The changing faces of Shin-Okubo

Shin-Okubo is no longer Tokyo’s predominant Koreatown. (Has it ever been?) It’s now a thriving community of immigrants (cf expatriates) from all over the world. From a recent Tokyo MX broadcast:

新大久保駅周辺はコリアンタウンから多国籍な街へと変化していました。大久保地区は現在、全体の3割を占める1万2000人以上の外国人が暮らしていて、年々、多国籍化が進んでいるといいます。3カ月ほど前にオープンしたという、バングラデシュからやって来たジェローム・ゴメスさんの店は「アジア中全部の国のものは置けないから、大体ここに住んでいて買い物に来る人、ベトナムとタイのものが多い」といいます。中には「インドで今、すごくはやっているヒルサ(という名前の魚)」も並びます。ここは元々、携帯電話などを扱う店でしたが、新大久保の多国籍化に目をつけ、さまざまな国の食材を扱う店にリニューアルしたということです。店長のゴメスさんは「ここを私は日本だと思っていません。一日中、外国人ばっかり」と笑います。

The area around Shin-Okubo station is turning from a Koreatown into a multinational [multiethnic] community. Over 12,000 gaikokujin comprising 30 percent of the area’s population live in the Shin-Okubo area, and each year Shin-Okubo becomes more and more multiethnic. “I can’t put things in my shop from every country in Central Asia. Most people who live here and come to shop are Vietnamese or Thai,” says Jerome Gomesu [katakana transliteration], who comes from Bangladesh and opened a shop here around three months ago. The shop even sells a fish called Ilish, “which is really popular in India right now.” This location was originally a shop that sold mobile phones, but as Shin-Okubo becomes multiethnic, many places are transforming into shops that deal with foods from various countries around the world. “This here doesn’t feel like Japan to me. I see only gaikokujin all day,” Gomesu laughs.

And according to this article, the population of Aomi-2-chome near Odaiba is over 75 percent gaikokujin, and the number of gaikokujin in Tokyo keeps growing year by year:

20歳前後に限ると比率はさらに高まる。2018年の東京23区の新成人約8万3000人のうち、外国人は約1万800人で8人に1人。中でも新宿区は新成人の45.8%が外国人で、成人式のくす玉には日本語のほかにハングルと英語を併記したという。豊島区も新成人の38.3%を外国人が占めた。局所的にはさらに顕著で、大久保1丁目は20歳の87%、池袋2丁目は79%が外国人である。

Looking at those around age 20, the proportion [of gaikokujin] is even higher. Of the 83,000 people who turned 20 [shinseijin] inside Tokyo’s 23 wards in 2018, one out of eight or 10,800 were gaikokujin. In Shinjuku, 45.8 percent of people who turned 20 this year were gaikokujin, and it was said that the kusudama was written in Korean hangul and Japanese as well as English. In Toshima, 38.3 percent of people who turned 20 this year were gaikokujin. More remarkable areas were Okubo-1-chome, where the proportion was 87 percent, and Ikebukuro-2-chome, where it was 79 percent.

なぜ人類は性欲にあふれた「クソLINE」を送ってしまうのか?

From an event by Momoyama Shoji, a group of self-proclaimed love experts, in Shinjuku in early July:

不器用な男性を笑っているわけではありません。クソLINEと不器用なコミュニケーションの線引きは難しいところがあります。ただ今回は、徹底して話が通じていない、ディスコミュニケーションの場合を取り上げました。LINEは2人だけのトークルームがあるので、“密室感”がある。その感覚に誤解して、距離をほとんど詰めてない相手に対して送ってはいけないメッセージを送ってしまう。

We aren’t laughing at awkward men. It is sometimes difficult to draw a bright line between awkward conversations and truly shitty LINE messages. So this time around, we’re focused on showing situations of ‘discommunication’ and situations where messages were truly not relayed to the other side. LINE feels like you’re in a locked room because it looks like a chat room with just 2 people. It’s when you misconstrue that feeling that you send messages to people who you shouldn’t send because you haven’t gotten closer to them yet.

Japan’s rent-a-family industry

Elif Batuman for The New Yorker:

Hagemashi-tai, which can be translated as “I want to cheer you up,” was started in 2006 by Ryūichi Ichinokawa, a middle-aged former salaryman with a wife and two sons. Five years earlier, Ichinokawa had been deeply shaken by news of a stabbing at a private elementary school in a suburb of Osaka, in which eight children around his sons’ age were killed. Such incidents are rare in Japan, and schools weren’t equipped with appropriate counselling services, so Ichinokawa enrolled in a psychology course, hoping to become a school counsellor. Instead, he ended up launching a Web site that offered counselling by e-mail. From there, he branched out into renting relatives. A lot of problems, it seemed, were caused by some missing person, and often the simplest solution was to find a substitute.

Art history repeats itself: protesting the 1964 and 2020 Olympics

Namiko Kunimoto, “Olympic Dissent: Art, Politics, and the Tokyo Olympic Games of 1964 and 2020,” for The Asia-Pacific Journal:

With the 2020 Games on the horizon, Japan’s stakes have shifted but much remains the same. Rather than celebrating its emergence as a world power, Japan’s leaders aspire to prove it is still a leading economy, despite lackluster growth in the post-bubble years of the 1990s and 2000s and the surging Chinese economy replacing Japan as the second largest economy and leading trading nation. A younger generation of artists has begun to critique anew the state’s embrace of capitalism and its disregard for economic inequality.

The execution of the Aum Shinrikyo cultists

This month, Japan executed 13 people related to the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which was responsible for a satin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

The 13 cultists had been on death row for some time. Why did the Ministry of Justice decide to execute all 13 this month? In Japan, the fact that a death row inmate has been executed is reported after the fact to journalists at a press club. No one besides the Ministry knows when an execution is to be heard.

Closure

The execution has brought back the sarin attacks, the Aum cult, and the death penalty apparatus into the spotlight in Japan.

According to the last Cabinet Office survey on the death penalty in 2015, 80.3 percent of respondents said that the death penalty was a necessary evil (死刑もやむを得ない). As to the reason why they thought so:

死刑制度に関して,「死刑もやむを得ない」と答えた者(1,467人)に,その理由を聞いたところ,「死刑を廃止すれば,被害を受けた人やその家族の気持ちがおさまらない」を挙げた者の割合が53.4%,「凶悪な犯罪は命をもって償うべきだ」を挙げた者の割合が52.9%などの順となっている。

Asking the 1,467 respondents why they thought “the death penalty was a necessary evil (やむを得ない = lit. unavoidable)”, 53.4 percent of those respondents said “if the death penalty is abolished, the victims and their families cannot achieve closure in their feelings”, while 52.9 percent of respondents said “the cost of committing evil crimes is one’s life.”

Is it possible to have an abstract “debate” on the death penalty – the termination of a human life – without knowing what the death penalty actually entails in practice?

A close friend shared an op-ed written by Haruki Murakami in The Mainichi, the English language version of Mainichi Shimbun: 

I suspect that it is not possible to assert, to make a black or white judgment, here and now that the decision to go ahead with the mass execution (I dare use the expression) of 13 people was right. The faces of too many people emerge in the back of my head, and the emotions of too many people are still in the air. Just one thing I can say now is that the AUM-related cases did not come to a close with the latest executions. If there was any intention of “bringing a closure to those cases,” or an ulterior motive of making the institution called the death penalty a more permanent one by using this opportunity, that is wrong, and the existence of such a strategy must never be allowed.

Murakami published two books on the sarin attacks. Underground (extracts of which are translated into English) was a series of interviews where he received a lot of raw material about the Japanese psyche. Underground 2 (published only in Japanese) is the sequel, featuring interviews with Aum cultists themselves.

Vice News just so happened to send a correspondent to Japan right before Shoko Asahara, the cult leader, was executed.

At around the two minute mark, Dexter Thomas (a bilingual correspondent for Vice) interviews Asahara’s defense attorney, who offers the following explanation about the closure that the execution brings:

The Emperor will step down next year, ushering in a new era. They want to close out the case, by carrying out the executions before the Heisei Emperor abdicates. That’s one possibility. [The other possibility is that] Tokyo will soon host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. If Japan executed seven people right before the Olympics, how would that look to the international community?

What do Japanese executions look like?

Some years ago, a TV network in the UK made a ‘what-if’ documentary called The Execution of Gary Glitter, which one can easily find on YouTube. It was a response to a survey at the time which stated that a majority of people in the UK wanted capital punishment back. The ambitious broadcast wanted to reignite the “debate” by imagining, well, the execution of Gary Glitter, a British rock singer and child sex predator.

In any case, the producers deserve credit for what I’ve mentioned above: that a “debate” on the death penalty is fruitless without seeing and knowing what someone being sentenced onto death row is like.

A book I’ve been trying to finish for a long time is Shikei by Tatsuya Mori, who also made a number of documentary films about the Aum cult. A very readable piece of Japanese creative non-fiction, the book explores broadly what it means for Japan to continue having the death penalty without necessarily taking any sides in the “debate.” That the Japanese government is unapologetically opaque about the death penalty is a running theme, even towards the few Diet members who do care:

とても回りくどい語彙を使う国会式答弁の典型のような応酬だ。「これを公開するというのはなかなか難しいのではないかというふうにわれわれとしては言わざるを得ないわけでございます」という坂井矯正局長 [the minister responsible for correctional services (=矯正局)] の答弁の意味を要約すれば、「公開なんかできるわけがないって何度も言ってるだろ」ということになるのだろう。

In 2010, the Ministry of Justice allowed news cameras to enter 東京拘置所 (translated into English as “Tokyo Detention House”), which contains one of Japan’s seven execution chambers.

NHK made a longer documentary about the death penalty at the time but I think this short segment from a daytime news show called Miyaneya is to the point.

Some interesting parts from the broadcast on Nippon TV (affiliated with Yomiuri Shimbun) include:

  • The death row inmate may first speak to a Buddhist or Christian religious chaplain over manjuu and tea in a private room.
  • The last thing the death row inmate sees before his head is covered is a golden statue of Buddha (or a Christian cross).
  • Where the death row inmate’s head is covered is a plush carpet room. One side of the walls has a closed curtain. Beyond the curtains is the gallows.
  • Three prison officers each press an identical button at the same time to affect the execution. No one knows which button is the “real” one. The program explicitly says that this set-up is to reduce the officer’s psychological burden (of killing someone). (刑務官の精神的な負担を減らすための仕組みだ。)

The Language of Your Media Bubble

A friend shared this thoughtful article by Hiroki Mochitsuki tonight on Facebook and I thought to share it on this blog.

Basically, Mochitsuki says that Japanese people are trapped in a Japanese language media environment.

人口の少ない小国ではメディア産業は成立せず彼らは英語その他のグローバル言語のメディアを読む。繰り返すが、日本人はそこから隔絶している。

The number of people around the world who speak Japanese is actually quite small. Thus, Mochitsuki reasons that the amount of information out that that is not in the Japanese language is quite substantial. When the Japanese media makes so much effort to gather information about the world and turn that information in the Japanese, dissected into colorful subtitles and digestible snippets of information repeated in the morning, evening, and late night news, just what are those consumers of information missing out?

At the same time, that language determines the boundaries for any media bubble is not a uniquely Japanese-language problem. There’s some, but not a lot, of critical analysis about Japan in English but the bestselling book on Japan on Amazon US is this godawful volume about discovering the land of geeks and zen. Can the average person on the street really be blamed for being ignorant because he doesn’t know and can’t read in another language?