As now know, freelance journalist Kenji Goto was murdered by members of the Islamic State last week, following the similar beheading of his acquaintance Haruna Yukawa, the wannabe military contractor.
The politicians are trying to use the incident as a springboard to increased powers for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to act overseas.
Meanwhile, most people are in shock and consoling themselves with Kenji Goto’s journalist achievements. A veteran of the Middle East, Goto was far from an enemy of the Arab people.
Though some online reactions had been concentrating on mocking the footage released by IS — though we don’t think anyone is laughing now — others have been sharing images of Goto when he was at work as a journalist.
Within this, a four-year-old tweet has gone viral proving that Goto was humane and above all, a friend to the people of the Arab world.
Goto tweeted in Japanese on September 7, 2010:
Close your eyes and remain patient. It’s over once you get angry or yell. It is almost like praying. Hating is not the role of humans; judgement is God’s domain. It was my Arab brothers who taught me this.
At time of writing this has been retweeted over 35,000 times and favorited nearly 40,000.
His mother, who has shown herself to be outspoken — using her first press conference when Goto was still held capture to rail against nuclear power and the government — has warned against the dangers of such mass emotion, though.
“I believe this sorrow must not create a chain of hatred,” said Junko Ishido.
Already some pundits are posturing that Goto’s murder (significantly, not Yukawa’s) could be a “9/11-like” watershed for Japan. Abe has already spent much of his time as prime minister in beefing up the legal ability of Japan to wage war.
If we’re honest, Japanese television is not acclaimed for its sophistication or journalistic integrity.
And the coverage of the recent Lower House election last weekend did little to boost that reputation, especially the screen captions employed by TV Tokyo.
The channel is known for doing things a bit differently to other broadcasters but it might have taken this policy for being alternative to a new level this time.
Its captions gave extra “tidbits” about the politicos that were frankly sometimes funny, often surreal — and always politically irrelevant. Perhaps the channel knew how silly the election was and just wanted to make light of the situation?
Here are some of our favorites, which delighted Japanese netizens.
Eisuke Mori (66)
Former Justice minister. Approved execution of 9 people. Went with daughter to GLAY concert with 200,000 people. “I strain my back once or twice a year.”
Masatoshi Akimoto (39)
Was once turned away by a taxi because he is anti-nuclear power.
His first love was kindergarten teacher.
(former Prime Minister) Yoshihiko Noda
His special skill is a strong punch.
Katsuya Okada (61)
“Top class” for numbers of questions. Has trouble parking.
Karen Makishima (38)
Has dissected a wild boar. Holds a license for trap hunting.
Recently worries about his metabolism.
Google has shared shared the top search terms in Japan for 2014.
Here are the top search terms, which were of course originally in Japanese and so vary slightly from the translation or English equivalent.
Overall Searchword Ranking
4. Weather forecast
7. Pazudora (Puzzle & Dragons)
9. Yahoo! Auction
1. World Cup
2. Yo-Kai Watch
3. Sochi Olympic
6. Kei Nishokori
7. Yuzuru Hanyu
8. Dengue fever
9. Ken Takakura
10. Mt Ontake
1. World Cup
2. Sochi Olympics
4. Dengue fever
5. Mt Ontake
6. Ebola virus
7. Nobel prize
9. Asia Games
1. Kei Nishikori (tennis player)
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (figure skater)
3. Ken Takakura (actor)
4. Ryutaro Nonomura (politician)
5. Takajin Yashiki (singer, TV personality)
6. Mamoru Samuragoch (composer)
7. ASKA (musician)
8. Sota Fukushi (actor)
9. Noriaki Kasai (ski jumper)
10. Robin Willians (actor, comedian)
1. Haruko Obokata (stem cell biologist)
2. Mao Asada (figure skater)
3. Ayaka Shiomura (politician)
4. Zawachin (celebrity impersonator)
5. Kanna Hashimoto (music idol)
6. Nippon Erekiteru Rengou (comedy duo)
7. Seiko Yamamoto (wrestler)
8. Takako Matsu (actor)
9. May J. (singer)
10. Keiko Kitagawa (actor)
Trending Deceased Persons
1. Ken Takakura (actor)
2. Ken Utsui (actor)
3. Eiichi Ohtaki (actor)
4. Takajin Yashiki (singer, TV personality)
5. Robin Williams (actor, comedian)
6. Keiko Awaji (actor)
7. Takako Doi (politician)
8. Junko Ouchi (fashion critic)
9. Yoshiki Sasai (stem cell biologist)
10. Akio Sanpei (writer)
Trending TV Dramas
1. “Hirugao” (Fuji)
2. “Ashita mama ga inai” (NTV)
3. “Hanko to Anne” (NHK)
4. “Gochisousan” (NHK)
5. “Shitsuren Chocolatier” (Fuji)
6. “Massan” (NHK)
7. “First Class” (Fuji)
8. “Roosevelt Game” (TBS)
9. “Kuroda Kanbei” (“Gushi Kanbei”) (NHK)
10. “Gomen ne seishun” (TBS)
2. Jibanyan (from Yo-Kai Watch)
Following last year’s top trends and major buzzwords and memes, we are going to take a look back at the big trends and topics for 2014 in Japan. We already examined some of the main Twitter buzz of the year, but what about the overall trends?
Sadly there is rarely a year in Japan without natural disasters. Mudslides in Hiroshima in August killed over 70.
Even more dramatically, Mt Ontake suddenly erupted, killing over 50 hikers. Nikon provided one of the most heartwarming stories of the year, however, when they restored a digital camera of one of the deceased and returned the data to his family.
While Abenomics continued to falter, the nation was hit by a comprehensive price hike when the sales tax, for years a very modest 5%, was bumped up to 8% in the spring. One day everything changed, since shops and restaurants started advertising prices without tax included in an effort to persuade consumers that their items were still cheap, only to frustrate and confuse at the register when the actual price is revealed.
While sales tax in Japan remains far lower than most industrial nations, it was a big shock for a population whose wages had no increased in real terms for decades. It ended up becoming the Kanji of the Year.
Self-Immolation and Politics
As the Shinzo Abe government continued to push forward with controversial changes to the Constitution after the introduction of a worrying state secrets law last year, there were two shocking acts of protest. One man attempted to kill himself by self-immolation in the heart of Shinjuku one Sunday, while another succeeded one evening in November in Hibiya Park.
The government’s newly introduced “right to collective self-defense” then became one of the “words of the year”, though for all the wrong reasons. Members of the Abe government were also accused of having ties to ultra-nationalists and race hate groups.
Abe apparently made a gesture of reconciliation with China when he met with Xi Jinping at the APEC Summit in November, though the lack of enthusiasm on both parties’ faces showed how they really felt about each other. Was this the world’s most awkward head-of-states handshake ever?
Wailing and Whaling
In late March, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s “scientific whaling research” was illegal, though it has not yet halted the nation’s disputed annual hunt.
Meanwhile, Hyogo politician Ryutaro Nonomura became a global sensation for his incredible, tearful apology at a press conference as he attempts to explain his suspicious expenses to the public.
Ghostwriters and Liars
The year also saw a “modern-day Beethoven” exposed as a fraud who had a ghostwriter composing his music for years. Oh, and he wasn’t even really deaf.
Even more seriously, the female scientist at Riken who claimed to have discovered STAP cells was found to have doctored part of her paper. It was later withdrawn and Haruko Obokata was made a scapegoat, vilified by the media who had so hyped her up in the first place. Riken also backpedalled over its support for its young “star” and her supervisor eventually committed suicide.
Japan’s biggest sporting success is an easy one: Kei Nishikori went on to become World No. 5 and secured a place in the finals of the US Open, the first male Asian ever to reach the last match of a Grand Slam tournament. “There’s no one left I can’t beat,” declared the confident Nishikori at one point (though he was ultimately beaten by Croatian player Marin Cilic).
A fun one to end with. The word seemed to come out of nowhere and now it is being used for marketing events by GU and Morinaga. Originally a phrase for describing how you might “pound the wall” when your neighbor is being loud, now it seems to mean when a guy traps a girl against a wall and leans in for a smooch.
Man burns himself to death in Hibiya Park in protest at collective self-defense, Henoko Bay base relocationWritten by: William on November 12, 2014 at 8:58 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments
Police were called at 6:55 p.m. on November 11th with reports of a man who had set fire to himself in Hibiya Park, in central Tokyo.
The man, who later died, had apparently committed self-immolation in protest at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s constitutional reform to allow Japan to engage in so-called “collective self-defense”.
At time of writing, the identity of the man is unknown. The police and fire brigade were able to douse the flames quickly, and the victim was taken to hospital but later died from his burns. He left behind a note protesting collective self-defense, as well as the controversial relocation of the US air base from Futenma to Henoko Bay in Okinawa. He also apparently filmed himself on a camera found on the scene.
Following the previous attempted self-immolation in Shinjuku in June this year, this is the second such dramatic suicide-by-protest Japan has witnessed in response to the policies of the Abe government. However, Japan has a precedent for such acts.
Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends “racist” Hague Child Abduction Convention pamphlet to embassiesWritten by: William on September 17, 2014 at 10:49 pm | In LIFESTYLE | 6 Comments
The culprit this time is Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has sent an 11-page leaflet to Japanese embassies and consulates. The education literature has been published in response to Japan finally ratifying the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, reports the South China Morning Post.
This has been a matter of contention in Japan, which has been seen as soft on issues of child abduction — mostly notably Japanese partners taking their child to Japan and away from the other parent who is foreign, who until now could not do anything about it. Signing the Convention, going into effect from this past April in Japan, means that children taken by one parent are legally required to be returned to the country of their regular residence. In other words, a Japanese parent cannot suddenly take their child out of a foreign country where they had been living full-time.
The pamphlet uses manga-esque images (taking its subject seriously, then) and, more offensively to some, depicts a white man apparently assaulting or abusing a Japanese-looking child as she dreams of her mother far away in Japan.
While it is common for even official documents in Japan to use manga imagery, the one-sided portrayal of the issue has angered people like Debito Arudou, a naturalized Japanese citizen originally from America. It particularly makes some indignant because the issue of child abduction that got many activists campaigning for Japan to ratify the Convention was most infamously due to cases of Japanese (usually women) taking their half-Japanese child away from foreign partners (usually men).
To be fair, the leaflet is 11 pages long and depicts several scenarios, as Arudou shows on his website with a scan of the actual document (you can view a full translated version as a PDF on the MoFA website). However, the only image to show an “assault” is the one with a white man abusing a Japanese-looking child. (And in fact, one shortcoming of the Convention is that it may not be able to protect children from being returned to abusive parents.)
And government rubber-stamped “Cool Japan” rears its silly head too, with an anime figure bringing some cute moe to the proceedings and at one point acting as a kind of interlocutor between child and father, who is an otaku. Perhaps ultimately, more than actual discrimination, the truly offensive thing here is that the bureaucrats took a very serious issue and belittled it with a visual style that made it all seem silly.
ISIS has apparently captured a Japanese men in Aleppo with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Although still unverified and as yet to appear in the mainstream media at time of writing, images and videos have emerged of the man being held prisoner in Syria by ISIS (IS) soldiers. The man appears disheveled and slightly bloodied, but apparently not seriously injured.
According to links and videos shared initially by Thoton News Japan and others, his Islamic State captors claim he wouldn’t be dressed like he is if he were a photographer. They also claim he has a gun and demand to know why.
The Japanese man answers he is half a doctor, half a photographer. He says he got the gun from a dead soldier.
There was a video (since removed from YouTube) of an impromptu interrogation seemingly immediately after his capture. He gives his name but the music soundtrack makes it hard to hear. It might be Haruna Yukawa, who seems to be a military contractor of some kind, working in Syria through his “private military company” PMC Japan. The first video shows the man being forced to repeat what his captors say.
While there was some earlier online speculation, the man does not seem to be the Japanese extreme tourist and amateur photographer Toshifumi Fujimoto, who has been known to turn up in war zones.
We will be updating as we learn more. For now, we hope the man is treated humanely and the Japanese government can assist him.
Update (August 18th)
The Japanese Embassy in Syria has said that they received information about the man’s capture on August 16th and are currently treating it as a kidnapping.
The videos originally posted have already been removed by the users. We found the first video elsewhere and reposted it.
Update (August 19th)
The consensus is that the man held captive is indeed military contractor Haruna Yukawa and he is certainly not a photographer or doctor, and that he has ties to the FSA, opposed by the Islamic State and the Syrian government.
However, Mr Yukawa’s fate is still uncertain and many of the original videos posted on YouTube have disappeared. This is unusual, since IS et al usually have no qualms about boasting of their activities in dealing with infidels and the like.
He would likely have considerable information that would be valuable to the enemies of the FSA and this may be too valuable to IS simply to execute a pesky foreign adventurist involved in their war. Japan also has a record of paying generous ransoms to so-called “terrorist” groups in the past and the IS may even be hoping for something along those lines (given the size and resources of the Islamic State, though, this is a long shot).
Update (August 27th)
Reuters has investigated and found out more about Yukawa’s background. It seems he is not the mercenary people thought he was.
Update (January 20th, 2015)
IS has now claimed they will execute Yukawa, along with fellow captured Japanese, journalist Kenji Goto, within 72 hours unless a $200 million ransom is paid by the Japanese government.
[Images via KhabarTV.]
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.
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.
As Shinzo Abe’s government seeks to change Constitution, AKB48’s Haruka Shimazaki fronts Self-Defense Forces recruitment videoWritten by: William on July 8, 2014 at 8:18 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | 3 Comments
A recruitment campaign ad fronted by a sweet-looking, innocent pop music idol? Only in Japan.
“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.
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…