Stage another protest in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Yesterday I wrote that you could stage a protest against Tom Nook/たぬきち and his evil Resident Services/たぬき開発 in Animal Crossings: New Horizons.

Now you can take your anger to the next level and direct your ire at Mr. Shinzo Abe himself:

“安倍政権を許さない” reminds me of “アベ政治を許さない” (roughly translated to mean “we will not tolerate Abe’s politics“), a popular chant from the 2015 protests against the amendments to Japanese military legislation which allows the Self-Defense Forces to act in “collective self-defense“.

(“政権” points more to Mr. Abe’s administration, whereas “政治” points more towards Mr. Abe’s politics and policies, such as his personal obsession with the Tokyo Olympics. Which he’s not even a party to in the IOC’s host city contract! Maybe privity of contract doesn’t exist in Swiss law.)

Look closer and you’ll see that the picture is actually a triptych of undesirables: two pictures of Mr. Abe enveloping a central portrait of Mr. Trump. Mr. Abe, after all, is so desperate to be Mr. Trump’s friend that he’s willing to golf with Mr. Trump until he trips into a sand bunker.

Here’s an alternate name for the island:

(島 for ‘island’ and 党 for ‘political party’ can have the same reading in this context.)

Update: folks from Hong Kong can now protest against Ms. Carrie Lam and her despicable administration as well.

Now everyone wants the Olympics cancelled

Change is in the air, and the cherry blossoms are in peak bloom this weekend in Tokyo. Rumors and opinion pieces about cancelling or postponing the Tokyo Olympics have reached a boiling point in the English-language media. Just not for the anti-capitalist reasons that anti-Olympic activists have campaigned for in the past half a decade.

I thought this Washington Post analysis by Rick Maese and Simon Denyer was the most comprehensive. I would have thought that postponing the Olympics would be the likely way out, but the logistics of doing so might be even more painful than a cancellation:

The Olympics media operation will be headquartered at the Tokyo Big Sight, which serves as the city’s major convention space. Delaying the Games means an important Tokyo facility would be unavailable indefinitely. The city-owned venue normally hosts 300 exhibitions every year.

At the conclusion of the Games, the Olympic Village is expected to be converted into more than 5,600 condominiums, housing 12,000 people. Real estate companies have listed 940 units for sale thus far and have received more than 2,200 applications, with some apartments already sold, said Mika Kiyomoto, spokeswoman for Mitsui Fudosan, one of 10 developers of the project.

Asked what options buyers who have purchased a property would have in case of a postponement or cancellation of the Games, Kiyomoto declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of individual contracts.

The Olympic Village apartments overlook Tokyo Bay, and are hella swanky. Look at this news report by Tokyo MX from July 2019:

Japanese audio narration, with Japanese subtitles.

Apparently it takes around 20 minutes to get to the nearest metro station (on the Toei Oedo Line) from these condos, which cost over a hundred million yen for a unit. Would that be enough of a reason to back out of the transaction?

Stage a protest in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Ever wanted to express a desire against turning your pristine island into an urban hell in Animal Crossing: New Horizons? Just gather your friends and stage a protest against Tanuki Kaihatsu (or Resident Services in English? I’m not sure. I don’t want a Nintendo Switch) by hitting the construction wall continually with your bug-catching net:

Viral tweets on Japanese Twitter always attract irrelevant comments in English. (Can anyone enlighten why people find it necessary to write “just an English comment passing through” on a video (or anything, really) that’s not in English?)

Clearly the original tweet does not have anything to do with a “let me in” meme! That’s why the user made your reply hidden!

Cocktail ideas for your home quarantine

If you can drink alcohol, check out these convenience store cocktail ideas from Time Out Tokyo to keep your cabin fever to a minimum, and to spice up those soul-crushing Zoom meetings where virtual backgrounds and muted microphones form the ultimate test of non-verbal human communication.

Ginger-infused gin and green tea umeshu sounds great, but I’m not sure about mixing vodka with bubble tea from convenience stores. It might be better to risk a train trip to TenRen’s Tea in Omotesando to get the real stuff and mix in some Grey Goose.

Calling out Japanese tourists for their shit in Bangkok

In the past few years, Thailand has become a popular destination for people in Japan who want to get out of the country.

So popular, in fact, that there are now plenty of online articles telling people from Japan not to do Yoga poses for Instagram inside Buddhist temples, and not to use restaurant bathrooms without permission.

I thought this comment, though not verifiable online, was especially upsetting:

バンコクは、日系企業で働くタイ人が非常に多いので、皆さんが思っている以上に高レベルな日本語力を持つタイ人が溢れている街です。

Since there are many Thai people who work in Japanese companies, Bangkok is a city where there way are more fluent Japanese speakers than one might think.

また、最近ではアニメや漫画の影響で、個人的な趣味として日本語を勉強しているタイ人もたくさんいます。

Furthermore, because of the recent spread of anime and manga, many Thai people are studying Japanese out of personal interest.

中には、電車内で端から女の子に点数をつける最低な日本人観光客もいるらしく、度々タイ人女性からクレームが入ります。

Among the Japanese men who visit Bangkok, there are some who rate women they see on trains. This sometimes leads to claims by Thai women.

東京の電車内でも同じことを大声で話せますか?

Would they yell the same thing on the trains in Tokyo?

The Olympics show must go on, says a bunch of old people

The men in charge of making decisions about the Tokyo Olympics have probably decided that they’ve let rumors about the Tokyo Olympics’ fate simmer in despair for a little too long, and have started to speak in high profile strides to the media.

As Alastair Gale reports for the Wall Street Journal:

If the Olympics can’t go ahead this summer in Tokyo because of the coronavirus epidemic, the most realistic option would be to delay the event by one or two years, a member of the executive board for the Japanese organizing committee said.

… Mr. [Haruyuki] Takahashi, a former senior managing director at Japanese advertising giant Dentsu Inc., said the financial damage from canceling the Games or holding them without spectators would be too great. A delay shorter than a year, meanwhile, would be difficult because the Games would then likely be held at the same time as other major professional sports, such as baseball and football in the U.S., and soccer in Europe, he said.

Why am I not surprised that “Dentsu” and “financial damage from canceling the Games” are in the same paragraph?

As the communist (not in Xi Jinping’s stance) newspaper Choshu Shimbun reported last January on Dentsu’s Olympic tentacles from the very beginning of the Olympic bid:

五輪招致活動がこうしたカネまみれのものになるのは、五輪自体がテレビ放映権やエンブレムの商標権などをめぐって巨額のカネが動く一大商業イベントになっているからだ。とくに東京五輪は開催費において夏季五輪史上、最大規模になり、50社のスポンサーから4000億円以上の協賛金を集めている。そのすべての窓口になって莫大なマージンをとり、東京五輪の広告宣伝を一手に引き受けているのが電通である。

The reason why the Olympic bid activities have become so corrupted with money is because the Olympics itself has become a gigantic commercial event with television broadcasting rights and emblem licensing rights that bring in huge sums of money. Indeed, the Tokyo Olympics will be the biggest in the history of the Summer Olympics, and has amassed over 400 billion yen from 50 corporate sponsors. The firm that manages it all while taking a handsome profit margin and undertaking to publicize the Olympics all by itself is Dentsu.

Translation Notes
1. The previous paragraphs of this article discuss a corruption allegation first revealed by The Guardian in 2016.
2. For details on Dentsu’s involvement with amassing an unprecedented pool of sponsorship money, check out this Financial Times report from August 2019.

Is the coronavirus even a case of force majeure for the Olympics? As Matthew Futterman, Tariq Panja and Andrew Keh wrote for the New York Times last week:

It remains unclear how any decision about the Olympics would unfold if officials in Tokyo conclude they have to alter plans for the Games. Seiko Hashimoto, Japan’s Olympic minister, said this week that Japan’s position was that as long as Tokyo held the Games in 2020, the I.O.C. could not cancel them.

The 80-page contract the Japan Olympic Committee and the City of Tokyo signed with the I.O.C. in 2013 obligates the local organizers to set up the competitions, ticket sales, fan services and countless other amenities — a deal that would seemingly allow the I.O.C. to push back against any plan to hold the Games without spectators.

But the I.O.C.’s host city contract also gives the organization broad rights to cancel the Olympics in the event of war or other forms of civil unrest, or if it believes, in the contract’s words, that “the safety of participants in the Games would be seriously threatened or jeopardized for any reason whatsoever.”

At least the contract says something about the risk to the Olympic athletes. Talking to the Wall Street Journal shouldn’t mean that the first thing to come to mind is “financial damage” and “broadcasting rights”. That would only validate what folks against the Olympics have said all along.

Nine years later

On September 7, 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said this to the 125th Session of the International Olympic Committee:

It would be a tremendous honour for us to host the Games in 2020 in Tokyo – one of the safest cities in the world, now… and in 2020.

Some may have concerns about Fukushima. Let me assure you, the situation is under control. It has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo.

Two years later, on January 27, 2015, Mr. Abe basked in the glory of winning the IOC’s bid in this speech at the third meeting of the Ministerial Council on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games:

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, we will create an optimal environment so that the participating athletes can deliver their best performances. Moreover, as a festive event that involves the entire nation, the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will give momentum to restoring the vitality of Japan. In particular, the Olympics will be a “Recovery Olympics” that should spur recovery for the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and we will show the world how these areas have made a magnificent recovery.

To be fair, Mr. Abe wasn’t wrong when he said that the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami didn’t do any damage to Tokyo. In the seven years since he made that remark, the city has opened up to overseas tourists (now inexplicably termed “インバウンド (inbound) “, as tourists aren’t human, but are a direction filled with cash for the economy), the country endured a nasty debate about the new national stadium’s cost and design, a marketing agency plagiarized a logo, and tens of thousands of “volunteers” are about to be free labor for an event for a glitzy commercial spectacle that will generate billions of dollars of revenue. In short, Tokyo is as lively as ever.

The other part of Mr. Abe’s statement, though, is a lie.

“Under control”

In December, the Associated Press published a feature on Futaba, a town in Fukushima Prefecture where the torch relay is to start. (The flame was lit this week in Greece without spectators.) This is what Mari Yamaguchi and Stephen Wade wrote:

The town has been largely decontaminated and visitors can go almost anywhere without putting on hazmat suits, though they must carry personal dosimeters — which measure radiation absorbed by the body — and surgical masks are recommended. The main train station is set to reopen in March, but residents won’t be allowed to return until 2022.

A main-street shopping arcade in Futaba is lined by collapsing store fronts and sits about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the nuclear plant, and 250 kilometers (150 miles) north of Tokyo. One shop missing its front doors advertises Shiseido beauty products with price tags still hanging on merchandise. Gift packages litter the ground.

Futaba Minami Elementary School has been untouched for almost nine years and feels like a mausoleum. No one died in the evacuation. But school bags, textbooks and notebooks sit as they were when nearly 200 children rushed out.

The main train station the article mentions in passing is Futaba Station, a station on the Joban Line, which is operated by JR East. When Futaba Station reopens, trains can run on the entirety of the Joban Line for the first time since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

TV Asahi, March 9, 2020

Is the reopening of Futaba Station nonetheless a sign of progress? Mari Saito and Kiyoshi Takenaka, for Reuters, asked the local residents:

“I wish they wouldn’t hold the relay here,” said Onuma. He pointed to workers repaving the road outside the train station, where the torch runners are likely to pass. “Their number one aim is to show people how much we’ve recovered.” 

He said he hoped that the torch relay would also pass through the overgrown and ghostly parts of the town, to convey everything that the 7,100 residents uprooted of Futaba lost as a result of the accident. 

“I don’t think people will understand anything by just seeing cleaned-up tracts of land.”

A few days ago, TV Asahi showed this haunting contrast between “cleaned-up tracts of land” and the “overgrown and ghostly parts of the town”. A short walk from the new Futaba Station building will reveal a main street with overgrown weeds, shattered storefronts, and collapsed buildings.

In a interview, 70 year old Akio Sanpei told TV Asahi what he thought about the full reopening of the Joban Line. Mr. Sanpei said:

私から言わせると、オリンピックの為の全線開通です。

I would say that the Joban Line fully reopened for the Olympics.

イメージ作りの開通で、実際オリンピックがなっかたらこんなに急いで開通することなんてことはなかったはずです。

It’s a reopening to make some sort of impression. If the Olympics weren’t happening, I wouldn’t expect them to reopen the line in such a hurry.

In other words, Futaba is a Potemkin Village to validate Mr. Abe’s remarks. There is no purpose to the station. There is no purpose to running 10 car trains on the line when there is no ridership. There is no purpose to having 240,000 people decontaminate the line if no one is coming back. Indeed, the Reuters article paints a picture of despair in Futaba. Even if it is now safe to live in Futaba, most people have started new lives away from the town.

One other pointless station JR East will open on the same day is, Takanawa Gateway, the 30th and newest station on the Yamanote Line, in Shinagawa, Tokyo.

Complete with a tacky name (a desperate corporate attempt to brand the station as a ‘gateway’ to Tokyo) and tacky technology flourishes (like employee-free convenience stores and LCD screens that broadcast pointless concept videos), Takanawa Gateway represents the worst excess of corporate Olympic Tokyo, a toxic addiction to constructing infrastructure over supporting communities, a desperate appeal to exploit the efforts of athletes to force the world to donate their attention to a city that already has plenty, and away from areas that genuinely need to recover.

Local news journalists confronted Mr. Abe’s “under control” remarks when he came to Futaba with white gloves to, among other things, open the station earlier this month.

On the defensive, he maintained that he sent the right message to the world among the many and mistaken media reports on the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Japanese audio with some Japanese subtitles.

It would be unfair to see the coronavirus as some sort of karmic retribution for Mr. Abe’s “recovery Olympics” lie. Many people look forward to the Olympics with good reason. For example, this 92 year old fifth-generation unagi restaurant owner survived the Bombing of Tokyo. Seventy-five years later, he wants to run for peace in the torch relay.

But whatever happens to the Tokyo Olympics, the scars—and the bureaucratic negligence to—the aftermath of Tohoku earthquake and tsunami remain for the world to see.

See my reading list for the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami here.

How disposable masks are made

Did you expect to mark the start of a new decade by spending your waking hours looking for masks to buy, reading about whether steaming masks can kill germs, and generally contributing to a social and moral panic during a pandemic? Me neither.

I haven’t seen any of these suckers sold at reasonable prices in stores for months. But if you ever wondered how these disposable masks are made, the Japan Science and Technology Agency has a 15 minute video all about it.

The mind-bending, innocuous background music definitely speaks to a bygone era.

Words that hurt immigrants to Japan

13 regional newspapers across Japan surveyed over 300 gaikokujin immigrants through Line to ask about their daily lives, whether they found satisfaction with their jobs, what they needed assistance with on living in Japan, and whether they wanted to permanently stay. (Half of them do.)

Among the questions were what kinds of hurtful comments they’ve heard from their nihonjin colleagues. “Baka (ばか)”, “smelly (臭い)”, and “black (黒い)” were on the top of the list.

Microaggressions hurt. According to Nishinippon Shimbun:

 「外国人」としてひとくくりにされる言動への違和感も目立った。京都市で自動車部品製造業に就く男性(29)は「さすがタイ人」と言われ、個人として認められていないように感じた。福岡市の男性(26)は「韓国の道はニンニク臭い?」と聞かれた。スペイン語を話す同市の男性(28)は、英語で話しかけられることに抵抗感を覚えると答えた。

Also notable was the incongruity the respondents felt at comments that generalized them as “gaikokujin”. A 29 year old man who works at an automobile parts manufacturer in Kyoto felt that he was not accepted on an individual level when he was told, “As expected of a Thai person.” A 24 year old man in Fukuoka City was asked, “Do roads in Korea reek of garlic?” A 28 year old man also in Fukuoka City who speaks Spanish said that he felt antipathy when people spoke to him in English.

On the other hand, over half of the respondents didn’t have such hurtful experiences.

Remembering Sugihara Chiune on the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation

Nevin Thompson for Global Voices:

Monday, January 27, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, would have been a perfect time for the Japanese government to call attention to Sugihara Chiune.

However, little has been done so far in Japan little to officially recognize the date, nor had there been much attention paid to the proclamation by Lithuania.

The Tokyo Holocaust Education Resource Center held an event in Tokyo, but Prime Minister Abe Shinzo did not attend. A week earlier in January, Abe had met Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, but talks focused on bilateral trade rather than the legacy of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which is located on what was once German-occupied Polish territory. On the anniversary on Monday, January 27, Abe made no remarks about Auschwitz.

Who is Sugihara Chiune? He was a Japanese diplomat who, against his superior’s instructions, issued over two thousand visas for Jews fleeing the Holocaust to transit through Kobe and to safety.

According to Jennifer Rankin for The Guardian:

Sent to Lithuania to gather intelligence, Sugihara had probably not bargained for the scores of refugees who arrived at his gates in 1940. After the Soviet Union invaded Lithuania on 15 June, refugees flocked to the modest two-storey Japanese consulate that was also home to Sugihara, his wife Yukiko, their two toddlers and a newborn. Many were Polish Jews, who had arrived only months earlier after the Soviet invasion of Poland. Now they were looking for a second escape.

Sugihara sought instructions from his foreign ministry in Tokyo. He was told not to issue visas to anyone without proper papers, ruling out almost everyone in the queue. Making another request to Tokyo, he was told not to ask again. He decided to issue visas anyway. Over six weeks in July and August, he worked 18-hour days, eventually writing out by hand 2,139 transit visas – a record only discovered years later in the archives of Japan’s foreign ministry.

The 2015 film, Persona Non Grata, dramatizes his life story. See the trailer below.