Foot-In-Mouth Disease Special Section
Earlier this year, a group of students and former students from Waseda University (One of Japan’s top 10 universities) was arrested for gang raping a woman in a stairwell after a party. The “leader” of the group was the event’s planner and subsequent revelations revealed he had used his event planning position to have sex with, often, it appears, forcibly, with a substantial number of coeds attending his parties. The group, because of its apparent organized nature, was quickly dubbed the “Waseda Rape Circle” by the press.
Although the suspects were quickly apprehended (and recently plead guilty at the start of their trial) the story suddenly became a national hot topic thanks to 1) a panel discussion that may be the greatest gaffe-filled event in Japanese history; 2) a politician named Seiichi Ota, who is the Head of the LDP’s Administrative Reform Task Force; and 3) a visit from a man long term sufferers will remember, and whom we’ve longed longingly to hear from again: former Prime Minister Mori, he of the 7% approval rating and the deft handling of the USS Greenville/Ehime Maru accident.
The panel was convened to discuss Japan’s declining birthrate and to debate ways to stem the decline so that Japan will not have to import lots of foreign workers who will then cause lots of crime (something like that, at least that’s what PM Junichiro Koizumi said a couple days ago. Not a joke.) Mori started off the gaffe-fest by stating that women who don’t have children should not be eligible for government pensions:
The pension is supposed to take care of and reward those women who have lots of children. It’s truly strange to say we have to use tax money to take care of women who don't even give birth once, who grow old living their lives selfishly and singing the praises of freedom.
(Birth, you see, as all true male chauvinist pigs will know, is a woman’s problem, not a man’s.)
Ota, not to be outdone by the eighth-dan level gaffishness of Mori, and to give men their due, then claimed that the decline was due to a lack of courage among men to go into married life. As a follow up to that comment, the panel’s Comedian/Host then asked a baited question about those Waseda Boys having courage or not. Ota responded with a knockout gaffe and one of the early front-runners for quote of the year:
Gang rape shows the people who did it are still virile, and that is okay. I think that might make them pretty much normal.
In Ota’s defense, he was clearly joking in response to an obvious, albeit tasteless joke/question, and all of the women present, including those on the panel, laughed, but the brief Shit Storm that followed—especially when combined with Mori’s quote—left very few prisoners and left many women wondering if the real cause of the birthrate decline might not have something to do with men like those on the panel.
As if that were not enough, a few days after the panel, a weekly tabloid reported that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, who is also a key minister in charge of gender equality, said, off-the-record, that the real culprits in gang rapes were women because “there are lots of women dressed provocatively.” Fukuda later “retracted” the statement by saying that he hadn’t said what the tabloid had said he’d said and, anyway, he had “meant something completely different” by what he’d said even though he hadn’t said it. (Something like that.)
Also, not a single newspaper or TV news program mentioned any of the similar cases in the past seven years: 1996, eight members of the rugby teams from Teikyo U and Dokkyo U raped a woman in a Karaoke box. 1997, five members of the Nippon College of Physical Education’s hockey team raped a woman. 1999, five Keio University students (another Japanese top 10 school) raped a woman in an apartment. In all of these cases, the rapists reached out of court settlements with the victims. In neither case was any jail time handed the rapists. In one case, if your humble editor’s memory serves him (for once) correctly, a judge or defense attorney admonished that “Boys will be boys.” (Hey, at least they’re pretty much normal, right?)
Your humble editor suspects the Waseda Rape Circle will suffer a similar fate if they appear contrite enough in court. It should be noted that although they have plead guilty and apologized, the “leader” claims the rape was not, as has been claimed, organized. Glad he cleared that up. Must make the university women of Japan feel a whole lot better.
A few months back, a four year old boy disappeared from a game center in Nagasaki. Later his naked body was found—his face covered by his own jacket—in a narrow alley at the base of a four story parking garage. It was clear from the injuries and the evidence that the boy had been dropped from the top of the garage to his death.
The subsequent investigation brought back shades of the Kobe Killer when it was soon discovered that the murderer was a 12 year old junior high school student. The murderer confessed that he had lured the boy away from a game center to the garage’s fourth level where, as he had apparently done a number of times before with other boys, he merely intended molest the boy. The boy, however, started screaming, and the murderer says he panicked and pushed him off to keep him quiet. (Police found the four year old’s footprints on fourth level railing.) The murderer then went down to check on him and left the young boy’s jacket over his face to protect his body from the elements.
As if this were not, in its own way, tragic and horrific enough, there then ensued a spate of truly remarkable Foot In Mouth Holier-Than-Thou statements about the decline of both parenting and childhood in Japan and about ways to stem Japan’s growing crime problem, especially that among youth. The best quote, and another early nominee for Quote of the Year, was uttered by Yoshitaka Konoike, the 60-something year old State Minister for Deregulation Zones and Disaster Management:
You should have the murderer’s parents decapitated as punishment after dragging them around the town.
When pretty much everybody from PM Koizumi on down to the parents of the four year old victim protested, Konoike defended himself by saying he was on “old-fashioned man” who got his ideas on life and crime and punishment from old Samurai movies. (Couldn’t make that one up if I tried. –DL)
What was missed in all this was 1) the parents of the four year old victim had apparently left him to play by himself while they shopped or played pachinko or something and 2) that the parents of the boys who had been molested before had complained to the police who then proceeded to do very little. In fact, the murderer/molester was only caught because, just a few weeks before, the merchants group in the local shopping arcade had installed outdoor security cameras to help stave off vandalism. The murderer was seen walking with the boy after leaving the game center.
If the two had gone left down the arcade away from the cameras, instead of to the right, the murderer might still be at large.
Recently, Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara has thrown his hat in the Quote of the Year ring.
It started a few weeks ago, when the race for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party (and, thus, the Prime Ministership) began in earnest. From the beginning, everyone knew that PM Koizumi was pretty much a lock for reelection given that 1) the opposition had been unable to decide on a single, suitable candidate to replace Koizumi, 2) the traditional factions had split along untraditional lines, many of them down the middle (for the uninitiated, the LDP factions are like the little cliques that form during any high school class president election. There are no ideological differences, only a desire to be in power while attaching themselves to the coolest kid in the class.) and 3) the fact that there are no actual suitable candidates available to replace Koizumi. The closest contender was the sour-faced Shizuka Kamei who ran against Koizumi before. His campaign was based on hatred for Koizumi’s cabinet, especially Grand Financial Poobah (not his real title) Heizo Takenaka. To quote Kamei: “Under President Bush's orders, Mr. Takenaka is taking the lead in putting the Japanese economy in the doldrums.” (Kamei’s apparently been asleep since 1989 when the bubble burst. The economy was in the doldrums long before either Bush or Takenaka.)
There were two other candidates for LDP president, but they didn’t stand a chance and are therefore not worth mentioning, except for the fact that one of them, MP Fujii from the Hashimoto faction, actually had something resembling an economic plan. He said he would ask banks to put a three year moratorium on debts to farmers and small and medium sized businesses freeing them from having to make payments and allowing them to spend money in the economy. Seems to put off the problem until the future, and may even amount to a kind of bribe, but at least it was a plan.
Governor Ishihara, a fiction writer and author of the polemic “The Japan That Can Say No,” a public denier of the Rape of Nanking, and the man who once told the Self-Defense Forces that they had to be ready in the event of a major earthquake in Tokyo because the foreigners would begin rioting and looting, entered the QotY ring when he began stumping for Shizuka Kamei in a last ditch effort to give Kamei a fighting chance. At about the same time, a bomb was found in the garage of Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka’s house. Tanaka was one of the key organizers of the 2002 Pyongyang Summit and has received endless criticism for what is seen by many right-wingers as a pro-North Korean stance. (It should be noted that, according to the right-wingers, anyone who believes that North Korea deserves anything but a rain storm of (United States) nuclear bombs is pro-North Korea.) Over the past two years, similar explosives, with nearly identical warning messages, have been found in the houses of reporters and bankers who are openly pro-North Korea or merely seem to be. Tanaka, however, is the first member of the government to receive a bomb threat and that made it news.
As Ishihara was standing on top of giant speaker van next to Kamei and preaching about why Kamei was better than Koizumi, he started rambling on about several issues at once, none, it should be noted, related to Kamei’s election, and then said that Hitoshi Tanaka “deserved to have a bomb planted at his house” because of his stance on North Korea, even going so far as to accuse him of working for North Korea rather than Japan.
That afternoon, every sane person in Japan started criticizing Ishihara for his open support of terrorism, something that would have got him fired in any other country but Japan, even in a pre-9/11 world. Responding to criticism, Ishihara quickly clarified his stance by saying he wasn’t supporting terrorism, he was “merely saying that there were many appropriate reasons for someone to plant a bomb in Tanaka’s house.”
The point was clarified again, or muddied, a few days later when Kamei received, at his office, a letter containing a bullet and a warning sent, apparently, by the person who planted the bomb at Tanaka’s house.
Koizumi was reelected yesterday on the first vote with 399 votes. That's about 60% of votes cast. Kamei was second with 139 votes.
Sports Special Section:
The Hanshin (Railway) Tigers locked up their first Central League Pennant in over 18 years after defeating the Hiroshima Carp last week with a Sayonara hit in the 9th inning. They then had to wait three hours while praying for the Yakult (Dairy Products and Noodles) Swallows to lose. The team and all their fans stayed at their home stadium watching the JumboTron until Yakult lost. They then proceeded to pour what must have been thousands of gallons of beer, sake and champagne over each other’s (and several reporters’) heads.
At the same time, tens of thousands of Tigers fans were assembled on a bridge over the Doutonbori River near the famous Glico Man sign in central Osaka. The Glico man, who has his arms raised in triumph is usually dressed in a running outfit, but had been dressed up in a Tigers uniform for the pennant race. The fans had gathered at the bridge not only to get stinking drunk, but also, for the especially brave and crazy, to hurl themselves into the stinking water of the Doutonbori.
For the uninitiated, the Doutonbori is about 13 feet deep, but the bottom four feet is a thick toxic sludge made up of heavy metals, dioxin and quite a bit of human waste. If people don’t dive correctly, they risk embedding themselves in the sludge and never coming up. (One person was killed in that very manner the next day.) To make matters worse, ingesting any of the water would be about as safe as drinking out of the Ganges and will lead, most likely, to several weeks spent sitting on the toilet. As if that were not bad enough, there were several hundred extra police waiting to arrest divers as they climbed out the water. In the end, 5,300 people made the jump on the first night.
Now, Osaka officials are pondering what will happen if the Tigers win the Japan series. They are asking people to refrain from jumping in the water, which works while the fans are sober, but loses its edge as the fans lose theirs.
Mongolian born Yokozuna Asashoryu has managed, in just two tournaments as a Yokozuna, to become the most hated man in Sumo. Last tournament, which he won by the way, he 1) flipped his belt dangles at fellow Mongolian Kyokushusan after the latter bashed into him after a victory. (As they walked past each other, K-san bashed Asashoryu with his shoulder. Asashoryu, stopped, glared at K-san, then tried to slap him with the dangles.) 2) He was disqualified from a victory after he grabbed his opponent’s top knot and pulled him down. This makes him the first Yokozuna in something like a thousand years to be so disqualified. 3) He refused to apologize for 1) and 2). 4) He refused to talk to the press after matches.
This tournament, Asashoryu was generally better behaved, but in one match he kept pushing his opponent even after his opponent had stepped out of the ring. The opponent ended up flipping Asashoryu off the dohyo. Once again, Asashoryu refused to talk to the press. Once again, just yesterday in fact, he wrapped up the tournament victory.
The new head of the Yokozuna council has all but called for Asashoryu’s resignation and has said that, had he been head of the council at the time, Asashoryu would not be a Yokozuna. His skills are fine, but he lacks the proper Yokozuna humility and spirit. That he does. In your humble editor’s humble opinion, Asashoryu is a classic prima donna, but he’s got the skills to back it up. He clearly doesn’t care if every fan in Japan hates him. In many ways, it’s a much needed contrast to retired Yokozuna Takanohana’s robot expressions and demeanor. Sumo has needed a bad guy for a long time. Now it needs a Japanese hero.
In Other News:
Long term sufferers of this venerable institution and people who were in Japan in early 2000 will remember the story of how several cities in Japan, Nagoya in particular, were dealing with the growing problem of women being groped on trains by creating “Women Only” cars on every train line. Your humble editor then (and, it should be added, still does) considered this a useless gesture and a way for police to seem to be doing something while actually doing nothing and predicted, to anyone who would listen or who was trapped in a corner and unable to commit suicide fast enough, that it would lead to bigger problems.
Well, a study in Nagoya of the first couple years of “Women Only” Cars has shown that the implementation of the cars has actually led to an increase in groping incidents. The cause seems to stem from an attitude, warped as it may be, that women who choose not to go into the “Women Only” cars must actually want to be groped and are therefore inviting men to do so. The fact that a woman may be in a regular car in order to be with her husband and family or boyfriend is irrelevant. Women know where the safe zone is and they should go there if they want to be safe.
To make matters worse, according to women in both Tokyo and Nagoya, the “Women Only” cars are hell-holes of a different type. Freed of men to impress, the manners of women in the cars have deteriorated: women eat, put on make up, spread their stuff out, and refuse to give up seats for the elderly and handicapped. To make matters worse, the high concentration of perfume wearers makes the cars stink. As a result, many women prefer the regular cars, even with the chances of being groped, to the “Women Only” cars.
By contrast, in cities like Yokohama, back when the police were still making an effort to arrest gropers, even going so far as to set up stings using young-looking police women in school girl outfits or, in extreme cases, the plaintiffs themselves as bait in order to catch the gropers on camera, the incidents of groping went down.
One year after the historic Pyongyang Summit between PM Koizumi and Chairman Kim-Jong Il, relations between the two countries have deteriorated beyond where they were before the Summit. Back then, they were like two divorcee’s occasionally passing each other in the hall, offering dirty looks, and otherwise ignoring each other. Now they are like, literally and figuratively, parents in a messy custody battle.
First is the unresolved issue of the families of the five returnees and the fate of the other missing Japanese. Then there’s the problem of North Korea’s alleged nukes. (Note to dictators and other members of the Axis of Evil from a proud, albeit cynical American: If you want to be safe from the USA, claim that you HAVE weapons of mass destruction, not that you DON’T have them. It’s better for your health. Unless we call your bluff.) Finally, there’s the fact that, from North Korea’s point of view, Japan is an irrelevant participant in any talks.
Without any sabers to rattle, and little more than foreign aid to offer or withhold, Japan finds itself feeling rather impotent. To make itself feel better, it has begun harassing North Korean ships authorized to dock in Japan. The main target is the ferry ManGyonBon, which puts in at Niigata port once every few months. It offloads people, onloads other people, and stocks up on bicycles, televisions and beer. It also appears, on occasion, to stock up on parts for nuclear fuel processors (and we’re not talking simply aluminum tubes). Although over a thousand North Korean ships dock in Japan any given week, the ManGyonBon, because it lands in Niigata, home of Megumi Yokota, poster child for the abductees and their families, it is the most symbolic and therefore the most hated.
Japanese harbor officials recently searched every square inch of the ManGyonBon looking for violations of Japanese maritime safety laws (some passed only recently, it should be added, to allow for new and improved harassment.) When they found five violations, including “irregularities” with a kitchen duct, and a dearth of signs pointing to exits, the ship was refused permission to leave port until the problems were fixed. The ManGyonBon’s crew fixed what it could and promised to fix the rest before returning. When the ManGyonBon returned, much to the surprise of harbor officials, the problems were fixed and the ship was allowed to come and go freely. Therefore, on the most recent visit, the ManGyonBon has been grounded based on the accusation that the last time it left port freely, it had 255 passengers on board rather than the legal 220.
In another incident with a different boat, a cargo vessel was left stranded in the Sea of Japan off the coast of Fukui when it was refused permission to put in after officials determined it didn’t have enough lifeboats. (The middle of the sea being, of course, the safest place to be when you don’t have enough lifeboats. Re. Titanic.) Because the ship needed to dock in order to refuel and resupply, it was literally left dead in the water until the Japanese government sent Naval Self-Defense Force ships out to refuel and restock it.
In one of the strangest crimes your humble editor has ever heard of, farmers all around Japan have woken up after a good night’s sleep to discover that someone has stolen tons of produce from their fields. The first such case involved the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of premium cherries right before harvest, and since then everything from apple-pears, to asparagus, to grapes, to peaches has been stolen.
What’s suspicious is that in many cases, it would have taken a large team of professional pickers several hours to pick the produce. In the case of the cherries, the pickers, who stole almost two tons of cherries in only a few hours, apparently knew to take the stems along with the cherries in order to maximize their value.
Your humble editor, who is never, if ever, cynical, suspects insurance fraud. After all, wouldn’t wholesalers get a little suspicious if a group of people they didn’t know suddenly showed up with two tons of cherries that are only grown in one region of Japan? How many groups of professional pickers can there be in Japan? How quiet can you be when you’re plucking cherries at night? (Warning: double entendre alert.)
Recently, the antiquated amusement park at Korakuen, right next to the Tokyo Dome in central Tokyo, underwent a multi-million dollar restoration. Nearby flea-bag hotels were replaced with high rise luxury hotels and the park itself added a shopping mall and several new thrill rides and started calling itself L’Aqua.
The park’s new ferris wheel is original as it is hollow in the center. Rather than moving a round a central motor with spokes fanning out to the edges, this ferris wheel’s gondolas are conveyed around the outside of an open ring. The open ring allows the new thrill coaster, the Thunder Dolphin, to pass through the ferris wheel’s center while it is running. (Imagine a gold necklace looped through a wedding ring and you’ll get the picture.) The coaster also goes over the top of the new shopping center and, at one point, passes through a portion of the wall.
Because the park is in the heart of Tokyo, the designers took great care to test the noise level of the new rides to make sure the mechanisms wouldn’t disturb the neighbors. Unfortunately, the designers forgot to account for the screams of the riders which have been bothering the neighbors ever since the park reopened.
The neighbors are now in a spat with the park. They want it shut down by eight or nine o’clock in stead of ten, but the park’s owners say they might as well close down for good, as most of their most loyal customers don’t get off work or out of school until six or seven. Your humble editor can’t wait for this one to go to court. He smells a new human right in the making.
A few months ago, faux lesbian pop duo t.A.T.u. visited Japan for what may be the most disastrous inaugural tour of a country since Jerry Lee Lewis tried to take his act to Britain.
First, they were denied permission to film a video in several locations after announcing they wanted large groups of teenage girls in white shirts and short plaid skirts to show up for the filming. Given that 80% of high school girls already dress like that every day, one wonders why their manager just didn’t walk through Shibuya with a video camera instead of asking permission.
Then, they walked off the set of Music Station, a Friday night performance show created in the spirit of Ed Sullivan but without the bears and monkeys. They claimed, alternately, depending on the time of day, that their sole reason for walking off was 1) the show didn’t fit their style, 2) they didn’t like the skimpy school girl costumes they were “forced” to wear and 3) there were too many Japanese stars there and they didn’t feel special enough.
Given that Music Station is one of the few shows on Japanese TV where singers have to perform live rather than merely lip-syncing (leading to many surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant), your humble editor suspects they ran for the hills rather than face a public airing of their real talent. (At one point during their visit, the two sang “All The Things She Said” in a Karaoke box and the result was truly hideous.) They then cancelled a special performance at Odaiba in Eastern Tokyo angering a substantial portion of their small fan base.
They claim they’re coming back in December. Not sure anyone will really care.
Muneo Suzuki, whom long term sufferers will remember from his bloody spat with former Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka, was released on bail a week ago after 436 days in jail. This is the second longest an active member of parliament has ever spent in jail. Some suspect he was let out to help the fight against Koizumi, but he’s been rather quiet. He is, however, still a full member of parliament.
MP Hiromu Nonoka, one of the authors of the Mori Coup, and one of PM Koizumi’s biggest critics, recently announced that he will retire from politics if Koizumi is reelected as president of the LDP. He clearly hoped to guilt members of his own Hashimoto faction (who are split between Koizumi and Fujii) into voting for Fujii. Instead, a great many people simply said sayonara and actually seem to be looking forward to his retirement.