Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Henn na Hoteru (Robot Hotel in Nagasaki)

Japan has a new hotel operated almost entirely by robots 

Sorry, I can't find a way to access the embedding code, so the video on your screen is probably being blocked by the "Blog Archive" and "About Me" sections.  To get those out of view, please click at the lower right-hand corner for full screen.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Why Asia is still fighting over World War II

To be honest, it's getting harder to talk with people about Japan and World War II.  A big part of it is that students these days aren't being taught the same things that they were a decade ago, regarding WWII.  It helps that some well-known names are speaking out; a good example would be recent comments made by Miyazaki Hayao (legendary animator, Oscar winner, and creator of Ghibli studios) about his country's role in that war over a half-century ago:

 Anyway, a lot of articles have been printed recently about this sensitive topic, as the anniversary of the war's end is nearing.  I haven't felt very motivated in passing them along because it felt somewhat futile, but I feel that this article is pretty good.


Why Asia is still fighting over World War II

Debates over the sincerity of Japan's contrition for aggression 70 years ago fray ties with South Korea and China – and ensnare the United States.

The day had dawned clear and sunny on Aug. 6, 1945. Sunao Tsuboi, an engineering student at Hiroshima University, was hurrying to class after quickly downing a bowl of porridge and slurping some seaweed soup at a roadside breakfast shack.

Okinawa had fallen to American troops, but Mr. Tsuboi doubted that Japan’s defeat was imminent. “I firmly believed the emperor was God, and I was ready to die for him,” he says.

Suddenly the young man was swept off his feet and hurled 30 feet by a deafening blast – the fury from the first use of an atomic bomb in history.

“Before I hid my face in my hands I saw a brilliant rosy-silver flash of light,” he recalls. He was briefly knocked out. “Then I found myself lying on the sidewalk, burned from head to toe. I couldn’t see anything except for smoke and dust.”

Tsuboi staggered around in a daze. Nobody helped him, and he finally collapsed. Lying prostrate, he found a small piece of rubble and used it to scrawl a last message in the dust that coated the ground so thickly: “Tsuboi died here.”

He didn’t die. A group of soldiers picked him up and took him to a hospital. But to this day Tsuboi bears the marks of his ordeal – a scarred forehead and a mutilated ear.

He still does not know how he survived. But his near-death experience led Tsuboi, who just celebrated his 90th birthday, to spend much of the past 70 years “reflecting on how humans might make peace,” he says.

The memorial to those killed in Hiroshima is an essential reminder. But “Japan has always talked about its own suffering” and emphasized its victimhood, Tsuboi says. “There should be more memorials to those who suffered from Japanese aggression.”

Seventy years after the end of the war in the Pacific, Japan’s neighbors say they are still waiting for an apology they can believe is a sincere expression of Japan’s national feeling about the old Imperial Army’s invasions and the atrocities it committed. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is showing no signs he is ready to express the type of contrition that some of his predecessors have voiced in the past. The ramifications of this are now reverberating around the globe.

What might seem to much of the world like arcane disputes over incidents in 20th-century history are threatening Asia’s future and complicating the big power rivalry between the United States and China. They could strengthen Beijing’s standing in the region at the expense of Washington’s clout. They have poisoned relations between the publics and governments of America’s two closest Asian allies, Japan and South Korea, to the point where their leaders cannot meet.

And as Tokyo – emerging from a seven-decade cocoon of pacifism – strives to play a greater military role to support the US, its ambitions are spawning new concerns. Japan’s reluctance to face up to its past, former victims worry, means the country might return to its militarist ways, aggravating tensions with its neighbors.

“History is the core concern of Northeast Asian politics,” says Park Joon-woo, recently retired adviser to South Korean President Park Geun-hye. “And that will continue as long as Japanese leaders try to erase their history.”

“There is a lot of combustible material around, and Abe could make things pretty hot,” warns Thomas Berger, a professor at Boston University who has written a book about Japan’s postwar politics.
•     •     •
At the forefront of those demanding that Japan do more to atone for its wartime legacy are China and South Korea.

The Chinese still bristle at the Japanese occupation of their country’s eastern reaches. They are especially bitter over the “Rape of Nanking” in 1937-38, when Japanese troops captured the city now known as Nanjing, which was then the Chinese capital. Some 200,000 people were killed and tens of thousands of women raped by marauding soldiers, according to the judgment of an international war crimes court.

South Koreans still harbor painful memories from 35 years of Japanese colonial occupation. They have focused their resentment on the fate of “comfort women,” Korean women and girls forced to work as prostitutes in Japan’s wartime military brothels.

Past Japanese leaders have apologized dozens of times for their country’s behavior in terms varying from remorse and regret to sorrow and repentance. The clearest statement came 20 years ago, in 1995, when then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama acknowledged Tokyo’s history of “colonial rule and aggression” and offered his “heartfelt apology” for “these irrefutable facts of history.”

At the time, Japan’s neighbors accepted the apologies. When Japanese Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged publicly in 1993 that the Japanese Army had been involved in the forced recruitment of Korean sex slaves, “we were sure that was an expression of state policy that subsequent governments would continue to honor,” says Han Sung-joo, South Korea’s foreign minister at the time.

Recently, however, Japanese leaders have planted seeds of doubt about Tokyo’s sincerity. Most provocatively, in December 2013, Mr. Abe marked the first anniversary of his election by visiting the Yasukuni shrine, where Japan’s war dead – including more than 1,000 convicted war criminals – are commemorated. He had earlier infuriated the Chinese government by arguing in a parliamentary debate that “the definition of aggression has yet to be established in academia or in the international community,” suggesting that Japan had not really invaded China.

Bolstering regional suspicions that he is not genuinely repentant, the prime minister has taken no action against big-city mayors and political allies and appointees who have in recent years denied that the Nanjing Massacre ever happened, or said that the Imperial Army’s sex slave system was “necessary” or normal. Abe also expressed anger that McGraw Hill had not amended a passage about comfort women in one of its history books, as Japanese diplomats had pressed the US publishing company to do.

“Abe finds ways of signaling to his domestic audience” what he thinks, says Professor Berger, author of “War, Guilt, and World Politics After World War II,” and “nobody has any doubts where he stands.”
•     •     •
That stand, say people who know the prime minister, is based on a belief that to restore Japanese pride and unity of purpose – to which he would harness a more ambitious military role in the region – the country should restore a more positive view of history.

Nor has anyone in Japan forgotten that Abe is the grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, Japan’s wartime munitions minister who was detained for three years as a suspected “Class A” war criminal by the Allied powers but never indicted or tried. Later, as prime minister, Kishi sought to change the pacifist Constitution, much as Abe is doing now.

“Mr. Kishi thought we had fought a just war against America, and Abe is Kishi’s reincarnation,” says Hideaki Kase, head of the Tokyo branch of Nippon Kaigi, an influential revisionist lobbying group that venerates the imperial tradition and denies that Japanese troops committed any war crimes. Fourteen members of the current Japanese cabinet and a majority of parliament members are associated with the group.

The revisionist current runs strongly through Japan’s political class, many of whose members are still linked by family ties to prewar governments. It finds few adherents, though, among professional historians, or among the general public, where Abe’s popularity rests on his promises of economic recovery more than on his nationalism.

Rather, ordinary citizens suffer from a general ignorance of Japan’s colonial past that startles outsiders and worries some Japanese. Even Shinichi Kitaoka, the man heading the team of advisers Abe handpicked to help him draft a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, is concerned.

“Not only young people but also many other sections of Japanese society know too little about modern and contemporary history,” he lamented in a recent opinion piece published by the conservative daily Yomiuri Shimbun.

Such ignorance is encouraged by Japanese textbooks, published privately but subject to government approval. Of eight junior high school history textbooks approved this year, only one mentions comfort women. And the Education Ministry insisted on adding a caveat to that one, noting that “the current Japanese government has expressed its view that ‘no document directly proving so-called forcible recruitment by the military and authorities has been found.’ ”

That runs counter to the admission by Mr. Kono 22 years ago, points out Yoshifumi Tawara, who runs a textbook watchdog group. It also, he argues, betrays the cabinet secretary’s written pledge “never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history.”

Certainly no alternative views exist in the entrance hall to the museum honoring Japan’s war dead at Yasukuni, where a grand old locomotive stands proudly. An explanatory plaque tells visitors this was the first engine to travel the length of the Burma Railway. It says nothing about the estimated 100,000 slave laborers, including 12,000 Allied POWs alongside Chinese, Thai, and Burmese civilians, who died building the track. Nor does it mention the 32 Japanese overseers sentenced to death for war crimes because of the brutality they inflicted on the workers.
•     •     •
These sorts of omissions make it harder for Japanese citizens to understand just why their South Korean and Chinese neighbors might resent them. A tide of emotion is rising on all sides over territorial disputes: Japan holds islands in the East China Sea that Beijing claims, and South Korea occupies an island that Tokyo claims belongs to Japan.

These sovereignty disputes are inflaming the historical divisions, and the results are dramatic. A recent poll found that 73 percent of South Koreans have a negative view of Japan, and nearly two-thirds of them feel that Japan is a bigger military threat to the region than China is.

In Japan, a government poll at the end of last year found that 83 percent of Japanese have no friendly feelings for China, and 66 percent do not feel friendly toward South Korea.

Such widespread negativity “is not healthy,” says Yu Myung-hwan, a former South Korean foreign minister who has led a delegation of diplomats to both Abe and Ms. Park to convince them to meet. “Before that gets rooted in people’s mind-sets we have to change the atmosphere.”

Neither the Chinese nor the Korean governments are currently doing much to ease tensions, though. For months, the official Chinese media have been full of exhortations for Japan to “show a correct understanding of history.” In Beijing, the ruling Communist Party is planning an unprecedented military parade this year for Sept. 3, the date that China celebrates Japan’s surrender, playing to growing nationalist sentiment.

Such feelings feed into Chinese President Xi Jinping’s campaign for the “rejuvenation” of China under the rule of the party that helped liberate the country from the Japanese. It builds social and political cohesion, says Daqing Yang, who teaches international affairs at The George Washington University, especially after 25 years of “patriotic education” programs that have emphasized past Chinese suffering at the hands of foreign invaders and fueled anti-Japanese sentiment.

The depth of the animosities are evident at the Nanjing Massacre Museum, a somber edifice in black granite that every Chinese tourist visits. At the entrance stands a statue of a woman fleeing, a babe in her arms. “Run, the devils are coming,” reads the title, referring to approaching Japanese soldiers. A similar sculpture is called “Run away from the devils’ bloodbath.”

In South Korea, Park has seized on the issue of comfort women, responding to strong public sympathy for the 50 women still alive who have talked about their past as prostitutes in Japanese “comfort stations.” Each Wednesday at noon two of the survivors lead a demonstration across from the Japanese embassy, demanding justice. A bronze statue of a young comfort woman, an empty chair by her side to symbolize those who have died, also sits in mute reproach outside the embassy’s entrance.

Japanese and Korean diplomats have met eight times in recent months to try to hammer out a deal that would likely include Japanese apologies, reparation payments, and an acceptance of responsibility. Park has ruled out a summit with Abe until the issue is resolved. But the group has failed to reach an agreement that would satisfy the surviving comfort women without leaving Tokyo vulnerable to an avalanche of lawsuits.

“It’s not that China and Korea won’t let go of these issues,” insists Zhang Xianwen, a Chinese historian. “It’s that Japan has not sincerely recognized the historical issues and keeps changing its stance.”
 •     •     •
That has something to do with what happened in Japan after the war. In Germany, the Nazi Party was dissolved and no prominent Nazi ever played a role in politics again. In Japan, the US occupiers left the imperial system in place and many leading wartime figures played major roles in government well into the 1960s.

“The conservatives got off the hook fairly easily, so they lost an opportunity to repent more seriously,” says Koichi Nakano, a professor of politics at Sophia University in Tokyo.
The rulers in neighboring countries accepted that. South Korea normalized diplomatic relations with Japan in 1965 in a treaty that made no mention of comfort women. China normalized relations in 1972, waiving any demand for reparations on the grounds that the Japanese people had been as much victims of the militarists as had the Chinese.

Mao Zedong airbrushed awkward facts out of history in the interest of neighborly relations. Zhang Sheng, now head of the history department at Nanjing University, says he never learned about the Nanjing Massacre at school, for example. “History issues have been fermenting for many years, and they have become the starting point for how people discuss the future,” Professor Zhang says.

As civil society blossomed in South Korea in the late 1980s in the wake of a long military dictatorship, comfort women came forward and won public sympathy. In China, after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, the government channeled popular political sentiment into nationalism. Japan came under international pressure to repent – pressure that has only grown over the past quarter century as its former enemies have become global economic powerhouses.

Ten years ago, on the 60th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi used the same words of apology that Mr. Murayama had used a decade earlier, referring specifically to Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression.”

Abe is giving signals that he will not follow suit on Aug. 15, perhaps emboldened by polls showing that 57 percent of Japanese think their governments have apologized enough. “He is clear that he wants to make his own statement,” says one of his advisers. “He wants each and every word to be new.”

Abe has said that he sees no need to repeat previous statements since he has declared that he upholds them. But “he is certainly wrong if he thinks that will satisfy his neighbors,” says Berger. “It is really important that he uses the language Murayama used; if he doesn’t it will be a big problem for East Asia, for the US, and for Japan.”

Tokyo appears to have given up hope of winning understanding from Beijing and Seoul. “Urging Japan to apologize has become a tool for South Korea and China to wield influence,” says Abe’s adviser. “We need to send a convincing message to Europe and to the US. Winning the trust of our Western democratic allies is even more important” than winning trust from neighbors.

The Japanese government seems somewhat comforted that, despite the hostile Chinese rhetoric, President Xi has met with Abe twice in recent months after freezing him out. And in Seoul, influential voices are calling for compromise on the issue of comfort women.

“The US and Japan are moving forward as allies, and we are being held back because we cannot get out of the past,” says Lee Jung-hoon, the South Korean government’s ambassador for human rights. “Historical aspects are overwhelming the security dimension, and people are wondering whether this is right.”

In recent weeks, there have been tentative signs of a thaw. At a muted celebration in Tokyo of a half century of diplomatic relations, for example, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se read a message from Park about the need to cast off “the heavy burden of history.”

If Abe brushes off regional resentments in his August statement, though, that history is likely to reassert itself with renewed vigor. The doubts that Abe has sowed “undermine US security policy in East Asia” as Washington tries to size up China’s goals, says Daniel Sneider of Stanford University, who studies historical memory in East Asia.

If Abe does not repeat Murayama’s language, “it will make it almost impossible for a Korean government to engage in reconciliation and will give China a wonderful weapon with which to hit Japan over the head,” Mr. Sneider says. “Beijing will continue its efforts to drive a wedge between Washington and Tokyo, which is one of its key goals.”

Japanese voters, too, have doubts about Abe’s intentions as he seeks to extend Japan’s military reach and reinterpret the Constitution to allow that. “Abe’s revisionism fuels Chinese opposition and domestic worries about his motivation,” says Akihisa Nagashima, a former deputy Defense minister from the opposition Democratic Party of Japan. “We should separate history issues from the necessary effort to normalize our security situation.”
 •     •     •
Can japan and its neighbors ever overcome their history? Can they reach further back into their past to their common philosophical heritage and find the sort of reconciliation that Germany has built with its European partners?

Berger, who draws on the experiences of Germany and Austria to identify several conditions for reconciliation, is not hopeful in the short term. Japan’s leaders lack the political will, he thinks. China and South Korea are not yet ready to reciprocate by accepting apologies. There is no consistent message from Japan, where senior officials get away with provocatively revisionist claims.

“Damage control” is probably the best that can be expected for the time being, Berger says.
Still, mutual interests could soften attitudes. Sven Saaler, who teaches memory studies at Tokyo’s Sophia University, says businesspeople in Japan are keen to see relations with China improve. Japanese investment in China fell by nearly 40 percent last year from 2013. Samsung would prefer to put its name and logo on its flagship Galaxy 6 smartphone, which it now sells in Japan incognito, for fear of negative consumer reactions to a South Korean name.

China has a lot to learn from Japan in areas such as the environment and how to cope with aging populations, Dr. Yang points out, while Japan is delighted by the flood of Chinese tourists taking advantage of the weak yen. “There are areas of common interest,” says Yang. “They may not be decisive, but they make a positive difference.”

Collaborations are also under way on history books. While official projects have foundered on the rocks of political correctness, historians from China, Japan, and South Korea have unofficially found it possible to publish textbooks such as “A History to Open the Future,” offering middle-schoolers a single account of the region’s past from medieval times to the present.

Though not an official text in any of the three countries, teachers do use it as a study aid, says Bu Ping, a historian who led the Chinese team that helped write it. That is all very well, he adds, but “without positive efforts” by politicians, collaborative projects such as his have little effect.

Abe certainly has the patriotic credentials to offer reconciliation. “If he wants support in Asia and to be a world leader, he has no option,” says Kazuhiko Togo, a retired high-ranking Japanese diplomat. But Mr. Kase, the revisionist leader, is confident Abe will do no such thing.

“My people are in power now,” he boasts. “And we must regain our independence ... and pride in our history.”

If Kase’s confidence in Abe is not misplaced, reconciliation between Japan and its neighbors will have to wait until a new generation of political leaders takes power in Tokyo. And then, perhaps, predicts Professor Nakano, “if Japan is seen as sincere, it won’t be blamed forever for everything.”

Thursday, April 23, 2015

the Bell


Original article at

This Was the Crazy-Long Line to Get Into Tokyo’s New Taco Bell

This Was the Crazy-Long Line to Get Into Tokyo’s New Taco Bell

(Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Taco Bell left Japan in the ‘80s, but Doritofied Tex-Mex-ish food made its triumphant return to the country yesterday with the opening of a much-hyped new Taco Bell in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo’s equivalent of Times Square. Taco Bell International president Melissa Lora tells the Japan Times the brand felt 2015 was finally the year to head back because of “social media and all the focus on new, interesting foods that are in the world today.” (Many of which, of course, are owed to Taco Bell’s overworked R&D department.)

You have to hand it to the Bell. The powers-that-be tend to know what works, and based on the massive lines that formed outside Tokyo’s new Taco Bell, the move is looking like yet another success — people just can’t wait to try shrimp-and-avocado burritos, apparently.


Hundreds lined up in Shibuya, Tokyo today as returns to . ()


While Japanese cheesecakes invade Toronto, Japan opens up its first Taco Bell via


queues still out the door. Every domestic news outlet had extensive reports on it too.


Taco Bell returns to Japan with launch of Shibuya outlet


Waited four hours for this. Thank u so much

Friday, February 27, 2015

(article) Former Kamikaze Pilots Worried About Japan's Shift to Right

article originally posted at

(Bloomberg) -- Hisashi Tezuka knew his life had been spared when he heard the Emperor’s voice crackling through the wireless. 

As Hirohito announced Japan’s wartime surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, the young kamikaze pilot was on a train to the island of Shikoku to carry out his sacrificial mission. He received his orders just two days earlier at a base about 1,150 kilometers (715 miles) to the north. 

The crawling speed of the locomotive kept him alive.

“If we’d been taken by plane, we’d have arrived before the war ended,” Tezuka, now 93 and one of the few surviving kamikaze, said in an interview at his home in Yokohama. “It was like fate intervened.” 

Tezuka was one of a few thousand men, some as young as 17, in Japan’s so-called special attack unit, or tokkotai. Another was Tadamasa Iwai, a 94-year-old who trained to be a human torpedo and suicide diver. Both had late reprieves, both saw the futility of the war, and both became passionate pacifists. 

This is a year of painful remembrance for Japan as the country marks the 70th anniversary of its surrender in World War II, a conflict that killed more than 30 million people in Asia and left the nation in ruins. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has hinted he’ll omit descriptions of wartime aggression in a statement for the anniversary, risking anger from countries like China and South Korea that felt the brunt of Japanese belligerence. 

‘Prewar Regime’
Abe is also seeking to loosen the restraints of the war-renouncing constitution imposed by the U.S. and strengthen Japan’s role in global security. Even so, polls show the Japanese public is deeply ambivalent about adopting a more muscular foreign policy. 

Fifty percent of respondents to a survey published in the Nikkei newspaper on Feb. 23 said they opposed legislation that would allow Japan’s military to defend allies, while 31 percent supported the bills that are set to be submitted to parliament in the next few months. 

“I’m concerned that Japanese politics and attitudes have shifted to the right recently,” said Tezuka, whose wrinkles and stuttering walk betray his years. “When Abe says he doesn’t want to dwell on the past, it’s like he is returning to the prewar regime.” 

As China asserts its territorial claims in the East China Sea, Abe has increased defense spending to a record, eased restrictions on weapons exports and is seeking a constitutional workaround to be able to project force abroad. His efforts are favored by the U.S., which is treaty bound to defend Japan in the event of conflict, and have been denounced by China and South Korea. 

Even though Iwai joked often during an interview at his small Tokyo apartment, he became furious when talking about Japan’s current political climate, for which he blamed the education system. 

“They don’t teach what really happened at schools,” he said. “Textbooks call it an ’advance’ rather than an ‘occupation’” by Japan. 

Hit Rate
By the summer of 1944, Japan’s weakened air force had become unable to match the U.S., prompting commanders to develop the suicide strategy. From October that year through to the final days of the war, Japan flew 2,550 kamikaze missions with a successful hit rate of 18.6 percent, according to the U.S. Strategy Bombing Survey on the Pacific War. They sank about 45 vessels, mostly destroyers, and damaged dozens more including aircraft carriers and battleships. 

At the time of surrender, Japan had more than 9,000 aircraft available for kamikaze, with over 5,000 fitted for attack, the survey said. About 6,400 men died, a figure that includes those who perished in training, according to the Tokkotai Commemoration Peace Memorial Association.

Three Choices Both men described the moment they knew their fate was in the hands of their commanders.
One day in training, Tezuka was handed a questionnaire with three choices: “I strongly want to be a kamikaze”; “I want to be a kamikaze”; and “I don’t want to be a kamikaze.” The final one was not an option, he said.

Iwai and his peers were summoned to a training ground at their base, where an officer asked them if they wanted to pilot the manned torpedoes -- again an offer they couldn’t refuse.

While both Iwai and Tezuka were opposed to the war, they were committed to their assignments. They look back with a mixture of guilt, relief and anger. 

‘Die Instantly’ “I knew that Japan would lose the war and I was bound to die anyway, so I thought I might as well die instantly,” said Iwai at his apartment, where he listens to classical music and looks forward to visits from his only daughter.

Tezuka said that many men, including a friend, died during training flights that involved soaring to 3,000 meters before nose-diving to a practice target.

“I was sorry for his death -- not just because he died, but because he couldn’t die as a kamikaze,” he said. “Everyone was serious about the training. We didn’t want to die meaninglessly before we departed. We really wanted to succeed as kamikaze.”

The stories of these pilots have returned to prominence in popular culture in recent years.
“Eternal Zero,” a 2006 novel by Naoki Hyakuta about a young man’s search for the truth about his kamikaze grandfather, was a best-seller. Abe, a friend of the author, said he was “deeply moved” by the movie adaptation, which became Japan’s third-biggest box-office hit of 2013. 

‘Glorified’ Kamikaze “The book glorified kamikaze, and people are following suit,” Tezuka said. “Kamikaze was brutal. We should give it a fair evaluation and never do it again.”

Last year, Japan applied for the final letters of pilots written before their missions to be included as UNESCO Memories of the World.

“There is a growing trend of glamorizing the kamikaze as the number of people who experienced the war declines,” said Yukihiro Torikai, who teaches peace and development at Tokai University. “Abe may be capitalizing on this.” 

Tezuka was conscripted to the Imperial Japanese Navy while in his second year at Tokyo University, Japan’s equivalent of Harvard or Oxbridge. He said his study major -- the U.S. economy -- convinced him Japan would lose the war because of America’s industrial might.

During the war he flew a Mitsubishi A6M Zero, a fighter plane the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force describes as the most famous symbol of Japanese air power during World War II. The Zero was later customized for kamikaze missions. 

Tezuka described how pilots at the training base learned of their comrades’ demise.

Morse Code “They would send Morse code messages to their base as they flew their sorties,” he said. “When the sound stopped, we knew the pilot’s life had ended and we placed our hands together.”
Tezuka kept his coming mission from his family to avoid upsetting them.

After the war, he ran a business taking young Japanese workers at a soybean oil company to the U.S. for training. He now spends his days ink-wash painting and practicing calligraphy at his condominium overlooking Yokohama, which is adorned with a model of a Zero fighter he received from his daughter. 

Iwai spent much of his youth in Dalian, a Chinese city ceded to Japan from Russia in 1905, after his father retired as a soldier. On returning to Tokyo, he began to question the national regime that banned criticism -- or even discussion -- of the imperial system, and went on to study philosophy at Keio University. 

‘My Coffin’
He drifted between jobs after the war before learning Russian, which he used at a trading company and later as a translator. Disaffected, he sold all his wartime memorabilia and cut ties with his former comrades. 

In those last few months of the war, pilots would wait on a submarine until an enemy warship came into sight. They would then squeeze into a manned torpedo and pull the hatches over their heads, before being launched toward the target.

“When I first saw a human torpedo, I shuddered with the thought that this was going to be my coffin,” Iwai said. “It was a 15-meter-long iron stick. The cockpit was tiny and not fit for humans.”
A few months before the war ended, Iwai caught tuberculosis -- an illness that delayed his mission and may have saved his life.

Once recovered, he was moved to a base near Tokyo to join the “crouching dragon,” or fukuryu, unit of suicide divers in preparation for the expected arrival of U.S. battleships. The frogmen had to wait underwater to poke enemy vessels with a mine fitted to a bamboo pole. 

Cartoon Strategy “It was absurd,” Iwai said. “We felt our superiors got the idea for the strategy from a cartoon.”
After being transferred again, this time to Hiroshima, Iwai witnessed an event that changed everything.

“We were in a meeting on the morning of August 6, when there was a beautiful white flash in the sky, followed by a huge boom,” he said. “Hiroshima had been destroyed. A few days later, we learned it was the atomic bomb. And the war ended soon after.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Maiko Takahashi in Tokyo at
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew Davis at Andy Sharp, Rosalind Mathieson

Friday, February 20, 2015

(article) In Japan, Chinese tourists are a welcome boost — if a loud, messy one

You can find the article at:

, February 20 at 10:01 PM
A tour guide holds a flag while leading a group of Chinese tourists wearing rental kimonos at the Kiyomizu-dera temple in Kyoto. Chinese visitors are flocking to Japan in search of fresh air and safe food, buoying the local economy. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg)ion

Chinese tourists come to Japan for the sushi and for the shopping. But increasingly, they’re also coming for one thing that money can’t buy: fresh air. 

“The blue sky and the clean air are great. They’re something we don't have at home,” said Xu Jun, an agent for a steel trading company from Guangzhou, a huge manufacturing city in southern China that is blighted by pollution. Xu was visiting the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido this month.

Over the previous two weeks, the Xu family had been to outdoor hot springs, taken an ice-breaker ship along the frozen coast and spotted some of the island’s famous wild red-crowned cranes.
They, like several million other Chinese, are beating a path to Japan.

The number of tourists coming to Japan from China went up 83 percent last year, compared with the year before. That put China in third place, behind only Taiwan and South Korea, as a source of visitors.

Promotional signs written in Chinese are displayed at a store in Tokyo. Japan is aiming to boost the number of visitors who come to the country to 25 million by 2020. (Akio Kon/Bloomberg)
This is despite the political tensions between the two countries over disputed territories and an official Japanese attempt to play down its wartime aggression against neighboring countries, including China.

Tokyo is perennially popular, with its glitzy shopping districts and Disneyland resort, but in winter, about half the Chinese tourists visiting Japan go to Hokkaido, a sparsely populated island renowned for its wide-open spaces and top-notch — and safe — seafood.

Visitor numbers have skyrocketed since the 2008 release of the Chinese movie “If You Are the One,” which showcased Hokkaido’s natural beauty.

“The first thing Chinese people do after they land is to breathe deeply,” said He Wenfan, of the Japan Tourism Board’s Chinese-language Web site. “People say, ‘I can finally breathe!’ ”

Last week, they came in droves to Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, for the city’s snow festival, where Japan’s underemployed soldiers had built massive sculptures — think “Star Wars” and cartoon characters — out of blocks of ice. At seemingly every sculpture and at every food stall selling steaming bowls of ramen noodle soup, Chinese could be heard.

Connie Tsoi and her husband came to Sapporo to see the snow festival. Asked if she’d ever been to China’s own well-known festival, in the northern city of Harbin, Tsoi scrunched up her face and waved around the cheese tart she was eating. “No! Never!” she said. “It’s so dirty. Japan is so much cleaner, and the people here are so nice.”

Hokkaido’s ski resorts of Rusutsu and Niseko enjoyed another influx this week during the Chinese New Year holidays.

One of the draws for Chinese tourists is the decline in value of the Japanese yen, which once made the country prohibitively expensive. “The taxis and the food are a little bit more expensive than China — maybe 20 percent more expensive — but everything else is about the same,” said Yuan Xiang of Shanghai, who was spending all of his first visit to Japan in Hokkaido, most of it skiing.

Of all the visitors, the Japan Tourism Agency estimates that Chinese tourists are the biggest spenders. They shelled out about a quarter of the $17 billion that foreign tourists spent in Japan last year — or about $2,000 each. 

Grin and bear it
The 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami had an impact on tourism, but political issues are just as seismic. Flare-ups over a string of disputed islands, and politicians’ visits to the Yasukuni shrine, which China and Korea see as honoring Japan’s war criminals, take their toll on tourism.

“We suffer a noticeable drop every time, so we are nervous every summer,” said He, of the tourism board, referring to the period in August marking the end of World War II, a traditional time for politicians to visit Yasukuni. (Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not visit the shrine last year, instead sending an offering with an aide.)

Shopping at a multistory electronics store here, Xu certainly wasn’t letting the political tensions cramp his vacation style.

“It doesn’t bother me,” he said while perusing $800 cameras in the store, which accepts Chinese debit cards, is staffed with Chinese-speaking clerks and was packed with Chinese tourists buying everything from rice cookers to beauty products.

In a country still struggling to emerge from two decades of on-again, off-again recession, this foreign money is welcome. But it is often accepted through gritted teeth.

Japan is a nation famous for its culture of exacting politeness and adherence to a multitude of rules encompassing elevator etiquette and buffet behavior. And Chinese tourists, well, seldom let such rules constrain them.

A common complaint is that they are too loud and that they are not considerate of the people around them.

“They take home as much free stuff as possible once they hear it’s free, like brochures,” Tokie Shimomura, a tourist desk volunteer in Sapporo, said of Chinese visitors. “They let their children climb up on a train seat with their shoes on. Japanese people would stop them or have them take off their shoes.” 

This bad reputation abroad isn’t escaping notice at home. China’s president, Xi Jinping, last year told his compatriots to improve their manners when traveling.
In “Ramen Alley,” a narrow strip of tiny restaurants here, Chinese tourists come to slurp up bowls of Sapporo’s special noodle soup, which comes with a large square of butter sitting on top of a mound of corn.

In one eight-seat joint, the owner rattled off a list of complaints about Chinese customers, like the ones who come in to drink beer and then pull out their own snacks, often leaving the wrappers strewn over the floor.

But he, like other business owners, has to suck it up, like a bowl of ramen.
“The tourism business wouldn’t survive without Chinese customers, so we don’t want to complain about them,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing those very customers.

“It’s 50/50, give and take. We appreciate them coming, but we wish that they would come with a little more cultural awareness.”

Yuki Oda contributed to this report.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"11 Japanese customs that are shocking to foreign travelers" (article and reaction)

This is my response to the article "11 Japanese customs that are shocking to foreign travelers," written by Asta Thrastardottir, posted on February 19, 2015.
To read, click the link below:

During my time in Japan, I've found some of these customs to exist, others to be fading away, and others to remain with us under certain conditions.  I should add that I'm in Tokyo almost all of my time here, so I can only speak to what I experience in this city.

Anyway, below are the "customs" as written in the article (in green text), followed by my own observations and views.  

1. Custom:  The number four is avoided at all cost.
My observations:  No, no.  While it is correct that the number 4 is by superstition a bad luck number, and for the reason that the writer states, buildings generally have a fourth floor, elevators a fourth floor button, and people do things in groups of four all the time.  I was pretty surprised to see this claim at the top of the article.

2. Custom: Blowing your nose in public is considered rude.
My observations: During the 90s, before I came to Japan, I read this too.  Can't recall which Japan guidebook it was, but I came across it.  When I arrived here, I saw nobody leave the room to blow his/her nose.  However, I think it's considered polite to turn away from others when blowing one's nose, especially when in at eatery, such as a ramen counter or kaitenzushi place.  About the handkerchiefs, most of my Japanese friends and colleagues have them, but usually for wiping dry their hands after washing.  I don't see people use handkerchiefs for nose-blowing; instead, people use the excellent packs of free tissues that they receive on the sidewalk; companies wishing to advertise often do so through free tissues in lieu of fliers.

3.  Custom: Tipping can be seen as insulting.
My observations: I don't know if people in customer service feel insulted by tips, but I agree that generally such offers are refused.  And the writer is quite right in saying that workers will run down the tipper in order to return the money.

4. Custom: Walking and eating is seen as sloppy.
My observations: This is one of those things that may be fading, but I don't know for sure.  It took me some time to find out that walking and eating, or even standing on a sidewalk and eating (e.g. a sandwich or onigiri) was considered by some to be rude, since no one ever came out and said so directly.  I found out through some of my older colleagues at school who took offense at seeing others commit this act of open consumption.  The Japanese term they used was gyougi warui or, more properly, gyougi ga warui.

Over the years, I've been seeing more and more Japanese people eat out on the sidewalk or street.  At first I was tempted to call it a generational conflict, as most of the people who did it were younger folk.  However, I've found that some of the people who are strongly against such behavior teach their children to be strongly against it; so some of my teenage students take umbrage probably at least as much as their parents do.

All in all, though, I see the standing/eating and walking/eating  happen more and more, so I'm somewhat inclined to expect that an inevitable change is coming.  I've never seen polls on what percentage of the native population here is for prohibiting it, and what percentage for allowing it (and I would be interested to know, so if anyone has data, please share it), but in terms of raw numbers I think the future is going to see more eating in public places, and without chairs or other kinds of furniture.

 5. Custom: There are designated people who will push you into a crowded subway car. 
My observations:  Yes, true!  I don't see these white-gloved people on every train line, but certainly on the more crowded ones.

6.  Custom:  People will sleep on the trains with their head on your shoulder.

My observations:  Yes, it happens.  It moves and impresses me that Japan is still a safe enough place that people can sleep on the train, and feel safe enough to fall sleep.

7.  Custom:  There are toilet slippers for the bathrooms.
My observations:  Yes, and I like this custom.  If you've ever been in a public men's room and have had to stand in front of  a urinal, you know what that floor is like.

And someone did a parody of it.

8.  Custom:  You must always bring a host a gift.
My observations:  I don't know about always, but I think it's a nice thing to do.  If someone didn't, I don't think it'd ruin the evening, but I always bring something.  I see it as being akin to bringing along a bottle of wine or dessert to a dinner party.  The elaborate wrapping part is spot-on in my opinion; expensive brands also do much to impress a segment of the population.

9.  Custom:  Pouring you own glass is considered rude.
My observations:  Well, yeah, I guess. . .I mean, people pour drinks for one another at dinners and nomikai.  If your glass is empty and continues to be that way.  then it reflects kind of badly on the people sitting immediately near you.  So I don't know if pouring one's own drink speaks worse for the pourer or the neglecters.  But yes, the custom is to pour drinks for one another.  When I'm drinking with my Western foreigner friends, it drives a lot of them crazy if I try to pour their drink.  They're like, "No, don't do that.  Don't do that."

10.  Custom:  Slurping noodles is not only seen as polite but also means that you have enjoyed your meal.
My observations:  My understanding is that it's seen as okay to slurp with Asian noodle dishes (ramen, soba, udon) but not with Western dishes (spaghetti).  I've seen some Japanese people enjoy their spaghetti with loud slurps and I never saw anyone complain, but the general consensus seems to be Asian noodles = slurping ok, Western noodles = don't slurp.

11.  Custom:  Sleeping in capsule hotels that aren't much bigger than a coffin is very common.
My observations:  To tell the truth, I've never done this, and most people I know never have, but this could be simply because of the environments in which I work and live.  I don't hang out with a lot of salarymen, and they're the ones I always hear about going to capsule hotels.  

A more recent and trending option has been for people to sleep overnight at onsen places.

Below is the original article by Asta Thrastardottir.  I've copied and pasted it as is.  The original post, for some reason, has a lot of gibberish text characters, and I just left them in.  If you want to see it, it might be better to click the link at the top of this entry; maybe Yahoo! will correct it and take out the mojibake.

11 Japanese customs that are shocking to foreign travelers

Japan has a unique culture that has a very strict code of etiquette. 

There are specific ways to eat noodles, good practices for accepting gifts, and certain rules to follow so that you avoid insulting a host. 

This complex web of social rules and traditions can be  overwhelming for those traveling to Japan, so we’ve compiled a list of some of the things that foreigners find most shocking when visiting the country. 

Here are 11 customs you should know before traveling to Japan. 

1. The number four is avoided at all cost. 


In Japan, the number four is avoided because it sounds very similar to the word for death. In the same vein as the number 13 in Western culture, the number four is extremely unlucky and is used as little as possible. You must always avoid giving anyone something in fours since it can be seen as a very ominous gift. 

Elevators will often be missing a fourth floor — and in some extreme cases, they will not have the floors 40-49. The number 49 is especially unlucky, as it sounds similar to the phrase which means “pain until death.” 

The practice of avoiding the number four is called “Tetraphobia,” and is common in many East Asian and Southeast Asian regions. 

2. Blowing your nose in public is considered rude.  

Blowing your nose in public is not only seen as rude, but simply disgusting. Instead, people will generally sniffle until they find somewhere private. If you simply must blow your nose, it is recommended that you do so as discreetly as possible. 

The Japanese are also repelled by the idea of a handkerchief. 

3. Tipping can be seen as insulting.  

Tipping is considered rude — and can even be seen as degrading. Tipping will often cause confusion, and many people will chase after you to give you back your money. 

If someone has been particularly helpful and you feel absolutely compelled to leave a tip, Rough Guides suggests leaving a small present instead. 

4. Walking and eating is seen as sloppy.

.women eating ice cream in Japan 

Although walking and eating is often convenient and widely accepted in many Western cultures, the practice is looked down upon in Japan. Many also consider it rude to eat in public or on the trains. 

There are just a few exceptions to this rule, including the fact that it is okay to eat an ice-cream cone on the street. 

5. There are designated people who will push you into a crowded subway car.


Oshiya, or “pushers,” wear uniforms, white gloves, and hats and literally push people into crowded subway cars during rush hour.

They are paid to make sure everybody gets in and doesn’t get caught in the doors. 

6. People will sleep on the trains with their head on your shoulder. 

If someone falls asleep with their head on you shoulder in Japan, it is common practice to just tolerate it. People have very long commutes and work dreadfully long hours, so many will often fall asleep on the train. 

"There is a tolerance that if the person next to you falls asleep and their head kind of lands on your shoulder, people just put up with it. That happens a lot," Sandra Barron told CNN. 

7. There are toilet slippers for the bathrooms. 

Japanese slippers
Flickr/Andrea Schaffer It is customary to change into slippers when entering a Japanese home, a traditional restaurant, temples, and sometimes museums and art galleries, according to Rough Guides. Basically anytime you come across of row of slippers in Japan, you should just put them on. 
There are even special toilet slippers kept inside the bathroom, so you’ll take off your house slippers and put on the toilet slippers.  

8. You must always bring a host a gift. 

It is an honor to be invited to someone’s home in Japan, and if this happens you must always bring a gift. The gift should also be wrapped in the most elaborate way possible, and lots of fancy ribbons are suggested. 

You should also never refuse a gift once offered — but it is good practice to strongly protest the gift at first. 

9. Pouring you own glass is considered rude.  

It is customary in the US (and many other countries in the world) to serve others before you serve yourself, but in Japan you are never supposed to pour yourself a drink. If you have poured for others, another guest will hopefully see that your drink is empty, and pour for you. 

You must also always wait for someone to say “Kanpai” (cheers) before drinking. 

10. Slurping noodles is not only seen as polite — but also means that you have enjoyed your meal. 

Slurping noodles in Osaka, Japan

Slurping is considered polite in Japan because it shows that you are enjoying your delicious noodles — in fact, if you don’t eat loudly enough it can be mistaken as you not enjoying your food. 

Slurping noodles isn’t entirely for the sake of politeness, but also to avoid having a burnt tongue. Japanese soup and noodles are generally served steaming hot, hot enough to burn, and slurping helps to cool down the food.

But unlike some other Asian nations, it is still considered rude to belch at the table. 

11. Sleeping in capsule hotels that aren't much bigger than a coffin is very common. 

China first capsule hotel
REUTERS/Aly Song Capsule hotels are used as cheap accommodations for guests who purely want a place to sleep — and are most often used by businessmen working or those who have partied too late and have missed the last train home.Â

The sleeping quarters are small capsules that are not much bigger than a coffin, and the beds are stacked side-by-side and on top of one another. The concept has been around in Japan since the 1970s, but has begun to spread to a few other countries around the world.  

The hotels are a cheap alternative to a hotel, since a bed costs only $65 a night, but should be avoided for anyone who suffers from even slight claustrophobia.Â