Kokone Nata (那多ここね), a manga artist, is in the middle of an exciting big break transition from pixiv to Square Enix after Nata’s series, Cool Doji Danshi (クールドジ男子), went viral on Twitter.
The manga is about four ikemen. They look cool, and keep their cool even in everyday moments of failure, which includes listening to loud music with their earphone unplugged, leaving their wallets behind at the convenience store, and raising their hands to adjust their glasses on days when they wear their contacts.
Tourists from overseas and resident gaikokujin were also affected by the major earthquake, which had a maximum magnitude of 7.0, in Hokkaido. The day the earthquake struck, the Hokkaido prefectural government opened a temporary hotline that took calls in English, Chinese, and Korean. The hotline provided information on evacuation sites and water provision stations, as well as advice on individual matters. The Japanese Meteorological Agency made a multilingual dictionary of Japanese words used in emergency earthquake warnings and tsunami bulletins, and provided detailed information on typhoons and earthquakes in English on its website. If one includes the efforts by the national tourist bureau, local governments, and civil society NGOs, there was a lot of information provided for and broadcast to gaikokujin.
The vast majority of gaikokujin do not know about these services. Neither do the Japanese people who gaikokujin rely on in their everyday lives. Therefore, the current situation is that the information broadcast is not reaching their intended audience: the gaikokujin. The trial and error of getting information directly to gaikokujin continues.
According to Mainichi Shimbun, JR West, which operates the Sanyo Shinkansen line, unironically instills a culture of safety by making its employees sit inside a train tunnel and to get a feel of what a train passing at 300 km/h is like:
According to a veteran employee in his 50s, the training is called the “300km/h experience training.”
He heard it was scary and told his supervisor that he didn’t want to go. But his supervisor said: “It’s your turn now.”
On the day, the employees were split into two groups and each entered the tunnel. Donning helmets and safety googles, they sat in the tunnel access path, and ducked their heads when the Shinkansen train neared.
It’s supposed to be a valuable corporate learning experience:
After the exercise, there was a group discussion, and everyone wrote reflection papers. A colleague who received the training on a different day also said that it was scary.
Here are other corporate ideas from Japan’s world-leading railway companies (actually, both are from JR Tokai, another operator of the Shinkansen):
Train drivers no longer have to make a radio transmission about and a written report of when and where they drank water, and whether passengers complained about their act of drinking water (飲んだ時間や場所、理由や乗客の苦情の有無) while operating a train to stop drivers from fainting of heatstroke while at work.
Applications to volunteer at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics opened this week. Apart from the odd share on Facebook, how excited are people about the volunteering gig? Although I’m about to make some concerning observations, I still (unironically) want to apply.
Here is a brief rundown of some of the conditions and qualities that a potential volunteer should be able to meet.
Possess communication skills
Speak a foreign language
Work over ten eight-hour days
Have knowledge of events or experience watching them live
Be over 18 years old in 2020
Go through three stages of training and an interview
Pay for own transportation and accommodation
Of course, this being a volunteer position, there is no payment for those selected, but the Organising Committee points out that they can keep their uniforms for free. You might be wondering why someone with such skills and availability would want to help out at the Olympics for next to nothing, and you wouldn’t be alone judging by some of the many comments that poured in.
“They wasted so much money on this pork barrel and now expect to get skilled workers for free? I mean why would they actually give some of the money back to the regular people?” “I’d have a hard time hiring people like that for 2,000 yen (US$20) an hour.” “This is what happens when they squander money on things that aren’t needed. Welcome to the low-(labor)-cost Olympics!”
So, as with all job applications, what does the online application entail? (Wait—volunteering isn’t supposed to be a job, is it?)
First, they want to see if you have any volunteer experience, and any volunteer leader experience, and write an essay about it.
Next, they want my language experience and my language test scores. I guess it helps that I need to take the IELTS for law school in Hong Kong. Also, I guess JLPT N1 vocabulary such as 顔から火が出るほど恥ずかしい would infinitely legitimise my volunteer contribution to the biggest modern event in post-Heisei Japan.
Now, they want to schedule a training appointment with me a year in advance. What will they even talk about in those training sessions?
This is at least six times more information than I had to provide for a real job application last summer.
2. The government is concerned no one will volunteer
After receiving a certain amount of backlash about the volunteer application (and still going ahead with it anyway), the Organizing Committee became concerned that no-one from Japan, unlike me, would take the bait to volunteer for the Olympics.
It’s telling that they did not put a deadline for the application; merely an ambiguous statement that the application closes in December.
NHK reports that universities all over Tokyo are considering giving college credit for students who volunteer:
Masayuki Kobayashi, a professor at the University of Tokyo and an expert on university education, said, “volunteering is something you’re supposed to do out of your own volition [cf doing something for compensation]; and volunteering after a natural disaster happens is very different from volunteering at the Olympics. I don’t like this system of universities incentivising students to volunteer with credits.”
While rewarding student volunteers with credits to advance their undergraduate programs is a nice gesture, the move also makes clear that the Olympic Committee does not want to pay for highly-skilled individuals who must speak a foreign language, work over ten full days, and sit through several training sessions. Not to mention that they must pass an interview.
Website creator Kazuki Matsumoto, 20, a second-year student at the Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics in Tokyo, did not plan for his website to spread like wildfire. He put the page together in roughly 6 hours on Aug. 19 thinking he might just show it to a few friends. By the next day, however, it had made its way across several social media platforms, and climbed into the Japanese domestic top 3 “trends” ranking on Twitter for a time.
Marketing writer Megumi Ushikubo, 50, who often interviews young people, pointed out, “The acceptance by young people that even if something is unpaid, ‘there is meaning in simply working up a sweat and doing your best’ ended with the bubble generation.
“The young generation today feels rather strongly that they want to be of use to other people. One could even say that is the spirit of volunteer work,” Ushikubo emphasized. “Simply calling for participation without being able to concretely explain how volunteering will be helpful will only lead to antagonism. Clearly explaining and gaining understanding (from young people) will be important.”
The Organizing Committee has kindly bestowed us students the opportunity to volunteer, a role that fills us with motivation! There’s an old saying in Japan that goes like this: “Be willing to pay for your sacrifices while you are young.” However, the Organizing Committee is generously giving us this invaluable opportunity for free!! [Note: I suspect this is a pun in the Japanese phrase 若いうちの苦労は買ってでもしろ: you don’t even need to pay anything to sacrifice yourself to the Olympics. = 無料で提供してくださる ]
Once you volunteer at the Olympics, a world-class event, not only will you be motivated and moved, you can make use of your volunteering experience in your future life; for example, there is a definite connection with your career search. Many big name companies that represent Japan and the world sponsor the Tokyo Olympics. Once you talk about your Tokyo Olympics moments in your resumes and interviews, whether it’s Panasonic, Nomura Securities, Recruit, or Asahi Shimbun, you will most definitely get an offer!
An Olympics budgeted for a trillion yen, but the Committee is too frugal to even give a penny to any volunteer, skilled or not. Top executives who advocate for diversity while shamelessly excluding people. Conglomerates who have no real interest in the Olympics but dish out huge sums for marketing and corporate social responsibility. Producing Olympic medals in cities as if forging metal for war. People who practice doublethink and know that the Olympics shouldn’t happen for environmental reasons, but say that the Olympics is great for the environment. The “bamboo spear” mentality of tackling what everyone knows with be unbearable heat with mere water sprinklers. Politicians who all of a sudden become excited about daylight savings time even with heavy criticism from sleep and computer experts, and that it is an outdated concept which many other countries are considering abolishing. Japanese citizens who are easily fooled by nice sounding words like yarigai, kizuna, and kando, even though there are problems mounting everywhere. Once all of these elements are present, with the power of Japan, the Beautiful Country, and its world-famous ideology of self-sacrifice, we can definitely have the best Olympics ever.
What about Japan’s gaikokujin students? Surely their love for Cool Japan® must be a huge motivating factor? What does NHK’s reporting have to say?
An Indonesian exchange student said, “Since it’s a big event, I would like to try to join as a volunteer translator. But I’m worried whether I can work diligently for eight hours a day like Japanese do.”
Perhaps in response to all of the above criticism, Nihon Keizai Shimbun reports that the organizing committee is considering doing the following:
It is said that instead of paying nothing, paying 500 yen in transportation fees is already a lot. Atsushi Seike (former Keio University president) said, “This is the biggest amount we can give in our limited budget.”
One, of course, is a hundred percent bigger than zero. So that’s the standard they are judging themselves with.
3. What is volunteering?
Katsuo Satoshi takes a stab in his essay, “Volunteers Sought for 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics Under Harsh Conditions”, in GQ Japan:
It may be because a culture of volunteering hasn’t been cultivated in Japan. But I have always questioned the fact that the Committee is recruiting people for free. The most important part of volunteering is that it is voluntary and of your own will. The Olympics has to succeed, but it doesn’t have enough financial or human resources. The inevitable conclusion is that the volunteers are the stop-gap that they have to rely on.
But I don’t think this is about whether a certain country has instilled enough volunteering spirit in its national psyche. The truth is that volunteer is free labour. And that’s not even accurate: volunteers are paying to be exploited. They need to find room and board, money for food, and of course plane tickets to get to Tokyo.
Every single situation of free labour carries a real risk of exploitation. If you’re not in an employment relationship, who’s going to help you? In a foreign country?
While I cannot profess to be an expert on the volunteering spirit, here is one perspective I received from a triathlon athlete who newly joined an organization I was working at in the past month. The athlete told me that the volunteers at Rio were on call at every moment. They were the ones who made sure a masseuse came when an athlete wanted one, that there was enough sodium in the energy drinks, and that they paved over every single logistical nightmare that could happen so they could get to their events. It is, after all, their fifteen minutes of fame.
So, is anyone ready to become every Olympian’s abused minion for a week?
The weekly Shincho’s coverage of the basketball story was typical. Describing the news conference with the four disgraced athletes after their return from Jakarta as a “public execution,” the magazine revealed its stance, which is that the matter was blown out of proportion by the mainstream press, who kept demanding the players apologize to the nation in humiliating fashion. These young men’s lives, and not just their careers, have been destroyed.
Shincho questioned the Asahi Shimbun’s decision to report the players’ late night rendezvous, implying that the newspaper, acting out of a smug sense of journalistic professionalism, not only ruined these players’ lives but brought attention to this area of Jakarta and, at least temporarily, scared away business. The reporter added that South Korea was probably happy about the scandal.
Her emergence comes at a time when Japan is also grappling with a declining population, a looming demographic crisis that has prompted the country to open its doors slightly to accommodate an increase in foreign residents and descendants of Japanese immigrants who want to return to Japan.
It has been a tough week for Japan. On Tuesday, a typhoon sliced through the Kansai and Shikoku regions, killing a number of people and trapping thousands more at Kansai International Airport. This morning, Hokkaido was the victim of Japan’s latest powerful earthquake, which damaged the island’s main airport in Chitose.
The growth in Japan’s tourism industry is “off the charts.” So is the number of foreign-born individuals resident in Japan. But if Japan is naturally prone to so earthquakes, the odd volcanic eruptions, and now—thanks to climate change—typhoons, is it ready to deal with the foreign-born residents and the 40 million tourists that Prime Minister Abe wants to welcome by the 2020 Olympics?
During the typhoon, a ship that had lost power crashed into and damaged the access bridge connecting Kansai International Airport and the mainland.
Around 8,000 people waited overnight to leave the airport. They spent the night inside a hot, suffocating glass building with no ventilation as electricity to the terminal had been cut off.
The morning after, they waited in the hot, scorching heat for at least five hours for a tour bus or a ferry to get them off the airport island. (関西空港では、利用客を５日朝からバスや高速船などで空港島の外に運んでいますが、中には炎天下で体調を崩すなどして空港の施設内にとどまっている利用客もいます。)
Never mind that the typhoon will cause inevitable economic impact on the Kansai region, which is very popular with tourists, especially from China and South Korea. The bigger question is why 8,000 people were left stranded at Kansai International Airport with no electricity and no or very little communications or announcements as to what was happening. Why did the flooding happen? Did the airport really not have a contingency plan for dealing with typhoons or even the very extraordinarily small probability that one day something might happen to the access bridge? Will anyone step out to admit responsibility?
How do local and national governments and businesses that provide critical logistics infrastructure like airports, railways, and hotels take care of non-Japanese speaking individuals in emergency situations? The same question was posed by Nikkei Keizai Shimbun during a major earthquake that happened in Osaka in June. Tourists are the people who are (with some exceptions) least likely to be familiar with the local language, let alone what happens during an earthquake or typhoon. Will they be made aware of how governments respond to natural disasters and release information, and of what to do to protect themselves?
This is not the first time that circumstances led to a large number of people being trapped in a small space. In January, over 400 passengers were trapped overnight on a train stalled under 77 centimeters of snow during a snowstorm in Niigata Prefecture. JR East neither gave any information to parents and family members worried about the people trapped on the train nor accepted offers of assistance from the local government to rescue people using minibuses, the Self-Defence Forces nearby to shovel away to snow, or even from taxi drivers, because JR East became myopically obsessed with rescuing everyone at the same time (乗客全員の救済にこだわっていた):
Certainly, there could have other methods of rescue, like asking police to take care of the level crossing while the railway line is closed, or asking the SDF for snow blowers, or, depending on the weather conditions, asking for a helicopter rescue. However, JR East decided to deal with the train itself. This is not a malicious decision. I think this shows the pride of the railway men who run the company. But, during a natural disaster, they should put away their egos and ask for help during. This should not be a humiliating thing to do.
Apparently the people on the train survived the ordeal by swapping seats with each other or reading examination textbooks. I certainly wouldn’t have had the patience. I don’t think Japan’s tourists will either.