavy snow. Photo taken on February 8 in Tokyo by flickr user lestaylorphoto (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

People holding umbrellas in heavy snow. Photo taken on February 8 in Tokyo by flickr user lestaylorphoto (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

Tokyo's governor election history. 

The newly elected governor is Masuzoe Yoichi, former cabinet minister backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komei Party, winning 2,112,979 votes, or about 43 percent of the vote.

Twitter users shared their criticism of the low turnout. Philosopher Tatsuru Uchida [ja] expressed his disappointment:

The number of voters who went to the polls for Tokyo's governor election made me feel washed out. It seems to me that the Japanese with conventional virtue and conventional political means, are silently heading in a direction where it's like, “hey, there's a precipice ahead.”

Illustrator Nigirikopushi drew a caricature, linking the coldness of the weather and the losing anti-nuclear candidates. In the center, winning Masuzoe is holding three umbrellas representing “Walfare”, ‘”Olympics” and “Economy” while wearing a warm jacket with the Liberal Democratic Party's and Komei Party's emblems on it. On the left is a portrait of a shivering Kenji Utsunomiya, an anti-nuclear human rights lawyer who came in second place. On the right is anti-nuclear candidate Morihiro Hosokawa, who took third, standing next to his supporter, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, saying “it's cold out here”. The writing in the snow reads “anti-nuclear”:

Caricature portrait for Tokyo's governor election.

Former newspaper reporter Eiken Itagaki argues [ja] that Masuzoe may run afoul of Japan's Public Officers Election Act, saying he distributed Tokyo Olympic badges worth 3,000 Japanese yen (about 30 US dollars) each to gain support, an act that could violate the law prohibiting political contributions for campaign. The complainant is the same activist group that has filed a complaint against former Governor Naoki Inose late last year for allegedly receiving contribution. Inose claimed that it was a personal loan but he resigned over the issue. The complaint against new Governor awaits whether or not the court will take his accusation.

The post was edited by L.Finch

February 09 2014

Heavy Snowfall Brings Playtime to Tokyo

Heavy snowstorms hit Japan on Feb 8, 2014. Twenty seven centimeters of snow fell in central Tokyo, for the first time in 45 years. Moro Miya, a writer and a blogger who specializes in introducing Japanese culture to Chinese readers, collected the photos of snowmen and snow-animals that were posted by the netizens on twitter.

February 02 2014

Imagining Japan's Citizen and Community Media in 2020

[All links lead to Japanese-language webpages unless otherwise noted.]

What will citizen media look like in 2020? For Tokyo, the latest city awarded the honor of hosting the Olympics, the year 2020 marks a turning point in history in certain a sense. Six years from now into the future, what will citizen media and community media look like as they continue to provide information to the public? That very question was at the heart of a talk called “Let's Think About Community Media and Citizen Media in the Year 2020” on February 1, 2014 at Pundit, a new event space in Tokyo.

The event welcomed guests who have made pioneering efforts in the field of Japan's citizen media and community media in the early 21st century—an era in which, thanks to the Internet, individuals are able to share image-based information freely. Freelance journalist Taro Iwamoto, who visits anti-nuclear demonstrations in front of Japan's prime minister's official residence every weekend with a video camera in his hand, began using a mobile computer to broadcast the protest on the Internet. Asuka Hashidzume, who after working for the non-profit Internet broadcaster OurPlanet-TV [en] and OhMyNews!Japan [en], a citizen reporter platform, now works as a radio personality for FM Tomi, a community station in Tomi city, Nagano prefecture. The use of technology by non-professionals to spread information only came under the spotlight following the Tohoku earthquake of March 2011.

Joined by the students from the “Student-Run Citizen Media Project to Provide Aid to Disaster Areas” at Musashi University, the first part of the event took a look at the use of video produced by individuals using a non-professional video camera. 

Student-Run Citizen Media Project to Provide Aid to Disaster Areas:

Following that, the second part examined new uses for visual media produced by citizens. Speakers included Yuichi Watanabe, who heads The Laboratory for Global Dialogue [en], a face-to-face communication project using video calls via the Internet and satellite phone to connect people over great distances; and Tadakazu Fukutomi, the teacher responsible for the Kawasaki 1 SEG Project, a project out of Senshu Univesrtiy conducting mobile terrestrial digital audio/video broadcasting [en] that may hold the potential to become a new form of community media on university campuses. The discussion was moderated by Hiroaki Sato, a video artist who has worked for many years on the judge’s committee of the Tokyo Video Festival, formerly the world's largest citizen video festival.

Dialogue of elementary school students in Miyagi, Japan and Aceh, Indonesia through the Internet:

The event is the first in a continuing series that will focus on the future potential of community media and citizen media in the year 2020.

The English post was edited by Keiko Tanaka.

Korean Comfort Women Issue Explained by Cartoon

A special exhibition on ‘comfort women‘- young Koreans girls forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese army during the World War 2 era- was featured at one of the leading cartoon festivals in France. It made several headlines as the Japanese government tried to block it, but failed. Korean net users have shared an English translation of Park Gun-woong's cartoon ‘Tattoo- A Story of a Comfort Woman'. (The cartoon- which is based on a true story- depicts violent assault, torture and rape. Viewer discretion is strongly advised) 

February 01 2014

Japan's US Base Plan Hits Snafu With Local Mayor's Re-Election

More than a thousand people came to the prefecture office of Okinawa to show their opposition to the governor's decision. Photo taken on December 27 2013 by Ojo de Cineasta (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

More than 1,000 people came to the prefecture office of Okinawa to show their opposition to the governor's decision. Photo taken on December 27, 2013 by Ojo de Cineasta (CC BY NC ND 2.0)

The election results of a small city in Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, are stirring up a national debate over plans to relocate a US military base to Okinawa.

Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago city who opposes a plan to transfer the US airbase from Futenma, a populous part of central Okinawa, to Henoko district, a coastal area of Nago, was re-elected on January 20, 2014 with 19,839 vote. Susumu beat out pro-base challenger Bunshin Suematsu, who was backed by the central government which maintains that building a new facility would benefit local economy via government subsidy.

Susumu Inamine spoke in front of his supporter on January 8 2014 during his re-election campaign. Screenshot from Independent Web Journal.

Susumu Inamine spoke in front of his supporters on January 8 2014 during his re-election campaign. Screenshot from Independent Web Journal [ja].

Meanwhile, the central government said they would move forward with the relocation plan, calling it the only way to reduce the burden on Okinawa while maintaining a deterrent effect against potential threats.

A heavy US presence in Okinawa

When it comes to American military presence, Okinawa prefecture is at the forefront of the debate. According to Japan's Ministry of Defense, Okinawa prefecture make up 74 percent [ja] of the American military presence in Japan, whereas the prefecture constitutes only 0.6 percent of the country's landmass.

The issue at the heart of the mayoral election was a plan that originated 17 years ago: the US and Japanese governments’ suggestion of building a base in Henoko as a replacement for the current Marine Corps air station at Futenma. Just last month on December 27, 2013, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima finally approved the relocation plan, putting an end to prolonged impasse to return the Futenma site to Japan.

The presence of US military there goes back to World War II. Award-wining documentary filmmaker John Junkerman explained in an interview with Amy Goodman of news program Democracy Now!:

Nearly 70 years ago the United States took over the Japanese island of Okinawa after one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. More than 200,000 people died, mostly Japanese civilians. Today the United States operates 34 bases on the island and is planning to build a new state-of-the-art Marine base, despite mass protests. A multi-decade movement of Okinawa residents has pushed for ousting U.S. forces off the island, citing environmental concerns and sexual assaults by U.S. soldiers on local residents.

The people of Okinawa generally do not live with explicit aversion to the presence of US forces. As their economy relies heavily on the presence of American troops, the overall relationship is friendly. However, aircraft noise, fires caused by live ammunition exercises in the forest, occasional helicopters crashes, and cases of rapes are problems that greatly concern residents.

Image modified by Keiko Tanaka

Areas colored in red represents base in Okinawa [ja]. The relocation plans to move the Futenma Air Base [pointed in Green] to Henoko, coastal area [pointed in orange] of Nago City [blue]. Image made by Keiko Tanaka using the image from Misakubo on Wikipedia. GNU

One of the most famous cases of rape in Okinawa involving US troops stationed there was in 1995, when three servicemen kidnapped and raped a 12-year-old Japanese girl. The crime triggered an anti-base movement, and Okinawans demanded to take back Futenma from base. This then resulted in the relocation plan: close Futenma and relocate the facility to Henoko.  

Environmental concerns

This relocation plan – a landfill project to build a new facility in Nago's coastal Henoko, which would construct a runway for existing base Camp Schwab – has long been met with fierce opposition by local residents and environmentalist groups. Environmentalists who oppose the plan fear that the coral-rich ocean of Henoko would be damaged by the landfill and the area's endangered population of dugong, a large marine mammal similar in appearance to a manatee, would be affected. The Association to Protect the Northernmost Dugong wrote in a petition campaign on change.org that the environmental assessment is turning into an inconvenient truth:

The Governor has already expressed grave concerns regarding the environmental assessment and impact on the welfare of local residents. In response, the Defense Bureau has simply maintained its assertion that the dugongs would not be affected.

But on September 22, Kyodo News broke the story that the Defense Bureau had actively hidden important facts about dugong activity in Henoko waters uncovered during its environmental assessment. Dugong feeding traces had been found in the waters off Henoko through April to June last year and a dugong was sighted in Oura Bay, adjacent to the Henoko beach. It’s clear that for the Defense Bureau, those findings constituted ‘inconvenient truths’ better hidden from the public.

Anti-base movement in Okinawa

Other anti-base Okinawans do not wish to have additional military facility. So when the governor finally made the decision to accept the proposal by the central government, protesters who once dreamed of the base's relocation outside Okinawa, what was originally put forth by the governor, felt betrayed.

The win by anti-base Nago city mayor Susumu came as an upsetting disruption for Prime Minister Abe and Governor Nakaima's plan to relocate the base from Futennma. According to newspaper Japan Times, Susumu said “the plan must go back to square one” and that he will reject all procedures related to the landfill project.

According to a poll taken in December 2013 by Asahi Shimbun in cooperation with Okinawa's local newspapers and broadcaster, 64 percent of people in Okinawa are opposed [ja] to the governor's approval of the relocation of Futenma base to Henoko. But an online poll conducted by Yahoo! Japan found an even higher 80 percent considered [ja] that the governor's approval was an appropriate move. It's not clear whether one of these polls is more accurate than the other when it comes to the opinions of the people in Okinawa, but the sentiments among Okinawans seem different[ja] than those of other Japanese living elsewhere.

A blogger and tour guide living in Futenma for more than 30 years expressed [ja] mixed feelings about the election turnout:

現市長が当選したことで、この500億円の北部振興策のためのお金は白紙に戻ったそうな。
・・・500億円は沖縄へ恩返しのつもりだったと言っていたのですが・・・。
だったら今までの敗戦後の基地がこの沖縄に残り続けていることに対しての恩返しをするべきではないでしょうか・・・。
すごく長い歴史で色んな方たちが傷つきました。この空の上に飛行機が行き交う事がなかなか想像できません。
逆に普天間であんなものを見て、うるさいところにいるから、こんな静かな場所に行きたいな~っていう気持ちにもなります。
だけど、もし辺野古に基地がいったら・・・大騒音をまき散らすことになります。
うるさいけどきれいな場所っていうことになるから・・・私は今後ここに観光ルートで訪れることが・・・なくなるかもしれません。
[中略]…やっぱり沖縄の方たちはこの自然を守ろうとそして子供や孫を守ろうとしている、こんなお金で解決なんてのは
ダメなんだよ~って言っている気がします・・・。

Now that Nago city's mayor was re-elected, the subsidy of 500 million US dollars [50 billion Japanese yen] funding for north Okinawa has gone back to square one.
…while the governor was insisting that the 50 billion Japanese yen was meant to be requital for Okinawa…
If so, shouldn't he be working to return something else…the land of Okinawa where the base remained after the war?
In the long run, many people were hurt. I can't imagine another sky filled with aircraft.
Because I live in Futenma, and see things, and hear noises, it makes me feel like going to some other quiet places.
But if the base moves to Henoko, they will suffer from noise.
It will make Henoko a noisy, yet beautiful place; I might not bring tourists to this area [an island across coastal Nago] anymore
[...] It reminds me that people in Okinawa, who are trying to protect nature and children and grandchildren, are saying no to a solution via money.

The post was sub-edited by L. Finch

January 30 2014

Japan's Taiji Fishermen Return to Infamous Cove for Annual Dolphin Hunt

Pasay, Philippines. 2nd September 2013 -- The systematic killings of dolphins and porpoises in Taiji, Japan prompted protesters from various animal rights group to hold a protest rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Pasay City. -- The annual killing in Taiji, Japan of dolphins and porpoises sparked a prayer protest in front of the Japanese Embassy in Pasay City, south of Manila. Earth Island Institute lead the prayer rally together with PAWS and PETA. [Photo by J Gerard Seguia ©Demotix]

Pasay, Philippines. 2 September 2013 — The systematic killings of dolphins and porpoises in Taiji, Japan prompted protesters from various animal rights group to hold a protest rally in front of the Japanese embassy in Pasay City, south of Manila. Earth Island Institute lead the prayer rally together  [Photo by J Gerard Seguia ©Demotix]

Once again, fishermen from the small Japanese town of Taiji have made headlines over their annual dolphin hunt, during which hundreds of the creatures are captured in a local cove to be slaughtered or sold into captivity. 

According to conservation society Sea Shepherd, about 250 bottlenose dolphins were rounded up this year in a secluded cove now infamous as the location of the hunt following the release of the 2010 movie “The Cove“.

Taiji fishermen, who take part in the hunt with permits from the Japanese government, defend the practice as part of long-held tradition and count the support of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who defended them in a recent CNN interview. The captured dolphins are either slaughtered for food or sold to marine mammal parks for thousands of US dollars.

But environmental activists oppose the hunt as cruel. The animals are killed using spears, knives and other weapons, creating a bloody scene as they thrash about in the red-stained water and struggle to escape. The Oceanic Preservation Society claims that more than 20,000 dolphins are slaughtered in Japan every year during the hunting season from September to May.

Not everyone in Japan are as keen as the Taiji fishermen and Prime Minister Abe are to defend the tradition. Japanese conservationists held a protest rally on January 24, 2014 to raise awareness of what was happening in Taiji. Activist Noriko Ikeda of Action for Marine Mammals told Raw Story that, in fact, most Japanese don't know about dolphin hunting. “It is extremely rare to find Japanese people who eat dolphins. The real problem is that hunt is driven by demand for live dolphins among aquariums to put on dolphin shows,” she said.

Japanese artist Yoko Ono, the widow of the Beatles’ singer John Lennon, wrote an open letter this year addressed to the fishermen of Taiji, pleading, “The way you are insisting on a big celebration of killing so many Dolphins and kidnapping some of them to sell to the zoos and restaurants at this very politically sensitive time, will make the children of the world hate the Japanese.”

The US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, even jumped into the fray:

Some people in Japan considered the comment by Kennedy as meddling in the country's affairs. Observing such reactions, technology blogger Satoshi Nakajima wrote [ja]:

ケネディ大使のイルカ漁に体する発言を「内政干渉」と大騒ぎをしている人がいるが、彼女の発言を理解するには、イルカ漁やクジラ漁が米国人にとって、どんな意味があり、何を象徴するか、を理解する必要がある。[...]大半の日本人が、あれは野蛮な行為であり、私たちの子孫の時代になっても、世界中の海を鯨やイルカが自由に泳ぎ回る地球であって欲しいと望むのであれば、捕鯨もイルカ漁も禁止すべきだ。鯨やイルカが自分の食卓に並ぶことを望む日本人が沢山いるのであれば、話は違うが、すでにそんな時代は、日本にとってすら過去の話だと私は思う。外圧に屈するのではなく、日本人として「捕鯨とイルカ漁は野蛮なことだからもうやめる」という判断を自らする時が来ていると思う

There are people making a fuss about Caroline Kennedy's comment against Japan's dolphin fishing as “interference in domestic affairs”, but to understand where her comment comes from, we need to understand what whaling and dolphin fishing mean to Americans, and what such practices represent. [...] If most Japanese consider such practices as a barbaric act and if we wish the ocean to have whales and dolphins swimming freely around the world, we should ban whaling and dolphin fishing altogether. It would have been a different story if there were many Japanese who hope that whales and dolphins to be served on plates, however those days are gone. I think rather than giving in to external pressure, it's time for the Japanese to make our own decision to “stop more dolphin fishing and whaling because it barbaric”.

Twitter user Takao Setaka took a look at both sides of the argument:

I never wish to eat dolphins and whales, however, I don't think it's necessary for the state to ban fishing when there is a portion of local people who traditionally practice it as part of their lifestyle. Although, I also do not think that it's necessary to continue to fish just because it's a tradition.

Reading the post, another blogger, good2nd, argued that treating the topic as a cultural issue does not advance the discussion:

It's wrong to label a culture as cruel, but at the same time, you can't say, “It's not cruel because it's culture”, either. Even as people insist on culture, we eat less and less. 

Dolphin meat is considered a delicacy in some regions, but the culinary luxury can come at a high cost. Taiji's coast, where the dolphins are found, is reported to contain high levels of mercury, and residents in Taiji had mercury levels which were 10 times higher than the national average, according to a study conducted by the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and Daiichi University's College of Pharmaceutical Studies. Mercury levels of 50 ppm in the human body can cause nerve damage.

Dolphins, unlike whales, do not fall under the protection of the International Whaling Convention. Recently, India's Central Zoo Authority banned dolphin captivity in the country, stating that they are “highly intelligent and sensitive” by nature and ought to be seen as “non-human persons.” This is because dolphins and whales are self-aware, demonstrate individuality and are highly intelligent. Dolphins are even known to recognize themselves in mirrors, and are certainly aware that they and those around them are being massacred.

The post was edited by L. Finch and Keiko Tanaka

January 29 2014

Double Standards Toward Women in Corporate Japan Are a Joke

Photo of Japanese male employee and female employee working in office, discussing plans. Rroyalty free photo

Photo of a Japanese male employee and female employee working in office, discussing plans. Royalty free photo

A Tumblr post [ja] illustrating double standards in attitudes towards women in corporate Japan has been widely shared on social media among users:

彼が部長にお昼を誘われると、昇進間近じゃないかと言われる。
彼女が部長にお昼を誘われると、愛人じゃないかと言われる。

彼が同僚と話していると、何を議論してるのかと言われる。
彼女が同僚と話していると、またおしゃべりかと言われる。

彼の結婚が決まると、これで落ち着いて仕事ができるなと言われる。
彼女の結婚が決まると、仕事はいつ辞めるのかと言われる。

彼が海外出張に行くと、いい経験になるからがんばれと言われる。
彼女が海外出張に行くと、夫や子をほっとくのかと言われる。

彼が会社を辞めると、いい転職先が決まったんだなと言われる。
彼女が会社を辞めると、これだから女は・・と言われる。

If a boss asks him for lunch, they say he is getting promoted soon.
If a boss asks her for lunch, they say she is a lover.

If he talks with his colleagues, they ask what he is discussing.
If she talks with her colleagues, they say she's chatting again.

If he decides marry, they say to him “now you can settle down to work”.
If she decides marry, they say to her “when will you resign?” 

If he has overseas business trip, they will say to him, “it'll be a good experience, go for it”.
If she has overseas business trip, they will say to her, “are you leaving her family at home?”

If he resigns, they say, “he found a better job”.
If she resigns, they say, “here it goes again, women…”

The Tumblr post seems to be quoting a website [ja] that collects jokes around the world, but when and who made this joke remains unknown.

The post was sub-edited by Kevin Rennie and L. Finch

January 26 2014

‘AFTER 25 Conference': Tokyo and Berlin Discuss Creative Culture

As Berlin and Tokyo mark 20 years of friendship as sister cities, representatives of two creative industries, including Chairman of the Club Commission of Berlin Marc Wohlrabe and Takahiro Saito, a lawyer and member of Let's Dance, a consortium that fights against Japan's dance regulations, will come together for the AFTER 25 conference on March 1, 2014 in Tokyo to discuss how creative culture can contribute to the socio-economic development of both cities: 

After the fall of the Berlin wall, extreme social, cultural and economic changes transformed the city into a unique playground. Today, 25 years later, it attracts creatives, tech startups, social entrepreneurs, and investors from all over the world.

Berlin recognized its creative sub-cultures as part of its identity and history, which now act as key drivers for tourism and economy. This transformed Berlin into a unique, successful city demonstrating how supporting creativity can grow into key economic and social factors fueling innovation and growth.

This dramatic yet positive change that Berlin went through leads us to the question: what role can Tokyo’s creative cultures play in laying the foundations for the city’s next phase? How can we paint a brighter future by aligning the creative potential of these two cities?

January 17 2014

Creating Japanese Food With Ingredients from Crete

Five prominent Japanese chefs and five of their Greek counterparts got together at a hotel in Crete on January 14, 2014 to create ten dishes representative of the respective origins using local products. At the culinary event dubbed “CRETE delicious” [el], Japanese chefs demonstrated how Cretan products can be incorporated into Japanese popular dishes, and exchanged their healthiest recipes. More about the event including the menu can be found here [ja/en/el].

Chania, Greece. 15th January 2014 -- Group picture of cretan and japanese cooks after the event. --

Chania, Greece. 15 January 2014 – Group photo of Cretan and Japanese cooks after the “Japan meets Crete” event, an initiative of Japanese and Greek entrepreneurs, star cooks and hoteliers. Japan's most famous chefs met with Cretan chefs and prepared foods using local fish and agriculture. Photo taken by Wassilis Aswestopoulos, ©Demotix

Japan Scores Well on Internet Freedom Status Report

U.S. based watchdog organization Freedom House compiled a report on Freedom on the Net 2013 and included the report on Japan for the first time.

Japan was evaluated as “Free”,  where the constitution protects all forms of speech and prohibits censorship, and Internet and digital media freedom are generally well established. For key developments during May 2012 to April 2013, Freedom House reported that: 

  • Political speech was constrained online for 12 days before the December 2012 election under a law banning parties from campaigning online.
  • In April 2013, the legislature overturned that law, but kept restrictions on campaign emails.
  • 2012 amendments to the Copyright Law criminalized intentionally downloading pirated content, though lawyers called for civil penalties.
  • Anti-Korean and anti-Chinese hate speech proliferated online amid real-world territorial disputes.  
  • A constitutional revision promoted by the newly-elected LDP party threatens to erode freedoms and rights that “violate public order” .

You can read the full report here.

January 11 2014

Viral Photo of a Giant Squid Found in California is Fake

image widely circulated on the

Image widely circulated on the Internet. Originally, it appeared io lightlybraisedturnip.com on January 10, 2014. Image used under fair use.  

This fake image of giant squid has been circulating widely on social media across many languages. Originally found on Lightly Braised Turnip, which appears to be a satire news website, the photo was accompanied by the description that a “giant squid was discovered on California coast and scientists suspect radioactive gigantism“, blaming the Fukushima nuclear accident for the existence of the large sea creature.

Giant squid (genus: Architeuthis) is a large, deep-ocean dwelling squid that can grow up to 13 meters (43 feet) naturally. Japanese blogger Piyohiko, suspicious of the photo, investigated [ja] the image online and quickly debunked it.

He searched for images of a “giant squid” on Google and found the original giant squid photo: 

image of giant squid posted in Xinhua news

Photo of a giant squid posted on Xinhua News. The photo was taken by Enrique Talledo [es], who specializes in documenting the ocean

10秒ぐらいで見つけてしまいました!!
なんだか似てると思うのですが、気のせいでしょうか?

It took only 10 seconds for me to find !!
The image looks very similar to me, don't they?

Photographer Masahiro Ariga [ja] also noticed that the image was fake. He noted that the spectators of the giant squid image coincide with those of the photo below, uploaded to 4thmedia.org in 2011:

image from 2011 on

Photo taken November 3, 2011, which appeared on 4thmedia.org's reporting a whale found dead in Chile.

Ariga commented [ja] how quickly the fake image was circulated on Facebook:

このフェイク写真、驚いたことにフェイスブックで物凄い勢いで拡散している。
9日のお昼頃にネット新聞のページを見たとき、いいね!は1300だったのに、その夜にはなんと2万に達していた。イカが放射線によって巨大化したことを信じて不安になる人も多いようだ。
このでたらめ記事が、冗談で書かれたのかそれとも悪意があるのかは分からないが、事実として受けとっている人が少なくない。ネットという空間で嘘と不安が拡大されて、世界中に広まっていくのを、現在進行形で見ているところだ。

The fake photo [of a giant squid washed ashore along the Santa Monica coastline] is spreading at amazing speed. When I saw the online news at noon on January 9, it only had 13,000 Facebook likes. However, overnight, it was already reaching 20,000 likes. Looks like many people believed the news of a squid growing enormous due to radiation and became anxious.

It's not clear whether this fabricated news was written as a joke or with vicious intention, but many people accepted the news as fact. I'm observing how lies and anxiety are amplified on the Internet throughout the world. 

January 10 2014

‘Abita', Animated Short Film About Fukushima Children


“Abita”, an animated short film about Fukushima children who can't play outside because of the radiation risk, delicately illustrates their dreams and realities. The film, produced by Shoko Hara and Paul Brenner, won the award for Best Animated Film at the International Uranium Film Festival in 2013.

Shoko Hara, a student in Germany who was born in Okayama in the western part of Japan, wrote about the metaphor she used in the film.

We used Japanese symbolism in our film. The Dragonfly represents the Japanese island, because of its form. It also symbolizes hope, perspective, dream, energy in Japan and it unites all the natural elements like water, earth and air. These were destroyed with the Fukushima disaster, they don't have any perspectives for their future. Furthermore dragonflies in japan are carriers of fertility. The Dragonfly represents the inner world of the child, that it wants to be free in the nature, but it can't. Dragonfly is a popular symbol in japan and we often use it in arts, poems and in literature. 

Despite scarce media coverage in Japan, the film has been shared widely on social media.

Radiation remains a serious problem for residents in the area surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant since the plant suffered a meltdown following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

No Girls Allowed at New Cosmology Public School in Japan

Photo taken at Jaxa Space Center in Tsukuba by Phil Knall (CC BY-NC)

Photo taken at Jaxa Space Center in Tsukuba by Phil Knall (CC BY-NC)

In collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), a new public school specialized in cosmology education in the southernmost peninsula of Kagoshima prefecture is set to recruit students from all over Japan.

The school sits 20 kilometers away from Uchinoura Space Center and will educate from 7th grade to 12th grade starting from the April of 2015. It is going to be the first public school to require all students to live in a dormitory.

Reaction to the news among Web users has been very positive. Twitter user ririri, who is a student, commented with excitement:

A school that teaches “cosmology”, that's awesome. Sounds exciting. I hope a school like this will help Japan lead the future of the space age! 

Some users drew connection between the school and a comic book series called Twin Spica, a science fiction story of a group of Japanese high school students training to become astronauts. In the comic book, main character Asumi Kamogawa, a female student, enters the Tokyo Space Academy:

TwinSpica

Cover art of the first Twin Spica manga volume featuring lead character Asumi Kamogawa (image from Wikipedia, ©mediafactory)

It reminds me of Twin Spica.

Looks like many people were reminded of the Twin Spica like me. 

However, there is one significant difference between the school in the sci-fi comic book and the new public school: The latter will be only open to boys.  

Twitter user APICa wondered [ja] in disappointment:

The school is so romantic, but why does it have to be only for boys when we have female astronauts, and there are other high schools that have co-ed dormitories?

Hatena bookmark user Unimmo commented [ja] with suspicion whether the school is intentionally discriminating against women:

女性は宇宙にふさわしくないとでも?

Are you saying that space is not for women?

Yuki pondered if the decision was less about gender and more about economics:

It's sad when there are female astronauts out there. Maybe it's only for boys due to cost?

The news, however, did not fuel a gender issues debate online, though many users did continue to express their disappointment with the limitation. Despite the boys-only rule, the unique school will likely carry on gaining the attention of space-loving netizens.

The post including the headline was sub-edited by L.Finch

January 09 2014

‘Hafu’ Film Explores Mixed Race Japanese Identity

Determining our own identity and how we fit into the puzzle around us goes far deeper than a label or definition. In October 2013 Megumi Nishikura, a documentary filmmaker, talked at TEDx Tokyo about explorations into being hafu/haafu (ハーフ hāfu), a term used in Japanese to refer to somebody who is biracial, or ethnically half Japanese.

Upon returning to Japan in 2006, after having lived in the United States for 11 years, Nishikura found herself facing identity issues that she had thought she had put behind her. Then she met others who, like herself, were “hafu”, including the founder of Hafu project, an exploration of the experiences and identities of mixed-Japanese people through portrait photographs and in-depth interviews launched in London in 2008.

By social researcher Marcia Yumi Lise and photographer Natalie Maya Willer, the Hafu Project probes the half-Japanese experience by asking what it means to be half-Japanese inside and outside of Japan. To date, the project has collected 130 portraits and 65 extensive interviews, exploring topics ranging from background and upbringing to personal identity and sense of belonging.

 

Inspired by the Hafu Project, what began as a personal quest for Nishikura has grown into an exploration of identity and expanded into “Hafu the Film”, co-produced with Lara Perez Takagi:

Narrated by the hafus themselves, along with candid interviews and cinéma vérité footage, the viewer is guided through a myriad of hafu experiences that are influenced by upbringing, family relationships, education, and even physical appearance. As the film interweaves five unique life stories, audiences discover the depth and diversity of hafu personal identities.

Hafu - the mixed-race experience in Japan. For more about the film, view the press release here

Hafu – the mixed-race experience in Japan. For more about the film, view the press release here [pdf]

Notions about and the conditions of hafu among Japanese do not necessarily coincide with what each hafu person feels about themselves. Sociology student Fujisaka Shunsuke at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto wrote what he learned about hafu:

I learned about hafu in this class and I learned the situation of hafu. My opinion was changing gradually. After I read a first reading, I leaned how hafu people think. Then I saw the opinions from classmates and I thought hafu people faced more difficult situation than I thought

Another student, Kanami Hirokawa wrote about the tendency of Japanese to exclude people who standout:

Japanese tend to ask hafu questions like “where are you from?” even if they grow up in Japan and have Japanese values and Japanese culture. Japanese must know that people who have different looks with Japanese live in Japan as Japanese. Moreover, Japanese should accept hafu as a member of Japan and should not make borders between Japanese and hafu because they grow up in Japan and have same identity with Japanese. In order that hafu become Japanese completely, not only Japanese accept hafu as a member of Japanese in Japanese society but also Japanese government should begin the approach to make Japan a ‘true’ multicultural country. Japan is based on the idea of jus sanguinis and conservative to foreigners. Today, in the world, globalization is developing now and Japan should review their principle.

While the film captured under the label of “hafu” may not intend to speak for all the mixed race people living in Japan, it touches millions who seek the answer to the question “Who am I?” Check out the latest screening information and more about the film here.

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