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The issues that grabbed you or got your goat in the Year of the Sheep

To round out a ram-bunctious year, we sheepishly present a selection of readers’ mails that we unfortunately didn’t have the chance to print in the Community section over the past 12 months.

Things were different in my day

Re: “With more beer machines and school days, were the ’90s better?” (Japan Lite, Feb. 25): Another thought-provoking article by Amy Chavez. I would like to add some other changes, in no particular order:

• Dyed hair is now acceptable.

• Satellite TV provided more options and made the lives of foreigners more comfortable.

• The International Herald Tribune, now the International New York Times, offered wider world news coverage.

• At least as far as the greater Tokyo area is concerned, Pasmo and Suica have made daily train, subway and bus travel much more convenient than when each service had its own non-rechargeable cards. Plus, they can be used at Kiosks and many other shops.

• Back in the day, there was much pressure on women to get married before they turned 25, lest they become “Xmas cake,” i.e., undesirable after the 25th (December). This social sledgehammer evolved to 31 (known as nenmatsu), and now it is not an issue. People, especially women, can decide for themselves, and might even not get married at all. Imagine that!

• Now the Internet allows me to listen to streaming audio from radio stations in my hometown. I was grateful to the FEN (Far East Network) for many years, but am glad times have changed.

Thanks, Amy!

ALLAN MURPHY
Tokyo

‘Comfort women’ in context

Stance on ‘comfort women’ undermines fight to end wartime sexual violence” (by Kayoko Kimura, Foreign Agenda, March 4) is a very well-written article situating the issue within the larger legal and political context. There is so much contradiction and hypocrisy in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech and behavior, but the Japanese media nowadays do not dare to criticize.

The Japanese people are left blind while being infused with the idea that “threats” and “fears” jeopardize their secure lives, leading them to give up their civil liberties. The securitization discourse provides a good excuse for the state to misuse and abuse its power, and what we need is a media that can provide us with multiple and critical perspectives. Thanks, and more power!

REIKO OGAWA
Taipei

Air raids were about revenge

Re: “Victims seek redress for ‘unparalleled massacre’ of Tokyo air raid” by Ian Munroe (The Foreign Element, March 12): Neither the bombing of Tokyo or Dresden had anything to do with the outcome of the war. Both Japan and Germany were facing defeat long before February 1945. It was all about revenge bombings, and to insure that unconditional surrender would be the only terms acceptable.

I wonder if Germany would have bombed New York City if it had had long-range bombers? Would Japan have bombed Los Angeles or Honolulu? Uh, most likely.

Funny thing about weapons development and new armaments: Once they are introduced, the generals want to test them out on a target of some sort. Generals are just boys with big toys. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima was a lab experiment, a military trial — everyone in the U.S. War Department wanted to see what an atomic bomb could do to a populated city. The experiment was a major “success.”

God only knows what will happen when some SOB finally invents the doomsday weapon, probably some sort of nanotechnology that goes viral and can’t be controlled. Or possibly an AI science fiction scenario: The robots take over and humans become slaves or are simply exterminated entirely. We humans really are nuts.

ROBERT MCKINNEY
Otaru, Hokkaido

Japan killed the most of its own

I hope the Japanese citizens will rise up and see how their war leaders were happy to kill all Japanese in order to keep their own power. At every battle, the Japanese leadership claimed, “Our Empire depends on this one battle,” yet battle after battle was lost. But as long as the leadership kept their power, they were quite happy to kill more Japanese citizens.

No other group in World War II was responsible for killing more Japanese than the Japanese leaders. And they kept subjecting civilians to all of war’s torments to that sole end.

STEVE L. CHARLES
Cotati, California

‘Disruptive technology’ to whom?

Sobering! I am referring to Colin Jones’ Community article “Why robots will be granted a license to kill, in Japan and everywhere else” (Law of the Land, March 11). This is not science fiction. It is very real, even if it has not happened yet. The incessant pace of technological change, driven by corporations that “don’t love us,” can be a lethal combination, literally.

Professor Jones is dealing with only one aspect of a huge problem that confronts society today: how to deal with “innovation” — a defining theme of the 21st century — while mitigating the consequences of the alarming pace of change. Consider that “disruptive technology” is now a term that gets analysts crooning with admiration and attracts investors like a red flag attracts a raging bull.

Disruptive to who, where — how many people will suffer, even die? It does not matter, as long as money flows to the corporations, because that is the only criterion offered.

ROBERT DONLOGE
Yokohama

The ALT elephant in the classroom

The March 15 article “First impressions count for ALTs meeting their new Japanese colleagues” (by Patrick St. Michel, Learning Curve) goes into detail about challenges facing assistant language teachers on the Japan Exchange and Teaching program. However, I feel the article is pretty useless as it fails to mention the elephant in the room.

These days, the majority of ALTs are not on the JET program, but are on outsourcing or dispatch contracts. These are the only teachers procured by tender. Their legal and work relationship (not to mention pay and conditions) is completely different to that of a directly employed JET teacher.

One reason why so many boards of education (BOEs) use the outsourcing is so they can get the dispatch company to do their dirty work, artificially bending their working hours to under 30 hours per week so they don’t have to pay into social insurance, thus making ALTs cheaper, stripping them of their welfare and increasing company profits.

However, this system means that it is illegal for the school to give any instruction to the ALT, and that means no team-teaching.

No team-teaching means no interaction between the ALT and the Japanese teacher of English (JTE). In fact, in Fukuoka city they are not called ALTs any more, they are just “NSes” (native speakers).

So, in the majority of BOEs in Japan where ALTs work, there is no work relationship between the ALT and the JTE, so with no “Japanese colleagues,” first impressions don’t mean much.

CHRIS FLYNN
Fukuoka

Waking up to the falling ax

I very much enjoyed the article written by Daniel Brooks (“University teachers in Japan work under the shadow of a falling ax,” Learning Curve, March 22) in regards to contracted university instructors. As an instructor myself, I firmly believe this is an emergency situation that must be addressed sooner than later.

One problem with contracted and adjunct instructors in Japan has been due in part to the fierce competition amongst education institutions that has become more prevalent with the population drop. This trend, despite the law designed to protect part-time and contracted instructors from losing their jobs, is similar to what is taking place in many institutions in the USA with the rise in administrative positions and the decrease in those for teaching: the corporatized university system has disturbingly sacrificed half of its most important resource — namely, the instructors.

In Japan some institution administrators still view language educators as a plentiful and recyclable “raw material,” as Mr. Brooks noted, without realizing that this will not continue as professionals find they are not being allowed tenure. Many instructors have tried to fight this situation, and there are those in administration who quite often still benefit from lifetime employment.

I recommend the book written by prominent political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg, “The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters” (2011, Oxford University Press). This book very clearly addresses the issues of the disappearance of tenure, and sheds light on what could be done to prevent the trend from growing more out of control — one way being a union presence.

I thank Mr. Brooks and The Japan Times for bringing these issues to light, and hope for more widespread coverage.

JEFF SMITH
Osaka

Valuable role in revealing abuse

Re: “A child rape at St. Mary’s school in Tokyo, then a 50-year wait for closure” by Simon Scott (The Foreign Element, April 29): Our family, friends and loved ones are sincerely grateful to The Japan Times for your professional approach, dignity and integrity in reporting the news “without fear or favor.” We refer to the horrific scandal of sexual abuse by two brothers/teachers from St. Mary’s International School.

We can’t imagine the horror of finding your young son’s underwear drenched in blood from being violated by a trusted teacher claiming to be a lover of God and his son Jesus. Please keep concerned parents updated with the findings and conclusion of this shameful scandal. Hopefully with The Japan Times’ help, they will get to the root of this tragedy.

We sincerely believe that not only the pedophiles involved but the school’s administration should also be held accountable, as they helped to cover up the story, which in turn no doubt harmed more innocent children in the long run.

CONCERNED PTA MOTHERS
Minato Ward, Tokyo

Don’t need the lingo

Re: “Getting creative when it comes to finding the motivation to study Japanese” by William Bradbury (Foreign Agenda, July 1): Why it is so hard to motivate oneself to learn Japanese? It’s completely useless, that’s why.

Studying Japanese is for Chinese, Korean or Filipino immigrants who cannot find jobs without Japanese language skills. For white Westerners, there’s no need to try to become Asian. You already belong to the superior civilization and you speak the international language. Instead, learn as much key Japanese terminology as possible — the names, concepts and brands that are original to Japan and reflect Japanese thought and inventiveness. Bring those words into the English language. That’s the way to create a more authentic, future global language.

THORSTEN J. PATTBERG
Tokyo

Bureaucrats must change

Few stories have left me in the level of rage that Louise George Kittaka’s well-written “Unforgiving system leaves family mired in debt” (The Foreign Element, July 22) put me in.

I have never liked Japan’s civil servants. At best they are a hardworking group of people who nonetheless are vastly overcompensated for meaningless jobs. At worst they are an arrogant, self-entitled bunch who have no qualms about destroying a person’s life because of “rules.” Both camps, however, often do not know the rules and give bad information and advice to the citizens seeking help. When the mistake comes to light, it is the civil servant who runs and hides and the citizen who pays the price.

How ironic that a family who has gifted Japan with four children at a time when the low birthrate is sounding alarm bells is now under attack by the same city office for following advice the city office gave. The Hiranos have my deepest sympathy.

Japan is fast approaching a tipping point; the population is shrinking and with it the tax base. Our politicians and civil servants, long sheltered from economic reality, must change either by choice or force. Regular citizens of Japan, both domestic and foreign, have been living under fear and frustration for decades. History has shown that when hopelessness is added to that equation, the results are not pretty.

ROB OLSON
Tomakomai, Hokkaido

We are the new Japanese

I would like to comment on the article by Debito Arudou “Claiming the right to be Japanese — and more.” (Just Be Cause, Aug. 2). I have first-hand experience on the issue, but mine is opposite to that of Mr. Arudou, and therefore I believe my opinion should add more to the balance.

I was born, educated and earned my Ph.D. in St. Petersburg, Russia. I came to Japan as a researcher in 1998, have held several academic and industrial jobs, and was scouted for my current position. I am female and white and I have navigated my way in a sarariman world with my skills, eagerness to listen and learn, and experience accumulated throughout the years. It is now my second year holding Japanese citizenship, which I obtained with my husband through the normal application process with the Ministry of Justice.

Last year, with my brand new red passport, I first visited Germany for a scientific conference. The lady Polizei at Frankfurt airport stared at me for a few seconds, then asked: “Were you born in Japan?” I smiled and said, “Of course not.” She then motioned another officer over, and with huge smiles they told me, “Welcome to Germany.” Then I had trips to France, Taiwan and Australia, and at most I was asked “Are you Japanese?” to which I replied simply, “Yes, I am” — either in English or Japanese.

During long business trips in Japan, from time to time I have had conversations initiated by curious taxi drivers about who I am, what do I do in Japan, and what my take is on “Japan vs. the rest of the world” topics. I was never ever met with skepticism or discrimination, and every time I learned something new and interesting.

In the article, I found Mr. Arudou’s reaction more troubling than the situation that caused his frustration. We are all human. We go places, we meet people and we experience things for the first time. The curiosity of people meeting a Caucasian Japanese for the first time is just that — curiosity, wonder, surprise — there is no racial discrimination there.

Arudou-san, when asked, please answer from your heart with confidence: “I am Japanese.” Shrug off your own prejudice about everybody discriminating against you.

You and I, we are Japanese — the new definition of Japanese, the new face of Japanese. And we still have a lot of things to learn.

O.M.
Yokohama

But who will do all the fighting?

Re: “Japan rightists’ patient wait is over as conveyor belt of death shudders back to life” (Just Be Cause, Oct. 4): Thanks to Debito Arudou for another brilliant article. As a historian I watch with horrified fascination as the 1930s unfold again before us — sadly minus the streetcars, silent films and art deco kimono.

But my question to our Fuehrer [Prime Minister Shinzo Abe] is: Who exactly does he expect to fight these wars? The boys I teach at university with their underpants exposed and smartphones surgically attached to their palms? We will all be speaking Mandarin within days.

FAITH BACH
Kyoto

East Asia is not the Alps

What a piece of alarmist trash. Why not discuss what and who is really behind Abe’s decision to press for greater empowerment for the Self-Defense Forces? Japan is not up in the top of the Alps in a formidable peace fortress. On the contrary, Japan is still very much in the cauldron of Asian-Pacific politics that is continuously boiling and getting hotter by the hour.

Despite the much-needed decision to show that Japan is not a country that will peacefully surrender to any attempts at 21st-century colonialism of any kind, Japan has for many years has been showing her determination to resolve differences peacefully, more so than even the most “pacifist” Western country, and helping needier countries in the most dedicated and compassionate way, setting the example of what “foreign aid” really should be.

I think that all those who keep seeing the mote in Japan’s eye should take a bit of time to discard their rosy glasses and see the beam inside their own eyes.

Just wars? Wars free from brutality worse than Nanking? Name one — just one, please.

EDWARD MORENO
La Puente, California

Elitism is a new kabuki tradition

Re: “Let women and the world into kabuki and watch it flourish” by Damian Flanagan (Foreign Agenda, Nov. 10): It doesn’t help matters when someone like [kabuki actor] Ichikawa Ebizo XI makes the statement, “It sounds horrible, but I think reaction from overseas is like masturbation” (from “Ebizo rethinks kabuki’s strategy,” Oct. 4, 2013, The Japan Times).

I’ve been to Japan many times, mostly for the Kaomise at the Minamiza Theatre and various kabuki performances throughout the year in Tokyo, and have been to many overseas performances over the years in London, New York and Monaco which are extremely popular and almost always sold out.

The problem with performances in the West is the elitist connotations that many non-Japanese aficionados, academics and commentators have in relation to kabuki, forgetting that it was originally created for and enjoyed by the shitamachi (downtown) plebeian element of the population. Sadly this is exactly the same for Shakespeare’s plays, which now have the same elitist connotations.

That women can be very successful in kabuki is evidenced by the story of Ichikawa Danjuro IX’s disciple Iwai Kumehachi, who was a beacon for women in kabuki in the late Meiji Era (1868-1912), became a zagashira (troupe leader) and played successfully in numerous roles. She was very famous in Tokyo, and given her success, and that of other women actors in kabuki at the time, mixed troupes were then performing to great acclaim, forcing a lifting of the ban on women performing in kabuki.

However — and isn’t there always one of those — traditionalists, both Japanese and non-Japanese, would fight hard to prevent this sort of thing happening again, so I don’t see it happening for many years to come, if at all. That said, I think more overseas performances would be welcomed with open arms.

TREVOR SKINGLE
London

The best piece of journalism ever

Re: “Beware Japan’s old problems posing in new packaging” by Colin P.A. Jones (Law of the Land, Dec. 6): Thank you very much for this excellent piece of journalism. It is, hands down, probably the best piece of journalism I have ever read. It should be used as a blueprint for analyzing at least half of the biased “journalism” that assaults our senses daily.

The beauty of this analysis is that, in an age of “click-bait” and almost totally partisan media propaganda machines, it also helps us navigate awful Western media. This is truly a light in a very dark tunnel.

ANATOLE PAPAFILIPPOU
Tokyo

Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • J.P. Bunny

    O.M.’s letter well written and most well thought out. Certainly wouldn’t mind something like this in place of Debito’s monthly whinge.