Japan calls for safety of disabled in disasters

Originally from NHK World June 11th 2014

In its first appearance at a UN conference on the rights of persons with disabilities, Japan has called for ensuring the safety of disabled people during natural disasters.

The meeting of countries that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities began at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday.

The meeting includes delegates from more than 140 nations. Among them are representatives of groups for the disabled.

The convention, which went into effect 6 years ago, aims to prohibit all forms of discrimination against people with disabilities and to promote their participation in all areas of society. Japan formally became party to the treaty this year.

Japan’s ambassador to the UN, Motohide Yoshikawa, said his country has revised some of its laws and enacted a new one to allow people to take legal action in cases of discrimination against the disabled.

He said Japan revised its disaster management law after disabled people suffered disproportionate harm in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The revision mandates the creation of lists of people who need support in case of evacuation.

Japan Disability Forum executive Katsunori Fujii said the ratification of the treaty will help Japan become a more hospitable place for people with disabilities. He said Japan can make a global contribution in such areas as engineering for personal welfare.

The 3-day conference will aim to include support for the disabled in the UN’s list of sustainable development goals.


Have you seen the ninja granny?

Japan is a place for sub-cultures; we have our Oaku, our Harajuku gilrls, they are a well-established sub-strata of Japanese society.  But today I discovered another sub-species, ladies and gentlemen may introduce to the ninja oba-chan.

Even long term residents of Japan might be confused, so let me explain. An ‘Oba-chan’ is a granny, a  elderly Japanese lady, one day all women of Japan, whether they have grandchildren or not shall be called ‘oba-chan’.  ‘Ninja’ of course, you know, they are those stealthy assassins, the most famous of which was Hattori Hanzo, not, as Quentin Tarantino would have us believe, a great sword maker, but a great assassin, who become a samurai for saving the life of Tokugawa Ieyasu in the sixteenth century.

What has all this talk of ninja got to with Japanese granny’s I hear you ask?  Well, I shall tell you, you see I have this theory: Japanese grannies are all descended from ninja.  Sounds crazy right?  So let me explain.

I’m out shopping, buying stuff for my Friday night meal, and fancied some sausages.  In Japan there is a really cool treat, a sausage fried in cornmeal, a corn dog to American readers, an ‘American dog’  to Japanese readers and simply awesome to this British writer.  You can eat in the convenience store, but I had bought two, one for me and one for the wife.  Taking it home meant the following: trying to stuff convenience store sausages into the small plastic container in the world, trying to whip an elastic band around.   I cannot do it, I have tried but my palsy effected left side will not let it happen.  I do try, I had at least t five good goes, but no avail.  Time passes; I get frustrated and seriously think about giving up on my beloved sausage.

It is at this point, and only at this point, that ninja oba-chan will appear.

Because suddenly an elderly Japanese lady appears, seemingly without making any sound, takes the plastic carton and then a whip-splat-kerpow – hey presto, I am presented with one neatly wrapped carton of food.  I try to mutter a arigatogozaimasu – Thank you, but before I can finish my sentence, I get a hai dozo There!  And as quick as ninja oba-chan appeared, puff like that, she’s gone.

Let me know if you encounter her.


Michey is Both Other and Lame!

Everyone is the other, and no one is himself. – Martin Heidegger

Recently in Japan, Uniqlo, a clothing chain, started a clothing range, with involvement from Pharrell Williams of ‘Happy’ videos fame.  The range is called ‘i am OTHER’, and it is a serious of hats, shirts and blouses.  Each has a phrase on it, phrases such as:

‘Unlike any other

Think other’

And my personal favourite:

‘The Same is Lame’

I love the idea of this as an academic philosopher; there is a long tradition in philosophy about interrogating the concept of the ‘same’ and ‘the other of the same’.  Google ‘Other of the Same’ and see for yourself.  Also as someone with cerebral palsy, I especially enjoy wearing a hat that read ‘The Same is Lame’.  Let me explain why:

Merriam-Websters defintion of lame:

 adjective \ˈlām\

: having an injured leg or foot that makes walking difficult or painful

: not strong, good, or effective

: not smart or impressive


:  having a body part and especially a limb so disabled as to impair freedom of movement

:  marked by stiffness and soreness <a lame shoulder>


:  lacking needful or desirable substance :  weak, ineffectual <a lame excuse>


slang :  not being in the know : 

So I am both Other and lame.  Deal with that Mr. Williams!


Summer is Coming!

Here comes the summer!   Summer announced itself today with a wall of rain outside my apartment. Yes the report is in, for the next few months it is going to be hot and wet.  Time to break out the poncho and drink plenty of water, When I first moved to Japan in August 2012, more than the excellent train service or the twenty-four convenience stores, the summer was my biggest shock, and not entirely a pleasant one.

By July it will be mid to late 30’s Celsius, in fact, summer started early this year since it’s been that hot since the last week in May.  Come August it will feel like 40 Celsius. So you may think, ‘cool you can go to the beach and drink alcohol’.  Nah, sorry, not going to happen.  There will be late 90% humidity, so beer is really not a good idea, your best friend will be soft drinks until at least until late August.  It is so easy to faint from heat exhaustion and dehydration.  Japanese summers have body counts, people dying, and not just the elderly, from heat exhaustion.  So not excessive drinking children, which sucks.   

With the heat, also comes the rain and the beginning of typhoon season. The first typhoon system actually often appears in January, but those of any threat happen from May or June onwards. So stock up on water, buying a flashlight and a rechargeable lithium battery (so you can film the power cut black out with your smartphone), and prepare to batten down the hatches at a moment’s notice.

You may also find eating difficult, heat often kills hunger, or at least food doesn’t always taste nice.  There is of course an upside, you may lose weight.  So eat healthy, else the lack of exercise due to the rain and heat will leave you fatter in September than you were in May.

You will need to take at least two baths or showers a day from late June onwards, and three in August.  If you don’t you will smell, which can really effect both your love-life and employment opportunities , I sweat so much by August nobody wants to employ me, so maybe also save up Yen for the lean and overheated times!

There is however one good thing about summer, the summer sun. It is called the Land of the Rising Sun for a reason, and the sunrise by July will be breathtaking.

Would be nice though if it were a bit less melty and sweaty.


Badges for ‘invisible disabilities’ catching on

Via the Japan Times/Kyodo news

by Miki Shirasaka

Patients with hidden physical impediments — internal conditions not immediately recognizable by others — are increasingly wearing badges as they try to increase awareness of the difficulties they face.

“In all my life, I have never once been able to run,” said Nobuyo Shirai, 45, an activist who has a serious heart ailment and is registered as disabled.

Shirai visits a large hospital in Tokyo from her home in Saitama Prefecture once a month, but the one-hour train ride is tough because she is physically weak.

It is a huge ordeal when she cannot get a seat. But it is even more painful when other passengers glare at her for taking a priority seat designated for elderly and disabled passengers, she said.

People with invisible impediments can be those with heart, kidney and liver conditions. Like people with visible physical disabilities or visual and hearing problems, they are eligible for physical disability certificates.

Figures from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry show there were an estimated 930,000 patients with internal ailments as of 2011. They accounted for 24 percent of all certificate holders, a number surpassed only by people with limb disabilities.

To enhance public awareness, Shirai’s non-profit Heart Plus organization created a “heart plus” symbol in 2003 to signify an internal ailment.

People with invisible impediments used to have no way to indicate their needs, Shirai said. “People who have had ostomies would get yelled at for using the toilets for the disabled,” she said.

The mark is winning public recognition. Five years ago, Kitakyushu City Hall began placing heart plus stickers on priority seats on trains, buses and other public transport and providing badges with the mark to those wish to wear one.

Eriko Yoshida, an associate professor at University of Nagasaki, surveyed 471 people with internal impediments last year and found that 52 percent of the respondents reported being in need of assistance or support.

Fifty-four percent said they need assistance or support even with such household chores as cooking and cleaning. A further 42 percent cited daily shopping, with a similar number saying they needed help to make hospital visits or commute to work or school.

Even people who said they needed no help may in fact be struggling, Yoshida said.

Author Sarasa Ono thus developed an “invisible impediment badge” to help people with internal ailments discuss their difficulties with others.

Ono, who suffers from an intractable immune-system condition, writes about people who receive insufficient support because of shortcomings in public assistance.

The badge, which costs ¥350, has received 30,000 orders, Ono said, with interest both from patients with chronic diseases, developmental difficulties and mental ailments, and their families.

“People need the courage to talk about their own impediments,” Ono said. “I hope they don’t feel alone, because everyone with a badge is in the same situation.”

A Note on Dream and Reality in Japan

I don’t have dreams. How can I say it? I myself am a dream. –  Ayumi Hamasaki

In fact, the whole of Japan is a pure invention. There is no such country, there are no such people…. The Japanese people are… simply a mode of style, an exquisite fancy of art. – Oscar Wilde

Japan is not a real place. Do not worry, I am relatively sane, I am not denying the existence of a place called Japan, of course such a place exists, just keep going east after China, you can’t miss it. Japan’s ontological security is not being doubted, Japan certainly exists and yet there is something about Japan that is just not, well, how do I put it? Japan is not real. – Michael Gillan Peckitt

In a recent blog post of mine, I remarked about how, for a foreigner living here, Japan has a dream like nature, that there is something about Japan which does not seem quite real.  Whether it be convenience stores that are open all day and night, selling dollar beers and really cheap junk food to the Internet cafés that are open 24/7, in which one can rent a room for a few hours for less than 2000 yen, (and in which the soft drinks are in unlimited supply); to the temples and shrines of Kyoto to the soaplands of Kabukicho, much in Japan seems so ethereal or to ‘Disney-fied’ as to be unbelievable. As I stated in that post:

Jacques Lacan reminds us, that the real is what resists symbolization absolutely, that the real is that which resists linguistic expression, that what is ‘real’ is something that we can describe to others. Without the ability to describe something to others, an experience or thing never really happened. The question I am asked most often by those outside Japan is ‘What is Japan like?’ I struggle to find an answer to this question. I can tell you that Britain is a place that has bland food and plain speaking people, but I can find no similar description for Japan. There is nothing ‘like’ Japan, there is only Japan. So maybe Japan is a real place in as much Japan is inexpressible; it can never grasped, but remains beyond the realm of articulation. How else can one deal with a world where there are restaurants that serves Yorkshire pudding, with Kyu Sakamoto or AKB48 playing in the background?

After writing that I thought about it for awhile, and asked myself, what is actually concerning me here?  Well it’s not really ‘trouble’ but I think I have located what’s going on, what actually prompted me to write this.

Where I hail from, Britain, we don’t really do spectacle.  We have our tall building buildings like Big Ben or amazing stately homes, but we don’t really do extravagance.  Go to a pub or a restaurant in Britain and you will get food, but rarely an experience. You are there to eat, and that surely is enough, that at least is the attitude of restaurants in Britain.  Go to somewhere like a British Pub in Japan – these are the “restaurants that serves Yorkshire pudding, with Kyu Sakamoto or AKB48 playing in the background” – and you don’t just get fed and given alcohol to drink, rather you are given an experience, a kind of idealized and Japan-ized version of the culture you are consuming.  If you actually hail from that culture, this can be quite an uncanny experience; it is odd for people to see phrases like ‘Oishii French food’ outside a French restaurant or ‘British squid and seafood’ outside another.

Japan has taught me to appreciate spectacle, but it has also led me to love the experience of the uncanny.