Notes from a Crowded Country

Virginia Woolf requested merely only a room of one’s own. Turns out she was too demanding, as in Japan our ambitions are more modest, here it appears that all we require is that little bit of the space-time continuum we currently occupy, with no further leg or elbow apparently being required.

Whether it be crowded trains to busy streets, from JR Shinjuku Station to Shibuya crossing; the former arguably  one of the busiest train stations in the world, the latter the busiest commuter area, it is fair to say that that Japan has plenty of rising suns but little space.

One of my favourite films is ‘Lost in Translation’ and in that film, one my favourite scenes is when Charlotte, taking time out from karaoke collapses into Bob’s shoulderExhausted from their singing, they take a time-out. Together alone, in a karaoke place in Tokyo, they relax in space that is their own, albeit temporarily. 

Finding such a space in Japan, especially a quiet place is rare. People back in the country I hail from ask me about culture shock, is there anything that disturbs me about Japan, anything I find difficult to deal with, I usually answer in the negative, I have genuinely never really experienced culture shock, but if pushed, I give this response – Japanese people appear to understand space differently – or at very least, the notion of space is dealt with differently here in Japan. Absolutely you can fit yourself and a rather large suitcase in between the foot wide space in a queue at a convenience storewhy wouldn’t you try to do that?

From busy trains to attendance levels akin to rock concerts during festivals and national holidays, Japan does seem to be a crowded place. Japan also seems to be a place that actually likes crowds, or at least, does not react to crowds as something to be avoided.  Instead they seem to be regard as an inevitable part of everyday life.

When I first came to Japan years ago, and was living in Tokyo I remember seeing a sign that read ‘please be considerate to other passengers and sit close to each other’. That sign was something I loved about Japan when I first moved here. You think the train you want to take seems to be over-crowded?  Nonsense, the Japanese people, it appears, laughs in the face of crowdedness and give the middle finger to the concept of not enough room. In Japan there are even people that well help squeeze you on to a train during busy hours, some of them even work for the train company, here there is no such thing as too full, there is always, at least on trains, room for one more.

As someone whom, back in Britain was denied access, on more than one occasion, to both buses and trains on the grounds that were ‘too many children and handicapped people’, one admires, for the most part, Japan’s attitude towards transport.  As a physically encumbered man hoping to get back home on a busy train running late at night, I really appreciate it, here even during busy times, a disabled person, along with the pregnant or young  is given ‘priority’, there are seats that are called just that ‘priority seats’, so it’s all good.

However, I am left wondering about following: I am sure they are all very kind people, but I doubt that the pregnant lady, the kindly old age pensioner nor the teenager, actually wanted to give up their seat for me, of course not, they are deserve the comfy chair. And I worry about the culture towards space here, there appears to be no maximum occupancy to a train, and if the train is obviously too full, well there’s an app for that, here no passenger will be left behind apparently, if need be we shall push you on to the train.

So whether I am coming back from work or a late night on the tiles, I prefer to leave early (so I guess it’s not so late!so as to be able to choose which train I get on, I’ll get on the less crowded train. Space is important to person with a physical disability like me, by walking with a cane and possibly bulkily paraphernalia like a wheelchair or by wearing a calliperAs a person with disability, you sometimes view your personal space like thisyou are yourself and one foot in any direction, and you are always thinking the following; where next does my body need to go and can I get there? 

And my body spasms, and on a rare occasion quite violently, but also quite in voluntarily, so I worry about injuring people, on busy trains my only defense against this is a wide stance, which makes me the worst kind of gaijin, one whom hogs space on a train. And on a not entirely unrelated note, there is a concern in Japan about chikan, men who use the excuse of a crowded to grope and assault girls. Obviously men should simply not do that, but it is equally true that it’s exceedingly difficult to assault someone you not physically near. 

So instead of encouraging people to sit closer to each other, why doesn’t the sign read like this:

‘Please keep a respectful distance from your neighbor.’ 

Home Thoughts from Abroad Revisited

I am visiting Britain again. This seems to becoming a ritual for me, I was here in February 2014 and am here again in February 2015. It’s not entirely by accident, the academic year, in Japan runs from April to mid February. This is is a bit like Summer break in the west, the longest holiday of the school year.  I was a bit too apprehensive about coming back last time, and whilst it was great to see family, friends and old and now not so familiar places, and was feeling too much of a prodigal son to enjoy it.

This time it’s different, maybe it’s only because this is the second time I’ve returned, that it not being the first time allows me to feel less pressure but I’m certainly enjoying it more this time. I still feel a bit of a stranger here but still more connected than last time. It’s an odd feeling that I can’t quite give adequate expression.

I’m still not quite ready to return to Britain to live, and perhaps I never will be entirely at ease with Britain, one day, the work in Japan might dry up and I’ll have to return, but at least now I don’t feel that having to return would mean the end of the world.

Tsukumodai, Suita 8:41AM

How do you begin your day? Maybe a coffee and some carbohydrates , maybe a complaint about having to get up in the morning? I begin the day with this question: Is today a walking day?

Cerebral palsy, or to give the specific variation I have – left sided spastic hemiplegia often leaves me physically encumbered. I may live in Japan and would love to spend every non-working moment visiting the temples of Kyoto or the metropolis of Tokyo, but given my condition it’s something I really can’t do.

The worst part about with being disabled is this: there are days when you can’t get out and about and yet you suspect that something interesting is around the next corner. Time becomes important to you when you have a disablity. I know I have only a few hours of being useful, of being able to be physically active. You have to learn to use your time wisely, you have to plan, you have make decisions. Will you be able to get up early? Is today a day you can walk up steps – Japan is home to many a steep staircase. Can you walk up the steel staircase and get back down it?

There are some days when my answer to these questions is no, but there are days when the answer is yes. Thankfully for moment the ‘yes’ days outnumber the ‘no’ days.

Preview of my next article in The Japan Times

So, anyone who comments critically about Japan, and writes in English, apparently must have ignoble intentions — and/or be lazy, according to Thorn. He then goes on to offer a fourth possible explanation for this rash of apparent Japanophobia: that people who write about Japan in English are only doing so for the money. He’s also honest enough to admit that he has done such jobs, and would “cheerfully” do so again. I suppose I have done the same, having being published twice in The Japan Times — but I wasn’t told what to write, nor what tone the article should take: I wrote something that was accepted by the publisher, and each time I initially did not expect to be paid.

To read more read The Japan Times on Monday 12th January!


Thanks for Reading & Merry Christmas!

As I write this it the early hours of Christmas Eve 2014. I haven’t written much on this blog for the last few weeks, but I have been busy teaching at the university and writing my second e-book ‘Japan: Notes from the Obstacle Course’ which shall be all about being disabled in Japan.

Thanks for reading this blog this year, and for buying my e-book Gaijin Story

Next year I hope to post much more and to publish more both in the print media and on this blog, and my second e-book should be out next year.

Once again thanks for reading and a merry Christmas, see you in 2015.

Over 2,600 people with disabilities abused in Japan in fiscal 2013: gov’t survey

Over 2,600 people with disabilities abused in Japan in fiscal 2013: gov’t survey

From The Mainichi News

A total of 2,659 people with disabilities in Japan were subjected to abuse in fiscal 2013, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

The ministry survey revealed that the number of reports and guidance requests over abuse cases involving people with disabilities at local governments totaled 7,123. Of those, 2,280 cases were acknowledged as abuse. The results showed that the number of abuse cases has increased at welfare facilities compared to figures reported in the last half of fiscal 2012.

According to the study, a total of 263 abuse cases at care facilities were reported in fiscal 2013, which accounted for 11.5 percent of all cases reported in the period, up from 80 cases in the last six months to March 2013.

Types of abuse include physical maltreatment at 56.3 percent, psychological and verbal abuse at 45.6 percent, sexual abuse at 11.4 percent, financial abuse such as exploitation at workplaces at 6.8 percent and neglect at 4.6 percent, among others.

Meanwhile, 1,764 cases of abuse by family members, some 77.4 percent, were reported. The most common type of abuse was physical abuse at 63.3 percent, followed by psychological abuse at 31.6 percent, financial abuse at 25.5 percent and neglect at 18.9 percent.

The most common type of abusers at care facilities were care workers who assist those with disabilities at 43.7 percent. In addition, some 40 percent of abuse victims were categorized as level five or six disability on a level from one to six with six being the most severe, showing a tendency for people with severe disabilities being at risk of being abused.

The law on anti-violence toward people with disabilities obliges care facility staff to report abuse cases as soon as they witness them. However, only 11.7 percent of reports came from care facility staff. A health ministry official said local governments’ fully-fledged awareness campaigns and training toward acknowledging abuse cases may have attributed to the increased number (compared to the last survey), but it seems to be difficult for care facility staff to report abuse cases at their workplace.

Does Japan have sex on the brain?

Dear reader, I have to confess the following:  there has been too much sex in my life in Japan recently.  I suppose, on the face of it, that to some would not sound like a bad thing, certainly not something to offer sympathy over; I do live in the land of cute Japanese women, so how could I complain?  Well let me tell you how.

On November 2nd, I was scanning through my YouTube subscriptions and I came across a video by ‘Unrested’, whom I know and as a fellow Osaka resident.  He was alerting his audience in, shall we say passionate terms, about Real Social Dynamics and a man that goes by the name of ‘Julien Blanc’.  There was a link to a video in which ‘Julien Blanc’ reportedly spoke.  He said:

“If you’re a white male in Tokyo, you can do what you want. I’m just romping through the streets, just grabbing girls’ heads, just like, head, pfft on the dick, head on the dick, yelling, ‘Pikachu,’ with a Pikachu shirt”.

He continues to suggest the following:

“Every foreigner who is white at least does this, and you’ll be roaming through the streets, and there’s Japanese people everywhere, and you’ll spot that one foreigner, and your eyes will lock, and you know that he knows that you know, and it’s like this guilty look like you both f**ked a hooker or something.”

Initially, I truly thought it was a hoax, some elaborate prank, but no it is real. ‘Julien Blanc’, on behalf of a company called Real Social Dynamics, gave talks about how to seduce women.  At least that the kindest way I can describe what Blanc did, I suppose, Blanc and his colleagues at Real Social Dynamics would prefer the term ‘Pick Up Artist’.  I would like to say that he appeared to be teaching men throughout the world how to sexually assault women.

The reaction from social media and journalism was impressive; From YouTube to The Japan Times and other media, there was veritable tsunami of support.  Blogs were posted, petitions were issued and signed, and protests were made.  On November 7th, The Guardian reported that Blanc’s Australian visa had been cancelled, and as of November 9th a petition against Blanc’s Tokyo tour date had 32,588 signees. As I write this on the evening of November 10th, it appears that Julien Blanc’s Tokyo tour date has been canceled.

I felt this was a big win, and it restored my faith in social media, maybe social media is not the purveyor of misogyny, racism and all the other attendant isms, but is in fact, an instrument of social champagne, or maybe, since I’m in Japan, the sake and toast the demise of ‘Julien Blanc’?

Well, no, not quite.  Where there is action there is, inevitably, resistance to that action.  The hash tag ‘#supportjulienblanc’ has appeared on Twitter, as of November 6th, and he has his own petition page ‘Do not Censor Julien Blanc’.  Apparently:

“He is NOT sexist. He is NOT racist.  In fact he has helped hundreds of thousands of men to find success in their dating lives.”

Thankfully Blanc’s petition has a pitiful amount of signees, as of November 10th, only 1,862; you need in excess of 30,000 to have any real chance of success.  However, the whole sorry saga raises another question for me, and it’s this:  Is there something about Japan that encourages this sort of person?

Little time goes by without some sex-related story appearing in the Japanese media.  On October 23rd, The Japan Times in the article ‘New trade chief slapped by S&M scandal after only three days on job’, relayed the news that the office of Yoichi Miyazawa, the Japanese Minister of Trade, had reportedly paid ¥18,230 for services at an S/M club.  On November 4th it was reported in the same publication, the article ‘Notorious ‘JK’ business exploits troubled high school girls for sex’ that schoolgirls were being aggressively recruited by the illegal sex industry in Akihabara.  Two stories about sex coming out of Japan, in the space of three weeks, it’s quite easy to make the case that Japan appears to have sex on the brain, and its citizenry is comprised of some very naughty boys.  We have to ask the following question: Are people like ‘Julien Blanc’ allowed to do what they do by a culture within Japan that seems, as some level, no matter how discretely, to encourage such behavior?

If there is a culture that encourages behavior like Blanc’s it is certainly not unique to Japan, but I am willing to argue that such a culture seems to be heightened here in Japan. Whether be found manifest in a perfectly legal domain, such in girl bands like AkB48 or the maid cafes of Akihabara, or in the more legally grey area of hostess and clubs and the forbidden worlds of soaplands, sex and sexuality does seem to be out there in the open here in Japan.

Sex possibly being out in the open, does not excuse Blanc of course, but does point towards a potential problem regarding attitudes towards sex here in Japan.  I am still concerned by the response of Japanese female friend of mine, whom, when I told her about Blanc and his ‘Pikachu and girl to crotch technique’ of picking up the ladies, responded with the following remark:

“Not a nice guy.  But if he’s talking about Tokyo he’s kind of right”.