Friday, September 28, 2012

The Japanese View of the Disputed Senkaku Islands

During the last few weeks, many Japanese were holding their breaths, not knowing when the anti-Japanese demonstration in China would end. For many Japanese, it was an unwelcome development with the exception of a handful of extreme nationalists who can't wait for a showdown. People don't want to see the Japanese-Chinese relationship deteriorate.

As a Japanese national in the U.S., I have an opportunity to observe the situation from the outside. I saw people worry not only about the economic consequences, but also the potential of nationalist sentiment peaking in Japan.

Due to the bitter memory of WWII, strong nationalism has been somewhat taboo in Japan. The Japanese have a strong ethnic identity, but at times it has caused a friction in neighboring countries. Ultra nationalists think the pacifist article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which restricts the use of military force in other countries makes Japan weak. They also feel that the Japanese are repeatedly forced to apologize to the neighboring Asian countries, which Japan invaded during the war.

On the other hand, some people want to protect article 9 of the Japanese constitution and insist on permanently denouncing the use of any kind of military force, cutting the not-so-small defense budget, and allocating it to education and other social programs.

For 65 years, Japan hasn't exercised any military muscle at all, even though the country is well armed. It was a big controversy when the Self Defense Forces were deployed for an U.N. peace keeping mission in a non-combattant role. The Japanese people are wondering, "Can we do it, if it's really necessary?"

There are many comments on the Japanese social networking sites, most wanting to assert Japan's legitimacy of the ownership of the Senkaku islands. Right wing nationalists who hate the Chinese and the Koreans are writing nasty and malicious comments. A few radical people took the matter into their own hands in Japan and carrying out minor acts of malicious public nuisance.

The Japanese news media is not reporting the internal turmoils of the Chinese government which must have strongly influenced the problems of the disputed islands. It's not hard to monitor the Chinese news from China, because even I can do it from my tiny apartment in New York City. I thought it's a shame that The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the other news media outside of Japan had better analysis of the issue than the Japanese media.

The news from Japan details the demonstrations such as factory damages, the number of people marching, and so on. One of my online friends who lives in Shanghai particularly lamented about a news report of 1,000 fishing boats sailing out to the disputed islands for demonstration. Several Japanese news outlets said that the Japanese coast guard was waiting around the area to receive them. But it was a false alarm. If the Japanese government and news media had properly monitored several Chinese language news stations, they would have known that those fishing boats had safely returned to the shore already after their daily fishing excursions.

Did the Japanese media intentionally report false information to make the story more exciting, or are both the Japanese government and media incompetent? Asian countries should have sufficient diplomatic skills to resolve this problem peacefully. Also the Japanese government and media should provide better information to the Japanese people, so that citizens can understand this whole complex issue.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Locality in Japan

Japan is a small country, but it can be divided into several sections, and the people from each section have distinct sounding accents and very different character traits from who live in other areas. Two major areas in Japan, with such distinctively different cultures are the Kanto (eastern area) and the Kansai (western area).

Kanto includes the Tokyo metropolitan area, and I was born and brought up in Zushi, which is apart of  this area. As the capital, Tokyo is the biggest magnet in Japan. Tokyoites generally speak without accent, and sometimes are criticized as snobby. They have a slight advantage of being from the capital's area with the opportunities it provides. Japanese companies' employees who are sent from Japan to a New York office are likely from Tokyo. The Japanese image many Americans may have, such as quiet, reserved, introverted, well-mannered are actually the character traits of Tokyoites.

The center of Kansai (western area) is Osaka. I've never visited Osaka nor lived in Kansai. It's not that I hate to go there, but just like people who live in Brooklyn never move to Queens, and vice versa, the Kanto area is my comfort zone. Therefore, I didn't have a chance to make any close friends with anyone from that area until I lived in New York.

One day I realized that many Japanese who live in New York have a Kansai accent in Japanese. There are many distinctive local accents which exist even in the small islands of Japan, but they usually conceal the accents when they speak to outsiders. Only people from Kansai proudly continue using their accents wherever they go and to whomever they speak. And it seems that people from Kansai are more comfortably adjusting to the life in New York than the other Japanese.

As I said, I am from Zushi, Kanagawa prefecture. The area of my hometown is in a coastal area facing the Pacific Ocean, and people are mellow. People from my area usually don't end up in New York or Chicago.

Ms. I is one of my friends, from Kansai, whom I met in New York. She is extroverted, very social, down to earth, outspoken, and always goes the extra mile to make others laugh. She may not be the typical Japanese many people would imagine, but she does have those well defined character traits of people from Kansai.

Do you know which area your Japanese friend came from?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Skeletons in Japanese Closets

I hear news occasionally that skeletons have been literally found recently in closets in Japan. Those skeletons were not the victims of kidnapings or serial killers. They were aging parents, or siblings of the residents.

Probably most of them died of natural causes, due to old age or complications from chronic illnesses. They may have been cared for a long time by family members at home, but when that old sick person dies, some people leave the remains as is without a proper burial.

It's not only creepy to live with a lifeless body, but also illegal, so it is news. But it keeps repeatedly happening in Japan. These incidents occur when residents of the household are old, poor and isolated from the rest of the community. Their activity levels are so low to begin with, that others living near by don't notice even these home bound die.

When a story of this type shows up on-line news, many people accuse the person who didn't report the death of a family member as wanting to keep collecting Nenkin (similar to a Social Security distribution) of the deceased. It may be true that he wanted to keep collecting the money, but it appears this is only one of the issues.

The deceased is often over 75 years old, and the caregiver, most likely their child, is over 50. That child may have been acting as a full-time caregiver for a number of years, while laid off due to the lengthy recession in Japan or having originally quit a job to take care of their parents. In any case, it's extremely difficult for a 50-year-old  to find any kind of job in Japan, where age discrimination is prevalent. Consequently, they are desperately lonely and nearly destitute. The admission of the death means the loss of  both critical financial aid and the emotional bounds that have made their life meaningful.

I also think when an old person takes care of another old person, and being isolated from outside world, mental health deteriorates quickly. In normal circumstances, people can't live with a dead person. Japan is hot and humid in summer, bodies decompose pretty quickly. It's insane to me but not to them.

Many municipal offices are trying to visit households with elderly on a regular basis to make sure they are alive. But more skeletons are being found, because elderly people are keep dying, and their care takers are trying to hold the secrets.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Kaisho in Japanese
I was exchanging comments on Facebook with one of my friends who inspired me to write about Japanese fictitious love. He is a Japanese language teacher to adults. After reading my blog, he wrote,
Excellent blog but...Japanese men do want to have sex with as many women possible. The more women they have sex with, the more value they have as a man.
I replied,
I remember old housewives whose husbands have multiple extra-marrital relationships sometimes say with half complaint and half pride "My husband has 'kaisho'."
Kaisho is a strange word, which I didn't understand when I was young. It's a word to describe a man's dependability, vitality, resourcefulness, ability, power, aggressiveness, capability, etc., with a positive connotation. But the word will never be used of a woman for a reason.

When a Japanese old housewife said, "My husband has kaisho", she was actually bragging. She really meant;
My husband is rich, powerful and capable enough to have many women. I have some problems with that, but I am his only wife. Because I am allowing him to have many women, he is even more successful in his business.
Time has changed. Many young Japanese even don't know the word, kaisho. Young Japanese women hate their husbands or boyfriends have intimate relationships with other women, and accuse the man when she smells something, because they believe that she should have a commitment from her partner.

But Japanese men still think kaisho is an important value a man should have, as if he lived 100 years ago. Some men get STD and pass it to wives, and some get divorced and lose most of the savings and children. But it's all good... it's all kaisho.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Japanese SNS

Login page of Japanese SNS mixi
I have an account with a Japanese SNS (Social Networking Site), called mixi. Mixi has been around in Japan for a while, and still has many loyal users, even though many Japanese have started to use Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Ping, etc., as they quickly evolve. Mixi is now trailing this evolution.

Mixi, as a Japanese SNS, knows Japanese mentality well and built this site, so Japanese users can join and use it comfortably. It is an on-line closed community. A person can only join through an invitation from an existing mixi member (It used to be in that way, but anyone can join without invitation now.), and members don't need to disclose their identity to open an account. Facebook is, for many Japanese, too revealing.

Mixi users' friends are most likely real life friends, and they know who each other are, but in mixi they call each other only by their on-line names. A circle of friends are cautiously expanded from friends to friends of friends, and rarely is a friend request sent to a total stranger. But the biggest advantage of mixi for many Japanese is using the site anonymously, so that a member can express his own opinion freely without facing criticism in real life. For the same reason, Twitter is gaining popularity rapidly in Japan.

Most of the mixi members are 20 to 40 years-olds, who are comfortable with using cell phones, smart phones, and PC. Considering the large aging population in Japan, this distribution of member demographics is skewed significantly, but mixi is convenient means by which to glimpse how young Japanese people think of current topics.

Younger Japanese people are frustrated as they are a minority, disadvantaged financially, and carry a heavy burden of supporting the older generation. The frustration sometimes turns them to an extreme social conservatism, favoring expeling foreign influence, or they avoid dealing with real life and indulge in a fictional world, such as Anime, Manga, and SNS. Such frustration and fantasy tends to be expressed more freely, anonymously on-line.