Tsundoku Digest: Twitter Edition

Content note: text-based mentions of gender-based violence / sexual assault in one tweet later down in the post.

I first learned the word tsundoku (積ん読) a few years back while I was still feeling giddy about learning Japanese. It illustrates the beauty and creativity of the language in a compact package, because:

  1. Tsumu (積む) means to pile up.
  2. Doku (読) is the kanji that means ‘reading’. For example, dokusho (読書) means the act of reading books.
  3. Putting the [-te] conjugated verb form with the verb oku (おく) generally means to do something in advance. So applying this to tsumu would be tsundeoku (積んでおく).
  4. Contractions are the norm for Japanese causal speech. So [-te] verb form + oku would become [-te] form + toku. So applying this to tsundeoku would be tsundoku (積んどく).
  5. But doku also means the kanji word for reading (see 3 above).
  6. Hence, tsundoku (積ん読) describes the act of piling up books in your room that you never plan to read, but think you might in the future.

Not only do I have huge piles of books in my room that I never plan to read, I also regularly amass a huge pile of tabs on my computer and on my phone that I also never really have the time to read. This is the logic behind Tsundoku Digest: I need some place to get rid of all these tabs I have open on my electronic devices.

Unfortunately, news from Hong Kong has dominated my screen time, so there aren’t really my tabs from Japan for me to keep track of. So I share some favorite tweets from Japanese Twitter in the past month.

This jacket says: “I might not have enough money on my Suica!! Get away from me!!” Wear this to get sympathetic rather than glaring eyes if you unknowingly walk up to a train ticket gate without enough money from your Suica.

This person’s late father was a tsundoku.

Where should you wash your hands? Should you try the hot water tap at the conveyor belt sushi restaurant?

(Note: please DON’T actually try this IRL, otherwise you’ll be putting boiling water on your palms and get second-degree burns.)

Don’t blame Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, for pursuing a new youth policy of locking young people up in jail rather than educating them for the future. These chart comparing a juvenile correctional facility and graduate school shows why spending your best years in life in jail is such a good idea. Free room and board, employment support, and human rights protections. Meanwhile, graduate students are just there because they don’t know what to do with their lives.

(The paragraph above is obviously written ironically.)

A friend sent me this the other day. Perfect for people with Big Dick Energy.

What do the following drinks say about you? I made a handy table below (also a handy guide to what’s available at the convenience store):

Drink What this is* Who you are
Coke Zero Coke without sugar. 意識高いダサいデブ
Fat and lame but conscious about their weight.
Mitsuya Cider A clear-colored sugary drink. Some say it’s a cross between Sprite and ginger ale? 見た目は爽やかだけどヤリチン
Looks chill but secretly a fuckboy.
Calpis Water Diluted yoghurt water. Also known as Calpico Water in the USA because who wants to drink cow piss? 濃いほど変態
A really, really intense hentai.
Monster Energy The stench of masculine regret. Ping100の陰キャゲーマー
An emo gamer who lags a lot.
Red Bull Known as an alcohol mixer in certain contexts. 忙しい気取ってる勘違い大学生
A college student who keeps acting like they’re busy.
Mountain Dew Radioactive juice. 海外かぶれ
Crazy and obsessed with everything ‘foreign’
Dr. Pepper An elixir for white people. キマっちゃってる。杏仁豆腐好きそう
Inflexible. Seems like someone who likes almond tofu.
Strawberry milk Tastes nothing like strawberries. イカ焼きメンヘラ
A nutjob about squid skewers.
Ayakata green tea The only non-offensive option for office meetings. 常識人、地味。
Plain and boring.
Grape Fanta Your childhood. THE陽キャラ
A ray of sunshine.
Pocari Sweat Japanese Gatorade. Not made with sweat. 風邪ひいてそう
Someone who gets sick easily.
Nacchan Orange Juice So artificial it should be a crime to market this as containing fruit. 関わってはいけない
Someone who no one should associate themselves with.
Kirin Afternoon Tea Unnecessarily sweetened with unnecessary milk. オタク(瞬足)(コーナーで差をつけろ)
Otaku**
Sokenbicha A tea that burns body fat. 無職
Unemployed.
Oronamin C A candy-flavored, carbonated vitamin supplement. 騙されやすい人
Someone who gets scammed easily.
Bubble tea On every Harajuku-based Instagram account. ミーハーJK
Normie high school girl.

*My own annotations just in case folks aren’t familiar with the drink selections

**This is not translatable into English. I had to look up what (瞬足)(コーナーで差をつけろ)means. It appears to refer to an advertisement for a certain type of elementary school kids’ running shoes that allow you to race ahead on the corners of a racing track. Apparently, self-professed otaku place this phrase after they ramble about something they know a lot about online. (???)

Japanese-speaking Hong Kong social activist Agnes Chow translates a viral clip of a college student asking her school to do something about an out of control police force whose members are accused of sexually assaulting people in custody.

Key to the survival of modern civilizations in the upcoming second decade of the second millennium is this: how to we cultivate hope in our future generations? So long as Carrie Lam remains a psychopath, I don’t think she is neither willing nor able to confront this question.

We don’t need expensive management consultants to give us the answer, because it’s simple: we respect their hopes and aspirations. Like this Shinkansen driver here.

Typhoon No. 19 is the size of Japan

Japan is shutting down for Typhoon Hagibis this weekend. Did you know that the typhoon is the size of the entire country (minus Okinawa)?

Here’s the view from space, which is chillingly reminiscent of a scene from The Day After Tomorrow:

Getting the message to the millions of foreign-born residents in Japan is a priority:

Screenshot 2019-10-11 at 4.34.15 PM

There used to be a joke (conspiracy theory) called “Li’s Field” in Hong Kong whereby typhoons would conveniently pass by the city overnight or over the weekend, so people wouldn’t get their day off from work or school.

But climate change is real, and Li Ka-shing has since retired. Japan is now no stranger to typhoons from the Pacific passing by overnight and on the weekends (in addition to active volcanoes and earthquakes, oh dear), while Hong Kong has had a pretty nice and stable summer, weather-wise. Save and except for all the tear gas in the air. And Li Ka-shing’s businesses have pretty much divested from Hong Kong.

Unlike Hong Kong, however, typhoon employment protections aren’t as strong in Japan:

Apparently, people on Twitter are complaining that employers still want you to show up to work on Saturday by leaving early, trying your best to go to work even if you end up arriving late, and if the trains aren’t running, your boss will pick you up using the company car (is that even safe)?

These companies probably won’t be around for much longer.

From Hong Kong, shouts from the abyss to Japan and the world

Hong Kong’s political leadership (or lack thereof) and police force have embarked on an inexplicable, and perhaps unstoppable, journey of self-destruction. On Friday afternoon, the Chief Executive, with calculating authoritarian cowardice, went with the ‘nuclear option’: an emergency law banning protestors from covering their faces. But, she said, Hong Kong was not in a state of emergency. “Hong Kong remains an international financial centre and the best place to do business,” the government doublethinks, as it let its employees leave work early, police threatened to kill journalists past midnight, and the downtown core descended into chaos.

So what is Hong Kong’s endgame? In between Brexit, Trump/Ukraine, the brutal protests in Iraq, and anything else on the news cycle conveyor belt, such is the question many people outside of Hong Kong ask. Or, more realistically, the question people in Hong Kong would like those outside Hong Kong to ask.

The tragedy is that, as I have written about earlier, all Hong Kong people can do is try to get people outside of Hong Kong to care. This week, I stumbled upon an Instagram account, maintained by a Japanese-speaking Hong Kong person, curating, in lucid Japanese, a digital Lennon Wall of police brutality and executive stupidity. This account also calls out people on the Japanese Internet for what it thinks are mis-interpretations of what protestors are doing.

In the rapidly changing Cantonese vernacular, the Instagram account is a form of 文宣 (man syun), a term once used to describe Communist Chinese propaganda, but now borrowed to describe the rainbow sticky note wallpapers that have blossomed throughout the city. But I would think that it is a mental eruption of the pain, a shout in the darkness for those who are willing to listen, in whatever language, and wherever in the world––and not many people do. After all, in the past four months, this is all people have looked at on their phones, whether at home and in their daily hour-long commutes. The Lennon Walls are a collective, desperate search to rationalize the unthinkable and the unforgivable, a prayer circle to meditate on their fears, and to marinate on their vexations.

Screenshot 2019-10-04 at 8.49.04 PM
One person’s Japanese-language shout into the darkness.

Consider, for example, the fact that protestors have started to exact wanton vandalism of businesses and urban furniture every weekend, if not every night. The Instagram account I mentioned earlier says that the smashed-up stores of Genki Sushi are not signs that the protestors are anti-Japanese terrorists (反日テロリスト), but a targeted response to a company half-owned by a family who thinks it is a good idea to suck up to China in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council:

元気寿司、一風堂、スタバ、Shake Shackなどは美心(マキシム)グループという香港の会社が運営しています。日本側が運営している訳ではないです。

Genki Sushi, Ippudo Ramen, Starbucks, and Shake Shack are all run by a “Hong Kong” company. Genki Sushi is not run by a Japanese company.

この美心という会社の娘が、デモ隊を長きに渡り散々苦しめている元である親中派を公言しています。

The daughter of [the founder of] Maxims says that she is part of the faction that supports China and is suffering under the unending protests.

As million-man marches and placards gave way to Molotov cocktails and rubber bullets, we would like to believe that we still direct our rage with surgical precision. We mess up Genki Sushi, but leave everything else alone, because we believe the company behind discount conveyor belt sushi is symptomatic of the big business plutocracy that has aided and abetted the taxpayer-funded tyranny that we live in. Or that’s what we would like people outside Hong Kong to believe in.

But people might tune into TBS News in Tokyo and see this:

IMG_8935
TBS News.

Moving pictures of shattered glass and jet-black spray paint speak louder than hundred-thousand word dissertations about being born in a famous city on the edge of empires. People could sit in lecture halls and reading rooms all day about whether one’s net asset worth is directly proportional to the level of antagonism one holds about Carrie Lam, how pro-government political parties systematically engineer elections to return a majority of seats despite holding only a minority level of popular support, and how an impossible postcolonial bargain made between the United Kingdom and great and almighty People’s Republic has systematically deprived an entire generation of millennials in the city––those without wealth and connections to leave for good if they could––of any hope for their futures. But no one has the time to learn.

Indeed, pictures of burning shopfronts, however unrepresentative those environments are about Hong Kong, make for dramatic headlines. There are only twenty-four hours in a day and so many pixels on a screen, so news outlets do what they can to keep you not necessarily informed, but definitely entertained. And so people watch the mass media cover the Hong Kong protests, and they are scared.

Last week, a Japanese friend I met at Georgetown messaged me. She was going up to Mainland China for a leisure trip, and was transiting through Hong Kong to get on a high speed train up north. And she seemed relieved to see me. It’s always good to have a local friend to guide you around, she said. Which is true. I had a great time with her and some other Waseda friends eating yakitori in Shinjuku when I visited her last summer. But it was her first time going to a place where she didn’t speak the language, and she was concerned that the metro system would close down at any time. “Is it safe for normal travelers to wander around?” she asked. I said she would be fine. Just take the Airport Express to the high speed rail station and we can grab lunch.

The day after a police officer almost murdered an 18 year old boy, we met up in Elements, a luxury mall atop the Airport Express station. The sun was shining, the shops were open, and we made our way to lunch. We snuck in our cups of bubble tea into a crowded branch of Tim Ho Wan, and I ordered some shrimp dumplings and a bowl of preserved egg and pork congee, among other things, to share. She said that she needed to exchange some renminbi, but the rates at the train station were awful. I said I knew a place that had great exchange rates by Chungking Mansions, and said it would be a 10 minute taxi ride away. She said it was okay. She had a train to catch, and the money she was losing to the currency exchange cum highway robbery shop was, she said, her own anyway. Perhaps staying in Hong Kong scared her, and she was too kind to tell me.

This is the anxiety that Carrie Lam is hoping to cultivate among people outside of Hong Kong. They ask: is Hong Kong still good enough of a place to park my money without anyone asking me weird questions? To mingle with the lost expatriate nomads of the world? To place to wine and dine in luxurious skyscrapers? It is these questions that Carrie Lam wishes to present to the city’s youth: why do you wish to wilfully and recklessly fail to “treasure” the things that make you rich? But I would believe that most Hong Kong millennials care little for their material concerns. After all, they never benefited from an oligarchic system that privileged so few.

At what cost should Hong Kong’s protest movement convince the world that they should not be on Carrie Lam’s side? A few weeks ago, I heard about people folding senbazuru––a thousand origami cranes in hope of peace––inside shopping malls. I searched on Twitter to see if anyone was tweeting about it. You can do a search too, and you’ll find that not many people on Japanese Twitter care. But this person called Suzuko Hirano does:

Who is Suzuko Hirano? Her Instagram account shows her bravely lecturing people in Tokyo about Hong Kong in a kimono. Her photos are awash her comments from Hong Kong thanking her for her support. As Hirano told a website called Japan Forward, which describes her as a “Yamato nadeshiko (the personification of an idealized Japanese woman)” (the brackets are part and parcel of the website’s description):

The world is currently at a turning point. Are we going to live in a peaceful, free world, or one in which freedom of expression is lost?

Now is the time for me to stand up and fight. I will continue to fight for Hong Kong in Japan. Because I love Hong Kong, because I love Japan. I will not hide my face or name, and I will give my all to defending this country.

To everyone in the world: stand up and fight, for freedom, for the next generation. 

I hope you will be courageous and brave. We will stand and defend Hong Kong together.

Hold on. What has being an idealized Japanese woman got to do with supporting protests for Hong Kong? Whose freedom of expression is being attacked? If one loves Japan, must one love Hong Kong, and vice versa? Why does Hirano care so much?

Pull the wool from our eyes and you’ll see that Japan Forward is run by the Sankei Shimbun, whose raison d’etre is to whitewash Japan’s WWII military aggression and military prostitution in a better light. Scroll down a bit further on Hirano’s Instagram account and you’ll find creeping signs of her political affiliation: a show of gratitude to the souls who sacrificed their lives for peace in Yasukuni Shrine; a book recommendation on how great Japan is, which she says no Japanese person is no longer willing to appreciate because of GHQ’s “War Guilt Information Program” after Japan surrendered. As Au Loong-yu writes in Ming Pao:

Support of Hong Kong’s anti-extradition movement from people like Hirano only serves to support their imperialist and militaristic interpretation of history, as well as their propagandic rhetoric concerning China’s imminent invasion of Japan. If you’re not on the far-right, and yet uncritically share the news that Hirano supports Hong Kong, it is possible that you’ve cultivated a relationship with the wrong ally.

(Translated from the Chinese by Lausan.)

So who can we find as allies? Probably not Shinzo Abe, who desperately wants a fresh start to Sino-Japanese relations, and was a world leader who expressed his congratulations to Xi Jinping on the 70th anniversary of the vindication of Mao’s China. And probably not Hirano, whose support for Hong Kong is aligned with the slimiest elements of Japan’s conservative establishment. Our allies are, sadly, our own selves.

All things good and bad come to an end. These protests will end someday, somehow. And just as we come crying out of vaginas, so too do we meet our deaths, eventually, and alone. When that days comes for the Chief Executive, Jesus Christ will remind her what she did that hot and humid summer. Drunk on the forbidden fruit of power, she did something wrong, refused to admit that she did so, and then proceeded to summarily punish each and every person who had the right to, and indeed was correct to, call her out on what she did wrong.

Tax is a joke

At least that’s what TV Asahi makes you think when you watch its news programs. Here are some choice still frames from their broadcasts this week.

This woman brought her items to the cashier at a convenience store and the clerk started to ring her up just before the the stroke of midnight on October 1, so she got a receipt dated October 1, but was still charged the old consumption tax rate of 8 percent.

She says she’s going to keep the receipt.

The restaurant chain Sushiro wasn’t able to charge anyone consumption tax in 197 branches. This man in Fukuoka was proud to show TV Asahi his receipt, which says that he didn’t pay any consumption tax for his meal.

“How many plates of sushi did you eat?” the reporter asks. 45 plates, the man laughs. What a steal. Quite literally.

This group of friends from Osaka ordered a round of beers past midnight, which meant that the new tax rate would be charged on those beers. They taste like a heavier tax burden, unfortunately.

IMG_8947

For some reason, the Japanese government decided to keep the 8 percent rate for takeaways at restaurants, but apply the new rate if you eat the food inside the ‘eat-in’ areas of convenience stores. Which tax rate applies to you depends on an honors system. So there are now people (mostly balding men, according to TV Asahi) called segi-man (i.e. men of justice) who have way too much time on their hands lurk around in convenience stores calling out on people who tell the store clerks that they’re going to take their bentos home, but they end up eating them anyway inside the store.

So what happens when these men of justice appear at your friendly neighborhood FamilyMart? Zerishi Dotcom News has the answer:

自己申告をせずに、飲食している人を見掛けた第三者が、従業員に報告したケースにはどう対応するのでしょうか。ファミリーマートは「報告を受けても証拠を把握することが難しく、本人が申告しないのであれば、お声掛けしない」、ローソンも「現時点では、自己申告に基づくので、報告を受けて何かするということは想定していない」と説明します。つまり公平を期そうと勇気を持って報告したとしても、「なかったこと」にされてしまう可能性が高いと言えます。

What happens when someone sees a customer who consumes the food and drink he bought inside the store without declaring that he would do so for tax purposes, and reports it to an employee? FamilyMart said that it would be difficult ascertain the evidence even when someone who isn’t the customer himself reports it, and that the store will not say anything if the customer doesn’t declare for himself how he’s going to consume the food and drink. Lawson similarly said that currently, consumption tax is calculated based on a self-declaration system, and did not envision for situations where they would do anything after receiving a report from a third party. In other words, even if one bravely reports to the store in pursuit of fairness about the consumption tax, there is a high possibility that the store will overlook what happened.

 

Films on Japan at the 2019 HKLGFF

Queer Japan

An ambitious documentary about people who are proud to live beyond social norms in contemporary Japan. Community is a big focus––otherwise, Graham Kolbeins, the film’s director, wouldn’t have been able to make the film without creating a network of contacts and cold calling people: or so he told us at a Q&A with him at Broadway Cinematheque last week after the film screened in at the HKLGFF.

Civil partnership recognition is spreading across dozens of cities and municipalities across Japan, and mainstream book and comic publishers are starting to market LGBTQ+ authors and themes (actually, mostly cis-gendered gay male authors for now, but hopefully that will change). So what can Queer Japan offer in this media space? A lot, actually. I learned about Grammy Tokyo and thought about the language dynamics that a transgender man would face, and about Aya Kamikawa on how no one from the Liberal Democratic Party cared about her until she won a seat in the Setagaya Ward Council in 2003. (She has since been re-elected four more times.) I recognized Tac’s Knot, the cocktail bar in Shinjuku Ni-chome which hosts Yo Katami’s Loneliness Books on Wednesdays. I saw Leslie Kee photograph his 1000th interviewee for the Out in Japan project. I definitely appreciated the large amount of transgender representation on screen. Also, all the interviewees knew each other, or at least grew to know each other. That’s community.

I missed Tokyo Rainbow Pride when I was in Tokyo in 2016, but the film was there. It was the fifth time that the parade was happening. The Embassy of Israel was giving out food, an Android mascot from the Google booth waddled around with a rainbow cape, and Caroline Kennedy was on stage expressing her satisfaction at the large amount of American companies there. But the film turned its attention to an anonymous interviewee holding placards on the sidelines. They hated how commercialized the parade had become. Pride, they said, was about individuals, not corporate social responsibility. Was this the inevitable trajectory of all societies that seemingly grow to embrace public displays of queerness?

At the post-screening Q&A, I asked Mr. Kolbeins about his choice to juxtapose the parade with these protestors. It was a conscious choice to include voices from both sides, he said. One had to hold these organizations accountable. So while ANA extends mileage scheme benefits to same-sex partners, is ANA doing the same for employees with same-sex partners? Is the United States still welcome at pride events around the world while its Education Secretary launches unprecedented attacks on transgender students? (These are my examples, by the way.)

Update on 3 October 2019Variety has an insightful review of this film published earlier this summer.

Athlete (アスリート ~俺が彼に溺れた日々~)

I didn’t watch this film because it was sold out very early on, but here’s the synopsis from the film festival website:

Kohei is a handsome and masculine former athlete, with a regular family life. He is unhappy but doesn’t know what it is that’s bothering him – until the day his wife leaves him. He escapes with alcohol and finds himself in Tokyo’s gay district. In a drunken haze, Kohei meets Yutaka, a beautiful twink who makes a living from live sex webcams with men. Yutaka takes Kohei home and an unlikely friendship begins when they somehow find comfort in each other’s company. An urban love story set in the bright lights of Tokyo, Athlete paints a beautiful portrait of the loneliness in modern city life.