Tsundoku Digest: July 2, 2019

Here are some tabs I’ve left hanging in my browser this past month:

A fascinating collection of articles on Tokyo’s decaying suburbs, seats on commuter trains for sale, and a visual comparison between the Neo-Tokyo in Akira and 2019 Tokyo in real life.

Coincidentally, NHK is also doing a series of documentaries about Tokyo (東京ミラクル). The nerd in me is fascinated about the JR East’s control center for all the trains in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area.

A comprehensive 12-part series on Japan’s last thirty years in 12 punchy titles. See also: a CSIS debate on Japan’s soft power during the Heisei Period.

The truth behind Shinzo Abe’s “Society Where Women Shine” is that most working women are still stuck in low-wage part-time employment. No wonder Health Minister Takumi Nemoto, in response to #KuToo, thinks that high heels at work are “within the range of what’s commonly accepted as necessary and appropriate in the workplace (社会通念に照らして業務上必要かつ相当な範囲かと)” (and as a cis-gendered male, ostensibly does not wear high heels to work).

A retrospective (?) of a Japanese art collective called Ashita Shoujo Tai (明日少女隊), or Tomorrow Girls Troop in English, whose works focus on the intersection of East Asian feminist issues and art. Did you know, for example, that Kojien (the Japanese equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary) for years said that the colloquial term for ‘feminist’ is 女に甘い男 (men who are easygoing or suck up to women)?

(The article translates 甘い as “lenient”, but I think the nuance is more than just lenience—the term implies a threat that strong women allegedly pose to masculinity).

And importantly, they speak to my personal discomfort with ‘Cool Japan’ at the expense of sexualizing women’s bodies:

TGT is not against moe kyara, and respects the freedom of expression of artists and creatives—after all, it is first and foremost an artist collective. Nor is TGT against otaku culture or advocating for the censorship of it. The questions TGT wished to raise with the petition was what it meant when an authoritative entity (like a municipal government) endorses representations of a sexualised minor, what kinds of messages this sends, and the prevalence of sexually objectified women and children in public spaces.

(Thanks to Kaitlin Chan for sharing!)

There’s an exhibition called “Manga” in the British Museum this summer, but is it too ambitious (or is there even a point) to try to stuff everything about manga in one giant show? As one commenter puts it:

Manga is a medium… it’s not one thing. People saying it’s sexist or rapey [sic] or problematic are talking about some forms of manga the same way I could talk about some forms of television

An anonymous complaint surfaces about an African student’s “bad body odor” at a dorm at the International University of Japan, and the school offers a solution by asking for their name and offering to “talk to them privately”.

The African students are justifiably mad:

アフリカ出身の別の女子学生は「大学から学生全員に向けて正式な経過説明と謝罪がないのはおかしいし、誰も責任を取らないのもおかしい。こういう行為が容認されると受け取られれば、さらなる差別が増長されてしまう」と話す。別のアフリカ出身の女子学生は「アフリカの国の中には、少し前までアパルトヘイトという人種差別制度があった国もあり、こういう差別的発言に対して敏感だ。校内の誰かが、私たちアフリカ人全員を臭いと思っていると思うと、キャンパスで生活することが嫌になる」と話した。
A female student from Africa said: “It’s ridiculous that the school hasn’t officially explained what happened or apologized, and that no one has taken any responsibility. If people see that the school tolerates complaints like these, discrimination against us will only grow.” Another female student from Africa said: “Apartheid existed in some African countries until very recently, so we feel sensitive towards these comments. If someone on campus thinks that us Africans are all smelly, then our campus life is going to be very difficult.”

An interview with Hiroki Mochizuki (望月優大), author of ふたつの日本 「移民国家」の建前と現実 (Two Japans: The Tatemae and Honne of the Immigrant Nation) and editor of the excellent website Nihon Fukuzatsu Kihou, talks about Japan’s immigrant-filled future:

とても重要なのは、「日本人」と「外国人」という別々の存在がいるということではなく、この社会に長く暮らしていく人という意味ではどちらも同じだと考えることだ。
It’s important that 
“Nihonjin” and “Gaikokujin” do not exist as separate concepts, but they both refer to people who are going to live in our society for a very long time.

On the importance of communicating with Japan’s immigrant residents during times of natural disaster.

If you’re in Tokyo on July 20, check out this book fair in Asakusa which has an amazing list of independent publishers and recommended books from the fair. If you stick around in Asakusa, check out this exhibition on hand-made books at Book&Design, and if you’re around the previous week, the 2019 Tokyo Art Book Fair in Kiyosumi-shirakawa.

  • More responses from Japan generally to the recent protests in Hong Kong

In anticipation of the G20 summit held in Osaka this past weekend, the Asahi Shimbun and the Japan Times had full-page advertisements calling for international attention towards the erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms. A week ago, TBS News broadcast a 20 minute documentary on the protests.

But are these Japanese thought pieces merely academic—to borrow a synonym from law school? Because, as Karen Cheung puts it in Foreign Policy, “the truth is that the world doesn’t really care about Hong Kong anymore, even if Hong Kongers don’t like to admit it. The tale of a city facing a slow and almost certain death, stretched over the span of 50 years, is pretty anticlimactic”.

And the Japanese blogosphere is filled with posts about how people feel about Hong Kong as a place:

香港人の香港なんて初めから無かったのだ。という人もいるだろう。でも、あったんだよ。彼らはそのなかで生きてきた。嫌なら国外へ出て行けという人もいるだろう。だが香港人が愛した香港は、香港にしかない。
Some people might say that there is so such thing as a Hong Kong that belonged to Hong Kong people. But I think there is. They’ve always lived in a place that belonged to them. Others might say, if they hate the place so much, why not leave? But to Hong Kong people who love Hong Kong, this is the only place they have.

Finally, while this isn’t really a link, Your Name had a re-run in Japan, and TV Asahi did something silly with the corporate sponsors’ logos. (Kind of spoiler alert for those who haven’t watched the film?)