Media Mix, Oct. 8, 2017

Kiko Mizuhara

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, about Twitter’s seeming reluctance to address messages that contain hate speech. An issue discussed briefly on the Democracy Times program mentioned in the column but one that I didn’t touch on is sexist language. Kayoko Ikeda showed one tweet that read, “We don’t need women who won’t bear children,” which sounds suspiciously like something that was once spouted by a certain former governor of Tokyo. The tweet opens up a whole new realm of the hate speech topic but it’s one that tends to get treated as a sideshow, namely, misogyny. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see that the kind of people who denigrate Koreans and Chinese out of hand also resent women who don’t remain within the contours of what they believe is “properly Japanese.” The right wing “netto-uyo” are predominantly men who definitely see women as having a fixed place in society.

A more in-depth discussion of this area of hate speech recently took place on another web program, No Hate TV, which is hosted by Koichi Yasuda and Yasumichi Noma, two nominally left-wing firebrands whose breezy activism is refreshing to say the least. During this discussion they mainly talked about the right wing’s recent targeting of popular fashion model Kiko Mizuhara, who is best known for a series of commercials for Suntory, in which she sips a glass of beer. Right wingers have called on the liquor maker to drop her from the ads because she is “fake Japanese.” Apparently, Mizuhara’s father is American and her mother is a Korean who grew up in Japan but is not naturalized. To their credit, Suntory has not responded to the trolling and the commercials have not been pulled or altered in any way. However, Noma thinks the right wing trolls are more incensed by Mizuhara’s gender than by her multi-cultural background. “She’s actually quite liberal,” he says, and there’s nothing that enrages right wing Japanese hotheads as much as a liberal female. In addition, she’s easy to “bash” because as a teenager she was something of a “yankee” (semi-delinquent), and appeared in the Korean edition of Harpers Bazaar modeling some Japanese designer clothing. “What they really hated,” says Noma, “was one photo showing her with shoes on and lying on tatami.” That shot was solid evidence that Mizuhara “is not Japanese,” the trolls said. But what gives Mizuhara even more street cred in Noma’s and Yasuda’s eyes is that she has also angered Chinese and South Korean net trolls. Some weeks ago she “liked” an Instagram post by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, in which the artist gives the finger to Tianmen Square. (Eventually, she retracted the “like” and apologized but that didn’t placate her Chinese critics.) And she also dated, albeit briefly, G Dragon, the leader of K-pop’s biggest boy band, Big Bang, thus pissing off Korean nationalist trolls.

“It’s as if there is a federation of eastern Asian netto-uyo,” joked Noma.

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Media Mix, Sept. 24, 2017

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about junior high schools that received protesting postcards because of a history textbook they chose to use. The media that covered this story stated that the book published by Manabisha is the only one written for junior high schools that mentions the comfort women issue. Sankei Shimbun, in the article cited, says that about 5,700 copies of the textbook are now being “used” throughout Japan, and someone in the textbook publishing industry estimates that this number represents a 0.5 percent share, which, apparently, is a relatively high number for a textbook from a “new company” like Manabisha. In the Mainichi article, one official of a school that uses the Manabisha text said they chose it not so much because of the content but rather the style: His school felt it was easier to read and thus easier to understand for junior high school students. The reason seems to be Manabisha’s writers. Almost all the people who contributed to the textbook are current or former history teachers, not professional historians or researchers. As one Nada Junior High School teacher put it, the writing is in a narrative style, like a story, and the explanations are full of detail. The idea is not just to impart facts and dates, but to stimulate thought and discussion, and while none of the media that covered the Manabisha story elaborated on this point, what it means to me is that the topics will be discussed more in class. It is perhaps this aspect of the issue that most troubles the steadfastly conservative Sankei Shimbun, which seems almost admiring of Manabisha for its conscientious approach to scholarly edification. The Manabisha passages about the comfort women do not explain what they actually did–i.e., sexually service Japanese soldiers–so if the students are as sufficiently stimulated by the text as some teachers and, apparently, Sankei think they will be, then it naturally follows that the students will demand more information about the subject from their teachers.

This is the subtext that undergirds Sankei’s disapproving tone, and the article goes on to say that Manabisha would not tell the newspaper anything about the “network of writers” who produced the text, saying it was a matter of privacy, but apparently Sankei learned that “among these writers” there were former teachers who belong to a group called the Rekishi Kyoiku Kyogikai (History Education Council), which at one time issued a statement condemning the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement. Manabisha says the purpose of the text is to promote curiosity in students, while Sankei implies that it’s to subvert them somehow.

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Media Mix, Sept. 3, 2017

Kamejiro Senaga

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the rest of Japan’s reluctance to “accept” any of the U.S. military bases on Okinawa. As suggested by the media coverage of this issue, the protest movement against the Okinawan bases is seen as being fomented by a minority of rabble rousers, and people who support the bases and right wing activists in general tend to believe the protests are orchestrated by leftists from the “mainland,” meaning that Okinawans themselves are mostly OK with having American soldiers and aircraft there. However, in terms of Okinawans who vote, the overwhelming evidence points to resistance to the bases, as almost every person elected to office on the archipelago in recent years has also been against base expansion. And, basically, this is what the matter comes down to: Do the people of Okinawa have the right to self-determination? According to America’s “values,” they should, but the U.S. avoids the question by relying wholly on the Japanese government, which not only pays for the bases, including the salaries of the many Japanese civilians who work on or for the bases, but acts in the U.S. interest by dictating to the prefecture what it must put up with. The government can get away with flouting the rights of Okinawans by claiming national security, which gains the support of the rest of Japan. All Okinawans want is for the rest of Japan to take on more of the burden, but, as pointed out in the column, the rest of Japan isn’t willing to do that, because they don’t want to live next to bases either.

This situation is vividly illustrated in Tadahiko Sako’s documentary, which explains in plain, undeniable terms how Okinawa, the only part of the main Japanese islands to experience ground combat in World War II, came to bear the brunt of the American resentment for the war. Though the rest of the archipelago was returned to Japanese sovereignty in 1952, Okinawa remained under U.S. control until 1972, and during that time the Okinawan people had limited rights. Kamejiro Senaga, the subject of the documentary, tried to use democratic means to gain rights for his fellow Okinawans, and the Americans eventually arrested him on trumped-up charges and put him in jail after he was elected mayor of Naha. The attitude of the Americans, which is plain in some of the old footage shown in the film, was that the Japanese, as represented by Okinawa, lost the war and so were required to put up with whatever the Americans wanted to do, including taking their land for their own uses and criminalizing strikes and political assemblies. An American diplomat, now retired and living in Philadelphia, who was a witness to the Okinawan occupation, was interviewed by Sako for the film, and he admitted openly that even at the time he thought the treatment of Okinawans by the U.S. military was “shabby” and betrayed the democratic values that America was supposed to be advancing throughout the world. To put it even more plainly, the attitude was discriminatory, even racist, and conveyed to the rest of Japan, which has subsequently looked down on Okinawa as being somehow backward and separate from hondo, or what Okinawans derisively call “Yamato.” Sako made the movie so that Japanese would know about Senaga, who is a hero on Okinawa, but it seems Yamato doesn’t think much of the people who live there, and that’s really the root of the problem.

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Media Mix, Aug. 13, 2017

Steps in disposing of nuclear waste

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the map recently published by METI of “suitable” areas for repositories of nuclear waste. The article’s main theme, in accordance with several media outlets’ coverage of the map, is that METI and the nuclear power industry are dawdling and that it will still be many years before any action to address the issue of Japan’s nuclear waste is begun. As pointed out in the column, the map indicates sites where high-level waste as a product of reprocessing spent fuel could be buried, but Japan has yet to launch its reprocessing program and, in fact, may never do so due to safety concerns. Meanwhile, 18,000 tons of spent fuel sits in storage at nuclear reactors nationwide. That amount will only increase if the government starts reopening idled reactors.

What wasn’t pointed out in the article is that this problem won’t go away even if the government decides tomorrow to abandon its nuclear energy problem. It has to find a repository for all the spent fuel if it isn’t reprocessed, since it remains in a dangerous state as long as it’s just sitting around. Some of the material that lead to the meltdown at Fukushima Number 1 is believed to have been spent fuel.

Japan would do well to look to Europe, which is currently addressing this problem. In an NHK special first broadcast in 2012 about the problem of nuclear waste, a camera crew went to Switzerland to see what that country is doing about its spent fuel (there is no reprocessing system in Switzerland, so no second-hand nuclear waste). The program shows how the country is slowly and methodically building repositories under mountains to receive the fuel and hold it for thousands of years. One dairy farmer, who is against nukes in principle, is participating in the project by donating land and time, because he says that regardless of his opposition to nuclear energy he knows that something must be done with the fuel and, thus, is working to make it happen. “It is our responsibility as Swiss,” he said.

The Japanese people have roundly indicated that they don’t really want nuclear power any more, but haven’t done anything to advance that position except when it comes to their own backyards–don’t restart reactors near our homes and don’t build repositories under our land. But there’s nowhere else to bury waste that’s already here. In a way, the current bureaucrats in METI and the current leaders of the nuclear power industry count on this NIMBY-derived apathy, which only exacerbates the problem. People will have to accept this waste and make the best of it. There’s no other way.

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August 2017 albums

Here are the album reviews I wrote for the August issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo on July 25.

Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie
Something to Tell You
-Haim (Universal)
The Southern California sound is sunny, expressed in major keys, with white-sounding harmonies. It’s the Beach Boys, whose doo-wop was twice removed from its African-American progenitors, first by Phil Spector, then by surfing culture. This attribute remained ascendant until Fleetwood Mac hired Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to remake them as a pop band. The two singer-songwriters, both originally from Northern California, synthesized SoCal rock—Brian Wilson, the Laurel Canyon aesthetic, the superior studio skills associated with the Wrecking Crew—and personalized it, mainly on Rumours, which kept the style safe from punk and new wave. Now that this sound is ascendant again, Buckingham and the third singer-songwriter from the last iteration of FM, Christine McVie, release what is basically an FM album. The absence of Nicks is palpable but, given how little of herself she lent to recent FM recordings, not surprising, especially since Buckingham seems charged up by the project, even if his face on the cover betrays reservations. But Mick Fleetwood and John McVie provide the rhythm section, so there’s little to complain about. FM were first and foremost a beat machine, even when they were a blues group, adding bounce to choruses so that they’d sound great on any radio. Buckingham relies on John and Mick to make something of his songs that they aren’t on paper—pop hits with hooks. You can hear the difference between his infectious opener, “Sleeping Around the Corner,” and his excitement-free solo turn, “In My World,” which could almost be a demo. McVie goes with her strengths throughout, namely her facility with melodies that don’t crowd her limited vocal capabilities, and in terms of consistency her material is better than Buckingham’s. That said, both performers are more engaged than they have been for a long time, and with time these tunes will probably turn out to be more resilient than anything they’ve done in the past 20 years. The Haim sisters, of course, are the most obvious heirs to the FM SoCal sound, and, reportedly, received advice from Nicks herself for the recording of their second album. The sisters’ strong suit is their harmonizing, which one rock star characterized as being “gospel.” Though that would hardly have been an original compliment back in the day Haim references, it means something today. But what they really learned from FM is, again, that sense of propulsion which makes good hooks and choruses even more irresistible. The sisters, it should be noted, aren’t kids any more, despite their PR (the oldest is over 30), and Something to Tell You is an assuredly mature work in both sound and theme. There’s even a touch of new wave experimentalism on “Nothing’s Wrong” that sounds practically British, and “You Never Knew” appropriates disco unapolgetically. Lyrically, the confessional mode seems more or less obligatory, since there isn’t much conviction among the rote romantic entreaties, but the music will stand—or dance, whichever the case may be. Continue reading

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Media Mix, Aug. 6, 2017

Tomomi Inada

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about appearances and gender roles in the media. Most of the article addresses a series of forums published in the Asahi Shimbun, which started from the premise that gender stereotyping is a problem the media must admit and deal with. But, of course, the media can only perpetuate something that already exists in some form, and other institutions are just as complicit in such stereotypes. In one of the Asahi forums, journalist Momoko Shirakawa took issue with local governments that carry out konkatsu (marriage activity) events, which assist local men in finding brides, usually from outside the area. These events invariably treat women as being passive participants–the men have to convince the women of their own worth, which implies that it is the men who are creating a relationship. All the woman has to do is accept. Though this may sound like a small issue, it reinforces the idea that women are basically looking for support rather than a partnership.

In such an environment, women will find it hard to be taken seriously, which is why the emphasis on appearances still creates problems. As another forum participant, essayist Keiko Kojima, pointed out, Japanese comedy, especially the TV variety, is all about making fun of the underdog, and the easiest target is a person’s appearance. Since comedians essentially ridicule themselves, they think they can’t be accused of cruelty, but Kojima points out that women who are considered conventionally homely get the most work as comedians on TV, and that the humor poisons society at large when similar jokes are used by children against classmates they don’t like for whatever reason. And while such humor is not limited to Japan–think of the late Joan Rivers and her obsession with “sluts” and overweight women–in Japan such humor is practically institutionalized, a fact that is proved because no one tries to explain it. They just know it exists as something that’s peculiarly Japanese.

Ryan Takeshita touched on this reality in his Huffington Post article. He seemed genuinely puzzled by Tomomi Inada’s “joke” about how good-looking she and the two other defense ministers are. Usually, when a Japanese person makes a joke whose premise is that the speaker is good-looking, it means the opposite, because it is bad form to insist you are beautiful, whether you’re a man or a woman. Consequently, any Japanese person who heard Inada’s remark might conclude that she actually thinks she herself is not good-looking. But, of course, she was talking to a predominantly non-Japanese audience, which could mean that she understood humor in a foreign context. What she didn’t understand was that this audience had passed the cultural point where such a joke is funny a long time ago.

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August 2017 movies

Here are the movie reviews I wrote for the August issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo on July 25.

Sean Ellis streamlines the facts and fortifies the action for his film about the 1941 assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the “butcher of Prague,” during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, but unlike similar projects these efforts don’t undermine the story’s historical relevance. Jan (Jamie Dornan) and Josef (Cillian Murphy), a Czech and a Slovak, respectively, are charged with the killing by their superiors in London, and immediately the terror imposed by Heydrich is apparent. Murder is the only response to a murderous regime, but the two assassins differ in temperament to a degree that would seem to jeopardize their mission. Josef is relatively level-headed, even brutal, while Jan can barely steady his gun hand to defend his own life, and Ellis uses this dynamic to ratchet up the tension as the two try to complete their mission and then find a way to get out alive. Though the love interests initially feel forced, they bring home the enormous costs for these two men, which they end up paying during the siege of a church harboring Resistance fighters that seems to go on forever. In English and German. (photo: Project Anth LLC) Continue reading

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