Asian Correspondent » Anna Watanabe Asian Correspondent Tue, 30 Jun 2015 18:58:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Japanese police investigate inappropriate ‘child porn’ Sat, 19 Jan 2013 03:58:21 +0000

“Do you like Tomo?” That’s the title for AKB48’s Tomomi Kasai’s debut photo book, due to be released on February 4. But the real question is: “Do you think Tomo’s photo is child porn?”

The photo which shows 21-year-old Kasai with her breasts cupped in a te-bura – or ‘hand bra’ – by a young boy has thrown publisher Kodansha into a child porn investigation at the hand of the Japanese police.

Kansai’s provocative picture, which was originally to be used as the book’s cover photo, was also planned to be featured as a publicity shot in Shukan Young Magazine, also published by Kodansha.

Shukan Young Magazine has since had its publishing date delayed and now they’ve been forced to cancel the issue entirely, explaining on their website: “The photo contains an inappropriate expression.”

The apology hedges around the real issue of just how inappropriate the picture is but Japan Today reports that two Kodansha employees voluntarily alerted police of the photo “after receiving a request for a hearing over the issue.”

The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper also quoted an investigator saying that police decided to investigate because they “thought this issue might turn into an international controversy.”

In other words, all those responsible for this photo – the editors, the publishers and even the police – are saying something to the effect of ‘Well we didn’t have a problem with it, but we’re worried that other people – people from overseas – will have a problem with it, so we’re looking into it.’

With that attitude, though, you have to wonder just how hard investigators will be looking into the case.

Kodansha obviously stands to lose a lot of money from their botched issue as well as brand damage. But with Japan’s lax child porn laws the company faces, at worst, a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of five million yen ($US 55,500).

So is the photo really child porn?

According to Wall Street Journal’s Asia Japan Watch AKB48 fans have defended Kasai’s photo saying that anyone who considered it pornographic had an “obscene mentality.” And while the photo is inappropriate it seems to stretch the boundaries of what is and isn’t pornographic.

But for lawyer Toru Okumura, also interviewed by Asia Japan, regardless of whether people would be aroused by the picture “there is the possibility of the photo being considered child pornography.”

Also, Tokyo Reporter writes that investigators interviewed by Sankei Shimbun have said: “The act of (a child) touching a woman’s nipples (as in that photo) is prohibited by law.”

As for me, I tend to agree with what appear to be an outspoken minority on social networking sites. As many people on Twitter pointed out, for this photo to have made it to the digital draft copy of Shukan Young Magazine, and to even be considered for the cover photo of Kasai’s book, it had to be approved by tens of people. Presumably some of those people have children of their own.

Japan’s lax attitude towards child pornography and over sexualizing young teens is a sad and frightening side to one of the most wealthy and powerful countries in the world. And maybe the only official statement surrounding this whole fiasco comes from an unnamed Kodansha spokesperson: “Whether or not it is child porn, it infringes on socially accepted standards.”

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Whiteout Tokyo Mon, 14 Jan 2013 12:18:37 +0000

Mito City, Ibaraki Prefecture, also experienced its first snow of the season. Picture: Anna Watanabe

It was 11 days later than usual but Tokyo enjoyed its first snow for the season, today.

Kanto, Kanagawa and Koshin locals took to Twitter to share the snow pictures and stay updated on delayed trains and closed roads.

JR East is reporting that medium distance trains in and out of Tokyo including the Ome, Joban, Keihin-Tohoku, Utsunomiya and Narita lines are either delayed or still not running.

Heavy snow and gale force winds still has Tokyo's transport crawling back to its efficient self. Picture Twitter/ @yunocchi_sketch

Bloomberg reports several flights into Narita have been delayed due to the heavy snow. Seventy nine flights due to arrive at Sendai Airport in Tohoku were also cancelled this afternoon, according to NHK.

The Japan Meteorological Association issued weather warnings to areas across Japan, and predicts that up to 10cm will fall in Tokyo by Monday night. In Ibaraki, northern Kanto, 15cm of snow fell by 4pm and in areas further north in Tohoku, up to 30cm of snow is predicted to fall.

Today’s snow has been made particularly worse due to strong winds. Stripes reports that wind gusts over 90 km/hr were recorded at Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Monday was a national public holiday in Japan, with many families attending coming of age ceremonies across the country and the extra traffic has caused many accidents. Japan Today reports that by 5pm 267 people had been injured in traffic accidents or by slipping over.

Katsutoshi Nokimura, a 74 year old taxi driver told Bloomberg: “It’s the worst snow in my 51 years of experience,”

“Some people abandoned their cars after getting stuck. It’s chaos.”

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Japan hangs up on mobiles in favour of smartphones Sat, 12 Jan 2013 09:11:27 +0000

A survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry has revealed that mobile phone usage has dropped for the first time in Japan.

The results, which separate mobile phones from smartphones, show that the number of voice calls fell 0.7 per cent in 2011 and total time spent on the phone fell 1.8 per cent compared to 2010.

Accoring to the Nikkei Shimbun this is the first time both the number of calls and total hours on the phone has dropped since mobile phone usage began to be recorded in 1992.

iPhone 5. Pic: AP.

But why has there been a drop in phone usage? A report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), last year there were almost six billion mobile-cellular subscriptions by the end of 2011.

According to the ministry, the results reflect Japan’s sudden infatuation with smartphones.

NTT Docomo Inc., Japan’s largest mobile communication company has had it’s first increase in subscribers in two months, thanks to the company’s introduction of new smartphone models.

But it’s SoftBank, only one of two mobile phone companies offering an iPhone 5 contract, that has been leading subscription sales since January 2012. In fact, according to the Yomiuri Daily NTT Docomo subscribers decline just after SoftBank subscribers increase to a 2012 peak for the release of the iPhone 5.


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The real winners of Japan’s election are the little guys… we think Tue, 18 Dec 2012 09:46:11 +0000

Japan's third-party political groups have managed to splinter the balance of power. Picture: AP

As numbers from Sunday’s national election continue to be crunched, the actual popularity of the Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is coming into a harsh light.

Although the LDP claimed a landslide win of 237 seats, controlling almost 80 per cent of seats, the party won less than half of the total votes.

In other words, only 43 per cent of people voted for the LDP to win. Most people’s votes were divided between new third-force political parties like the Japan Restoration Party and Your Party Japan’s. But a system of first-past-the-post has allowed the LDP to take an overwhelming majority.

The Daily Yomiuri reports that in seven single-seat constituencies the LDP candidate won fewer votes than the combined total of these third-force party candidates but the LDP candidate still won.

Japan’s House of Representatives is divided into two sections: 300 members are elected from single member constituencies and the other 180 are elected from multi-member constituencies by a party-list system of proportional representation.

Reuters reports that in the proportional representation blocks the LDP won only about 28 per cent of the votes compared to the Democratic Part of Japan’s (DPJ) 16 per cent.

The Daily Yomiuri again points out that this 28 per cent is close to the number of votes the LDP won in 2009 when it had an embarrassing loss to the DPJ – the first time the DPJ had won in post war history. In 2009 the LDP held almost 27 per cent of the proportional representation bloc.

Political science professor at Sophia University, Koichi Nakanot told Reuters: “It’s clear that only 30 percent or less of voters solidly support the LDP. Unless Abe is careful, his cabinet support will go down to that level very quickly and even with a two-thirds majority, he would be in trouble.”

That’s not to say that the DPJ is any less unpopular than previously thought. In the proportional representation bloc, right-wing Japan Restoration Party now holds more seats that the DPJ, at 20 per cent.

The Daily Yomiuri reports that even among DPJ supporters, about 47 per cent said they cast ballots for a party other than the DPJ in the proportional representation system.

When they established themselves as a third-force, these new political parties aimed to counter the balance of power held by the LDP and DPJ. And this year’s election results show that they’ve achieved that goal quite dramatically.

The only problem is, from a grass roots level they’ve splintered political power throughout Japan, but it’s failed to make a difference from the top down.

This year, the combined number of votes for the LDP and DPJ is 43.6 per cent. The Daily Yomiuri shows that since 2003 the two parties have usually managed to capture around 70 per cent of votes, on average.

In contrast, in the Kinki-bloc in south-west Japan, the Japan Restoration Party won almost one third of the seats, even beating the LDP.

Of the other smaller parties, Your Party won 8.7 per cent of votes in the proportional representation blocs while the Tomorrow Party won 5.69 percent of votes cast in this category.

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Japan ends national election with a whimper, not a bang Sun, 16 Dec 2012 14:20:28 +0000

Liberal Democratic Party leader Shinzo Abe has been elected as Japan's new Prime Minister.

Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has won Japan’s 2012 national election with a landslide victory.

Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced at a press conference at 11:20 that he would be stepping down from his position as leader of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

Broadcast through NHK Noda he told journalists that today’s result was a particularly grim one and that he felt responsible for the party’s loss.

While votes are still being counted, Japan Today predicts that the LDP will win between 275-300 of the 480 seats in the lower house. Before this year’s election, the LDP only held 118.

Assuming the LDP continues its long-time partnership with Buddhist-backed Komeito, NHK predicts that Abe will have control of two-thirds of the lower house.

This means LDP policies of undecided nuclear reactor re-starts (read as “nuclear reactor restarts”), anti-TPP and anti-sales tax will go ahead virtually unopposed.

From these results, it would be easy to assume that Japan has unanimously spoken out to remove the Noda’s DPJ from office.

But the truth is this result is the voice of a vocal minority. As of 6pm Sunday night, voter turn out was 41.77 per cent, 6.63 per cent lower than the 2009 election.

Early voting was also down almost 14 per cent on the previous election.

Former Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announces he will step down as leader of the DPJ. Picture: NHK broadcast

It’s always hard to pinpoint the reason for low voting rates. But this year, an unhappy combination of apathy, disenchantment and plain confusion seem to have played a big role.

This year’s election has a record number of 12 parties, several of whom joined the rat race months before the election was called as well as several independents. Japan Today describes this overwhelming number of parties as a “circus” and points out that the policies proposed by each party are as broad as they are numerous.

Amongst the new parties there is the Japan Restoration Party (JPR), lead by nationalist Shintaro Ishihara. NHK predicts that JPR will win between 41-60 of the lower house seats with Ishihara already claiming one of those himself.

Along with calling for an end to TPP talks and a start to a self-sufficient Japan, Ishihara sparked tensions with China over his bid to buy the Senkaku/Diaoyutai Islands.

Japan Today reports that earlier this week, half of would-be voters had yet to make up their mind, reflecting results from today’s election.

A 51 year-old Tokyo resident told the newspaper that she wasn’t sure what she was actually voting for.

“All the candidates are speaking out ahead of the election, but I’m not so sure they’ll carry out any of their promises. I’m hopeful about the new parties, but I also wonder if I should trust one of the older parties,” she said.

Financial Times saw similar trends in Tohoku. Residents were at a loss for who to vote for despite nuclear energy  being such a divisive topic.

“There’s a lot of new parties, but I have no idea which to vote for,” a 68-year-old carpenter from Rikuzentakata told the paper.

But how much the change of leadership will change the lives of everyday Japanese is hard to tell.

As Gerry Curtis, expert on Japan at Columbia University, told the Financial Times, the LDP had such an overwhelming victory not because of strong policies and support for their party, but because the pubic has lost faith in the DPJ.

“The public is saying to the DPJ, we gave you a chance and you blew it,” Professor Curtis told the Financial Times In this way, it seems Japan wants to return to its pre-2009 way of running business. Which to be fair wasn’t dramatically different to life under DPJ rule.

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Breaking down Japan’s election Fri, 14 Dec 2012 06:32:57 +0000

On December 16, voters will go to the polls to elect one of the candidates from Japan’s 12 national parties as the new prime minister.

Shinzo Abe

Former Prime Minister and opposition leader Shinzo Abe is predicted to lead Japan's Liberal Democratic Party to an election victory. Pic: AP.

This is the largest number of parties Japan has had running for a national election since 1996, and some have been formed hastily in an attempt to balance the power of the country’s two most dominant parties: the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The term ‘third power’ is being thrown around when describing the new contenders, and while no one expects a non-DPJ/LDP Prime Minister, there is hope that these smaller groups will be able to influence the new government in some way.

While it’s easy to tell which party stands where on big issues like nuclear energy, the Trans-Pacific Partnership  (TPP) free trade pact and the sales tax, it seems that even Japanese voters are a bit confused about the finer points of each party’s policies. So here’s a break down of some of the new contenders and the old faithfuls to help make the evening news a little easier to keep up with.


Democratic Part of Japan – 民主党 (Minshutou)

Leader: Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda

Position: Centre-left

Nuclear policy: Nuclear-free by 2030

Sales tax policy: 10% by 2015

TPP Policy: Pro-TPP

With their annual change of leader since they were elected in 2009, the DPJ has started to become a bit of a joke. From a completely superficial glance, the party lacks the internal stability to run the country smoothly and effectively.

The party’s 2012 manifesto has 5 key points: social security, economy, energy, foreign relations and national security, and political reform. While these policies seem broad and safe, the party’s stance on nuclear energy, sales tax and the TPP are divisive.

Current polls suggest that the DPJ’s underwhelming term in office will come to an end this year. Reuters reports that the DPJ could lose more than half of the seats they holds in the lower house of parliament. Then again, 40% of those surveyed said they’re still undecided on how to vote, so maybe there’s still hope.


Liberal Democratic Party of Japan –自由民主党(Jiyuminshutou)or自民党(Jimintou

Leader: Shinzo Abe

Position: Centre-right

Nuclear policy: Undecided

Sales tax policy: Maintained at 5%

TPP policy: Anti-TPP

Polls by Reuters suggest that former prime minister Shinzo Abe will take back the ruling seat at the Diet with the LDP predicted to win 257 to 306 seats in the 480-seat lower house.

The party, which is particularly popular among urban business owners and farmers is taking an especially conservative view towards foreign relations. The LDP is pushing for control over the disputed Senkaku/Diayou and Takeshima/Dokto Islands with China and Korea, respectively. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the LDP feels that the current state of the territorial dispute is due to the DPJ’s weak diplomacy.

Until 2009, when the DPJ won the election, the LDP had been in power for almost 54 years, since it was formed in 1955.  Abe is also a former Prime Minister so the party certainly has the feel of history and control. Looking at their stance on the ‘big’ issues the LDP is certainly taking the ‘safe’ road, and so far it seems to be working very well.


Japan Future Party – 未来の党(Mirai no Tou) 

Leader: Yukiko Kada

Position: Centre-Centre left

Nuclear Policy: Nuclear-free by 2022

Sales Tax Policy: Maintained at 5%

TPP Policy: Anti-TPP

Yukiko Kada’s Japan Future Party is one of the wildcards of this year’s election. Japan’s political spectrum is largely dominated by the DPJ and LDP so the JFP, formed just a week before the election was called, is designed to give anti-nuclear, anti-TPP and anti-Sales Tax voters a third option.

The party’s strong focus on environmentalism, as opposed to a populist and two-dimensional ‘anti-nuclear’  stance is a particularly refreshing change. Kada says that if elected, JFP will devote the first three years reforming the national electricity generation system, followed by a seven-year phaseout of nuclear energy. The party’s second in command, Tetsunari Iida, is a leading expert in renewable energy, and the JFP hope to put his expertise to good use when redesigning Japan’s electrical future.

But it looks like the party is still in the process of dotting all its ‘I’s and crossing its ‘T’s. Recently, Kada has been caught contradicting herself on nuclear polcies. While the party is officially anti-nuclear, the Daily Yomiuri  reports that Kada suggested conditionally approving the restart of nuclear reactors on a YTV program, last week. The party later issued a statement saying this was a misunderstanding. Whether or not this is true, confusion over such fundamental issues looks bad no matter how forgiving your voters are.


Japan Restoration Party – 日本維新の会 (Nippon Ishin no Kai)

Leader: Shintaro Ishihara

Position: Far Right

Nuclear Policy: Pro-nuclear

Sales Tax Policy: Raised to 11% and localised

TPP Policy: Participation in talks but oppose some aspects

Nippon Ishin has been working a Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde act between the party’s two power brokers. The party was borne from a merger between Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Japan Restoration Party and current leader, Shintaro Ishihara’s Sunrise Party. Prior to the merger, there seemed to be a lot of support for – or at least chatter about – the spunky, outspoken Hashimoto. But joining forces with right-wing, nationalist Ishihara has seen him to lose face.

Ever since, the two seem to be contradicting each other on fairly important political issues. In a recent TV debate, Ishihara turned the party’s official ‘nuclear phase-out by 2030’ policy on it’s head by proposing it needed to be changed. The pro-nuclear Ishihara is at total odds with his co-pilot who previously called for an end to nuclear energy by 2040.

TPP talks have also caused conflict between the two. The main aim of Nippon Ishin no Kai is to make Japan a more independent and self-reliant state. So again, free marketer, Hashimoto, is on the outside again.

But despite their eccentricities, Nippon Ishin is predicted to play an important role in balancing Tokyo-oriented reforms with a more regional and local focus.


Your Party – みんなの党(Minnna no Tou)

Leader: Yoshimi Watanabe

Position: Centre-Right

Nuclear Policy: No nuclear by 2020s

Sales Tax Policy: Maintained at 5%

TPP Policy: Pro-TPP

The last of the newly formed, small parties in this year’s election is the endearingly named Your Party. Previously it looked as though Watanabe and Nippon Ishin’s Hashimoto would join forces, but strangely, it wasn’t meant to be. Their policies are certainly more aligned, though.

Your Party has similar policies with the predicted-winner LDP, so while they have no official alliances, they aren’t completely out in the cold. The party’s anti-nuclear, anti-sales tax policies will certainly win them populist favour but pro-TPP talks will alienate them from rural farmers, in particular.

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Taiwan’s NMA TV makes ‘Japan Election 2012’ animation Fri, 14 Dec 2012 05:41:36 +0000
NMA TV has made a frighteningly accurate, though funny, animated news story of the Japanse Election. Picture: YouTube

NMA TV has made a frighteningly accurate, though funny, animated news story of the Japanse Election. Picture: YouTube

The Taiwanese animated news website, NMA TV has released another of their infamous political videos featuring the upcoming Japanese election.

The video holds back no punches, and begins with references to LDP leader Shinzo Abe’s history of “crippling diarrhea”,  while Prime Minister Noda flies through the air holding an eel-like fish – a nod to Yoshihiko Noda’s self-deprecating allusion to himself as “a loach in muddy waters

As usual, the video is a humorous, though frighteningly accurate representation of the current state of Japanese politics. It also includes references to recent pop-culture events – alongside a panda representing China and a bear for Russia, Gangnam Style singer Psy (as South Korea) play a whack-a-mole game using Abe and Noda’s heads and ride missiles towards a group of Japanese soldiers.

The video also comments on Japan’s electrical shortages due to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, noting how easily Japan’s politicians have given in to electrical company giants like Sharp, Panasonic and Sony.

No sides are taken by the NMA TV with Noda’s plans to enter the gingerbread house of TPP (only to be burned alive by America, China and Canada) and the concept of Abenomics (which sinks Japan, turning it into a modern-day Altantis) are both presented as equally ridiculous.

But perhaps it’s the animations last words which are the most telling of the upcoming Japanese election: “Who do you think is the sillier candidate, Noda or Abe?”

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Tsunami warning cancelled after after 7.3M quake in Japan Fri, 07 Dec 2012 08:57:20 +0000


NHK is reporting that people in Miyagi prefecture should go to evacuation centres. Picture: Anna Watanabe

7:21 NHK confirms tsunami warning lifted

6:59: Japan Times reports 5 people taken to the hospital in Miyagi Prefecture with injuries, none serious, related to the quake. NHK confirms one woman in Ibaraki Prefecture with minor injuries.

6:54 NHK reports Soma Port, Fukushima  hit by a 40cm tsunami,  Kuji Port, Iwate hit by 20-cm wave.

6:48 NHK is still issuing tsunami warnings for Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima and Ibaraki prefectures. More than 1000 people are reported to have been evacuated.

6:37 NHK confirms reports of several minor injuries. An elderly woman fell and broke her arm in Iwate and a child has been taken to hospital with minor injuries in Miyagi.

6:33: TEPCO reports from Twitter that there are no problems with Fukushima plant but is continuing to monitor the situation.

6:30: Youtube footage of the Kyodo newsroom during the earthquake

6:24: NHK warning that “a tsunami is definitely going to hit” and says to be wary of further waves. Residents are urged to continue to evacuation centres

6:21: Workers at Fukushima nuclear plant are retreating to a fortified building inside the plant. Not evacuated from the plant as elsewhere reported.

6:17: NHK reports one flight from Osaka airport bound for Sendai airport has been rerouted to Haneda.

6:15: Twitter users reporting that Tokyo’s mobile phone network is beginning to run as normal

6:09: NHK reports Ishinomaki has been hit with a 1m high wave, 20cm high wave at Oofuna

A photo of a convinience store in Kita Ibaraki, Ibaraki prefecture after the quake. Picture: Sankei Shimbun

Japan is issuing a tsunami warning for Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate, Aomori and Ibaraki prefectures after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake struck off the eastern cost.

So far, no serious damage has been reported.

Miyagi prefecture is expected to be hit with a 1m high tsunami at 5:40, and all other prefectures are predicted to have a 50cm high wave between 5:50 and 6:00 pm.

The US Geological Survey reports the epicenter was about 245km (153 miles) south-east of Kamiashi at a depth of about 36km.

There has been one small aftershock and residents in Niigata prefecture on the west coast have also reported feeling some minor tremors.

Local news is warning those close to the coast to retreat to higher ground or evacuation areas and reports that mobile phone networks are experiencing difficulties.

Broadcasters are warning viewers to “flee for your life” and “remember last year’s disaster.”

Nuclear reactors in Tohoku and Ibaraki prefectures are all functioning as normal.

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SoftBank and Yahoo! Japan launch otaku-only social network Sat, 01 Dec 2012 07:10:18 +0000

I’ve never understood the call to costume play (cosplay), or the reason that grown adults spend thousands of dollars (and hours) on plastic figurines. But I certainly appreciate the effort. And it looks like SoftBank does too.

Wonder! is a new Japanese language social networking service aimed at Otaku culture. Picture: Wonder!

Rocket News 24 reports that SoftBank and its subsidiary company, Yahoo! Japan have launched a new social networking site for self-confessed otaku.

Called Wonder!, the website lets users follow others as well as upload photos of cosplay, fan art, figurines and plastic models.

Unlike Mixi, an exclusively domestic Japanese social networking service, Wonder! lets users sign in using their Facebook, Twitter or Yahoo! Japan IDs, meaning it is potentially accessible by anyone from around the world.

But with the site exclusively written in Japanese, it’s hard to see the website overtaking the popularity of English-language Otaku websites like Tokyo Otaku Mode.

Which begs the question, ‘What’s the point?’

Rocket News 24 reports that Wonder! is the result of an initiative started by SoftBank, last year, which encouraged employees of SoftBank Group companies to submit ideas to be funded on company money. Which to me, suggests that the SoftBank Group expects to see some returns from said idea.

But with remarkable similarities to Tokyo Otaku Mode’s globally accessible social network, just how much money is SoftBank expecting to make from Wonder! ?

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Japan’s largest free wi-fi service begins next month Thu, 29 Nov 2012 04:12:28 +0000

When it comes to technology, Japan is one of the most bafflingly inconsistent countries I’ve come across. On one hand there are people displaying 4 tonne, 4 metre-high robots controlled by an iPhone while the press contact for the exhibition at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo probably sent out the media release by a fax machine.

Seven & i Holdings is rolling out Japan's largest wi-fi service offered by a retailer next month. Picture: Seven & i Holdings

And the same applies to wi-fi. If you’ve ever been to Japan, armed with your smart-phone or laptop, you’ve more than likely ended up drinking your bodyweight in Starbucks just to get a wi-fi signal outside your hotel (which may or may not have supplied you with a LAN cable instead).

Well, put down that venti-mocha, de-caf, soy latte and fear no more!

Seven & i Holdings, parent company of the 7-Eleven convenience store chain, has announced it will be offering free wi-fi access from 10,000 stores beginning December 1.

Called “Seven Spot” the fibre-optic cable network will be the largest wi-fi service provided by a retailer, in Japan.

All potential users have to do is register, which is free. After that  they’re able to use the wi-fi at several of Seven & i Holding’s companies including 7-Eleven convenience stores, Ito Yokado supermarkets, and Denny’s restaurants.

The wi-fi service will give users access to downloads such as idol group smartphone wallpaper and video games, but the company has said it plans to make the service available to everyone in the case of a disaster.

The company is currently running a trial wi-fi service at 1,100 shops within Tokyo’s 23 wards. According to the company’s website, almost 200,000 people have already signed up to this service, warranting its nationwide expansion.

Users can find their closest wi-fi hotspot through the new Seven Spot website.

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Ultra-mini cars predicted to hit Japan next year Sat, 24 Nov 2012 03:48:05 +0000

Cars like Honda's Micro Commuter Prototype could be the next "big" thing on Japan's roads Picture: Honda

It’s essentially a golf-cart with a mini-car shell, but these ultra-mini cars have been approved to hit Japan’s roads next year.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry will begin an authorization system for the ultra-minicars in January.

The vehicles have a tiny 125cc engine and will only be fitted with two adult-sized, or one adult-, two child-sized seats. Because the maximum speed of the cars is only 60km/h it also only be approved to drive on certain public roads.

Currently, the smallest cars available on the Japanese market are K-cars, like the Suzuki Alto, with a 660cc engine.

Strangely, the government will be relaxing safety standards of the 125cc ultra-minis, compared to the 660cc mini cars, in return for restricting their use from freeways.

Ultra-mini cars must be 3.4 meters or less in length and 1.48 meters or less in width – the same dimensions of a mini-car. But cars less than 1.3 meters in width may be authorized to have brake performance equal to a motorbike.

The ministry has also said that an ultra-mini car driven only on roads with a speed limit of 30km/h or less is not required to have seatbelts.

Manufacturers are hoping that these more relaxed rules will help speed up the development of the car, which will be primarily aimed at tourists and elderly people.

But with such lax safety standards, is there really much point in having an ultra-mini car over a scooter or taking the bus?

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Japanese hotel chain refuses to hire smokers Fri, 23 Nov 2012 03:01:31 +0000

Compared to Australia, Japan has pretty lax smoking rules and laws. The ridiculous concept of a “smoking” and “non-smoking” section of a restaurant is still alive and well, and cigarette vending machines ensure you’re never short of a hit.

Smokers light up in a smoking room outside Narita Airport. Picture: Flikr/thekevinchang

But as Japan’s smoking population continues to decline, some rather bizarre rules and legally enforced regulations have come into play. There are the designated “smoking rooms”, where users gas each other with their second hand smoke in a tiny cube and cryptic courtesy messages in JR trains. And while it’s long been considered a social faux pas, smoking while walking has become a fineable offense in many large cities since 2002.

Nevertheless, it was still a surprise to hear that a Japanese Resort company is now refusing to employ smokers.

Yahoo Japan reports that luxury hotel chain, Hoshino Resort Group, no longer accepts job applications from smokers.

When would-be applicants go to the company’s recruitment page, before they do anything, they’re met with this:

“Before you look over our employment information, do you smoke?”

Honisho Resort Group has begun a new policy of only hiring non-smokers. Picture:

Clicking ‘no’ (the right answer) takes users onto a second ‘Welcome’ page, which explains that the Hoshino Resort Group is aiming to have all employees as non-smokers.

“You have taken your first step towards working with the Hoshino Resort Group.”

Honisho Resort Group has begun a new policy of only hiring non-smokers. Picture:

On the other hand, users who chose ‘yes’ are met with a dark screen with a long explanation as to why their smoking habits deem them as unacceptable employees.

Honisho Resort Group has begun a new policy of only hiring non-smokers. Picture:

There are three bullet points – employee efficiency, workplace efficiency and workplace environment – which basically explain that it is not in the company’s financial interests to employ people who require regular breaks, facilities in which to take the regular breaks, and whose attention is often divided between the task on hand and when they can have their next cigarette.

Some people have taken to social media, arguing that this new employment strategy is discriminatory, while others have argued that it is a logical and healthy step taken by the company.

But what do you think? Has the Hoshino Resort Group taken things too far or should more action be taken to discourage smoking?

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Japan: Is AKB48 the remedy for voter apathy Fri, 16 Nov 2012 08:18:41 +0000

Whether you’ve finally exhaled after holding your breath for the past few months, or you’re harvesting salt from your tears, it’s safe to say that the recent American Presidential Election captured the attention of people across the world.

AKB48 is again encouraging Tokyoites to elect their governor. Picture: Danny Choo

Coming from a country where voting is compulsory, I was baffled by how many of my American friends were quick to voice their opinions on politics, but not cast a ballot.

This year, voter turn-out was down almost 10 per cent, compared to 2008 meaning that only 57.5 per cent of eligible voters took part in the 2012 election.  That’s down from 62.3 per cent and 60.4 per cent in 2008 and 2004, respectively.

Japan doesn’t have quite the same problem as the US. While voting isn’t compulsory, almost 70 per cent of eligible voters went to the polls at the last Lower House election in 2009.

None the less, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government wants to make sure they get as many voters to come to the next gubernatorial election as possible. And they’re doing that with the help of ABK48.

The Mainichi reports that three members, Minami Takahashi, Tomomi Itano, and Yui Yokoyama will be appearing in videos and on almost 100,000 posters all over Tokyo, accompanied by the slogan, “I choose the next Tokyo governor.”

A website and facebok fan page will also launch on November 26 in preparation for the December 16 election.

This is the second time the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has called on AKB to help encourage voter turnout.

The first time the girls were asked to lend a hand, in April 2011, the number of Tokyoites who came to vote aged 20 and over reportedly increased 3.45 per cent, up to almost 60 per cent.  Japan Today reports that the voter turnout for 20-40 year-olds is thought to have increased by as much as 6%.

So what do you think? Would a short skirt and cute smile encourage you to go to the polls?

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Japan, the UN Human Rights Council and child porn Wed, 14 Nov 2012 08:15:38 +0000

Japan has been elected, for the third time in a row, to serve on the UN Human Rights Council, once again putting a number of the country’s unsavory societal aspects under the microscope.

Beginning on January 1 next year Japan, along with 17 other member-countries including South Korea, the US and Germany, will look into human rights violations in UN member countries and make recommendations for improvement.

But what of Japan? The country has been an elected member of the Human Rights Council since it was founded 2006 but has far from a clean slate.

Historically speaking Japan is yet to satisfactorily tackle the issue of Comfort Women, while many people are still concerned about discrimination against women, migrants and people with disabilities in modern-day Japan.

A poll by the Japan Times shows that of the almost 4,000 people surveyed, just over 20 per cent felt that gender-based discrimination was the most important and coming in at number three was discrimination against migrants.

But it’s child pornography – ranked as the second-most important human rights injustice by the Japan Times readers – that I think needs to be tackled quickly and harshly in Japan.

Japan is the only OECD nation where the possession of child pornography is still legal. Even more frighteningly, a government survey in 2002 revealed that 10 per cent of Japanese men admitted to owning child pornography at some stage.

In October, this year, three men were arrested in Kyoto for possessing child porn – it was the first time this had even happened in Japan.

Kyoto remains the only one of Japan’s 47 prefectures which punishes possession of child porn with jail time while the neighbouring prefecture, Nara, also deems it a crime but only punishable with a fine.

In the rest of Japan, while possession of child porn is legal, production and distribution has been illegal since 1999. But even these offences seem to be met half-heartedly with offenders facing fines and up to five years in prison.

Some believe Japan’s lax child pornography laws are there to protect the country’s manga and anime industry. According to Asia Times Online, 30-40 per cent of manga is of a sexual nature and much of this includes elementary or junior-high school aged girls in their uniforms. The term “joshi-kou” (short for joshi koukousei or senior high school girl) is often used to conjure images of “sexy” 16-17 year olds.

But there’s a big difference between a drawing of a prepubescent-looking character and photos of real half-naked 13 year-olds which fill the pages of magazines sold in book stores and convenience stores – not just adult shops.

Japan has become (in)famous for arguably over-sexualising youth and younger celebrities. The latest single by NMB48, Osaka-based girl band produced by the same company as AKB48, is titled “Virginity” and features Haruna Kinoshita, one of the group’s youngest members, aged 14. (Of course, some could argue that as the national age of consent in Japan is 13 there’s no problem with this, but it bothers me.)

But it’s not just the music. Pop idol groups like NMB48 and AKB48 regularly release photo books of the singers. While they aren’t pornographic, these books often show the girls in lingerie or tight fitting, revealing outfits.

And they’re big sellers. Three separate photo books featuring AKB singers were the top three selling photo books by publisher Oricon for the first half of this year which each book selling just over 92,000 copies on average.

At the beginning of the month, Japan Times reported that the UN Human Rights Council endorsed over 170 recommendations for Japan to improve its human rights record. The article goes on to say that while the recommendations are not legally binding Japan will have to provide a response by March.

But for me, the biggest crime regarding child porn in Japan is that it seems notoriously underreported. Instead of the UN issuing voluntary recommendations, what really needs to happen is for other countries to publicise this bizarre loophole in Japan’s legal system and to put pressure on Japanese society to outlaw this absolute breech of human rights once and for all.

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What’s in a kiss? The future of Japan, by the looks of it Fri, 09 Nov 2012 09:22:51 +0000

Japan is a country infamously in decline – population-wise. So much so that analysts have predicted that if the national birthrate continues at its glacial pace of 1.39 children per woman the nation will be “extinct” in 1000 years.

These are lonely times for men in Japan. Pic: AP.

But two stories have come out this morning which may have shed a little more light on the alarming subject.

Today, The Daily Yomiuri reported that one in three Japanese men feel they can’t get married, while another 35.3 per cent said they don’t want to marry.

Of the 450 men surveyed, many felt that their own economic insecurities prevented them from getting married, even though they wanted to.

What’s more, while almost 90 per cent of respondents said that they would like to have a child, almost 75 per cent said they weren’t sure of they could earn enough to pay for living expenses and education for the baby.

Such statistics are a sobering thought, given how few children there are in Japan these days.

But an even greater problem for the respondents who want to marry is their self confidence. Almost half of the men in their 20s felt they were unpopular with women.

Which brings me to the second of the two articles.

Rocket News 24  reports that an online poll by NTT Docomo reveals that over 10,000 people have not had their first kiss by the time they enter tertiary education.

Of those 10,000, more than 5,700 had not been kissed until they had entered the workforce and a further 331 had not had their first kiss until they were over 31.

But it gets worse. The category that received the second highest number of votes was “never kissed”.

Yes, over 6,000 of the poll participants had never experienced their first kiss.

The complete results of the almost 37,000 votes are as follows:

When did you have you first kiss? (36,818 votes total)

1. High school (9878 votes)
2. Never kissed (6119 votes)
3. Middle school (6021 votes)
4. After entering workforce and before 31 (5771 votes)
5. College (4262 votes)
6. Preschool/Kindergarten (2423 votes)
7. Elementary school (2029 votes)
8. After 31 (331 votes)

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Japan: Twitter goes berserk as high schoolers down 60 packs of fries in McDonalds challenge Sat, 03 Nov 2012 06:44:22 +0000

You say “potato,” Twitter user @tsukann2435 and his mates from high school say “60 packs of large french fries, please.”

Since October 19, McDonalds restaurants across Japan have been selling their fries – small, medium and large – for 150 yen ($US 1.86). That’s almost half the usual price of 290 yen for a large order.

But with this oh-so-generous campaign ending on November 2, a group of high schoolers in Okayama decided to make the most of it while they could.

At 11am on October 28 @tsukann2435 sent out a tweet saying “We’re taking on the 60 packs of large fries challenge are at the two-storey McDonalds in front of Okayama Station! Everyone come quick! Also, thanks for re-tweeting!”「岡山駅前の二階建てマックでポテトL60個挑戦してる人たちがいる!今すぐみんなこい!あとRTも頼む!」


This message was retweeted over 10,000 times. Picture: Twitter

60 packs of large French fries – that’s almost 32,500 calories, or 16 times the recommended calorie intake for teenage boys.

The tweet along with the picture of a small mountain of chips soon went viral, being retweeted over 10,000 times. Unfortunately the original offender, @Tsukann2435 appears to have deleted all but four of his tweets since the incident so it’s impossible to say how much the original message has been circulated.

While Tsukann’s followers were all too keen to see the self-imposed challenge, the McDonalds staff were very upset. The stunt occurred during one of the busiest times of the day and subsequent customers were unable to buy any chips.

In the meantime, the second floor of the restaurant, where the challenge was taking place, became swarmed with dozens of spectators, further annoying the customers.

Rocket News 24 collected angry tweets from some of the onlookers:

 “The guys who did this are idiots. As are the guys who sold them the fries in the first place…”

“Cultural standards are indeed slipping”

“They could do this at night time and cause a lot less hassle.”

But the kids didn’t let cyber space get them down. At the end of the day they posted one last picture of the entire group who took part in the 60 Pack Challenge.

"A picture of the group who ordered 60 packs of fries at Okayama McDonalds..." Picture: Twitter

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Strict rules deter would-be sumo Thu, 01 Nov 2012 10:39:12 +0000

This year’s sumo grand champion, Harumafuji, has suggested that strict training schedules and lifestyle are the cause of Sumo’s declining popularity amongst would-be wrestlers.

Sumo popularity is at a new low with only one applicant this season. Picture: Anna Watanabe

The Japan Sumo Association has reported that only one teenager has stepped up to take the exam to become a sumo wrestler in Fukuoka, making this the lowest turn-out since 1958.

The Japan Times reports that the JSA has even lowered its physical standards and cut tests that gauge smaller wrestlers athletic ability, in an attempt to encourage more applicants.

Yokozuna, Haumafuji, says he understands that these high standards can make sumo a less appealing career option.

“Sumo is a strict sport,” he said.

“I understand that there are people who feel like they need not necessarily go through painful experiences in this time of convenience,” the Mongolia-born champion told Kyodo news agency.

So just how rigorous is a sumo wrestler’s daily routine?

Ordinarily, after sumo-hopefuls compete in try-outs such as yesterday’s Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament, successful wrestlers are placed in stables where a strict hierarchy sees junior athletes doing chores for their superiors.

For the youngest wrestlers, the day begins at 4 or 5am where they train for several hours on an empty stomach. Senior sumo start training at the slightly more bearable of 7am. Shiko, or leg stomping exercises make up a large component of their daily workout. The combination of squatting and lifting the leg high in the air increases lower body strength, balance and flexibility.

Another grueling training exercise is matawari.  This involves sitting on the floor with the wrestler’s legs spread 180 degrees and leaning forward until their chest touches the ground.

Although meals are only eaten twice a day – usually at 11:00am and 6:00pm – they are very calorie-heavy. Roughly 10,000 calories-heavy to be precise. A heavy meal, followed by a 3-4 hour nap ensures that sumo wrestles gain the fat they need to protect their muscles during a match.

Czech Republic wrestler, Takanoyama, is well known for his small build but this has hampered his ascension in the ranks. In 2011 the wrestler was given a warning after it was revealed that he had been injecting himself with insulin in an attempt to put on more weight.

Because all chores and activities are done in order of rank, junior sumo wrestlers are always the last to eat and bathe. In the evenings wrestlers have free time and can go out, but even the curfew for younger sumo is earlier,  usually ending at 10:30.

Although all sumo who are deemed not hard-working enough are subject to physical punishment, these practices are more common for younger sumo. AAP reports that in 2007 a 17-year-old apprentice died as a result of hazing by seniors at their sumo stable. A 2007 survey by the JSA found that 90 percent of the 53 stables questioned used baseball bats or similar tools in “training”. About a third said bullying and hazing occurred during training. Harsh activities like these are also suspected to play a big role in the sport’s recent slump in popularity.

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China to publish books on Tokyo Trials Fri, 26 Oct 2012 14:00:14 +0000

A group of almost 50 Chinese historians, publishers and librarians have launched a project to release a series of 80 books on the Tokyo Trials.

The series, co-published by the National Library of China (NLC) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University, will be the first books discussing the trials of Japanese World War Two war criminals to be published in China.

NLC curator Zhou Heping told China Daily that the book was an essential element to academic study on the topic.

“The trial determined the political atmosphere in Japan and the whole of Eastern Asia after World War II; it should not be neglected. China is one of the victors of World War II, we cannot be absent in the relevant academic study.”

English-language history books focus heavily on European allied forces and often overlook China’s role in the war. However, as an allied country, one of the eleven judges at the Tokyo Trials, officially known as the International Military Tribunal for Far East Japan, was China.

What’s more, following her surrender in 1945 and the Tokyo Trials, Japan lost control of all territories outside the Japanese mainland, including regions such as Manchuria and Taiwan.

Although there are countless books on the Tokyo Trials, China Daily reports that China has almost no academic books on this period of history.

On the other hand, Japan has published more than 300 books on the Tokyo Trials, some of which Zheng Zhaoqi, head of the centre producing the books, feels are distorted.

“Many right-wing Japanese politicians and historians doubted the justice of the trials and distorted the reality… so we have to accelerate our research to counter their version of events,” Zheng told China Daily.

“We cannot do in-depth study on this event without an authoritative file.”

News of the books comes only weeks after Japanese leaders visited Yasukuni Jinja, a shrine in Tokyo infamous for honouring 14 of the over 5000 war criminals tried at the Tokyo Trials.

These visits have a history of angering former occupied territories of the Japanese Empire, including China.

But China hopes that the publication of the series will clear up such political tensions that were founded in the war, including territorial disputes.

“[Publishing the series] will also help to solve the dispute on Diaoyu Islands and some other controversies left by the war if we seriously study that period of history, we must hurry,” Zheng said.

The 80 volume series will include almost 50,000 pages of photocopied documents (in English) from the trials and is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

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Why hasn’t Japan saddled-up to Gangnam Style? Tue, 23 Oct 2012 16:11:19 +0000

It’s received almost 532 million views on YouTube, been made into countless parodies, and has been danced by the likes of Elmo , Scary Spice and of course, the Ohio University Marching Band.


South Korean rapper PSY performs his massive K-pop hit "Gangnam Style" live on NBC's "Today" show in New York. Pic: AP.

So when my casual (possibly danced) reference to the viral hit Gangnam Style, over lunch at university, didn’t so much as receive an underwhelmed exhale of acknowledgement, I was a little confused. Turns out, my Japanese classmates had never heard of Gangnam Style.

But why? YouTube’s video statistics show that Gangnam Style is most popular with people aged 13-24, so my demographic was right. And Japan is by no means a stranger to K-Pop, K-Drama or K-anything thanks to the Hanryu Wave.

Today, AFP reported that this experience is not unusual. According to the article Japan has remained “relatively immune to the seductive powers of Psy and his horse-riding dance.”

Only two months after releasing his song on YouTube on July 15, Psy has taken Gangnam Style global with a world tour, which has rocketed to number two on US music charts. But in comparison, Gangnam Style has only made it to the Top 30 on the Japanese iTunes Chart.

Kotaku Eastern, which picked up on the unusual trend over a week ago, even suggests comparing the lengths of Wikipedia entries for “Gangnam Style” in English and Japanese. While the English language version has an extensive write-up which goes as far as to talk about the environmental impacts of the song, Japan’s Wikipedia entry could barely scrape together three paragraphs.

Commentators have given many reasons as to why Gangnam Style hasn’t taken over Japan’s radio waves. The most common suggestion is political. Japanese-Korean relations have been particularly unstable over the last 4 months due to the Dokto/ Takejima Island dispute.

Others have also suggested that Japanese consumers have grown accustomed to a certain kind of K-Pop marketing. For starters, Korean bands that are popular in Japan such as Kara and Big Bang often release Japanese-language albums. So perhaps Psy’s all-Hangul Gangnam Style isn’t as appealing to the Japanese market.

The most popular K-Pop acts in Japan release Japanese language albums.

Also the look which has made Psy so popular in the West – slightly chubby and very ridiculous – is far from what Japan is accustomed to when they think of Korean Idols. Time describes Japan’s ideal K-Pop star as “young, svelte and extremely attractive”.

But personally, I think it comes down to two main reasons: Facebook and petty rivalry.

Looking at Gangnam Style’s video statistics, the song goes from being “viral” to “breaking the Internet” after it is first embedded on Facebook on July 15. From that point, the video goes from receiving over 18.5 million views to almost 73.7 million views when it receives hits for the first YouTube search “Gangnam Style”.

The popularity of Gangnam Style skyrocketed after the song was embedded on Facebook. Picture: Youtube

While Facebook is slowly becoming more popular in Japan it’s still not nearly as widespread as it is in the US or UK. In July, a NetRatings study by Neilsen Japan found that Japan has 17 million Facebook users. That’s only 30 per cent of those with Internet connections. The importance of Facebook in Gangnam Style’s popularity becomes clearer when you see where the majority of the video’s hits are coming from.

According to AsiaOne on August 25 almost 47% of the video’s views came from the United States, 7% from the UK, 6.8% from Canada and 4% from South Korea.

While in countries in the West, radio DJs felt pressured to play Gangnam Style because of its overwhelming popularity on Facebook, Japan didn’t have this same push from the masses. As a result, people who didn’t go out and search for the song couldn’t come across it by chance on the radio.

Without access to the song, the Japanese public hasn’t been able to shape Gangnam Style’s overall image. This has been left to a handful of music bloggers, some of whom, AFP writes, have suggested the video’s success is due to South Koreans using bots, or automated viewing programmes to increase the hits.

The other reason Japan hasn’t warmed to Gangnam Style could be that there’s a rivalry over which country – Japan or South Korea – “invented” the infamous horse-riding dance

Those in Japan’s corner argue that Psy copied some of the dance moves from a 2011 commercial for Yellow Hat Tires. In the commercial, dancers in cowboy hats line up in a V-formation and do moves similar to Psy’s. The main similarity is when the dancers wave their right arm in the air, as though they’re holding a lasso.

Some people suggest Psy "stole" dance moves from a 2011 Japanese commercial. Picture: YouTube

But Korean netizens have one-upped Japan, suggesting that the Yellow Hat choreographers stole the lasso move from a 1998 song by Korean boy band Koyote. The Koyote singers do less horse riding, so while the move is identical it seems to suggest a “whoop-whoop” feeling. Although to be fair, the song puzzlingly opens with a whinny.

But Psy – straight from the horse’s mouth – says the dance moves are original. When interviewed by Fuse the singer said he and his dance group came up with the moves after days of experimenting with every kind of living thing, including kangaroos and trees.

“We spent, like 20 nights with the choreographers… and we said ‘Wait, let’s decide on one simple and single move’,” he said.

Once they collectively came up with the horse-riding dance, Psy said the dancers were almost crying.

For whatever the reason Gangnam Style hasn’t taken off in Japan, I sincerely hope it has more to do with the spread of information than anything political. The essence of Gangnam Style is very tongue-in-cheek, and is all about being able to laugh at yourself. It would be a horrible shame if something like sibling rivalry got in the way of that.

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What’s sexist in Japan? Sat, 20 Oct 2012 09:16:06 +0000

Does Japanese advertising take gender stereotypes too far? Picture: Suntory/Youtube

I don’t like bringing up the S-word. Frankly, I think it gets thrown around too much. Like swearing, I think labeling something as “sexist” has far more effect when it is done sparingly but precisely.

Recently in Australia, our Prime Minister has been credited with re-defining the word ‘misogyny’ from “hatred of women” to “entrenched prejudice against women” after a pointed speech in parliament. In her speech Julia Gillard’s words were direct and her examples of sexism displayed by the leader of the opposition were undisputedly prejudiced against women.

But sexism and misogyny are two very different things. It’s easy to identify a negatively intended remark towards either sex, but it’s a hazy line between sexism and endearment.

And where that line is drawn is different for every woman.

For me, I think of myself as a human being, and whether I have a uterus or not doesn’t affect how I interpret any bag-carrying, door-opening and “Thanks, love”-ing from men. I see that as a sign of old-fashioned politeness. And I hope the same courtesies would be offered to men, and that women would lend a hand and mind their ‘P’s and Q’s’ when called for, too.

Of course there are those who disagree, and I can understand why. To be treated differently because of something you cannot change can be upsetting. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been on the receiving end of playfully meant – though still hurtful – sexist remarks or gestures, that I have what some may call a ‘naïve’ definition of sexism.

But either way, my blurry sexist/endearing line is drawn when I’m told what I ‘should’ like – when something unisex is marketed for women. And not because of functional aspects like size or weight, but because it’s pink or tastes sweet or looks “cute”.

Fujitsu's Floral Kiss comes in Elegant White, Feminine Pink (shown here) and Luxury Brown. Picture: Fujitsu

Today, Fujitsu announced it is launching the Floral Kiss laptop for women, on November 2.

According to the company, the Floral Kiss was designed under the direction of female employees “in an all-out pursuit of elegance”.

For Fujitsu, this “elegance” comes in the form of zirconia adornments, a gold-trimmed case with a flip latch that is easily opened – “even by users with long fingernails”, and a power button with a “pearl-like accent”.  Even the air vents are a floral motif design.

Maybe it’s me, but bling and posies say ‘tacky’ more than ‘elegance’.

Performance-wise the Floral Kiss is fairly standard. It comes with Windows 8 OS, a 3rd generation Intel Core i5 processor and 500GB of hard disk space.

What sets it apart are the custom-designed applications like a scrapbook which automatically organizes “pictures and URLs of the items, retail stores, recipes, and other content that users come across when they are casually browsing the web”.

Don’t get me wrong, clothes and cakes make up a big chunk of my internet time, but to assume that’s all women are after is a big no-no for me.

The Scrapbook application allows users to organise their regular websites. Picture: Fujitsu

The applications also include a diary, which organizes the user’s Twitter and Facebook posts and a horoscope. We can only assume both are designed to help her decide what’s best to cook for dinner.

But snarkiness aside, it’s interesting to see how important and powerful female-oriented marketing is in Japan. Unisex products like alcohol, foods and entertainment like anime and manga have two distinct target markets.

Alcohol is about relaxing and letting go for women, but it’s refreshing and empowering for men. Women are supposed to like sweet things and strong flavours are for men. And let’s not get started on shojo and shonan manga.

In Japan, the feeling of societal gaze is intense and it seems people are compelled to act a certain way not because of how they feel but because everyone will notice if they don’t fit in. The auxiliary adjective –rashii (meaning ‘-like’) is an important linguistic feature that’s used a lot. An onna-rashii josei, or feminine woman, and dannsei-rashii otoko、 or masculine man, are the ideal gender images.

So in a society where people seem to like to be told how they should act and what their computers should look like, is marketing a ‘laptop for women’ really all that sexist?

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Too soon? What’s the half-life of an insensitive joke? Wed, 17 Oct 2012 07:01:47 +0000

Japan's Chief Cabinet Seretary has called the 'Fukushima Effect' joke "inappropriate". Picture: YouTube

A French TV host has made an insensitive joke about the Fukushima nuclear crisis while talking about the latest soccer friendly between Japan and France.

Variety show host, Laurent Ruquier of France 2, said Japanese goalie Eiji Kawashima’s standout performance during Japan’s 1-0 win was thanks to the “Fukushima effect”. To make matters worse, Ruquier ‘s commentary was accompanied by a composite image of Kawashima with four arms.

See the video here

Ruquier’s studio audience responded with surprise and applause at his joke, which was intended to praise Kawashima, but Japan has reacted negatively.

Reuters reports that Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the remark “hurts the feelings of people affected by the disaster and hinders efforts for reconstruction,” while Education Minister, Makiko Tanaka said it “lacks sensitivity.”

The effects of radiation exposure have been romanticized by superheroes like Spider Man and The Incredible Hulk so it’s easy to see where Ruquier is coming from. But the problem for Japan – a country now with two generations of radiation exposure victims – is discrimination.

Soon after last year’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster, reports of children from Fukushima being bullied at school and evacuated families being turned away from hotels, began to emerge. Even some members of the “Fukushima 50” – the group of men who went into the nuclear power plant during the meltdown to prevent the disaster from escalating – have refused to show their faces or give their names to the media.

But this discrimination based on the fear of being ‘infected’ by radiation is not new in Japan. After the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War Two, the city’s survivors became known as ‘hibakusha’. According to the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organization, this label followed the victims for the rest their lives; restricting marriage and employment prospects.

What’s more, by popularizing labels like the ‘Fukushima effect’ Ruquier is perpetuating the association of Fukushima and it’s surrounds with radiation. This year’s rice harvest has just ended and in the next month ski slopes will open their doors for winter travelers. But with sales still down it’s hard to predict the future of two of Fukushima’s biggest industries.

With radiation levels still reported in the daily newspaper easy to make seamlessly harmless jokes about the ongoing effects of radiation in northern Japan. But while time has allowed the rest of the world to recover from the shock of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, who knows what the half-life of an insensitive joke will be.

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Freight container ‘hotel’ in ship-shape for Miyagi Thu, 11 Oct 2012 03:08:01 +0000

The first of nine hotels planned for tsunami-devastated parts of Tohoku has been opened this week in Natori, Miyagi.

Comprised of 314, single-room orange and blue freight containers, Value The Hotel Natori offers rooms for 8100 yen ($US103) per night, including breakfast and dinner.

Click here to see photos of the new hotel

Although small, the rooms include a TV, air conditioner, bar fridge, desk and all have a window built into the side.

The nine hotels, primarily aimed at construction workers and volunteers in the region, are built by Tokyo-based hotel operator Kachikaihatsu Co. and funded by Asia’s second largest hedge fund, Sparx.

This time last year, when the deal was struck, Sparx CEO, Shuhei Abe told Bloomberg News the hotels would help alleviate accommodation shortages in the area.

“There is a clear gap between supply and demand in the quake-stricken area when it comes to lodging,” he said.

“This presented an opportunity for an investor like us to participate in Japan’s reconstruction effort, while securing decent returns.”

Abe has indicated that future hotels may also include medical-related services and convenience stores.

The Wall Street Journal’s Asia Japan Watch reports that the guest rooms have been fully booked on weekends.

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First English-language ‘keitai shousetsu’ hits the App Store Tue, 09 Oct 2012 15:08:36 +0000

eMobo has brought Japan's keitai shousetsu culture to the English-speaking world. Picture: Apple

Since 2000, long before the West had Kindles and tablets, Japan’s commuters’ have been catching up on their reading on their phones.

Called keitai shousetsu – literally mobile (phone) novel – stories are written by amateur authors who send out text-message-sized ‘chapters’ to subscribed readers by text, e-mail, or by posting them on an online notice board.

Now, a new iPhone app has brought this method of self-publishing to English speakers. eMobo already has a database of thousands of ‘books’ from it’s parent website Text Novel, but the app allows users to write and update stories on the run, ensuring the app’s database is an ever growing one.

To keep SMS costs down and to avoid scrolling, original keitai shousetsu chapters would only contain up to 100 characters. On the other hand, eMobo books are roughly 5-7 iPhone ‘pages’ long.

eMobo book chapters are longer than original keitai shousetsu chapters. Picture: Anna Watanabe

It’s unfortunate, but I feel the length of eMobo’s chapters takes away from the original point of the keitai shousetsu, which eMobo describes on their website as “short, to the point, poetic, crisp, and beautiful.”

The challenge of keeping chapters short meant original keitai shousetsu were written to be read in a real-time mindset; conversation dominates the story while descriptions and internal monologues are almost nonexistent.

Instead, eMobo looks and feels like a Kindle for short stories that are updated every few days.

Nevertheless, eMobo does provide budding authors with an opportunity to explore alternative writing styles and potentially lucrative publishing opportunities.

The first keitai shousetsu, Deep Love (2000) such cult status it grew to become a published manga series (2002~2003), television drama (2004) and finally a movie (2004).

Even with newer readers available, keitai shousetsu are still popular in Japan. Last year, three of the five best selling books were keitai shousetsu.


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Giant ‘Comfort Women’ poster erected in Times Square Fri, 05 Oct 2012 12:35:46 +0000

Japan has yet to apologise to Comfort Women from their occupied territories during World War Two. Picture: K-Pop Starz

South Korean singer and well known political campaigner Jang-hoon Kim and Public Relations expert Prof. Kyoung-duk Seo are taking the sensitive topic of Comfort Women to the US.

A poster,asking “Do You Remember?” was erected in New York’s Times Square on Wednesday in an attempt to continue the conversation of Japan’s atrocities in World War 2 overseas. It shows former German chancellor Willy Brandt making his ‘silent apology’ at a Jewish ghetto monument in Warsaw in 1971, and asks the same from Japan.

“In 2012, Korean women forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during WWII are still waiting for a heartfelt apology from Japan,” it says.

Kim told K-Pop Starz:“This issue of what happened to the Korean women is becoming a worldwide issue. We decided to post these in Times Square because we knew that many people would see it and quite possibly raise awareness about the issue.”

K-Pop Starz reports that Kim and Seo are also working on other advertisements for Europe and a video for CNN and the BBC.

While the issue of Comfort Women is one that deserves to be discussed by people around the world and, more importantly, recognized by the Japanese government, I wonder if the timing of this is appropriate.

Japan’s territorial disputes with China and Korea over the Senkaku and Takeshima islands, respectively, have been in and out international news for years. But as conflicts between the three nations, particularly Japan and China, escalate, perhaps the “Do You Remember?” poster is adding unnecessary fuel to the fire.

Yesterday, South Korean government representatives and members of the foreign media went to Takeshima (as it is called in Japan), or Dokdo (its Korean name) ,in an attempt to reinforce what Korea claims is it’s rightful ownership of the islands. CNN reports that Japan’s Foreign Ministry, who claims that Korea’s military presence on the island is ‘illegal’, called the visit “extremely regrettable” and “totally unacceptable”. It’s not the kind of discourse you’d want to see between two of Asia’s largest economies.

There are so many disputes between Japan and Korea, and while the fault predominantly lies with Japan, it’s important to see the bigger picture.

Presumably, Japan will only bend to so much pressure from Korea. Perhaps Kim and Seo would have more luck with their campaign if they chose their battles more wisely.

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No rest for the creepy: Japan’s first co-sleeping specialty store Tue, 02 Oct 2012 02:38:14 +0000

Be it a lunch with a cute, ear-wax cleaning teenager at a Maid Cafe or a trip to a seven-storey high adult store, when you hear ‘Akihabara’, all manner of perverted stores come to mind.

But now the otaku epicenter of Tokyo has taken creepy to a whole new level.

Sleeping with a pretty girl has neever been so easy. Picture:

Soine-Ya  (ソイネ屋 – literally ‘sleeping together shop’) claims to be the first store in Japan where customers can pay to sleep − and only sleep – with a pretty girl for as long as they’re willing to pay for.

The shop, which opened on September 20, says clients can ‘comfortably spend their time, slowly enjoying the warmth of another person beside them’.

But like all specialist stores, the menu at Soine-Ya isn’t cheap. Before any sleeping gets started, customers must pay 3000 yen (US$39) for membership charges. First time customers receive a discounted 40 minutes for 3000 yen, but it gets pretty pricey after that.

Customers can sleep with at Soine-Ya from 20 minutes (3000 yen) to 10 hours (50,000 yen US$640). There are also ‘options’ such as stroking the woman’s hair (1000 yen for 3 minutes) and staring into each other’s eyes (1000 yen for one minute).

Although the store’s website isn’t completed yet, customers will soon be able to see photos and profiles of the girls. Customers can pick their sleeping partners by their name, age, height and cup size, but this costs an extra 1000 yen plus 500 yen for each hour.

According to Kotaku East, the online reaction to Soine-Ya has been less enthusiastic than expected. Most online commentators are baffled that people would spend such large amounts of money and not receive any x-rated services in return.

On the flip side, Soine-Ya is also hiring girls. The job description on the website reads:

Job: Sleeping with others

Location: Akihabara (3 minutes from station)

Qualifications: Senior high school to 30s

Wage: 3500 yen/hour (US$45)

Hours: Weekdays 3pm – 10pm / Weekends/holidays 12pm – 10pm

If you’re getting paid almost $50 to sleep, maybe it’s not such a bad gig after all!

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