One Year After Sagamihara, Japanese Disabled People Continue to Face Discrimination

July 26th 2017 marks one year since the murder of 19 intellectually disabled people at the Tsukui Yamayuri En care home in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, an attack that injured 27 others. The alleged attacker, Satoshi Uematsu, a former employee at the care facility, is still awaiting trial, and prosecutors have said it may take more than a year before the trial will begin. According to a judicial official quoted in a Kyodo News Report:

“There is an enormous amount of evidence (to be examined). I reckon more than a year would be needed merely for pretrial discovery, or disclosure of evidence, by prosecutors during the consultation stage.”

A long wait for a trial is in itself, not unusual in Japan, although much has been made in both the Japanese and Western press about the names of the victims not be released. As early as the end of the July 2016, disability groups have been saying that to not the release the names of the victims, is to deny them their identity, just as the alleged attacker Uematsu did. As Professor Osamu Nagase, a disability rights advocate and academic at Ritsumeikan University said to the Sankei Shimbun at the time:

“To not announce the name of the 19 human beings is to suggest that disabled people are not people…that thinking seems to in part be overlapping with the thinking of the suspect “.

Article 291 of The Japanese Code of Criminal Procedure allows prosecutors to read out the indictment without identifying the victim, so it cannot be said that the Kanagawa Prefectural Police were acting improperly in not releasing the names of the victims. However, it is also worth noting that there have been murder cases where the Japanese police have released the names of the victims, such as in the recent ‘Black Widow’ murder, where it was released to the press that Chisako Kakehi, was alleged to have killed her husband, Isao Kakehi. Why the release the names in that case, but not the names of those killed at the Sagamihara care home?

Regardless of the legal minutia of murder cases in Japan; about whether it is appropriate or not to the release the names of those that were killed I cannot help but feel that the Sagamihara massacre says a lot of about attitudes towards the disabled in Japan. It is true that one year ago, much of the press talked about the murders at the Sagamihara care home as being a “massacre” and according to Kyodo, an incident that “sent shock waves through the country”. However, one year later after this ‘massacre’ it is difficult to say that attitudes towards disabled people in Japan have changed that dramatically.

Take the example of Hideto Kijima, a paraplegic man who, in late June, had to crawl up the stairs of an airplane to board his flight from Amami Oshima , a small island off Kagoshima to Osaka. Staff at Vanilla Air, a low cost carrier (LCC) or ‘budget airline’ that is a subsidiary of All Nippon Airways reportedly told Kijima “people who cannot walk cannot fly” although that he could board the plane, if he “can climb up the stairs on his own with the assistance” of his friends, although his friends were forbidden from carrying Kijima’s wheelchair up the staircase. In the end, Kijima decided to crawl up the stairs despite the protestations of the Vanilla Air staff, although the Vanilla Air has since apologized and according to the Sankei Shimbun:

“…the low-cost carrier (LCC) was quick to apologize and has purchased a boarding chair. The airline has also promised to install an electric stairlift.”

Kijima was apparently thankful for Vanilla Air’s quick response, but others, such as the aforementioned Professor Nagase, were no so forgiving, viewing Kijima’s treatment as a human rights violation, and a violation of Japan’s own ‘Act to Eliminate Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities’, which came into effect April 2016:

“Vanilla Air’s policy not to let people who do not walk fly seems a violation of the Act to Eliminate Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities and the CRPD, which Japan has ratified,” said Nagase in an email interview. “If there was no accessibility, the airline was expected to provide reasonable accommodation, though as private company it is only encouraged to do so. This really proves the necessity to promote general accessibility and to secure reasonable accommodation in specific situations.”

Other incidents could be mentioned, such the case of mentally handicapped man, aged 19, who died of heat exhaustion after having been left locked in car outside a welfare facility in Saitama for six hours in early July. Police are still investigating that incident and no arrests of those responsible have been reported.

Taken individually, it is easy to respond to such incidents as simply sad or tragic, but they are also something more than that, they are also completely avoidable, if companies and institutions have a policy regarding people with disabilities. Japanese companies are encouraged by the government to be ‘barrier free’ or accessible to disabled people, particularly as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics draws nearer, and Japan has had some success in increasing accessibility for disabled people but, if it is to be truly ‘barrier free’ to quote Tokyo Governor Koike “I believe that a barrier-free mind is equally vital”.

I submit that we are a long way from having a ‘barrier free mind’ here in Japan, if disabled people have to resort to crawl up staircases to get on airplanes, die of heat exhaustion in cars, and we can’t even say their names when they are murdered.


The Media, Dr. Obokata & the Curse of Fatal Truth

No one now dies of fatal truths: there are too many antidotes to them.  – Friedrich Nietzsche, Human All Too Human

Philosophers love truth — that’s a truism. What about the rest of us? Do we love truth or falsehood? Truth, we naturally affirm. So why are we swimming in falsehood? Michael Hoffman, Japan Times

Dr. Obokata “..announced the breakthrough in January in two published in the scientific journal Nature, but the discovery was thrown into doubt after researchers elsewhere failed to replicate her work.

 The ruling has not settled the debate over whether her breakthrough was real, though. In a bizarre twist in an already convoluted story, the committee’s ruling against Obokata came moments before an independent researcher claimed to have succeeded in making the cells using a slightly different procedure.

 Much of the scrutiny of Obokata’s claims played out on science websites where researchers pointed several discrepancies in her work, including images that looked manipulated, and text that appeared to have been plagiarised. The doubts led to a split among the authors of the papers, with one, Teruhiko Wakayama, calling for a retraction until the research had been thoroughly checked.

The investigation concluded that Dr. Obokata was guilty of academic wrong-doing and she shall appeal the decision.   As an academic, this entire episode troubles me.  I am an academic philosopher, plagiarism or mis-representing the facts in an academic context, is one of the worst crimes an academic can commit.  Dr. Obokata is rightfully censured, although there are still issues to be worked out.  Science is a slow process, results should remain under constant review with the understanding that a good scientific theory, being one (for some at least) that has yet to be proven wrong, not one that has been given some credence and then left alone.  The best check of any theory is constant testing.  So it shouldn’t surprise that on April 1st 2014, hours after the RIKEN press conference, this was posted, and then on April 3rd, if you view the comments, one commentator suggests a more modest claim is appropriate, given current research.  Further research may indeed yield different results, what that will tell us about STAP cells, remains to be seen.

The way the press dealt with this worries me.  Science is not sexy it’s true, but if it’s a headline you’re after you will not find it in Science. Science is the slow accumulation of results and knowledge in the hope of better understanding the world.  It is not about saying ‘Prof X is wrong and Prof Y is right’, however tempting it is to portray it that way.  It course does not help that Dr. Obokata may  have not acted in the most ethical way as a researcher, and yet the media often misrepresent the academic process, in favour of a sensationalist headline.  I do not necessarily include Michael Hoffman of The Japan Times of being guilty of such a mistake, I always enjoy his articles.  But the entire tone of journalism has been wrong, it looks for wrongdoer and a victim, and academia is rarely that simple.  We are not ‘swimming in falsehood’ rather we are merely wading through numerous, often contradictory and difficult to appreciate research.  It takes time to understand, but the media could help by simply lowering expectations, yes no academic should falsify, but stop looking for some great truth, instead appreciate the more subtle, more modest points of academe.

Science is a slow process, and not always very glamorous, even the idea of a breakthrough seems inaccurate; any good scientific idea has only because one is standing on the shoulders of giants, not because of a flash of inspiration.  Good research, that is, well conducted peer-reviewed research, produces good ideas.

Don’t Panic!

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words “DON’T PANIC” inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover. – Douglas Adams, The HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy

It was reported on Saturday March 29th 2014 that Japan, will introduce a SMS alert system for ballistic missiles to go along with its alerts for earthquakes.  From April 1st, if you have mobile phone or smartphone provided by Docomo, Softbank or au KDDI, you will receive a text alert should North Korea, or should some other aggressor decide to attack Japan.

This news got me thinking about what other alerts the Japanese government might decide to introduce.  I have a few suggestions to improve the alert system.

The Toru Hashimoto will speak alert: This follows the success of the trial run of both the ‘Boris alert’ in London and the ‘Rob Alert’ in Toronto last year.  A much needed alert, I think all will agree to avoid gaffes like “a comfort women system is necessary”.  Every time Mayor Hashimoto calls a press conference or even opens his mouth to a wide, there should be text sent to everyone in Japan, so they can try and stop him speaking, and/or avoid or televisions and newspapers.  Also some sort of sound alert system could be invented, and used on broadcast media, to sound a klaxon, programmed to recognise and drown out the sound of his voice.  I expect the ‘Hashi Alert’ to be popular.

The AKB48 TV show alert:  They are cute, they sing and they dance (almost) and they should also be avoided at all costs.  To avoid a serious bout of nausea and possible death by saccharin induced vomiting, I suggest a text alert be sent to every member of the population over thirteen years of age, at least an hour before AKB48 are due to perform on television. This gives those warned ample time to find something less sickening and more respectable to do, like visit their nearest soapland.  Similar alerts should set up for SMAP, Perfume and One Direction in due course.  During Tokyo 2020, this service maybe temporarily suspended to allow LYM48 to perform at the opening and closing ceremony.

The cooking and celebrity interview TV show alert:  Or ‘cac’ for short.  This is an alert that should be sent to the mobile and smartphone of every foreigner living in Japan. Please do not misunderstand us Japanese broadcast media, you provide us with news, sport, anime and drama, and you let us know if there has been an earthquake or tsunami, we are grateful.  But why are most of your TV shows about cooking and interviewing the celebrity de jour?  All we ask is for an alert an hour before broadcasting, as with the AKB48 alert, to allow us some time to find something else to do.  If it is a TV show with a member of AKB48 making tempura, multiple alerts are possible but not mandatory.

So that’s it.  With these alerts you can live a stress free life in Japan.  Don’t Panic!  Keep calm and stay away from Hashimoto-san, AKB48 and cooking shows.

A note on ex-pat life: Re-learning the joys of dependency

[T]he virtues that we need, if we are to develop from our animal condition into that of independent rational agents, and the virtues that we need, if we are to confront and respond to vulnerability and disability both in ourselves and in others, belong to one and the same set of virtues, the distinctive virtues of dependent rational animals. – Alasdair MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals

As a foreigner living in Japan and a person with a disability, I think a lot about what it means to be independent.  Most would agree that independence is a desirable state, and that achieving independence, whether it is in a physical, emotional, intellectual or financial terms is moral good.

In a recent article for The Japan Times, Tokyo resident William Bradbury opines about being dependent on others as a foreigner living in Japan, saying  “[a]t the outset, moving to Japan makes an infant of us all, regardless of race, sex or creed. “ (Japan Times, March 12 2014).  Being robbed of language, when we first move here, we are dependent on native others:

“If a Westerner happens to have a Japanese partner, it’s easy to become dependent on them when it comes to dealing with problems, translations, ideas for where to go, phone calls with Japanese-only services and so on. When I took the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) I saw a colleague, an architect in his home country, struggling to figure out the way to the test hall without the help of his wife. It’s pathetic to complain about being helped, but with requiring assistance in everyday tasks comes a feeling of discomfort — emasculation, even.”  (Japan Times, March 12 2014)

As a foreigner, still relatively new to Japan, whose Japanese language ability is still somewhat lacking, I share Bradbury’s concern. It would obviously be nice to have better understanding of the Japanese language so I could let me intentions, beliefs and desires be known. And yet I can’t quite envisage what independence would look like, and if it is truly a desirable state of affairs.  Is it merely just that, the ability to speak and move around if I wanted?  Quite frankly, I have always been suspicious of the word ‘independence’.  What is it exactly?  Webster’s defines it as “freedom from outside control or support”, it is the idea of self-governance, that at its most basic, we all have the ability to move and think and feel how and what we want.

The reason for my suspicion is that some of us  do not have the ability to control our own body physically, having cerebral palsy means that my body is prone to spasm and shiver whether I want it to or not.  We can of course think what we want, but do we really have emotional self-control, the point of emotions like happiness or sadness is that it can creep up on you.

We forget sometimes that as human beings we are always reliant on other people, even hermit requires that people leave them alone.  No matter how isolated or solitary you think you are, you are in fact dependent on a network of other human beings.  Take, for an example, the activity of cooking a meal for one.  Even if you grew your own vegetables and reared your own cattle, your meal was only made possible by a history of human interaction.  Someone built your cooker for example, made your cutlery, perhaps wrote the recipe, no human being is completely independent.

I suggest that dependency is not merely something that disabled people have to endure, but is a pleasure that everyone, although maybe in particular expats should learn to enjoy, the pleasure of being supported.  It is surely good to communicate with other people?  It is not a sign of weakness to be dependent on others, being dependent is in fact, an essential part of being human.

It Couldn’t Happen Here

Now it almost seems impossible
we’ve found ourselves back where we started from
I may be wrong, I thought we said
It couldn’t happen here
– Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe

I have only been in Japan eighteen months, but I have made one determination, Japan is a decent place to be, all things considered.  The standard of living is high, crime is low, murders are so rare that each one makes the national news, and for someone with passion, hard work and a bit of luck, employment is OK.  A life in Japan is pretty fine all in all, at least I think so.

There are however those who think Japan is a troubled country, that the election of Shinzo Abe is not merely the beginning of a turn to the political right, it is actually the beginning of the end times.  The final taiko drum has sounded, the new mappo era has begun they insist.  In all fairness, all the signs are there.  ‘Abenomics’ promises to make Japan more affluent, and there are some small signs that is succeeding.  Some say though,  that there will be moral decay, ‘Japanese only’ banners will become not only permissible but mandatory at every football match, there will be ‘no foreigner’ convenience stores, dolphin tempura will become the new national dish, the capital will be moved from Tokyo to Taiji to be close to this new industry.  All Japanese born females will have to be members of AKB48 from age sixteen to twenty. And did I mention that everyone’s stopped having sex, so much so that the Abe government has to convince more foreigners to come to Japan to keep population numbers up? Perhaps we can take solace that the last time Japanese body politic thought the end was nigh, it ultimately led to the expulsion of all foreigners save the Dutch during the Tokugawa era.  Yes, they are right, panic, the end is not near its here!

Well, not quite, I’m sure the reader may have noticed more than a smidgen of sarcasm in my words.  Come back, no need to skedaddle quite yet.  Put the passport back in the drawer, stop exchanging Yen for the Yuan you think you’ll inevitably need after the next Asia war ends. Narita will be murder anyway, over-flowing with those trying to escape the apocalypse, at Narita how could we tell the difference between apocalypse and a busy day anyways?  Sit down, open a chu-hi and listen up.

Japan isn’t even near the end times, Japan is doing just fine, or at least it’s on par with the rest of the world, some things are good, some are bad, ultimately it’s nothing that cannot be fixed.  Politically the entire world has been moving to the right.  From the rise of far right groups in Europe, such as UKIP in Britain and the formation of the coalitional government to the Tea Party in America, the election of Shinzo Abe as Prime Minister is part of this trend, yes it is disappointing, but it is not in my view the beginning of a new Japanese fascism, simply Japan doing what the rest of the world is doing, lurching towards the right.

We of course want Japan to be better, to not use terms like ‘Japanese only’, no one should think such behaviour is acceptable.  But there is a tendency for some commentators to exclaim ‘how could this happen here?’, as if Japan should just be better, that racism is worse when it happens here. It would be nice if Japan was simply better, but I feel, an unrealistic expectation.  Japan like everywhere else has idiots, which, as an atheist about utopias I find reassuring.

And I truly believe the J-League did a really good job of dealing with the issue from which other football associations could learn.  I cannot imagine the Football Association of Great Britain imposing such a ruling on say a team like Manchester United, to ban the crowd from a match as punishment, there’s just too much money in it, and that, alas is what much of sport is about in the end.

So be proud of Japan today, I am, it responded well.

























‘There’s Only One Debito Arudou’: On Football Hooliganism in Japan

The way I see it, he said, foreigners are perfectly all right.  I know lots…Many of my friends are foreigners. And yet, and yet.  When it comes to inner feelings, well then, I just wonder, you see. After all, we Japanese understand each other. – Donald Richie, Tokyo Nights

On Saturday 8th March 2014, at a football match at Saitama Stadium, the match between Urawa Red Diamonds or ‘Reds’ and Sagan Tosu, some fans of the Reds hung a banner over the entrance to the stadium.  The banner read in English ‘Japanese only’.  The banner was taken down relatively quickly, and on March 13th it was reported that the J-League ordered to play one match without spectators as punishment.

As Debito Arudou notes in the Japan Times, none of the Japanese media outlets were quick to express distaste at the banner:

“None of the initial reports called out the incident for what it was: racial discrimination (jinshu sabetsu). News outlets such as Kyodo, Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, AP, AFP, Al-Jazeera — even The Japan Times — muted their coverage by saying the banner “could apparently be considered/construed/seen as racist.” (Well, how else could it be construed? Were they trying to say that “only the Japanese language is spoken here”?) Few ran pictures of the banner to give context or impact.” (Japan Times, March 12 2014)

Perhaps, it is because I hail from Britain, where such distasteful incidents at football are more common that my approach to this is a tad more pragmatic then Arudou’s, but it certainly didn’t surprise me that news outlets did not unequivocally call it out for the racism it so clearly is. News journalism, at least decent news journalism, should not really be in business of making moral judgements, yes it was distasteful, but is it being distasteful actually news?  Maybe, but I much prefer the news outlets focus on establishing the facts of what happened, rather than on expressing moral outrage.  Arudou is quite right, there is no non-racist way to use the term ‘Japanese only’ the phrase has indeed “long been the exclusionary trope for Japan’s xenophobes”, there is no argument against that, but a news organization has to be concerned with establishing facts, as the people who put up the banner could quite easily sue for defamation.  It is frustrating but ultimately wiser to cover all the bases.  Ultimately, the banner-erecters condemn themselves with this from the Yomiuri:

“The three Reds’ supporters who made the banner were quoted as saying during an investigation by the club: “The area behind the goal post is our domain. We don’t want to see other people, especially foreigners, entering that area.” (Japan News, 14 March 2014)

Was it is simply team pride got out of hand?  I agree with Arudou that the intentions of the author of the banner do not matter.  That phrase ‘Japanese only’ has too long a history, and, if it was just meant to be a psycho out for the opposing team why not go with ‘Reds only’? Ultimately, the Urawa Reds faced sanctions from the J-League, condemnation in editorials from the Yomiuri and the Japan Times followed in its wake.  So it’s all good.  Well almost, Arudou would like to see condemnation from FIFA:

“Anyplace else and soccer governing body FIFA would probably take swift action to investigate and penalize offenders in line with its policy of zero tolerance for racism, as has been done in the past, most recently in China. In January, the Hong Kong Football Association got fined for shirking its responsibility to stop racial discrimination against Filipino supporters by Hong Kong national team fans during a “friendly” match.” (Japan Times, March 12 2014)

I not aware of the facts of that case, but I can offer, I believe a comparative case, that of the player Nicolas Anelka, a striker for West Bromwich Albion, who in December 2013, celebrated a goal by performing a Nazi salute.  The Football Association of Great Britain imposed a five match ban, and has sent a request to FIFA that the ban be applied to world matches; FIFA is considering the request as of March 18th. If the request is accepted, Anelka would be banned from playing for the French national team for five matches (he was a regular player, but has apparently retired).

However, it is mistake to view FIFA, as I feel Arudou does, as some kind of UN for football teams.  Yes, it is a governing body; it ensures that the football played in one national league is played according to the same rules as another.  J-League players can’t start picking up the ball unless FA players can also.  Each national football association can request that their sanctions should also apply to the international game, but they do not regularly intercede on deciding sanctions for national games, it relies on the judgement and action of national associations, interceding only where action is lacking, as in the case of Hong Kong.  And what could FIFA do in the case of the Urawa Reds anyway?  Ban the crowd at further games, but that would ultimately not be in the interest of the national game, unless players were to start using the term ‘Japanese only’, it is difficult to see what sanctions would be appropriate.

And truly, as racism goes, if you want to see how it is done properly, I suggest paying close attention to the British Premier league, and the European game, where for example, players Luis Suarez and John Terry have served bans for racist abuse.  At the time of writing this, both are still players in a national team.

Ultimately, I take solace in the fact that Sagan Tosu beat the Urawa Reds by one goal.

A Note on the Disaster in Japan

The disaster ruins everything, all the while leaving everything intact. It does not touch anyone in particular; “I” am not threatened by it, but spared, left aside. – Maurice Blanchot, Writing of the Disaster

You would think such a day would tremble to begin . . . – Thomas Harris, Hannibal

I often get asked about the March 11 disaster, or people wonder why I have not written about it.  I’ve always been reticent to do so, since I wasn’t living in Japan at the time.  I was thinking about moving here and joining my wife, although nothing was set in stone.  Living nine hours behind Japan, I was asleep at the time of the earthquake, since it was 5:46 AM. I was still living a rather vampire-esque student existence after my PhD, so when I finally got up around midday the story had already been passed over. The tsunami had happened, but there is only so much you can report after that, although the BBC News kept showing the footage of the NHK offices shaking at the moment of the quake, with TV’s turning off and papers flying everywhere.  But really, the first I knew of it was a phone call from a friend, asking had I heard, and that they hoped my wife was OK, she was living in Tokushima at the time, way down south on Shikoku Island, so was fine.

I suppose one of the possible reasons people ask me for my view is because, as well as being a resident of Japan, I am an academic philosopher.  We rightfully expect philosophy to provide some kind of understanding of events such as wars or disasters; however I have always felt that philosophy, as a response to disasters, seems hollow.  Blanchot, when he wrote his ‘Writing of the Disaster’ had Hiroshima, as much in mind as he did the Holocaust.  His point is of course, that events like Hiroshima can only be commented by those who were not ‘in’ the disaster.  If you were actually directly affected, if you were ‘there’, you would most likely be dead, hence “ “I” am not threatened by it, but spared, left aside.”  This seems unsatisfactory; surely we can talk of a survivor’s experience as being of one who was ‘in’ the disaster.  We might also wonder whether we can really say someone is ‘spared’ because they did not die, and allowing for mental trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder, we can also ask how ‘intact’ the survivor is.   Blanchot, seems too esoteric, far removed from the wastelands of Hiroshima, Nagasaki or indeed the Tohoku coastline.

However, it maybe that there is something about the disaster, about any disaster anywhere which renders philosophy impotent as a response.    The philosopher Theodor Adorno noted this, that an event, (Adorno had Auschwitz in mind) has the capability of rendering philosophy’s response at best trite or at worst meaningless.  No explanation, no an attempt to make sense of or to understand could do justice to the experience that those who were there and had to endure the disaster. The entire exercise is fruitless some say, you are trying to impose a certain kind of order on something chaotic, to render rational or intelligible that which happened ultimately for no reason, or at least no reason beyond a mere causal explanation of events, the what and who, but not the how.

The danger of resting at that point, to simply acquiesce to philosophy’s powerlessness is that it leads us to yield to the temptation that, say in regard to the situation in Fukushima, that philosophy has nothing to offer. And that would be a mistake, maybe Adorno is right, philosophy should not be sought out to make sense of things, but it may still be able to offer guidance on practical concerns.  Questions about how, post-3/11, Japanese society should respond to the ongoing crisis in Fukushima, I submit, is a conversation to which philosophy can contribute.