“One Piece” exhibition canceled in Seoul due to Rising Sun Flag “nationalist” images

Written by: William on July 11, 2014 at 10:11 am | In CULTURE | 3 Comments

An exhibition based on the massively popular manga “One Piece” scheduled to take place at the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul from July 12th has been canceled, it was announced on July 10th.

Organizers said they have made the decision after people realized that numerous motifs in the original manga were reminiscent of the Rising Sun flag, a symbol of Japanese militarism and which has a particularly painful resonance in Korea, a country which suffered from decades as a colony of Japan.

The TV anime version of “One Piece” has already been broadcast in Korea and so the content of the exhibition had previously been judged as harmless, according to the museum. As such, they agreed to rent out a section of the venue for the event. However, after being told that Rising Sun Flag images appeared in the original manga they changed their minds, although no such images were featured in the actual planned exhibits. As the museum is run as a public organization funded by the state they had no choice but to cancel the exhibition.

one piece manga expo exhibition korea seoul cancel politics rising sun flag nationalist symbol wartime aggression

Like in Japan, Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” is popular in Korea and the exhibition, along with sketches and other materials, was going to feature life-size models of the characters, bringing the world of the manga and anime to 3D life for visitors. It would have been very successful too if early numbers are anything to go by. The events company behind the show said it had received reservations alone from 5,000 people! Not surprisingly they are now looking for an alternative venue for their exhibition since there is clearly demand for it, regardless of the politics.

While it might seem inappropriate or even bizarre to hold a mainstream exhibition (i.e. a piece of entertainment) like this at a war memorial in the first place, the Seoul venue is actually very large and has multiple spaces for all kinds of functions and events.

A similar exhibition opened recently in Taiwan, also a former Japanese colony, apparently without similar issues.

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As Shinzo Abe’s government seeks to change Constitution, AKB48′s Haruka Shimazaki fronts Self-Defense Forces recruitment video

Written by: William on July 8, 2014 at 8:18 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | 1 Comment

A recruitment campaign ad fronted by a sweet-looking, innocent pop music idol? Only in Japan.

haruka shimazaki akb48 sdf recruitment ad commercial

“You and Peace” declares Haruka Shimazaki, the 20-year-old pop singer and member of idol group AKB48, who is the face of a new Self-Defense Forces recruitment commercial.

The SDF has a long history now of using moe motifs and Gravure idols in its recruitment campaigns and other promotional materials. It continues to do this because it increases applications among young men, no doubt charmed by the faux innocence of the visuals.

While this may cause a mixture of amusement, embarrassment or even mild shock to outsiders, this time the stakes are higher. The government is ramming through a change to the law to allow for so-called collective self-defense which lets Japan help defend its allies abroad (as opposed to strictly self-defense of Japan only). It is widely seen as the first step towards changing Japan’s much-lauded pacifist Constitution and has met with mass protests around Japan for weeks now, and even a shocking self-immolation in Shinjuku that was inexplicable ignored by much of the mainstream Japanese media.

Though its budget is larger than many nations with very active militaries and spending was boosted in 2013, Japan’s armed forces are still officially only for “self-defense”. As per the controversial Anpo security treaty, the USA promises to step in help defend Japan in the worst case scenario — hence the continued presence of American bases, especially in Japan. As thanks for hosting the US military, Japan benefits from American protection. Ostensibly its own forces, then, are for wasting money on purchasing equipment and arms it won’t need and to be used in major disasters — the SDF proved itself indispensable during the Tohoku crisis in spring 2011.

The new AKB48 Haruka Shimazaki commercial comes at a Rubicon moment. As the scholar Dexter Thomas lucidly points out in a recent column for Al Jazeera:

We might wonder if a male spokesperson might be a better choice: for example, a member of Exile, a J-pop supergroup of 19 men. They are one of the most successful and recognisable pop groups in Japan, with their own magazine, TV show, and over a dozen chart-topping albums. They regularly appear half-clothed on advertisements and billboards, and represent the pinnacle of mass-market masculinity. Also, Abe clearly has access to them: He invited them to perform at an ASEAN banquet only a few months ago. Wouldn’t an Exile member in fatigues be a great encouragement to get young men to rush to the nearest recruitment centre?

In short: no, because it would be too realistic. If one of these popular young men appeared in a military advertisement, it would be too easy to imagine that young man being killed in a war – and, by extension, for a young man watching the commercial to imagine themselves dying. Or, for anyone with a son or brother to imagine that person dying.

Instead, the aim behind using AKB 48 seems to be an attempt to appeal to a specific male desire to protect “their” women, all while cleverly sidestepping the possibility of danger.

Most countries’ military commercials give a glorified version of military service – bravery, sacrifice, adventure. We see images of men and women holding guns, sitting in tanks, and actually preparing for combat. This commercial does none of that.

Instead, the SDF commercial spends more time on close ups of the pretty girl’s face than anything else. The rest of the shots are mainly dedicated to pictures of young men standing at attention or running with tote bags. The last shot of a uniformed soldier is a smiling man hugging a young girl, with the caption “Disaster Relief”.

In other words, there is no mention of armed combat. The cutesy voiceover tells the viewer that the military is a place that is “like the sky, full of unlimited dreams”. This is no longer a military recruitment spot, this is an invitation to Tokyo Disneyland.

“War without actual war”? Yes, a fantasy for sure but no one is talking about this particular elephant in the room.

Japan’s forces have been participating in United Nations peace-keeping operations abroad for years now and SDF personnel were eventually sent to Iraq to assist the American mission (collective self-defense in all but name). However, essentially the SDF is untested in combat and whatever the saccharine appeal of Haruka Shimazaki, the reality of war is very far removed from the artificial world of idols. Any new recruits may one day soon find themselves having signed up for more than they expected…

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Man self immolates in Shinjuku in protest at PM Shinzo Abe government’s collective self-defense law changes

Written by: William on June 29, 2014 at 4:22 pm | In LIFESTYLE | 32 Comments

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon in the early summer, albeit on a weekend marked by many protests against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s controversial collective self-defense law changes. But the ordinariness and calm of the shopping in central Tokyo was broken by a shocking suicide (and at least, suicide attempt).

man shinjuku south exist self immolate burn death protest abe shinzo collective self defense law suicide death

At around 1-2pm a man sat on the girders above a pedestrian footbridge near Shinjuku Station’s busy South Exit area with a megaphone and two bottles containing dark liquid. He wore a suit and sat on a small mat. He spoke into the megaphone for some time, announcing that he was going to kill himself in protest at the government’s push to involve Japan more in war.

man shinjuku south exist self immolate burn death protest abe shinzo collective self defense law suicide death

He then apparently set himself on fire, as graphic pictures on social media are allegedly showing.

man shinjuku south exist self immolate burn death protest abe shinzo collective self defense law suicide death

man shinjuku south exist self immolate burn death protest abe shinzo collective self defense law suicide death

man shinjuku south exist self immolate burn death protest abe shinzo collective self defense law suicide death

Details are very fuzzy at this time. He seemed to use some kind of gasoline or alcohol, and judging by his appearance from photos looks like he was in his sixties. This means he would remember Japan’s previous logistical involvement in America’s war in Vietnam in previous decades, which prompted mass protests and also at least one similar act self-immolation. And it goes without saying that this protester’s public suicide recalls those of the Buddhist monks in Vietnam in the 1960′s.

At the time of writing nothing has been reported in the mainstream media nor have any details about the victim’s name been announced. It is unknown if the man survived, though he was filmed being extinguished by the fire services after he fell off the girders onto the bridge below.

Update: The man (still unnamed) apparently survived and was taken to hospital with severe burns, but still conscious. The incident got some attention from mainstream media outlets but considering the publicness of the suicide attempt, not as much as we might expect.

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“Monstrous sexism” in the Tokyo Assembly: Female politician jeered in session by older male peers

Written by: William on June 20, 2014 at 12:17 am | In LIFESTYLE | 5 Comments

Your Party (Minna no To) member Ayaka Shiomura (35) was jeered yesterday in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly as she tried to introduce a motion for better government measures supporting infertile women or women who need assistance when pregnant or raising children.

The opposition politician was abused by older male members apparently from the ruling LDP during a June 18 assembly session.

shiomura ayaka your party sexist jeers tokyo assembly abuse sexism ldp japanese politics

“You are the one who must get married as soon as possible,” one assembly member shouted, which was clearly audible to the TV cameras filming the session. Another joined in: “Can’t you even bear a child?”

Shiomura continued making her statement, though she paused and then sort of laughed in disbelief. She became more emotional, though, as she finished off her speech shortly afterwards. Later she was seen wiping tears from her eyes when she has sat back down. It was the first time that Shiomura, a politician representing Setagaya in west Tokyo, has asked questions to the assembly.

You can hear the jeers from around 08:48 on this video (sorry, no subtitles).

Leading national politicians from both the LDP and opposition parties denounced the comments and interruptions as “monstrous sexism”.

Shun Otokita, another young member of Your Party, has led the accusations, saying that Tokyo Governor Masuzoe, a known chauvinist, was reported to be smiling during the jeering, which came from the LDP benches. The exact offenders have yet to be identified.

Japan has a very poor female workforce participation ratio, since women receive little support during childrearing. This makes it hard both to afford children in the first place and also pay for day care if women wish to return to work. Right now, most women effectively cannot resume their career if they choose to have children since it doesn’t make financial sense, all of which does nothing to stop Japan’s birth rate from sliding.

Women returning to the workforce would help to assuage the fiscal crisis that will emerge as the large Baby Boomer generation retires and ages.

The Tokyo assembly has 127 members, but currently only 25 are women. In the national Diet, women fill only 78 of the 722 seats in the two chambers.

Your Party is a small liberal opposition party originally formed by Yoshimi Watanabe after he left the LDP. Though still a fringe party, it has made relatively quick gains, though it has suffered setbacks recently from both an internal split that reduced its numbers, and a scandal involving now ex-leader Watanabe and party finances.

Before her recent entry into city politics, Shiomura had been a model and broadcaster. As a young and attractive women in a world of old and unattractive men, she is an easy target for sexist abuse and we sadly suspect this will not be the last time we hear of such incidents.

Update: The Tokyo Assembly has been flooded with hundreds of angry emails and telephone calls, Shiomura’s tweet about the incident was re-tweet tens of thousands of times, it received nationwide and international coverage… but the LDP has closed ranks and is refusing to identify the hecklers. Remember, this is the city that is going to host the 2020 Olympics!

Update (June 24): LDP Assembly member Akihiro Suzuki, despite denying it before, has now admitted he was one of the jeerers and will leave the LDP.

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Justin Bieber visits Yasukuni Shrine: “Thank you for your blessings”

Written by: William on April 23, 2014 at 3:59 pm | In CULTURE | 5 Comments

There are two important foreign dignitaries in Japan right now.

One is the President of the United States of America and the other is, well, Justin Bieber.

The former is the reason why there are currently police officers inside every station, standing on boxes and trying to look important. (I think they are ostensibly there to prevent a terrorist attack.)

But perhaps they should be keeping an eye on Mr Bieber instead.

After all, Justin Bieber has a habit of alienating various nationalities and ethnic groups through his antics, from signing “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber” in a guestbook at the Anne Frank Museum, to apparently not knowing where Germany was in a live interview, and calling Indonesia “some random country”.

Now young Justin has lost himself a generation of fans in China, Taiwan and Korea by visiting the most controversial place in Japan, Yasukuni Shrine.

justin bieber yasukuni shrine visit tokyo

Note the surprisingly large number of “likes”.

The shrine houses millions of Japanese war dead. Unfortunately these also happen to include over 1,000 war criminals. Although Japan has at least one neutral and official war memorial in Tokyo, Yasukuni has become the place of choice for the ultra right and conservative politicians to pay their respects.

Given that State Shinto played an intricate role in the post-Meiji militarization of Japan and that Yasukuni also houses a revisionist museum, it is no wonder the visits of prime ministers and leading Japanese politicos never fail to infuriate Japan’s Asian neighbors who suffered so miserably at the hands of Japanese imperialism. (As happened only days ago when a throng of lawmakers went to Yasukuni.)

And into this maelstrom wanders our innocent Canadian singer.

“Thank you for your blessings” he writes under his Instagram picture (since deleted), a record of his visit to the shrine this morning.

Oh dear. Sure, Justin can’t be expected to know the finer details of Japanese politics, Shinto and all that jazz. But does he not have a publicity advisor or two to help him out?!

*Update*: Mr Bieber has posted an apology and explanation for his visit to Yasukuni.

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Despite ICJ ruling, Japan to resume “scientific” whaling in fiscal 2015

Written by: William on April 15, 2014 at 7:25 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Despite the recent ruling on March 31st by the International Court of Justice that Japan must stop “scientific” whaling and the government’s initial announcement that it would abide by the ruling, now comes the news that Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research filed briefs at the end of last week in the US District Court in Seattle saying it intends to resume whale hunting in the Southern Ocean as early as fiscal 2015.

Japan previously responded to the court ruling by saying it would abide by the decision but added it “regrets and is deeply disappointed by the decision”.

Some saw the way the government responded to the result of the lawsuit first launched by Australia several years ago as a way of keeping its integrity — not caving in to the anti-whalers — while finding a exit plan for its loss-making whaling program.

However, this has been thrown to the wind now since the Japanese government plans to resume whaling as soon as the fiscal year in 2015. It will adjust its “research” program, such as by reducing the number of whales it will hunt.

japan whaling hunt scientific continue

The anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd — locked in a legal dispute with Japan over whaling and in a physical dispute every whaling season — has deplored the new development after the ICJ ruled against Japan. The ICR has said that the new program will not run counter to the ICJ’s finding, since that affects only the whaling in Antarctic waters.

Japan’s whaling is a gross example of tatemae — holding face and officially abiding with he 1986 moratorium to which the nation signed up. Other countries like Norway and Iceland rejected that decision and continued whaling commercially. But Japan instead resumed whaling simply under another guise of “scientific research”, saying it was catching whales to prove that their numbers were sustainable. The loophole has allowed Japan to continue whale hunting through the government-backed ICR and then sell the meat commercially. However, whale meat is no longer popular in Japan and due to the scale and age of the fleet, coupled with the tenacious resistance offered in the ocean by Sea Shepherd, whaling costs Japan much more than the sales the haul bring.

“The myth that this hunt was in any way scientific can now be dismissed once and for all,” said Greenpeace upon the recent ICJ decision.

The irony is that current methods of whaling were introduced to Japan by the West and that one of the primary objectives for Commodore Perry’s famous Black Ships arriving in Japan in the mid-nineteenth century to demand it begin trading with foreign states was so that America could take advantage of the rich whaling waters to the north of the archipelago. (Whales were a big source of oil at the time.)

Whether you agree that whaling should be banned or not, it seems much more logical if Japan just abandons the pretense of the science and follows the examples of the Scandinavians in openly whaling for cultural reasons. (Japan has a long history of hunting whale and dolphin meat, though traditionally it was coastal whaling.)

We feel that Sea Shepherd and other militant environmentalist groups target Japan for racist reasons while mostly ignoring the European whalers (when was the last time you heard of someone ramming a Norwegian whaling boat?). However, that aside, the perceived duplicity of the “science” and “research” only further aggravates the situation. An honest commercial whale hunt would turn the clashes between Sea Shepherd and the Japanese fleet on the high seas into a less political one.

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Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum censors anti-government Yasukuni-themed artwork

Written by: William on February 20, 2014 at 12:01 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum has demanded the removal of an artwork that criticizes the visits to Yasukuni Shrine by members of the Japanese government.

The exhibition is now running, set to conclude on February 21st. It not one of the main exhibition events organized by the museum but part of its public galleries that often feature group shows. The exhibition features around 60 works of art presented by the Contemporary Japanese Sculpture Artist Federation.

One of these is “Portrait of the Times: Endangered Species, idiot Japonica Tomb” by Katsuhisa Nakagaki. The sculpture (pictured below) is a 1.5 meter dome shape draped in a Japanese flag, with pieces of paper on it with political messages written by hand urging the Constitution to be protected, the “folly” of the visits to Yasukuni to be recognized, and the ending of the current government’s “rightist tendencies.”

katsuhisa nakagaki tokyo metropolitan art museum censors artwork anti government yasukuni shrine visit[Image via Asahi]

The visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine — a shrine in central Tokyo that houses the souls of the war dead, including convicted war criminals — has been a fiercely contested issue in Japan over the previous ten years. Shinzo Abe’s government has re-opened the wounds by officially visiting the shrine, drawing furious responses from Japan’s neighbors in Asia who suffered at the hands of the nation’s past colonialism.

shinzo abe yasukuni shrine visit

The museum, though, has decided that it cannot allow its facilities to be used for “political activities”. It requested Nakagaki to remove the artwork on February 16th, one day after the exhibition began, and threatened him that if he did not agree, the whole exhibition would be cancelled and possibly prevented from future use of the museum’s facilities.

As a compromise on his part, Nakagaki has removed the handwritten political message. “I expressed my ideas as an artist. I sense the danger of speech control,” he was quoted as saying in media reports. This may not be enough to satisfy the museum, though… or the prime minister.

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Caroline Kennedy criticizes Japan’s dolphin hunting

Written by: William on January 23, 2014 at 2:31 pm | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Only a few weeks into her post as US Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy has already waded into one of the most tricky of diplomatic areas.

As such rows often do these days, it erupted over a tweet sent by Kennedy objecting to drive hunting for dolphins.

“Deeply concerned by inhumaneness [sic] of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG opposes drive hunt fisheries,” she tweeted.

caroline kennedy japan dolphin hunt criticizes

Drive hunting is where dolphins are herded together by fishing boats. They are cornered and unable to escape. For the fishermen, it is thus efficient in how many animals can be captured in one hunt — sometimes hundreds — but it has met international condemnation. It is most famously practiced in an annual hunt in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, which was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove, and is often protested by foreign activists.

Kennedy’s comments come as Sea Shepherd, the militant eco protest group, has claimed that Taiji’s recent dolphin haul is “the biggest in four years”.

The Japanese government has responded neutrally but nonetheless on the defensive.

“Dolphin fishing is a form of traditional fishing in our country,” said Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga. “We will explain Japan’s position to the American side.”

Officially, the practice does not affected an endangered species. However, images of bloodied water in coves has prompted international outrage and a large protest movement, much like Japan’s “scientific research” whaling. In these cases, emotions win out over the legalese and somehow we doubt the government will make much progress in “explaining” their position to Ms. Kennedy.

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Former PM Morihiro Hosokawa: “I’d have the Olympics in Tohoku”

Written by: William on January 14, 2014 at 6:38 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Today Morihiro Hosokawa finally confirmed expectations that he is running in the Tokyo gubernatorial elections in February.

And in an interview with TV Tokyo he has promised if he wins to hold the 2020 Olympics partly in Tohoku.

Hosokawa is a bit of a political cowboy. He comes from a real pedigree, literally a Kumamoto aristocrat and related to the Imperial family. However, far from being yet another run-of-the-mill conservative Japanese politico, he fell out with his peers and ended up breaking away from the LDP to form a coalition government in 1993, being the first non-LDP prime minister since the 1950′s. (Saying that, his administration lasted less than a year.)

During his brief tenure as PM, he was also the first Japanese leader to offer an official apology for the war.

morihiro hosokawa tokyo governor

He continues to reinvent himself, turning from politics to pots and becoming a ceramics artist after he retired. He has maintained a profile in the media, even recently meeting the model Dan Mitsu for an article in a tabloid that must have been an editor’s dream to set up.

Now he is running for the position of Tokyo Governor next month. He is being very firmly supported by another maverick, former Junichiro Koizumi, who, despite being ostensibly a conservative (he’s the one who privatized the Post Office, remember), has made waves by saying Japan must faze out nuclear power. Hosokawa has said the same and hence the potter and the privatizer are natural allies.

morihiro hosokawa pottery ceramics artist

Hosokawa is a laudable figure but we fear he is simply too old (he has just turned 76) to be running Japan’s main economic powerhouse. An elder statesman, yes. An inspirational thorn in the side of the Establishment, yes. But a hands-on leader? The jury’s out.

His “promise” (tentatively, at least) to host the Olympics partly in Tohoku is also very admirable. However, there are a number of issues with it.

It may lead to boycotts. Whether we like it or not, Tohoku’s name has been muddied by Fukushima and overseas athletes may not want to participate.

The IOC may then object as a Tohoku venue was not in the original bid, which on the contrary emerged as the winner by mainly arguing that a Tokyo Games would be compact, convenient and safe.

It also might be interpreted merely as a stunt and ultimately fall into the realm of those other empty “Ganbaro Nippon!” rallying events that create superficial boosts but do little for the long-term.

Polling day is February 9th.

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