Mar 3 2014

Cold comfort for Japan’s sex slaves

 

Right-wing and revisionist politicians Yoshiko Matsuura and Tomoko Tsujimura

Right-wing and revisionist politicians Yoshiko Matsuura and Tomoko Tsujimura

 

 By Fred Varcoe

It was nice to see the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan invite two right-wing politicians to the Club to express their views on the “comfort women.” Tokyo-based politicians Yoshiko Matsuura and Tomoko Tsujimura demonstrated how the right think in Japan. Or, to put it another way, how the right is incapable of thought.

Matsuura and Tsujimura arrived to explain how they travelled to Glendale, Calif., to protest at a statue of a “comfort woman” being erected in a public park. The protest was accompanied by a letter – from the Japan Coalition of Legislators against Fabricated History, which was signed by hundreds of legislators – to Glendale Mayor Dave Weaver explaining why they were protesting.

Here are some excerpts and comments:

1.     “We are committed to instilling a fair-minded, accurate perception of history in our children.”

A noble idea that has never been part of the Japanese mentality. Japan has consistently denied crimes committed in the past – as it denies truths that it doesn’t want made public. They constantly denied Unit 731 existed in China until incontrovertible evidence emerged. Sweep everything under the carpet is their modus operandi. If we can’t see it, it didn’t exist. It is ironic that the many signees to the letter to Mayor Weaver portrayed the message of the statue as a “distorted view of history.”

2.     “Japanese military authorities never forced Korean women to engage in prostitution. The comfort women were part of a legally sanctioned prostitution system, similar to others in existence throughout the world. They were handsomely remunerated; the word ‘sex slaves’ is an inaccurate description of the comfort women.”

It is quite possible that real prostitutes from Japan, Korea and other countries sought to make money from Japanese soldiers. The right wing in Japan often cites an American Army report from Burma that suggested that some girls they came across were professionals (i.e., prostitutes) and making a good living. But no one outside Japan has suggested that this single report exonerated Japan over this issue or that this represented the true, broader picture of what was going on in Japanese military brothels.

3.     “Also engraved on the statue is the following: ‘In memory of more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes in Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, East Timor and Indonesia, to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1923 and 1945.’ However, the Japanese military never abducted women or compelled them to serve as comfort women.”

The speakers and other right-wingers in Japan claim that the Japanese military never abducted women. And they absolve themselves entirely by blaming recruitment on local agents. This is to some extent true, but there is little doubt that the agents were working on behalf of the military and the military was fully complicit in these crimes against humanity. Whatever the chain of command may have been, the women were conned into working for Japanese military brothels. If they had been independent prostitutes, as the Japanese imply, then they would have been free to go where they wanted and fuck who they wanted. But they were typical examples of human traffic, conned into believing they would be properly employed (e.g., in a factory) and reimbursed. The traffickers then imposed an artificial debt on them – typical of today’s traffickers – which they had to work off by being raped by Japanese soldiers (up to 40 a day). The vast majority of these women were not free, certainly were not prostitutes and definitely didn’t want to be where they were. They were enslaved and, let’s be quite clear, they may have been recruited by “agents” (and there is evidence of military complicity) but they were slaves of the Japanese armed forces. Lack of freedom = slavery.

4.     “Japan is a nation whose culture places great value on women, as evidenced by the fact that works about romantic love created by women writers such as Murasaki Shikibu.”

Anyone who has lived in Japan for any length of time knows that Japanese women are far from being equal with men:

From the Asahi Shimbun:

“October 26, 2013

Japan’s ranking for female equality has fallen a further four places from 101st in 2012 to 105th this year, according to the newly released 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, ranking women’s equality in 136 countries.

The ranking is Japan’s lowest since the World Economic Forum started releasing its annual report in 2006.

The report, released on Oct. 25, said that Japan is failing to have women more involved in society despite their achieving a high education level.”

Murasaki, of course, created the “Tale of Genji,” a book that is revered in Japan but is basically about a paedophile rapist…

  • 5.     The Japanese Government-General of Korea prosecuted and punished deceitful brokers at every opportunity. But neither government nor military entities were involved in any way whatsoever in recruiting the comfort women.”

Another copout. I don’t think the Government-General of Korea did a very effective job of prosecuting and punishing deceitful brokers. More to the point, if this was the case, why were the women recruited not sent home if the Government-General of Korea was aware they’d been tricked into serving in the brothels? The inescapable fact is that the Japanese military wanted the women in the brothels, didn’t care how they got there and would keep them there no matter what their recruitment involved.

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 I had a simple question for these women at the FCCJ. It was this:

“Were Koreans forced to work in the mines in Oita?”

They refused to answer the question. At first, they said they were only there to talk about comfort women before rambling on about how Koreans and Japanese were working together to win the war, which I thought showed they had a sense of humor before realising that they weren’t joking.

But the question had a purpose. My Korean father-in-law was forced to work in the mines in Oita during the war. Mr. Lee was a noble man of unimpeachable integrity. His admission was not a trick to get money from Japanese companies or the Japanese government. In fact, it was a painful memory for him and one he only shared with his family a few years before he died.

So I wanted to know what Matsuura and Tsujimura thought about Korean workers in Kyushu. Were Koreans like Mr. Lee forced to work down the mine. Their reluctance to answer spoke volumes.

If they believed (and I’m sure they did) that Koreans were forced to work down the mines in Kyushu, then it shouldn’t be a surprise if women were forced to work in brothels for the military. If they had said Koreans weren’t forced to work down the mines, then they were calling my father-in-law a liar. I know he wasn’t. So for me, their arguments have zero validity.

In fact, they were asked how many Koreans they had spoken to about this issue and the answer was none. Tsujimura, proudly related how she had spoken to her military grandfather about the war but failed to tell us how many Korean “prostitutes” he had slept with.

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Tsujimura also tried to suggest that Japan had “civilised” and modernised Korea during its occupation, with one of her arguments being that the number of children being born rose dramatically during that time. Again, she failed to understand why.

My mother-in-law married my father-in-law at a young age, as did many other Korean women, at a time when North Korean agents were kidnapping residents of the South, especially young women. The young women of the South saw marriage as a form of protection against the marauding insurgents from the North, and it is likely that women in colonial times in Korea sought similar protection, as outlined in this quote:

“The Korean cult of female virginity which strictly enforced the norm of girls’ premarital chastity, unwittingly served as an important contributing factor in rendering Korean unmarried women desirable recruits in the eyes of the Japanese authorities. Indeed, Aso Tetsuo (1910-1989), an army doctor, concluded in his report – written after his medical examinations of the women – that unmarried Korean women, rather than Japanese prostitutes, would make better ‘gifts for the Emperor’s warriors.’ The indigenous sexual culture, with its emphasis on what I call ‘virginal femininity,’ thus helped render colonial Korea a prime source of young ‘virgins’ to satisfy the needs of the Japanese military comfort system.” – from The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan by C. Sarah Soh.

So you can see, being an unmarried girl/woman in colonial Korea made you a target.

According to Soh’s book, Japanese historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki found six official documents in the Library of the National Institute for Defense Studies that “clearly implicate the Japanese government in the establishment and maintenance of the military comfort system.”

One of the disturbing aspects of the FCCJ press conference was how Matsuura and Tsujimura sought to turn the issue around as a Korean attack on Japanese. While the statue in Glendale was erected largely at the behest of Koreans, it represents the sex slaves of many nationalities. Tsujimura claimed that Japanese schoolchildren were being bullied by Korean kids in California and asserted that this amounted to “racial discrimination.” Being a historical dunce, she is obviously unaware that the Japanese and Koreans are the same race. More to the point is the fact that Dutch, Australian and many Asian women were victims of the comfort women system. It is not just about Korea and Japan. Jan Ruff-O’Herne is one of those former sex slaves who has spoken out on the issue. Like others, she didn’t want to revisit the past, but Japan’s denials re. the Korean comfort women forced her to speak out 50 years later.

 

ruff

Jan Ruff-O’Herne

 

 

”First it was only the Korean women, and nobody took any notice because ‘they were only Asian women’. But then when a European woman spoke out the world suddenly took notice,” Mrs Ruff-O’Herne said.

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Another constant factor in this debate is the issue of apologies. In 1993, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued a statement that many see as an apology by the government of Japan for the comfort women issue:

 “The Government of Japan has been conducting a study on the issue of wartime “comfort women” since December 1991. I wish to announce the findings as a result of that study.

   As a result of the study which indicates that comfort stations were operated in extensive areas for long periods, it is apparent that there existed a great number of comfort women. Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day. The then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women. The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.

   As to the origin of those comfort women who were transferred to the war areas, excluding those from Japan, those from the Korean Peninsula accounted for a large part. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule in those days, and their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc.

   Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.

   It is incumbent upon us, the Government of Japan, to continue to consider seriously, while listening to the views of learned circles, how best we can express this sentiment.

   We shall face squarely the historical facts as described above instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history. We hereby reiterated our firm determination never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history.

   As actions have been brought to court in Japan and interests have been shown in this issue outside Japan, the Government of Japan shall continue to pay full attention to this matter, including private researched related thereto.”

A number of prime ministers and politicians have issued apologies, although they are often vaguely phrased to allow Japan to squirm out of direct responsibility.

The closest the Emperor came was this statement to South Korean Prime Minister Kim Dae Jung in 1996:

“There was a period when our nation brought to bear great sufferings upon the people of the Korean Peninsula. The deep sorrow that I feel over this will never be forgotten.”

Under the premiership of idiotic revionist Shinzo Abe, there have been calls for Japan to amend the 1993 Kono statement, suggesting there may be doubt about the testimony of Korean women that the statement was based on. And here lies a problem, namely that Japanese politicians are inherently duplicitous and unreliable, so any statements they make are without value.

 

abe hitler

Japanese protesters show what they think of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

 

The only person who could put an end to the issue would be the Emperor, but he is constrained in his statements by the revisionist politicians and conservative bureaucrats that run Japan.

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 Japan also points out that all issues concerning the war were resolved when the two countries normalized relations and “settled” all outstanding wartime issues. But this was an agreement between a right-wing Japanese government and the South Korean government of military dictator Park Chung-Hee. Park was a proud servant of the Japanese colonial rulers, joined the (Japanese) Manchukuo Army and, according to a report in the Hankyoreh newspaper, even signed an oath of allegiance to Japan in his own blood.

 

park blood

Report on Park Chung Hee pledging allegiance to Japan in his own blood

 

The 1965 treaty was a diplomatic agreement that rode roughshod over the human problems created by Japan’s past. It was about business and money, not about human suffering or individuals. Technically, the two countries resolved their differences and established diplomatic relations, but this is a human issue and the humans involved are still suffering.

This was brought home to me several years ago when I visited England with my Japanese girlfriend. We arranged to visit my friend Debi at her parents’ house. When Debi’s father heard a Japanese was coming to his house – a cute, lovely and kind Japanese – he walked out and refused to return until the Japanese had gone. He had been a prisoner of war of the Japanese in Singapore and the mere thought of hearing Japanese or being in the same room as a Japanese filled him with painful memories.

For him, it was a reminder of the hate and violence he experienced at the hands of the Japanese. The comfort women are reminded of that hate every day not only through their own experiences, but also through the persistent attempts by Japan to deny that such atrocities ever took place. Would Matsuura and Tsujimura call Debi’s father a liar, like they do my father-in-law?

Probably, especially if he was Korean…

 

Korean demonstrators offer advice to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Korean demonstrators offer advice to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

 

 

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Links:

Park Chung Hee signs oath to Japan in blood

Unit 731

Excerpt from book on comfort women (Google books)

Comfort women article

Japan PM denies coercion re. comfort women

Australian ‘comfort woman’ slams Japan

Comfort women article by Suvendri Kikuchi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dec 2 2013

U.K. to the world: No dogs or Koreans (rapists OK!)

 By Fred Varcoe

The traditional image of your average embassy is that they are there to protect a country’s citizens. My traditional image is that embassies are there to help move the country they represent closer to the country that hosts them.

 

Access all areas (if you've got the money)

Access all areas (if you’ve got the money)

The traditional image is complete rubbish, of course. Embassies exist to glorify the country they represent, to push the policies of the government in power and to drum up business and money. Citizens in trouble hamper these ambitions and are usually treated as dog shit on one’s shoe.

Take the case of my friend R in Saudi Arabia. She unwisely got pregnant to a married man. OK, he wasn’t a Saudi but a good stoning was still a possible outcome.

I know, she thought, I’ll get the nice people at the British Embassy to help me.

Er, it’s not our kind of business, the embassy people said, meaning, of course, that unless you help the UK make lots of money, you are of little use to us, so why should we be of use to you.

Luckily, R’s father did make lots of money for the U.K., and after phoning the Foreign Office, the lackeys at the embassy in Jeddah got R home where she could have her baby.

The British Embassy describes its role like this:

“We develop and sustain the important and long-lasting relationship between the UK and Japan. This involves dealing with a wide range of political, commercial, security and economic questions of interest to the UK and Japan.

“The British Embassy in Tokyo, together with the British Consulate-General in Osaka, represents the UK government in Japan. Our two offices work together to support the full range of British interests in Japan: international cooperation in support of our values and working to reduce conflict; building Britain’s prosperity through increased trade and investment in open markets; and supporting British nationals who visit and live in Japan through modern and efficient consular services.”

The bit about helping British citizens seems to be a bit of an afterthought.

Recently, Britain’s ambassador to Japan, Tim Hitchens, made it clear that British embassies are more concerned with commercial benefits than British citizens, with business and political relationships rather than human relationships.

 

U.K. ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens

U.K. ambassador to Japan Tim Hitchens

In 2012, the British government introduced legislation that seriously penalises British citizens married to non-EU spouses. The Guardian quoted Home Secretary Teresa May as saying that British citizens can marry who they want, but “if they want to establish their family life in the UK, rather than overseas, then their spouse or partner must have a genuine attachment to the UK, be able to speak English, and integrate into our society, and they must not be a burden on the taxpayer. Families should be able to manage their own lives. If a British citizen or a person settled here cannot support their foreign spouse or partner they cannot expect the taxpayer to do it for them.”

Part of that seems reasonable, but does it seem fair?

Know this; earn this

My wife is Korean. We carried our earlier married life entirely in Japanese. The new rules require a reasonable level of English. She might have that now, but if we wanted to go to the U.K. halfway through our 15-year marriage, her level of English would not have been high enough and she would have been rejected on those grounds.

She is also required to have knowledge of life in the U.K., including useless facts such as: How many members does a jury have in Scotland/ Which daughter of Henry VIII was a devout Catholic and persecuted Protestants?/ In which year was the National Trust founded by three volunteers? Where is Europe’s longest dry ski slope situated?

My wife has been to the U.K. many times and even stayed with my mother for six weeks (when her English – but not her sanity – improved). She knows more about English life than someone who can remember that French people called Norman invaded in 1066 (and I only learned this week that the Normans were actually relocated Vikings). She can make shepherd’s pie, Yorkshire pudding, porridge and marmalade. She understands her British husband and where he’s from (although it often seems that he doesn’t). She didn’t need to speak English to understand this and she doesn’t need to know how many inches there are in a yard to understand British culture.

You can’t quantify a relationship!

Oh, but the British government is trying. Childless couples where one partner is British and the other non-EU must earn a minimum of £18,600 to be allowed to settle in the U.K. If you’ve got children, you have to earn more.

Auberon Waugh wrote in in Another Voice: “The whole language of politics is geared to treating anything as good which is conducive to general prosperity, anything as bad which is detrimental to it. Often one finds whole passages of political rhetoric … which assume that this pursuit of prosperity is the only and supreme Good.”

Oscar Wilde’s perspective is still definitive: “People nowadays know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

This is true of the British government and current ambassador to Tokyo Tim Hitchens doggedly follows the government line. Here’s his meandering and totally unconvincing response to my question concerning the restrictive and illogical new immigration rules for spouses of British citizens (who, like my wife, can also be parents to British citizens):

“We live in democratic societies and therefore need to respond to the pressures from our electorate and there are two different strong pressures that are operating in the U.K. at the moment. One is the need to achieve growth to pull out faster from our economic difficulties and the other is the need to control legal immigration. Those are two very powerful messages that come from the electorate and therefore one has to get the balance right between those two. It’ll mean that there are tough rules that are unpopular with certain people who want to come and which are very popular with the electorate and there are other moves which encourage businesses to work and to allow us to have more students coming, allowing a loosening of visa rules on Japanese businesses operating in the U.K. which some in the U.K. population may wish we didn’t do because that seems a bit loose to them, but our judgement is that … [garbled] … we keep on having an open economy and encouraging investment in the UK. So those are the two competing forces. I don’t think that this is an issue that is particular to Britain and I think this is exactly the same debate that you would get if you were trying to get into France, if you were trying to get into the United States or if you were trying to get into Japan, and it will always be one of the hardest issues to respond to because everyone will have a personal vested interest in the particulars of the policy and moving it back to the democratic legitimacy of the policy is a painful thing for that person to do. So that’s my honest response at the general level but it won’t satisfy you on a personal level because these are tough rules.”

It won’t satisfy me on a personal level because it’s a rubbish answer and if it’s really a policy, it’s a rubbish policy.

It’s the economy, stupid

First of all, the electorate in Britain is demanding an end to uncontrolled immigration. I’m sure the ambassador would say that immigration is controlled. Yes, there are rules, as we can see from the above, but they are haphazard at best.

Why do people want to control immigration? Is it about economics and jobs? Partly. British people see foreigners coming to Britain and finding jobs when the native population can’t, but of course in part the incoming foreigners are plugging a gap in the job market (as well as undercutting the rates of their British competitors). So, there may be an economic argument for both allowing them in and keeping them out.

But is there an emotional one? The main problem with immigration is that many people don’t want to live alongside people from other cultures. This is not universally true, but in Britain it’s hard enough for a northerner to settle in the south, let alone alongside a Korean or a Pole or a Bangladeshi. The history of India demonstrates that. The Indians were united in their desire to get rid of the British and divided in their approach to independence, which resulted in three imperfect countries (invariably at each other’s throats) instead of one. Point me to a country where immigration has benefitted the integrity and culture of a country (and no, the USA is not the right answer). Accepting outsiders is hard for most people. It’s not impossible; just hard. The British government seems to think that if you earn £18,600 and know why Hastings is pertinent to British history, it’s easy.

Quantify. Quantify. Hitchens went on to talk about the EU but to him – representative of the government of David Cameron (oh, and Corporal Clegg) – it again came back to how much the EU can do for Britain’s business:

“The single market is the key reason that Japanese investors want to be in the UK and I personally find it difficult under any circumstance to imagine any government wanting to take the UK out of the single market.”

 

Please don't leave us, rich Japanese company

Please don’t leave us, rich Japanese company

The problem is not one of a single market; it’s one of a single culture. The EU is trying to homogenize an amazingly diverse and culturally rich continent. As with politics, culture is largely local. Countries and their culture evolve from small communities. The EU’s attempts at a form of affirmative action and the undermining of national interests is going to tear countries – and the continent – apart. David Cameron says if the Conservative get in with a clear majority at the next election, he will put forward a yes/no referendum on EU membership two years later. That’s nearly four years away. He’s trying to dodge the issue. Britain should have had a referendum way before this. You will remember that Britain did have a referendum on entering the forerunner to the EU, the Common Market. The people of Britain said yes – to joining a small economic community in Western Europe, not to a monolithic, federalised pseudo-state.

Citizens of 28 countries can walk into my country, find a job, claim benefits and even get housing from the state. Nobody asked the citizens of my country if this was a good idea. Meanwhile, my wife of 15 years, has to jump through hoops to stay in Britain and be a mother to my 5-year-old daughter if I choose to go back home. The British government seems to think that Britain needs operate at maximum commercial capacity to survive in the modern world. Britishness, it seems, is something it can sacrifice on the altar of commerce.

Why should I have fewer rights to a family life in the U.K. than a couple from France or Slovakia? Why should a non-EU criminal have the right to a family life but not me (see here for one example of many: http://tinyurl.com/6ajkvx5). I married a woman I loved, but she’s not of sufficient commercial value to the country I was born in to allow her to reside there.

I wish I could rediscover the country I was born in, but it’s not there anymore.

 


Oct 17 2013

Tokyo 2020: The Bidding Games

tepco oly

 

By Fred Varcoe

Oh crap! We’ve got the Olympics.

Joy of joys. Hang out the bunting. Let’s have a street party. It’s a good thing, right?

“It is immoral to invite the Olympic Games to Japan where the health environment cannot be secured.” Well, the “loony” left would say that, wouldn’t they? But the “loony lefty” who said this, according to David McNeill’s report in The Independent, was former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland Mitsuhei Murata, who maintains that the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is too unstable to allow a major event such at the Olympics to be held 250 km away.

“A dark cloud looms over Tokyo’s prospects due to an escalating crisis at a stricken nuclear power plant,” a report from Xinhua’s news agency stated before the bid. The joy of Tokyo’s success hasn’t blown the dark cloud away. “Faith in both TEPCO and the government’s ability to disseminate timely and accurate information to the global community, as well as their ability to effectively and definitively contain the crisis, is diminishing,” the report added. Nothing new there.

In the days following Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games, media reports in Japan reminded the people there of the cost of the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. Over 16,000 people died with more than 2,000 still missing, presumed dead. The dead won’t benefit from the Olympics, while the living are still struggling to benefit from the world’s generosity following the disaster.

Nearly 300,000 people in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures are still living in temporary housing. Some have homes in irradiated areas that they can never return to. They need new homes (they need new lives). Maybe there’s a shortage of construction workers in Japan … There’s obviously not a shortage of money. According to the Asahi Shimbun, around $1 billion of disaster-relief money was spent on unrelated projects, including the counting of sea turtles on beaches. At this rate, the Olympic athletes will have accommodation before the disaster-affected homeless of Tohoku.

Mr. Abe’s alternative truth

Before the vote, the Fukushima crisis was seen as a potentially deciding factor for Tokyo’s bid. As media reports outlined a new crisis with the water tanks at Fukushima, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was despatched to the vote in Buenos Aires to allay the fears of those who might want to vote for Tokyo. But he wasn’t convincing everyone on the home front.

As McNeill wrote in The Independent: “Many have expressed concerns that a litany of crises faced by the Japanese government makes it entirely unsuitable to host such a global event. Experts have blamed Japan’s government and nuclear regulators for taking their eye off the Fukushima clean-up since Mr Abe returned to power late last year.”

Others went even further. Reiji Yoshida wrote in The Japan Times: “One question that emerged among the public immediately after Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Olympics was whether Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an incorrect statement, or told an outright lie, about the contaminated water issue at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

“During the Tokyo bid delegation’s final presentation before the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires on Saturday, Abe stressed that the ‘effects from the contaminated water have been perfectly blocked within the (artificial) bay’ of the wrecked nuclear complex, and said ‘the situation is under control.’ …

“Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted that a lot of water — and probably radioactive materials — was penetrating the fence and pouring into the wider ocean. … TEPCO, based on the findings, concluded that a maximum of 10 trillion becquerels of radioactive strontium-90 and a further 20 trillion becquerels of cesium-137 may have reached the ocean.”

 

anti ol tokyo

 

Tokyo, not Fukushima

But while the shadow of Fukushima hung over the vote, it has to be remembered that it was a vote on Tokyo – not Fukushima and not Japan. The Olympic Games are awarded to a city, not an area or a country, so the response from Tsunekazu Takeda, the head of Tokyo’s Olympic bid, made more sense: “Radiation levels in Tokyo are still the same as in London, New York and Paris.” Takeda told the media there was “nothing to worry about,” a statement that residents of Japan and the surrounding areas might not agree with. Takeda wasn’t lying. There was nothing to worry about at that moment, but there are worrying moments ahead, particularly from November when TEPCO starts to remove spent nuclear fuel rods from the damaged Fukushima power plant. It’s a very risky operation that has some activists painting a doomsday scenario not just for Japan, but for the whole world. This story isn’t over yet.

In reality, that’s another story. Having won the Games, Tokyo can now, hopefully, detach itself from the worries of Fukushima. Winning the Games is a cause for celebration, for both Japan and Tokyo. It’s been a long time coming.

Through the past darkly

Tokyo was initially awarded the Summer Olympic Games in 1940 but that was derailed by World War II. You might wonder what the International Olympic Committee was thinking awarding successive Games (1936 and 1940) to two belligerent, war-mongering states (Germany and Japan). Germany, despite being an economic and political basket case after World War I, was awarded the Games in 1931, just as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were coming to power. The Nazis were already the second-largest political party in Germany and a year later they controlled the Reichstag. By the time Berlin hosted the Games, Hitler was chancellor of Germany and Nazism had spread its ugly shadow across the country.

Tokyo was awarded the Games in 1936, by which time it was already raping and pillaging its way across East Asia and had quit the League of Nations (the forerunner of the United Nations) the year before to facilitate its war-mongering ambitions. Yes, the IOC moves in mysterious ways.

 

Sohn-Kee_217868k

Korean Sohn Kee-Chung won the 1936 Olympic marathon but had to run under the Japanese flag.

 

The IOC remembered Tokyo in 1959 – and curiously forgot all about the Pacific War – when it awarded the city the 1964 Games (Tokyo also bid for the 1960 Games, which went to Rome). While some might have wanted to punish Japan for its conduct pre-1945 – notably China and the two Koreas, who were still alienated from Japan politically – the 1964 Olympics served as a symbolic reintegration of Japan into the civilised world. And Japan responded with a dynamic, high-tech Games and a completely restructured city. Tokyo, in fact, dazzled the world in 1964. North Korea boycotted and Japan’s only hint of politicking came when the Olympic Flame was lit by runner Yoshinori Sakai who was born in Hiroshima the day the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on it.

 

1964 Tokyo Olympics

 

Japan got another Olympics eight years later when Sapporo hosted the Winter Games, and they hosted the Winter Games again in 1998 in Nagano. With the 2020 Games, Japan will have hosted four Olympic Games, third overall and second-most – behind the United States – in the postwar era.

While the Winter Games carry a certain amount of prestige, Japan has been chasing the Summer Games for some time. Nagoya was stunned when it lost out to Seoul for the 1988 Olympic Games as the IOC once again opted to send the event to a country ruled by a murderous dictator (Chun Doo Hwan) just a year after he had slaughtered hundreds, maybe thousands, of civilians in the southern city of Kwangju. Of course, the selection of the host city has not always been untroubled by the exchange of favors and cash and Korea has some notable champions of bribery and corruption. A number of Olympic host cities have been accused of excessive “generosity” – including Nagano whose records were mysteriously burned when this topic came up. The IOC cleaned up its act by making changes to the bidding process, allowing its voters to concentrate on the merits of the bidding cities rather than the perks of their positions. Japan next put Osaka on the bidding list but it was doomed from the start after the IOC criticized the bid.

But 2016 was a different ball game. The Japan Olympic Committee decided to go with Tokyo rather than Fukuoka and Tokyo presented a beautiful bid for the Games. In fact, it earned the top rating from the IOC after the initial evaluation of the four bidding cities: Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Chicago. Tokyo’s advantages were clearly superior to those of its rivals (although in truth any city getting to the final stages of a bid should be able to stage a decent Games). Tokyo claimed 2016 would see “the most compact and efficient Olympic Games ever.” But then the votes came in. Tokyo was third in the first two rounds of voting, meaning it was eliminated behind Rio and Madrid, which in turn was trumped by the allure of Rio de Janeiro and the attraction of seeing the Games in South America for the first time.

Live today, die tomorrow

So what changed for 2020? Bids from Rome, Baku and Doha were eliminated early on, leaving just three cities: Tokyo, Madrid and Istanbul. All three had been persistent triers. Madrid had actually won the first vote for 2016, beating Rio by two votes and Tokyo by six. All had attractions but suffered serious blows in the year before the vote. Madrid presented a very economical bid and was attractively placed globally; East Asia is often seen as an unreasonable time zone for broadcasts in the important couch-potato zones of Europe and the Americas, while Europe fits the bill perfectly timewise. Istanbul had the same momentum as Rio in that the Games could be held in a new area, a different (Muslim) culture and in a city that straddles Europe and Asia. Tokyo, meanwhile, had the money, the technology and the best layout for the Games. They all had something going for them.

But then the economic crisis really started to bite in Spain, which saw unemployment reach 25 percent. And some saw Madrid’s $2 billion budget – half that of Tokyo’s – as a sign of weakness. Olympic budgets invariable double, so there were also worries about whether or not Madrid would be able to keep up the payments with the national finances of Spain in such dire straits. Spain probably won on the affability stakes with Prince Felipe and Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., the erudite son of the former head of the IOC. Despite its presentable facades, Madrid’s bid was seen to be built on weak foundations and it lost a runoff in the first round after tying on 26 votes with Istanbul; Tokyo got 40 votes.

Istanbul’s budget was a whopping $19 billion, which raised red flags all over the place. Imagine that doubling. Istanbul had the emotional momentum of Rio in that the IOC would like to spread its wings geographically and culturally, but the voters worried about its budget and the ability to deliver on infrastructure as everything would have to be new. That may not have proved fatal had the city not been hit by a wave of riots in the months leading up to the vote, not to mention the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Fukushima spread a cloud of doubt over Japan but unlike the crises in Spain and Turkey, the problem hadn’t directly affected the bidding city. The mere possibility of disaster/Armageddon trumped the ongoing problems in Turkey and Spain. Abe’s PR work really paid off. And so did Tokyo’s.

 

fukushima-daiichi-nuclear-plant

TEPCO’s Fukushima nuclear plant blows up

 

The 2016 bid was seen as spectacular from a technological point of view and drab from an emotional one. Bids need an emotional tone and faces that click with the IOC delegates. The presentations by then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and then-Governor of Tokyo Shintaro Ishihara for the 2016 Games were limp at best. The message from Tokyo four years ago was effectively: We build good cars. Ishihara’s successor as governor, Naoki Inose, wasn’t a great improvement and made a couple of serious gaffes, but he didn’t carry Ishihara’s baggage. And, surprisingly, even Abe came over as a likeable chap in his presentation – made in much better English than Hatoyama’s.

And, as Abe shut the door on the horror of Fukushima, Paralympic athlete Mami Sato, also speaking in understandable English, opened the door to the emotions of the earthquake and tsunami, recounting how she didn’t know if her family in Miyagi were dead or alive for six days. Sato emphasized how Japanese athletes had embodied the Olympic spirit by countless visits to those affected by the disaster – and Tokyo’s bid had its emotional connection. As well as a good speech in English by Olympic fencing medallist Yuki Ota, Tokyo got two delightful speeches in French from HIH Princess Takamado and former news presenter Christel Takigawa.

Tokyo also moved out of Japan to spread the word overseas. It launched its candidature file in London rather than in Tokyo and in doing so was able to ride the coattails of a country that was still buzzing from its own wildly successful Olympics. It also campaigned strongly on the domestic front after the IOC had taken a dim view of support figures for 2016 that showed less than half of Tokyo’s population supporting a bid. Of course, half of 35 million is still rather a lot, but the perception was negative and had to be put right. One of the major plus points was the post-London Olympics parade of medallists through Ginza, which attracted half a million people – an astonishing number – and put the feel-good factor back into Tokyo. An IOC poll saw public support at 70 percent at the beginning of this year and a government poll saw that figure rise to 92 percent 10 days before the vote.

Living up to the past

So what does it mean for Tokyo and Japan?

From a sporting point of view, the Olympics represent the ultimate goal for many athletes. From an individual point of view, they aim for the Olympics and a home Olympics focuses that aim and intensifies the purpose. The host country usually increases the number of athletes and the number of medals. In 2008, for example, China fielded 639 athletes at the Beijing Olympics, earning 100 medals and 51 golds. Four years earlier, it had fielded 384 athletes, earning 63 medals and 32 golds. In 2012, Britain fielded 541 athletes for 65 medals and 29 golds, whereas in 2008, it had won 19 golds, 47 medals overall with 313 athletes.

The 1964 Games saw the city of Tokyo transformed. It was transforming itself anyway, but the Olympics provided the impetus to get things done and Tokyo placed priority on improving infrastructure that would assist the Games, including “road, harbour, waterworks development on a considerable scale over a significant area of the city and its environs.” Tokyo venues such as the National Stadium (soon to be rebuilt), Komazawa Sports Park and Yoyogi Gymnasium are still being used today.

 

yoyogi gym

Yoyogi Gymnasium, still in use today

 

If Tokyo wants to live up to its promises in 2020, it need look no further than 1964. Avery Brundage, the President of the IOC in 1964, was fulsome in his praise of Tokyo and the Japanese:

“No country has ever been so thoroughly converted to the Olympic movement. … Every operation had been rehearsed repeatedly until it moved smoothly, effortlessly and with precision. Every difficulty had been anticipated and the result was as near perfection as possible. Even the most callous journalists were impressed, to the extent that one veteran reporter named them the ‘Happy’ Games. This common interest served to submerge political, economic and social differences and to provide an objective shared by all the people of Japan. In Tokyo everyone united to clean, brighten and improve the city and a vast program of public works involving hundreds of millions of dollars was adopted. It remains a much more beautiful and efficient municipality with the handsome sport facilities erected for the Games as permanent civic assets. … The success of this enterprise provided a tremendous stimulus to the morale of the entire country. Japan has demonstrated its capacity to all the world through bringing this greatest of all international spectacles to Asia for the first time and staging it with such unsurpassed precision and distinction. It is certainly the Number One Olympic Nation today.”

As London showed in 2012, the Games can lift a whole country in many ways. According to a British government report published in July, the 2012 Olympic Games provided a £9.9 billion boost to the economy; saw 1.4 million more people playing sport at least once a week than in 2005 when the bid was won; brought £4 billion of investment into London; helped 70,000 workless Londoners into Games-related employment; and projected that the total benefit to the U.K. from hosting London 2012 could reach up to £41 billion by 2020.

Tokyo has just taken the first step. It has a lot of promises to live up to, but it also has a past to learn from. Perhaps it will lead to regeneration on a broader scale. As Olympic host and capital city, it has a responsibility to do things right.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

tokyo_2664695k

Graphic of how the 2020 Olympic Stadium will look

 


Dec 3 2012

SOLD!

 

Japanese here: http://lostingumyo.blogspot.jp/2012/12/house-for-sale.html

*************************************

Why do I want to sell my house?

Simple: I don’t want to sell my house.

But I do have genuine reasons why I want to sell my house.

 

 

 

 

Am I selling it because I’m afraid of another earthquake?

Definitely no. I was at home on March 11, 2011, and watched my house rock as the first earthquake hit. When I went inside, almost nothing had moved (a few books fell down).

I was impressed. In the nearby apartment block, televisions, glasses and other items crashed to the floor. I’m confident my house will be safe in an earthquake.

 

Six-mat upstairs room

 

 

 

Customized kitchen

 

Am I moving out of fear of tsunami?

No. My house is 10 meters above sea level. Of course, 10-meter tsunamis are possible but are very, very rare. The Boso Peninsula has been hit by big waves in the past but the area where the house is located has apparently never been flooded. The house sits behind a hill and the escape/safety areas are just three minutes away.

 

 

 

 

 

Am I moving because of any defect in the house?

No, one of the reasons we bought the house is because it could be lived in immediately.

That applies today. In fact, it’s more liveable. We’ve added various items: outside stairway paving, garden path, grass, three air conditioners, fitted kitchen, IKEA cupboards in the toilet and bathroom, a new water heater, new TV antenna, trees and plants, vegetable garden. We’ve lived here for five years and maintained it in good condition.

 

 

 

 

Second floor open loft area

 

What kind of house is it?

It’s a tall, open-plan, European-style house with large windows facing south. It has two rooms upstairs plus a large open loft area. There is a large, storage attic in the roof.

Downstairs, there is one tatami room and a large, long, bright, open living room with sliding doors opening onto the deck. The bathroom and toilet are tucked away at the back behind the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

Odd-shaped dividing line between our land and our neighbor’s

 

And the outside?

The house is situated at the end of a short (100 meters), non-paved road, so it’s veryprivate. We park two cars there. Our land is a strange shape and our neighbour’s garden appears to cut into our garden. As a result, the garden is almost divided into two (at one stage, our neighbour said she might be willing to sell part of her land to resolve this; I don’t know if this is still possible). The garden has many trees. There is a house next door, but the owners have only been there once in five years.

 

 

 

 

 

Am I moving because the area is unpleasant?

The area around the house is quiet, the sun and moon rise over a hill (and over the sea), you can see millions of stars, the air and water are clean, the supermarket and drug store are only a10-minute walk away, there are bars and restaurants and coffee shops nearby.

Kazusa-Ichinomiya station is only 10 minutes away by car and it’s only an hour from there to Tokyo. Taito port and beach area is a 15-minute walk away. It has a swimming area in the summer and people surf all the year round.

There’s also a huge pink apartment block nearby (with some famous tenants from the entertainment world). Some say it’s ugly. I think it has an art-deco feel about it and when the evening sun shines off it, it’s like being in Miami. More importantly, it’s also on the blind side of the house, so you don’t notice it. To me, it’s like an interesting friend. (And if you make a friend there, you can use the pool and sauna there.)

 

The ‘Pink Mansion’ shows off its style in the evening light

 

 

The attic (3F)

 

 

First floor, six-mat tatami room

 

 

The garden has been fully turfed


Nov 4 2012

Call them Okayama girls

Okayama Castle

 

By Fred Varcoe

I always thought Okayama was a fairly industrial type of place. Still, my opinion was immaterial as it was a place I never stopped at and never thought I’d visit. It’s famous for pink peaches, a green garden, a black castle and some stupid mythical kid (Momotaro, the peach boy), but really it’s just an ordinary provincial town between Kobe and Hiroshima.
I tried to gauge the buzz of the place by engaging in conversation with two very hot schoolgirls. Both had their uniform skirts hoisted high, one had blue contacts and they were good-looking girls.
“Where you going?” I asked casually, detecting that they really wanted to get to know me.
“Station,” came the reply with a giggle. Not a schoolgirl giggle really; childish, yes, but not stupid cute.
“You just finished school?”
“No. Today’s a holiday.”
“But you’re wearing your uniforms. What have you been doing?”
“Playing…”
“In your school uniforms?” My fantasy life flashed before me.
“Yes, we like the uniforms.” So do I, honey.
“I’m heading for Starbucks.” I didn’t want to be too pushy. Play it cool, I thought.
“OK, fuck off.”
Ah, er, OK.
Alright, they didn’t tell me to fuck off directly, but they did in that way that young girls can, and do. They wanted to talk to the gaijin for a minute; that was about as much intercourse as they needed.
They probably weren’t schoolgirl prostitutes and as I only have 1,000 yen to last me for the rest of the year, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. But as I glanced around the streets of Okayama, it seemed to be full of provocatively attired teenagers. Was this place populated entirely by teenage prostitutes or was it my imagination?
Unfortunately, it was my imagination. I mentioned the fact on my Facebook page and my “friends” demanded pictures. Next day, I was ready with my phone camera, but all the teenage prostitutes had gone. In fact, I couldn’t find any prostitutes at all at 10 a.m. Strange town.

 

 

“It’s Saturday night
And I’ve just got paid,
Gonna find a whore
And try to get laid.”

Yes, I’m sure that’s what Bill Haley sung in his famous groundbreaking rock ‘n’ roll classic “Cock Around the Clock.” But it didn’t apply to me, ‘cos it was Thursday night, I hadn’t got paid, I wasn’t trying to find a whore and I never get laid. I’ve just finished my work and I’m plodding along the streets of Okayama. The internet tells me there are two bars that might be of interest to me.

“On weekdays (nights) there is nothing to do, but there are some bars around the main street. Aussie Bar is one of them which is a ‘gaijin bar,’ literally foreigners bar. It’s a friendly Australian bar but not so crowded on weekdays (even weekends recently). Weekends you can go to Club Matador, which is a Latino dance club with English-speaking staff. Friday nights they have salsa parties, which are not crowded, but on Saturday nights every bored foreigner and Japanese ladies who are looking for foreign guys are gathering there. The musics (sic) are South American-based boring stuff, but after few drinks you may like it. The place is hard to find and not so close to the station. It’s somewhere in Tamachi area (adults area).”

Ah, a ringing endorsement in disguise – or in disgust. I hit the streets, walking away from the east side of the station where I’m staying. According to the map, there’s nothing on the west side (although a couple of people I talk to tell me their favorite eating and drinking places are on the west side). I head up the street from my hotel. It seems relatively lively. There’s a couple of late-night coffee shops (they’re even hard to find in Tokyo), some bars and izakaya. Nothing adult. No schoolgirls, not many slutty looking women – in fact, not many people at all. Five minutes up the street, I’m outside the “hard-to-find” Club Matador wondering if I should chance their tempting-looking chicken and chips. Seems surprisingly pricey. Half a chicken and chips is 1,500 yen, 600 yen more than I pay at the press club in Tokyo. Let’s walk some more.
A few yards beyond Club Matador I’m standing on a tree-lined road that is split in two by a narrow, fast-moving river. It’s really very pleasant. That and the trams make the city seem very parochial. It’s like a throwback in time. I’m tempted by the smart-looking tapas bar I see, but that would also involve spending more than I want to. I wander further up the street past a pink-signed soapland advertising some cute local gals, none of whom appear to be teenagers, schoolgirls or partial to clothing. There’s a conveniently placed hotel to the rear. I circle back towards Club Matador and opt to stroll up the road-lined river.

Las Bimbas

Here’s Skippers, obviously trying to look like an English pub – and succeeding until I look at the menu. Pizza, pilaf, chili con carne? I glimpse inside. It looks alright. I’ll check it out another night when I might be in the mood for British pilaf. (I tried; it was closed.) Cafe Gong looks tempting in a dingy kind of way, but I have my walking boots on now and can’t stop. A deluxe darts bar looks OK (they have a Guinness sign outside), as do the modern-looking Agate and Shelter, but I end up outside Club Matador again and I’m hungry. I would really like their chicken and chips – so I order the guacamole plate. It’s barely passable (for 800 yen) and the bimbo next to me insists on nicking some of my doritos. Her (cuter) bimbo friend passes, but smiles in a non-patronising way. (Japanese bimbos are masters in the art of the withering smile; I’m sure they teach it at bimbo school.)
Bimbo 2 works in a dentist’s or is a dentist, or maybe she just likes teeth. Or perhaps she’s offering to clamp her teeth around my …. I really should learn more Japanese. Such faux pas could prove embarrassing. Anyway, it’s Thursday night and the two are out enjoying themselves, which seems to involve trying every cocktail on the menu.
“What’s that?” I inquire of the pink monstrosity in front of B2.
“It’s pink,” she replies.
“OK, but what flavor is it?”
“Errrr…..”
I take a sniff.
She smells nice.
I sniff the drink.
Oh my god.
“It’s strawberry. It’s like a milkshake.”
“It’s got vodka in it,” Ippei, the English-speaking barman tells me.
Ippei is a handsome young chap who looks like he knows the bimbo sisters, or at least wants to undress them. His English isn’t perfect, but he’s very friendly and happy to talk. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to say. I tell him I was looking for the Aussie Bar, but was told it had closed down. I had asked three women I was working with in Okayama where the best places in town were, in particular the Aussie Bar. It was closed they said. So I asked them where I could go instead.
“To eat?”
“To drink, you know, a bar.”
“…………….”
Clueless. I’m not sure they even knew there was an east side to the station.
Luckily (a relative term in this context), I met Ippei.
“I’m working there tomorrow night,” he says. “Come along.”
Bimbo 1 has a headache, is whining and has decided to fall asleep in her food. I’d asked her what she does for a living.
“Nothing.”
What do you do all day?
“Sleep.”
What do you do at night?
“Drink.”
“Are you a whore?” I imagined a brave version of me asking her.
“Of course I’m a fucking whore, you idiot. Do you think a normal person would dress like this?” I imagined her reply.
“Where’s the Aussie Bar?” I ask Ippei.
“I’ll draw you a map.”
Nice guy.
Fifteen minutes later he presents me with a map on a small but detailed piece of paper. He’s even colored in the river. If I’d had the time, I think he would have built me a three-dimensional mock-up of the area. It’s a very intricate map for something that only needs a few swift strokes of the pen. It turns out all he had to do was say: Go outside, turn left at the river and walk for three minutes.

 

How to get to Aussie Bar

The bimbos are becoming boring. The foxy barmaid is anything but – but she ignores me. Barman No. 2 grudgingly says hello. He says he’s Mexican. All his buddies speak Spanish. One plonks himself down beside me (I think to avoid sitting next to the black guy a few stools up.) I look at him; he looks at his drink. I look at my drink. I look at him again. He looks at his drink. I look at the barmaid. She looks at his drink. Time to leave.

Lowered expectations

“It’s Saturday night and…” I grab Ippei’s map and go in search of the Aussie Bar, which, of course, is just around the corner from everything else.
I cross the main street that leads from the station to the castle.
Everything goes dark. It was like someone had turned off a light switch. If there was actually anything there, I would call it the sleazy part of town. But it was just gloomy. There’s one place near the main street called the ORZ Bar. Is that it? I didn’t actually check what the Aussie Bar was called. You’d expect Waltzing Matilda or Ned Kelly’s Last Stand or the XXXX Bar or the Where the Bloody Hell Are You Bar. I decide the ORZ Bar isn’t it. Shame, it looks quite decent. As I venture further into the gloom, a dull yellow sign appears.
It says: “Aussie Bar.”
Great name.
I lower my expectations.
But it looks like a bar, a British bar really. Ippei is sitting next to the fridge and offers me a stool. He introduces me to the owner, Jason. Pleasant enough.
I’m hungry.
“What’s on the menu, Ippei?”
Not much, as it turns out. Mexican pilaf, chicken and rice, a dog turd and sausages.
The dog turd sounds tempting.
“What kind of sausages do you have, Jason?”
“Err…”
“Are they Japanese, or English style or German frankfurters, or what?”
“Errr… I don’t know. I think they’re Japanese.”
“Yes, I think they’re frankfurters,” Ippei chips in unhelpfully.
“What flavor is the dog turd?”
I need an alternative to unspecified sausages. Rice. You can’t go wrong with rice.
“What’s the Mexican pilaf like? Has it got beans? Is it hot and spicy?”
“Errr….”
“It’s rice,” Ippei explains. “And Mexican.”
And?
“And maybe a little bit spicy, but it’s good.”
“Can you put a dog turd on it?”
“Sure.”
Mexican it is, then.

The Mexican chef tosses rice from the rice cooker into the pan, sprinkles chopped chilis on top and adds some home-spiced chili beans. In a few minutes of crazed flambé culinary magic, he has conjured up a healthy helping of home-cooked soul food to warm my stomach and my heart…

Ippei takes the plastic bag out of the microwave and cuts it open. The brown contents ooze onto a plate, which Ippei serves to me with his ever-cheery smile.
“Mexican pilaf,” he reminds me. It tastes good, but I was so hungry even my toenails would have tasted good.

Nice but Tim

“Here’s another Englishman,” Jason exclaims. “It’s Tim.”
Why, so it is. Never met him before, and within minutes I’m thinking he’s a complete twat. Might be marginally tolerable when he’s not pissed. Drunk, he comes at me with all barrels blazing.
“Writer? I’m a writer, too.”
“What do you write?”
“Oh, everything. You know…”
Er, nope; haven’t got a clue. No matter, he’ll keep talking.
“Do you know there are three ways from which to examine life? Love, justice and pity. These three define everything in life. Take David Beckham. His love of playing for England. The just decision to drop him. And the pity we have for him. You see; love, justice and pity. It defines everything.”
God, I wish I’d met this guy before I’d had that Mexican pilaf. I sense vomit.
Tim’s faux-yakuza shirt and wicker trilby are too close – not to each other, to me. Not only is he trying to ram his cod philosophy into my brain, he’s also trying to ram it down my throat physically. He goes to hug a guy at the bar. Then he comes back to me and makes to try and hug me. I warn him to back off.
“Tell me more about your philosophy, Tim.”
He rants. He’s still too close. This guy is obviously stir crazy. Small towns can do that to you. Luckily, he goes to the bog and the girl at the bar smiles at me. I move. She’s sitting with a guy who surfs and boxes. She works in Starbucks, and makes it sound like a career. Maybe in Okayama, it is. They’re friendly, although Starbucks girl is constantly looking over my shoulder at the entrance as if she’s seeking salvation from another patron as yet unarrived. Surf dude buys me a beer and asks if he can stay at my house in Chiba. I tell him my wife might not approve. He’s a little too insistent. And I don’t want to buy him a drink.
Jason distracts me by introducing Matt, another Englishman. He’s a middle-aged northerner with unfashionable glasses. Wearing an England shirt. He reminds me of a mad, very highly strung former submariner I used to work with in Saudi Arabia. Too wound up. Too intense. But compared to Tim, he’s almost a relief.
Time for a little relief of my own. Reality returns in the bog (luckily Tim’s left it).
What the fucking hell am I doing in a craphole like this? Aussie Bar? Any Aussie Bar that calls itself Aussie Bar is desperately saying to all sane people: Stay the fuck away!
I get the fuck out.

Eureka! Erikas!

Sunday morning. My last full day in Okayama. Time for a latte to sustain me through the afternoon’s work. It’s shopping day in Japan. Lots of girls; not a lot of fashion. Still, it makes pleasant viewing. A girl in a floral dress comes in, gives me a smile. It’s not the “Why the fuck are you looking at me” smile I usually get; it’s more a “Hello, have a nice day” kind of smile. But a genuine one.
Hot chicks in hot-pants waltz by outside the window. My peripheral vision catches a floral dress. It’s sitting next to me. It’s Erika; she’s a bank person. She’s very attractive. She speaks English.

Metal-tipped tentacles spring from her ears, she slices open the top of my head and removes my brain.

Surprisingly, this isn’t true. Erika is simply an angel sent by Bog in heaven to make me like Okayama. She lives half-an-hour out of town with her family and three dogs. She works in a bank. She likes Starbucks. She’s visited England (London, Oxford, Windsor, Canterbury, Salisbury). She wants to speak English with native speakers. She’s so pleasant I’m tempted to ask her what species she is.
She asks what I’ve done in Okayama. I tell her about the previous night’s visit to the Aussie Bar.
“An Aussie bar. Maybe I should go there.”
“NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I suggest lightly.
Don’t you know anywhere else, I ask.
Not surprisingly, she doesn’t. She gets up at 5 a.m., gets to work before 8 a.m., finishes at 5:30 p.m., goes home, eats with her family, plays with her dogs and goes to sleep. In spite of the fact that she’s met me, she has faith in foreigners. She wants to meet her prince, she says.
“Prince Fred of Chiba?” I inquire.
As much as an angel can do it, she gives me the “fuck off” look.
So many Japanese know so little about the places where they live. I wonder if I know that little about England. Well, certainly I do now, but I’ve been out of the country for 30 years. Nevertheless, I know things. When I go to a new town – in any country – I try to walk around it. Sometimes, I walk for hours and hours. I look for restaurants or bars, nooks and crannies, history and schoolgirls. All the things a tourist needs. All the things a resident needs to know. After a two-hour walk around Okayama, I seemed to know more than all the residents I met there. And that happens all the time. I still know dick, but I know more dick than most residents.
But Erika restores my faith in the people of Okayama. I can’t judge the place on the few barflys I’ve met. She’s wholesome and genuine, not stupid and outgoing in a very demure way. I’m not sure she’ll find her prince in Okayama, but I know a few places she needn’t bother looking in.

Molly volley

But she wasn’t the only Erika sending out positives vibes from Okayama. Erika Araki is the captain of the Japan volleyball team and she hails from Okayama. On Saturday, she had been massive in helping Japan overcome the unbeaten Poles in the women’s World Grand Prix.

 

 

Recovering from an injury, she had come off the bench and put on a hero’s performance in front of her family, friends and fans. In fact, the whole team were awesome. They may not be giants on the international sports stage, but this particular group of players – coached by the tight-lipped, but, I suspect, very fucking good Masayoshi Manabe – is a wonderful advert for Japanese women, Japanese athletes and Japanese potential.
Hopefully, Okayama will be inspired by Erika and her teammates. Maybe all Okayama girls should be called Erika.
More likely, they’ll just be called Okayama Girls.
Don’t want to confuse the guys at Aussie Bar.


Oct 30 2012

Ozzy Osbourne, just a guy who likes to make people smile

 

By Fred Varcoe

“I’m not the Antichrist, I’m not the Iron Man, I’m not the kind of person you really think I am . . . I try to entertain you the best I can, I wish I’d walked before I ran,” Ozzy Osbourne sings in “Gets Me Through,” the opening track on his new album, “Down to Earth.” It is at once a touching thank-you to his hordes of faithful fans and a dismissive fuck-you to those who have tried to condemn him or who have misrepresented him.

“It amazes me that people see me like this,” the Englishman complained in a weekend phone interview from his home in Beverly Hills. “I don’t go out very often; I watch TV a lot and stay home, so how do they know I worship the fucking devil or whatever? They don’t see me swinging off the rafters off my house or anything.”

Of course, any man who is prepared to bite the heads off live doves (in a meeting of CBS record executives) and bats (on stage) is hardly likely to get a fair shake when it comes to images in the media. “I thought it was a rubber bat,” Ozzy once said, somewhat disingenuously.

Other manifestations of his past drink and drug excesses didn’t help either. After polishing off four bottles of vodka one afternoon in September 1989, Ozzy told his wife, Sharon, “We’ve decided that you’ve got to go.” He then proceeded to strangle her. She managed to hit the security button in their home and the police got there before Ozzy could do any more damage to her – or himself.

He was charged with attempted murder, but after a drying out spell and an enforced separation from his family for three months, the couple got back together and stayed together. They’ve now been together nearly 20 years and Ozzy’s past indulgences – at least the drugs and drink part – have given way to exercise, a healthy diet and a family-centered life.

 

Ozzy and Sharon

 

The MTV man

MTV will be offering an inside look at the Osbournes – Ozzy, Sharon, daughters Kelly and Aimee and son Jack – in a 13-part, fly-on-the-wall documentary series to be broadcast in the United States. Anyone who saw the precursor to the series a few years back, when Ozzy also allowed TV cameras into his home, will recognize that the king of heavy metal is anything but the monster he’s sometimes made out to be.

That’s not to say, though, that life chez Oz resembles “The Waltons.” The original documentary was more like “Absolutely Fabulous,” with Ozzy his usual cartoon self – a wealthy, foul-mouthed, heavily tattooed, uncompromising vision of horror for Middle America – and the kids on hand to keep the household from going out of control.

Picture this: Sharon has hired a chef to make breakfast for Ozzy. Eggs Benedict is not even in Ozzy’s vocabulary, let alone on his list of potential breakfast items.

“Why do we need a fucking chef to cook me breakfast?” he complains. “All I want is fucking eggs and bacon. We don’t need a fucking chef to do that.” Or words to that effect.

“Don’t swear, Daddy,” the kids tell him.

No one who has seen these images of Ozzy will mistake him for an accountant; they may, however, be confused by the sight of Ozzy under the thumb of his wife (who, as his manager and the daughter of legendary British promoter Don Arden, carries her own fearsome reputation) and children, not to mention the infamous photos from the past, of the out-of-control, drugged-up, boozing rock animal who kills wildlife on stage. The images just don’t seem to go together.

So who – or what – is the real Ozzy?

“It’s somewhere in between,” Ozzy admits. “I’m not a Satanist; I’m just a guy who likes to make people smile. Rock ‘n’ roll is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life because I can let people have fun.”

And the cartoon monster image?

“Well, it’s better than being a terrorist, isn’t it?” he suggests.

 

 

Ozzy hopes the MTV series is going to be shown in Japan.

“It would be really interesting to see a translation of what I’m saying and having me dubbed in Japanese,” he said. He would certainly prefer that to hearing himself in English.

“I cringe when I hear myself talking normally,” he says. “I hate the sound of my speaking voice. I sound like a mutant.” (Ozzy’s slurred Birmingham drawl prompted one American journalist to ask if the MTV series would be subtitled so people could understand what he’s saying – at which point, Sharon reportedly shouted: “Who said that?! . . . Stand up, you arsehole!”).

‘Japan’s been good to me’

If not on television, Japanese fans will have a chance to see the new lean and healthy Ozzy in the coming weeks when he tours Japan in support of “Down to Earth.” They can also be content in the knowledge that he’s likely to be recording his upcoming concert at the Budokan for a live album.

“I haven’t been there for a while, but the Japanese have always been good to me,” Ozzy says. “I’ve got a good fan base over there. I like the Japanese people, and I’ve always had a good time there.”

Though his bad-man image has proven appealing to teens all over the world, the reality is that he can only sustain his success as long as he is still producing the goods on record. And even at the age of 53, he is still producing awesome – and contemporary – rock ‘n’ roll. He admits that he’s able to do this with a little help from his friends.

“I work with teams,” he explains. “On ‘Dreamer’ [track 3 on ‘Down to Earth’], I worked with Mick Jones from Foreigner and Marty Freed. The melody line just came from nowhere. I’m not usually a melody maker, but ‘Dreamer’ is the coolest melody I’ve ever written.” In fact, it’s probably the closest he’s come to writing pure pop, which may not please all his fans.

 

Ozzy playing with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi

 

Ironically, Ozzy supposedly left Black Sabbath in 1978 – when it was one of the biggest acts in the world – because he was unwilling to follow guitarist Tony Iommi into a more melodic strain of heavy metal. Since then, Ozzy the solo artist – still one of the biggest rock acts in the world (he’s sold over 40 million albums to date) – has been able to indulge in his love for The Beatles (“When I first heard ‘She Loves You,’ I couldn’t fucking believe it. They got me interested in music.”) and has come up with some of his own sweet melodies.

Of course, Ozzy’s bread and butter is still very much on the dark side. On “Down to Earth,” longtime sidekick Zakk Wylde cranks out monstrous guitar riffs that perfectly complement the air of menace and scary lyrics that are Ozzy’s trademark.

Despite the “Sabbath” reunion album, which he did a couple of years back with the original members of Black Sabbath (“It’s like visiting your relatives,” he says of their relationship), Ozzy’s got too much to look forward to to spend his time looking back. And while he was shocked over the recent death of George Harrison, he doesn’t lose any sleep thinking about his own demise.

A man alive

“It’s just one of those things that happens to all of us,” he says matter-of-factly. “I don’t think, ‘I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying’ all day, because while I’m thinking about dying, then I’m not living.”

Ozzy is still very much alive and is working like a madman: Besides the MTV series and the upcoming Far East tour, he and his wife also organize the Ozzfest, a heavy metal festival that tours mainly America and Europe. (“Jack chooses most of the bands now,” Ozzy admits.)

“We’ve been trying to take the Ozzfest to Japan, but the problem is the logistics are just ridiculous – the costs outweigh the profits,” Ozzy explains. “With all the equipment, the stage and the bands, it’s just too huge to do.”

With all these projects going, how long can Ozzy keep it up?

“I was asked if I would still be doing this at 35; I said yeah. At 45? Yeah. At 55? Well, I’m 53 now, so yeah. And at 65? Well, maybe, yeah – unless the plane goes down on Tuesday,” Ozzy jokes, adding: “There’s no rule saying you can’t rock ‘n’ roll at 60.

“If there’s an audience out there and they want to hear me, then it’s OK. If my fans fall by the wayside, if I’m playing to 25 people in The Whiskey on Sunset and I’m not enjoying it any more, then I won’t do it anymore.

“But I’m 53 and I’m still going. I’m the luckiest guy in the world and people still want to hear me, so it’s great.”

 


Oct 30 2012

Stomu Yamash’ta and the sound of Zen

By Fred Varcoe

Stomu Yamashi’ta progressed from being a teenage musical prodigy in the 1960s to arguably the most famous Japanese person on the planet a decade later. Then he gave it all up and went to meditate in a Kyoto monastery for three years. For three decades, the musician that Time magazine once referred to as “the man who has changed the image of percussion” has largely stayed in Kyoto refining his art, refining his life and living in a Zen-like world of sounds and music.
This is not rock ’n’ roll. There’s no record deal, no tour, no merchandise, no groupies. There’s no timeline. Yamash’ta is a point in infinity, a musical shaman, a giver and receiver of life and music.
His most recent tangible product is a double DVD, “Walking on Sound,” in which he collaborates with Icelandic counter-tenor Sverrir Gudjonsson and which is referred to as a “Zen and Viking opera.” The first part is “The Void,” which brings together Yamash’ta’s percussion, Gudjonsson’s singing and vocalising, Syrian soprano Noma, the Irish flute of Dominique Bertrand, the shakuhachi of Genzan Miyoshi and the chanting of four Buddhist monks. The second part is “The Sound of Zen,” largely consisting of Buddhist chants accompanied by Yamash’ta’s percussion, Miyoshi’s shakuhachi and the yokobue of Michiko Akao. Both are live performances recorded at the Saint-Eustache Church in Paris. The other DVD is a documentary of how the performance came together.
At a young age, Yamash’ta’s reputation was established so rapidly that he was in demand the world over from the greatest musicians of his age. His entrée was classical music – he played as a guest with the Kyoto and Osaka Philharmonic Orchestras at the age of 14 – but his musical mind quickly absorbed everything around it, be it jazz, avant garde, rock or the abstract. He defined the role of the solo percussionist and started to improvise and compose, contributing to the soundtracks of movies such as “The Tale of Zatoichi,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “The Devils.” He moved through avant garde to jazz before establishing the Red Buddha Theatre Company to showcase his idea of sounds and vision.
His most visible work in the rock world came in 1976 when he collaborated on the Go project with huge stars such as Steve Winwood (Traffic), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music), Mike Shrieve (Santana), Klaus Schulze (Can) and Al Di Meola (Return to Forever). Yamash’ta had transformed himself from a classical teenage prodigy into a global rock star.

Giving it all up
Then he gave it all up, returned to Kyoto and stayed at a monastery for three years.
“I came back from Europe when I was at my peak, and many people wondered why I quit and came back to a Buddhist temple, suspending – almost giving up – my career,” Yamash’ta recalls. “I thought I should give up to become zero again, to get hungry again.
“I had to be honest to myself, what I felt. I was too lucky to be able to taste the best of everything, including classical music, contemporary music, jazz-rock fusion. I was able to collaborate with the best. This was a kind of fate and after tasting this kind of pure fate, I had to go back to something totally different, which you could call ‘religion,’ although I don’t like to use that word because it creates misunderstandings. I was glad because I had this almost desperate hunger which made me go to the temple. My father was associated with one of the most famous temples in Kyoto – Toji – and by this luck I found something that I had never experienced in my lifetime before. So it was a really good approach for me.”
In short, Yamash’ta wanted out of the “system.”
“When you become part of a system, at some point we need to make a transition to go to a different level,” Yamash’ta explains. “In today’s reality, we are facing this kind of transition.”
Zen uses meditation as the means to enlightenment and Yamash’ta took a similar path in the temple, which he refers to as “a spiritual environment of humility and innocence.”
“It gave me enormous joy and some kind of answer,” he says. “Suddenly, I could see myself very clearly.”

 


As if by fate, he learned of a stone with amazing sonic properties that was found in the mountains of Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku Island.
“When I met the Sanukite stones, I felt like my life was almost complete,” he says. “Speaking personally, I got my answer to life so I feel I can end it, to depart to a different world. But of course, I am still living here, existing, and the last 25 or 30 years were for me more personal. And this personal thing was wonderful – to be able to spend this time as an artist. I didn’t have to concern myself with social benefit.”
But Yamash’ta doesn’t reject society. Far from it. He is more outgoing than some might think. He may think a lot and meditate a lot, but he laughs a lot and enjoys good company. It’s easy to see that talking – communicating – puts a sparkle in his eye.
“Now, I feel like maybe I’m at my final stage, so from now it’s more like my mission – or whatever I can do – to communicate, to make some kind of function to create a better beauty, and this beauty can lead to a new ‘garden,’ ” he says.

The life and sounds of stone
His musical endeavours over the last quarter of a century have revolved around bringing the Sanukite stones to life. Anyone can bang a drum, but breathing life into inanimate objects takes a belief that the objects really do possess life and power. Yamash’ta caresses his stones and communicates with his stones as if they are alive. For him, they are. They possess life – in their unique sounds and their 20-million-year history. Yamash’ta the percussionist is not a member of a band or orchestra; he does not beat time to someone else’s rhythm. He does not beat time, period. He is a channeler of sounds. He discovers the sounds of the stones. They are not his sounds; they are the stones’ sounds.
“The Void” is a journey through history, through life, and a message of peace and hope for the future. Yamash’ta worries about the younger generation and wishes they could find the awakening that he has experienced over the last three decades.
“Compared to our age, young people have a more established education,” he explains. “They have more information, but being young, the tragedy is they have not had enough experiences that could create a new dimension, and to face a new consciousness; you need knowledge to overcome. You have to filter knowledge through experience. And maybe this is one reason why young people are becoming so inward-looking today.
“I was glad about Steve Jobs’ message: ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.’ That is very Zen. To understand foolishness is a very, very deep message. I think in the ’60s and ’70s we had a very good kind of foolishness and this opened a new door, a desire to taste humanity. When you hear some of today’s songs, it’s so obvious they have not had good experience. I’m sorry to say they are just singing social information. If they allowed themselves to be more ‘foolish,’ they could find a better approach to create a new artistic scene with coexistence.”
Yamash’ta is no fool, but he has the spirit of a fool – the fool of Shakespearean literature, a fool that has more wisdom than those around him, but which is not always obvious. As in meditation, sometimes you have to close your eyes to see the light.

 


Oct 16 2012

Japan, Korea and the Gangnam void

By Fred Varcoe

There’s something distinctly odd about Japan’s cultural relationship with South Korea. Of course, with around a million Koreans or people of Korean lineage living in Japan (the Koreans would claim around 120 million, but that’s a different story), it should be no surprise that there is a strong link between the two. Head to the area between Shin Okubo/Hyakunin-cho and Kabukicho in Shinjuku Ward and you will be overwhelmed by Koreana. You can’t move for Korean shops, Korean restaurants, Korean pop culture and Korean people.
When I lived in that area between 1987 and 1992, there was nothing there. And I mean nothing. At that time, Japanese culture was effectively banned in South Korea – no pop music, no films, nothing – and it seemed like it was a two-way affair. Japan, too, wasn’t exactly going out of its way to understand the culture of its closest neighbour (despite the presence of plenty of Korean hostesses where I lived).
Following the easing of restrictions on Japanese culture (which was, of course, always available in the bootleg markets of Seoul and other cities), the two countries slowly opened up to each other. Japanese bands were already becoming popular in Korea, while “Winter Sonata” heralded a tsunami of dreadful dramas into Japan. Koreans have become big stars in Japan, while Japanese are free to exploit the smaller Korean market.
Japanese pop fans have realised that Korean bands and stars can out-sing and out-dance the domestic versions (or at least equal the many “Japanese” stars of Korean descent). Other Asian countries have followed suit. The Koreans are everywhere.
PSY is everywhere.

 

 

Who’s he?

The pudgy 34-year-old has taken the world by storm with his quirky dance hit “Gangnam Style,” racking up half a billion views on YouTube and soaring to the top of the charts in the U.K., the United States and a host of other countries. He’s now a worldwide star.
A worldwide star that most people haven’t heard of in Japan.
The anomaly doesn’t make sense. Japan has been mainlining Korean culture for a decade now and doesn’t seem to be able to kick the habit. However, a recent reawakening of the Dokdo/Takeshima island dispute has put the right-wing lunatics back on the street and TV stations have been put under pressure to lay off Korean culture. Even Fuji TV, known as a right-wing channel, was apparently “warned” to be less accommodating to Korean programs and to show more Japanese crap.
Politicians from both countries have fanned the flames in irresponsible ways. South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak’s ill-advised trip to the islands sparked the latest round of insults and many Japanese have been happy to return the insults with their warped version of history. The Koreans are in possession of the islands and aren’t going to give them up. The Japanese have a weak claim to them and aren’t going to do anything to try and reclaim them, apart from fruitless gestures and ineffective legal measures. So the catcalling is just that.
But it may be that there is some discrimination against PSY for being the world’s most visible Korean. Some people claim not to like “Gangnam Style,” but not many. And it should be right up Japan’s alley – great tune, good beat, stupid dance, funny and fun. What’s not to like?

Some say PSY hasn’t promoted the song in Japan. HELLO!!!?! Half a billion people have seen it on YouTube. It shouldn’t need promoting. It’s a worldwide phenomenon; you’d think that any media organisation must report on it. How could they ignore it? But I haven’t seen it mentioned on Japanese TV (which, admittedly, I try to avoid) and when I polled 50 university students, only one of them knew it – or admitted to knowing it.
PSY reportedly was planning on heading to Japan at the end of September and even planning to do a special Japan version of his song (“Roppongi Style”), but the trip didn’t come off. No reason has been given. One theory is that he was concentrating on doing a deal with Justin Bieber’s management in the U.S. But one factor that may be preventing PSY from coming here is a drugs bust in South Korea in 2001. He was busted for smoking marijuana. Apparently, the usual drill for South Korean parents in such situations is to head down to the cop shop, fall to their knees and beg forgiveness for their child. PSY’s parents apparently just shrugged and said, “Yep, that sounds like our son.”
PSY also had trouble with his compulsory military service. According to Wikipedia:

“PSY served his mandatory military service as a technician in a venture firm from 2003 to 2005. After evidence came to light that revealed that PSY hadn’t properly carried out his duty during his service as a technician, he was re-drafted to serve as a soldier in the ROK Army in August 2007. After being discharged in the summer of 2009, PSY said he had learned a lot through this experience. He said he also felt the weight of his responsibility to his wife and twin daughters, born two months before he headed off to the ROK Army boot camp.”

PSY has been labelled “K-Pop” but he’s not really part of the K-Pop setup. He’s not pretty, he’s not slim, he doesn’t look like he’s been surgically modified and he’s not young – generally prerequisites for success in Japan (and Korea). But he does have talent and has been successful over the years. More to the point, he’s funny and an iconoclast. He gets irony, which the Japanese haven’t managed to invent yet. Maybe the Japanese just don’t get him.

 

Apkujong (no) style

“Gangnam Style” parodies the young, rich and stupid who flash their brand names in the meat markets of Seoul. PSY should know; he’s one of them. Well, he’s a rich, Gangnam boy. Actually, Gangnam is a large area south of the Han River in Seoul. The ground zero for the rich dicks PSY parodies is Apkujong. Here’s what I wrote about Apkujong for The Japan Times 10 years ago:
“Apkujong
Part of the Gangnam area, but merits an entry in its own right as it’s the trendiest part of town. Or, to put it in the vernacular, it’s full of tossers with more money than taste and posers with no taste at all. Apkujong is a little bit Ginza, a little bit Regent’s Street, a little bit Beverly Hills. … While you will still get your hamburger joints (McDonald’s, Kentucky, Hard Rock Cafe, etc.) and family restaurants (Bennigans, Thank God It’s Friday), you can find several classy eating establishments, bars and cafes. Of course, there’s nothing more irritating than seeing a bunch of clueless dorks with cash pretending they’re better than everyone else, but if you can ignore the cream of South Korea’s jerks, you can find some decent food in the area. Apkujong is BIG on fashion designers. You have been warned.”


According to an AP report: “ ‘The song explores South Koreans’ ‘love-hate relationship with Gangnam,’ said Baak Eun-seok, a pop music critic. The rest of South Korea sees Gangnam residents as everything PSY isn’t, he said: good-looking because of plastic surgery, stylish because they can splurge on luxury goods, slim thanks to yoga and personal trainers.
‘PSY looks like a country bumpkin. He’s a far cry from the so-called Gangnam Style,’ Baak said. ‘He’s parodying himself.’ ”

Well, good luck to him. PSY obviously can do without Japan. Japan, on the other hand, desperately needs someone like PSY who can recognize and parody the buffoonery in Japanese society and politics and entertainment. We don’t need no Beat Takeshi, as Pink Floyd might have said. It’s another brick in the wall that Japan loves to live behind.
The world’s gain is Japan’s loss.

 

English Translation of “Gangnam Style” (from the web):

Oppa is Gangnam style
Gangnam style
A girl who is warm and human during the day
A classy girl who know how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee
A girl whose heart gets hotter when night comes
A girl with that kind of twist
I’m a guy
A guy who is as warm as you during the day
A guy who one-shots his coffee before it even cools down
A guy whose heart bursts when night comes
That kind of guy
Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Now let’s go until the end
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh, Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh, Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh
A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays
A girl who puts her hair down when the right time comes
A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all
A sensible girl like that
I’m a guy
A guy who seems calm but plays when he plays
A guy who goes completely crazy when the right time comes
A guy who has bulging ideas rather than muscles
That kind of guy
Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Beautiful, loveable
Yes you, hey, yes you, hey
Now let’s go until the end
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh, Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh, Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh
On top of the running man is the flying man, baby baby
I’m a man who knows a thing or two
On top of the running man is the flying man, baby baby
I’m a man who knows a thing or two
You know what I’m saying
Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh, Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh, Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh


Oct 8 2012

Pot, kettle, black c***

Terry, Cole and a Bunch of Twats

By Fred Varcoe


Should John Terry be fired by Chelsea, as demanded by The Guardian?
Is John Terry guilty? Is Ashley Cole a liar? It’s seems to be a popular thing to say. It seems to be a “right-on” thing to say. It seems to be the thing that writers in the U.K. want to say over and over again. U.K. journos love bandwagons; they make journos popular without the need to resort to actual thinking. Or, indeed, facts.
So what’s happened? An “independent” panel appointed by the F.A. has found Terry guilty of making a racist statement, while at the same time saying he’s not a racist.
The same panel has effectively called Ashley Cole a liar for “amending” (“evolving”?) his evidence.
An English court found Terry not guilty. The court requires evidence to prove the case. The F.A.’s inquiry does not require evidence that proves a case. The independent panel only has to think that Terry might have done what he was accused of to find him guilty of the offence. And that’s what they did.

Variations on a cunt

The F.A. say Terry called Anton Ferdinand a “fucking black cunt … fucking knobhead,” while Terry maintains that he said something along the lines of “Did you accuse me of calling you a ‘fucking black cunt’ … fucking knobhead.”
Apparently Ferdinand had insulted Terry in relation to Terry’s shagging of Wayne Bridge’s wife. The F.A. hasn’t taken any action against Ferdinand on this. Apparently this kind of emotional provocation is OK with them.
And apparently it would have been OK if Terry had just said “fucking cunt” or “fucking human cunt” or just “cunt.” And it didn’t matter that Ferdinand didn’t hear the insult (apparently they were 19 meters apart at a very noisy ground).
The only thing that matters, apparently, is that three “independent” people think Terry used “black” as an insult. The ruling of the British court apparently doesn’t matter; the British justice system is obviously inferior to the F.A.’s and the F.A.’s panel can evaluate evidence better than an English court. And the F.A.’s panel doesn’t need to prove anything. Yes, that’s the kind of justice we journalists need. It makes a much better story.
Anton Ferdinand accusing Terry of shagging his teammate’s wife is not a story. Because the F.A. approve of that (OK, don’t disapprove of it). Terry reacting on the spur of the moment under provocation should result in his career being destroyed, according to the Guardian. One assumes that the Guardian thinks that everyone who reacts in an insulting verbal manner when provoked should be sacked, even if there is no evidence that proves the verbal insult was actually a verbal insult.

Racism but not a racist

Nobody seems to think that Terry is a racist, but in the heat of intense competition and under severe provocation he may have used a race-based slur against his provoker. If he was guilty, it was most likely an emotional outburst with racial overtones rather than a racial outburst (which would by logical extension be aimed at all black people, including Terry’s teammate and witness Ashley Cole). If this can be proved he should be punished on this basis, but who among us hasn’t said hurtful words in anger at someone they like/love/respect/admire?
Now Cole is being dragged across the, er, coals because he was offended by the F.A. panel insinuating he was a liar. He called the F.A. a “bunch of twats.” He’s been punished for that (even though it hasn’t been disproved and a three-man independent panel I convened believe it to be true). Specifically, he has been accused of enhancing his evidence to support Terry. Again, there’s no proof (yet).
So, Terry has been punished for something that may have occurred but hasn’t been proved. Cole has been punished for saying something that is true (and, let’s face it, has been proved a thousand times) and may be punished again for something that may or may not have cleared Terry but which hasn’t been proven.
For Terry, three judgments can be made here:

  1. Terry used the phrase because he’s a racist;
  2. Terry used the phrase on the spur of the moment because Ferdinand insulted him;
  3. Terry used the phrase as he claims, i.e., that he wanted to check what Ferdinand thought he said.

For the F.A.:
If it’s 1, then the F.A. should throw the book at him. But not even the F.A.’s Spanish Inquisition believe it’s 1.
If it’s 2, as captain of Chelsea and as a supposed “role model,” perhaps the punishment fits the crime (although when people cripple footballers with fouls, it’s the same punishment and that doesn’t fit the crime).
If it’s 3, it’s not really an issue.

 
For Terry:
If it’s 1, he would be better off taking the current punishment (a four-game ban) and getting on with his life and career and continuing to hide his racism;
If it’s 2, then Terry should man-up and say he used the phrase under extreme provocation and is sorry to all concerned and accept the punishment;
If it’s 3, he has to fight because then the F.A. is in the wrong. Perhaps Terry should have the right to ask that the F.A. panel be examined for bringing about a wrongful judgment and punishing him on unproven grounds, so bringing the game into disrepute.

 
There are two more disturbing aspects to this case.
First, the F.A. has a double-jeopardy clause in its statutes that basically says the F.A. should follow the rulings of the courts. Obviously they haven’t done that in this case. They have been very keen to find Terry guilty (apparently the conviction rate for the F.A. is the same as that of most police states), so they’ve ignored their own rules.
Secondly, Rio Ferdinand, Anton’s brother, referred to Cole as a “choc ice,” i.e., black on the outside, white on the inside. Surely this is a far more serious case of racism than that of Terry’s. It would be like me calling the F.A. or Guardian readers “nigger lovers” for their actions. Yet Rio Ferdinand was only fined £45,000 and not banned.
Should this incident be as big as it’s been blown up to be? It merits attention in the media, but it also deserves some perspective. I hope Terry comes out with a statement that clarifies everything. NO ONE has come out of this looking good and perhaps all the parties should reflect on that.

“We’re whiter than white.”

****
Addendum

I found this on the web and I post it without comment:

10 fatal flaws in the FA disciplinary panel’s ruling on John Terry.

It runs to 63 pages, and is the FA’s justification of its findings. But the panel’s written ruling is a flawed document containing errors and inconsistencies.
1. It states as fact Terry and Ashley Cole met Anton Ferdinand “approximately one hour after the match ended.” Documentary evidence in court proved the team had left by then.
2. There is reference to “Mr Ferdinand’s wife.” He is unmarried.
3. There is no adequate explanation of why Terry was charged under FA rules while Ferdinand, who admitted having breached them, wasn’t.
4. The FA’s burden of proof required reference to the seriousness of the accusations. It is perverse a matter deemed by the criminal justice system to require a “beyond reasonable doubt” yardstick, be judged upon using anything but that.
5. In reasoning on the FA’s rule 6.18 (on the primacy of findings in previous tribunals), the panel goes on a meandering run across the face of the defence, attempting to pick-out the one thread-needle route by which they might reach their intended target. This is not only bad law, it is also an irrational conclusion setting a bizarre precedent.
6. The panel takes the view that because Ferdinand wasn’t cross-examined during the FA hearing, all evidence was accepted unchallenged, a position ignoring cross-examination of Ferdinand in court.
7. The panel emphasises Terry’s use of profanities to infer malice. These are the same words three professional footballers told the criminal court were a part of the general punctuation of speech within Premier League matches.
8. The panel’s belief an innocent Terry would confront Ferdinand at full time, rather than applaud his own fans, misapprehends the character he has displayed over the last 14 years.
9. A section headed “the Barcelona evidence” compares Terry’s initial reported denial of kneeing Alexis Sanchez in Camp Nou, with his latter admission. The panel takes certain inferences from this, despite having been unable to prove the existence of the initial denial. Indeed, having listened back to interviews from that night, I cannot find any evidence of an initial denial.
10. The panel sets stall by the “evolution” of Cole’s evidence. It is normal for witness statements in criminal proceedings to evolve in this way. Changes are to be expected given Cole’s evidence was based on notes of the FA’s investigating team, and not a tape recording.

Taken together these flaws demonstrate that the FA panel was both slapdash and irrational in its approach to this case.


Oct 6 2012

Dealing with Death

 

By Fred Varcoe

I went to my first funeral when I was 38. It was my father’s. I hadn’t had to deal with death up to that point – and I haven’t had to deal with it much since then.
I’ve paid my respects a couple of times in Japan and South Korea, but I wasn’t particularly close to the people involved, or even knew them at all in some cases. Death was distant; it was abstract. I never felt involved. My recent trip to South Korea to take part in my father-in-law’s funeral brought death back into my life.
There have been a few deaths sort of near me – all my grandparents. But they, too, were distant. I only met my grandparents once a year at best; I didn’t know them so well. I was 8 years old when my mother’s mother died (at 58) and vaguely remember going to say goodbye to her as she lay dying at home. Her husband died 10 years later, slightly out of his mind, while my father’s mother succumbed to cancer around the same time. I hadn’t seen either of them for ages. They lived far away, I was a teen at boarding school and nobody in my family really seemed to make an effort to meet up.
But at 23, with one grandparent left, I made a trek across London to see my remaining grandfather. He was 86, and we went down the pub for some gin and fags. He was good company, alert, funny and as down-to-earth as most Cockneys. He drank pink gin – strong pink gin – and we talked about trivial things. He died a few weeks later. I don’t know how; I don’t know what of. I like to think he had a pink gin in one hand and a Woodbine in the other. But having seen him so recently, I felt connected. I wish I had been more connected to all my grandparents. They were a diverse bunch and had so much to offer.
But it was too late.

The day the music died

Death continued to pass me by. Working in Saudi Arabia in the early ’80s, a couple of colleagues died young: one through an ill-judged experiment with nitrous-oxide, the other – a rampant homosexual –from a mysterious disease. Life went on.

One death while I was there did affect me. In December 1980, I bought the Arab News in downtown Taif and took it home. As I entered my bedroom, I glanced at the front page; John Lennon had been assassinated. I was stunned. Perhaps I was more shocked by the fact that I took it personally. It sounds trite, but it was like a part of me had died that day. But it was true. I had grown up with The Beatles. I had bought Please Please Me at the age of 7. I even went to see the movie Help! with my paternal grandmother, another down-to-earth Londoner. The Beatles wrote the soundtrack to so many young lives. We were all emotionally involved.
Fast-forward 22 years to another musician who helped write the soundtrack to my life. Warren was an acquaintance who became a great friend. Like his hero Ray Davies of The Kinks, Warren wrote stories into music – great English pop songs. I used to visit him in Holland when he lived there in the early ’80s. Holland buzzed, and we had a lot of fun. So much fun, it dominated our conversations for the next 20 years. Warren had two Top 10 hits in the U.K. with Bucks Fizz and five minor successes in Japan (I was his agent). He was always first on my list of people to see when I went to the U.K., but with limited time on visits home, I didn’t always see him. At 55, he went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up.

 

Warren on stage in Holland (with ex-Gruppo Sportivo bassist Eric Wehrmeyer)

 

It was like being robbed of my memories. Talking about our rock ‘n’ roll days in Holland kept those days alive, kept us young, kept us alive. Is this what happens? Your friends die and bits of your life just drop off with them? We hadn’t finished reminiscing; that part of our lives still felt so close. Is it now?

A week to the day after Warren’s death, I became a father. Suddenly, life had new meaning. My life. But now I realize the enormity of what I’ve done and nothing horrifies me more than to think that I might not be around to help my daughter grow up. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t expect to live to an old age.

 

Goodbye, Grandad

My Korean father-in-law didn’t have that problem. One of his daughters died young in a car accident, but he had six reserves plus a son. There was a lot of life in the Lee family. A week after his death, there still is.
But saying goodbye to this man – as dignified and well-grounded as my paternal grandfather, who died at exactly the same age, 86 – was a mixture of the grand and the grotesque. And for the first time since I attended my father’s funeral, I was a participant.
With my father’s death, the remoteness was still there. My father died while I was in Japan and I’d been living overseas for 14 years. It took me two days to get home. I didn’t have to deal with the everyday stuff of death. I got home and the funeral was arranged. I saw no dead body. I didn’t feel involved. My mother, brother and sister had to deal with everything; I just had to fly home. On the morning of the funeral, I played golf. Did I appear cynical? I hope not. Golf clears the head and my head needed clearing. I was hiding behind an emotional wall. It wasn’t going to get to me yet. To get to the crematorium, I drove my rental car. I didn’t want to be part of a procession. I was almost in denial as to all of this being real.
But then we were in the crematorium chapel with my father’s coffin on the rollers ready for his final journey to the incinerator. It all came home to me. This was my life. Death was suddenly real. The priest was talking about my father. After a short service, a curtain shielded the coffin as it rolled toward the burners. A door closed. Goodbye, Dad.
And then we were out in the sunshine, drying our tears, saying goodbye to the living, driving home. What do we do now?
Party, of course. Good food, a lot of Champagne and we were living life again. Perhaps it was too easy, too quick. The Koreans have to work a lot harder for their closure.

The long goodbye
My wife’s father died at around 4 a.m. on a Monday morning. I managed to get my wife on a plane to Busan at 2 p.m. on the same day and she was in Daegu by 6. By then, her family were several hours into the ceremonials. They had delayed dressing the body – in front of the family – until she arrived. I’m not sorry I missed it. Curiously, the first things her parents had shown me the first time I went to their house were the clothes they would be dressed in after they were dead. I was under the impression that I would have to help dress the body. This wasn’t the case, partly because I was traveling a day behind my wife, but mainly because the mortuary staff did that. The wife told me it was done very well and with great class. “My father looked very dignified,” she said.
Due to work obligations, I arrived 24 hours behind my wife. I figured that by the time I arrived in the early evening the whole family would soon out of mourning mode and into the food and alcohol.
Wrong!
I was hustled into the mourning area in the basement of a small hospital to pay my respects before the altar that had been set up. You could barely move for flowers.

 

 

I was soon on my knees.
“You have to do two and a half bows,” my brother-in-law informed me.
Well, what’s that? OK, two on my knees, head touching the floor; I get that. But a half bow? Do I get half up and get down again? Or do I get all the way up and bow halfway. I’ll opt for B, Bob. Eerrrck! Wrong! But no big deal.
I was handed a black suit to replace the black suit I was wearing (“It’ll get dirty,” I was told.) and given an oversized white shirt and black tie, identical to the suits and shirts and ties worn by the other five sons-in-law and my wife’s brother. I had to wear a strange tall yellow hat and armband made of linen, which had a single black line running around it. The brother’s had two black lines. South Korea is a Confucianist country; everyone has their rank. I felt like the corporal of death.

 

No, really, it suits you…

In the small altar area, there were seven cushions lined up on each side. Not quite seven brides for seven brothers; there were seven brides for the lone brother and six brothers-in-law. Position was determined by age. I was married to daughter No. 4, so I was fifth in line (the brother was first, of course). The women were lined up in similar order opposite their husbands.
The altar had a smallish picture of the deceased and lots of food and flowers. The primary floral tribute had been provided by the chairman of one of South Korea’s chaebols, an impressive tribute and one of significance. Big wheels are turning.
Mourners flooded in. Mourners were not only those who knew the deceased, but also those connected to the family, so colleagues of the son, sons-in-law and daughters. Some came in groups; others individually. As they entered the mourning area, the family lining each wall would chant “Igo, igo, igo” non-stop, a call to the spirit of the deceased. The chief mourner in the visiting group would make an offering of alcohol and light a stick of incense, followed by the requisite two and a half bows. Then, all the mourners in that group would turn to face the male relatives and both sides would fall to their knees again in a humble bow. Then, they would make to get up, but invariably fall to one knee to offer a message of condolence after being introduced by whoever they knew among the family. They would then put an envelope containing money in a box ($55,000 passed through that box over the three days!). Some would then leave; others would eat and drink at the restaurant adjoining the altar area. They were soon replaced by other mourners. In fact, this had been going on for well over 30 hours by the time I arrived. Nobody had gone home. On the day I arrived, the procession of mourners didn’t finish until after midnight. At 1 a.m., the family ate. Most grabbed two or three hours sleep on the floor. The marathon was not over yet.

 

Waiting for more mourners

The first ceremony of the final day came at 5:45 a.m. The ceremonies were now getting more heart-wrenching for the family. Another ceremony was held in front of the coffin before it was loaded into the massive black Cadillac hearse for a journey to the old man’s home. Another ceremony was held in the yard there with one of the elders from the village leading the prayers.

 

 

Up to this point, things had been moving and dignified; the old man was being sent off with love and affection.

Then we got to the crematorium.

 

At the crematorium

The coffin was unloaded into what appeared to be the tradesman’s entrance. The family was directed to a waiting room. People could watch TV. Soon, we were hustled into a glass-walled viewing room. Beyond the window was the coffin. Beyond the coffin was a line of a dozen doors to what looked like industrial furnaces. It was horribly stark.

 

A door opened and the body was shoved through. It was quick, sudden and shocking. Family members yelped in shock. The furnace door closed and everybody was hustled out to wait.
We waited for over an hour under a hot midday sun. We did lunch. We drank beer. We waited some more.
I went back to the waiting room as it was cooler there. I noticed a bank of TV monitors, each one placed above a photo of those being “processed.” You could watch the furnace doors open and the ashes being wheeled out on a trolley. The picture was fuzzy, thank God.
But then the monitor told us furnace No. 4 was ready and we were hustled back into the glass-walled viewing room. The door opened and a tray of bones was dragged out. The women screamed for their father. Everyone looked on in disbelief.
Originally, the family thought they would stick with tradition and bury the old man on a hill near their house. But South Korea is losing its cultural markers. Modern times require quick and easy solutions to life – and death. The dead don’t need to take up space on a hill.
One or two bones were still identifiable. Two crematorium staff swept everything into a box and brought it over to where the family were watching in a state of shock. I stood well back, holding my daughter for comfort. Everyone was distraught. This was no way to create a final memory of a man revered by his family. This was processing, not healing, not loving, not even remembering. Who’d want to remember this?
The bones were crammed into an urn and handed over. Thanks for your patronage; have a nice day. Er, recommend us to your friends…
The family drove back past the old man’s house and village and up into the hills to a Buddhist temple where his ashes would be enshrined and where the family could find spiritual salvation. Religions require belief and everyone wanted to believe that father was on a journey, and his journey would end peacefully in a sacred place. It was sunny and 33 C; no one had any energy left. A Buddhist priest gave the family the spiritual sustenance they sought. We said our last prayers for the old man’s final journey, bowed to the ground one more time to say goodbye and headed home.

Final resting place

 ****

Later that night, a magpie – a symbol of good luck in Korea – flew onto a wall of the house. He gave the impression he belonged there and looked paternally at the family members clustered behind an open window. He flew into the house and perched high up in the living room. Nobody said anything, but everyone thought the same thing. How could you think otherwise?
After refusing to leave, the fearless widow Lee grabbed the bird and ushered it out. It flew away into the night. She watched it go, saying a final, silent farewell.
Sorry, you don’t live here anymore.

 

 

****