Hugs for Sale

You may be wondering what an odd title like that could possibly be referring to. Hell, I almost don’t believe it myself. However, it really seems to be true. The Shanghai Daily is reporting that a school called Jiangdu District Shangmao Kindergarten in Eastern China is charging parents 80 RMB a month to have their children hugged twice a day. No hug, it would seem, is given for free. While this school is being investigated for unethical conduct, it would seem that making of every aspect of human life a commodity in capitalism just continues. This is also seemingly another example, at least in my opinion of the huge divide in China brought by the resurgence of a brutal capitalist system. For a country that is officially Marxist in ideology, they seem to be working hard to establish an unequal and disgustingly corrupt system of exploitation and downright money grubbing greed. Not surprising then that the members of the Chinese Communist Party are rich as hell, and are raising their children as princes while millions in the country still live on a dollar a day. But before I’m accused of being just Sinophobic, let me say that it’s no different in the US. In the US where you live, how much money you have, and other factors of affluence or poverty really help determine your chances in life. Japan also is one country that has a political and economic elite that lives above and at the expense of the rest of society. The biggest difference I see is that unlike China, Japan and the US don’t have pretenses about being socialist countries. I expect a so called socialist country to live up to better than this. The problem is that China is not socialist. It is socialist in name only, and “socialism with Chinese characteristics” means “capitalism”. That simple. No one should get better treatment for little children at a kindergarten because they can afford to pay extra every month. Every child deserves a good solid education, and if teachers have to be paid extra to give a shit about the emotional and mental well being of their students, maybe they’re in the wrong line of work.



Japanese Elections Today

Millions of Japanese citizens headed to the polls today to cast their vote in the Diet elections. The Diet was dissolved by Democratic Party of Japan Prime Minister Noda in November, setting up today’s contest. The election is one that will have wide and important impacts on not just Japan, but the Asian region, and by extension, the world. The frightening part of this election is that the vitrolic rhetoric of the right in Japan seems to have caught on in popularity, as Japan faces disputes with China over the Senkaku islands, people are increasingly wary of China’s growing influence, and Japan struggles with economic and demographic problems of monumental proportion. Instead of cool heads and sound policy going forward, many of the parties contending today are only looking to feed the fear, feed the anxiety and to rouse nationalist fervor. The Liberal Democratic Party of Japan is expected to win, returning once failed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the post of Prime Minister. He promises a hard line with China, and a return to the cronyism of LDP lore of old. The voters seemed undecided in polls leading up to the election however, and the results are not yet finalized. As of this writing, the polls will be open for another couple of hours here in Japan, and many will probably be watching the elections on TV and the internet. With some wanting to overturn the Japanese constitution article 9 that forbids war, to restore the emperor to more than a figurehead, and take a more antagonistic stance towards its neighbors, this election is of utmost importance. In spite of the anti-nuclear fervor in Japan since the earthquake and tsunami last year, it doesn’t seem to be an issue central to this election cycle. In all cases it appears that the old forces of racism, xenophobia, militarism and nationalism are set to make a comeback in Japan. My only hope is that Japan reverses course on this dangerous road before they suffer serious consequences again

Japan and the Right

It’s election season here in Japan, and the old two party order looks weaker than it ever has before. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan is hardly even entertaining the thought that it will retain power after this election, as it knows that the public opinion polls show that it has lost much of its support among the Japanese people. The formerly ruling Liberal Democratic Party is looking to retake its position as top dog in Japanese politics, but it still doesn’t have the support that helped it maintain power in Japan for almost 40 years. What other option is there then? What are the issues facing Japan, and who will be there to step in and help solve Japan’s problems? The answer to that question is not one that makes a leftist such as I very much at ease.

The Issues

What is at stake this election? Quite a few things to be honest. The DPJ hopes to solidify its tax hike of 5% on the consumption tax, while other parties want to scrap it. There is the ongoing disputes over territory with Korea and China, that no one seems to know how to handle. The Yen is still too high, hurting exports and tourism revenue, the economy is in recession, and many Japanese citizens are against the restarting of nuclear plants. These are just a few of the issues facing the Japanese this election cycle.

The Parties

Aside from the two aforementioned parties, there are a host of political parties in Japan vying for supremacy. Let’s look at them one by one, in order of their prominence in this election.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)

The DPJ took power from the LDP in 2009, ending 40 years of almost unbroken rule by that party. Riding on waves of electoral euphoria, the party then set about making a complete mockery of the electoral process. They were unable to keep a Prime Minister in office very long, running through a list of PM who couldn’t seem to handle the job and would invariably quit after a few months in office. The next prime minister, supposing that it’s not Noda, the current prime minister, would be the 7th prime minister in 6 years, surely a record among liberal “democracies”. They have long lost the trust of the Japanese people, and are likely to take a drubbing in this elecction. They have supported nuclear power, entry into TPP (a free trade agreement with the US and other Asian countries) and have failed to govern with any visible competence. Their days are very clearly numbered.

The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)

The LDP is the epitome of the good ol’ boys political club of Japan. They are essentially political chameleons who move whichever way the winds blow, but always keeping in their sights, in their actions the heart of what they work for. They represent the capitalist class wholly and without apology. The old infirm members of this political party are those who are descended from the fascists in WW2, those who wish to maintain the old system of bureaucratic  corruption, the corporatism that has defined Japan’s modern rise to power. They are xenophobes, hateful of China, hateful of Korea, really hateful of everyone and everything that doesn’t fit into their outdated paradigm, their diseased delusions of Japanese empire. They love the US, they support the occupation of Japan by US forces, and are willing to sell their souls to be part of the US empire, as if living vicariously through the US’s imperialism is a substitute for not having their own anymore. This party is, unfortunately, likely to retake enough seats in the Diet to regain the post of Prime Minister.

Nippon Isshin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party)

To explain this recent entry into Japanese politics I must first explain the two major players in this party. The first is Osaka mayor and tattoo hater Toru Hashimoto, who is known throughout Japan as a rabid nationalist, and an 85 year old in a 45 year old’s body. Youthful though he may be, charismatic though he may be, Hashimoto represents the worst of the Japanese right. He is known for his attack on teachers who refused to stand and sing the national anthem “Kimi Ga Yo”, a song that is steeped in Japan’s imperialist past, a clear violation of Japan’s standards of civil liberties. He has attacked city workers in Osaka for having the gall to have tattoos, as if tattoos made them unfit for public service. He even proclaimed, as a response to civil servants protesting his invasive and dictatorial style (he has even advocated for a dictatorship in Japan openly saying “What Japan needs now is a dictator”) he responded by telling them that they have no fundamental human rights.He supports the US occupation of Japan, wants to change article 9 of the Japanese constitution forbidding Japan from engaging in war, and is a supporter of the US controlled “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) that would expose Japan to the whims of countries like the US. He is far right, he is nationalist, he is anti-democracy, and sadly he is pretty damn popular in Japan.

The other main player in this newly formed party (formed from his regional “Osaka Restoration Party”) is the newly resigned former Governor of Tokyo, the eternal racist demagogue, Shintaro Ishihara. This man had formed a national political party prior to joining forces with Mr. Hashimoto, called the “Sunrise Party”. This man over several terms as Tokyo Governor, left behind him a trail of racism, nationalism and downright batshit craziness. You Americans think your rightwing is bad? Oh it is, but Ishihara tries to even outcrazy the tea party. He has called Africans “unintelligent”, he has, like Hashimoto I might add, been a denier of the war crimes of Japan in WW2. He is pronuclear power, pro-TPP, pro US bases in Japan (Although ironically in his other life as an author became famous for his essay entitled “The Japan that can say NO”, an essay against the US in Japan) he is responsible, partially, for the recent outbreak of hostilities with China over the Senkaku islands, and he is the epitome in Japan of the racist, sexist, homophobic, backwardsness that is the hallmark of the senile geezers who run Japan. A perfect fit for senile geezer wannabe Hashimoto, I suppose. The only ray of light in this horrid party of sick twisted fascism is that the party doesn’t look like it will field enough candidates in the election to be able to secure a majority. Most likely though their votes will go towards propping up another long stretch of LDP dominated Japan, this time with an even further rightward slant.

It would take me too long to go over the many other parties, but I wanted to focus on the major right wing parties that are contending for power in Japan. Instead of really ernestly trying to solve its problems, Japan seems to be retreating to the old haven of nationalism, xenophobia and racism. There is a clear danger of Japan turning towards its old fascist corporatism, and a very real threat it is. I hope that Japan doesn’t make the mistakes of the past. It needs to move into the future, and progress, or ignore that advice to its detriment.

Subways and Compliments

I had been to Tokyo more than once before. It had always seemed like a strange city to me. Full of people, full of life, impossibly large and sprawling; at the same time it was impossible cramped and claustrophobic, and at times the loneliest place on earth. It always seemed surreal to me.

I remember one time in Shinjuku, Kabukicho, at that time of night where you’re not sure to call it really late or really early. The wee hours, some say. The sky was glowing, the bright lights of the rowdiest part of Tokyo cast up and bounced off the atmosphere overhead. In the square, a raised platform balanced the urban landscape against the tall department stores and karaoke havens that surrounded it. The raised platform in the center was strewn over with too many to count. Some were very obviously homeless. Some were very obviously drunk and passed out, their hands still gripping their suitcases, their ties flopping haphazardly across their shoulders. A surreal scene, it still makes me think of battlefield paintings, the wounded and dead strew by the hand of chaos across the ground.

I live in Tokyo now, and have for a month. I’m still getting used to the sights, sounds and bustle of living in one of the world’s greatest cities. The subway rides in the morning, packed closer to complete strangers than I would like. Many jokes about a certain can packed fish can be heard from time to time. (Hint, not tuna) People on bicycles, oblivious to your existence, missing you by a hair and giving you a mini-heart attack. Vending machines, vending machines everywhere. The smell from the noodle shops as you walk past.

I feel like an old pro now. I’m not a tourist here. I used to live in Japan. I know the customs. I know the culture. I speak the language, decently for a gaijin I suppose. However, moving back after two years in the states means that I feel all out of whack. Caught between cultures, struggling with a language, working two jobs and taking 5 courses at university. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. The city humbles you. You feel small next to the massive towers, amidst the throngs of people shoving their way through life in old Edo.

The key to living in Tokyo is simple. Fall in. Blend in. (As much as you can at least, being a gaijin and all that) I have a metro passmo card. No tickets for me. I know where I’m going and I know where to touch my IC card and flow through the gate to the subway. And sometimes I get on the subway that’s going the opposite direction. Ah, crap. Well, don’t panic. Just calmly get off at the next station, walk with a determined, but slightly bored expression on your face, trip over two people and elbow three until you’ve successfully launched yourself on the metal coffin going the right way. Nothing to it really.

I was in the famous Ginza shopping district last week. I stopped at a bar for a drink. The place had a nice nautical theme. The bartender spoke brilliant English, said that he had gone to university in the US. California to be exact. Then he told me something that surprised me. (This is after talking a while) He said that I seemed Japanese, that I didn’t seem American. He said that when I walked in, he thought that if I didn’t look so not-Japanese he would have thought that I was. I seemed to hold my self like a Japanese person would. I’m not quite sure what this meant exactly, but I’ll take it as a compliment.

Compliments are nice.