Journal

 

Thursday
Mar192015

Speak of the Devil and She is . . .

As a rule, I try to avoid former girlfriends, particularly the ones I cared for.

Such as Mié?

Such as Mié, yes.

So, the two of you never met again after that night?

No, not even once.

And if you were given the opportunity?

To meet Mié again? I would probably take a pass on that.

Why?

Because old girlfriends (past flings, too) are in a sense time capsules, vessels containing the memories, hopes, desires, and pains of the time you dated or slept with them. And anytime you meet an old girlfriend it’s as if you are uncorking the capsule and letting it all come spewing out again. It can be . . .

Discomfiting?

Unsightly is more like it.

Why so?

Well, suppose I bumped into Nahoko.

That was the young college girl who dumped you after sleeping with you once . . .

Yeah, that’s the one. The girl just vanished right off the face of the earth, and, well, as hard as that was to take for a few weeks, it really was for the best. Nice and clean, like a surgical cut. Now, suppose I had bumped into Nahoko six months or so later, after I had gotten over the disappointment. Meeting her again, I’d probably discover that she wasn’t nearly as pretty or intelligent or engaging as I had built her up to be. That reminds me of a saying in Japanese—nigeta sakana-wa ōkii (逃げた魚は大きい)—which means “The fish that get away are big.” Well, this fish, Nahoko, that wiggled out of my arms starts getting bigger and bigger and bigger in my mind and the regret of not being able to reel her in, so to speak, also grows and grows. But then I bump into her and, now that I can look at her with fresh, objective eyes, I see that I had been tormenting myself all this time over a girl who was at best mediocre.

Mediocre? That’s a tad severe, isn’t it?

Reality is fucking severe.

And Mié?

As for Mié . . . Mié, on the other hand, truly was a lovely thing . . . special . . . But, let’s not kid ourselves: over two decades have passed since we parted and Time is not very kind—it can be especially cruel to a woman after she’s had children. But that Mié I fell in love with, that Mié who broke my heart all those years ago, she is, in my mind at least, still a woman only twenty-six years of age, full of life, hopes and potential; she is still agonizingly beautiful. The reality, I fear, is probably very, very different.

 

___________________________________________

 

 

Speak of the Devil and she’s sure to appear.

 

I had no sooner written the above piece for a novella I’m working on when I noticed that Facebook was suggesting one of my ex-girlfriends as a friend. Not sure what algorithm Facebook was using, but in spite of “Umé” and I not having any mutual friends nor my having worked at the university where she studied, we were being asked whether we knew each other, and if so, whether we would like to “friend" one another. Yes, we did know each other, in the biblical sense, but, no, I was not interested in friending her. 

It’s been over ten years since Umé and I dated. It was during a rocky patch I was going through with the woman who would become my wife, that Umé and I had our little fling. She was going through her own rough patch with the man, I assume, became her husband. He was a resident at the time, terribly busy with his training to see Umé who turned to me out of loneliness. (Or was it desperation?) At any rate, Umé is now a mother of three.

The last time I saw Umé was about two years after we parted. She was pregnant, about to explode, and my first thought was: “Aonghas, you dodged a bullet there."

Seeing her in photos again after all these years, I must admit that she has aged fairly well despite the three kids. (I wish I could say the same about myself after only two.) Funny thing, though, as I looked at her photo I kept saying things to myself like “Was her chin always that pointy?” “Was her mouth always so small?” At the time, Umé seemed like the cutest thing I’d come across in years. I just wanted to eat her up. As for now? I’d have to say, my wife was a much better catch. 

 

Just yesterday, I came across yet another former girlfriend, one I dated Lord only knows how many years ago. (I am reluctant to specify as I don’t want to needlessly self-incriminate myself.) 

“Miki” and I dated briefly and sporadically. Nevertheless, there are things about her that I will never forget. One of the lasting images I have of Miki is when she stripped down to her bra and panties which had a dalmatian pattern on them and barked playfully, “Wan-wan! Wan-wan!”

Miki, in spite of the years, hasn’t changed much either, though she is not quite as slim as she once was. As for wanting to stop her and talk about old times, I passed. The very last thing she said to me was “Hikyō!” (卑怯)

I didn’t know what the word meant at the time and had to look it up. The dictionary will tell you it means “cowardice”, but, judging from her body language, a better translation might be: “You fucking arsehole!”

It’s true. I was an arsehole back then. But no more! Mark my word; I am no longer an arsehole.

Tuesday
Mar102015

Wrong, Very Wrong

A few months before I was to move to Japan, I looked at a map of the world I had on my bedroom wall and trace my finger in a horizontal line from Fukuoka City, across the Pacific Ocean, all the way to San Diego, California. 

"Perfect!" I said to myself.

Having moved to Portland, Oregon after living in Southern California for the first half of my life, I was never quite able to tame the longing in my heart for the subtropics.

I'd had enough of Oregon's miserable weather, the rain, the drizzle, the sprinkling, the showers, and the constantly gray, overcast skies. I was sick of the mud on my shoes, the musty smell of Pendleton wool as I chopped wood for the fire, and the firewood that was always too damp to catch fire. I'd also had it up to here with the runny nose, the pasty white skin, the bronchitis. I wanted to escape. And now Japan was beckoning me like Bali Hai. 

And so, looking at that map, I recall saying to myself, "I guess I won't be needing my sweaters. Won't need that heavy coat, either. Gloves? I'll toss those in the Goodwill pile . . ." 

And then I came to Japan and for those first few weeks in late March I nearly died from exposure (and hunger, but that's another story).

This morning, March 11th, it snowed, if you can believe it. Not enough to stick, of course, but enough to remind you that living in a subtropical climate comes with no guarantees.

I wore four layers, a scarf, and my heavy peacoat when I took my son to kindergarten. I was still cold. When I took a look at today's weather, I was both amused and chagrined to discover that it was 18°C in Portland.

All I can say is, thank God I don't live in Korea.

 

Some boys have pictures of large-breasted women on their walls. I had maps and posters of world destinations. That is the kind of nerd I was. (Am.)

Saturday
Mar072015

The Possibilities are . . .

“You know, last night I was walking around Daimyō when what must have been three Dutch swimmers walked by me. These guys were huge! Well over two meters. Like superheroes. I didn’t even think people came in that size.”

Azami asks if they were good-looking.

“How could I tell? These giants’ shoulders alone were in the stratosphere!”

“I want to meet them!”

“Oh, I’m sure you do. Seeing them, kind of helped me understand how I must make some of the men here feel.”

“But you’re not that tall.”

“Thanks a lot.”

“I mean, you’re tall, but you don’t look big.”

“Thanks again. Must be my lack of personality.”

“I mean, you’re just right. You’re perfect.”

“There’s no need to patronize me.”

“C’mon, don’t take it so seriously.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t.”

And to be honest, I don't. After all, I have never harbored any complexes about my body. Sure, I wouldn’t mind being taller, stronger and so on, but as tall as those swimmers? Nah. Being tall like that must come with its disadvantages. And think of the limits it must place on your choices of something so basic as clothing. And how would you fit a body like that into an economy class seat?

“Still,” I confess to Azami, “as those three massive ships sailed past me and I bobbed violently in their wake, I couldn’t help think that there was yet one more thing that I would never be able to do, that options had just been taken away from me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Seeing them, it dawned on me that I would never be a champion swimmer. That no matter how hard I practiced, my efforts would never compensate for what nature failed to provide.”

“I didn’t know you swam.”

“Oh, I don’t.”

“W-what?”

“What I’m trying to say is that the option became a non-option without my even knowing it, without my even having the chance to consider it. It’s as if you’re in a restaurant, looking at the first page of the menu, when the waiter comes by your table, takes the menu from you and rips a page out of it. ‘Sorry sir, but you can’t have any of these.’ And it’s not just swimming, it’s pretty much everything in life. Every day, month or year that passes, you have fewer options, there are fewer things you can do or accomplish or even try. No sooner did you take your first steps than you’re old and decrepit and the only option left you are: eat or shit, continue to live or just give in and die.”

“You’re crazy,” she says, laughing.

“Yes, it’s one of the options I choose to exercise.”

“I’ve always thought of it differently.”

“How so?”

“I’ve always believed that my options were limited or non-existent from the very start, that only by practicing or training hard, learning new skills, getting experience and so on could I finally have some choices.”

“Well, yes that’s true, but I just see it as more options. You have the choice to study or not studying and how you decide will have a big impact on what the subsequent options are. Choose to study and then you find yourself with a ravenous appetite looking at a seemingly endless menu. Choose not to go to school and you’re standing in front of a counter, well, probably behind the counter, choosing between a large order of french fries or a small one. I don’t know. I guess, I’ve always been foolishly optimistic and considered the possibilities to be infinite. You know, like Fujitsu.”

“Huh?”

“Fujitsu. You know, the company. Their slogan is ‘Fujitsu: the possibilities are infinite.’”

“Oh really?”

“Funny thing is, a student of mine recently applied for a research job at Fujitsu but didn’t get it. You’d think that with such an encouraging slogan, he’d be able to land the job. Guess the possibilities aren’t infinite after all.”

 

I found this infographic. Happy to say, that my height is slightly above average for an American and my waist is 20 cm slimmer. (Been a busy year.)

Speaking of averages, Kurt Vonnegut wrote about them in his Breakfast of Champions:

"Trout wrote a novel one time which he called How You Doin’? and it was about national averages for this and that. An advertising agency on another planet had a successful campaign for the local equivalent of Earthling peanut butter. The eye-catching part of each ad was the statement of some sort of average—the average number of children, the average size of the male sex organ on that particular planet— which was two inches long, with an inside diameter of three inches and an outside diameter of four and a quarter inches—and so on. The ads invited the readers to discover whether they were superior or inferior to the majority, in this respect or that one—whatever the respect was for that particular ad.

"The ad went on to say that superior and inferior people alike ate such and such brand of peanut butter. Except that it wasn’t really peanut butter on that planet. It was Shazzbutter.

"And so on. 

"And the peanut butter-eaters on earth were preparing to conquer the shazzbutter-eaters on the planet in the book by Kilgore Trout. By this time, the Earthlings hadn’t just demolished West Virginia and Southeast Asia. They had demolished everything. So they were ready to go pioneering again.

"They studied the shazzbutter-eaters by means of electronic snooping, and determined that they were too numerous and proud and resourceful ever to allow themselves to be pioneered.

"So the Earthlings infiltrated the ad agency which had the shazzbutter account, and they buggered the statistics in the ads. They made the average for everything so high that everybody on the planet felt inferior to the majority in every respect.

"And then the Earthling armored space ships came in and discovered the planet. Only token resistance was offered here and there, because the natives felt so below average. And then the pioneering began."

 

While I’m on the topic of heights, who you do you think the tallest Asians are?

Tuesday
Mar032015

Two Kinds

   Many authors confess to having the scales fall from their eyes when first exposed to certain authors or works. Gabriel García Márquez wrote in his autobiography Vivir para catarla (Living to Tell the Tale) that reading Kafka was like a revelation to him. He learned from Kafka that “it was not necessary to demonstrate facts: it was enough for the author to have written something for it to be true, with no proof other than the power of his talent and the authority of his voice.” I had similar revelations when I was first exposed to Camus, Roth, Vonnegut, Salinger, and el Maestro himself, García Márquez. 

   I’ve noticed that when it comes to the arts there are two kinds of people: the majority who are satisfied to merely enjoy and appreciate creations of art, and a small minority who are not satisfied unless they create them themselves.[1]

   Whenever I read a great book, eat an excellent meal, see a beautiful work of art, or watch a good movie, my first reaction is not to read, eat, see or watch more. No, I find myself more often than not more eager to write a great book, to cook an excellent meal, to make a beautiful work of art, and, yes, to even direct a good movie myself. Obviously, someone must have dropped me on my head when I was an infant.

 


[1] Many, many, many years ago when I was leaving a “kegger” with a friend and somewhat disgruntled, I made the following drunk observation: “There’s the hippies. And there are people like us. And then there’s everyone else! Fuck ‘em!”

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 Democratic Party of Japan, which would go on to win the election, or the ruling Liberal Democratic Party—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) 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 throughout Japan 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 another cult, Sōka Gakkai. Although considered a “new religion” in Japan, S.G. International 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. The entertainment world in Japan is famously peopled with followers of the religion.

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, the more Happy Science’s claim of twelve million believers just didn’t add up.

Then it hit me. I knew 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 that The Happies actually have around 720,000 followers. After watching this video of Ryūhō Ōkawa’s great psychic power, it 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 which 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?

Monday
Dec012014

Bushy Brows

   About a year or so ago I was in the ladies cosmetics section of a department store chasing after my son who had escaped from me when I noticed that all of the models pictured in the large photos above the cosmetics sellers had bushy eyebrows. 

   Not long after that, the young women in my college classes started sporting the new look, for better or worse. 

   "What the hell is going on here," I asked a fashionable woman who works in the aparrel industry.

   She replied that, some people say that similar to the length of skirts, eyebrows are an indicator of the economy. The heavier the eyebrows, the better the economy.

   "Ah, eyebrow-nomics."

Monday
Dec012014

Yakuin-henge

Wednesday
Nov262014

The 1% in Japan

   With all the talk in recent years about rising economic inequality in the U.S., I was curious to learn more about what the situation was like in Japan. In researching the issue, I came across an interesting site called heikin shūnyū ("average income", sorry Japanese only) which answers a lot of the questions people have about income and wealth in Japan. I will be translating some of my findings here, so check in on this post from time to time. 

 

  Ten million yen a year

   The first thing that caught my eye was the following:

   "年収1000万円の手取りはいくらかと言いますと、ざっくりですが700~800万となります。ちなみに全体の中で、年収1000万以上もらえる人は全体の3~4%となりかなり少ないです。"

   Take-home pay for someone earning ¥10,000,000 a year (or $84,873 at today's lousy exchange rate) amounts to about ¥7~8,000,000 ($59,000~68,000). Incidentally, only 3-4% earns over ten million yen a year. 3-4% of what is not clarified. I assume it is 3-4% of those who are working and earning an income.

   According to another great site, Trading Economics, the labor force participation rate is 59.9%, giving Japan a workforce of 63,660,000 people. So, if I have calculated correctly, about two million people in Japan earn over 10 million yen a year. That would put them squarely in the top 5%, something I find hard to believe as an income of ¥10,000,000 isn't what I'd call "rich". (See below for the actual stats.)

 

   Bragging Rights

   How much money would you have to earn for you to feel like you're really raking it in? Minna no Koe ("Everyone's Voice") an online opinion survey run, I believe, by DoCoMo, asked this very question. More than 32,000 people took part in the survey and the results are as follows: 

1. Over ¥10 million 48.8%

2. Over ¥8 million 19.3%

3. Over ¥5 million 12.0%

4. Over ¥20 million 6.3%

5. Over ¥100 million 3.9%

   Interestingly, if you look at the answers of those still in their teens, "over ¥5 million a year" drops from third place to sixth and ¥20 million rises to third place. The second most common answer for those in their twenties, however, is "over ¥5 million a year", reflecting perhaps the harsh reality of working life in Japan today.

 

   Who's Making What

   In 2010, 45,520,000 people in Japan received a "salary", the largest portion, or 18.1% (8.23 million people), earning between ¥3,000,000 ~ ¥3,999,999 a year. The next largest group, or 17.6% or wage-earners (about 8 million people) earned between ¥2,000,000 ~ ¥2,999,999.

   Among men, the largest wage group (19.5% of the total) earned between ¥4,000,000 ~ ¥4,999,999. 26.8% of women earned more than ¥1 million and less than ¥2 million.

¥4,000,000 ~ ¥4,999,999 14.3%

¥5,000,000 ~ ¥5,999,999 9.4%

¥7,000,000 ~ ¥7,999,999 3.9%

¥10,000,000 ~ ¥14,999,999 2.8%

¥15,000,000 ~ ¥19,999,999 0.6%

¥2,500,000 ~   0.2%

   Those earning over ¥10,000,000 account for less than 5% of all wage earners, or about 2.27 million people.

 

   "Kakusa Shakai"

   Kakusa Shakai (格差社会, "gap-widening society") is a term you're sure to hear on TV when the discussion is about the economic in Japan. Like America, Japan has seen growing income inequality over the past few decades, though it hasn't been as conspicuous. Rather than go into the reasons for the rise in inequality, I would like to note that as of 2010, there were some 800,000 people who could be counted among the "well-to-do", namely, those earning over ¥20 million a year. By comparison, there were more than 20 million Japanese living in poverty.

   In my next update, I'll try to look more closely into the stats of poverty in Japan. 

 

 

 

   
Tuesday
Nov252014

Nippon Ichi

   In America, when the local team wins, the town is set on fire. In Japan, however, fans burn through money at victory sales.

   Fukuoka prefecture calculated that a Japan Series win by the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks would lead to an economic windfall to the tune of ¥40,400,000,000 ($345,300,000). When the Hawks beat the Chūnichi Dragons in 2011, the economic effect of the win was ¥38,800,000,000.

   Revenue at department stores and other shops alone was expected to increase by ¥25,800,000,000 ($220,000,000) thanks to victory sales held throughout the prefecture.

   The GDP of Fukuoka prefecture is about $170 billion.

Saturday
Nov222014

A monkey on the back, a gorilla on the hood

   It was around the time of the earthquake and both Jean and I were at our very lowest. I was still depressed about the break up with Nacky, my cousin was living with me again, driving me up the wall, and money was tighter than ever.

   Jean had closed all his shops but one, The Zoo, the one down the street from mine, and was struggling to keep that. I knew money had to be tight with him, too, because every now and then he would ask me to “invest money” in his company. I couldn’t help feeling that too many banks had already invested too much in his business and that model of an ever-growing business—grow or die, he liked to say—was coming back to haunt him. His business was dying.

   Shortly before the earthquake, Jean had to give up his übercool apartment in the tony neighborhood of Hirao. That must have hurt. He had always made such a big deal about how he had been living for years “like a monk” in a very simple apartment with very few things cluttering up his life. But then, when business was going exceptionally well, Jean’s real estate agent told him that he needed to be living like a shachō, like the company president he was. He bought the Mercedes, got the apartment with the rent double my own apartment’s, and when I commented once about the running cost of keeping a car, the cost of say parking in it in town every day, he said, “Rémy, I never ask how much something costs. No, I ask myself, how can I afford it.”

   I don’t know if he lifted that from a movie or a self-help book, but it sounded awfully cool to me. That was Jean, though, he could sum things up in one sentence, create a maxim you couldn’t easily disagree with. After that, I remember trying the same philosophy, but every time I asked myself, “How can I afford it?” It always sounded panicked, as if I were saying, “How in God’s name can I ever afford this?”

   Jean was now asking himself the same thing and the answer was: he couldn’t.

   He kept the car, but gave up the apartment. He closed most of his shops and even let go of his office building in Yakuin, moving into a more modest apartment in Imaizumi out of which he was now working. When I visited him, shortly after the move, the place was a disaster area. Products lay in disarray, furniture—his wonderful mid-century modern furniture—remained in boxes, a futon was thrown on one of the floors.

   It wasn’t long thereafter that Nori left him. When I asked why, he told me that she had said it just wasn’t fun being around him anymore. “I tried to talk to the bitch about my problems, and they aren’t little, and she got tired of hearing it. Can you believe that? Excuse me for trying to confide in you! Forgive me for caring so much about you that I thought you’d be interested!”

   He acted as though losing Nori was like water off a ducks back. It didn’t bother him, or so he claimed. He was, after all, now screwing a skinny 18-year-old American girl with huge tits.

   “Hey, I’m going to getting together with Shinji later this week. Interested?”

   I told him I wasn’t. I was pretty much off drugs by then, even the modafinl that had kept me going for years after quitting shabu was history.

   I think it hurt losing Nori. The two of them had been together for almost five years and had had some very good times together.

   Several months later, he would tell me that Nori and he had got back together and were going to get married.

   “That’s great news!” I said.

   It didn’t last, of course. The two of them were together for only a few months and then Nori split to never be heard from again.

   And, so I started putting distance between myself and Jean, too. Where we once met two, three, even four times a week, we were now meeting only once in a blue moon. And every time we did I saw a man who was slowing falling apart. Maybe it was the drugs, maybe it was the stress of trying to do business in a struggling economy.

   I met him one time and seeing that his hand was swollen and purple asked what had happened.

   Oh this, he said, laughing. Then he told me how he was coming back from Itoshima where he had spent the day at the beach with a Russian chick. Some jerk behind him was on his tail the whole way back, riding his tail the whole way back. Jean let him pass, but when he did, the guy then slowed down to a crawl. When the two cars came to a red light, Jean jumped out of his car and ran to the driver’s seat, opened the door and started whaling away on the asshole’s face.

   “You should have seen the look on his girlfriend’s face,” Jean said laughing. “Tell you one thing, that is the last time the bastards pulls something like that.”

   At about the same time Jean told me another story.

   He had been riding his bike in town and had stopped at an intersection, waiting to cross the street when a car, one of those sedans with the dark windows that the yakuza like to cruise around in, pulled up behind him and started honking its horn. Traffic was heavy, so there was nothing he could do but wait until it cleared up before he crossed the street but the bastard in the car behind him kept honking its horn.

   “When I didn’t get out of the way, the car moved forward to nudge my bicycle, can you believe that? And get this, when it did so a second time, the car’s bumper rode the rear wheel of my bike and got stuck there. Well, I lost it then. I got of my bike, and it was still standing. Still standing! I started yelling at them, ‘Get the hell out of the car!’ But they wouldn’t get out. There were four of them, yakuza punks, and they wouldn’t get out of the car and that pissed me off even more, so I banged my hand down hard on the hood, and yelled, at them, ‘Get the fuck out of the car!’ But they still wouldn’t get out, so I kicked the headlight. Still they wouldn’t get out. Four tough yakuza pricks and they’re afraid of me, can you believe it? Well, I lost it, and I must confess, I was pretty high at the time and hadn’t been sleeping for a few days. So, finally, I yanked my bicycle free and tossed it onto the hood of their car. And when I was doing that, the road cleared up and they drove off. Pussies! They ran away.”

   I’d probably run away, too, if a gorilla like Jean were attacking my car.

   And that’s kind of the way it was for a while with Jean. Getting into fights with Nori and breaking up with her for good, bashing in the heads of strangers for riding his tail, smashing up a car that had bumped into him, chewing his staff out and firing them. 

 

 

 

© Aonghas Crowe, 2010-2015. All rights reserved. No unauthorized duplication of any kind.

注意:この作品はフィクションです。登場人物、団体等、実在のモノとは一切関係ありません。

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The complete version of No. 6 is now available for a variety of devices at Amazon's Kindle store.

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