Posted in Japan News, Slice of Life

The Obligatory COVID19 Update

I don’t really know where to start, but I guess the situation changed from “something to keep an eye on” to “really concerned” about mid-February.

I remember when the news feed about the Diamond Princess hit my timelines on Facebook and Twitter at the start of February. My colleagues and I talked about it. We speculated about the quarantine efforts. Were they enough? Too much? How long would they keep people in there?

All these conversations took place between lessons. We drank coffee, complained about this class issue or another. I was having a couple of problem students, one of which involved a kind of serious incident. The homeroom teacher and I were strategically figuring out how to help the kid get through the next few classes.

During that time, I was concerned with actually finishing up my curriculum for the third semester. I was struggling to get my test together, too, because with only two months of subject matter to cover I wasn’t sure how to grade it out of 100 points.

Little did I know, very soon, it wouldn’t matter at all.

As the death toll kept increasing abroad, murmurs and tension started to rise. What tipped the scales from nervous to frightened for us was the news about the teacher who caught it in Chiba. Japanese teachers at my school pushed back against a formal top-down decision from the administration to continue holding the last classes and finals as normal.

I talked about it with co-workers and we all seemed to have the same concerns.

“If one student catches it, then that’s it, right? That’s the whole school?”

“For sure, the kids never wash their hands. They have sports clubs together, and that’s always how the flu gets around. One basketball player gets it and then half a team goes down.”

“So-and-so sensei has a family member with leukemia living at home. He’s terrified of passing it along to them!”

“Did you hear Racist-sensei? He doesn’t want the half kids at school, especially the half-Chinese kids. He thinks I don’t understand Japanese. Should’ve punched him in the face.”

“Don’t bother, he’s old. With any luck he’ll die off like all the other dinosaurs. The school is talking about only parents at the graduation ceremony. That’s a bit half-assing it ain’t it?”

Xenophobia is of course all over the place by this point. Restaurants denying foreigners is a time honored tradition in Japan, so of course in these stressful times it’s best to just swing that racism card harder than ever.

Sign in Nakano taken by Stuart Neilson

The “foreigner seat” effect took a strange turn for me. Up until February 2020, I never really experienced people avoiding to sitting next to me on a train before, but since the start of the pandemic hitting Japanese people would leave extra space around me when going to and from work. It’s of course nothing in comparison to the Asian discrimination that is getting people beaten and thrown out of their homes in other countries. All the same, it’s there, and I’m more pissed off it got thrown around behind my students’ backs than anything else.

When Shinzo Abe made his astounding out of left field announcement that all schools should close by March 2nd, it really hit my school hard. I went in early the next day to catch the morning meeting. The announcement on that Friday was essentially this:

Grades for third semester don’t count. Put in absences. Get out.

Well, get out company employees. Direct hires to the school would still come in, but with an irregular schedule. As most of the Native English teachers were company supplied, we had the weirdest stressful day. We scrambled to find team teachers or class books and get everything in order. I was rushing around trying to get things back to students before they went home (even if it didn’t matter, it was the principle of it).

When we clocked out on February 28th, we were told school wouldn’t start until April. Have fun, see ya, good luck!

The next couple of weeks were…strange. I don’t know how else to put it. Although the Japanese government kept telling people not to gather in groups, people did. Although Icheon and Seol got put on lockdown, I was going out to see friends at a restaurant. I spent days at home, but yes I would make plans to see people.

Some friends took the advice to stay isolated seriously, and others not so much. One of my friends stayed inside for a whole week before going out, too anxious to risk it. Another friend was at high risk, so also stayed at home unless absolutely necessary. He ended up deciding to leave for the UK because he didn’t trust his company after they offered homemade masks and demanded people return to work after only a couple of weeks off. I don’t blame him, as that company in particular is notorious for not caring about employees.

Other friends were taking the opportunity to go around and have a fun vacation. And again, I don’t blame them, either. The government’s lax as hell stance on anything besides shutting down schools prevented no one from going out to bars, restaurants, concerts, and even still traveling abroad. I went to Werq the World, an arguably smaller venue and concert, but I can’t claim I was some kind of quarantine saint.

I noticed the news abroad. I would stay home for a couple or three days at a time. I went over to a friend’s place and played video games with her for three days straight, then went right back home. I stayed off the peak hour times as much as possible, never taking the last train home or morning trains. People were, and are, still going to work and commuting.

I didn’t have a mask for a while. I only had a limited supply in my emergency bag, and the stores were emptied out. Even today, masks are hard to come by, with only a few select drug stores allowing one pack per day and per person. Finally, I found a set of masks in my old backpack. Even though they were the ones only good for keeping out dust and pollen, that’s actually what I desperately needed.

The allergy season hit me hard, so I was coughing and sneezing. I was getting very tired of the glares and whispers. Allegra helped push the symptoms away, but if I missed a single dose then my eyes would water, my nose would run, and the coughing would come back.

Then, I managed to get a sinus infection because I made the mistake of dusting my apartment (I’m highly allergic). No fever involved, just an annoyance with a side of anti-biotics. Coupled with seasonal allergies, I sounded sick, when really it was just bad timing. After about a week on antibiotics the sinus issues went away, but the itchy eyes problem never left and continues to plague me.

Image result for covid 19 symptoms vs flu

The news of Europe getting a few cases, then it hitting Italy seemingly overnight like a hammer really shocked me. The American cases grew and grew, and with the travel restrictions placed on Americans to Europe and visa versa, I decided to just stay at home for days at a time.

I called Delta Airlines around March 11th, as I was very concerned about my plane ticket to the U.S.A. Would I still have a flight? What about coming back? I heard people were getting rejected, flights getting slashed to Japan and other South Asian countries, quarantines, and travel bans.

Delta told me at that time, “Sorry, no changes and no refunds as stated in your receipt. However, if we have to cancel it because of a coronavirus issue, we will refund the ticket price to you.”

Frustrated, I could only accept that answer and move on. My mother, on the other hand, was very worried about me trying to travel over. The panic buying in Japan had taken toilet paper and masks in my Tokyo area, but in Las Vegas it was cold medicine, it was food, it was everything. It was honestly shocking to see the dystopian pictures of shelves emptied out.

I heard other places were wiped clean in Japan. I saw it on Twitter and on the news, but I guess I got lucky. My stores all around me only had the usual instant noodles and water bottles gone, but everything else was fine.

My mother had to drive to California to find toilet paper, though, so going home to America was looking like a grim prospect. Events all over Las Vegas got canceled, until it reached a point where even if I got there, the whole city would’ve been shut down upon my arrival. I would still have to wait and see about the ticket. I held out hope I could make it, but I also hoped I could eventually change it if I bothered Delta enough.

I wish I could claim I didn’t go outside at all anymore, but I would be lying. I did stay away from large crowds, though. I went over to my friend’s place for more video games, and then returned right back home. Plans for other events got canceled, so I stayed home some more. I was careful, washing my hands at every opportunity, using my mask when out and about, taking allergy meds and vitamins to try and keep healthy.

This past Sunday, I noticed my flight with Delta had changed. Due to the changes, I wasn’t sure if I would be making it home to Japan in time for work. The operator informed me that Delta was allowing any changed flight due to the company to then, and I quote, “be allowed to change to any date until December 31st of 2020.” I took the chance and moved my flight to August, because fuck the Olympics.

After the change was made, I told my family and cried. I felt torn between bittersweet relief that I wouldn’t have to go through the health screenings or get thrown in quarantine, but I also was really looking forward to seeing my family. After three years apart, I was so excited to finally be with them. I knew logically it was for the best, but it still hurt.

Nowadays I’m trying to stay good, practice social distancing. I’m staying home for days at a time. If I’m going out, I try to limit it to a few people or a person at any one time. Again, when going out I’m washing my hands at every possible chance (even though Japanese toilets have a 50/50% chance of having soap). But I’m limiting it to hours out and then right back home. Just friends, no one with kids or elderly people.

It’s still crazy to me how little has changed in Japan since the pandemic started. Everyone in general will use their masks, sure, but I still see pictures of bars packed with party people. I see people having hanami parties, bunched in together under the trees. Kids are playing around, free from school but going on play dates. Hell, I saw a child run up to a train partition door and lick it…so fear and panic isn’t really happening here.

Seeing the stories now of people dying from COVID19, people all ages, these kinds of crowds seem almost criminally dangerous? I know I might be throwing stones in a glass house as I haven’t been a perfectly isolated individual, but I also couldn’t imagine surrounding myself with hundreds or thousands of people if I could avoid it right now.

I’m not saying there should be panic. I do think there should be more steps taken to just shut things down. Even for just a week, shut down all non-essential work. Japan, in my opinion, has been lucky. The masks have been possibly helping to keep the numbers down, but it’s not enough. The shortages and the false sense of security could potentially bring on a second wave.

But maybe this country will stay lucky? Maybe it will stay the strange exception? I don’t know what the future holds. All anyone can do is try to be careful, stay home whenever possible, and just keep an eye out on the news. I’m trying to be pragmatic and realistic about my expectations, but it’s tough when everyone knows the government is under-testing these cases and we see pics like the ones in the parks.

For now (knock on wood), I’m healthy. If I catch symptoms similar to COVID19 I know my action plan, I know the hospitals around me, and I know enough Japanese to get help. I’m going to keep being cautious and do what I can to stay unaffected, but I’m a “prepare the worst, hope for the best” kind of person. Avoiding all human contact forever just isn’t feasible, and I’m supposed to go back to work in April.

Here’s hoping the pandemic has hit its peak here, but we’ll see I guess. I’ll update more in the coming months, because I’ve just got a feeling this thing isn’t over.

Posted in Japan News

Let’s Talk About this Terrifying Confiscating Passport News (Copious Cursing Ahoy)

Japan’s been getting hit recently with a bunch of scandals when it comes to its justice system, particularly in its handling of foreigners. Most of the news is focused on Ghosn’s grand escape and possible seven to eight hours of questioning, and I mean that’s fair, it’s a rather sensational story. However, there is another news story sliding a little under the radar of the international community, and it’s horrifying for all foreigners who work in Japan.

A Filipino worker in Yokohama had her passport, college transcript, and college diploma “allegedly” stolen from her. After they gave her a job as an interpreter, Advanceconsul Immigration Lawyer Office supposedly only paid here 100,000 yen (~$960) a month. Let me assure you, that wage is criminally low for a full time position. Even at my worst eikaiwa job I got 250,000 yen.

Can we just take a moment to appreciate these dumbasses spelled their own company name wrong? It’s “Advance Counsel” you twits!

According to the reports, *AdvanceConsul Certified Administrative Procedures Legal Specialists’ Office in Yokohama wanted these documents to “keep her from running away” from her job.

I call that statement absolute bullshit.

If you’re an employer in the year of our Lord 2020 and you think it’s somehow acceptable to hold a passport hostage in order to make someone work for you? That’s fucking barbaric and disgusting. Also, if you’re using the same tactics as sex traffickers and drug smugglers that force people from country to country to be sold like cattle, you might want to rethink your Human Resources angle in your arguments.

It really bothers me how everyone wants to kind of gloss over this event like it’s not a big deal, but no, it’s honestly horrifying. Thanks to this scandal, Japan Today reported something I honestly wasn’t aware of:

It is illegal in Japan for companies to confiscate the passports of technical trainees under a special intern program, but there is no law forbidding firms from taking the passports of foreign laborers in Japan under other visa schemes.

There is a government guideline advising against the confiscation of passports but it is not legally binding.

What fuckery is this?!

I like to think I’m pretty aware of immigration laws. I honestly cannot count by this point how many times I’ve been through an immigration office in Japan, and yet this tidbit never came up?! What the hell?

The irony that a law office is creating a situation in which a new law might get drafted isn’t lost on me. The very people who should know better are mistreating their employee in such a horrendous way. Luckily the Filipino employee’s lawyer, Shoichi Ibusuki, is willing to take on this case and demand a new law to protect future foreign workers from this kind of hostage situation happening again:

“Unfortunately, it’s common practice for companies to take the passports of the foreign workers they employ,

“But to take someone’s passport and then force them to work is forced labour, and should not be allowed under Japanese law…I believe this guideline should become law, and also include a penalty clause. We’re hoping that we can use this lawsuit as an opportunity to convince the government to create a law that would ban the confiscation of passports.”

People are arguing back and forth in various parts of comment sections about the “pros and cons” of employers holding a passport, and here’s my hot take: THERE ARE NO PROS ONLY CONS!

Who supports this shit? Racists, duh

The arguments for it are usually shallow (and often full of racism). For example, the idea that “these foreigners from the Philippines, China, and Korea are all doing illegal things.” No, they’re fucking not. The Filipino woman in question was brought over to be a translator, not a yakuza mastermind. Migrant workers who come from South East Asian countries tend to simply want a job to make money to send back home to their families. That’s it, that’s the grand plan for poor people, it’s not to burn down your house and “ruin the country” you troglodytes.

The other ridiculous argument goes something along the lines of, “Well, it keeps people from running out on contracts!” or “It gives the employers and companies security to keep their people!” It also intimidates and oppresses workers from calling out unjust working practices and isolates them from help, which is exactly the reason (as mentioned previously) it’s a tactic often used by sex traffickers to keep victims from running to the police or the government.

Ever had to make an official police statement in Japan? Ever been harassed by the police? Ever just been black in Japan? The zairyu (residence) card can work as a single ID when you’re white, but God help you if you’re literally any other skin tone. They will demand to see your passport, they will want proof you’re card is legit, and if you don’t prove it? You don’t have to be charged in Japan to be held for 23 days.

Let’s be clear, the Western white people aren’t in danger of getting their passports taken away. Passport withholding and forced labor will generally be a POC issue, and Japanese news doesn’t do well with race issues. Instead, it is focused on “this Filipino lady is suing her employer” angle. It is all about business, it’s not about human rights.

Protecting companies from losing potential employees shouldn’t be the priority here; it should be protecting people from ending up abused or enslaved.

The Illusion of “Safe Japan”

Many people would argue “That’s an exaggeration! Japan is so safe!” but abuses involved with passport theft has been happening in countries around the world. In the UAE, even though there is a law against it, people are still finding themselves held hostage by their employers. There are several viral stories that have hit the news cycle about the unsafe and abusive working conditions. A housemaid (*cough* slave *cough*) was allowed to fall from a balcony after pleading for help. Her Kuwaiti employer let her fall after posting the story to her goddamn Snapchat.

Get Phil’ed In!

If you watch the video above you’ll find that social media influencer Sondos Alqattan actually argued against better working conditions for Filipino people and holding their passports, because garbage people gotta be garbage.

[H]ow can you have a servant in your house that gets to keep their passport with them? Where are we living? If they ran away and went back to their country, who will refund me?

You can get your refund in hell, Sondos Alqattan

She picked a great time to get on that high horse, too, because it was around the same time of the Joanna Demafelis murder by, you guessed it, her own employers in Kuwait. President Duterte even put a hold on Filipino migrants going to Kuwait and other countries until the laws changed to better protect the workers.

People assume Japan is safe, but that isn’t true for foreign workers. As of March 2019, 759 cases of abuse and 171 deaths are suspected from the Japanese intern program. The Japan Times reported:

The officials revealed that in 28 of the deaths, trainees died due to accidents that occurred on the job, including by drowning after falling off of fishing boats or suffering from heat exhaustion.

Another 59 interns died from sickness. Among them were two trainees who had logged overtime and whose cases were reported to the labor standards inspection office because their working hours were hovering around the life-threateningly high cap specified in Article 36 of the Labor Standards Law.

The fatal cases included 17 suicides, including one case in which a trainee was given only four days off over 3½ months.

We are looking at a program that was specifically designed to bring people over to fill in the gaps from the population decline. These people weren’t part of that conservative nonsense about “coming here looking to steal jobs,” they were invited here by the Japanese government.

Somehow, the arguments that Japan is safe for migrant workers starts to become a rather piss poor flimsy excuse to keep a passport when you realize the working conditions can include “less than minimum wage” and “no time off.”

Oh yeah, and death.

Fine, but what now?

The Filipino woman currently fighting the good fight is all well and good, but she’s far from the only person who is dealing with this massive injustice. Spread the word about this case and start talking about the realities migrant workers face in Japan, because honestly I don’t anyone really gets the full depth of the issue at hand.

We’re talking about more than just one case, we’re talking about systematic failings and injustice that aren’t being seen as “a big deal,” because public perception of these cases is always tinged with racist vitriol and paltry excuses about the perceived image of Japan instead of the reality.

If you want to be more proactive and make a difference, you can donate to POSSE, the non-profit organization that is dedicated to labor rights in Japan. They’re currently doing a donation drive in order to help the Filipino woman, as in paying for lawyer fees and etc. I was seriously disheartened to see the organization wasn’t mentioned in literally any of the news articles I read, and from the looks of the donation site it’s not getting the attention it needs.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE AND HELP!

If you think your company is doing something illegal or they are holding your documents, you can contact POSSE.

If you think that isn’t the way you want to go, Jobs in Japan has a pretty extensive article that lists laws and links to good resources. The best resource in my opinion for fighting to get back lost wages is to hit up Hello Work. You might need a translator or interpreter depending on the office, so hit up Tokyo Employment Service for Foreigners and they can help you find an office that can work with you in your native tongue.

It also helps to know your rights in depth and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has an entire Working Conditions Handbook in multiple languages in its Labour section.

No photo description available.
You can also try straight up calling this hotline.

Be aware, you can call on behalf of people you suspect are being abused.

And finally, the best thing you can do? Never, ever give your employer your passport to keep. Give them printed copies and if they fight you on it, leave immediately and call the hotline.


Sidenotes:

I would also just like to point out, for no particular reason, that the *AdvanceConsul Certified Administrative Procedures Legal Specialists’ Office/ Advanceconsul Immigration Lawyer Office is shady as hell. I don’t know why you would ever pay someone 70,000 yen to change your visa status but pro-tip: DON’T!

*No, I don’t know why Japan Today and other news sites are calling the employers place by this long and convoluted title, but I suspect it’s a direct Japanese to English translation thing.

Posted in Japan News

Holding A Breath for 24 Hours

It started with just the news. Everyone at my school murmured on Wednesday how Typhoon Hagibis might still swirl away from us. Faxai didn’t hit Tokyo last time, and most teachers were hoping it would just go the hell away. I even said as much on Facebook that I was torn. On the one hand, I would’ve loved to have a day to sleep in, but on the other hand I needed to finish and print off my midterms.

By Thursday night, it was obvious from all the various weather radar sites that the Typhoon #19 was heading straight for us. Most of my Japanese co-workers and friends weren’t nervous, but also were a little nervous. It’s the kind of hesitant nervousness that comes with the years of experience in living through various typhoons. Nobody wanted to seem like they really cared, because who cared about typhoons really? Shrug, nervous laughter…check the radar at your desk when no one is looking.

However, the news proclaimed this typhoon would be unlike any other typhoon we’ve seen in the past decade. It wasn’t slowing down like most typhoons do, and it was going to cover most of the country with torrential rain and whipping winds. By noon on Friday, my school announced there couldn’t be any school on Saturday. JR East was already planning to shut down trains by 13:00!

It was kind of shocking. Up until this point, trains usually would shut down at 16:00/17:00. We all kind of expected the same time frame this go around, with most teachers expecting half a class day. Nope! We were told to not come to the school at all! Even full time and homeroom teachers were exempt.

A co-worker and I planned on a possible typhoon video game day. I would go over to hers, and we’d keep each other company through the storm.

“If the trains aren’t crazy,” she said.

“Yeah, we’ll have to see in the morning.” I shrugged and checked my phone as it buzzed again with another news pop up. “But it looks like the trains will be up and running? It should be fine.”

“Yeah, it should be.”

It’ll all be fine. Everything will work out. We’ll be OK. These storms never really hit Tokyo…

All these little reassurances we kept telling ourselves, because in actuality we weren’t entirely sure. It reminded me of Kentucky in the fall, with tornado season bringing hail, sleet, thunder, lightning, winds, and that blasted anticipation.

I hate the waiting of it, very similar to that sensation of when you’re just about to get on a roller coaster. You’re waiting in line, and waiting, and then you’re standing at the gates. Suddenly, you’re at the loading dock, and you’ve got to take that last step.

A big distinctive difference between the two is that I can choose not to get on a roller coaster, but I cannot choose when a typhoon is going to hit or how bad it will be when it does arrive. My anxiousness wasn’t at all helped by the charge in the air. If you’ve ever lived in a place that gets storms, then you know that charge. It’s that taste of rain on your tongue, the electric sizzle that’s just there, waiting to bust into action. As the barometer gets ever higher, that tenseness wraps around you and squeezes.

As I left for home on Friday night, I decided to stop by Don Quijote. I think everyone was feeling it. People were panicking, frantically calling their spouses and family over cell phones. The bread was gone. The milk was gone. The frozen foods were gone. Oddly enough, the canned food section still had a plethora of beans, tomato sauces, and etc. I shook my head and grabbed a bunch of canned chick peas, red kidney beans, mushrooms, and peas.

All the cup noodles were basically pillaged.
Even the onion bread was gone.
The meat, too.

Perishables would go bad very quickly in the event of an actual natural disaster. My mother taught me a long time ago that in a true survival situation, go for the cans. At home I already had emergency water and a first aid kit. I grabbed some batteries for flashlights (also in the emergency bag), and miraculously got a few bag of snacks for the maybe typhoon party.

I walked home quick. I knew I would need to cover my windows with cardboard. Even though my sliding windows were thick and made to withstand the full force of a typhoon, I knew my neighbors had a horrible habit of never taking their potted plants or laundry poles inside when a storm was set to hit us. Along my walk, I saw many people taping up their windows, pulling down shutters, or putting up actual wood planks like I’d seen in the news for hurricanes in Florida.

The whole neighborhood put down their shutters.
A nursery close to the station taped all their windows.

As soon as I got home, I grabbed the duct tape and cut up cardboard boxes to fit the huge Leopalace windows. I was a little too short to get all the way up to the tip top, but I figured it was a good enough job. The cardboard was just meant to keep the shattered glass from coming into the apartment, anyways, not be actual support.

I was sending out texts and messages as I worked. My friends were batting down the hatches all over the country. I let my family back home what my situation was and my plans. Thankfully, the work exhausted me enough that I could sleep.

In the morning, I was hit with a surprise. Even though JR East announced trains would be shut down by 13:00, apparently subways and other private train lines were already shutting down before then. My co-worker asked me not to try and get over to her place.

“I don’t want you to get stuck half way!” she told me over LINE.

To put things into perspective, last time a typhoon knocked out trains, JR East blundered the execution of their plans a little bit. The train company shut down trains at 17:00 on a Sunday, and promised that trains would resume at 8:00 the next Monday. It caused a lot of havoc, with people waiting in lines for hours to try and get to work or school. This time around, JR East and other companies weren’t taking any chances. They went with being overly prepared and simply shut it all down.

I checked both the train and bus schedules online. Sure enough, I realized that it wasn’t a guaranteed trip. I could very well end up stuck. I agreed with her and decided to just wait it out at my place. Left to my own devices, I decided to clean like a maniac.

The news of a tornado hitting Chiba was the first sign that Hagibis was definitely not going to be like any other typhoon. I noticed it hitting Japan’s Twitter News first. It was something to see, just this huge twister taking out buildings. The first confirmed death for Hagibis came from that tornado.

My phone buzzed and sent alarms at midday to inform me in Japanese on the Hagibis’ progress. Luckily, I can read Japanese kanji to a degree that I can glance at the emergency alerts to figure out where the alerts are supposed to cover and which ones I can ignore. I knew other people weren’t so well versed, so I stopped cleaning and went to work.

I sent out alerts to some Stonewall Japan pages so people could get information in English. I also sent out Tweets of English information. A lot of J-Vloggers and bloggers were doing the same, trying to get information out there so people wouldn’t be caught unaware about the situation.

NHK World was doing live coverage in English, which was a move I applauded. I appreciated that Japan Times and Japan Today kept regularly updating their information as well. I was glad to see that within our small foreigner community everyone was rallying to try and prevent another tragedy.

Then, the earthquake hit. At first, I just thought to myself, “Oh wow, the wind is really picking up!” When my picture frames began to bounce against the wall and my ceiling light swayed, I realized it wasn’t the wind. I ducked under my table just to be safe, because it felt like not a big deal…but I wan’t 100% sure because of the storm. It came and went, and I marked it as a 3 on the scale.

Sure enough, it was a 4 coming from Chiba and a 3 in my area. Called it! All the same, it didn’t help my already frayed state of mind. Three natural disaster-like events in one day, and all so close. I moved my emergency bag to sit right at the front door, and threw some clothes into my other backpack. Just to be super, duper safe.

In the early evening, the wind hit hard. I checked out my front door intermittently just to see what the wind and rain looked like outside. At one point, I opened my door and saw the sky was green. I promptly shut the door and said, “Not today, Satan.”

For those of you who don’t know, green skies mean bad thunderstorms and tornadoes are inbound, as in “you got minutes to find shelter, bruh.” I got lucky, though, no tornadoes for my area. The rain came of and on, off and on, either completely soaking the whole area or trailing off. I listened to it in between forcing myself to just relax and watch Netflix on my laptop.

I knew I couldn’t do anything, not yet anyway. My flood map showed a low chance of flooding. My alerts for evacuation were for the elderly, not for me, and not even for my specific area in Tokyo. I continued to retweet and put up messages I thought were useful, but otherwise I couldn’t do anything else. I texted my coworkers and checked in on a few friends, but it was just a waiting game.

Typhoon Higibis finally arrived at 21:00, and it hit hard. The rain suddenly dumped down, just swish, swish, swishing all over the place with the winds. My windows knocked a bit in their settings, but didn’t leak or break at all. I refreshed my flood maps and kept reading the evacuation alerts as they came. Honestly, I knew by that point it was useless to try to evacuate anywhere. If the river near my apartment overflowed, I wouldn’t be able to run out by this point. I had to just kind of hope I was making the right call to stay.

Regardless, I move my bags up into the loft area just in case a flood did decide to hit. All my electronics were charging up there anyway, so it just made sense. I stayed up in the loft, eating the snacks meant for a party, and watching the news. I heard about the community center that denied the homeless man shelter. It sickened me to think of someone getting turned away to sit on the street with just an umbrella and a “gambarre!”

And then an alert I never saw before popped up from Yahoo News. Puzzled, I searched for the kanji and my eyes went wide when I saw, “Volanic Eruption Warning,” come up. I thought, “Surely not Fuji?!” and nope, not Mt. Fuji. It was Sakurajima, all the way across the country. I was mad. I lived nowhere near there, why did my phone send me an alert for Kyushu?!

Around midnight, the winds decreased in velocity, although the rain stayed. My flood map and radar showed me that my area in particular was going to be spared from flood waters. To the west of me, dams were getting opened and the rivers overflowed to prevent dams breaking. To the east, a city not even that far away from me was being told to get to higher ground because the coastal lines were no longer safe. Somehow, I was sandwiched into a safe pocket that needed no evacuation or run away option.

I finally let out that metaphorical breath I’d been holding. The red parts of the radar shifted upwards to Saitama, and even though I was still in the yellow bits, I decided to call it a night. I sent my family messages that I survived and didn’t need to evacuate. If anything changed in the morning, I would call. I sent my last messages and so on, and finally went to sleep.

I got startled awake two or three times that night from my phone alarms. Once again, though, these alarms were meant for Sendai. Sendai is no where near me. I glanced at the kanji and rolled over. Just as it always tends happen, I fell into nightmares because my sleep got interrupted. I couldn’t remember them, just the general feeling that I was suffocating.

Finally, the next morning, I woke up to sunlight and the sound of children laughing. I checked my phone. All of my friends were safe. My coworkers were good. No need to worry. I let out a breath. I could breathe normally again.

I took down the cardboard. I put the grab bag back on the shelf. I made myself breakfast and a nice big pot of coffee. I knew I was supremely lucky.

As I scrolled through the news reports, I knew it could have been so much worse. My river was one of many on a system, placed about three or four dams away from the coast. Thank God for human ingenuity and for advanced weather warning technology, otherwise the death toll would’ve been catastrophic.

As it stands, about 70 people have lost their lives to the storm. Homes and damage to cities are being rebuilt and repaired, but there are bridges just gone. The tornado in Chiba plus the typhoon hit an already suffering part of Japan that was affected by the last big typhoon. Stories are coming in that reflect how Hagibis really was a horrible storm, but so many people were sparred because of the advanced warnings.

Now, some people are claiming the preparations were “too much” or an “overreaction,” but I disagree completely. It was easy to feel the might of that storm, and all it would’ve taken was one broken dam and a city would’ve been completely wiped off the map. Evacuations were necessary. Shutting downs trains was necessary. It was all absolutely necessary. The death toll isn’t this low because Hagibis was nothing; it is that low because there was a chance we could’ve lost everything.

Thankfully, I’m fine, but some people are not as lucky. Donations are being accepted for rebuilding efforts by the Japan NPO Center and Peace Winds. If you’re interested, the Japan Red Cross accepts monetary donations or they are always in need of blood donors. Please be careful and don’t give to any kickstarter or gofundme that claims to give funds to people in Japan! Kickstarter and Gofundme aren’t countries on the list that can start fundraising through those sites.

And if you’re worried about the next typhoon, check out this article to give you an idea about what to do.

Posted in Japan News, YouTube Videos

Paternity Harassment Case in Japan Needs Your Help #patahara

If you live in Japan, then you’re no stranger to the endless working hours demanded by companies to their employees. The expectation of “work-life” balance is a pipe dream under most big companies, as they expect their employees to put everything aside for “company loyalty.” Parents in particular experience a specific form of harassment called “mata-hara” for women and “pata-hara” for men.

Respectively, “mata-hara” stands for “maternity harassment.” Women are often expected to give up their jobs after maternity leave, or are harassed for taking such leave in the first place. For men, “pata-hara” stands for “paternity harassment.” Men are often pressured not to take this leave at all. However, both maternity and paternity leave are protected under Japanese law.

Glen Wood is asking for help in his battle against the corporate giant Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. (MUMSS). After his child was born pre-mature, he asked to take paternity leave in order to be with his baby, but his leave was rejected. Soon after, he said he experienced harassment from the company for taking leave. Mitsubishi UFJ has even tried to slander his name in order to win against him in court. See the video below for the full story:

To paraphrase the last of the video, Mr. Wood now needs help from the public. On July 5th, there will be a public hearing, and he will need as much support as the public can give him. Whether foreign or Japanese, if anyone has other stories of para-hara from this company, or harassment or abuses of power in general, your voices are needed at this hearing.

Mr. Wood had all his proposed testimonies against Mitsubishi UFJ rejected by the court judge. Without the voices from the public, he will be speaking alone.

If you wish to speak with him, you can find more information here: https://www.patahara.com/our-story.


More background information:

Posted in Japan News

UPDATED: French Exchange Student Missing in Japan, Last Seen in Tokyo, FOUND SAFE

This message comes from Linda Brulé, a relative of Margot Brulé. Here it is as originally posted in French, then translated into Japanese and English. 


Margot Brulé, 23 ans, a disparu.

Française, elle vivait à Kyoto depuis avril 2017 pour un stage universitaire.
Son tuteur de stage, Dr. Hiroaki Kitagishi à Doshisha University (Kyoto), l’a vue pour la dernière fois le 18 janvier et pensait qu’elle allait rentrer en France le lendemain. Il l’a notamment aidée à rendre sa carte de résidence le 18 janvier.
Elle nous a cependant envoyé des messages (via Facebook Messenger) disant qu’elle allait finalement visiter Tokyo avant de rentrer, qu’elle avait pris une chambre d’hôtel jusqu’au vendredi 26/01 et prendre son billet d’avion de retour le jour même.
Ce dernier message était donc le 23.
Depuis, plus aucun signal ni réponse, plus aucun contact. Ni à sa famille, ni à son tuteur.

Son téléphone n’est plus enregistré sur Whatsapp, plus de réponse, ni lecture sur messenger.

Sa dernière adresse à Kyoto est :
K’s common garden, chambre 421,kyotanabe shi miyamaki nogami 106.
Passeport expire le 13-11-2026.
Visa (S) working holiday numéro EA3218349 expire le 21 mars 2018.

Déjà contacté :
Ministère des affaires étrangères, cellule de crise à l’ambassade de France à Tokyo, des locaux.


Margot Bruléさん(マルゴ ブリュレ、23歳、フランス国籍)が行方不明です。

彼女は2017年より大学インターンシップ生として京都に滞在していました。
彼女のインターンシップのチューターであるキタギシ ヒロアキ博士(同志社大学、京都)が最後に彼女を見たのは1月18日です。キタギシさんはこの日、翌日帰国予定の彼女の在留カードの返還手続きを手伝ったとのことです。
しかし、彼女はFacebookメッセンジャーで家族に「やはり帰国前に東京に行くことにした」「東京で1月26日(金)までホテルを取った」「26日の飛行機を取って帰国する予定だ」などというメッセージを送っていました。
最後にメッセージがあったのは1月23日でした。
その後、現在に至るまで家族へもキタギシさんへも一切の連絡がありません。彼女の電話番号はWhatsappアプリ上で「登録なし」状態になり、返信もなく、メッセンジャーの既読表示もされなくなりました。

ブリュレさんの京都滞在時の住所:
京都府京田辺市京田辺市三山木野神106 K’s Common Garden同志社前 421号
パスポート有効期限: 2026年11月13日
ワーキング・ホリデー査証 (S) : 番号 EA3218349 有効期限2018年3月21日
既に連絡済みの機関:日本国外務省、在日本フランス大使館(東京)、地元の人々


Margot Brulé, 23, has disappeared.

French, she lived in Kyoto since April 2017 for a university internship.
Her tutor, Dr. Hiroaki Kitagishi at Doshisha University (Kyoto), saw her for the last time on January 18 and thought she would return to France the next day. In particular, he helped her return her residence card on 18 January.
However, she sent us messages (Facebook Messenger) saying that she would finally visit Tokyo before returning, that she had taken a hotel room until Friday 26/01 and will take her plane ticket back the same day.

This last message was therefore the 23rd.

Since, no more signal or answer, no more contact. Neither his family nor her tutor.
Her phone is no longer registered on Whatsapp, no answer, no reading on messenger.

Her latest address in Kyoto is:
K’s common garden, room 421, kyotanabe shi miyamaki nogami 106.

Passport expires 13-11-2026.
Visa (S) working holiday number EA3218349 expires on March 21, 2018.

Already contacted:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Crisis Staff at the French Embassy in Tokyo, locals.


Normally I don’t post missing people’s information without it being officially from authorities, but Linda Brulé reports on her Facebook that “the French Embassy in Tokyo has been contacted and the police as well.” If you know any information on her whereabouts, please contact local police or the Embassy of France.

Embassy of France in Tokyo Tel:
(03) 5798-6000
French Embassy Crisis Unit:
urgence.tokyo-amba@diplomatie.gouvernement.fr
or (07) 57612988 / (07) 57612165

Please share so she can go home safe and sound!


UPDATE: Margot Brulé has been found. Linda Brulé announced via Facebook that the family finally got in contact with her. All missing persons posts related to her are asked to be updated with this information and for the search to be called off. No details are being released on her disappearance. The family is happy she was found and ask for privacy at this time.

Posted in Japan News

Vote out the Scandal in the Scramble!

Democrats Abroad, Japan hosted the event “Vote Out the Scandal in the Scramble!” on November 5th, 2017. I was there to film and get some perspectives of the attendees, as well as show my own support against the Trump administration and all it’s been doing since he and the Republican party took over the White House.

As all of you know, I’m pro-LGBTQIA+, and someday I may want to marry a woman. As I’m Bi, there is a possibility that I’ll marry a man. Then again, I could marry a transgender person of some variety, or I could marry an intersex person, or- you get the idea. In the end, I want the freedom to marry a person that I love, and I want that freedom for all my friends and family.

The Transgender Ban, the anti-trans restroom bills, allowing religion as an excuse for discrimination against LGBT+ people (and by extension, other religions, blacks, etc.), all the social equality progress made under the Obama administration isn’t just being pushed back, it’s being outright attacked and destroyed. These fucking tweets that Trump puts out in support of all these vile acts, instigating more than a few of them, he is ruining lives and he doesn’t care.

If you’re looking for a blogger or vlogger who just puts out fun and happy daily distractions about day to day life in Japan, I can’t be that person. I expect more than a few people to get pissed about my opinion, and to summarily remove me from their following list. Regardless, I can’t stay silent, I’m not the kind of person who can just talk about the good things in life and ignore the obvious bad.

Still, opinions don’t change things, votes do. If you’re on my side (or even on the opposing side) and you want change, you need to vote. Go to VotefromAbroad.org and you can get registered to vote while living in Japan or another foreign country. It’s so important to make your voice heard and to be counted in this democracy, so please sign up to vote.