Life on the side in Tokyo

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Angel Plan?

"A 70-year-old subway security guard was crushed to death at Nagatacho station on Tuesday morning when a ticket vending machine that he and four other station staff were carrying tipped over and fell down the stairs near the exit." reports crisscross news agency.
So the question comes to mind, what the hell is a 70 year old guy doing hoisting a heavy ticket machine? I suppose we will see more of these types of news reports in the coming years as Japan's aging population starts to decline. The Angel Plan and the New Angel Plan from 10 and 5 years ago have done little to increase the birthrate and the ruling party refuses to consider immigration as a solution. Instead it hopes to entice more couples to have "Plus One" children, to get more women into the workforce and to have the elderly work until know.

Aso chews more shoe leather?

Aso just can't get enough of himself. Of February 4th at a forum in Fukaoka, he claimed that "Taiwan's present high educational standards resulted from compulsory education implemented by Japan during its colonization of the island and that he believed Japan "did a good thing." (日本が植民地統治下に台湾の義務教育向上に貢献した.) This angered China because he referred to Taiwan as a country several times and also because it is an effort to rewrite that brutal occupation.

Japan's Pauline Hanson?

If you don't live in Japan, you probably won't have heard the name Taro Aso, but he could be considered Japan's equivalent of Pauline Hanson, the founder of the One Nation party in Australia, know for her racist world-view. Aso in now the Japanese foreign minister! and here are a few of his more notable statements.

1) At a meeting of the LDP Kono study group in 2001, Aso said "those burakumin can't become prime minister," in reference to a burakumin legislator. Burakumin are considered Japan's 'untouchables'.

2) In a speech given at the new Kyushu National Museum in Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture, Then Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Aso said, "There is not other country like Japan with one culture, one civilization, one ethnic group, and one language." 「一文化、一文明、一民族、一言語の国は日本のほかにはない」He went on to say that unlike in Europe, where the cultures have been altered by migration, in the history of the Japanese nation, that has almost never occurred.He went on to say that unlike in Europe, where the cultures have been altered by migration, in the history of the Japanese nation such change has almost never occurred.
For his erudite observations, he was given the post of foreign minister and has continued to chew on his own leather.

3) On January 29th, he urged the Emperor to visit the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan's war dead are enshrined. Visits by PM Koizumi in the past several years have sparked a strong reaction from South Korea and China. The last visit by an Emperor was in 1975, according to the Mainichi news site.

4) Yesterday, Feb 3rd, he and a fellow conservative, Sadakazu Tanigaki have called for "caution" on that passing of a bill that would revise the Imperial House Law to allow a female to ascend to the throne.

Aso has his eye on the Prime Minister's job with Koizumi set to steps aside within a year. I can only hope that the Japanese public know who they might be getting.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Why are we still in Iraq?

There is a lot of anger and many protests about the O.I.L (Operation Iraq Liberation) in the Middle East, Europe, North America and elsewhere, but not much noise here in Japan comparatively speaking (though about 70,000 in Tokyo gathered to protest). During the Vietnam War, university students, labour unions and other organized groups got out more people, but there is a different atmosphere today I think. The mainstream media, for one, is mostly an apologist for the government. The whole war campaign by the Japanese "Self Defense Force" has been sold as a humanitarian mission since they are there to help rebuild and are not part of the combat mission. Though not entirely incorrect, they are still one of the occupying armies supporting the US (actually the SDF is mostly hiding in its own fortified "green zone").

It may be a pragmatic decision by the Japanese government to protect oil interests and stay warm and cozy under the protection of America in case North Korea or China cause trouble. Still, no amount of pragmatics should silence a peace-loving people when they see all the images of the dead, dying and maimed and hear of the tourture of innocent people. We all are complicit and have to speak out. My adopted country, Japan, is at war with a people that has never attacked or caused us harm. WE ARE AT WAR! WHY? All the reasons for going to war have turned out to be lies, so why are we still at war, especially since it is unconstitutional?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

My life, at what cost to theirs?

The other day President Bush gave another speech and talked about the price of freedom. What he failed to mention was the cost of his war campaigns, in lost and damaged lives, torn social fabrics, increased emotional instability, damaged natural and built environments, shrinking faith (if there is any left) in leadership and government, in diminished human rights...the list goes on (For an analysis by economists).

Of course the real costs cannot be measured in numbers, though we can indeed count the mounting number of victims against the increased profits for the military industy. But how do we estimate in quantitative terms the pain on the faces of these people or, in more basic terms, the value of clean water, healthy food, safe shelter a decent upbringing and education and peace of mind? These things that most people take for granted in wealthy countries, must they come at a cost to others? To protect our freedom to live in dignity, must we strip such dignity away from the less powerful and less fortunate? My life, at what cost to theirs?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Commercializing National Identity

A few years ago there was a TV ad campaign for Molson Canadian beer. The campaign used an average guy named Joe, who stood up on a stage with a screen behind him and ranted on, first correcting American stereotypes about Canada and then stating proudly how Canada differs from the US, such as promoting diversity not assimilation. It end with Joe declaring that "I Am Canadian" and then the ad cuts to a glass of Molson Canadian beer. The message: Proud Canadians drink Molsons.
Soon there were lots of spoofs of the commercial. There was Guy, from Quebec, who declared that "I AM Not Canadian" and others stating they are hyphenated-Canadians. Obviously Joe simplified national identity and did not speak for everybody when he tried to define himself as authentically Canadian. Spoofs also showed that TV viewers are not a purely passive and accepting audience, but can engage with the content and create alternative interpretations.
There is now an ad campaign in Germany paid for by several media companies who want to give Germans something to feel proud of during these times of national insecurity and doubt. It is called Du Bist Deutschland (You Are Germany). It shows famous and regular people, some from different ethnic groups, who tell German TV viewers to be pround and happy, that they are part of Germany and they shouldn't give up. They too can be like a Porsche. Yeah, right. This ad, too, has encouraged spoofs and some people feel that it is a superficial way of addressing real social problems like unemployment, depression and poverty.
It is interesting that the ad did avoid the contentious issue of national identity by claiming that the viewer was a member of the social body--Germany--and not necessarily a member of the tribe--German.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Inclusion and exclusion

For a long period of Canadian history, the main consideration for gaining inclusion in the State was ethnicity. In the 1960s this
changed and a point system (merit system) was introduced that awarded prospective immigrants a score based on family connections, skills, wealth, and the needs of Canada. This did not eliminate discrimination, though. It just shifted the boundaries. A recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada is an interesting example. The ruling says that Citizenship and Immigration department must review their decision to deny immigrant status to a man from the Netherlands and from South Africa because they have children who are developmentally delayed (mentally disabled or handicapped) and could require expencive social services. Does this mean the Supreme Court is saying that Canadian immigration law requires the government to be more inclusive? That dissabilities should not be a reason for exclusion? Actually NO. The judges have ruled that the applicants are capable of paying for any social services required, so they won't be a tax burden. This shows that the colour of money has replaced the colour of one's face as the requirement for entrance to Canada.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


It's only fiction, right?? Sorry, think again. RFID and spychips are coming soon to a supermarket near you. Yummy this isn't and it should leave you with an upset stomach. What are spychips? They are tiny computer chips smaller than a grain of sand, which can be tracked by Radio Frequency Indentification (RFID) units with miniature antennas. Why is this a concern? Because, according to Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN) "RFID tagged items can be monitored invisibly right through items consumers normally consider private, like clothing, purses, backpacks and wallets."
What this basically means is that retailers, such as supermarket giants Walmart and Tesco, will be able to secretly track your every consumer habit, argue authors Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre in their book "Spychips: How Major Corporations and the Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID." Governments, too, could well get in on the act. The Pentagon generals must be drooling. If internet data mining wasn't bad enough, now companies can follow you as you ride the train, drop by bookstores or libraries and wander through shopping malls.
What can you do about it? The first step is to know what's going on. It seems that millions of Americans are strarting to sit up and take note and Albrecht and McIntyre's book is now one of the top 10 bestsellers. Consumer boycotts of big-brother retailers may also prove effective. No doubt, the fight over privacy has reached a new stage, where Buy Nothing Day gains a new meaning and imperative. Get ready for action, and in the meantime, be careful what Manga you pick up as George Orwell's "thought police" may be watching.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

??Buy Nothing Day??

Have you heard of Buy Nothing Day? It is now an international day of consumer consciousness to help create awarness of the negative and harmful effects of wasteful consumption.
This year it is on November 26th. More information can be found at The Buy Nothing Day Japan website. You can also find a description of last year's BND in Tokyo.