Japanese issues in “Tokyo Sonata”

Tokyo Sonata

Tokyo Sonata (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Tomohiro Doi

In class, we watched the film “Tokyo Sonata.” This movie showed issues in Japan. A man was fired and he looks for work but he cannot find it. In his family, he tried to hide that he was fired. And his family became hopeless and worse than ever before. Then his family members broke up and relationship of that became weak. He frantically tries to bring his family together. However, his family still broke up.

I think this movie shows the modern Japanese society faithfully. The minority which is no job people and fired people are despised by the majority. A certain people were driven to suicide. And then I think this movie displayed not only unemployment but also all problems in Japan.

In Anne Allison’s book, Precarious Japan, an important issue in Japan, especially the breakdown of family is described and it is connected with this movie. Allison interviewed the Marxist sociologist Adachi Mariko. She argued about this problem appropriately. She said that the Japanese stereotype that is male work outside female stay at home as housewife has broken down. Therefore the male as breadwinner broke down. And the man’s family corporate system has ended little by little.

Allison said that the family corporate system linked a particular structure of work to one of family and home. However, this system have changed. In this movie “Tokyo Sonata,” the man behaves as a breadwinner male and worries about himself authority in family. But he was found out to be unemployed and work as a non-regular employee. Allison wrote about hope for the breakdown of family. In this book, it was about Tamura Hiroshi, who is a Japanese talent now. In his middle school student time, his family broke down. In his family, his mother died two years ago and his father brought up his two children. However, he could not work and he abandoned his two children. In the movie, father could not work and looks like to break down his family.

Now, the break down of family could connect with a case. In these days, a certain man divorced and broke down his family. And he was not able to bring up his son and to kill him. Like this, like “Tokyo Sonata,” this breakdown of family may connect with a crime and disintegration of relatives.

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Can We Survive If We Just Earn Minimum Wage?

Anonymous student post

Each of the prefectures in Japan has a regulation about the minimum wage. Actually, it greatly differs between rural areas and big cities. For example, the highest minimum wage is 869 yen an hour in Tokyo. On the other hand, the lowest of it is 664 yen an hour in 9 prefectures. With the information, we can understand that there is big distinction of 200 yen. This seems to be great difference. Well, how are actual lives when it comes to workers in such a situation? Are there real differences? And how do they live every day?

In my opinion, there might not have a big difference by minimum wage in real lives. I’ll list 2 points. First, commodity prices are different in each place. As it is, rural areas’ prices are lower than big cities’. In other words, it can be said that minimum wage is fitted by commodity prices. Secondary, the lives of workers who earn minimum wage is surely severe however minimum wage is. The difference by minimum wage is almost nothing, but living with it is very hard.

In class, we have already discussed the monthly expenses and income of an imaginary person who works for minimum wage. He is a student and needs money for foods, lighting and heating, clothes, mobile phone and Internet. It looks difficult to make it by himself, and he can’t live without a remittance from his family. But to earn minimum wage does not make it hard to live. Depending on only a part time job really makes the lives precarious. Imagine that, can you say that your life in working is not precarious anymore if you get a job which you can earn 1200 yen? Maybe you can not say yes. Many part time jobs do not have enough welfare system. It is difficult for them to take care of workers. A part time job itself makes precarious.

For developing the current situation, government must make more rule for people who have part time jobs. As for us, we must care about not only minimum wage but treatment when we look for part time jobs. The most important factor is not money but one’s situation. Finally, minimum wage never makes workers precarious. (Of course, students should care about that)

Reference

Anne Allison. (2013). Precarious Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare. (n.d.). retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/seisakunitsuite/bunya/koyou_roudou/roudoukijun/minimumichiran/ 

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The struggles of minimum wage

by Keita Sakato

There are a lot of irregular workers in Japan today. They might have fallen into this situation because of Japan’s precarious economics. Then, can they make sufficient money with irregular jobs?

The minimum wage is different in each prefecture. For example, it is 869 yen per hour in Tokyo. This is the highest in Japan. On the other side, in 8 prefectures such as Kochi and Tokushima, it is only 664 yen per hour. This is the lowest in Japan, and the average wage per hour is 764 yen. There are such big differences among urban prefectures like Tokyo and rural prefectures like Kochi. However, the differences in wages are not a problem because the prices of all things are higher in urban prefectures than in other prefectures. The problem which we need to pay attention to is that the minimum wage is too low to make enough money.

It is too difficult to live contentedly if people work at the lowest minimum wage, 664 yen. For example, if a man who was fired by a company and has no family started an irregular job which is the lowest wage one, can he get back to a stable life? He works 8 hours a day and 4 days a week. Even though he wishes to work 7 days a week, he cannot do because there are only a few jobs for irregular workers. He can earn 5,312 yen a day, 21,248 yen a week and 84,992 yen a month. He lives alone in a small apartment and cannot depend on his family because he has nothing. He needs to pay the rent of his apartment, 40,000 yen, and the expenses for lighting and fuel, 9,000 yen a month. Also, he needs to pay his taxes, 8,000 yen a month. The left money is only about 28,000 yen. Of course he must eat to live, so he must pay food expenses from his left money. He has no money to live as a normal man. He will not be able to eat delicious foods and play with anyone. He may abandon his apartment because of the high rent for him. After that, he will spend every night in the net café or fast food shop or by the river.

The above example is not a special case. Some unfortunate Japanese people fall into bad situations like this one. The government has to rescue them from this situation. One of the ways to rescue them is to raise the minimum wage for irregular workers because the present wage is too low. This is the thing that the government should do making haste.

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A chain of refugeeism

by Ruri Inoue

As Anne Allison says in her book, Precarious Japan, there is a chain of “refugeeism” in the current society in Japan, that also has the another nickname, “muen shakai”. In this “muen shakai”, there are bunches of people who are literally excluded from their companies or families by being fired or abandoned, et cetera. Also, there are bunches of people who have a place of their own (“ibasho”), however, they do not feel like they belong to anywhere or anyone. I believe that “refugees” in this context could be categorized into these two groups that one is a group which physically and emotionally become lost in life due to not having a place they could belong to. In contrast, the other one is a group which emotionally suffers from the sense of lost due to their inner vision that is brainwashing them into thinking as if they are not needed or accepted by others or societies.

It could be said that the “muen shakai” is deeply tied with the unbreakable chain of the “refugeeism”, which has accidentally created some of the monster groups known as hate groups and cults as unpredicted spin-offs. For instance, there was or is a cult group called Aum Shinrikyo, which is infamous for the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. It is not too sure why each member of the Aum Shinrikyo joined it as the reason is likely to differ among the members. On the other hand, I have heard that some university students, who were struggling to find someone or somewhere they can cling to, made themselves involve into the cult group because it made them feel as if they finally found a place where they can call their own “ibasho” and anything its leader Asahara said became the truth of life to them.

“Couldn’t they have found somewhere else?”, I wonder. But it is probably a wrong question. I guess it should be like “Wasn’t there anywhere else they could find?” One of the possible reasons why they became stuck with the cult group is that they hadn’t probably known elsewhere to ask for help. In other words, the access to some institutions or groups who are experts in helping people find connections are almost invisible and hidden in this society. Honestly, I am too sure about it but at least this is how I feel about today’s society in Japan. They really need to come out on the surface, make themselves more visible, and as a result, that would possibly contribute to reduce the numbers of those who gets misled into dangerous and life-threatening communities.

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Oldness is goodness: Is it truly a tradition?

by Sheena Sasaki

What is Japanese traditional food? What is Japanese worldwide known food? I am sure some people would tell me the answer sushi. However, sushi (vinegar rice topped with piece of raw fish), famous Japanese food, began to be eaten since Edo Period. Compared to relatively new nations such as the United States, 400 years of history for food may be long “tradition.” However, compared to Japanese history, which lasts since era of B.C., it is not significantly long. More important, sushi had been eaten only in limited areas of Japan since it uses fresh fish. Referring to Japanese geography as a mountainous land, it is impossible for some parts of Japan to come up with food such as raw fish. However, as the nationalization and globalization have taken place in Japan, sushi has become domestically and internationally known as a ‘traditional’ food of Japan. Thus, nationalization and internationalization have played a significant role in the invention of tradition in Japan.

This invention of tradition is becoming an issue in Japan today. In September 2013, the Japanese Supreme Court finally accepted that the law that limited  children born outside of marriage to inheriting only half the amount of “legitimate” children, as discrimination and a violation of Japan’s Constitution. Japanese denial and rejection of “illegitimate” children, adopted children, divorce, and married couples having different surnames is quite strong even now. It is not surprising to hear that children born outside of marriage were bullied in the school they attended during their youth. Also, some parents tell their children not to play with such children just because they lack real parents or their parents use different surnames.

Why do Japanese citizens strongly oppose different styles of family? Many people answer: “Because we do not want to destroy the traditional family system of Japan.” This traditional system of family is based on “ie (家)” and “koseki (戸籍)” which respectively mean house and family legislation. Thus, many Japanese citizens resist changing what is written on their koseki, with the exception of when a woman is married. However, the history of koseki is not so long as to be called traditional.

Influenced by Germany, Japan created the koseki system during the Meiji Period, the era of Japanese nationalization. The system was to support one royal family, imperial family of Japan. The imperial family is unchangeable, meaning one single bloodline is considered to be imperial. Thus, for this family to hold stronger and more important meaning, member of one koseki was also to pass down one blood. The Meiji-era civil code also stated that an ie must consist of single surname, single koseki, and single bloodline. Here, we see the family system putting an emphasis on one bloodline, which is considered as tradition today. In opposition to the word “tradition,” before the Meiji Period and the creation of koseki system, it was common to see adopted children reign as the head of the household. Compared to the ie system today, the family system used to emphasize more the surname of the household rather than bloodlines. Therefore, what is said to be the traditional family system in Japan has existed for only 100 years.

There is Japanese phrase “furuki yoki (古き良き)” which means that “old is good.” However, the invented tradition of the Japanese ie system does not seem to bring good anymore. Year by year, there is an increase of divorce, child adoption, and single parenting. These shapes of family are not considered proper families, and are targets of discrimination. Although the Japanese government has admitted that the law discriminates against certain children, the law itself has still not changed. The curse of “furuki yoki” still dominates the sense of discrimination.

Some links to news reporting issues of rights for illegitimate children

“家族とは?親子とは?揺らぐ法制度” http://www9.nhk.or.jp/gendai/kiroku/detail_3408.html

“婚外子差別の撤廃へ 民法改正案を閣議決定、戸籍法の改正は見送り” http://www.huffingtonpost.jp/2013/11/12/kongaishi-minpo-_n_4258246.html

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“Gaijin” to Japanese: What Japanese Often Expect from Foreigners

by Satona Kato

comediansTerry Kawashima argues that people have a consciousness about race, and this consciousness depends on their background. We can see this by comparing various ways of thinking about shojo manga characters by Western people and Japanese people.

In Japan, many people put the people who are not Asian (Japanese, Korean, Chinese, South East Asian) into one category called “gaijin”. Many Japanese people do not think about the country where the “gaijin” were born. Furthermore, they tend to stereotype that sort of people have specific skills. In Japan, some of the people who are unilaterally labeled as “gaijin” have experiences that they are wounded or feel alienated, especially the people who are multiracial or who were born and grown up in Japan.

As you know, in Japan, multiracial models on TV have been popular. Recently, multiracial comedians become popular as well. They do not act like fashion models. They make people laugh by talking the story about the incident happened around them only because they are multiracial. First, Japanese are surprised that they can speak fluent Japanese and cannot speak English or another foreign language. Japanese also laugh at the characteristics the multiracial comedians share with other Japanese.

They had had many troubles and unique experiences which happened just because they are “hafu.” If we listen to their stories, we can know how hafu people are treated by Japanese. For example, Anthony, he is one of the ‘hafu comedians’. He is American and Japanese. People laugh at the fact that his hometown is Tokyo and his father managed a Sushi shop. He has knowledge about sushi because his home is sushi shop, but when he goes to a sushi shop, the master of sushi shop offered him ‘California roll’ and he was surprised. He has had other interesting experiences. He is bad at English, and when he was an elementary school student, he decided to go to English conversation school. On his first day of English conversation school, when he entered the classroom, other students misinterpreted him as an English teacher and they said “Hello, how are you?” to him.

I want to tell you about one more ‘half comedian’, Ueno Yukio. He was laughed at because of his obvious Japanese name. He is Brazilian and Japanese. When he plays soccer, the opposing team judged Yukio was a good soccer player by his appearance and many defenseman surrounded him. The opportunities to watch TV programs in which many ‘half comedians’ gather and talk about the things often happen around them are increasing. According to them, following things often happen: 

  • are judged to be foreign people
  • are often stopped by the police 
  • are asked by Japanese to sing foreign songs 
  • are laughed at by Japanese when they sing Japanese songs
  • are often expected to have high athletic ability
  • have difficulty getting a part time job
  • are invited to BBQ parties or Halloween parties
  • are called ‘Bob’ or ‘Michel’ 
  • are treated as tourists everywhere

Of course their nationality is Japanese and most of their hometown is Japan. Why they are laughed? Why do Japanese people stereotype their abilities? When Japanese look at people who look like “gaijin’’, Japanese often expect some specific skills because they have some assumptions. They think that people who have white, black, or other foreign appearance have foreign names and can speak foreign languages, and cannot speak Japanese at all.

It is true that hafu people are not a majority in Japan and many Japanese have little familiarity with thinking about race. That’s why people have expectations about the skills hafu people have. If hafu do not have these skills, Japanese laugh at them and hafu are unilaterally discouraged. 

Tackling human trafficking, the modern form of slavery

Trafficking of women, children and men

by Anastasia Maillot

As I read several parts from Rhacel Parreñas’ Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo she introduced me to a rather terrifying fact. Philippine women migrating to Japan in search of hostess jobs are the most trafficked population in the world, working in conditions where their passports are taken and where they have no other option but to continue working in what I would call modern slavery or servitude with a nonexistent salary. As a response to the growing issues concerning Philippine migrants, the Japanese government has imposed stricter rules to entertainment visas, which has in turn barred the route for legal ways into the country and caused illegal entry through middlemen to flourish. Although Parrenãs brings out the positive in hostess work by explaining that few of the Philippine women feel like victims but instead see it as a way to gather money for their future or their families back home, I think there is a huge problem here, something that seems almost ignored; these women live in servitude, a form of modern slavery. This is not a job they do out of good will but because they have no choice.

Wasn’t slavery supposed to be over since the civil war? After reading Parreñas, I had to investigate and see it for myself. The truth is, there are more people living in slavery today than ever before. The site Free The Slaves estimates that at least 27 million people live in slavery, half of them being children. Moreover, I was shocked even further to find out from Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, that human trafficking more specifically is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. This means that today, what crosses our borders most often are not drugs or weapons, but human beings treated as mindless objects and sold into servitude. So, no, slavery is not over and it would be a mistake to say that it does not exist in the Global North, because it does. There seems to be this misconception that whatever atrocities happen in the Global South do not happen in “our countries”. We fail to understand that this phenomenon is everywhere around us, in factories, mines, brothels, farms, restaurants and construction sites. We simply close our eyes from the fact that we carry clothing made with extremely cheap labor and eat food from farmers that are deliberately exploited. Sometimes we even convince ourselves that anyone working as a stripper or as a hostess is most likely doing it because they chose to do so and want to.

Parreñas does say that people get involved into this because of the need for money. The Philippines is a good example as a country, because of its economic dependence on these women who leave their country in search for a better income either as hostesses or nannies. But this also puts these women in very fragile positions in host countries, as some of them might be ready to do anything to feed their family back home. This sense of necessity exists everywhere. There have even been cases in the US where parents have sold their children into slavery, although it remains more marginal than in the Global South. Still, we participate into this process by providing the demand to those middlemen, who then go out to look for these women, children or even men. We need to stop ignoring the alarming fact that more and more people are becoming victims due to economic necessities and do something about it, as trafficking and thus slavery is an issue that affects every nation in the world.

Governments have generally been slow or reluctant to do anything about trafficking, preferring to cover the issue with a band aid and hoping that things will eventually get better. Now, I understand the difficulty of tracking down the middlemen who sell these victims, not to mention the buyers or the customers. However, I came across a reading, Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It, by David Batstone, that introduced me to several different cases of slavery and trafficking in different countries and how the problem was successfully dealt with. Most often people have witnessed face to face the difficulties of the victims, felt compassionate and started searching for alternatives. In Thailand for example, a woman set up a jewelry business in which she recruited women from brothels, giving them a proper job, opportunities and restored their self-confidence. In Peru, a local woman provided temporary housing and activities out of benevolence for street children who face violence, trafficking and uncertainty every day. In many countries, most notably in Italy, churches work actively to rescue victims of trafficking and pulling them out of slavery by giving them a better life with opportunities. By working locally, we can make things change, but this requires the effort of everyone, not just “the chosen few”. As the example of Parreñas on the Japanese government showed, simple restrictions and ignorance of the actual heart of the issue will not solve anything, but instead create more illegal routes for trafficking and slavery to happen. A wider safety net for trafficked people is needed and the victims should not be punished for coming to the police and asking for help.

It is easy to ignore these issues, to think that it isn’t happening in your country or that it is too difficult to get involved. By thinking like this we will never be able to change things and rescue victims from the unacceptable conditions they live in all over the world. I acknowledge that with the resources we have now it is not possible to save everyone, but in order to tackle these issues we must think positively and proceed step by step. There are many options out there for us to explore, many cases in which local people have taken a step forward and done something about it. Even one victim with better opportunities, a real job and a much better life is already a victory in our battle against human trafficking and slavery.

Explorations into being Hafu: Megumi Nishikura at TEDxKyoto 2013

by Robert Moorehead

In September, filmmaker Megumi Nishikura gave a powerful, moving, and extremely personal presentation at TEDxKyoto. Her film, Hafu, is showing in theaters around the world, and offers an insightful look into the experiences of five hafu in Japan. The film opens in Kobe on November 23, and I can’t wait to see it.

Global cities of the future

by Miranda Solly

First of all, I apologise to any reader who saw the ‘of the future’ in the title and thought I was going to paint a picture of space port cities, or multi-global cities full of aliens. I’d actually like to suggest why global cities become global, and what that says about how future one will grow.

The global cities we were given as examples all seem different on the surface. There are places like London or Tokyo, which are important because they form the biggest financial hubs in the world. Then there is Johannesburg, whose economy stemmed from South Africa’s mining wealth and rose to prominence in the financial sector too. Yet another type of global city is Bangalore, which has risen in status fairly recently due to its ties to global communications and the internet. They all function in similar ways, attracting highly skilled workers from around the world while also acting as a beacon to the poor from the home country and abroad. What important similarity causes people to act in this way? Money. As the proverb goes, “Money makes the world go round”. Money is necessary for most of our everyday needs and in a bigger way for large-scale developments. So money, at the moment at least, does equal power.

What interests me is that Bangalore based its wealth on information technologies, unlike the other cities, whose wealth stemmed more or less recently from industry. This is almost certainly because the digital revolution has changed humans lives as dramatically as the industrial revolution did. The places where such a huge change is navigated effectively will undoubtedly gain money because of that. As we are still discovering what digital technology can do, I am sure that there will be many more global cities like Bangalore. 

So I suggest that global cities are created when their inhabitants successfully manipulate the latest technological advancements (heavy industry, digital technology) to gain power (money). Having attained this power, people are able to forge international ties that strengthen their standing as a global city. This presents two questions: one, can existing global cities keep up with those built on new technologies; and two, what might that next advancement be?

In answer to the first question, I wonder if pre-existing power allows global cities to catch up with new technologies more quickly than other places. After all, New York and Tokyo have not suddenly become obsolete. Possibly new power structures are built with the existing ones as their basis. On the other hand, perhaps negative effects from such a revolution take more time to appear than we have been able to observe. There might be opportunities for those working in up-and-coming global cities related to new technologies that are not offered in more established communities. In London, there is talk of trying to be ‘the next Silicon Valley’, but so far no large internet companies have established themselves there (London cannot compete with the space and human resources that other global cities have). 

In answer to the second question, I think my reader’s guess is as good as mine. But hey, if Virgin Galactic really is the catalyst for a new space age, maybe the next breed of global cities will be on the moon.