[Video Gallery] Occupy Tokyo

Despite the morning rain, there were three protests in Tokyo yesterday on October 15, which were inspired by Occupy Wallstreet. One was in Roppongi, an area well-known for being one of, if not the most, wealthy in Japan; another started in Hibiya Park and went past the TEPCO building; and the last one was in Shibuya. I was fortunate to be in area for the Roppongi protest in Mikawadai Park. The protest was very peaceful; the atmosphere was relaxed and some protesters even brought their own children.

What sets the Japanese protests apart from the rest of the world is that the Japanese ones are targeting the abolishment of nuclear energy.

The Obstacles of Implementing the Hague Convention in Japan

I recently had the chance to visit the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan to attend a press conference about child abduction and to meet several foreign men who were having trouble seeing their half-Japanese children. Although Japan stated its intentions to join the Hague Convention in May, it is clear that it will take years for that to fully happen. In fact, it may be too late by then for many fathers who are currently trying to see their children.

Foreign nationals who marry Japanese are able to reside as a `Spouse of Japanese National`. However, in the case of divorce, foreign nationals lose their visa status, and some of them are forced to leave Japan, which makes it impossible for them to see their children again. MD Shahidul Huq, a Bangladesh national, applied to change his status of residence to `Investor/Business Manager` after divorcing his wife, but was rejected, despite living in Japan for 22 years. Having a child with Japanese citizenship does not guarantee that a non-Japanese can have permanent residence in Japan.

Foreigners also have a disadvantage when it comes to gaining custody of their children. Some have trouble overcoming the language and cultural barriers, while others are discriminated against because of their race and nationality. Their views on marriage, family, and child custody also often clashes with Japanese views.

There is no doubt taking steps to join the Hague Convention in Japan will be extremely difficult. In order for this to happen, the government will have to change immigration laws in order to accommodate foreign nationals who have Japanese children. Most importantly, Japanese beliefs on child-rearing will have to change.

Unlike countries such as the United States, Japan doesn`t allow joint custody. To put it more simply, one parent has full custody over the children. This parent has the right to deny visitation rights to the other parent. In Japan, custody almost always goes to the mother not only in cases of divorce between a Japanese women and a foreign national, but in cases between Japanese couples. It is not uncommon for children to never see their fathers again after a divorce.

“The Japanese media doesn`t talk about this problem,” said Zidi Mourad, a Tunisian who has been unable to see his children since February 9th 2010. His visa is due to expire next year.

Child abductions are given much attention in foreign or English language newspapers. However, as Mr. Mourad said, this issue is rarely mentioned in the Japanese media, which can further slow implementation of the Hague Convention.

There is no doubt that it will take years until fathers can even hope to see their abducted children again, as they are facing much resistance from the Japanese government, media, and people.


Angela Erika Kubo is a half-Japanese, half-American college student studying political science in Tokyo, Japan. You can contact her at aekubo@savingjapan.net.

What is Japanese?

In 2005, Taro Aso, one of Japan`s former prime ministers, said that Japan is “one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture, and one race, the like of which there is no other on this earth.” His comment sparked outrage because he failed to note that Japan is made up of my different groups such as the Ainu, an ethnic minority found mostly in Hokkaido that is indigenous to Japan; ethnic Koreans who were brought to Japan as foreign laborers during WWII; Chinese and other foreign residents; and so on. The idea that Japan is a homogeneous country also ignores the fact that there are increasing numbers of half-Japanese people due to globalization.

I was born to a Japanese mother and an American father who was in the U.S. military. Most of my life was spent between Japan and the United States, so I grew up in both cultures. For example, I ate Japanese dishes such as tonkatsu and miso soup for dinner and chocolate brownies for dessert and was accustomed to hearing both English and Japanese being spoken at home.

Despite that, I never gave much thought to the fact that I was half-Japanese. Back then, it didn`t matter to me, and I naively thought that everyone else lived the same way that I did.

It was only until I moved back to Japan five and a half years ago and began attending a Japanese middle school that I put much thought into my ethnicity and upbringing. The diversity that had characterized my classroom in the United States was replaced by a sea of Japanese faces. I was the only one out of a school of 300 people who had ever been abroad, and everyone was curious about the transfer student from the United States. One day a male classmate asked me about my nationality. I told him that I was Japanese, and he answered, “No you`re not, and you`ll never be one.”

That was the beginning of an identity crisis that lasted throughout my middle and high school years.

My mother had always firmly told me that I was both Japanese and American and that “other Japanese people were going to have to get used to the fact that Japan was becoming more diverse whether they liked it or not.” That still didn`t stop me from doubting that I was Japanese whenever someone brought attention to my appearance. I may have had Japanese citizenship, but I didn`t know the conditions that made one Japanese? Was it citizenship? Ethnicity? An ability to speak the Japanese language or navigate oneself through Japanese culture?

In high school I met other people who asked themselves the same questions. Some, like me, were half-Japanese. Others were people who looked Japanese and were born in Japan, but spent most of their lives in other countries such as the United States or Canada and found it difficult to identify with Japan. There were also ethnic Koreans who were born and raised in Japan and spoke Japanese as their mother tongue. As a result, many of them felt more Japanese than Korean.

From that I realized that defining Japanese, or any other nationality for that matter, is not that easy. If you try to define Japanese as Aso did, you`ll not only come off as being a racist, but you`ll also ignore so many other different groups of people who deserve to be called Japanese just as much. Moreover, each person has his own way of defining himself. Some people believe that in order to be Japanese, you must have Japanese blood. Others think that you must be able to speak Japanese fluently, and still others believe that having Japanese nationality is a requirement for being Japanese. However, what is most important is how you define yourself.

I may not fit the typical Japanese mold, but that`s fine with me. I`m perfectly happy being the bridge between two different cultures, because that`s what makes me me. That still doesn`t mean that I`m not Japanese. I consider myself just as Japanese as American. Turning my back on one country would be like letting go of a big chunk of my identity: impossible.

Contrary to what many people believe, Japan is a diverse country, and will become increasingly more so if more foreign workers are allowed in. Some of these workers will integrate into Japanese society and others may marry Japanese nationals and have children. To sum it up, there will be even more people who cannot fit the typical Japanese mold that politicians such as Aso describe. That is something that Japan will have to realize and accept.


Angela Erika Kubo is a half-Japanese, half-American college student studying political science in Tokyo, Japan. You can contact her at aekubo@savingjapan.net.

What Can You Do to Help?

Last week Peter talked about volunteering. It is true that many people within Japan are trading in their vacations to help out with relief efforts. Everyone here, especially young people, is deeply touched by the disaster and wish to do anything they can to help Tohoku recover.

But it is not exactly true that people outside of Japan will be turned away because of their language ability and the surplus of volunteers. Organizations such as Peace Boat and Second Harvest Japan will accept non-Japanese speakers. In fact, both groups recently visited Sophia University to strongly encourage students to volunteer. Peace Boat said that the teams they send up to Tohoku have at least one bilingual member and that translators can be provided at their orientations.

Even if you are unable to volunteer, that still doesn`t mean that there is nothing you can do to help. Even the smallest actions have meaning. This article will talk about what people outside of Japan and those who are unable to go up to Tohoku can do.

Obviously, you can donate to an organization such as the Red Cross, but again, that isn`t the only way.

The most unobvious thing you can do is buy Japanese products. The March 11 earthquake and tsunami not only damaged buildings and claimed thousands of lives, but also dealt a fatal blow to Japan`s economy. Fears of nuclear-tainted products aren`t doing anything to help producers and farmers who need to sell their goods abroad. However, there is no reason to fear about bad sushi or radioactive MP3 players. The products coming out of Japan right now are safe, and such fears will only harm the Japanese economy when it least needs it. So don`t hesitate if you`re thinking about buying a Japanese car.

Also, you can make use of your current networks such as a school club or a church group to have a fundraiser or bake sale to help out the people in Tohoku. Since the people around you most likely know each other, you can easily meet up to plan a fundraiser during one of your meetings and gatherings. Moreover, it would be a great way to bond and have fun with each other.

For those outside of Japan who can read a bit of Japanese, you can translate articles and spread awareness by posting news on your Facebook page or blog. Many media outlets outside of Japan have already had their fill. As a result, Japan is getting less attention. However, that doesn`t mean that everything is over. Japan is still recovering, and some of the effects may last for several years. Make sure that you and everyone else are informed about what is going on.

Lastly and most importantly, think thoughtfully. Did you know that in some cases donation efforts can do more harm than good? Charles E. McJilton, the executive director of Second Harvest Japan, said at a volunteer information session at Sophia University that the costs of storing and sending, for instance, donated food can sometimes be a burden. He also noted that people in the United States often donate baby food, which cannot be distributed inside Japan because mothers are unable to read the label and trust that it can be given to their babies.

Before you decide to raise canned food or donate money be sure to think carefully and check with organizations to make sure that the proceeds can be accepted. Also, take stock of your resources; make sure that you`re not donating more money and time than you can give.

There are many ways that people can help out without volunteering. Above are just a few of the many things you can do. There are certainly other ways that you can think of if you be creative. Remember: even the smallest, indirect action can help out.

25th Anniversary of Chernobyl Disaster and Its Impact on Japan

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine. Many people in Japan used that as an opportunity to protest the use of nuclear energy in Japan. 87 Anti-nuclear Japanese groups released a joint-statement criticizing TEPCO. Farmers inside and near the areas near the Fukushima plant that were evacuated also demanded compensation for their loss of profits due to nuclear radiation.

The use of nuclear power has always been a controversial issue within Japan, because of the many deaths caused by the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2. Groups and political parties, such as the Japanese Communist Party, have always protested Japan`s reliance on nuclear power, but the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power plant has increased public awareness of the drawbacks towards using nuclear energy.

Fukushima has even been compared to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which is considered the worst nuclear accident in history. Both disasters are currently the only two given a rating of 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale.

The Japanese Communist Party, one of the biggest opponents of Japanese reliance on nuclear energy, called the accident at the Fukushima power plant “nothing but a human-generated disaster caused by the lackadaisical attitude of the atomic energy administration which has promoted the `safety myth` of nuclear energy and blindly pushed for more nuclear power generation without implementing necessary measures to ensure a modicum of safety.”

The Ukrainian ambassador to Japan, Mykola Kulinich, disagrees. He said that Chernobyl is vastly different from Fukushima, because it was “man-made” rather than caused by a tsunami following a major earthquake. He also pledged his country`s support to Japan and stressed the need for nuclear energy despite the risks involved.

Kulinich makes a very good point. Many people in Japan seem to forget that the nuclear crisis was caused mainly by one event: the tsunami following the 9.1-magnitude earthquake. Although TEPCO should be criticized for not putting in the appropriate safety measures in the first place before the earthquake hit, it should be acknowledged that there would have never been a nuclear accident if the major tsunami had never hit Japan.

Moreover, Japan is the third-largest consumer of nuclear power in the world. In other words, a large percentage of the energy consumed in Japan is produced by nuclear plants. The Kanto region is to face rolling blackouts this summer, because there will not be enough energy to supply demand due to the Fukushima power plant being knocked offline. This is a sure sign of how important nuclear power is for running Japan. Turning to other sources of energy will not only be expensive, but very, very difficult.

Brain-dead Child Becomes Organ Donor

A Japanese boy identified by the ministry to be between the ages of 10 to 15 had his organs harvested Wednesday morning after being declared brain dead. The boy`s family gave their consent for the operation to take place, but requested that the hospital not be identified.

This is the first time that organs have been extracted from a child under 15 since the organ transplant law was revised in July, 2010.

Organ transplants are a controversial subject in Japan due to views on religion, ethics, and death. The Shinto faith emphasizes purity and the wholeness of the body. Tampering with a corpse is also considered bad luck. As a result, there are significantly fewer organ transplants taking place in Japan than in the United States.

According to the Japan Organ Transplant Network, over 12, 000 people are on the waiting list for an organ donation. Out of that, only 200 are able to receive organs.

Many are forced to go abroad for transplants. Such trips are costly, forcing families to ask for donations.

Wednesday`s operation is an unprecedented case and will hopefully encourage more people to allow brain-dead children under 15 to become donors. However, Japan will have to ease other restrictions in order to address the needs of the 12, 000 people who are still on the waiting list.

 [Source: The Japan Times, The Japan Organ Transplant Network]


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