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 Change.org 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”.

A ‘Morning Drama’ for the English

My days in Japan begin at eight in the morning when the ‘Morning drama’, ‘Renzoku Terebi Shōsetsu’, ‘serial TV’, or ‘Asadora drama’ begins, the TV set in my apartment, which doubles as an alarm, announces both the beginning of the day and a new episode. I get up and watch the drama, which is fifteen minutes long, as my wife and I get ready to face the day. I love NHK’s Asadora dramas; they are my guilty pleasure, and often a Japanese language learning aid, exposure to the spoken word being useful for one trying to learn.

For those who are unaware, the ‘Asadora drama’ or ‘Morning drama’ is a serial TV programme that runs twice a year on NHK, and each series is six months long, one begins in April and ends in September after which the next drama begins.  The programme’s gender politics may be suspect, it certainly seems to be aimed at wives and children staying at home, and the theme of every drama is essentially the same, that of a young woman (and often incredibly cute), trying to succeed in life.  When I arrived in Japan, in August 2012, it was ‘Umechan Sensei’ about a young woman trying to become a physician in post World War II Tokyo.  Another notable mention was the 2013 drama ‘Amachan’ which included a pre-watershed depiction of the March 11th disaster, which I thought was quite daring.

So when, in November 2013, I read in The Japan Times, that NHK were looking for an actress to play ‘Ellie’, a fictionalised version of Jessie ‘Rita’ Roberta Cowan, wife of Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of Nikka Whisky, you can imagine this Asadora drama-loving, half Scottish (and therefore whisky drinking, obviously) was excited as a haggis lover on Burns night.

Therefore, when the Glaswegian Ellie (well acted by Charlotte Kate Fox) from the beginning spoke Japanese like a native, I must confess to initially being a little disappointed.  But not only was Ellie fluent, so were her Scottish parents, their part, told in flashback, being dubbed in Japanese.  After making such a fuss about finding a non-Japanese actress to play the lead, the producers had copped-out I felt, chosen the easy path.  Why wouldn’t Ellie speak English, at least for a small portion of drama, until she learned Japanese, surely there was some room for a little bit of un-dubbed but subtitled English? Then I remembered the following news report.

In June 2013, NHK was sued for ‘mental distress’ by a Japanese gentlemen, the cause of his distress was the excessive use of English ‘loan words’ appearing in Japanese TV media.  Apparently, words such as ‘terebi’ (TV) or ‘konpuraiansu’ (compliance) were over used and should be replaced by Japanese equivalents.  He sought 1.4 million Yen (USD 14,300; GBP 9,300) for his distress.

The report got me thinking: suing for mental distress over loan words may seem excessive (although as an English teacher here in Japan, it’s a distress I share), but it also highlights how brave and radical NHK were in casting a non-Japanese actress in a lead role for the first time.  The lead actress in the ‘Morning drama’ acquires instant fame, and is ubiquitous on Japanese TV in the year they play the part.  In Japan, it is a fame comparable to being the new Batman or Doctor Who.

Japan it seems to some has often had issues with representing both foreigners and the English language.  There are commentators on Japan, who see Japan not just as insular, but out-right xenophobic and take the lack of representation of foreigners in the Japanese media, or negative reactions to the English language in the media, as evidence of such xenophobia, and that is a reaction I have never understood.  It would be nice of course, if more of the news were translated into English, but the lack of such translation, for myself at least, is a spur to learn better Japanese rather than request more news reports be rendered into English.  It would of course also be interesting to see more foreigners appearing in Japanese dramas, other than the manga and 2010 film ‘My Darling is a Foreigner’, American actress Charlotte Kate Fox’s appearance in ‘Massan’ is the one of few high profile instances of foreigner taking the lead in a Japanese drama.

But let’s just stand back and properly appreciate that casting decision for a moment. For the first time in its fifty-three year history (the first Asadora drama ‘Musume to Watashi’ aired in 1961), a non-Japanese, an American, has been cast as the lead.  I am no TV historian, but I can’t recall off hand, of another TV channel casting a foreigner in its lead role, the only one that comes close, is the Canadian William Shatner’s casting in Stark Trek, though when he was cast; it was hardly a flagship show.  The lead in the BBC show Doctor Who, which is comparable to the Asadora, in terms of fame and status, has never cast a foreigner as The Doctor.  In fact, The Doctor has never been anything other than British, white and male. If we are to partly judge the quality of a TV show on whether it presents many ‘diverse’ characters, ‘Massan’ pulls NHK into the lead ahead of Doctor Who at least, unless, based on the most recent incarnation of The Doctor, we are to view being Scottish as some weird and crazy ethnic identity.  And personally, I congratulate NHK on ‘Massan’ not just for casting a foreigner, but for reminding me that Japanese whisky is really good.