Jake Adelstein's Blog
June 21, 2017
This is part two of series of short-stories by culture commentator, movie reviewer, and fiction writer–Kaori Shoji–on international love gone wrong in and out of Japan.
By my personal estimate, the lives of most white foreigners in Tokyo start and end within the confines of a town called Roppongi, which means ‘six trees.’ Apparently, before the arrival of Commodore Perry and his Black Ships, this area was blah and nondescript save for the presence of its namesake. There were the trees and there was very little else.
A hundred and fifty years later, the trees are gone but Roppongi is prominently featured in every Japan guide book and online travel site. It heads off most tourists’ agenda in terms of must-go, must-see, must-experience. They think this is Tokyo, and a good chunk of its best offering. That’s not a lie but everyone who’s been here longer than 6 months will tell you Six Trees isn’t really Tokyo and certainly has nothing to do with Japan.
Roppongi is the white male’s extra-territorial sanctuary as well as metaphorical catacomb, where pleasure draws a last gasp before crumpling into a heap of old bones. The white man’s loop of entitlement extends from the famed Roppongi intersection to the concrete mausoleum known as Roppongi Hills, then down to a quaint little neighborhood called Azabu Juban and back again. Once you get on the loop, it’s damn hard to get off so you keep repeating the run until you’ve lost track of what life was like before you thought of moving to Japan and immersing yourself in Roppongi’s cesspool of slimey privilege.
Because hey, the deal is this: if you can’t get laid in Roppongi, you may as well move to Mars. There’s no other place on Earth that promises and delivers sex with the same reliable standard. I’d give it 90%, 100% of the time you’re there. Never mind sushi – they’re overpriced and the tuna is imported from Indonesia. Forget Toyotas, they take too long to assemble and what’s all the fuss about anyway? Sex in Six Trees – now that’s Japanese quality control honed to an art form.
Jesus, I’m getting literary which means it’s past 6 AM on a Saturday morning and I’ve drunk the night away. This is not good, no fucking’ good, I chant to myself as I lurch my way past other drunks (but very few disorderlies, because this is Tokyo), on the side street that leads to the Roppongi intersection. I was at Tim’s house with a few other guys, then we hit that bar and then went over to the Cedar’s Chop House in the newly opened Remm Hotel which is supposedly a big deal but really just turned out to be a raucous gaijin hangout with Jack Johnson on the sound track – really, who are they kidding? Still, the place was kind of cozy which is a rarity in Six Trees. Not that this nice vibe is going to last. Soon, Remm Hotel will be overrun by what I call the International Working Girl Association (IWGA) and their foreign clientele, just like every other hotel in Roppongi. With the Russian Embassy on one end of the loop, the Chinese Embassy on the other and the American Embassy on the far left of the intersection, what the hell else can you expect?
Aaaaanyway. We ended up at god knows which drinking hole though I remember the toilet was filthy and Tim bleating on and on about getting pancakes for breakfast and where should we go for pancakes? What a tiresome bastard.
This time of morning the sunlight’s still feeble and I could bear to bask in its gentle rays. I hear snatches of loud conversation and automatically straighten my back, turning my feet towards the direction of voices. A pimp with broad shoulders and a bull neck in a dress shirt, is clutching the shoulder of a thin girl with bobbed hair – maybe 23 years old, it’s hard to tell at this hour. He’s trying to sell her to a potential customer, a youngish salariman in a dark suit. “I guarantee she’s nice, sir” he says in sing-song Japanese which annoys me no end. “If you won’t take her, then she wouldn’t have had a customer all night and that’s bad for her reputation, all the other girls are going to look down their noses at her. You wouldn’t want that to happen now, would you?” The salariman mumbles a few words, casting furtive glances at the girl who’s wearing nothing but a slip dress and sandals under the pimp’s oversized jacket. She looks cold and depressed and purses her lips, not about to pull out any encouraging sales talk. “I don’t have much time…” the salariman says. Inwardly, I snort with laughter. You mean, you’re not ready to shell out 20,000 yen for a throw, that’s what.
Maybe the pimp could hear inside my brain because he notices me observing with what I hope is a casual, bemused detachment. “And you sir, what about you? Japanese girl, velly velly nice!” The last bit was spoken in English and the pimp’s accent wasn’t bad. He’s been doing this long enough to know the value of a white male in Hugo Boss jeans and I’ve been stomping these streets long enough to know I’ll be treated better if I pretended zero Japanese language skills. I amble over and the salariman makes himself scarce. I get a better look at the girl, whose glassy stare gives nothing away. Her hands are pretty and lily white though, clasping the lapels of the jacket around her body like Jody Foster in that movie. I like a woman with petite, well-cared for hands and Japanese women have the loveliest pairs in the world. We exchange a look and I feel her stiffen under her sheer, thin slip.
It’s all the same to her. BUT she does need to chalk up a number on the board in the girls’ locker room, at the sex shop where she works maybe, 4 nights a week. Who else is going to do it, if not for a benevolent white guy like yours truly?
“Okay, okay.” I say this a little too loudly, with an exaggerated shrug. The pimp is wreathed in smiles. “Okaaaaay!,’ he mimics and makes a polite little gesture toward the doorway. The establishment is downstairs in a narrow, dirty, three story building tenanted by a mahjong parlor, a reflexology salon and a pizza restaurant according to the signs out front. “You will be happy, happy!” he says and leads the way into a tiny elevator stinking of roach repellent, and pushes the B1 button. I look at the girl and smile. She smiles back, grateful for even this useless token of friendship. We both know that if the salariman had taken her he wouldn’t have cracked a smile. He wouldn’t have said two words to make her feel better about her life, just stood there and waited for her to unbuckle his pants, and then would have taken pleasure as his due. White males may be self-entitled jerks but Japanese guys are the worst. No wonder the women in this country hate the lot of them.
When I emerge back out, it’s past 8 and Roppongi is teeming with tourists. The bill was 22,000 yen and I reflect that in the past two years I’ve always had to pay for sex in Six Trees. A tad humiliating, I know. I’m not young anymore – 34, and even white male entitlement has to end sometime. But I reason that the girl had been extra willing and “velly, velly nice,” which takes the twinge off the hurt. I yawn, put on my shades and consider walking to Starbucks in the Ark Hills building down the hill from the intersection. What I needed now was an espresso kick in the nerves and a blueberry muffin.
The local volunteer group is out and about in their logo-inscribed vinyl jackets (“Green Roppongi!”). These are mostly men in their 60s or older, picking up overnight litter from last night’s debaucheries, scattered in the spaces between gutter and curb. What most foreigners don’t realize is that there’s a sizable number of ordinary Japanese folk living here and they care enough about their community to do this. I stop for a moment and watch as they shuffle methodically, wielding steel tongs in one hand and clutching garbage bags with the other. Their faces are obscured by white surgical masks (one way to tell a Japanese from an Asian tourist is to see whether or not they’re wearing masks), making it impossible to read their expressions.
When I first came to Japan as an exchange student at the age of 17, my host father also volunteered at the local trash pick-up, clearing the beach of debris every Saturday morning. He worked for the municipal office, so participation was more or less mandatory. He seemed to enjoy it and I would pitch in because no one else in the family did and I felt sorry for him. When we were done, he always treated me to matcha icecream or iced coffee and said over and over how much he appreciated my help. “Brian, you are wonderful,” he said. “No, YOU are,” I would reply like a dutiful son, and we would look at each other and laugh politely.
I was home-staying in Chiba prefecture, near the Boso coastline and I was having the time of my life. Never had I felt so welcomed, valued and protected. I was loved in a way that seemed impossible back home in Illinois – not that I was abused by my biological parents or anything. But I was nothing special, just a scrawny kid with acne and too-thick eyebrows. I couldn’t make varsity on the track team, had no girlfriend and definitely was not one of the cool crowd. At school, I dreaded prom and was deeply grateful that my year in Japan would absolve me of that particular American teen torture.
In Chiba, I was a prince. On my third day in school, a girl in my class presented me with a hand-made bento and another very nicely gave me a blow job in a public restroom down by the beach. Later I learned the two girls were best friends, and they had played ‘janken (paper, rock scissors)’ over which of them would have the bento duty and which would be in charge of rolling out the sexual red carpet. I was flattered, but also baffled. What had I done to deserve such treatment? Others offered similar gifts and liaisons – in little secluded areas around the beach, in their parents’ car at night, in their rooms when they invited me over to teach them English. They baked cookies for me, presented me with handmade chocolates on Valentine’s Day, held my hand under the desk and guided it to their thighs. One or two told me that they loved me, to please marry them so I could take them to America.
By my last month in Chiba, I had the Japan experience all figured out. It was so ridiculously easy here. My acne was gone, thanks to the sea air and the string of casual girlfriends who took real good care of my teenage hormonal needs. I had learned a lot of the language, enough to ingratiate myself to my host family, school teachers and guy friends. Having run on the track team back in Illinois helped a lot, because most Japanese are ardent runners and fiercely dedicated to school sports. “You’re great, don’t worry,” said my friend Haruhiko as he inducted me into the school’s short-distance track team. Haru trained like a fiend and could whip my ass on the track any day of the week but he was also big enough to make a foreigner feel good about himself. I was a lazy bum who skipped practice to hang out with one girl or another but Haru looked the other way and pretended not to notice.
Naturally, I was far from stoked about the idea of having to leave Chiba and Japan. In the plane to O’Hare, I said to myself over and over that I would come back no matter what it took.
What it took was an MA in theater from the University of Chicago and then a 3-year stint working as a Congressman’s assistant on Capitol Hill. I fulfilled my teenage resolution on the day before my 26th birthday, March 2010. I arrived, back in the Promised Land where I planned to get laid by the prettiest girls with the smoothest pale skin and go drinking with the Japanese buddies I would surely acquire as soon as I exited the airport. In a year or two, I would find the most amazing woman and get married. She would make incredibly elaborate meals, just like my host mom made every night – potato croquettes, Japanese fried chicken and rice encased in a fluffy omelet. We would have beautiful bilingual children who would grow up to attend Ivy League colleges on full scholarships. (Haruhiko, my old friend from Chiba, had gone to Yale and was now working on Wall Street.)
That was Plan A. I didn’t think to work out Plan B. And my line of defence is: Roppongi interfered.
As I walk down the long hill from the Six Trees intersection to the office complex called Ark Hills, I notice my eyes are suddenly itchy and moist. What the fuck, dude, a pathetic self pity party? I tell myself it’s just some unseasonal pollen allergy but I can’t shake off the sense of what, sadness? Regret? For a long time, no one has told me that I was great or wonderful. No Japanese woman has said she loved me, and to please take her to the United States. Now I had to pay for love, and friendships consisted of alcohol-infused rant fests with like-minded assholes. What the hell went wrong with the scenario? I had somehow played a colossal and perverted joke on myself, and could barely muster the courage to laugh. “Fuck this,” I mumble and thrust my hand into my front jeans pocket. My fingers touch a crumpled pink ‘meishi’ – the Japanese business card. It’s from that girl I just had intercourse with, and she had given it to me just before I left. “Come back soon!” she called out, but I was already closing the door behind my back. Now I smooth out the meishi to read her (professional) name: Amika. Uh-huh. Sorry, Amika but I couldn’t care less at this point. With a sigh, I toss it to the pavement and start to walk off. On second thought, I circle back and pick it up again.
You can say what you like, but I don’t throw garbage on the street. It’s the thought of making extra work for those volunteers in their little vinyl jackets. It’s also to honor the memory of my host-dad. Six Trees has at least, taught me that much.
June 17, 2017
Thank you for coming today. (Translated From Japanese)
First of all, I would like to address why I decided to hold this press conference.
Two years ago, I was raped. Going through the subsequent procedures, I came to the painful realization that the legal and social systems in Japan work against victims of sex crimes. I felt strongly about needing to change this adverse structure, and decided to go public with my case.
I will go into details later, but in the beginning, the police would not even let me file a report on this case. They told me that it was difficult to investigate sex crimes under the current law. Also, the person in question, Mr. Yamaguchi, was the Washington Bureau Chief of Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) at the time, and a public figure. During the investigation, I received insults that were unbearable as a victim.
However, my intention is not to criticize the entire police force. The Takanawa Police eventually became sympathetic to my situation and worked hard to investigate this case. Thanks to their efforts, investigations were completed and an arrest warrant was issued. But just as the warrant was about to be executed, the then-Chief Detective ordered investigators to call off the arrest. I question the existence of a police organization that allows such unforgiveable circumstances to transpire.
I also question the procedures that sex crime victims are required to undergo at hospitals in order to receive treatment and examinations, as well as the insensitivity of organizations that provide information for victims. A fundamental change needs to be made to this structure.
On the legislative level, the Diet is currently prioritizing discussions about conspiracy laws over the proposed bill to revise rape crimes, whose content is also something that we need to reconsider to ensure that they are truly satisfactory.
I hope that by talking about my experience publicly, I will help improve the current structure and start discussions that will lead to changes. This was my motivation behind making this announcement.
This afternoon, I made an appeal to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution about my case being dropped.
I will omit details of the incident itself, as it would be difficult to read them aloud. Please refer to the handouts for details. What I can say is that a sexual act was committed against me, unrelated to my will, against my will. I will talk about the events that ensued after the incident.
Circumstances of the Incident
I met Mr. Yamaguchi, then TBS’s Washington Bureau Chief, in the fall of 2013, when I was studying journalism and photography at a university in New York. I met him a second time in the US, but we did not engage in any deep discussions on either occasion.
After I graduated, I aspired to work as a freelance journalist because I wanted to lend an ear to unheard voices, and to listen to their stories over long period of time. But upon returning to Japan at the beginning of 2015, my parents convinced me to first work at a company for a few years. In March of the same year, I emailed Mr. Yamaguchi to ask if there were any openings at the TBS Washington Bureau, because he had previously told me that he could arrange for me to work there. And when I was interning at Nippon Television’s New York Bureau, there were people who had been hired locally. So I didn’t question Mr. Yamaguchi’s offer.
Mr. Yamaguchi’s replies were positive about my employment: “You could start working here while we look at getting you hired you officially;” “The biggest barrier will be the visa, but TBS could help you get one.”
After several email exchanges, he said that he would be coming back to Japan for business and asked me to meet him. We agreed to meet on Friday, April 3, 2015.
At the time, I was working as an intern at Reuters. I had to work late, and ended up being late for my meeting with Mr. Yamaguchi. When I called, he reassured me and told me that he would go ahead and start eating without me. This conversation led me to believe that someone else was joining us, as I had never met him alone before.
That night, he was already eating at one of his favorite restaurants, a kushiyaki place in Ebisu. I had 5 brochettes, two glasses of beer, and a glass of wine. At the restaurant, he made small talk and didn’t discuss the visa, which was supposed to be the objective of our meeting. He said, “There are other restaurants I need to pop by in Ebisu. I’ve made a reservation for the next restaurant, where I want to have a proper meal. Let’s have a quick bite here, and go to the next place together.” The next place was another one of his favorite restaurants, this time a sushi place.
At the sushi restaurant, he said, “I’ve heard good things about you and want to work with you.” An hour or so after we had arrived at the second restaurant, I suddenly felt dizzy and went to the bathroom, it was my second time to go to the bath room at this place. The last thing I remember is leaning my head against the water tank. I don’t remember anything else after that. As far as I can remember, I shared two servings of sake with him at the sushi restaurant. Prior to this incident, I had never lost my memory from drinking alcohol.
Investigators later told me that I left the sushi restaurant with Mr. Yamaguchi around 11PM. He apparently took me to a hotel in Minato Ward. According to the taxi driver who drove us to the hotel, I repeatedly asked to be dropped off at the nearest station. But Mr. Yamaguchi said, “Don’t worry, I won’t do anything. We’ll just talk about work,” and instructed the driver to head to the hotel. According to the driver’s testimony, I wasn’t able to get out of the taxi on my own, so Mr. Yamaguchi had to carry me. This scene was recorded on the hotel’s security camera. I plan to submit these testimonies and evidence to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution.
At 5AM the next morning, I regained consciousness. I was lying naked in a hotel bed, face up with Mr. Yamaguchi on top of me. I will refrain from providing explicit details, but what I can say is that a sexual act was committed against me, unrelated to my will, against my will.
After the Incident
Several hours after the incident, I went to see a gynecologist in my neighborhood. Mr. Yamaguchi had not used any contraception, and I did not know what do. As soon as I entered the consultation room, the gynecologist asked, “What time did you make the mistake?” without even looking at me. I was then given a pill and told to take it outside. That was it. I could not bring myself to explain my situation to someone so mechanical. So I decided to call a nonprofit that supported victims of sexual violence, hopeful for an introduction to another medical facility.
However, the person who took the call said, “I would like to interview you first.” I was devastated. I barely had the strength to get up from my bed, and had called in desperation. But the first word I heard from this organization was “interview.” I’m certain that other victims with similar experiences would be deprived of any will power at this point. What is critical at this stage is not an interview, but an introduction to a medical institution for an examination.
At first, the police would not let me file a report. Investigators repeatedly tried to convince me not to file and said things like, “This kind of thing happens often, but it’s difficult to investigate these cases;” “This will affect your career;” “You won’t be able to work in this industry after this;” and “All the effort you’ve made so far in your life will go to waste.”
I pleaded investigators to check the footage from the hotel’s security camera, and that by doing so, they would see that I was telling the truth. When they finally did check the footage, they agreed to handle this incident as a case and start investigating.
On June 8, 2015, several investigators were waiting for Mr. Yamaguchi at Narita Airport. Equipped with an arrest warrant, they were going to arrest him upon his arrival in Japan on charges of incapacitated rape. However, this arrest warrant was never executed.
At the time, I was in Germany for work. Immediately prior to the scheduled arrest, one of the investigators had contacted me to say, “We’re going to arrest him. Please return to Japan immediately.” So I was preparing to come back when I received another call from the investigator. Even now, I have vivid recollections of this call: “He just passed right in front of me, but I received orders from above to not make the arrest,” “I’m going to have to leave the investigation.”
Why did this happen? Surprisingly, the then-Chief Detective had ordered the arrest to be called off. In an interview with Shukan Shincho, this Chief Detective admitted that he had “given orders to cancel the arrest.”
Japanese laws do not protect us. The investigation agency has the authority to suppress its own arrest warrants. I will never forget the sense of helplessness I felt that day.
After the incident at the airport, the police sent criminal papers to Mr. Yamaguchi on charges of incapacitated rape. But on August 2, 2016, the prosecution decided to drop charges against Mr. Yamaguchi due to insufficient suspicion. This process took over 1 year and 4 months. The investigations revealed evidence of me being dragged into the hotel through testimonies from the taxi driver and the hotel bellman, as well as footage from the security camera. DNA test results also provided additional evidence. I could not accept the case being dropped, and conducted my own inquiries. And today, I finally made an appeal to the Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution.
I want to ask a question to all people living in Japan. Are we really going to continue to let this happen?
For the past two years, I often wondered why I was still alive. The act of rape killed me from the inside. Rape is murder of the soul. Only my body was left, and I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I had become a shell.
After the incident, I concentrated on seeking the truth as a journalist. I had no other choice. I felt like I would be mentally crushed if I considered myself a victim. Focusing on work was a way for me to protect myself.
I then came across a photo documentary of rape victims and their families by Mary F. Calvert in a World Press Photo exhibit. In the exhibit, there was a diary of a woman who had been raped. In this diary, there was a drawing of wrist cutting, accompanied by a message that said, “If only it was this easy.” In the end, this woman killed herself.
I understand this woman’s pain. She doesn’t exist in this world anymore, but I witnessed those photos and received her message. And this is what I thought: “I have to reveal the horror of rape and the enormous impact it has on the victim’s life.”
Becoming a rape victim myself made me realized just how small our voices are, and how difficult it is to have our voices heard in society. At the same time, I recognized the need to face this issue as a journalist. If I hadn’t been a journalist, I may have given up. I know there are countless women who have gone through the same experience, leaving them hurt and crushed. I know that, both in the past and still today, many of these women have given up.
How many media outlets have published this story? When I saw Mr. Yamaguchi repeatedly broadcasting his side of the story through his powerful connections, I couldn’t breathe. Where is the freedom of speech in this country? What are the laws and media trying to protect, and from whom? That is the question I want to ask.
I have travelled to over 60 countries, and have been asked if I have ever been in a dangerous situation. My travels have included interviewing the guerrilla in Columbia, going to the cocaine jungle in Peru, and other areas that would be considered dangerous. But I am sad to say that the only time I actually encountered real danger was in Japan, my homeland, which is considered a safe country. I wholeheartedly wish that no one else has to experience what I went through.
This could happen to you, your family, your friends – it could happen to anyone. If we remain silent and ignore this opportunity to change the legal and investigation systems, each and every one of us will be approving these crimes to continue.
That is all from me. Once again, thank you for your time.
Chronological order of events:
April 3, 2015 Met Mr. Yamaguchi
20:00 Entered kushiyaki restaurant
21:40 Entered sushi restaurant
April 4, 2015 5:00 Woke up in pain and realized that I had been raped. Memory
lost half way in sushi restaurant
April 9, 2015 Consulted Harajuku Police Station
April 11, 2015 Interview with lieutenant from Takanawa Police Station
(currently at Metropolitan Police Headquarters) at Harajuku
April 15, 2015 Watched security camera footage with aforementioned
lieutenant at Sheraton Miyako Hotel
April 30, 2015 Filed criminal complaint at Takanawa Police Station
Beginning of June 2015 Collected evidence such as: testimony from taxi driver,
testimony from hotel bellman, investigation results from DNA
sample collected from underwear. Arrest warrant issued. (Due
to the possibility of the rape being filmed, confiscation of Mr.
Yamaguchi’s computer was also a requirement)
June 4, 2015 Informed about the scheduled arrest of the accused upon his
return to Japan at Narita Airport; requested to return from
June 8, 2015 Informed by lieutenant that he had gone to the airport, but that
the arrest had been cancelled due to orders from above. Also
informed that the lieutenant had been relieved from this case.
Subsequently, the case was transferred from the Takanawa
Police Station to the First Section of the Metropolitan Police
August 26, 2015 Criminal papers sent to Mr. Yamaguchi
October 2015 My first interview with prosecutor
January 2016 Mr. Yamaguchi’s interview with prosecutor
June 2016 My second interview with prosecutor
July 22, 2016 Charges dropped against Mr. Yamaguchi
June 12, 2017
政党をナチスになぞらえるのは最も安易な政治批判とされているが、 安倍政権とナチスの共通点を見て見ぬふりすることは日に日に難しくなってきている。安倍政権がナチスへの敬意を公言しているからなおさらだ。 ナチスと戦前軍国独裁主義への異様な憧憬は政権発足当初から確かにそこにあった。
(この記事はThe Daily Beastの英文記事に基づいて書かれ、趣旨翻訳）。
May 30, 2017
A note from the editor:
Criticism is caring.
If you don’t address social problems or recognise they exist, nothing changes. I love Japan and many Japanese people are hard-working, honest, and polite. That doesn’t mean the society doesn’t have problems, such as child poverty, gender inequality, discrimination against: the handicapped, women, foreigners, especially Korean Japanese—powerful organised crime, nuclear dangers, staggering injustice in the legal system, repression of the free press, sexual assault on women with impunity for many assailants, rampant labor exploitation, death by overwork, and political corruption. Ignoring the problems doesn’t make them better. If you are offended by that, rethink your love of Japan.
The Japanese government has stated: “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are born free and have the right to live with dignity. Many people in the world, however, are not able to enjoy their rights. The United Nations has thus engaged itself in activities to improve human rights situations. Japan strongly supports UN activities in the human rights field, believing that all human rights are universal”
Is it unfair to expect Japan to live up to its promises?
The argument that “It’s worse in XXX (China,North Korea, US) so it’s okay to have XXX (sexism/racism/fascism/wage slavery/death by overwork) in Japan” is silly. It’s like the accused in a murder trail arguing, “I should be declared innocent because I only killed one person in the robbery but my partner killed three.” Some things are never okay. Whataboutism is the last resort of the intellectually dishonest weasel. (Sorry kids).
I don’t think that the work we do is shouting to the wind. Every effort matters. Sometimes sarcasm is an effective tool. We try to be polite in our response to the comments but rudeness is sometimes met with rudeness. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり
Does any of our work make a difference? Yes.
Actually, in my time as a reporter, me being “Jake Adelstein”, on editing duty today–criticism of huge problems in Japan, via articles that I have written and written with others, resulted in better laws against human trafficking, comprehensive measures to deal with dioxin pollution, and the Japanese government recently admitting that there is a huge problem with exploitation of underage girls that needs to be dealt with.
I and many of the writers on this blog who live in Japan, love this country, and loving a country doesn’t mean remaining a silent; it means speaking up about what is wrong, and correcting it. The effort doesn’t always work but sometimes it yields results. And people who can’t see any fault or social problems in their country or refuse to do anything about it or just as complicit in the rise “dark corporations,” greedy nationalists, death by overwork, exploitive enterprises, corrupt politicians, and the nuclear industrial complex that have done so much harm to the nation. For decades many warned of the dangers that TEPCO and its poorly managed nuclear power plants held. They were ignored. It doesn’t make them any less correct.
The battle to protect human rights, worker rights, equal rights, the environment, democracy, the public right to know, justice, gender equality and to fight poverty and end corruption are important struggles. All over the world. Japan is no exception.
I’m a Soto Zen Buddhist priest in training, which is a part of Japanese culture–surprise! I wouldn’t argue the metaphysics of Buddhism are true, but there are universal truths and there is a motto that I have as an editor and journalist and try to keep in my own personal life. Pardon the idealism but I believe this creed applies everywhere in the world.
So below is a modified version of our editorial policy, adapted from the Dhammapada (法句経）. Thank you for your consideration.
Jake Adelstein, Japan Subculture Research Center, editor in chief
Conquer anger with compassion.
Conquer evil with goodness.
Conquer trolls with humour & sarcasm
Conquer ignorance with knowledge
Conquer stinginess with generosity.
Conquer lies with truth
May 28, 2017
The current Japanese government put out a comic book encouraging their platform for revising Japan’s “Peace Constitution” but beneath the cuteness is a return to Japanese pre-war fascist ideology. This is a parody version of one scene from the actual manga.
May 24, 2017
Japan is getting serious about gender equality—and there were absolutely no bribes paid by Japan to win the right to host the 2020 Olympics—and the nuclear disaster at Fukushima is under control. Decide for yourself which of these three statements is the most untrue.
Womenomics was touted by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as his progressive policy to elevate the status of women in what is still a very sexist and unequal society, where women are far from being empowered. The Global Gender Gap report published last year noted that Mr. Abe and the LDP’s pledge to bridge the gender divide resulted in actually widening the gulf, with Nippon sliding down a few notches to 111th in terms of world gender equality.
It’s hard to see women in Japan being “empowered” when they can be sexually assaulted with near impunity. The odds that their assailant will be arrested, or prosecuted are low–less than a coin toss. And if he is actually prosecuted–he can sometimes walk free, with no jail time and no criminal record, by paying damages and saying, “I’m sorry.” It’s a situation that the Abe administration could have changed but neglected to do so, tabling newly revised criminal codes to instead focus on passing a conspiracy bill that the United Nations warns could erode civil liberties.
Of course, some would argue that “womenomics” have never been about elevating the status of women in Japan—it’s always been about keeping Japanese business thriving and hopefully encouraging woman to work—and breed. Of course, pregnancy in the workplace often is greeted with bullying from all sides. Abe’s vision of Womenomics has certainly never been about improving the lives of Japan’s single mothers, 50% of whom live in poverty. In fact, other than talking about “shining women–it’s not clear exactly what he wants for Japan’s future potential birthing machines.*
The current Minister of Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, is of course, also a man, and also in charge of improving Japan’s birthrate. Do we need to say more?
Yes, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe and the LDP are gungho about Gender Equality. Meet Katsunobu Kato, his home page will convince you.
Recently, Bloomberg published an interview with Democratic Party leader Renho, in which she pointed out the obvious, Womenomics is all talk and no walk.
“They should be ashamed to use the word ‘Womenomics’,” Democratic Party leader Renho, the 49-year-old mother of twins, said in an interview in Tokyo late Thursday when asked about the term Abe often uses to describe his efforts. “It’s an embarrassment.”
Abe had vowed to eliminate waiting lists for childcare in a bid to draw more women into the workforce to make up for Japan’s shrinking population. He also sought to have women take 30 percent of management positions in all fields by 2020.
On both goals he’s falling well short: Japan was 111th in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap ranking for 2016, down 10 places on the previous year.
“About 80 percent of those who take childcare leave are women, and if they’re forced to wait for daycare, that means unemployment,” Renho said. “You either get demoted or you give up on work. What’s womenomics about if women are being forced to make such sad choices?”
For the rest of the article, go to
Abe’s Policies Failing Women, Japan Opposition Chief Says
*Reference to women as “birthing machines” is sarcasm. We know that the LDP also thinks of women as much more than that–as potential nurses for the elderly, expert green tea brewers for the office, and caretakers of the children that they should be giving birth to right now for the greater prosperity of Japan.
May 23, 2017
Reviving Japan’s Imperial glory and rewriting history to exorcise Japan’s war atrocities has always been an Abe obsession. But teaching ‘Mein Kampf’ in the schools? Modelling a new Japanese constitution after the Nazis? Japan joins the roster of threatened democracies.
The recent article in The Daily Beast opens as follows: Imagine a world in which the Nazis and Imperial Japan won the second world war—that’s the premise of the critically acclaimed TV series The Man In The High Castle, which is science fiction. But as a matter of fact, the grandson of a war criminal, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, seems intent on turning that dark fantasy into something more like a reality TV show. The premiere is scheduled for 2020, and he’s drawing on some classics for the scenario: Mein Kampf recently was approved for Japanese classrooms, and the suggestively titled Hitler’s Election Strategy is popular with some members of the Abe Cabinet.
…..In the summer of 2013, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, famous for his verbal gaffes declared in a speech to his political supporters, “Germany’s Weimar Constitution was changed into the Nazi Constitution before anyone knew. It was changed before anyone else noticed. Why don’t we learn from that method?”
Two of Abe’s Cabinet appointees were associated with Japan’s Nazi Party and several of his comrades wrote laudatory blurbs for a book called Hitler’s Election Strategy, published in 1994, and written by a member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The book was banned after international criticism.
Comparisons with the Nazis are hard to brush off if your Cabinet members are looking up to them as role models…..
For the whole article please go read this below. Under the link we will be posting a few more things to consider, mostly in Japanese
Japan: Shinzo Abe’s Government Has a Thing About Hitler. It Likes Him.
Comments are welcome, trolling not so much.
If you’d like you understand how the nazis rose to power, the following article by Peter Ross Range is excellent. How Hitler Seized Power and Shocked His Opposition.
Hitler did exactly what he said he would do. And Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Vice Prime Minister are doing exactly what they said they would do, change the constitution just like the Nazis did. And create the Imperial Japan that once ruled over the people without any democratic restraints or worries about “human rights”.
But Hitler surprised everyone by doing exactly what he had been preaching for more than a decade: turning Germany into an ethnically pure, nationalistically-driven economic machine for making Germany great again. And he thought he could do it fast.For that, Hitler had Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels. In 1933, they were not yet the monsters of history that they later became. But they were ambitious political operatives with a radical agenda and a charismatic leader. They acted with speed and force.The Abe Government Borrows From The Nazi Party↙
Here would be the modern day Japan rewrite of Mr. Range’s article:
But Abe surprised everyone by doing exactly what he had been preaching for many years: turning Japan into a Japanese first, Shinto-worshipping, Imperial and nationalistically-driven economic machine for making Japan great again. And he thought he could do it fast. For that, Abe had Cabinet Minister Suga, the right-wing Shinto cult, Nippon Kaigi, and The Yomiuri Shimbun and a timid press core. In 2012, they were not yet the monsters of history that they later became. But they were ambitious political operatives with a radical agenda and a charismatic leader. They acted with speed and force.
Below is a chart in Japanese of ways in which the LDP and Prime Minister Abe have stolen from the Nazi playbook. It’s not much of a surprise but the similarities are striking. Perhaps because the LDP really did learn from Hitler’s Election Strategy, a book written in 1994 by an LDP member, and blurbed with great praise by several past and present members of Prime Minister Abe’s Cabinet at the time it came out.
The Abe administration has several members who penned blurbs for “Hitler’s Election Strategy”. Abe also seems to be aping the Nazi political tactics.
Here are the key things Hitler did to consolidate power, as noted by, Mr. Range.
—let loose the police against Jews and Communists to a degree never seen before;
—won emergency powers to govern by decree following the incredibly well-timed February 27 arson against the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building;
—begun the shutdown of dissent and diversity in German publishing and culture through a policy of Gleichschaltung, or forcing everybody onto the same page.
And here is what Prime Minister Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party are attempting to and have done
—let loose the police against dissenters, critics, and protests to a degree never seen before with the passing of the Conspiracy Laws this week (May 2017)
—win emergency powers to govern by decree in their new constitution as soon as they can find a suitable emergency (by 2020)
—continue the shutdown of dissent and diversity in Japan publishing and culture through a policy of Gleichschaltung, or forcing everybody onto the same page, passing a Special Secrets Act, and gradually crushing press freedom. (Japan was ranked #11 in the World Press Freedom Index in 2011 before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power. It is now #72).
Wiser men then myself said a few years ago that the much vaunted Abenomics was just a sexy smokescreen for Abe’s nationalist agenda–and like every great big lie, everyone has fallen for it. While the investors and true-believers of the world wait for the 4th arrow that will never come, Prime Minister Abe and his cronies are quietly getting Japan prepared for their vision of the 4th Reich.
Maybe it will be good for the economy.
The belligerent attitude of the Abe government to the United Nations resembles Imperial Japan ignoring international criticism for their actions in China.
May 20, 2017
Goya “Saturn Devouring His Son”
Amidst the political turmoil and economic recession Japan has found itself in the recent years, how poor parenting takes a toll on the lives of the most vulnerable is often the last thing on people’s minds.
The most recent (2012) Ministry of Health and Labor’s reports showed that 16.3%, roughly 1 in 6 children in Japan live in relative poverty, belonging to a household that has less than half of the national average income, ranking 4th out of the 30 OECD countries. The numbers correlate with the rapidly multiplying number of child abuse cases. When the Ministry of Health and Labor started their investigation for a better grasp on the issue in 1990, the number of child abuse consultations to Child Consultation Centers were 1101 and it has been on the rise ever since, peaking at 103,260 cases in the most recent reports of 2015. The number of consultations alone have gone up 100 times in 25 years.
From April 2014 to March 2015, the number of victims who died as a result of abuse was 44, and the number of deaths by forced suicide was 27, a total of 71 victims. Approximately every 5 days a child dies of abuse somewhere in Japan. Increasing reports in the media on the cruel fates of children has raised national concern on the matter.
Isshow Con a non-fiction writer is compiling a book 『日本一醜い親への手紙』(Letters to The Most Repulsive Parent in Japan). The word “醜い” (minikui) in the title is often used to describe physical ugliness but is also used to depict shameful dishonorable acts. The book will consist of 100 letters written by child abuse survivors to their abusers ie., parents or guardians, to better illustrate the realities of life during abuse and the aftermath. His aim is to bring attention to the issue and also highlight the lack of support the government provides in the victims’ physical and mental recovery and social integration in life after abuse. This was an issue raised as a warning to the Japanese government in the 2010 report by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and yet no significant progress has been made.
Con is calling for submissions for letters and also raising funds for the publication of the book (four million yen) through crowdfunding. Through the funds raised here, every letter submission will be met with an honorarium of 10,000 yen, in hopes that the money could be used by the victims to provide themselves a transportation to a shelter or to pay for a counselor which may lead to reports being made on their behalf. The donors will receive a book upon its completion this fall.
In a society where press freedom is stagnating and constitutional revision is pushed forward everyday and Japan appears to be becoming an increasingly controlled society, children’s rights will mostly likely be on of the first things to go and the issue of child abuse will take a back seat despite international pressure. Books like these are one of the few ways in which children in Japan with little resources will be able to raise their voices and be heard. Support and spread the word.
To buy this book :http://letters-to-parents.blogspot.jp/2017/02/blog-post_1.html
*This book is an updated version of the same title published in 1997, the rights to publish this overseas is available for purchase on a first come first serve basis. For more information : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fj2-434FzxA
May 19, 2017
Editor’s note: the following article contains graphic descriptions of sexual activity. If you’re easily offended or under 18, please cease reading this article and read this one instead.
Have you ever wondered what is happening in Tokyo at night? And what is the meaning of “Happening Bar”? Have you ever been curious what all the fun is about? Why do people from all over the world come to Tokyo for the supposedly funky and fetish sort of fun and some the other ‘f’ words?
The things that happen at happening bars in Japan have been happening here for centuries.
Well, I have… This would come as a shock to people other than close friends to see me saying this. People are always quick to judge. They could never see it from my outer appearances. What can I say? Don’t judge a book by its cover,…unless it’s Fifty Shades of Grey. And as many people say, I am one of the most hard working, self-improving, disciplined person you may ever know. But I am also very active, out-going, and I value experience, any kind of experience. This is the one I felt I lacked, even after so many years in Japan.
This year’s golden week, instead of the usual grand plans to travel to international locations, I decided to stay in Tokyo and relax. And of course, convince my partner to visit one of Tokyo’s happening bars to satisfy one of my many curiosities. Happening bars (ハプニングバー。。。。or the other カップル喫茶 (couple coffeeshops)。。。）
I am not one for swinging; loyalty is my strong suit in a relationship but I have to admit that the idea of having kinky sex in front of a crowd turns me on.
It was around 10:07pm at night when we left our place. We hailed the first cab we saw and told the driver the address of one of the bars we found online. It took around 15 minutes to get there. I felt a little uncomfortable as we were reaching the destination, since the driver started to get so perplexed about where we wanted to go in the midst of love hotels.
We walked to the door of the club. There were security cameras and the door was securely shut. Not a sound came out of the door. If I didn’t know it, I would never have guessed that there would be any action going on inside. There was an inter-phone by the door. I rang it. A male voice answered, ‘Are you a member?’
I said no. He then asked if we had IDs, and as soon as we confirmed that we did, the door opened into a small reception area where we were then asked to fill in our information with a proven photo ID. The male receptionist first checked that both of us can speak Japanese as the club does not allow any foreigner in who do not understand the language. We paid the registration fee and entrance fee in cash (as it was cash only). As a couple, a man pays 7,000 yen and a woman pays 2,000 yen registration fee. The entrance fee for both of us together was 8,000 yen. After some explanation of rules such as members are forbidden from asking for contact information of other members and couple members are not allowed to leave with anyone else or interact with single females in the club, he then gave us green wristbands. Green represents couple members, blue represents single males, and pink represents single females. Once all this was done, the other door opened.
A girl in a short blond wig greeted us. She was wearing some kimono-like robe and had distinctive orange eyelashes. She wasn’t a kind of girl I had imagined would be working as a happening bar’s staff. She had a kind face and seemed like a very helpful person. I could imagine her working as a barista in a quiet cafe even with her blond wig and orange lashes. She asked us to take our shoes off and put them in lockers. We were then asked to put away our stuff in another locker including all our phones and valuables. In the same floor, there were rest areas for people to just take a break, drink some water, or call work or home. I started seeing a few men in female’s night gowns, some with their penises hanging out. I looked at my partner and smiled as I knew that this would probably not be anywhere near my imagination.
The staff took us to the next floor. This floor was very dark with some fluorescent lights they use in clubs so we could see our wristbands glowing and my white dress shining in the dark. There was a small reception table where a pantless male staff in a single blue shirt and red tie asked us to show our wristbands to a flashlight machine. The first thing I heard was some sounds of something similar to…cats in heat. Then, as I turned to the left and saw at least four pair of male and females sitting together in a corner, I realized that that was where the sound came from — not the 4am kittens on the roof, but it was the moaning of females in pleasure and some males getting blowjobs. Most people were in costumes such as high school girls with their breasts showing, or as what seemed to be a common attire in this place, men were mostly in tight onesies.
Then, there was a caged corner, a kinbaku (緊縛）or shibari （縛り）corner — which supposedly is the Japanese art of rope tying, originally practiced in order to prevent prisoners from escaping, but now part of BDSM fetish sex. Nowadays, artists create art forms of rope tying, making it look either erotic or beautiful with complex geometrical patterns. This is also the world I was introduced to a year ago from witnessing my partner’s shibari artist friend tying a model up for a very interesting eye-opening photoshoot. There were many patterns already tied on several mannequins with instructions and many whips and chains hanging in the same caged area. At this moment, the staff stressed another important rule of “no drinking and roping’” even if you do know how to properly tie people up, since you can seriously injure someone if you’re not focussed. Sex friends don’t let sex friends tie up friends drunk. There was also a single board on the wall, where you could tie one person to it, by handcuffing their wrists and ankles. The area was as kinky as I wanted it to be.
As I turned to the other corner, I saw the ‘play rooms’. According to the staff, there are some couple only rooms where one or more couples could enter and have sex.
Couples are also allowed to watch or touch other couples but only with permission. Some are mixed rooms for either couples or single males or females members. But we were warned that as a couple, we are to stick together at all times except when we go to the bathroom and we are not allowed to communicate with other single females. “That’s great,” I thought. I am very devoted and supportive as a partner but also can be a jealous, possessive and an unforgiving one. I have always been and I doubt I’ll change much. The staff continued to explain that the closed curtain meant there is ‘a happening’ but we were allowed to peak as much as we’d like without being afraid we’d sustain a serious case of eye stye.
Then, we were led to the last floor. This one was a bar full of people. The staff asked what we wanted for drinks as it was an ‘all you can drink’ system. My partner ordered Malibu coke. I asked for the same thing saying ‘同じでお願いします’ (onaji de onegaishimasu) but apparently she misheard ‘onaji’ for ‘orenji’ (オレンジ = orange). So I got a glass of orange juice—orange juice just as orange as her eyelashes which was…just the right drink for a sex club. As soon as we sat down, the staff left us alone.
There room was full of people dressing in night gowns, a lot of men, again, in female lingerie with some of their brownish avocado like private parts showing. A few guys raised their glasses to me when they thought my partner wasn’t looking. A few winked but stopped after seeing my green wristband. A few simply stared, probably wondering who I was as I was the only one in an office appropriate white dress with a very foreign looking partner next to me. I closed my eyes for a moment and imagined whether I would ever come alone and consider having sex with one of the guys there. My thoughts, even if I died twice and was holding on to my last dearest life, it would probably still be a no.
A few minutes after, the master of the place, a tough but sharp and reliable looking guy in his mid 50s came in. Beside him was a beautifully pregnant staff member in her underwear with see-through lingerie covering her body. They announced a Bingo game. Everyone started to gather around from every floor. We were probably the only foreigners I could see that night. I sat next to a bare chested guy in leopard printed satin robe who kept leaning on me. The Bingo game started. They called the numbers out one by one and I punched in a lot of numbers on my bingo board. I had only one more to punch to win or in Japanese, ’リーチ’ (ree-chi) twice. A few had already won and were called to the front stage to draw a lottery containing their prize. They were asked about their names, their favorite sexual position, and one lady was asked to flash her boobs after about 10 seconds of ‘oppai oppai…’ (breast) roar. Apparently, she happily did so, but only to find out that she didn’t actually win after all. I felt the urge to escape the bingo area as I do not want to go up on stage and being asked questions at or having to come up with a good fake name on the spot. So I nudged my partner and we went straight for the playrooms.
We were the only ones in that floor besides the pant-less counter staff. We asked to use one of the couple only rooms and he gave us condoms–as using condoms is also one of the important rules of this club. The room we went in was very big, decorated by white sofa-liked materials all over the place. It was very clean with many boxes of tissue paper lying around. The staff closed the curtain and left us alone. Everyone was still at the Bingo game but we were ready to Bingo Bongo. Apparently, he was already as hard as freshly cooled lava rock and I was as wet as we could have asked for. We started having intense sex, trying a few different positions. As I was on the floor being penetrated from behind, I heard some noises from people who were probably peaking into the room or opening the curtain. That was certainly a huge arousal there. Soon, I turned and licked his balls and butthole while he was standing and we finished the whole ‘happening’ session in a beautiful manner. We were in a state of absolute bliss, our hormones pumping, an orgasmic glow on our faces. That was the highlight of the night and we were ready to go.
Now, I know what you probably are thinking. No weird orgy, no threesome, no chains, whips or blindfolds? In happening bars, all the aforementioned do not necessarily happen. Nobody is forced to do anything they do not want to do accept abiding by the club’s rules. We were curious, we explored, and we had fun in our own way. And in my not very humble eyes, I am proud to announce that we were the hottest couple in the entire club that night. We were sexy and we knew it (LOL). This night’s experience, for us, was the fun of not knowing what something is about and trying something new together, even in a fetish-y atmosphere–that was the appeal.
I checked the clock and it was 11:40pm. We got dressed, got our stuff from the locker room ,and rang the door bell from the inside. The same reception guy opened the automatic door and waved us goodbye as we were walking out the door.
So would I ever come back? The club has different events each night and I’d like to try a few more things in there, so…yes. But one thing for sure, next time, I would have to be a lot more drunk than a girl who just had a glass of orange juice in a sex club. My curiosity is partially satiated but I’m still thirsty for knowledge. Knowledge is power—or at least a powerful orgasm.
To be continued…?
Japan Subculture Research Center is proud to present a series of short stories, by our resident book reviewer and social commentator, Kaori Shoji, on the often tragically mismatched marriages of foreign men and Japanese women. If you see echoes of someone you know or yourself in this story, be rest assured that you’re a cliche—but take solace in the fact that misery is universal.
Note: Ms. Shoji should be credited for coining the word WAM (Western Anglo-Saxon Men) also (White American Men)–a more understandable term for the Charisma-man type of entitled self-important foreigners that once flooded these shores but now mostly live in Hong Kong, Beijing, or Singapore. Also, it should be noted that Ms. Shoji has always been an equal opportunity misanthrope, as evidenced in her book review entitled 21 Reasons Why Japanese Men Suck.
Without further ado, welcome to the first in the series…..
Smothered in Silicon Valley
We are on the patio of my parents’ house in Palo Alto – my wife Eriko and I, on a sunny Sunday morning in March. There’s a sharp nip in the air but no wind, and the lone cherry tree in my mother’s garden promises pink blossoms later in the month. Sunday brunches at this house has turned into a weekly ritual, ever since we left Tokyo for Northern California a year ago. When I tell that to people, and that I Iived in said Tokyo for 16 years before returning to the Land of the Free (note the irony in my voice), eyebrows go up. In some cases, mouths turn downward in a reverse arc, depending on the listener’s experiences or their image of Japan. (Pearl Harbor. It’s always Pearl Harbor.) I was 24 when I finished up my graduate studies at Cal Tech, and took off for a country I hardly knew. Cool Japan wasn’t yet a thing. Anime was for hard-core geeks. But I had read two novels of Haruki Murakami and decided that in some tortuously inexplicable way, I belonged in the Far Eastern capital.
“So how did you like that? Wasn’t it just very busy and expensive?” asked Tim, my supervisor during one of five interviews I had, in order to land the job at a tech company in Oakland. “Oh yeah,” I replied, with a self-deprecating chuckle – a mannerism I picked up from living in Japan. The Japanese are excessively modest, and self-deprecation with a laugh is a national pastime. “Seriously though, I learned a lot. Japan’s been good to me,” I added cautiously. What I really wanted to say was that I poured my whole youth into the experience. I made my bones. I fell in love, time and again. And if you really want to know, Tokyo is a lot cheaper than the San Francisco Bay Area. But all that would have been inappropriate in a job interview. Besides, Tim – who is laughingly WAM (White American Male) and whose trips abroad has been limited to London and Mexico City, couldn’t care less about my back story.
I stretch out on the deck chair. Behind my Oakley shades, my eyes are closed and I’m only half-listening to my wife Eriko converse with my mom about the new farmer’s market that went up near Safeway, 5 blocks from my parents’ place. I reflect that my brother and I grew up here, and the chair I’m sitting in has been around since my teens, and my mom is basically the same woman she’s been for the past 30 years.
Eriko is saying what she’s always saying. “It’s very expensive, everything is expensive. One daikon is 3 dollars! In Tokyo, I bought daikon for under 200 yen.” My mom clucks, and sighs that Palo Alto has gotten so expensive and crowded they are thinking of selling the house and moving. I let out an exasperated sigh. How can my parents move? Three years ago my dad’s name was struck off the faculty list at Stanford where he had taught American Literature for 30 years. They’re still paying mortgage on this house.
Mom and Dad are used to this 3-bedroom place with the 2-car garage, their friends and Safeway where the Mexican staff always helps my mom carry groceries to her car. If they moved, they couldn’t afford to buy, at least not in the Bay Area. The housing market is astronomical and prices on everything including water, have gone through the roof thanks to the protracted California drought. Young techies fresh out of coding boot camp are told off by their bosses that they can’t afford to live here, not even on a six-figure income. Right now, the median rent for San Francisco is something like 3500 dollars. The average monthly daycare cost for one pre-kindergarten child in the Bay Area is over 2000 dollars. (Eriko and I don’t have kids but that could change.) The Thai salad with quinoa I had for lunch the other day? Fucking 18 dollars.
“You’re much better off where you are and you know it,” I say to my mother. “Just don’t get a new car.” My parents are living off their savings and what money Dad gets from tutoring jobs. An awkward hush settles over the patio like a foul odor and my mom purposefully looks in another direction.
As soon as the talk turned to money, my dad shuts down like an old, clunky computer. He gazes at the sky with his coffee mug cupped in both hands and I feel a sting of real sadness. I know what my father is thinking, he’s thinking that he’s fine, that this is all good. But it could be better and as a WAM with a Ph.d and his Stanford career, he should have more. A better car than his 10-year old Honda, a nicer home, all the latest gadgets, vacations, dinners out with my mom and their friends. A glittering Facebook update. They’ve never even been to French Laundry though that’s been on my mom’s wish list for a decade.
Eriko gets up and goes inside the house, undoubtedly to the kitchen. I watch her retreating figure with…what is it, boredom? I actually feel bored when I look at my wife of 6 years, though I tell myself it’s more like placidity, contentment. She herself is very comfortable in Oakland, and professes that she never wants to go back except for short vacations to her parents’ place. When we lived in Tokyo, life was much harder for Eriko. She cooked 2 meals a day, worked in an office and had a daily, two hour commute. She was also about 12 pounds thinner and seemed oh, so fragile. I’d give her a hug and feel her small rib cage under my big hands, her little breasts and narrow hips. We were both in our mid-30s when we met but she looked to me like a girl in college. Now I get comments everyday from people who have met my wife about how pretty, how slender, what a good cook, considerate, polite, supportive, accomplished…Even Tim likes her, and I’m not sure if he’s about to make some moves on her, the bastard.
The truth is, Japanese women are amazing. Half the time I spent in Japan was about chasing them down, chatting them up in my appalling Japanese and getting them in the sack as soon as humanly possible. The other half was spent bragging about my astonishing success rate to expat bros. But then it was like that for most white men anyway, unless they were spectacularly ugly or had hygiene problems, and even then they never had much trouble finding sex. Life in Japan frequently turns white men into sexist, racist, male chauvinist assholes, without our being aware of it. I call it the Japan Creep. I have said things to Japanese women that I would never say to a white American female. I took it for granted that they were only too happy to do things for me, including schoolgirl cosplay during sex (don’t judge me) and sushi dinners on their tabs. No Japanese woman I slept with seemed to resent any of that. They in turn seemed to take it for granted that they should please American men because…well if it wasn’t for us and our democracy, they’d still be wearing raggedy kimonos, they couldn’t eat at Shake Shack and they’d be forced into god-awful marriages with god-awful Japanese men, whose international popularity rates just a notch above Nigerian, according to some poll I read once. Right? I mean, COME ON.
But a couple of years after turning 30, I realized that the classiest and most well-bred of Japanese women rarely have anything to do with the average white man apart from gracious socializing. To them, we were loud, stupid and ill-mannered. And the pool of casual sex was slowly but surely, drying up. It just wasn’t as fun anymore and I felt less inclined to spew the same old tales to the same old bros, who suddenly seemed obnoxious beyond words.
And then I met Eriko at my local gym. She asked me with a shy smile if I knew how to work the elliptical, and I could tell she was trying hard to carry out our conversation in correct English. I was so touched that a sob caught in my throat. It hit me that I didn’t want to date anymore. I wanted a Japanese wife – to iron my shirts and cook my meals and greet me with a smile every time I came home from work. Japanese men had that for more than a millenia, so why couldn’t I, I mean we – all of us American jerks? Three months later, I proposed and Eriko said yes, on condition that we have the wedding in Hawaii with just our families and closest friends because we were both in our mid-30s and “too old” for a big ceremony in Tokyo. Eriko adored Hawaii. Her girlfriends adored Hawaii. Most Japanese women do.
It’s regrettable to say but Japanese women lose some of their flavor once they leave Japan. It’s only been a year but Eriko has assimilated so completely to American suburbia she may as well call herself Ellen. Not that she’s become part of the white community of Oakland. She bounces inside a comfortable bubble consisting of our house, her car (a Toyota Corolla) and a close-knit circle of Japanese housewife friends. She’s with these women all the time, texts them incessantly to cook Japanese dishes together and schedule jogs around the neighborhood. Now Eriko’s ribcage no longer feels like it might break if I squeeze too hard. She no longer smiles in silence, but laughs out loud. Her hair and skin – once moist with Asian humidity, is drier, tougher. Her neck is thicker, connecting to shoulders that suddenly seem broad and strong. I’m happy that she’s happy here. But inside a secret, inner recess somewhere in my soul, I feel like I’m being quietly smothered.
Before marriage and Eriko, I lived the Tokyo bachelor’s life in a place called Zoshigaya. The area had several temples and a big shrine, with a rickety candy shop that’s been around since the mid 18th century. My abode was on the third floor of an old apartment building, standing on a narrow street that led to the shrine. Two fairly spacious rooms facing southeast, and a wrap-around veranda for a cool, 790 a month. (Our current 2 bedroom house in Oakland is 2850, which everyone assures me is an absolute steal.) Most of the time, I complained. I whined about the heat and humidity in summer, the whipping cold winds in winter. I hated the commute to work, and the subway cars with announcements in three languages (Japanese, English and Chinese) that came on before each and every stop. I cringed every time I heard a salariman cough or talk too loudly, because most Japanese men have really ugly voices.
I longed for sunny California, and the sight of white womens’ tanned legs stretching out of denim shorts, strolling the malls on a Friday afternoon. California Dreamin’. It had developed into a definite thing.
After my 40th birthday and 5 years after my marriage, I was done with Tokyo. I got my Japanese wife so had no further use for Japan, like a mercenary with his loot looking for a fast exit. I wanted to go home where there were no puddles on the sidewalks. Never did I want to stand in a crowded train again, chest to chest with a salariman. I wanted to back my own car our of my own garage, and drive my ass over to Crossfit classes. I would work on my abs. Binge watch on Netflix USA. And I would finally get to watch Superbowl with my dad. Besides, Eriko made it clear, during our numerous discussions about crossing the Pacific, that if she had wanted to stay in Japan she would have looked for a Japanese husband. “I want to go away to California” she said. “I want to change my life.” That clinched it. I applied to job openings in 5 mid-sized tech companies in and around the Bay Area, and landed one after 2 months of meetings and interviews.
Not surprisingly (for isn’t that how things work out?) I regretted the move to Nor Cal almost immediately. I missed Tokyo’s tiny alleyways, the narrow, labyrinthine streets. Most of all, I missed the complex texture of things like linen shirts and tatami mats, women’s arms, the taste of Japanese citrus. I missed the air, sticky with fumes and redolent of centuries of history. I missed the rain and how the thick, gray clouds seemed to hold the city in an unclenched fist. Sixteen years in Tokyo had spoiled me in many ways but I didn’t bargain for an annoyance – an irritation really – for the blithely ignorant, have-it-all American lifestyle. I had dreams of walking down an alley, turning the corner and seeing a cat bound across the pathway and my heart will be filled with gratitude, before I woke up to relentless sunshine streaming through the window. No fault of Nor Cal and certainly no fault of Eriko. It was me. Too far away, too long. Adjustment was going to take some time.
“Hey Eri,” I call out. “We need more potato salad!” “Okay!” I hear her yell cheerfully and I feel my mother cast an ironic glance in my direction. She doesn’t like it that my wife is the one doing the chores while her son sits around like a big galoot. On the other hand, I could see that she thinks it’s maybe okay – about 70% okay – because Eriko is an Asian. If I had married a white woman, it would be different. I would probably go into the kitchen with her and help her prep the salad. And our conversation on the patio would be more…lively? In-depth? Friendly but a little controversial? I ponder these things as Eriko emerges with a large wooden bowl. “My special potato salad,” she beams.
And my dad rouses himself from his torpor. “Did I hear potato salad? You have an incredible wife, you know that,” he says to me. “Of course I do. That’s a given,” I reply. And then we all gather around the table to help ourselves.