Journal

 

Friday
Feb202015

God Bless the Godless

Proportion of atheists and agnostics around the world.

Four years ago, a nephew of mine posted the following quote to his Facebook profile:

 

Atheism is the opiate of the morally degenerate.

 

Let me tell you, that really pissed me off. But, rather than admonish him for being so damn ignorant, I let it slide. What would the point be? At the age of eighteen he already had such strong beliefs in his Christianity that he would have been impervious to anything I had to say.

The boy had a reason for being cocksure: he had just been admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy. He would by and by graduate with honors and get accepted to the Top Gun fighter pilot training program, his childhood dream. The kid was no slacker, was certainly bright. Nevertheless, he was dumb.

When you have as many brothers and sisters as I do—there are thirteen of us—there’s bound to be differences in opinion about politics and religion. My siblings fall into a number of camps politically: there are liberals, like myself, moderates, kooky libertarians, and way-out there conservatives. There are born-again Christians, devout Catholics, salad bar Catholics, Agnostics, Freethinkers, and the token salad bar Buddhist: me.

My nephew, needless to say, aligns himself with the conservative born-again Christian camp of the family. His mother, an older sister of mine, home-schooled many of her children, and none of them have fallen far from the tree. They are for the most part aliens to me. Whenever I have the rare chance of talking to them—We met in person for the first time in 18 years a three summers ago—I honestly don’t know what to say. It’s like tiptoeing through a landmine. Now, I’m not saying that they are obnoxious, because they aren’t. They’re extremely decent and polite. All of them are very good-looking, too. It’s just that they have such firm beliefs about everything you know you’re going to end up arguing. And afterwards, they’ll pray for you: “Poor uncle has strayed from the path, O Lord. Please help him see the light.” Or some kind of crap like that.

I just checked my nephew’s Facebook profile and saw that the quote remains, indicating to me that he must really believe it.

 

Atheism is the opiate of the morally degenerate.

 

What a quote. Obviously, someone thought they were being clever by corrupting the oft-quoted paraphrase of what Karl Marx had written: “Die Religion . . . ist das Opium des Volkes.”[1]

What irked me so much about the quote was the bold assertion that Atheists were immoral and that only those who believed in God—the Christian Gawd, mind you—were morally upstanding.

As you might suspect, I disagreed.

First of all, you’re not a truly moral person if the only reason you do good or shun “evil” acts is to avoid punishment in the afterlife or be rewarded with a passage through the Pearly Gates. A lot of Christians fail to understand that this is a very low-level, if not childish, stage in moral development. No, a truly moral person does good because it is the right thing to do. He follows standards of morality that are universal, that apply to all people at all times. Do not kill. Do not cheat. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not hurt others. Why? Because we’re all in the same damn boat here and life is difficult enough as is to be made even more difficult by inconsiderate arses.

Now, I’m not saying people who do good only so that they might go to Heaven are bad. If that’s what works for them, and if their beliefs enable them to function as good citizens, then the more power to them.

The problem is that many self-confessed “good Christians” are not very good at being true Christians, that is, loving, kind, understanding and accepting, open-hearted, giving, concerned about the less fortunate, forgiving, and so on. No, far too many “good Christians” are hating, unfriendly, unaccepting those different from themselves, close-minded, callous towards those less fortunate, judgmental, and downright mean.

They are also dishonest.

In Japan, in this den of morally degenerate Atheists, I can leave my notebook computer, iPhone, and wallet on the table at a café while I pop into the restroom and expect to find everything untouched when I return. In America, all three would be gone before I could even unzip my fly.

A decade ago while we were waiting in line at the check-in counter at the airport, my father dropped his money clip. The clip contained quite a bit of cash, his driver’s license, and some credit cards.

After I checked in and was heading towards the departure gate, I could hear my father’s name being paged over the airport PA system: “Mr. Crowe, please return to the United check-in counter.”

Back at the check-in counter, the ground staff handed my father his money clip, saying, “I believe you dropped this.”

Returned was my father’s money clip, his credit cards and driver’s license, but no cash. My suspicion is that the Naval officer who had been standing right behind us in line noticed my father drop it and, thinking this is my lucky day, had pocketed the cash. Thank you for your service, indeed!

In that God-fearing country, America, finders truly are keepers, and losers weepers. I often joke that would be a far more fitting motto than E pluribus unum.

Meanwhile in Godless Japan, you can be pretty sure—not 100%, but pretty damn close—that when you lose or forget something, you’ll get it back.

According to a recent article published in Rocket News, “In 2014 alone, a stunning amount of cash and lost possessions was turned into police stations around Tokyo. In cash alone, over 3.3 billion yen was turned in. That’s a whopping US$27.8 million picked up and taken to the authorities. Could that happen anywhere else in the world?”

No.

Incidentally, I once left my notebook computer at an ATM. A brand-new MacBook Pro with all the bells and whistles, worth about three thousand dollars, I didn’t realize I had forgotten it till I was on the other side of town. I hurried back to the ATM, and—God bless the moral Atheist—it was still there. In the half hour or so that had passed, I’m sure several dozen people must have used the ATM and seen what was obviously a case holding a notebook computer, and yet no one took it.

David Sedaris made an interesting observation about Japan in his book When You are Engulfed in Flames:

 

“You don’t put your dirty shoes on the seat like many Americans do because, one, people sit there, two, it’s disgusting, and, three, you might stain a person’s clothes if you do. You wouldn’t like to sit down on a dirty seat would you? You wouldn’t like another person’s inconsideration cause your new dress to get dirty, would you?”

 

There is a basic consideration for others here in Japan, a desire not to inconvenience the people around you that is a much better driver of moral behavior than heaven or hell ever could be. I’ve said it before, but Americans could learn a lot from the Japanese in this regard.

 

 

 

Incidentally, my quotes include:

 

In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot—Mark Twain, Notebook, 1935

 

El día que la mierda tenga algún valor, los pobres nacerán sin culo./The day shit has value, the poor will be born without arses—Gabriel García Márquez

 

I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don't let anybody tell you different—Vonnegut, Timequake

 

Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood—Gabriel García Márquez

 

縁なき衆生渡し難し (Even Buddha cannot redeem those who do not believe in him)

 

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them—Thoreau

 

Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole—Evelyn Waugh

 

Everything about woman is a riddle, and everything about woman has a single solution: that is, pregnancy—Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

 

“The world must be all fucked up,” he said then, “when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.”—Gabriel García Márquez

 

Amputees suffer pains, cramps, itches in the leg that is no longer there. That is how she felt without him, feeling his presence where he no longer was— Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

 

We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes—Gene Roddenberry

 

It is better to spend money like there’s no tomorrow than to spend tonight like there’s no money—P. J. O’Rourke

 

 


[1] The full quote rendered into English is “The full quote from Karl Marx translates as: “The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Thursday
Feb192015

Aspiring Sincerely

Japan is a funny place.

Prostitution is technically illegal in Japan, and yet it is everywhere. Gambling is illegal, but that doesn’t keep the more than 12,000 pachinko parlors nationwide from raking it in. And if pachinko doesn’t sate your masochistic gambling needs there are also mahjong parlors galore, horse races, boat races, and keirin.

The Constitution of Japan also forbids the country from having land, sea and air forces.[1] Japan, however, famously maintains the fifth largest defense budget in the world.[2]

Personally speaking, I do not really care all that much whether Japan has a proper military or not. If the vast majority of the Japanese people want to scrap Article 9, so be it.[3] What I am concerned about, though, is the integrity of the Japanese Constitution. If laws continue to be flouted as they often are, what will stop future leaders from dismissing the Constitution altogether? Now that’s where the real danger lies.

 


[1] Article 9 of the Japanese constitution states: “Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

[2] Figures vary. In 2013, the Yearbook listed Japan as eighth, just above India and below Germany. The International Institute for Strategic Studies 2013 had Japan in seventh place just below France and above Germany.

Japan’s military budget has a “symbolic ceiling” of 1% of GDP. One percent of the world’s third largest economy, however, adds up to a lot of military hardware.

[3] Fortunately, they don’t.

Prime Minister Abe may be itching to change Japan’s “peace constitution”, but I think he fails to appreciate what a convenient excuse that constitution provides Japan. Whenever her allies have needed military assistance, all the Prime Minister has had to do was point to the constitution and say, “I’d love to help, honestly I would, but my hands are tied.” Why would you want to change that?

Wednesday
Feb182015

Japan's Wild, Wild West

1. Japan’s Wild, Wild West

Despite consistently ranking as one of best cities in the world to live, shop, or eat, Fukuoka also has a reputation among the Japanese as being one of the wildest, most dangerous places in the entire country. Because of its reputation for violence and crime, the prefecture has been called “Ashura no Koku” (阿修羅の国).[1]

So, why the bad rap?

For one, Fukuoka prefecture often tops the country in number of shootings and bombings with hand grenades—yes, that’s hand grenades. The prefecture also has the ignominy of being a leader in accidents caused by drunk drivers. The rate of burglary is high, as is the total number of sex crimes and the rate of sex crimes, and so on.[2]

The cause of the high level of crime has been attributed to the large number of organized crime syndicates operating in the prefecture, its proximity to the Sea of Japan, which is said to facilitate smuggling and exile, and tougher anticrime measures in Kantō and Kansai.

 



[1] Ashura in Buddhism is the name of the lowest ranking deities of the Kāmadhātu (Buddhist cosmology). They are described as having three heads with three faces and four to six arms. The state of an Asura reflects the mental state of a human being obsessed with ego, force and violence, always looking for an excuse to get into a fight, angry with everyone and unable to maintain calm or solve problems peacefully. (Wikipedia)

[2] *Fukuoka also has the highest rate in Japan of unmarried women in their 20s and 30s. This is supposed to be a “bad thing”, but personally, I believe it adds to the city's livability.

 

Thursday
Jan152015

Dubious Science

HRP's campaign poster for the 2014 general election features party president, Shaku Ryōko. The former party head used to be Ōkawa Kyōko, the wife of Happy Science founder Ōkawa Ryūhō. Seems they failed to realize their happiness together.The first time I heard of Happy Science was during the 2009 Lower House election that would had the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) a well-deserved drubbing.

One day during the 12-day campaign period before the election,[1] a noisy political sound truck sped past me with the usual contingent of white gloved hands waving out of the windows and the improbable name Kōfuku Jitsugen Tō (幸福実現党, The Happiness Realization Party, HRP) plastered on the side of it.

“You gotta be kidding,” I said to myself as I waved back listlessly to the enthusiastic lackeys in the van.

In 2009, there was no shortage of minor political parties with silly names, including “The Essentials”, “The Freeway Club”, “Japan Smile Party” and “The Forest and Ocean Party”, none of which would gain any seats in the election. The Happies, however, would press on election after election.

Curiosity getting the better of me, I did a bit of research into the party when I got home that day and I learned that HRP was the political wing of Kōfuku no Kagaku (幸福の科学, Happy Science), a cult founded in 1986 by Ryūhō Ōkawa.

According to an article in The Japan Times, “the Happies have an eye-catching manifesto: multiply Japan’s population by 2 1/2 to 300 million and make it the world’s No. 1 economic power, and rapidly rearm for conflict with North Korea and China. If elected, the party’s lawmakers will invite millions of foreigners to work here, inject religion into all areas of life, and fight to overcome Japan’s ‘colonial’ mentality, which has ‘fettered’ the nation’s true claim to global leadership.”             

I don’t know about you, but it sounded to me as if the person who wrote the manifesto had been smoking meth.

Pipe dream or not, Kōfuku Jitsugen Tō fielded 345 candidates, or nearly one in each electoral district—more than the either the DPJ or Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)—in the 2009 election, yet failed to win any seats in the National Diet. Further bids in 2012 and 2014 with a similar number of candidates also yielded zero seats. At a cost of 3 million yen per individual electoral district and 6 million yen per proportional representation block, The Happies have squandered almost six billion yen (over $50 million at the current exchange rate) over the past three campaigns.

Or have they?

If the real aim of these hopeless election campaigns has been brand recognition rather than electoral victory, then The Happies must be very happy indeed. Six years ago, I had never heard of either the cult or its leader, but now I have. I’m sure it is no different with your average Tarō in Japan.

Still, fifty-plus million dollars ain’t chump change. By comparison, Mitt Romney spent $42 million of his own money in his failed attempt to win the Republican nomination for presidential candidate in 2007-08, the second most spent by a candidate self-financing his run. All of this got me thinking how The Happies were able to finance not only their election campaigns, but also their construction boom which has seen several gaudy new palaces dedicated to the ego of Ōkawa erected here in Fukuoka City over the past several years.

It’s hardly news that religions, old and new, are able to generate fabulous amounts of tax-free income, but to make money, they’ve got to have adherents to their faith.

According to Happy Science’s, the cult claims to have twelve million followers in ninety countries. I found this number to be highly dubious as it is the exact same figure claimed by Sōka Gakkai. Although considered a “new religion” in Japan, it has been around since 1930 and has its origins in Nichiren Buddhism, which itself dates back to the 13th century. Although, I do not know anyone who is a follower of Ryūhō Ōkawa, I have come across quite a few members of Sōka Gakkai over the years.

By comparison, the Mormons[2] have over 15 million followers and the Jehovah’s Witnesses have 8.2 million, thanks to both religions’ aggressive missionary work throughout the world and unfortunately at my doorstep.

The more I ruminated on it, Happy Science’s claim to have twelve million believers just didn’t add up.

Then it hit me. I know how to get a fairly accurate estimate of Happy Science’s followers in Japan: the results of the 2009 election!

In the proportional representation blocks, The Happiness Realization Party and Kōmeitō, the party closely tied to Sōka Gakkai, got the following number of votes:

Hokkaidō Block

20,276 votes for HRP vs. 354,886 for Kōmeitō

 

Tōhoku Block

36,295 vs. 516,688

 

Northern Kantō Block

46,867 vs. 855,134

 

Southern Kantō Block

44,162 vs. 862,427

 

Tōkyō Block

35,667 vs. 717,199

 

Hokuriku Block

32,312 vs. 333,084

 

Tōkai Block

57,222 vs. 891,158

 

Kinki Block

80,529 vs 1,449,170

 

Chūgoku Block

32,319 vs. 555,552

 

Shikoku Block

19,507 vs. 293,204

 

Kyūshū Block

54,231 vs. 1,225,505

 

The Happiness Realization Party garnered about 459,000 proportional representational votes, less than 6% of the 8,054,000 votes for the Kōmeitō, which suggests (to me, at least) that The Happies really have only around 720,000 followers. After watching this video of Ryūhō Ōkawa’s great psychic power, makes me wonder how he managed to even get that many.

Obviously, I'm in the wrong business.

 

 


[1] For more on elections in Japan, go here.

[2] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Sunday
Jan112015

Fresh Answers to Old Questions about an even Older Profession

"You know, long before we married, Haruka surprised me by saying that she would be able to overlook her husband visiting a soapland . . ."

"Pardon me?"

"Soaplands are a uniquely Japanese kind of brothel. Customers pay to take a bath with a woman who washes the man, massages him, and then depending on the customer’s needs and budget, either has sex with, or performs some kind of act on the man resulting in the man’s 'pipes' also getting 'cleaned'. Or so they say; I have never been to one myself."[1]

"Those enigmatic Japanese."

 

 


[1] Prostitution is illegal in Japan. Technically, that is. The definition of prostitution, however, is limited to coitus, meaning that pretty much everything else that one can image is allowed. Also, there is no stipulated penalty for those who are prostitutes or those who use them, so, if a prostitute does have coitus with a John, the act is considered to have been done privately between two consenting adults. (How convenient!) Although the laws regulating “businesses affecting public morals” (風俗法, fūzokuhō) have been amended over the years, prostitution is still going strong in Japan.

Case in point: a few months ago, I was approached by a pimp on a street corner in Nakasū, Fukuoka’s “adult-oriented” entertainment area. He asked me if I was interested in going to a “soapland”.

In my two decades in this country, it was the very first time that any of these black-suited panderers had ever approached me. It left me with the impression that either Japan has come a long way in accepting foreigners or the economy still hasn’t recovered completely, “Abenomics” notwithstanding. A buck is a buck, no matter the schmuck the girl fucks.

I had a minute or two before the traffic signal changed, so I asked the pimp how much a visit to his soapland cost. (No harm in asking, right?) He answered that there was a flat fee of fifteen thousand yen (about $160).

 “So cheap!” Surely there must be some catch, I thought, and asked him if that was just the price you paid to get into the joint, the so-called nyūyoku-ryō (入浴料).

“No. It’s fifteen thousand for sex.”

“Get outta here!”

I then asked if there was an extra charge, known as a shimei-ryō (指名), for choosing the girl, and he said, “No, you may have sex with any girl you like.”

“Really!”

While I didn’t take him up on his offer, I could see why many Japanese men do. When the light changed, I crossed the street and walked away, the modest price of a convenient “affair of the body” niggling at the back of my mind.

 

Saturday
Dec062014

The Future is . . . 

The past ten years or so have really seen remarkable advancements in technology when you think about it. Just off the top of my head, I came up with the following list of products and services which not only did not exist a decade ago, but are for the most part indispensible today.

 

2001 Wikipedia

2003 Skype

2003 IEEE 802.11g, a.k.a. Wi-Fi

2004 iMac G5 with 40 to 500GB. 500GB??? Who would ever need that much storage?

2004 Toyota Prius introduced to US market.

2005 Youtube

2005 Google Maps

2005 Sunnyvale, CA, became first city in the U.S. providing citywide Wi-Fi for free.

2006 Facebook available to the general public

2006 Twitter

2006 Nintendo Wii

2007 iPhone

2007 Google Street View

2010 Instagram

2010 iPad

2011 Siri

2011 Line application

2015 iWatch

 

Makes you wonder what the next ten years will hold. Jetpacks anyone?