Living in Japan

I just got back from seeing the photography exhibit by Ahn Sehong of Korean women who were used as sex slaves by the Japanese military, and were dumped on some barren field in China to fend off for themselves. Now in their 80’s and 90’s, Ahn Sehdong has captured their poverty and their sorrows in black-and-white images.

The exhibit is controversial in that right-wing Japanese are in denial about their shameful past. At the exhibit, they made a nuisance of themselves, speaking in loud voices and calling it “Korean propaganda.” One of them targeted a guard of Korean descent, and made faces at him showing hatred and anger. I admire the guard for keeping his dignity and not falling prey to the heckler’s aggression and provocations.

We had expected these right-wing hecklers to be the typical Japanese right-wingers: elderly, sometimes in military uniform, wearing a white band on the forehead or arm, and/or wearing some sort of military-looking cap on the head. But these were young people, so atypical right-winger, and we concluded that they were most probably paid to do an hour’s worth of heckling. We did notice one genuine protester, a man in his 60’s with a white band tied around each arm with an imprint of a red dot and some japanese characters. He spoke in a low voice to no one in particular. People around largely ignored him, but he was discretely and conspicuously protesting.

It is characteristic of the Japanese to shy away from controversy and anything that brings discomfort, and Nikon has reacted in typical Japanese form. Although Nikon had chosen to exhibit the works of Ahn Sehong, they have gone to court to have the exhibit terminated, bowing down to the heckling of right-wing illiterates.

We met with Ahn Sehdong before we left, congratulating him on his photo exhibit and encouraging him with our support in his endeavour to bring to the world’s attention, the plight of the Korean comfort women in China.

Ahn Sehong

Global Voices: Korean comfort woman photo exhibit sabotaged

Taiwan president Ma urges Japan to apologize for using sex slaves during WWII (10 December 2012)


Sixty-seven thousand five hundred tons — that is the amount of radioactive water at the Fukushima nuclear plant that somehow needs to be gotten rid of. As I understand it, this huge amount of radioactive water is located in the basements, hindering the engineers from getting to the generators (also located in the basements), that they would need to re-start in order to cool down the reactors. The TEPCO engineers have not been able to access the cooling systems since March 11, the day of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami.

Yesterday evening the 19th of April, the Chief Executive Officer of Areva, Anne Lauvergeon, came to Japan to especially announce at a press conference in Tokyo that they have come up with a solution to the crisis. They will build a machine, capable of decontaminating 50 tons of water an hour, enabling the recycling and reusing of this water to cool the reactors, and finally allowing access to the basement generators.

What seemed to me to be the light at the end of the tunnel, the break of dawn from the nightmare of hell… the hale-to-the-king moment … there was not one single word of the news conference mentioned in the major Japanese news sites (Kyodo and Japan Times). I found two posts that evening of this fantastic news, both of which were investment sites (the english-language Nikkei and the French Boursier).

So far, Japan’s solution had been to drop water into the reactors by helicopter. But what do they think this is? A forest fire? They also have had to dump radioactive water into the ocean to make way for more highly contaminated water. Now what sort of rocket science is that?

Japan should be rejoicing that a viable, practical, wonderful solution has been found. But perhaps Japan does not want to appear inadequate: 1. that it has had to have their major crisis solved by a foreigner, and 2. that that foreigner is a woman.

In a country known to relegate women to walk behind men, and in a country where the majority of the people are discreetly but intensely xenophobic, it is quite possible that the silence is a culturally induced face-saving measure.

Radioactive Water Treatment To Start As Early As May: Areva

Among all the Westerners in Japan, none were so unusually alarmed by the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactor crisis than the French community in Tokyo. The first communique from the French Embassy reassured the people, telling them that the Japanese authorities have the situation in hand.

But then the media in France went into a frenzy, alarming the public about a meltdown and radioactive winds and more calamities. Frantic calls were made to relatives in Japan, and the French Embassy issued a second communique, stating that if it is unnecessary for you to be in Tokyo, they advise that you travel south of the archipelago or return to France.

Akin to a mass migration of lemmings, French people left the capital. Meanwhile, other Embassies, notably the English and the American, continued to reassure its nationals to go normally about their lives in Tokyo, and that they would be informed if there were other necessary steps to take.

We ask, who or what has set off the alarmist nature of Japan’s crisis, panicking the French people? Who would most benefit from this situation? Aside from the usual two-penny journalists who sensationalise the news in order to sell newspapers, I would put the blame on the Ecology or Green party and supporters thereof. They have the most to gain with fear-mongering in the news.

In their campaign to have nuclear energy eliminated from France, the Ecology Party and/or its supporters amplify the Fukushima crisis, without considering that this crisis was brought on by the unusual combination of earthquake and tsunami, two unforeseen natural calamities, and not by some human error or technological mishap, which would warrant an assessment.

One French journalist in Japan had posted on his Facebook wall that he had been directed to write this and that, and denies responsibility for the information. So based on this, can we say that the journalists write “news” to manipulate the opinions of the public to serve someone’s political agenda? He had also previously stated that “Westerners know more information than the Japanese,” a claim that is arrogant and unlikely to be true. It is his “feeders,” people with an agenda, supplying him with information and disinformation, true or baseless, with which public opinion will be manipulated with. If disinformation means “knowing more information than the Japanese,” he and similar journalists are mere ignorant pawns in the greater scheme of things, a boule de suif.

And so with exaggerated news alarming the electorate, Sarkozy wisely sent government planes to “evacuate” French nationals, further reinforcing the feeling of panic. But the majority of the French who were repatriated were not from the calamity-stricken area, but from a city 400km from the epicentre, infrastructure-wise unaffected by the earthquake nor the tsunami, and 250km far from Fukushima’s nuclear reactors, Tokyo.

While the ideals of the Ecology party may be commendable, their under-handed alarming of the public by sensationalising the news is contemptible. They may have captured the vote of the unsophisticated electorate, but with actions that are dishonourable.

Political agendas can serve both good and bad purposes, but there are also serious consequences wrought by the alarmist nature of the news of the events in Japan. For business enterprises that rely on good news and political-economical stability, the news-scares have literally scared off business in and with Japan. It is a collateral damage that is unfortunate but one where I would personally raise a fist to, at half-wit journalists and the media who do not intelligently assess information fed to them to print and disseminate to an unwary public.

So we read news that the radiation level in Tokyo following the nuclear plant explosions at Fukushima (explosion at nuclear reactor 1 occurred on Saturday, 12 March, the day after the earthquake-tsunami catastrophe; and a second explosion at nuclear reactor 3 occurred on 13 March, Sunday), has risen 20 times, but still at a safe level. The next questions that come to mind but are not expanded on by these journalists are: What is this level? What is the safe level? At what level is it not safe?

The exact units of measurement vary, but light radiation sickness begins at about 50–100 rad (0.5–1 gray (Gy), 0.5–1 Sv, 50–100 rem, 50,000–100,000 mrem). The SI unit of radiation dose equivalent is the sievert, 1/1000 of a rem (1 mrem = 0.01 mSv). — Wikipedia

At a facility in Shinjuku Ward, a maximum level of 0.809 microsievert was detected at around 10am, but the hourly level went down to 0.151 microsievert after 11am (16 March, Wednesday). These figures compare with 0.035 to 0.038 microsievert detected Monday (14 March). About .06 microsieverts is absorbed when one takes a chest X-ray. * According to the Japan Times, a journalist there states that one absorbs 50mSv in a chest X-ray. Who is he trying to fool?

So when journalists say that the radiation level in Tokyo has increased 20 times but is not detrimental to your health, the “not detrimental to your health” phrase doesn’t sound believable because the “20 times” sounds “detrimental” to your health. Except for the article in the Japan Times published Wednesday, all other articles on Tuesday using this phrase (that the “radiation levels has increased 20 times but is not detrimental to your health”), do not mention numbers and figures to substantiate their affirmation, only that stressful number “20 times.”

Little does the unsuspecting public know that 20 times of the fraction .04 mSv is .80 mSv. Based on the above maximum level, 80.9 mrem, computed as 0.01x mrem=.809 mSv, is significantly less than the 50,000 mrem, the level where radiation sickness occurs.

In conclusion, when journalists of dubious intelligence report that the radiation levels have risen 20 times without substantiating numbers or figures or calculations, they are SENSATIONALISING the news, causing a panic situation that affects business very badly and consequently, our financial future.

* Orders of magnitude (radiation)

Radioactivité au Japon et en France

Less than three years after arriving in Japan, I developed an endocrine problem which caused my health to deteriorate. Through the years, I’ve had friends and acquaintances who have developed serious health problems, many of whom have died from cancer. I wondered why.

What was causing all the cancer? Is it in the green tea that most Japanese drink everyday? Is it in the fish they like to eat raw or cooked in some sugar and soy mixture? Is it in the air we breathe here? Is it in the water? I discovered the answer, and it appears to be all of the above — and more.

The carcinogenic substance that finds its way into the air, the drinking water, and the agricultural soil is dioxin, a toxin which is one of the end result of burning plastics and industrial wastes. One gram of dioxin is enough to kill an estimated 10,000 people, and the Japanese government has estimated yearly dioxin emission at a very conservative 5.3 kg (1998).

Japan has the highest dioxin emission in the world, and 90% of Japan’s dioxin emissions are generated from incinerators. About 70% of the world’s number of incinerators are concentrated in Japan. Tall incinerator towers dot cities here, and depending how the wind blows, dioxin is carried in the air to pollute these cities. In a test done on mothers living down-wind of an incinerator, some have been advised to reduce breast-feeding.

Dioxin finds its way into agricultural soil through agrochemical and herbicide use; and eventually, in the vegetables we eat here. In 1999, dioxin-tainted vegetables were discovered. Aside from vegetables, fish from Tokyo Bay were found to contain unusually high levels of dioxin, a result of these agrochemicals. Aside from causing cancer, dioxin is an endocrine inhibitor which alters the functions of hormones.

But there are also other sources of toxic contamination. Japan has limited natural resources, and the Japanese have resorted to recycling household water by chemically treating it in order to make it potable again. Many years ago, I was watching the News on television and they showed some politicians drinking water recycled from the toilets, telling the public that it was safe to drink. What are those chemicals and to what extent can these be detrimental to our heath? Some of my visiting friends from abroad have remarked that the tap water tastes like chlorine.

Many public baths still use wood to heat the bathing water. The wood used are chemically treated, and one such chemical is arsenic. There is a public bath near my house, and depending how the wind blows, the nauseating smoke coming from their chimney enters through the windows of my house. Just breathing this invisible smoke induces vomiting.

Another cultural tradition is the Japanese penchant for packaging that is pleasing to the eye. The amount of paper, plastic and cardboard wastage that goes into packaging a gift is huge. The Japanese are so very fond of gift-giving, so much so they have two seasonal gift-giving traditional times, one in August and the other at the end of the year. And that’s aside from the many other occasions which requires a gift. A Japanese female friend of mine said that she had to purchase 50 boxes of chocolates, an “obligatory gift” in her company to male employees on Valentine’s day.

Benzene and nitrogen dioxide emissions from auto-mobiles are other air pollutants worth mentioning. The pollution situation still falls short of environmental standards, and it doesn’t help that the Japanese have a nasty habit of letting their cars run idle, often for long periods of time.

I’m sure the Japanese government is doing what it can to reduce the toxic pollution, and who am I to say what they should or should not do. Seemingly obvious solutions like a culture re-think: the over-packaging for a start, or the use of other means than burning wood to heat baths, if public baths are really that necessary. Re-usable chopsticks, instead of the wooden disposable type would go a very long way to conserve trees and obviously reduce the amount of incinerated garbage. But what stands out as an apparent remedy that perhaps has more to it than meets my simple eye (like logistics), is to re-locate the incinerators outside of cities.

But we shouldn’t leave it only to the government to find solutions. We have a very major role to play in reducing the carcinogens in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Sort your household garbage, and make sure plastics are not included in the “burnable” bin. Use canvas bags or any bag which you can re-use to carry your groceries. Find ways to contribute to reducing wastage and controlling pollution. The life you save may be your own.

Cancer is the major cause of death in Japan, but it is a subject of discussion considered taboo among the Japanese. I had asked my doctor what caused my endocrine system to go haywire, and he replied “I don’t know.” If they could just change another culture-think, examine the implications of being labelled the “Dioxin Capital of the World,” then they would know the root cause of cancer in Japan.


Dioxin Levels High in Incinerator-Happy Japan
Dioxin Found Deadly for Sure
In Japan’s Burnt Trash, Dioxin Threat
Tokyo Metropolis: No Time to Waste
Air Pollution Not Improving

See also:
Presentations at International Conferences
(see articles by Shigeki Masunaga on his research on dioxin pollution in Japan)
Low Carbon Economy

The Washington Post: Japan Staunches Stench of Mass Trash Incinerators

dscn2669.jpg Issei Sagawa fired a bullet through the head of Renée Hartevelt while she read a poem to him in German. He then proceeded to cut out Renée’s flesh, some of which he ate raw and others he fried in a pan.

He roams free in Tokyo, and is referred to as Sagawa-kun (kun means “young, cute and innocent” in japanese). He has appeared on television programmes and magazines, and has written a book on the gruesome murder he committed, which became a best-seller.

Lindsay Hawker was beaten and strangled, then stripped and buried in a bathtub of sand by Tatsuya Ishihashi. Friends of Lindsay had to pressure the police to have them investigate her disappearance. While eight policemen were at Ishihashi’s apartment where her body was found, her murderer walked away a free man.

The dismembered corpse of Lucie Blackman was found in a cave on the property of Joji Obara. Lucie’s head was encased in a concrete block. Her family had to force Japanese police to act on her disappearance. Obara had bought hacking tools and cement, but the recent trial of Obara in Tokyo found him not guilty of the crime.

What does this tell us? Do the Japanese have any sense of justice when it comes to crimes committed against foreigners? Do they care at all? How could a book on the gruesome murder of Renée become a best-seller? What explains their morbid fascination?

Where security is touted as one of the most positive aspects of living in this country, what reasonable explanation do the police have for their apathetic attitude? Lindsay did not come home for two days and did not show up for work. Anyone with a modicum of common sense should be alarmed.

Lucie was not found on the premises of a quiet old man tending to a vegetable garden. She was found on the property of a known rapist who laces the drinks of his victims in order to incapacitate them. The Japanese judge who acquitted Obara reasoned that there was no proof that Obara alone was responsible for her death. Is Obara considered innocent of the crime because there were others involved?

Weird is a soft word to describe this state of affairs. It is abnormal, aberrant, and disturbing that most Japanese seem to feel no sense of repugnance nor shame for crimes committed against foreigners.

Renée Hartevelt: The Cannibal of Japan
Lindsay Anne Hawker:
Tokyo Victim was Stripped, Beaten and Strangled
Help Us Get Justice for Lindsay
Lucie Blackman: How Family Forced Police to Act


Where is Japan Heading?

Shinyusha.gif Something very worrisome is happening in Japan. The publishing company, Shinyusha, has two best-selling comic books that belittle Korea and China.

Aside from textbook revisions of history, now the Japanese take the art of denying on a contemporary plane. In illustration form, these two comic books target the youth market whose opinions are malleable and whose own sense of identity is yet to form.

So the young Japanese, who one day will take over the future of their country, are told that China is the “world’s prostitution superpower” and is a source of disease, and that South Korea cheated in the 2002 Word Cup soccer game.

Let’s say that freedom of speech is some form of acceptance of these highly defamatory publications. It is appalling, but what is equally appalling in all this is that the Japanese government has voiced little or no condemnation nor shock.

What does this tell us of Japanese society? Underneath the politeness and the genteel outward appearance lies a highly questionable national identity. There can be no dialogue with people who think this way.

Denying reality is such an amazing human phenomenon… What will the future hold for Japan in the hands of people raised with these kinds of attitudes?

Ugly Images of Asian Rivals Become Best Sellers in Japan: The two comic books, portraying Chinese and Koreans as base peoples and advocating confrontation with them, have become runaway best sellers in Japan in the last four months.

In their graphic and unflattering drawings of Japan’s fellow Asians and in the unapologetic, often offensive contents of their speech bubbles, the books reveal some of the sentiments underlying Japan’s worsening relations with the rest of Asia.

But the comic book, perhaps inadvertently, also betrays Japan’s conflicted identity, its longstanding feelings of superiority toward Asia and of inferiority toward the West. The Japanese characters in the book are drawn with big eyes, blond hair and Caucasian features; the Koreans are drawn with black hair, narrow eyes and very Asian features.

They also point to Japan’s longstanding unease with the rest of Asia and its own sense of identity… Much of Japan’s history in the last century and a half has been guided by the goal of becoming more like the West and less like Asia. Today, China and South Korea’s rise to challenge Japan’s position as Asia’s economic, diplomatic and cultural leader is inspiring renewed xenophobia against them here.

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