Saturday, February 28, 2015

Environment And Justice Ministers Accused Of Illegal Funds

Justice Miister Kamikawa

Two Japanese cabinet ministers denied wrongdoing on Friday after media said they appeared to have received improper funding, the latest embarrassment for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, three of whose ministers have quit over scandals since October.

Abe returned to power for a rare second term with a 2012 election win, promising to reboot an economy plagued by deflation, and his ruling coalition cruised to another big election win in December.

Political analysts say although Abe still enjoys solid voter support, his government would inevitably be hit hard if further revelations of improper funding or other scandals cropped up and forced any more ministers to step down.

The latest reports involve the environment and justice ministers.

The Asahi newspaper said a branch of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) headed by Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki, collected 1.4 million yen from a logistics company which had received government funds.

That would violate a law banning a company from making political donations within a year of an award of government subsidies.

“I received the donation from the company without knowing it was receiving subsidies and I think it was not illegal,” said Mochizuki. “I have returned the 1.4 million yen, considering morality.”

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga defended the minister, saying he had returned the funds as soon as he found out there was a possible conflict.

Private broadcaster TV Asahi said an LDP branch headed by Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa got 60,000 yen a month in political donation from the same company in 2013.

Kamikawa also said she was not aware the company was getting subsidies.

On Thursday, Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura denied a report that he illegally received political funds, just days after the farm minister resigned over similar allegations.

Political commentator Atsuo Ito said the risk for Abe was growing.

“Fundamentally, there are still a lot of hopes for his economic policy and his support rates are still high, but with so many of these things piling up, the chance of damage will increase,” Ito said.

“If another person quits his administration is likely to come under quite a bit of fire.”

Abe’s first term between 2006 and 2007 was marred by resignations, a pension scandal and a minister’s suicide.

This time, Abe’s ruling bloc enjoys comfortable majorities in both chambers of parliament and he maintains party support.

“LDP lawmakers still believe they can win elections and they can garner voter support with Abe at the helm,” said Mikitaka Masuyama, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. 

Reuters

Friday, February 27, 2015

Japan's Top Court Overturns Sexual Harassment Ruling


Japan’s Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a high court ruling and backed the suspensions of two male managers at an Osaka aquarium who were punished for making sexual harassment remarks to female employees.

The two men, in their 40s, work for a company that manages Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. In 2012, they were accused of sexual harassment by female employees after they made comments such as asking if they had boyfriends and why they weren’t married. One man said his urge for sex increases as he gets older, that certain women visitors to the aquarium were his type, and that his marriage had been sexless, TBS reported.

The company suspended one man for 30 days and the other for 10 days and demoted both to non-managerial positions.

The men appealed to the Osaka District Court, saying the disciplinary action was too severe because they had not been issued a caution, nor had the women complain to them. However, the court ruled their suspensions were in order, calling the remarks highly inappropriate.

In a subsequent appeal, the Osaka High Court ruled that the disciplinary action was too harsh, TBS reported.

In handing down Thursday’s ruling, Presiding Judge Seishi Kanetsuki overturned the Osaka High Court decision and deemed that the aquarium’s actions were correct and in line with equal employment opportunity laws. “After executives from the aquarium mandated suspensions for violating work place regulations regarding sexual harassment, these two men occupying management positions should surely have understood the gravity of their actions,” the judge said.  

Asahi News Service

Abe Pulling Japan Back To Fascism Quickly

PM Abe visits Yasukuni Shrine on January 1
 
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has implemented some liberal policies, such as a push for equality for working women, and he has championed increased immigration. Japan’s society has, in general, become more liberal in recent decades, for example by implementing trial by jury. 

These changes could become largely irrelevant if Abe’s party changes the nation’s constitution in the ways that it wants.

The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), which is one of the most misnamed political parties in existence, it is neither liberal nor democratic.  It is a right wing party that pushes Japanese nationalism with a flavor of fascism.  The LDP has governed Japan for most of its postwar history, with only the occasional brief interruption. A substantial chunk of the party is philosophically, organizationally and often genetically descended from the political class of Japan’s militarist period. As one might expect, it didn't completely internalize the liberal values that the corporations and people adopted after Japan's loss in World War II. That faction, once a minority, now appears to be dominant within the party.

The LDP is now campaigning to scrap the current constitution, and replace it with a draft constitution. In a booklet explaining the draft, the LDP states that "Several of the current constitutional provisions are based on the Western-European theory of natural human rights; such provisions therefore [need] to be changed." In accordance with this idea, the draft constitution allows the state to restrict speech or expression that is "interfering [with] public interest and public order.” The draft constitution also repeals the clause that prohibits the state from granting “political authority” to Shinto and the Emperor as "God and Ruler" in other words, abandoning the separation of church and state.

Even worse, the draft constitution adds six new “obligations” that it commands the citizenry to follow. Some of these, such as the obligation to “uphold the Constitution” and help family members, are vague and benign. A third, which requires people to “respect the national anthem and flag.” Echoing the sentiments of every dictator in history.

But the other three “obligations” are an obvious move toward illiberalism and autocracy. These state:

“The people must be conscious of the fact that there are responsibilities and obligations in compensation for freedom and rights.”

“The people must comply with the public interest and public order.”

“The people must obey commands from the State or the subordinate offices thereof in a state of emergency.”

The provision for a “state of emergency” echoes the justification for crackdowns used by many Middle Eastern dictators. These are completely out of line with democracy.

Unfortunately, the deeply illiberal nature of this draft constitution has largely been ignored by Japanese media for fear of losing the coveted place the outlets hold in interviews of government officials or losing membership in the National Press Club, which by the way credentials "official" news outlets and was a creation of past LDP Prime Minister Junichi Koizumi in 2002. Citizens in Japan are only exposed to this about constitutional change: the revision of Article 9 of the current constitution, which forbids Japan from having a military.

It is true that the LDP draft constitution does repeal Article 9. And it is true that repealing Article 9 is a big reason why Abe wants constitutional change. But focusing on demilitarization is a dangerous distraction.

Repealing Article 9 is a sensible thing to do. Japan already has a military (called a “Self-Defense Force”), and interprets the demilitarization clause so loosely that it’s unlikely that repealing Article 9 would change much. It is very doubtful that Japan would invade other countries if the constitution were rewritten. Japan might as well call its army an army.

But the focus on the military issue has drawn attention (especially China, South Korea, and Russia) away from the severe blow that the draft constitution would deal to the freedom of the Japanese people.

Japan’s people, of course, don’t want to live in an illiberal state. More than 80 percent of Japanese people opposed a recent “government secrets” law passed by Abe’s government. And they also oppose the LDPs attempt to ease the procedures for constitutional revision. Japanese people have grown extremely fond of the freedom they have enjoyed in the past seven decades.

The risk is that the Japanese people might be tricked into signing away their own freedoms. Like Japanese journalists, they may focus too much on the repeal of Article 9, and ignore the replacement of human rights with "obligations." It doesn't help that Japan’s opposition parties are weak, divided and mostly incompetent, while Abe’s government provides the best hope for resuscitating the economy.

The  real danger in this new constitution. First, it may be part of a wider LDP effort to crack down on civil society, which has become more obstreperous in the wake of poor economic performance and the Fukushima nuclear accident. The government secrets law and other crackdowns on press freedom are a worrying sign -- Japan has already slipped from 10th in Reporters Without Borders’ global press freedom ranking in 2010 to 61st in 2015.
 
Second, adopting the LDP’s draft could be an international relations disaster. If Japan opts for the kind of illiberal democracy that is currently the fashion in Turkey and Hungary, it could weaken the country’s regional appeal as an alternative to China’s repressive state. It could also lead to the weakening of the U.S.-Japan alliance -- without the glue of shared values holding the alliance together, the U.S. might be tempted to adopt a more neutral posture between an illiberal China and a mostly illiberal Japan.

The optimal solution would be for Japan to repeal Article 9 of its constitution while leaving the rest untouched. But politically, that seems to be an impossible trick to pull off -- any measure that would allow the LDP to change Article 9 would also open the door for the authoritarian “obligations” and the weakening of human rights. The best realistic solution is for Japan to delay rewriting its flawed constitution at all, and wait for a time when the people in power are not still mentally living in the 1940s.

Japan is at a critical juncture in its history. It has the potential to become a more liberal society, or a much less liberal one. The former choice is both the wise and the moral choice.

Bloomberg

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Panel Heavy With Right Wing Academics Advising Abe

 
A panel of experts appointed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met for the first time Wednesday to discuss what he should say in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, fueling speculation that he may water down previous government apologies for the country’s wartime past.

Japan issued a landmark apology on the 50th anniversary in 1995 under then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, for the first time acknowledging its colonization and aggression in parts of Asia before and during the war. In 2005, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also apologized.

A key question is whether Abe will use the same terms such as “colonial rule” and “aggression” in his statement.

Abe appointed the 16-member panel - 10 academics, three business leaders, two journalists and an international aid worker - to seek advice on what he should say on Aug. 15, the anniversary of the war’s end.

Abe told the panel he hopes to get their views on what Japan has learned from the past, how Japan has contributed to international peace in the postwar era and what Japan’s regional and international contribution should be in the future. He did not refer to the apology, and panel members said they are not bound by the specific words used in past statements.

Abe, who took office in late 2012, initially signaled his intention to revise the 1995 apology, triggering criticism from China and South Korea. He now says his Cabinet stands by the apology, but that he wants to issue a more forward-looking statement, raising speculation that he will somehow water it down.

“A 70th anniversary statement issued by the prime minister has a highly political and diplomatic meaning, and we must take that into consideration,” said international politics professor Shinichi Kitaoka, deputy head of the panel and one of Abe’s favorite academics. He said the panel will suggest possible elements for the statement and will not decide exactly what Abe will say.

About one-third of the panel members are regulars on Abe’s policy advisory committees, like Kitaoka, though they exclude his associates with the most extreme right-wing views. The appointment of centrist Asia experts Takashi Shiraishi and Shin Kawashima and a journalist from the liberal-leaning Mainichi newspaper give the panel some balance, but some other members stand out as historical revisionists.

Among them, Masashi Nishihara, head of a national security think tank, has written that reports of the Japanese military’s use of sex slaves during the war are “fabricated in South Korea.” Entrepreneur Yoshito Hori says the war was one of self-defense, not aggression.

China and South Korea have sent warnings on the statement. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking at a U.N. public debate, warned against attempts to “whitewash past crimes of aggression.” In Seoul, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Abe’s statement should not backpedal from past apologies.

The United States has raised concerns over Tokyo’s row with the two neighbors over its wartime history.

The debate over the statement reflects a simmering divide in Japan 70 years after the war.

On one side are those who say that accounts of Japanese wartime atrocities are false or exaggerated, and that it’s time to restore Japanese pride in their country. On the other are liberal defenders of Japan’s Constitution who don’t want the country to forget its colonization of Korea and invasion of China and Southeast Asia, and the disaster they spawned.
 
Senior ruling party lawmaker Masahiko Komura told reporters before the meeting Wednesday that a more forward-looking statement would sound convincing if it clearly states Japan’s adherence to past apologies.

AP

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Fukushima Daiichi Leaking Contaminated Water Into Pacific

Plant building with leak in the foreground


The operator of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant said on Tuesday it had found a pool of highly contaminated water on the roof of a plant building and that it had probably leaked into the sea through a gutter when it rained.

The finding comes four years after a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc’s Fukushima reactors, and 1-1/2 years after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the International Olympic Committee that radiation leaks at the plant were “under control”.

TEPCO said it has been aware since last spring that radiation levels in water running in one of the plant gutters rise when it rains but had confirmed the source of the contamination only on Tuesday.

Leakage of contaminated water into the sea in and of itself does not violate regulations because the outflow of radiation from the plant is controlled by monitoring radiation levels in sea water, a Nuclear Regulation Agency official said.

There have been no meaningful changes in radiation levels in sea water nearby, Tokyo Electric said.

The electric utility believes gravel and blocks laid on the roof of the building are the source of contamination, and said it plans to remove them by the end of March and take other measures to stop rainwater from being contaminated.

Sample rainwater collected at one corner of the rooftop contained 23,000 becquerels per liter of cesium 137, more than 10 times as high as radiation levels in sample water taken from other parts of the roof, Tokyo Electric said. 

Reuters

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Agriculture Minister, Koya Nishikawa, Resigns In Disgrace

 
Japan’s agriculture minister stepped down Monday following questions over political funding contributions, the latest in a series of such resignations.
 
Koya Nishikawa resigned as head of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries saying he wanted to avoid disruptions to parliamentary proceedings.

Questions arose over an alleged 1 million yen donation to a ruling Liberal Democratic Party chapter headed by Nishikawa from a company run by a sugar manufacturers association that had received government subsidies.

“No matter how much I explain the situation, if people don’t understand they don’t understand,” Nishikawa told reporters. “There is absolutely no conflict with the law, but people can still use this to tarnish my image.”

Nishikawa and other government officials said earlier that he had returned the money.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that he had resisted, but in the end accepted Nishikawa’s resignation.

“He was determined to quit, and I have to respect his wishes. I think it’s really regrettable,” Abe said. He said he was asking lawmaker Yoshimasa Hayashi, who preceded Nishikawa as farm minister before a Cabinet reshuffle in September, to resume the post.

Abe praised Nishikawa for working on agricultural reforms and Japan’s efforts toward forming a pan-Pacific trade pact, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japan’s protection of its sugar industry is one of five sensitive areas in negotiations with the U.S. toward the trade agreement.

Political funding scandals are a chronic problem in Japanese politics and questions over Nishikawa’s situation surfaced last fall. Two other ministers in the Cabinet that Abe formed in his September reshuffle quit over funding allegations. But he kept on most of the other ministers, including Nishikawa, in the Cabinet he announced following a general election in December.

Opposition questioning over such issues in the parliament tends to slow work on the body’s main priority, pushing through the annual budget before the fiscal year starts on April 1.

Obama Greatest Enemy To Press Freedom


Many reporters have contentious relationships with sources and with the government, but James Risen is in a class of his own. The veteran New York Times national-security reporter has scored some notable scoops the authorities didn’t want him to—most notably about a failed CIA sabotage operation on Iran’s nuclear program. When Risen got the story the first time, the government convinced The Times to quash it for national-security reasons. (He eventually published it in a book).
The CIA thought it knew who leaked the info, and it subpoenaed Risen to reveal his source. Demanding this of a journalist is technically legal, but is highly unusual and often frowned-upon. Risen refused to divulge the source and said he’d go to jail instead, setting up a long showdown with the Justice Department. Ultimately, Risen won. Under pressure, Attorney General Eric Holder vowed, ambiguously, “As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.” Risen testified, refusing to name his source, and the Justice Department still managed to convict Jeffrey Sterling for leaking. Everyone else lived happily ever after.

Or not. Risen has launched a one-man crusade against Holder and the Obama administration. Risen escalated that this week with a series of angry tweets replying to a speech Holder gave the National Press Club, in which the reporter blasted the current White House as the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation and accused the attorney general of shredding the First Amendment.

Critics called it a rant; Risen said it was merely a fact-check. That divided response shows the dangers for reporters debating press freedom. It’s the one area that can turn otherwise impartial journalists into fierce advocates. While many in the media see that as an essential risk, it is no doubt a risk. It’s also unclear whether the public is on the press’ side, and how it might react to that advocacy.
 
From Infowars

15 Year Old Nagoya Boy Exploited For Fukushima Clean Up

 
Police arrested the manager of a construction firm here for using a teenager to help remove soil and debris contaminated by radioactive substances released in the nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture.
 
Yuji Chiba, 49, an executive of the Moriyama Ward company, is suspected of knowingly dispatching a 15-year-old to Fukushima for the work, in violation of the labor standards law.

According to the Aichi prefectural police, Chiba sent the boy to a large-scale commercial facility in the Minami-Yanome district on July 22, 2014, to help remove soil and grass tainted by the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

Officials believe that such shady business dealings in the northern region may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Chiba, who lives in Fukushima, acknowledged his involvement but downplayed the seriousness of the matter.

"All I did was send him to a company conducting decontamination work so he could work part-time," he said.

Chiba apparently told the teenager not to reveal his real age, saying: "Our construction sites do not allow minors under 18 years of age to work. If anyone questions you, tell them you're 18."

The boy, now 16 years old, graduated from junior high school last March. He found the construction company through a public employment security office the following month and was hired to set up scaffolding.

The youth was to be paid a daily wage of 3,000 yen ($25.25) for the decontamination work. However, he left before being paid after he was physically assaulted by Chiba.

The construction company only told the teen that he would be setting up scaffolding and did not inform him that he would actually be doing decontamination work.

Mitsuo Nakamura, a 63-year-old member of a Tokyo-based network that monitors radiation exposure among laborers, said: "A young, cheap workforce is attractive to firms (conducting decontamination work), but a number of them are engaged in malicious practices. The government must ascertain the reality of the situation, by examining what labor practices are like on-site."

According to the police, other minors have been made to participate in similar jobs in the region.

The Koriyama branch of the Fukushima District Court sentenced the president of a Fukushima-based construction firm to two years and two months in prison in October 2013 for having seven minors lie about their ages and participate in decontamination work.

The involvement of criminal organizations in the business has also become a growing concern.

The Yamagata District Court sentenced a member of one such group to eight months in prison, suspended for three years, in March 2013 for arranging the participation of seven people in decontamination work, despite lacking authorization to provide temporary jobs.

The crime syndicate member apparently skimmed their wages, revealing a grim situation in which tax money for decontamination work is likely funding criminal organizations.

In an effort to mitigate the problem, the Environment Ministry, municipal governments, police and businesses established a committee to discuss how to thwart the presence of criminal groups at decontamination sites.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Monday, February 23, 2015

New Radioactive Leak At Fukushima Daiichi

 
Sensors at the Fukushima nuclear plant have detected a fresh leak of highly radioactive water to the sea, the plant’s operator announced Sunday, highlighting difficulties in decommissioning the crippled plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said the sensors, which were rigged to a gutter that pours rain and ground water at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to a nearby bay, detected contamination levels up to 70 times greater than the already-high radioactive status seen at the plant campus.

TEPCO said its emergency inspections of tanks storing nuclear waste water did not find any additional abnormalities, but the firm said it shut the gutter to prevent radioactive water from going into the Pacific Ocean.

The higher-than-normal levels of contamination were detected at around 10 a.m., with sensors showing radiation levels 50 to 70 times greater than usual, TEPCO said.

Though contamination levels have steadily fallen throughout the day, the same sensors were still showing contamination levels about 10 to 20 times more than usual, a company spokesman said.

It was not immediately clear what caused the original spike of the contamination and its gradual fall, he added.

“With emergency surveys of the plant and monitoring of other sensors, we have no reason to believe tanks storing radioactive waste water have leaked,” he told AFP.

“We have shut the gutter (from pouring water to the bay). We are currently monitoring the sensors at the gutter and seeing the trend,” he said.

The latest incident, one of several that have plagued the plant in recent months, reflects the difficulty in controlling and decommissioning the plant, which went through meltdowns and explosions after being battered by a giant tsunami in March 2011, sparking the world’s worst nuclear disaster in a generation.

TEPCO has not been able to effectively deal with an increasing amount of contaminated water, used to cool the crippled reactors and molten fuels inside them and kept in large storage tanks on the plant’s vast campus.
Adding to TEPCO’s headaches has been the persistent flow of groundwater from nearby mountains traveling under the contaminated plant before washing to the Pacific Ocean.

The International Atomic Energy Agency recently said TEPCO has made “significant progress” in cleaning up the plant, but suggested that Japan should consider ways to discharge treated waste water into the sea as a relatively safer way to deal with the radioactive water crisis.

© 2015 AFP

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fukushima Committee Fears Loss Of Independence

International advisers to Japan’s atomic regulator have raised concern a mandatory review of its performance could lead to a loss of independence for the body, which was set up in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

A lack of independent regulatory oversight of Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was to blame for the meltdowns after an earthquake and tsunami, an official inquiry into the disaster found.

After the disaster, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) was created under the environment ministry with more autonomy but legislation provided for a review after three years of operation with a proviso to consider placing it under the Cabinet Office, involving closer political oversight.

While welcoming a review of the NRA, the advisers, who include the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s International Nuclear Safety Group, Richard Meserve, were concerned about political interference, they said in a document dated Wednesday and posted on the regulator’s website.

“We are concerned about any transfer of authority that would serve to compromise the regulator’s independence,” the document said.

“Indeed, given the problems associated with the previous regulatory structure, we suspect the maintenance of a clearly independent regulator is likely to be essential to the restoration of public confidence in nuclear power.”

The review of NRA operations started in September but no decisions have been made on whether the Cabinet Office will assume oversight.

“We welcome the points raised by the international advisers and will take them into consideration,” NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said at a meeting on Wednesday that was broadcast live on the internet.

The Cabinet Office coordinates planning and policy on issues of crucial national importance and works as the “place of wisdom” in support of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, according to its website.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a strong proponent of nuclear power and wants to restart reactors that pass the new safety regime, after all units were shut down gradually in the wake of the Fukushima crisis.

The other international advisers to the NRA are Andre-Claude Lacoste, a former chairman of France’s Nuclear Safety Authority, and Michael Weightman, a former executive head of the British Office for Nuclear Regulation. 

Reuters

Friday, February 20, 2015

Black Face Performance Causes Stir For Fuji TV

From the Japan Times
“Why are Americans, particularly black Americans, so quick to holler racism?”
I’ve heard this asked a lot. Actually, it’s not always in question form. It’s more like an incontrovertible statement, usually from the lips of nonblack people here in Japan. Some black people, too.
I’ve been accused of dropping R-bombs so often — sometimes without having even uttered the word — that I’ve unconsciously, and sometimes even consciously, modified my gut responses to the foolishness that constantly goes on here. I tell myself these modifications are sanity preservation — a survival tactic, and quite necessary for long-term happiness not only in Japan but in the U.S., too.
Whenever possible — that is, when the incident in question is not blatantly screaming “racism” at the top of its lungs — one must learn to extend the benefit of the doubt to what might seem to be way beyond the reasonable. Otherwise, it’s very likely you’ll be seeing behavior that could be classified as racist at every turn. You really will. Especially in Japan.
And, to make these modifications all the more appealing, I’ve found that this kind of thinking and behavior gets rewarded. People, particularly whites and Japanese, find you much more appealing and approachable. After all, nobody wants to be told that they’ve been unintentionally racist — or that behavior they’ve sanctioned as cultural quirks and implicit biases are likely indicative of something a lot uglier. But, if you modify that modus operandi, you get labeled an evenhanded, fair-minded guy — instead of a hothead who presumes racist intent, or un-intent, at every questionable act they come upon. These guys lose credibility quickly, like the boy who cried wolf when the canine in question was just a beagle or chihuahua.
So when that Japanese person stands, vacates the seat beside you and sits elsewhere on the subway or bus, you must train yourself to sell yourself on the notion that the person could just as well have needed to stretch their legs, or wanted to, umm, give you some extra room. Or perhaps they had been harassed the previous week by a guy who looked just like you, or have had random foreigners just turn and embarrassingly spit English at them. Make it feasible now, cuz you’re the one who’s gotta sell it and buy it!
And if you find yourself, as some of my fellow expats have, being stopped by cops an inordinate amount of times on your bike, or just walking down the street? Before you sprint to the default reason of supposed oversensitive Americans, take a deep breath, man up and tell yourself, sell to yourself, that it’s just as likely — hell, more likely — that the cops are being extra-vigilant because there have been a string of bike robberies by illegal aliens, and, like it or not, you kinda sorta fit that description. (Of course, you fit the description of a legal alien too, but that’s beside the point. Sell it. Buy it.)
And when a former adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe goes on record extolling the system of apartheid, whereby blacks, whites and Asians are forced to live separately, instead of calling her a racist, you can appreciate her words for their honesty and forthrightness. You can even admire her a bit for having the audacity to say what you’re pretty sure many of the people you encounter here would endorse if they had half her courage.
And when you turn on the television one night soon and see a J-pop group called Rats & Star — who’ve clearly raided Little Richard’s (or maybe Flavor Flav’s) wardrobe — singing doo-wop songs in shoddy English with their faces painted black as tar, just do yourself a favor and stop! Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t drop any R-bombs!
Just consider the possibilities first: Like maybe, just maybe, these guys really, really love black people so much that they are prepared to forsake their own race in favor of blackness — at least during performances, anyway. (I’m pretty sure they don’t wanna be black full-time. Even these guys know there’s a lot more to being black in this world than doo-wopping and shoe polish.)
Or, like my Japanese then-girlfriend back in 2009 told me after I referred to Gosperats, another homegrown blackface group, as “ignorant bastards”: I ought to stop to consider that these guys have been around, like, forever and have nothing but respect and adoration for black people and music, and that this minstrel show of theirs is their way — the Japanese way — of paying homage to black music history. (Need I explain why I dumped her?)
“You’re way too sensitive about race,” she’d snapped over my shoulder as I blogged about these guys. “Everything is race, race, race, race, race with you. Are all black people like that?”
And she had a good point. Perhaps it is my tender sensibilities that are at fault sometimes. But in this case, I seriously doubt it.
The other day, I showed a video of these Rats & Star guys to a Japanese co-worker of mine and, without giving him any clue why I had made him watch it, asked what he thought of it.
“They want to be like black people,” he said, grinning. “They love black people.”
“What’s with the black make-up, though?” I asked. “I love Japanese people but you don’t see me putting cake batter on my face.”
He laughed and shrugged. Then he got curious. Maybe my facial expression betrayed me.
“Why do you ask? Is it bad?”
I sucked air, Japanese style.
“Gotta tell ya,” I said. “I’m not a big fan of it.”
“I see,” he said. “Why?”
“You see, back in the days . . .”
And since he was a pretty cool guy, I proceeded to give him a little black history — nothing too overwhelming, just an overview of the decades-long struggle against this kind of nonsense. I pulled up a couple of pics of famous white actors from the golden age of Hollywood wearing black face, and a bit of a Spike Lee montage from his film “Bamboozled” to illustrate my history lesson.
“Oh,” he said, but I could tell by his face that he wasn’t really processing all the ramifications.
“Yeah,” I sighed.
“Do they know?” he asked, meaning were these Rats aware of the irony — that the manner in which they sing the praises of black people is so offensive that the homage they are paying is being drowned out in the noise of their repugnant presentation? That they’re actually making many non-Japanese people — blacks, whites and Asians alike — uncomfortable at best and at worst offending the hell outta them?
“I really don’t know,” I confessed. And it’s true — I don’t know what they know.
But I know this: They’re going to be on TV next month showing their love for black people in a way that if my mother — who adored doo-wop — saw it, would cause her to shake her head and say, “Apartheid and blackface? Take me now, Jesus, take me now.”
From The Japan Times original here

Shinjiro Koizumi: Japan Must Have Drastic Change

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