Archive for the ‘Japan’ category

Hidden discrimination against burakumin persists

December 25, 2015

Translation of a Dec. 24, 2015 Asahi Shimbun report by Rie Kowaka (小若理恵).

Hidden discrimination against burakumin continues today: restaurant patrons leave when they see which hometown’s cooking the chef is serving

This year, the Buraku Liberation League Aichi Prefecture chapter (led by Katsuo Yoshida 吉田勝夫), which has worked to eliminate discrimination against burakumin, celebrated its 40th anniversary. Burakumin are avoided because of where they live. The national and local governments have been working to improve their living conditions. Discrimination against them has become difficult to see, but “many kinds of everyday discrimination remain,” a BLL headquarters spokesperson said.

Yoshiharu Yamamoto (age 38) runs an izakaya restaurant in Nagoya. He recalls that during an interview this June, he showed a customer a menu of the hometown cooking he’d grown up with, and immediately after reading it the customer departed. His hometown is among the burakumin communities that have faced discrimination.



Hanzawa Naoki

September 1, 2014


半沢直樹 HANZAWA NAOKI, the most popular live-action Japanese drama in years, is well worth watching, and its roaring success there and elsewhere is indicative of a major problem in the nations’ corporate culture.

Hanzawa is a brilliant, hardworking, charismatic, successful banker with a loving, beautiful, and sacrificially supportive wife and cute kid. He does due diligence and then gives both his support and friendship to the small businesses he deems promising (this alone makes him a kind of unicorn in Japanese banking). No amount of overtime is too much for him. And he’s out for revenge.

His top target is the banker who years ago induced his father to commit suicide by denying his small business a loan extension. He wants to overcome this man and reform the bank for which he works. By the end of the first episode, however, Hanzawa is fighting for his career, as corrupt superiors who have cheated the company for personal gain frame him and put him on the chopping block.

A typically meek Japanese worker would take the fall. In the words of one character, in Japanese corporations the superiors take the credit for the subordinates’ successes, and the subordinates take the blame for the superiors’ failures. Hanzawa is different, though. He fights ruthlessly and swears to his enemies that he’ll get a double helping of vengeance for their wrongs (BAIGAESHI DA!). Sakai Masato nails the combination of niceness and scariness required for this starring role.

It’s tense watching. Hearing the theme song again would give me a myocardial infarction. The creators, like the author of the original novels, clearly find catharsis in showing how personal advancement and protection of the organization have long come before doing the right thing at Japan, Inc. and THAT is why the country has fallen. Some of Hanzawa’s bosses are acid. The others are base. Yet the love of Hanzawa’s wife and the loyalty of his friends and subordinates keep him (and you) believing in people enough to carry on.

I’ve had plenty of time to calm down since finishing the series (the ending wasn’t just a cliffhanger, it was like falling off a cliff; a sequel is certain to follow some day) and what most sticks with me is the creators’ passion for reform. I respect Ikeido Jun for becoming so well-versed in business (he worked for a bank for years), yet still preserving his idealism enough to leave his company at 32 to write crusading books like this. He made it to the biggest possible public stage. HANZAWA NAOKI is likely too Eastern to ever come to the U.S. but you can still take some inspiration from its existence.

How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World’s Most Dynamic Region

August 23, 2014

Amazon Link

I’m extremely fortunate to have stumbled upon this book. It reconstructed my views on developmental economics and doubles as a strong rejoinder to dogmatic laissez-faire.

It explains how Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China have advanced so much economically–by following the 18th century English and 19th century American and German models of protected development, best described by Friedrich List–and how Southeast Asian nations have struggled despite taking far more of the neoliberal prescriptions of Adam Smith and the World Bank and IMF than their northern counterparts. There’s much to learn about here but we can summarize the three steps to prosperity as follows:

1. Peasant farmers must be given ownership of their land and receive infrastructure and technical support to increase productivity and build wealth. Fair land redistribution spreads wealth so much better than trickle-down economics.
2. During industrialization, infant industries must be protected from foreign multinationals, but there must also be enough domestic firms in each field to allow genuine competition, as monopolies degenerate into rent-seeking. Deals with foreign firms must require technology transfer in exchange for market access to allow the nation to build its knowledge base. Promising companies need sufficient capital to undertake long-term investment. To determine which firms deserve funding, use export performance as a benchmark because it is an objective indicator of competitiveness.
3. Finance must be directed toward productive development, not real estate and stock speculation.

Again, it’s not what race you are that determines how well your country does; it’s how effective its policy is. Learn about what’s been proven to work by reading this.

Top 10 Dream Jobs of Japanese Kindergarten and Elementary School Students, according to Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company survey

July 6, 2013

Top 10 Dream Jobs of Japanese Kindergarten and Elementary School Students, according to Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company survey

(1) Soccer Player (2) Scholar (2) Police Officer/Detective (4) Baseball Player (5) TV Star, including Anime Voice Actor (6) Astronaut (6) Restaurateur/Chef (6) Train/Bus/Car Driver (9) Doctor (10) Fire Fighter/EMT

(1) Restaurateur/Chef (2) Nurse (3) Kindergarten/Nursery School Teacher (4) Doctor (5) Florist (5) Teacher (Elementary or above) (7) Animal Husbandry/Pet Store Owner/Animal Training (8) Piano/Keyboard Teacher, Pianist (8) Police Officer/Detective (10) Designer

Dai-ichi Comment: This is the 16th year in a row Restaurateur/Chef was girls’ #1 choice. Since the Great Tohoku Earthquake, children have had much more interest in jobs related to saving lives and protecting others, such as police work and nursing.

Number in parentheses = the rank of that occupation the year before.


Microinequity and Vicious Cycles at Home and Abroad

March 10, 2013

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s latest column-post-comments combo is worthwhile reading.

The thread explores two ideas I’d like to say a little more about:

1. Microaggression and microinequity – that is, the constant little events that underline someone is different or of a lower status – fuel bad feelings and inequality and have a corrosive effect on the person on the receiving end, even if the person on the giving end has no intention to hurt.

Microaggression is a really common talking point in the English-speaking expat community in Japan. Here’s one example.

I’ve had friends tell me they couldn’t stay in Japan or Taiwan anymore because they couldn’t handle never being fully accepted. It took me way longer than it should have to connect this frustration with the feelings American minorities have in their own communities. Then the little things that happened here felt really small. In fact, it became clear that Western foreigners in the East are a privileged minority.

James Baldwin describes the way the disrespect of others can poison one’s spirit in his essay “Native Son”, which I also happened to read this week:

This isn’t just a macro (societal) issue, though. Little differences in treatment are in my opinion a major cause of family rifts. Anyone who feels looks down upon (say, for having less “success”) resents it and things quietly get worse and worse.

2. We need to be more aware of how systemic inequalities created the world we have today and how we ourselves contribute to the perpetuation of suffering.

This sort of thing also happens in home life, too. Say you have an overweight family member, and everyone’s always telling him he needs to lose weight…and yet when there’s food left over after dinner, everyone shovels it onto his plates. The people complaining about the problem are themselves perpetuating it!

Likewise, social ostracism fuels antisocial behavior. For example, yakuza membership is largely made up of (1) children of yakuza (2) graduates of teenage biker gangs, who mostly come from broken homes (3) the burakumin, or untouchables (4) ethnic Koreans and other ostracized Asian groups. People that society rejected find their best opportunities are in crime.

One thing I’ve learned this month is that “the ghetto” is the result of public policy. From The Warmth of Other Suns: “The story played out in virtually every northern city – migrants sealed off in overcrowded colonies that would become the foundation for ghettos that would persist into the next century. These were the original colored quarters – the abandoned and identifiable no-man’s-lands that came into being when the least-paid people were forced to pay the highest rents for the most dilapidated housing owned by absentee landlords trying to wring the most money out of a place nobody cared about.”

Black neighborhoods got the worst of everything from city hall in infrastructure and services. (Hello, broken window theory.) No one was allowed to move out, and government housing authorities redlined/hugely undervalued their holdings as owners even as they paid out the nose as renters – which meant their wealth was being constantly devalued.

More Ta-Nehisi on how ghettos were created by elite discrimination:

Since inequitable urban policy reaped so much destruction, couldn’t equity go a long way to solving problems? Couldn’t city halls take a much more active role in identifying addressing inequalities?

I’m wondering now why the demographic differences between Indy’s Marion and Hamilton counties have always been so stark and thinking my own hometown is a place where there is much legitimate urban renewal to be done.

There’s much to do here, as well. Immigrants from Southeast Asian countries in particular deserve more equitable treatment. Personally, I’m resolved to never look down on anyone. I admit I’m not there yet. To never feel contempt, I’ll have to examine my conscience daily.

Two heroes of Japanese liberalism have passed over to the Grey Havens

January 3, 2013


Keiji Nakazawa
Asahi Shimbun Obituary

When Keiji Nakazawa was 6 years old, the Hiroshima atomic bomb vaporized nearly his entire family.

He portrayed this experience in a comic book.


As far as I know, Barefoot Gen is the most famous anti-war work in Japanese history. Search for it in Google Images and it will imprint itself in your mind as well. The art style, typical of fun adventures, makes what is depicted inside feel even worse. Perhaps if a book like this were required reading in American junior high schools, we would not declare another war of choice. Irrespective of America, Nakazawa’s work has doubtless been monumental in Japanese culture. My junior high school there had a student performance of it every few years.


Beate Gordon

Read the New York Times’ obituary. It’s one of those that’s so astonishing you wonder why you’ve never heard of this person before.

Beate Sirota Gordon introduced women’s rights to postwar Japan, writing the clauses specifically guaranteeing them into the Japanese Constitution, emancipating 40 million people, when she was 22 years old.

Gordon studied other nations’ constitutions and drew on her childhood experiences in Tokyo and wrote the articles in a week. A sleepless week. Imagine all your learning and moral training and ethical thought suddenly being put to the test, now, and you have to lay out the future legal status of millions of historically marginalized people.

And then she kept her role a secret for decades.

All she did in the meantime was introduce the West to every kind of traditional Japanese art and every style of Asian performance art she could find. It’s amazing to think of how little even Americans in the highest reaches of power understood of Japan when they began ruling the country after the war. And pre-WWII cultural globalization mostly meant Westernization. Ms. Gordon was very important to turning on the East-to-West cultural flows and contributing to the cultural relations between Japanese and Americans today.


With her parents and Kosaku Yamada in Tokyo in 1928 (source:

Mr. Nakazawa, Ms. Gordon, rest in peace. May our generation, too, have people as amazing as you.

Proportion of Japanese Men That Are Lifelong Bachelors Breaks 20% for First Time; Rate has Octupled in Last 30 Years

May 1, 2012

Proportion of Japanese Men That Are Lifelong Bachelors Breaks 20% for First Time; Rate has Octupled in Last 30 Years
Yomiuri Shimbun: 生涯未婚の男性、2割を突破…30年で8倍
May 1, 2012

As of 2010, the proportions of Japanese men and women who had never been married at age 50 were 20.1% and 10.6%, respectively, it was announced today. This is the first time that the 20% and 10% barriers have been broken.

This information is to be included in “Children and Child-Rearing” white paper which will be confirmed by the Cabinet in the beginning of June.

In 1980, the proportions of the single-for-life were 2.6% for men and 4.5% for women. Now, more than 8 times more men are lifelong bachelors, and more than twice as many women are lifelong bachelorettes. The numbers of the unmarried have surged since the 1990s.

By age group: 71.8% of men and 60.3% of women age 25-29 have never been married. 47.3% of men and 34.5% of women age 30-34 have never been married. And 35.6% of men and 23.1% of women age 35-39 have never been married.