FT: “Japan open to justice reform following Carlos Ghosn affair”

Robin Harding, Kana Inagaki and Leo Lewis in a rare interview with Masako Mori, the justice minister (paywall):

In a rare interview with a part of the Japanese government that seldom sees any need to justify itself to foreigners, Ms Mori said Mr Ghosn was spreading misinformation about Japan’s legal system in an effort to court public sympathy and distract from the charges against him — which he has denied. She made clear that Japan would only change on its own terms and not if it threatens the country’s low crime rate.

“Our criminal justice system is suitably designed and suitably operated. But like any other country, it is not 100 per cent perfect and without fault,” said Ms Mori. “I truly want you to trust me when I say that if there are faults we will fix them, openly and above board.”

For a view from the other side of the spectrum: Debito Arudou wrote a scathing column in The Japan Times recounting modern racism in Japan in the past year, with Ghosn’s prosecution at the epicenter for the overview:

Last year, it became clear that the crimes that Ghosn is accused of (underreporting income for tax purposes) were reportedly not only being done for years by other companies, but even by Ghosn’s replacement, Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa. So far the only ones arrested have been the foreigners: Ghosn and his associate, Greg Kelly.

After being denied contact with his wife for months and his trial possibly pushed to 2021. Ghosn somehow managed to escape to Lebanon at the end of 2019. Now, with more media access without threat of arrest, he is in a good position to further expose how Japan’s criminal justice system violates human rights, especially for non-Japanese.

In his Hollywood-esque press conference in Lebanon earlier this month, Ghosn stopped short of naming anyone in the Japanese government who wanted to bring him down.

So while we might have to wait and see whether he is in a nationalist conspiracy, the fact remains that when things go bad when you’re a gaikokujin in Japan, things go real bad.

The Tokyo Olympics’ marketing facade begins to melt

Last week was an auspicious time for the Tokyo Olympics.

With half a year to go, the puzzle pieces have to fall in place: a newly-built national stadium that’s too cold for spectators in the winter, a spectacular fireworks display in front of the Rainbow Bridge in Odaiba as people on the Japanese internet stew their fears about Chinese tourists bringing over the coronavirus from Wuhan, and a super soft-hitting feature on Japan in this month’s Monocle magazine that is way too much of a coincidence in terms of timing.

When Uniqlo jumps on the Noritake-like bandwagon. Monocle Issue 129, December 2019/January 2020.

One thing Dentsu’s marketing magic hasn’t been able to overcome, despite the global gloom and doom, is the searing heat in which Tokyo will host the Olympics. The organizers have tried making trendy ugly parasol hats, and banishing the marathon to Sapporo.

Then someone came up with the idea of collecting snow from Niigata prefecture in the winter, shipping the snow in rail containers from Niigata to the city, creating ‘snow tents’ where the air conditioning system is powered by snow, and distributing ‘snow packs’ to soccer and basketball game spectators in the city.

It was two (three?) birds in one stone: a solution to holding Shinzo Abe’s pipe dream under excessive summer temperatures, a cool (ha!) story about how the Olympics are helping regional economies, and a way for people to learn about Niigata’s snow country while holding dripping, wet bags on their laps.

You can see the ‘snow packs’ and snow tents in action at last year’s FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour in Odaiba, Tokyo:

Unfortunately, a warm winter in Japan this year because of climate change threatens to liquidate (ha!) these plans.

TV Asahi showed a sad government employee walking through a damp, snow-less field. Last year, this same field was filled with snow, he said. The ‘snow packs’ were supposed to show everyone the charm of yukiguni, Japan’s snow country.

But what good would any appeal be (by sending thousands of non-reusable, single-use plastic packets by train to Tokyo) if Niigata wasn’t going to get any snow in a climate crisis?

According to reporting from Mainichi Shimbun:


This winter, snowfall amounts have drastically fallen in all across the country. Even Minami-uonuma City has experienced over 10 days without snow since January. Even on days when it snowed, it only snowed around 10 centimeters. In Shiozawa (now known as Minami-unouma City), where the organizers had planned to gather snow, this time last year, there was 1.5 meters of snow piled up on this piece of land owned by the city. There is no snow at all on the land right now.


The city’s “U & I Tokimeki Department” [the department name is untranslatable but means a department aimed at promoting the region and attracting people to return to work in the countryside] said: “There’s still a chance that snow will pile up. We’re not at the stage of giving up just yet.” The city has not decided on any measures to deal with the situation yet, but it is getting impatient. If there is still no snow accumulation, the city is considering gathering snow from higher altitudes where there is snow cover, and moving the snow to snow-storage places. However, this is requires large trucks and huge moving costs, and the city would really prefer not to pursue this option.

まさに「雪乞い」 東京五輪の暑さ対策、少雪でピンチ 豪雪の南魚沼 (Mainichi Shimbun, January 21, 2020)

The plan was an interesting pipe dream while it lasted, I guess.

The Japan Times: “Remembering Satoshi Kon, one of anime’s best-loved creators”

Matt Schley on one of Japanese animation’s contemporary legends:

A decade after his untimely death, Kon is set to be posthumously celebrated by the Annie Awards, an annual ceremony in Los Angeles, dedicated to animation. Kon is one of the recipients of this year’s Winsor McCay Award, described as “one of the highest honors given to an individual in the animation industry in recognition for career contributions to the art of animation.” Previous recipients include Mamoru Oshii, Osamu Tezuka, Ralph Bakshi and Walt Disney, to name a few. The award is set to be presented on Jan. 25.

The Asia-Pacific Journal: "Shuri Castle and Japanese Castles: A Controversial Heritage"

Oleg Benesch and Ran Zwigenberg on the history of Shuri Castle, in the context of other replica imperial castles from before the Meiji Restoration:

Like hundreds of other castles, Shuri was taken over by the central government in the early Meiji period (1868-1912). Like dozens of other castles, Shuri eventually became a garrison for the modern military. Like the castles at Nagoya, Hiroshima, Wakayama, Okayama, Ogaki, and Fukuyama, it was destroyed by US bombs in 1945. Like many other castles, it was demilitarized under the US Occupation and came to host cultural and educational facilities. The reconstruction of Shuri Castle from wood using traditional techniques in 1992 echoed similar projects at Kanazawa, Kakegawa, and Ōzu, as well as dozens of planned reconstructions. 1992 also saw the designation of Himeji Castle as one of Japan’s first two UNESCO World Heritage sites, eight years before Shuri received that designation. For many regions in Japan, castles have played a similar role to Shuri, serving at times as symbols of connection to the nation, and at times as symbols of a local identity opposed to the often oppressive power of the central state. Examining the modern history of Shuri Castle as a Japanese castle can further complicate our understandings of the complex dynamics of Okinawa’s relationship with Japan over the past 150 years.

Nikkei Asian Review: “What Japan Inc. really thinks about Ghosn, Nissan’s maverick savior”

John Gapper, Mitsuru Obe, and Eri Sugiura on what Carlos Ghosn left behind when he fled Japan, and Japan Inc:

Although at its heart the case is a criminal one, the nature of his performance, amid the complex international corporate battles at Nissan, has rekindled a sensitive debate about Japan’s relationship with overseas talent and imported “superstar” CEOs.

Former Nissan board member Toshiyuki Shiga worked alongside Ghosn for nearly 20 years, including a spell as the automaker’s chief operating officer. Speaking to the Nikkei Asian Review on the fringes of the meetings, he expressed disappointment with his former boss, and frustration that Ghosn had fled Japan instead of staying to fight his cause.

“Carlos Ghosn used to be a person who never ran away from an adversary. He tackled it head on. When I heard the news, I was very surprised and shocked. I missed the old Ghosn,” Shiga said. “I wished he had tried to influence Japan from within. This is not a country that turns a deaf ear to calls for change. … My fear is that it gives an impression that Japanese companies are insular and drives away talent from overseas.”

Anti-Olympic Poster Committee

A project by the Institute of Barbarian Books, a print shop, community space, and library run by Momoe Narazaki and William Shum, the Anti-Olympic Poster Committee is a response to Shinzo Abe’s exploitation of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to get Tokyo to host the Olympic Games for a second time.

The posters provide a much better explanation than I ever can:

Momoe and Will gathered posters people made at the 2019 Tokyo Zinester Gathering, scanned them, and put them on the Anti-Olympic Poster Committee.

You’re welcome to send in your own!

Business Insider Japan: The Twitter campaign to protect students going to university entrance examinations from sexual harassment on trains

Yesterday was the first day of the National Center Test for University Admissions, where thousands of high school students take a standardized test that will (largely) determine where they were get their college degree, and by extension, what networks of alumni they get to access in adulthood when job-hunting in the future, and after graduation.

There’s no dress code when taking the exam, but many current students customarily (or feel some kind of unspeakable peer pressure) to show up in their high school uniforms.

So it breaks my heart to see that there’s a Twitter campaign, #withyellow, which calls on people to protect high school students from chikan during admissions exam season.

According to Ikuko Takeshita:

“#withyellow” is a project made by members of “Chikan Radar”, an app that lets users report and show information about chikan incidents on an app with just one click. Coinciding with the admission exam dates, the app has added a feature to receive incident reports from nearby users for people who are, for example, on the same train carriage. The Twitter campaign calls on people to board trains wearing yellow or with yellow objects, so as to show that they can help students in trouble.

Takeshita’s article goes on to interview people at a #withyellow rally outside Shibuya station this weekend about how they feel about sexual harassment and assault on trains.

Trying to get through high school and getting into college are already traumatic experiences for many. It’s disgusting that there are men who exploit the fact that many students use the trains on admissions exam dates just to sexually assault minors on the train.

Bloomberg: “Japanese Women Face a Future of Poverty”

From Marina Katanuma:

With entitlement costs skyrocketing, the government has responded by scaling back benefits while proposing to raise the retirement age. Some Japanese responded by moving money out of low-interest bank accounts and into 401(k)-style retirement plans, hoping investment gains might soften the blow. But such a strategy requires savings, and women in Japan are less likely to have any.

Japan’s gender pay gap is one of the widest among advanced economies. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Japanese women make only 73% as much as men. Japan’s demographic crisisis making matters worse: Retired couples who are living longer need an additional $185,000 to survive projected shortfalls in the public pension system, according to a recent government report.

A separate study did the math for Japanese women: They will run out of money 20 years before they die.

Kaitlin Chan: All The Things I Can Say in Japanese

The superbly multicultural and multi-talented Kaitlin Chan (who’s also responsible for the banner you see on this site!) made this language -“learning” zine in reflection of her time studying as an exchange student in the fall of 2015. She tells me that this is all the Japanese she remembers now.

The zine is beautifully printed in risograph for the 2019 edition of Tokyo Zinester Gathering this past December in Sakuradai, Tokyo. I got to help a little bit with proofreading the Japanese. You can find the zine in the next book selling event that Chan participates in, or on her online store.

Records from Hong Kong’s Frontlines (香港戦線記録 )

This weekend at Tai Kwun Contemporary’s Hong Kong Art Book Fair, Hong Kong-based collective Zine Coop is organizing “BURNING I✘✘UES —Zines of Social Movements Worldwide”, an exhibition featuring zines from protest sites all over the world: Chile, Iran, New York City, Taiwan, and, of course, Hong Kong.

I found this Japanese-language zine (doujinshi? Honestly we could have a discussion about the distinction) called 香港戦線記録 (Records from Hong Kong’s Frontlines) on Zine Coop’s awesome, sprawling table on the book fair’s first floor.

夢遊病者病棟, a circle of 30 people, among whom are 10 illustrators from Hong Kong, got together and made what essentially is a beautifully illustrated textbook of over a hundred pages recounting every major protest event from June to August 2019 in Japanese. The circle’s name itself comes from how people in Hong Kong describe their protest acts as ‘sleepwalking‘ or ‘dreaming’ (發夢):


Sleepwalking is a disorder where the body moves on its own. When the protests began, everyone said that they were sleepwalking as a way to say that they went to the protests.

The circle says that the zine’s (doujinshi?) aim is to push back against the Japanese news media’s portrayal of Hong Kong protesters as lovers of orgies of violence, and to explain why so many high school and college students have risked their lives to protest against wanton police brutality and a Communist Chinese regime that has given up on their futures. Circles from Hong Kong at Comic Market 97 this past December gave away this zine (doujinshi?) for free in Tokyo.

Apparently, there are no plans for a reprint (yet—but I hope they do so!) but you can download the entire zine (doujinshi?) to read on BOOTH, a popular doujin literature and merchandise site.