Posted in Japan News

All the Alarms and None of the Panic

I woke up at 1:00 a.m. to yet another alarm blaring throughout the city. It’s a normal part of living here, at least once a month either a phone alarm or city alarm going off to warn for either the typhoon smashing into Japan or an earthquake shaking things up. I groggily got up and listened.

For the first time ever, the alarm announcement was in Japanese and then in English. It took me a second to register, “There is a tornado warning in effect.”

Cue the Kentucky resident rolling out of bed, grabbing her purse, and settling into the bathroom for the next hour. The odds of a tornado touching down in the Tokyo and Kanagawa area is generally low, but Saitama and Ibaraki thought the same thing until they got hit with twisters.

I was just watching YouTube videos as the wind howls outside last night. I couldn’t do anything about the weather besides keeping an eye on the radar. I waited the hour as two different red splotches on the radar pass my area. During that hour, I tried to call and text friends to let them know about the warning. Only one person was awake, so, success I guess.

As I sat there waiting for the storm to pass, I supposed this would be the place I would go if I got a missile alarm. As I live farther down south, I have yet to receive one of the missile alarms, but with a navy base just a few miles away the odds of my area being a target wasn’t out of the question.

All of my Japanese friends and co-workers all respond the same way to how they’re dealing with the missiles: “Shouganai, yo.”

しょうがない is the idea that “it can’t be helped,” as in there is no use worrying over something because it’s out of your hands. It can be both a boon and a curse. In some situations, like earthquakes and tornadoes, shouganai makes sense. There is no use in panicking over nature, she’s going to do what she’s going to do, so just find a safe place and wait. Other times, it can be a great excuse for laziness, like say a co-worker can’t be bothered to speak English in class because he’s a twit, and when you tell him it’s a damn English class so SPEAK ENGLISH and his response is “shouganai-!!” That is just an excuse to not do something.

For me, I’ve adopted the shouganai attitude for the “missile crisis” (which is apparently what the Western media is calling it?). I can’t control what North Korea is doing, and I can’t exactly move and quit work over the possibility of danger and death. I could die from any number of things, like getting hit by a car on my tiny narrow street while walking home, so letting North Korea dictate how I live my life isn’t feasible.

When the missiles went over Hokkaido, my school and co-workers started talking about evacuation plans and possible bomb shelters. The truth is the best place would be somewhere underground, but what homes in Japan have basements? The answer is few to none. Ok, so what about subways? Great for inner city Tokyo, but all of the trains in our area are above ground.

My school eventually decided the best thing is the same as the earthquake drill: Get under a desk and wait. So basically, waiting to see if we die or not, which is morbid to say, but still true.

My co-workers and students keep focusing on other things. The Cultural Festival (bunkasai) is coming up and we’ve got to plan for it. We have a plan if the worst is to come, but until then there’s no point in driving ourselves crazy thinking about it. Japan and the Japanese people refuse to live their lives in fear, and I’m doing the same.

After the storm finally settled, my apartment was fine and I was just mildly annoyed at my interrupted sleep. I checked the Japan Meteorological site to make sure the warning was over before heading right back into bed. Whether it be storms or missiles, I’m not going to let fear control my life.

 

Posted in Japan News

I Tried the (Kinda Over Hyped) American Cherry Pie Starbucks Frap

The American Cheery Pie specialty drink from Starbucks Japan is in high demand. People love it, as in love it. When I went to the bustling Starbucks on the 2nd floor of Shinjuku station, most people in line wanted the drink. The line stretched down the hall, crowding in front of a store or two.

I just wanted something cold to drink on my way back home, so I opted to finally give the American Cherry Pie a chance. According to a little graph written in faux-chalk board writing, this sugar rush has about five layers to it. The first is a pie dome, which is fastened securely with a ton of whipped cream to stay in place underneath. Then, there is the cherry compote layer, made from real cherries. Under that was a layer of just milk (or in my case soy milk). And finally, at the bottom was more cherry compote.

I actually got this drink pretty quick despite the long line. I sat off the side. Aesthetically speaking, the drink looked exactly like the picture, which meant it looked delicious.  I stuck my straw through the pie crust and swirled it around. And there’s where problems start.

See, the soy milk and cherry compote are fine. The mixture of the two together tasted very much like a cherry milkshake, and I was fine with it. But the pie crust, even if you break it up as much as I did, got stuck inside the straw every two or three sips. Honestly, the drink could be a choking hazard with those pie bits, I coughed a few times. It’s a shame, because honestly the actual drink part was perfectly fine on its own.

I noticed other people were having the same issues. At the bottom of everyone’s cups was a mess of pie crust some left over drink. One girl complained to her boyfriend that she should’ve just gotten the tea she usually ordered. A guy off to the side sighed and gave up halfway through, tossing most of it in the garbage.

However, I noticed a group of junior high school girls managed to outsmart all of us dumb adults. Inside of breaking the pie crust and mixing it in, they set the crusts off. As they drank it, they would munch on the pie crust like a cookie. I thought that was the most genius thing ever, and felt a bit ashamed that I didn’t think of it.

As I said before, the cheery drink part in and of itself is fine. More than passable as a sort of milkshake like beverage, but honestly not the best drink I’ve ever had in Japan (that without even thinking too hard probably goes to the cinnamon roll latte in MiuMiu in Shin-Okubo). The pie crust shouldn’t be crunched up with the drink, it’ll just clog up the straws, so eat it separately instead. Honestly, for a specialty it looks really neat, but in the end with the pie crust issue and the so-so OK taste, I would say it’s a bit overly beloved for what it is.

But then again, to each their own. As someone who isn’t exactly a die hard Starbucks fan, for me this was a one time try-out, so I’ll never drink it again. I would say I recommend this kind of drink to fanatic cherry lovers, yet at the same time I guess I could also recommend it to people who want something fruity and cold on a hot day. Otherwise, it’s not something I’d say go run and get right now! I’d just say be prepared for an alright experience, but not one worth repeating.

 

Posted in Japan News

Womens March Tokyo! | All the VLogs!

On January 20th, I took part in the solidarity march movement that’s taking place around the world. Women’s March Tokyo was the first one in that movement. We came together to support each other, as well as stand up for the rights of women, LGQTQA+ persons, immigrants, blacks, and many more.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one there. A few others recorded the historic event as well (and did it better than me). Please check these videos out!

This one is by Ronin Dave, which features interviews with attendees.

Here I’m featuring a video series from The River. I’m only putting up the part 1 of 5, but I’ll add links to the others: [2]  [3]  [4]  [5] (My head makes a brief appearance in 5, whoohoo!)

And the final video is by noxxx710. This actually features more of the front group that was too far ahead in my video to get footage of, so there’s that. You can see the Democrats of Japan leaders and organizers in there.

The turn out was nearly twice as much as expected, which was amazing! I was very proud to be there.

Note: NOT A PROTEST, this was a march in solidarity with the people scared of what it means to have Trump as a President. We wanted to raise our voices, show that we will hold him accountable for what he said and what he will do for the next four years.

Posted in Japan News

Sister Marches in Tokyo and Kansai

The Sister Marches in Japan will be on January 20th in solidarity with the Women’s March in Washington D.C.

In Tokyo women, men, and children are all invited to Hibiya Park on January 20th (It is ALL inclusive). From 5:30 to 6:30 pm everybody who wants to attend must arrive and gather together. The march members will depart at 6:45 pm from Nishi Saiwai Gate. At Mikawadai Park, the march will end at approximately 8:00 pm depending on traffic conditions.

The statement from the event site:

We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.  The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us – women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths particularly Muslim, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native and Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault. We are confronted with the question of how to move forward in the face of national and international concern and fear. In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers is too great to ignore.  We call on all defenders of human rights to join us.

You can also learn more at the Women’s March-Tokyo Facebook Event.

In Kansai there will be a night vigil with people gathering at 7:00 pm and the march starting at 7:30 pm.

Statement from the event page:

Please share!

As US citizens and members of the international community in the Kansai area of Japan, we are concerned with the hateful and irresponsible behavior and policies of the incoming president of the United States and his administration.

We gather and march to stand vigil during the presidential inauguration, occuring at Eastern Standard Time, to express solidarity with Women’s March, and with other movements in fighting injustice and protecting the environment.

We have gone through the proper channels and got permits for this, so please meet at Nakanoshima Ekimae Hiroba (中之島駅) at 7PM and prepare to begin walking from there and past the US consulate at 7:35PM sharp. We will then reconvene at the park and continue the vigil from there.

Inauguration opening remarks is scheduled for 1:30AM JST. Bring signs, candles, heat packs, and dress warm!

If you know of a Sister March in Japan, please put it in the comments below.

UPDATE: There is advice given to participants from Washington D.C. It is encouraged that you share and spread this advice, so feel free to copy and paste to your social media of choice.

If you’re going to DC, Boston, Los Angeles, SF, etc. to take part in a peaceful gathering, here are some good tips.

*Keep your cool.
*Do not offer personal information to unsolicited requests.
*Stay to the edges of the crowd.
*Have a meet-up-if-you-get-separated plan. Do not count on your cellphones for this purpose.
*Write important information on your forearm in Sharpie. (Emergency contact, drug allergies, etc.)It will wash off eventually. In fact, bring a Sharpie with you to share with others for this purpose.
*Stay hydrated and never pass up an opportunity to use a toilet.
*Wear the right shoes and don’t carry anything you can’t lose.
*LISTEN to the energy and calmly leave the vicinity if you have any doubts about anything. (These are intended to be peaceful gatherings but there have been intimations that infiltrators will try to incite violence and make it look like the protesters caused it. Use your own judgment on this one.) 

Posted in Japan News, Uncategorized

Don’t Get Excited: Permanent Residency is Still a Pain to Get

The Japanese government has recently decided to let permanent residency become a little bit easier for “highly skilled foreign professionals.” There is now a “one year fast track” to permanent residency status for certain (i.e. very, very specific) people that the government wants to appeal to so it can have enough qualified employees (to actually make the Olympics a success-I mean, be seen as more international).

What is a “highly skilled professional?” Well, the immigration website gives three distinctive categories of people.

  1. Advanced Academics: People who do “activities engaging in research, research guidance or education based on a contract entered into with a public or private organization in Japan.” In other words, they’re looking for professors or heads of a field, this wouldn’t apply to students.
  2. Advanced Specialized/Technical Researchers: They’re defined as “activities of engaging in work requiring specialized knowledge or skills in the field of natural sciences or humanities based on a contract entered into with a public or private organization in Japan.” Basically, scientists and researchers.
  3. Advanced Business Managers: Those who “engage in the operation or management of a public or private organization in Japan.” In other words, business people, but not the every day salaryman. They’re looking for the higher level individuals.

Even if you’re one of these HSP’s, you’ll need to go find out if you’ve equaled out to the 70 points required for permanent residency. First of all, do you have a PhD or a MBA? Because that’s the first thing on the list of need to knows in order to get points. Only the specialized and technical researchers can have a BA.

From there, the point system gets kind of stringent. Anywhere from 40 points to only 10 points based on annual salary and age. There are bonus points for certain qualifications or current employment sectors, and then 15 points devoted to Japanese Language Proficiency, but only for the fluent level (N1). There are no points given for any of the lower levels.

In other words, although the news is welcome for people who already have a high salary and are fluent in Japanese, nothing about this system would welcome the average foreigner living in Japan (as in, someone studying in Japan or people with BA’s being ALTs). These people will have to do things the hard way, living in Japan for over 10 years before being allowed to have permanent residency, or marrying someone who is Japanese. Unfortunately, it’s a fast track only for those already on the high track.

 

Posted in Japan News

Fukushima Exclusion Zone Photographer Under Fire

A group of semi-viral images has gained some negative attention in Japan. Photographer Keow Wee Loong claimed to illegally cross in the Red Zone of Fukushima, an evacuated area where radiation is still considered to be too high for human exposure.

Dumabss.jpg
Photo Credit: Keow Wee Loong

In the text following this photo he explains: “before i went there the authority told me that i need a special permit to visit this town and it take 3-4 weeks to get the approval from the local council,, well too much bureaucracy bullshit for me..so i just sneak in the forest to avoid cops on the road …AND IT WAS AMAZING !!!!!”

The “bureaucrazy bullshit” that he failed to do could land him in jail. Not only that, but the security around the area is tight. It is almost unbelievable that he managed to find a way through and inside that didn’t garner the attention of the guards stationed around the perimeter.

And yet, he apparently did: “There were too many cops on the main road, so we started our journey from Tomioka, then we went off the main road. We used Google Maps to navigate from one town to another.”

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Photo Credit: Keow Wee Loong

 

As you can see in the above photo, the man who was apparently going through laundry left in the machines from March 11th 2011 and onward decided to where a gas mack as protection. As neary anyone with a bit of science under their belt will tell you, radiation can go through gas masks, clothing, and…sandals. Loong claimes he lost his bank cards and money, and so he couldn’t afford to buy any of the proper equipment. It’s also one of the reasons he couldn’t wait the 3-4 weeks for the local council, because he didn’t have enough money to survive that long.

All the same, people are enraged at this complete lack of self-care, with commentors pointing out that by doing what he did he put not only himself at risk but also other people he came into contact with.  As reported by Zafigo: “There is also concerns the photos are encouraging others to engage in the risky behaviour as people are seen tagging their friends in the photos and commenting that they too want to visit Fukushima. Some have gone to the extent of reporting his photo album to the authorities and Facebook. At publishing time, Keow is barred on Facebook for ‘inflicting violence’.”

Many citizens of Fukushima are furious: “For them, breaking into the site was a very insensitive and rude action. Explaining that the photos are a misrepresentation of the Fukushima community, they questioned how he could blatantly disrespect the Fukushima community and the lives and livelihoods that were lost. One angry commenter described his act as an ‘exploitation’ of the Fukushima prefecture and its people for his own agenda.”

His own agenda being that of anti-nuclear technology. Loong makes comments like there was “a chemical smell in the air” and that “the fukushima daichi power plant exploded that lead to harmful radiation leaked.” In actuality, the plant went into meltdown with a few chemical explosions within its walls (which is why the walls were built so thick as to handle that kind of pressure), but those chemicals are still contained within those walls. The radiation leaked, but humans can neither smell nor taste the radiation.

As a former JET, I’m a part of the Alumni group. Today someone posted this in reaction to this news:

Fukushima JET PSA.png
JET Alumni Facebook

What Loong probably doesn’t realize is that Fukushima is a prefecture that is still suffering. He might as well have stepped on graves and took pictures of tombstones, that is the kind of violation those citizens feel. And yes, “sensationalist” is a pretty apt word for his both his story and the reaction from the media. People are dying to interview him, they want to get all the juicy details, meanwhile the residents whose homes he just tresspassed all over are being pushed aside for a sweet headline.

Also, the citizens of Fukushima are still economically stigmatized due to misunderstandings about radiation. People are still, after five years, scared to purchase any kind of produce, milk, or other products with the sticker “Made in Fukushima.” With these photos to remind people once again about the incident, with “proof” of the rediation still going on, there will be negative consequences.

Essentially, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about documenting a place of national tragedy, and Loong went with the very wrong path. By taking pictures without permission, stepping onto property and therefore tresspassing, he is telling the victims of the Daiichi Disaster that his cause matters more than their grief and their pain.

The “beauracracy bullshit” is there to protect the Red Zone, because it’s not an abandoned town to some people, it’s still home.


If you’re looking for a real photographer who did his homework and treated the people of Fukushima with the respect they deserved, I recommend Arkadiusz Podniesinski. His photos are not only haunting, but he makes a very detailed account with people who lived in the area telling their story to him. He treats the subject with care, as I wish all photographers would.