Nike Japan: Naomi Osaka – QUESTION / RETURN

Naomi Osaka released this commercial with Nike Japan that perfectly captures (I think) the oscillations of her being Japanese when it’s convenient, and her being not Japanese when she’s not (at least according to a former chairman of Twitter I met at a private dinner in Hong Kong earlier this year).

Osaka’s had a rough year with the Japanese media. Nissin decided to make her look white in anime form, journalists keep trying to make her say things in Japanese, and her skin is the butt of a comedic duo’s joke. But what has stayed constant is how classy Osaka is.

Indeed, as Serena Williams said to Osaka after their US Open together last year:

“I am so proud of you and I am truly sorry. I thought I was doing the right thing in sticking up for myself. But I had no idea the media would pit us against each other. I would love the chance to live that moment over again. I am, was, and will always be happy for you and supportive of you. I would never, ever want the light to shine away from another female, specifically another black female athlete. I can’t wait for your future, and believe me I will always be watching as a big fan! I wish you only success today and in the future. Once again, I am so proud of you. All my love and your fan, Serena.”

48,000 people petition JR East about "Takanawa Gateway" name

A new station is to open on the Yamanote Line next year. In June 2018, JR East held a naming competition on what to call the station. Coming at 130th place in the competition was “高輪ゲートウェイ (Takanawa Gateway)”, a corporatist combination of Japanese-influenced English and manufactured marketing hype for the Tokyo Olympics with a dash of regret to come when people look back at the decision in 20 years.

To be fair, here is JR East’s explanation:

この地域は、古来より街道が通じ江戸の玄関口として賑わいをみせた地であり、明治時代には地域をつなぐ鉄道が開通した由緒あるエリアという歴史的背景を持っています。 新しい街は、世界中から先進的な企業と人材が集う国際交流拠点の形成を目指しており、新駅はこの地域の歴史を受け継ぎ、今後も交流拠点としての機能を担うことになります。新しい駅が、過去と未来、日本と世界、そして多くの人々をつなぐ結節点として、街全体の発展に寄与するよう選定しました。

The historical background of the district is that it has been home to a major highway since ancient times, once prospered as the entrance to Edo, and was a historic area in the Meiji period where railways that connected to different areas in Japan began. The new developments around the station aim to form an international exchange hub where advanced corporations and human resources gather from all over the world, and the new station will continue this district’s history and serve as an exchange hub in the future. The new station serves as a gateway to the past and future, Japan and the world, as well as between people, and so we chose this name to reflect how the station will contribute to the new developments in the district.

I’m not sure if Takanawa Gateway would be able to replace Roppongi’s clubs, though, if that’s what JR East is aiming for.

Thankfully, the name also gave birth to the most nightmarish cosplay I’ve ever seen at Comic Market.

When anime songs get political

The ending song to My Hero Academia‘s fourth season, which aired in Japan this fall, could have been just another anisong. A high-tempo, catchy, emotional, and vaguely lyrical monologue from a J-pop artist, interviews with music magazines on what the song means for the TV show, a “TV version” cut down to size for broadcast, and CD singles for sale at your nearest Tower Records. Rinse, and repeat.

But The Stand News reported from Hong Kong that the full version of ‘About a Voyage’ had disappeared from Sayuri’s YouTube account, and from a streaming site popular in Mainland China called bilibili, one day after the music video was released. Apparently, the music video’s incessant motifs of uniformed students wearing gas masks and piling up classroom furniture to create makeshift barricades against prominent yellow backgrounds was a little too much for China’s keyboard warriors to handle.

Every attempt to censor something generates more publicity for it. So the Streisand effect also applied to ‘About a Voyage’—at least in Hong Kong. The “TV version” of the music video remains (which also contains the allegedly offending motifs) with a sneaky link to the full song on Spotify or Apple Music. And it doesn’t seem like people in Japan cared that much. A search for 酸欠少女さユり MV削除事件 reveals one article by Bunshun Online which subsumes Sony Music’s decision to remove the video as one incident in a long history of body corporates deciding whether to kowtow to China:

中国での市場規模がまだ大きくないさユりが中国人のバッシングを受けるくらいならともかく、全世界のソニー系歌手が中国で軒並みボイコットやコンサートの妨害を受けたり、中国・香港・台湾などのソニー系の大物歌手が中国市場への配慮から他レーベルに移籍する「愛国的」なアピール行動を取ったりすれば、企業としては目も当てられない事態になる。早期の火消しが必要な事態だ。

Apart from having Chinese people bash on Sayuri, who doesn’t have yet have a large market in China, there could be boycotts of and disruptions to concerts in China for all Sony Music artists from all over the world, and popular artists from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan signed up to Sony could, having the Chinese market in their minds, move to other record labels in an act of ‘nationalistic’ appeal. This would become an unbearable situation for a company. It was a situation where Sony would put out the fire quickly.

グローバル経済のもとでは、大企業を通じてリリースされる表現は、たとえ企業幹部による1本のツイートや“酸欠少女”のMVであっても、14億人の市場を擁する中国の基準で「政治的に正しい」表現を意識せざるを得ない。いまや日本発のコンテンツであるJ-POPですらも、中国を怒らせる表現を自主規制せざるを得ない時代とも言えそうなのだ。

In the global economy, large corporations have to consider whether what they publish, from a single company treat to Sayuri’s music video, is considered ‘politically correct’ to the standards of China, which has a market of 1.4 billion people. It could be said that even J-pop, which comes from Japan, is now in a time where they have to self-censor anything that would anger China.

Chinese record artists might move off Sony’s label, but I’m not sure if Hong Kong or Taiwanese artists would want to do the same. Fans might smash their priceless vinyl collections out of anger and disappointment.

FT: "Curbing death by overwork in Japan"

Content note: mentions of suicide in the video and text below.

Leo Lewis probes at sleep cafes, construction worker shortages, and a mother grieving the loss of her daughter, a Dentsu employee who committed suicide almost three years ago on Christmas Day:

By noon on October 12, Japan was preparing for the arrival of Hagibis, the most powerful typhoon to hit the country in decades. Public transport had been halted and commercial flights grounded, while evacuation orders blared from mobile phones as the risk of floods, landslides and deadly winds mounted.

As the danger grew, social media catalogued the complaints of workers who had been forced by their employers to brave nature’s fury and turn up for work. Many of the businesses identified — coffee shops, estate agents, sushi restaurants — were not essential services. But the testimonies rang true.

Two weeks earlier, the government had published a white paper on Japan’s overwork crisis that suggested progress on eliminating one of the country’s most notorious workplace problems was slow.

This song is on my repeat playlist

Embedded in this feel-good anime about two women making their big break in music is this anthem on modern life by a “chorus group that sings in perfect harmony“.

According to an (unreviewed) annotation on Genius.com, the chorus of this song is deep:

This section of the song slow down the pace of the piece, incorporating more minor chords and the use of the words “motherfucker” and “oh” to reduce the intensity of the song. The theme of exasperation is still not lost but is achieved through a more morose method, albeit still satirical. Furthermore, the repetitive use of the word “oh” shows a bit of desperation, an emotion closely related to exasperation. The back up vocals represent the other rejects of society as there are few of them that quietly “back up” the opinion of the vocalist who is depicted as a pariah for the trans-human and transsexual [sic] communities.

In all seriousness though, Netflix helped distribute this masterpiece internationally, which I appreciate. I hope Netflix invests my subscription money into brave animation projects like these, instead of burning big bucks to get Neon Genesis Evangelion, which, to the best of my knowledge, no one outside North America really cares about at this point.

Rapper from Japan with dreams of meeting Bone Thugs gets stranded in Cleveland

This was easily one of the most memorable pieces of news my former Japanese professor shared on Facebook this year. (She shares a lot. And she went viral.)

According to Fox 8 Cleveland:

Ryo Muranaka said he sold everything to travel 6,000 miles from Japan to Cleveland’s east side. He did it dreaming of meeting and performing with his hip-hop heroes: Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. But he caught the attention of activists when they found him alone, broke and even robbed of his luggage.

We spoke to him using an interpreter function on his phone. We asked why he came to Cleveland, and he answered, simply, “Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.” A super fan, but he also admitted coming here the way he did was super risky.

“I thought I could get in the US in exchange for my CD,” Muranaka said. “No. No plan. One-way ticket.”

According to The Observer, a student newspaper at Case Western Reserve University, Muranaka is here to stay:

“Now that his face has been on the news, no one would dare do anything to him ‘cause there will be a whole city trying to find them,” said Bibbs [Kwas Bibbs, who, according to the article has connections to Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and has been helping Muranaka]. “Even though there’s a cultural difference and he can be a handful, at the end of the day, everyone can see his heart. I’m not talking about ‘I’m tough and I’m here and I’ve got big balls.’ I’m talking about his heart.”

For his part, Muranaka has sent many letters to President Donald Trump to try to receive support for getting an artist visa.