The past few weeks

Sorry to all for the lack of posting. On 3/11 the earthquake hit and I was good initially at using social media and my blog to let people know how I was doing, and then obviously I just stopped. There are multiple reasons for that, and just the general energy that each day took following the Tohoku earthquake and the uncertainty associated with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant kept me from blogging.

First thing to report is that I am hardly impacted by the earthquake and by the ongoing issues at the power plant. Radiation levels in Nagoya are at background levels. We are on a completely different power grid so even if I conserve energy it has no impact on the people who are going through the power outages (conservation is good no matter what, don’t get me wrong). For the technically minded out there, Nagoya is on a 60Hz system, and TEPCO and northern Japan use a 50Hz cycle. So the cost of conversion between the two systems are high. The biggest impact I’ve felt personally is that my favorite yogurt is currently unavailable. That’s a small price to pay.

At the beginning though, it wasn’t so clear exactly what was up. My colleague decided on Saturday night, after the quake hit on Friday, to evacuate with his pregnant wife and young son. Other gaijin were also considering leaving as well. My company had no official policy immediately following the events either. Of course I received lots of encouragement from around the world to leave Japan immediately. Apparently the entire island was going to be destroyed in the eyes of some people.

On Tuesday following the quake, my company offered voluntary home leave for expatriate employees and families in Tokyo, but not Nagoya. That didn’t go over too well with the Nagoya-ins, and eventually on Thursday that offer was extended to expatriate employees in Nagoya as well.

I continued to pay attention to the news, plus we were privy to good technical data and analysis of worst case scenarios. Also, we found various links to real data that included radiation levels in Nagoya, a colleague of mine built a little radiation dosage spreadsheet, and I quickly realized that if I did choose to stay in Nagoya, I would have plenty of time to evacuate if things really did get bad.

So I stayed. The general panic and exodus of the expatriate community did not go unnoticed in Japan, and those that left are being called “flyjin”, which is a play on the word “gaijin,” which means foreigner. The media is reporting that there are plenty of business relationships that need to be repaired as those that left slowly come back.

There is a difference, though, between how a local and how an expatriate should react to this situation. For the locals, this is their country, they have their ties, and it is their government who ultimately will be responsible for controlling the situation. They were being told everything was OK, so with some skepticism they accepted it. For the foreigner, given a choice to hope the information was correct and to believe they were not in danger or given the option to return to their homeland, the choice was pretty easy. A lot of my colleagues ended up sending their families home as they stayed on and continued working. The company’s policy all along was that it was safe and remains to be safe, but life in Japan is different than it was before the earthquake.

I am glad that I stayed, and so far I feel like it was the right decision. The period was pretty stressful though as information was fluid and the truth was hard to figure out. I really felt similar to the way I felt post 9/11 in Los Angeles. We were not directly impacted in LA, but definitely impacted as two colleagues were killed on one of the planes (I didn’t personally know them), and my brother lived in New York at the time. There was a general heaviness in the air all the time, and nobody knew exactly how to behave or the expectations on their behavior. That kind of stress is omnipresent and it takes a while to process everything that is going on.

Over time, the amount of thought and energy associated with the events reduce, and life becomes more normal. Of course, for people in Nagoya that happens much faster because most of us are not faced with any real hardship. What continues to be hard for me now is knowing how to help. I’ll have more on that in a later blog entry.

No thanks, I’d rather read about it

A recent article in the Japan Herald states, “Third of young Japanese men have no interest in sex.”

Japan’s birth rate is plummeting because more than a third of Japanese males have no interest in or are actively averse to sex, says a survey.

According to the survey of 671 men and 869 women, issued by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 35.1 per cent of men aged 16 to 19 said they are not interested in or averse to sex, more than double the 17.5 per cent of men in the previous study in 2008.

Really? REALLY? I wonder about their statistics. AFP reports on the same news, as do many other news agencies.

Japanese, in general, are not great at responding to surveys. How were these surveys performed, in what context? It is true that the birth rate in Japan is really low, and the population is declining. It will be a real strain on the country to support all the aging people right now. If current eating habits continue though, I predict the life span of the Japanese will actually decrease for a while in the future. But I digress. Economic models still seem to be focused on growth instead of sustainability, so until Japan shifts their model to a sustainment model, it will be difficult. With neighbors like China, staying out of a growth race is pretty hard, but one that probably can’t be won.

World birthrate


What is leading to such a reduced birth rate? Developed countries or countries with strong regulations on birthrate (China) tend to have lower birth rates. Japan clearly falls into that category. But if I look at the life of a typical Japanese young person, would I want to have kids? Likely, if single, they are living at home or in a small mansion. If married, they are still likely living with one of the parents. Not a whole lot of time for privacy. Plus, people really do work late into the night, easily between 9:00 pm to 11:00 pm. So people are tired and have no privacy. Two strikes against a good sex life. Then, if a couple does get it on, do they want to have kids? Space is small, living is expensive, and having kids amplifies those problems. Many couples are going childless or opting for one child. There are exceptions of course, but I know of few families with more than two children.

What about the 16 to 19 year olds? Are they really so uninterested in sex? I don’t think so. Any trip to a 7-11 will reveal lots of sexually explicit manga [LINK]. Lots of manga shops have huge areas devoted to 18+ manga. My local manga shop is Toranoana and walking through the floors is quite the eye opening experience.

Manga shop


Recently, Tokyo has passed a law that will require a lot of restrictions on manga. This news even made the Wall Street Journal.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly on Wednesday enacted an ordinance that vastly expands a law meant to restrict people younger than 18 from purchasing or flipping through manga depicting rape, sex crimes, incest and “sexually explicit acts and graphic images that are not acceptable morally.” By making previous rules broader and more clear, the Tokyo government will have the authority to deem more manga as “unwholesome books,” which restrict where and how they can be sold.

Perhaps these days, the 16 – 19 year old boys would rather read about sex than actually participate, then spend the next 2 hours trimming their eyebrows and styling their hair. Yes, the AFP article even dredges up the Herbivore man again.

Of course, all my comments are merely speculation. I’ve done no personal research with the 16 to 19 year old boys in Japan.

A further study of the hate bus, and worse

I have the New York Times app on my iPhone. It sounds very worthy, I know, but unfortunately I find Twitter and Facebook far more interesting on the train from work. I should be studying vocabulary in that time anyway. I must have had a particularly slow time because I went to my New York Times app and quickly found the article titled, “New Dissent in Japan Is Loudly Anti-Foreign.”

I thought perhaps that the article would be about the hate buses, which I have previously described. Instead, this article goes on to describe an even more aggressive emergence of ultranationalism. As a matter of fact, the article almost accepts the hate bus as a check and balance on the current system.

According to the article,

… The December episode was the first in a series of demonstrations at the Kyoto No. 1 Korean Elementary School that shocked conflict-averse Japan, where even political protesters on the radical fringes are expected to avoid embroiling regular citizens, much less children. Responding to public outrage, the police arrested four of the protesters this month on charges of damaging the school’s reputation.

More significantly, the protests also signaled the emergence here of a new type of ultranationalist group. The groups are openly anti-foreign in their message, and unafraid to win attention by holding unruly street demonstrations.

Since first appearing last year, their protests have been directed at not only Japan’s half million ethnic Koreans, but also Chinese and other Asian workers, Christian churchgoers and even Westerners in Halloween costumes. In the latter case, a few dozen angrily shouting demonstrators followed around revelers waving placards that said, “This is not a white country.”

The article goes on to describe the emergence of this new nationalism through the internet and blames the rise on socioeconomic issues plaguing the country.

What is interesting, and disturbing, is the hate buses are almost revered and accepted for their professionalism and place in Japanese society.

They are also different from Japan’s existing ultranationalist groups, which are a common sight even today in Tokyo, wearing paramilitary uniforms and riding around in ominous black trucks with loudspeakers that blare martial music.

This traditional far right, which has roots going back to at least the 1930s rise of militarism in Japan, is now a tacitly accepted part of the conservative political establishment here. Sociologists describe them as serving as a sort of unofficial mechanism for enforcing conformity in postwar Japan, singling out Japanese who were seen as straying too far to the left, or other groups that anger them, such as embassies of countries with whom Japan has territorial disputes.

Members of these old-line rightist groups have been quick to distance themselves from the Net right, which they dismiss as amateurish rabble-rousers.

“These new groups are not patriots but attention-seekers,” said Kunio Suzuki, a senior adviser of the Issuikai, a well-known far-right group with 100 members and a fleet of sound trucks.

But in a sign of changing times here, Mr. Suzuki also admitted that the Net right has grown at a time when traditional ultranationalist groups like his own have been shrinking. Mr. Suzuki said the number of old-style rightists has fallen to about 12,000, one-tenth the size of their 1960s’ peak.

Hate bus

Perhaps even more telling is that the “new Net right” don’t think they are racist. Instead, they model themselves after the Tea Party movement in the US. Hmmmm, as much as I don’t like the Tea Party movement (I liked them SO much better when they were tea bagging (snicker, snicker)), I don’t think they are this extreme. Although, who knows. I haven’t been to one of their tea ceremonies yet.