Archive for March 2012

Mixed Reactions to Japanese Comedian Running for Cambodia in London Marathon: “He’s Disrespecting Other Athletes” vs. “He’s a Bridge Between Nations”

March 31, 2012

Hiroshi Neko Cambodian Marathoner
Mr. Hiroshi Neko poses happily after accepting a place in the Olympic marathon as a representative of Cambodia. His ribbon wishes him “congratulations.” March 26, Sumida-ku, Tokyo.

Mixed Reactions to Japanese Comedian Running for Cambodia in London Marathon: “He’s Disrespecting Other Athletes” vs. “He’s a Bridge Between Nations”
Yomiuri Shimbun: 猫さん五輪に賛否…「選手に失礼」「懸け橋に」
March 31, 2012

Mr. Hiroshi Neko (the alias of Kuniaki Takizaki), a 34-year old comedian who took Cambodian citizenship to complete for a spot in the marathon at the London Olympics, has been chosen as a member of the Cambodian team.

This has ignited controversy, with some saying he has shown great disrespect to Cambodian athletes in going as far as changing his citizenship to make the team and others saying he is a bridge between nations. Can he handle the burden of a nation’s hopes and dreams during the race itself?

“My goal is to break the world record in London.” Speaking at a press conference in Sumida-ku, Tokyo on March 26 in which he accepted a place on the Cambodian national team, Mr. Neko was so nervous that his hands shook. He usually dons a red T-shirt reading “Cat Demon” (Neko Oni) , but that day he wore a suit and tie.

He acknowledged criticism of his change of nationality, saying “I know some people have strict views about this. I’ve decided to go through with it, though, and I’m going to pursue victory all the way to the end.”

Eye-catching online criticism of Mr. Neko includes “for a comedian to play a joke on everyone by running in the Olympics is a dishonor to all the athletes who are honestly competing in the event” and “Isn’t he just trying to get attention?”

Former Olympic silver medalist Yūko Arimori (45), who plans charity marathons in Cambodia to deepen exchange with the country, tearfully said to the Yomiuri Shimbun that “it pains me to think of the young man whose spot on the team was taken by a Japanese person.” Indeed, it was Ms. Arimori who invited Neko’s primary competitor for that spot, Hem Bunting (26), to Japanese invitationals. “Cambodian runners have to build their strength inside a poor training environment. I’d prefer that someone who’s actually from there run for them.”

Japan Track and Field Association Director (and former marathoner) Toshihiko Seko (55), however, is looking forward to Mr. Neko’s performance: “My compliments go to him for winning his spot on the basis of his abilities. I would like to see him become a bridge between these two nations.”

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“Foreword to Dormitory Song ‘Toward the North Star'” (1931)

March 30, 2012


“Foreword to Kagoshima  H.S. 7 Dormitory Song ‘Toward the North Star'” (1931)

A star fell and lives there:
A town where the olive grows
In the southern land we adore.
With the brevity of our three dreamlike years together
And the happiness of a bond that will never be broken,
For days of garden parties
And starry nights under the window,
With melodies of the soaring emotions of youth,
We’ve put these feelings into song for you.
Music is the mother of sad times
And the companion of joyful ones.

“What Would You Do If You Were Invisible?” An Elementary School Asked Soon-to-be-Graduates in Questionnaire for Yearbook…After Distribution, It Found Some Answers It Didn’t Appreciate

March 29, 2012

“What Would You Do If You Were Invisible?” An Elementary School Asked Soon-to-be-Graduates in Questionnaire for Yearbook…After Distribution, It Found Some Answers It Didn’t Appreciate
Yomiuri Shimbun: もし透明人間なら?小学卒業文集の不適切回答は
March 28, 2012

This month, Asahigaoka Elementary School in Seki, Gifu sent a questionnaire to its soon-to-be graduates for use in their graduation yearbook, and in response to the question “What would you want to do if you were invisible?” certain students wrote inappropriate answers like “kill people” and “steal things.”

After the yearbooks were distributed and the answers in question were discovered, the school recalled the books and altered them.

The questionnaire included six questions which were thought up by the students themselves. One of these was “What would you want to do if you were invisible?” Seven people gave inappropriate answers to this hypothetical question. On the 16th, school faculty recalled the 80 yearbooks it had distributed and put stickers with answers like “meet famous people” on top of the inappropriate responses.

School principal Ryubun Tsukahara said, “Because these graduation yearbooks are meant to create memories that last a lifetime, we checked them over and over, but we didn’t check the answers to the questionnaire. I want to take another look at how we go about checking our yearbooks.”

Manuela to Her Daughter: “I Always Knew You Weren’t Dead”

March 28, 2012

María Jesús
María Jesús on the day of her DNA test. Photo by Damiàn Torres in Las Provincias.

Manuela to Her Daughter: “I Always Knew You Weren’t Dead”
An octogenarian and her “stolen daughter” reunite 44 years later. DNA tests have proven with 99.70% certainty that this daughter did not die at birth but rather was given up for adoption.
El País: Manuela a su hija: “Yo siempre supe que no estabas muerta”
N. Junquera and L. Bustabad reporting from Madrid and As Pontes, respectively, March 27, 2012

“I always knew you weren’t dead. But until today I thought you were a son and not a daughter,” Manuela Polo said today to María Jesús, the woman who, according to the first DNA test taken, has a 99.70% probability of being her daughter. María Jesús told the story herself by telephone from As Pontes (A Coruña) just an hour after meeting her mother, who 44 years ago in a Coruñés hospital was told by doctors that she had had a son who had died after birth. “She held my hand tightly,” María Jesús continued, “and she said to me, ‘I already knew that I had a strong baby and that he couldn’t have possibly passed away.”

There is a second test to take, the mitochondrial exam, to give 100% assurance, but today in As Pontes, they still looked alike. Manuela met her daughter two days before turning 80. Her husband passed away before he could meet his daughter. “When my father asked to see the cadaver, the doctors showed him four little white caskets, but they weren’t opened,” explained Eva, 32 years old, Manuela’s youngest daughter.

“I feel a mix of happiness and sadness,” explained María Jesús to this newspaper just an hour after the reunion. “I’ve completed my objective; I’ve met my mother. But I’ve lost 44 years with her. I’m very emotional, having met the whole family. I’m not used to being surrounded by so many people!”

María Jesús discovered today that she has seven siblings. She was given up for adoption to a couple in the Community of Valencia, very far from the hospital in A Coruña where her mother was told on March 25, 1986 that she had died. The mother always suspected that wasn’t true. “She thinks they took the baby from her because she already had many children,” Eva explained. The couple lived in the countryside.

“When I was 14, my parents told me I was adopted. They didn’t give me the details. I know they paid for me, but I don’t know how much. They also talked about a priest in A Coruña who was present at the birth and a taxi driver in Valencia who served as a transporter of children. But I don’t know anything. I’m a victim, and I want everything to come to light so the truth can be known,” explained María Jesús, who has reported her case to the district attorney. “When the cases of child robberies started to come out in the media, I started to get suspicious. When my adoptive parents died, I began to look for my mother. She, for her part, was looking for me. Until today.”

Manuela searched as well. She tossed and turned in her sofa in Sexe, a town in As Pontes, every time she saw news about stolen babies. “My mother always told us that she had heard a baby cry, and she had touched its hand,” explained Enrique, another of her sons. “The priest told her that there was nothing to be upset about because she already had six other children, so why would she want one more? It hurt her so much she’s never forgotten it.”

Four decades later, her children got in contact with an association for those affected by child theft, and it told them how to send DNA evidence, which arrived at the beginning of this month.

María Jesús believes that her adoptive parents “were also victims. They accepted the conditions that were placed on them. They never knew what had happened behind the scenes,” she assured. Ever since she was told she was adopted, she had imagined her biological mother several times. “Lots of things ran through my head. I thought it would be best if it were a very young mother whose parents made her give the child away, or a girl without means…I received a lot of support from the association SOS Stolen Babies of the Valencian Community. We affected are like a clan,” she explained.

“My mother was very content. We’ve been looking forward to having a sibling come home so we could have a big celebration,” Eva explained. “María Jesús was the only one of us born in a hospital. The rest (two men and six women) were all born in the home,” she added. All of them passed the last day in Eva’s home in As Pontes. The youngest daughter of the family confessed that María Jesús had more of a resemblance to her two brothers than to her, “although we all have something in common.” In addition to looking alike, they also talked about the allergies they have in common. “We live almost 1000 kilometers apart, but now we’re going to get closer to each other,” promised María Jesús.

Pending the confirmation of the mitochondrial test, this is one of the very few reunions between mothers and children who were stolen or irregularly given up for adoption. It is another fruit of the perseverance of the victims and of luck, moreso than of the help of the national government or justice system, although María Jesús has denounced her case to a district attorney.

In Catalonia there was also a very similar case. A woman found her daughter 37 years later. She, too, had been told that she had had a son who died at birth. In that case, it was not a large family but rather a single mother. The baby had been given up for adoption. When years later this woman went looking for her origin, she discovered an envelope with the supposed relinquishment by her mother – which she assures is falsified – and her own death certificate from her birth. At first, it seemed like an error and nothing more, but she finally ended up finding her biological mother’s telephone number and calling her. Her mother thought it was a cruel joke and insulted her. But a few days later, they met, and a DNA test finally proved they were mother and daughter. This case has also been reported to the district attorney.

Congress Calls to the Affected
Today Congress unanimously urged the Government to “drive” the investigation into the cases of stolen babies, taking into account “the legal limits, competences, and existing budgets,” this last condition at the PP’s request. The Justice Commission promised to invite the affected to speak about their situations in the chamber.

The non-binding proposition, presented by Socialist Odón Elorza, requested “continuity” with the acts initiated by the previous Minister of Justice, Francisco Caamaño, and requested that the Attorney General “give clear instructions of how to proceed” to the provinces.

PP representative Susana Camarero criticized that the bill asked to “settle accounts of the previous government” and introduced a transactional amendment so that it would finally urge Rajoy’s Administration to “maintain coordination between the Ministers of Justice, the Interior, Health, Social Services, the Attorney General, the National Institute of Toxicology, and more institutions” so they could help clear up these actions and “create a working group to coordinate these efforts.” Nevertheless, an amendment by the UPyD to create a special attorney for these cases was rejected. “The victims expect a little more than our good will,” stated Rosa Díez. Elorza of the PSOE said that it would be “rash at this moment.”

It has been exactly a year since a group of family members of stolen children explained their cases to Congress’s Justice Commission. After that, the chamber promised to facilitate the clearing up of these actions in every way they could, but one year later, these organizations are not content. The protocol on free DNA tests signed by the National Institute of Toxicology only applies when a judicial authority demands them, and it has not resolved problems of access to the archives. Minister of Justice Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, who will meet with the affected April 12, has asked for a technical report from the Data Protection Agency to see what legal modifications could be made to facilitate access to the archives.

Amnesty International: Only China Executed Thousands of Prisoners Last Year

March 28, 2012

Amnesty International: Only China Executed Thousands of Prisoners Last Year
Yomiuri Shimbun: 死刑執行、中国だけで数千人…アムネスティ
March 27, 2012

On the 27th, international human rights organization Amnesty International (based in London) reported on the state of the death penalty worldwide in 2011.

Of the twenty countries that carried out the death penalty last year, including China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, only China executed a four-digit number of prisoners. The other 19 countries put together executed 670. 175 of the 193 countries in the UN (91%), including Japan, did not execute anyone last year. Last September, the number of countries without capital punishment increased by 2 to 141 (as of 3/13), a new record.

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Japan to Cut Number of Nat’l Public Servants Recruited in 2013 to 40% of Number Recruited in 2009; Number Adjusted After Complaints from Prefectures

March 27, 2012

Japan to Cut Number of National Public Servants Recruited in 2013 to 40% of Number Recruited in 2009; Number Adjusted After Complaints from Prefectures
Yomiuri Shimbun: 公務員採用、6割削減で最終調整…府省反発受け
March 27, 2012

The Japanese government announced that it had made its final adjustment to the size of the reduction in the number of national public servants it will recruit in fiscal 2013: 60% less people will be hired next year than were hired in 2009 (8511).

Specifically. the prefectures with the greatest cuts will see a 70% reduction while a 50% reduction will be requested from those with the least. Vice Premier Okada had announced recruitment would drop 70% compared to 2009, but every prefecture protested that, saying “extreme repression of recruitment would handicap day-to-day operations,” leading Okada to decrease cuts.

In addition, at a cabinet roundtable on the morning of the 27th, Mr. Okada newly asked each cabinet minister for his support, saying “As we head toward an unprecedented period of restraint, I would like to receive all the help you can offer.”

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The King of Spain: “Some Nights I Lose Sleep Over Youth Unemployment”

March 16, 2012

I’m going to Japan tomorrow to spend a week visiting friends in the town where I taught English. Take care!

The King of Spain: “Some Nights I Lose Sleep Over Youth Unemployment”
El Pas: El Rey: “Hay noches que el paro juvenil me quita el sueño” (Original includes video clips)
Don Juan Carlos and Doña Sofía lead a small public discussion
“Give me a moment to finish. She would prefer the music, but I prefer to speak a little,” joked the king

This Wednesday in Barcelona, The King and Queen of Spain presented 124 students with scholarships the La Caixa Foundation awards each year to students who want to pursue postgraduate studies abroad. During the presentation, Don Juan Carlos wanted to inspire the students to keep working. “We are in a difficult moment, but we will get out of it by moving forward, like we have before.” Later he referred to the problems the youth have finding work. “50% of youths are unemployed, and some nights I lose sleep over that.”

Don Juan Carlos also starred in the moment of the event, when he ignored protocol and started his speech ahead of schedule, in advance of the musical performance (the organization assured that this is the third year the monarch spoke before the music). It was then that the members of the protocol passed a note to Isidoro Fainé, President of La Caixa, to alert Don Juan Carlos that the event was not yet completed because the performance hadn’t occurred. Fainé passed this note to Queen Sofía, who in a low voice informed the King of his mistake. The king then blurted out, “Give me a moment to speak.” After that he joked to the audience, “As you can see, the Queen would prefer the music.” The two then laughed about having this little talk in public.

In a short speech before more than 100 youth with promising futures, the King sought to send a message of hope. “We hope that when you return [from your studies in other countries], we will have more jobs available,” the King expressed. Despite economic difficulties, Juan Carlos I said he was convinced Spain would overcome this situation. “We have had other crises before, and we got out of them,” the King said in encouragement.

La Caixa President Isidre Fainé, for his part, also spoke about the crisis and assured that although the economic situation was not easy, “there are solutions; we just have to discover them and give them life.”

In addition to the monarchs, Minister of the Interior Jorge Fernández Díaz, Economic Advisor Andreu Mas-Colell, La Caixa and La Caixa Foundation President Isidre Fainé, La Caixa Director General Joan Maria Nin, La Caixa Foundation Director General Jaume Lanaspa, and Catalonian government representative María Llanos de Luna attended the event.

The King has always presided over the presentation of the La Caixa Foundation scholarships in Barcelona, which in its 30th edition gave €8.1 million in total. A total of 124 university students from all over Spain will benefit from these scholarships, which have an average value of €65,000 per student. The greater part of the gifts were given for studies of engineering, economics, or sciences in European and U.S. universities.