Ugly, even in the snow

I written about the Hate Bus multiple times. Today it is snowing, and snowing, and snowing. It is quite remarkable and beautiful. I love seeing the snow. I decided to go for a short walk to try to get some good pictures of the neighborhood in the snow. As I was crossing the street, the hate buses were at the intersection. I really dislike the hate buses. But this time I was completely covered up – I had on a full cap that even had flaps covering my ears, and my hood was up. So I stopped in the middle of the street and pointed my camera straight at the lead truck. Screw them.

Hate the world in your Chevrolet

 

Now, as I have pointed out before, these are Nationalist groups. So why, oh why, is this vehicle a CHEVROLET?!? Do they not see the irony? Or maybe they don’t hate the US.

Anyway, they are not pretty, even in the snow.

Hate bus

 

Hate bus

 

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.

Don’t forget your indoor shoes

This weekend I was able to take advantage of my Christmas present for 2009. Long time readers of this blog, especially my one trusty reader, may recall that I had a gas leak in my home in the US and spent much of my Christmas vacation back in the States getting it repaired. And of course I was gasless, heatless, dryerless, hot waterless and so on. Part of the plan at Christmas was my gift – a stay at The Ritz-Carlton Marina Del Rey. Nice. With all that was going on though, it was just too much to try to do. Part of the experience was to get away, enjoy the “hotel within the hotel” of the club lounge where “ladies and gentlemen serve ladies and gentlemen.” If I was running back and forth to home checking up on the plumber and using The Ritz-Carlton as a shower and a heated room only, the intent of the gift would surely be missed. So instead, we canceled and vowed to hit some place here in Asia, perhaps Hong Kong.

This weekend was a 東京事変 (Tokyo Jihen) concert in Osaka. It is fronted by Shiina Ringo, who put on an excellent show in 2008. Since we were going to the show, this was a great weekend to take advantage of The Ritz-Carlton Osaka. We could stay there, enjoy all the presentations of the Club Lounge (including way too much champagne and other alcohol), and see the concert.

The Ritz-Carlton Osaka

The trip started rather ominously as Tomo forgot the concert tickets at home, and had to cancel his flight to Osaka to go back home and pick up the tickets. Oops. Thankfully, he caught the bullet train, I met up with him in Nagoya, and we headed to Osaka. We were only a few hours behind schedule.

The Ritz-Carlton Osaka is very nice, but it has an almost over-the-top “English charm” feel to it. They managed to pull it off though, and it didn’t feel too heavy.

The Ritz-Carlton Osaka

The service was impeccable, and the staff very friendly. When we were showed to the room, the hostess broke out of character with excitement when we said we were seeing 東京事変. It was really very cute. She said she was so excited in gave her goosebumps.

We were able to get late checkout today, shifting from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm. That makes a big difference as we wanted to use all of the facilities the hotel had to offer, including the gym and the pool. We donned our “workout clothes” and headed to the gym. We were intercepted at the door and questioned whether we had “indoor shoes” on. Uh oh. No, we didn’t bring our indoor shoes so we were not allowed entrance to the workout equipment. Yes, this is a particularly Japanese custom. Remember when you couldn’t wear “street shoes” on your wooden gym floor in junior high school or high school? At least I couldn’t. Well, imagine the same rules in a carpeted workout area full of robust equipment. That’s Japan! It made me so frustrated – I just wanted to work up a really good sweat on a nice exercise bike. I currently do not OWN a pair of indoor exercise shoes, so it looks like the next time we stay at a nice hotel we’ll have to call ahead to see if the gym requires indoor shoes or not. When we stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, THEY let us wear our outdoor shoes. Maybe they just didn’t catch us in time.

They gave me a swim cap (swim caps are required at almost all pools in Japan), made us take off our shoes, and allowed us to swim. I’m a really bad swimmer, so I did some laps in a 20 meter pool and called it a day. Tomo, who is a swimmer, got in a kilometer. I wish I enjoyed swimming. At least they let me swim in my board shorts and didn’t require a Speedo. Not that there’s anything wrong with a Speedo, I just didn’t have one.

Japan travel hint – if you are traveling in Japan and staying in nice hotels with fitness centers, don’t forget your swim cap and your indoor shoes! Of course, tattoos are grounds for denying service. But I knew that.
 

And now, after a rather long hiatus from Japanese class, I have homework hanging over me that I haven’t begun to even think about. Sigh.

What is your citizenship worth?

I was thankfully reunited with my passport today after having to relinquish it for a visa application for China. While perusing the interwebs, I found this interesting article about ex-pats converting to ex’s.

For U.S. citizens, cutting ties with their native land is a drastic and irrevocable step. But as Overseas American Week, a lobbying effort by expatriate-advocacy groups, convenes in Washington this week, it’s one that an increasing number of American expats are willing to take. According to government records, 502 expatriates renounced U.S. citizenship or permanent residency in the fourth quarter of 2009 — more than double the number of expatriations in all of 2008. And these figures don’t include the hundreds — some experts say thousands — of applications languishing in various U.S. consulates and embassies around the world, waiting to be processed. While a small number of Americans hand in their passports each year for political reasons, the new surge in permanent expatriations is mainly because of taxes.

Time Magazine, HELENA BACHMANN / GENEVA

I’m certainly not close to giving up my US passport, especially since I would be without a country if I did that. I’m lucky that I don’t have to worry about my taxes as part of my ex-pat package. But if I was in a country for 10 or 20 years, and had gone “local hire” and planned to retire in that country, what would I do?

お通夜

I try to keep my blog light and more focused on the quirky or quirkily mundane rather than the issues that face expatriates that are more serious, or at least amplified because we are away from our usual surroundings. But that is part of the experience over here, and while I am not going to dwell on the “downers” it is important balance if I’m trying to explain my life here.

The past couple of weeks have been very difficult. I found out my boss was leaving sooner than I thought and I was working really long hours trying to resolve various issues, and I really didn’t have an option to not work those hours. However, far worse than those complaints is that last weekend one of our expatriate colleague’s children died suddenly.

Certainly in any small office, friendships develop and people in the office care for one another. In an expatriate office, we of course care a lot for each other. But everyone in the office somehow seems a little more like family than when I am in the office in the States. Here in Nagoya, we are all thrown in to this big mélange of new experiences, confusion of how to do some of the simplest things, uncertainty as to the duration of our assignments, and even uncertainty in what our roles are. Although we don’t socialize that much since everyone does have their life here, we do some important things as a group and with families. For example, we do a major community event in May, we have a group Thanksgiving dinner, we had a bowling party / food drive, we sponsor orphans at Christmas time, we have 忘年会 (bounenkai – forget-the-year party), 新年会 (shinnenkai – New Year party), and simple 飲み会 (nomikai – drinking party). We’ve even as a group ended up at a hole-in-the-wall bar and taken over the karaoke machine. My point is we pull together, know each other’s families, and look out for each other.

One of the things I’ve always worried about as an expat is something happening to my family in the States, or something happening to me while I am here. Several members of our team have lost parents or grandparents and have had to travel back to the States. Other colleagues have been traveling back because of parents that are ill. Although I live a long distance from my family when I’m in the States, the distance isn’t so great. Living across an ocean makes the distance feel very far.

Medical care is hard enough to navigate in the US – I can’t imagine what it would be like here to really get what you needed. One time when I had strep throat, I got these pills that looked like children’s aspirin and had to take them forever. It took a long time to remotely start to feel better. How I longed for a Zithromax 3-pack (mind you, I am not an antibiotic pill popper – I can only remember these two cases of antibiotics in the past 10 years. The Zithromax wiped out a case of pneumonia I had picked up after traveling LA – Hong Kong – Kuala Lumper – Tokyo – LA in less than one week).

So of course the death of our colleague’s child was shocking. Without going in to too much detail, the Nagoya media speculate that he died due to complications of H1N1. That can’t really be confirmed though, but his death was sudden and unexpected, and he did test positive for H1N1. He was 4 years old. Many of my colleagues have young children of their own with them in Nagoya, and this news was particularly difficult for them. Fortunately, our company has a program to assist employees in these situations and an American counselor residing in Fukuoka was dispatched to Nagoya to talk to our team.

Over 75 families attended the wake (otsuya – お通夜) on Tuesday night. There was a Buddhist prayer from in the home of my colleague and then a viewing / wake, still in the home. My colleague is Japanese-American and his wife is Japanese, so they had a more traditional Japanese wake than a western wake. Almost everyone from the office went. There’s a lot of mixed information out there surrounding otsuya, so for once I’m not going to make a link. If you are curious, you can do the research on your own.

Once again, I’m not going to dwell on the serious difficulties we face at times as expatriates. My next entry will be frivolous and lighthearted. There is no way that I know to seque from this topic to any other topic, so forgive me in advance.