ACCJ: “Made in America”

Aaron Baggett on the transformation of Lawson (and Tower Records, and Mister Donut) from American brands into Japanese household names:

The place is Ohio. The year is 1939. James “J.J.” Lawson has just opened a store at his dairy plant in the town of Cuyahoga Falls—a move that would one day transform the customer experience in Japan. But, at the time, there was no way Lawson could have imagined such a transfer of business culture across the Pacific. And he never would. Injuries from a car crash took his life in 1962, but what he started 80 years ago in the US Heartland is a key part of modern Japanese society.

Wait, what about 7-Eleven?

Bloomberg: “Barred from Wearing Glasses, Japan Working Women Take to Twitter”

Kurumi Mori unravels the layers of corporate double standards for women:

The hashtag “glasses ban” started trending on Twitter Wednesday, after Japan’s Nippon TV aired a story about companies that require female employees to wear contact lenses instead of glasses. One post decrying such policies racked up almost 25,000 retweets.

One Twitter user said she was told by her previous employer that glasses didn’t appeal to customers, while another said she was compelled to endure the pain of wearing contact lenses while recovering from an eye infection.

But before we guffaw at how ‘backward’ Japan is at how to treat women at work, Lucy McInerney says that the UK isn’t any better:

It would be easy to think that this country almost 6,000 miles away is oh-so-different from us here in the UK and that these kinds of issues no longer affect women in Britain. But dear reader, let me draw your mind back just three years to 2016 when it emerged that PwC receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home without pay from her job at the accountancy firm for refusing to wear high heels. Thorp’s subsequent petition garnered in excess of 150,000 signatures and was debated in parliament. However, the first attempt in 2017 to introduce legislation safeguarding employees’ rights regarding dress codes failed.

The New Yorker: “The Japanese Fried-Rice Omelette That Rewired My Brain”

Bryan Washington writes a brilliant introduction to a mere recipe for fried rice wrapped in an omelette:

It wasn’t my first time in the country. I spoke Japanese just adequately enough not to be a burden on everyone around me. But early one morning, after a long night out, once the local train line had started up again, a buddy of mine, leaning halfway out of his seat, asked me what I wanted while I was in town—what I really wanted. And I, leaning even farther out of my seat, told him that I wanted something comforting. Something fucking delicious.

So he took me out for omurice. It all but rewired my brain.

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)
Sokenbicha A tea that burns body fat. 無職
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.

Tsundoku Digest: September 11, 2019

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

Now, Isoko Mochizuki has two bestselling books on Japanese journalism, and a movie made about her career.

Voice acting is a brutal industry in Japan, and female voice actors are further pressured to choose between their careers and resisting power and sexual harassment. Here’s what a voice actor in her 30s has to say about male producers and managers:


“‘You want a job; it’s your dream right? I’m not going to do anything to you; let’s go to a hotel.’ Many clients say things like these to me.”

A show on censorship at the 2019 Aichi Trienniale is, ironically, censored, after a sculpture on Japan’s military sexual slavery rattles the nerves of some old, irrelevant Japanese men in politics.

Alex Barreia on the rising recognition of the other half of Japanese literature:

“The number of new voices that have been made available to Anglophone readers over the last few years has been encouraging,” says David Karashima, a professor at Waseda University who has translated Akutagawa-winning fiction.

Karashima says there are still not as many women published in Japan as men, but this may be changing, in part because there are more women on selection committees for literary prizes. He added that translated Japanese fiction is itself going through a “mini-boom.”

Two architects live in Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower for a year. The location seems convenient but horrible: next to a busy expressway, and outside ugly Shimbashi station. The apartments themselves look like a real life counterpart of the awful apartment Owen Milgrim lives in Maniac (directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga).

What names have parents bestowed upon athletes who participated in this year’s Koshien high school baseball tournament? Interesting picks include 佐々木夢叶 (Yumeto Sasaki), the kanji for ‘Yumeto’ corresponding to ‘realize your dreams (夢を叶う)’, who hails from Akita; and 小林未来雄 (Raio Kobayashi), the kanji for ‘Raio’ meaning ‘future hero’, who hails from Niigata.

Turns out, according to the article, changing your kira kira name is a little complicated. If you want the change the furigana (pronunciation) of your name, you have to submit forms at the local government offices, but if you want to change your name completely, you’ll have to start a case in the family courts, and explain why you want to edit out these embarrassing kanji from your identity.

The number of criminal prosecutions against non-Japanese speakers in Japanese criminal courts is increasing, but the quality and quantity of court interpreters are falling.

I’m not sure if Shinzo Abe is personally ready for gay marriage; it doesn’t really seem to be part of his rejuvenation agenda for the country. But the country is moving with or without him. Delighted to hear that Taiga Ishikawa, author of one of the first LGBTQ+ mainstream books, Where is my boyfriend(ボクの彼氏はどこにいる?), is now a Diet member.

On why the author’s late father became an extremist right wing keyboard warrior in his twilight years. What kind of Japan did he long for?


My father undeniably felt a huge sense of loss. What my father lost was the “Good Old Japan” that he spent in his childhood and saw in his days of youth.


It was a Japan where everyone had to do their bit to help each other, and led modest lives. Where going out to eat ramen was a luxury. Where having a pint with your buddies after work was the way to cool down. Where if you kept your head down and worked, you would get paid. This was the Japan my father loved, and longed for.

Finally, one of my former Japanese language professors’ tweets about an old McDonald’s logo she saw while on a family road trip went viral.

Ata Distance: “Japanese Typography, Apple Maps and the Art of Using Color Kanji”

Came across a really interesting article about the intersection of Japanese typography and phone maps (while researching an article about how to use the Suica card on Apple Pay), and how Apple Maps fails to adhere to customary rules to keep things legible:

It is important for designers to understand the difference and keep it in mind when working with Japanese typography. Unless the designer takes careful steps, Japanese text quickly becomes unreadable at smaller sizes especially when overlaid on colored backgrounds.The best example for keeping Japanese text legible against a varied background is the humble, lowly supermarket chirashi: the supermarket ads inserted in the daily newspaper that end up as kitty litter box liner. Supermarket chirashi are the meat and potatoes of Japanese printing companies big and small and the first work that new to the job employees and designers cut their teeth on.

Bonus for smartphone map nerds (completely unrelated to Japan): Justin O’Beirne’s captivating analysis of Google Maps’ evolution in the past decade.

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:

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:

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:

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?)

Tsundoku Digest: June 5, 2019

Here are some tabs I’ve left hanging in my browser this week (or in the past two months):

A TV show decides that it’s funny to ambush bystanders with offensive inquisitions about their genders and a camera, and its guest calls out their shit.

Ueno Chizuko dishes out painful truths about being a woman in Japanese higher education at a school where the percentage of women in every incoming class never exceeds 20 percent. (English-language coverage here.)

Here’s an extract from her speech:


From the moment they are born, girls are expected to be “cute”. But we should ask: is there any value in being “cute”?


That value is this. When one is loved, chosen, sheltered, one is guaranteed never to threaten the other. That’s why girls hide the fact that they’re good at grades, or the very fact that they go to the University of Tokyo.

Speaking of archaic and awful gender roles, apparently Hato Bus (a bus tour company) employing a male to be a tour guide was so trailblazing that Tokyo MX decided to do a 6-minute feature on this new employee, from asking about why he wanted to become a tour guide (he really enjoyed his school trip to Okinawa) to whether he passed the company exam (he did, but just barely, so he has to do more training before he officially debuts. Oops. Spoilers!).

A write-up of an art exhibition about the lingering impact of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Tokyo.

Screenshot 2019-06-05 at 5.10.59 PM.png

Finally, in celebration of Pride Month, a plug for this excellent photo book, Edges of the Rainbow, by Michel Delsol and Haruku Shinozaki.

Asahi Shimbun: “Ward assembly welcomes its 1st member of Indian descent”

Some exciting news (Japanese version here) coming from Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward assembly after the municipial elections held across Japan last weekend:

A native of India who goes by the nickname “Yogi” was elected to Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward assembly, and pledged to serve as a bridge between Japan and foreign nationals.

Puranik Yogendra, who is 41 and a naturalized Japanese, garnered 6,477 votes, the fifth highest of the 226,561 valid ballots cast, in the April 21 poll, part of unified local elections held across the nation.

If anything, no one can deny that Japan’s metropolitan areas are changing fast:

Edogawa Ward is multi-ethnic in its makeup and boasts the highest number of Indian residents among Tokyo’s 23 wards with 4,300 or so Indian nationals registered, accounting for more than 10 percent of Indians living in Japan.

The ward also has a large number of Chinese and Koreans.

Meanwhile, immigrants from the Global South in Hong Kong are still struggling in schools because no one wants to teach Cantonese as a second language. What gives?

Tsundoku Digest: March 22, 2019

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

A beautiful visual guide to Starbucks Japan’s new mecca in Nakameguro.

The Worth It crew gets to eat pre-packed A5-grade wagyu beef, but my gut feeling is that they merely encountered a shrewd entrepreneur who packs random luxury food items into beautiful wooden lunch boxes and sells them for a huge markup to tourists in Nikko (if anyone even can afford it).

This song literally speaks to two types of exchange students: American dipshits who try their luck every night in Roppongi, and timid Japanese nerds who are too scared to speak English in American college classrooms. The lyrics are literally bilingual: you hear either a Japanese or (and?) an English-language voice speaking to you at the same time. It’s really jarring. I love it.

I wished I traveled to Peru for spring break once upon a time.