Taiga Ishikawa is Japan’s first openly gay elected official

Japan Gay Pride

A big hooray for Taiga Ishikawa who–two Sundays ago–became the first openly gay elected politician in Japan. The 36-year old writer/activist published a book titled Where is my Boyfriend? in 2002, and runs a non-profit that hosts events for gay men. He just won a seat in the local assembly for Toshima Ward.

I know many gay Japanese men who moved here to San Francisco because of the lack of support and acceptance back home. When I grew up in Tokyo, gay men in the public eye were mostly just parodies of themselves on variety shows, or cross dressers, or just totally below the radar.

Ishikawa’s a great advocate for LGBT issues in Japan because he can talk about them without alienating the more sexually conservative masses. In the video below, for example, he distinguishes between transsexuals and gays in a very colloquial, non-preachy tone. “I don’t want to wear a skirt,” he says with a friendly laugh. “I just want to love men as men.” And then he talks about how he discovered he was gay, felt scared and closeted for a long time, and then eventually found out about others like himself on the Internet.

Political expert Gerry Curtis on the earthquake, media coverage, and optimism

There are a few key individuals who have helped augment my understanding of Japan immensely. Gerry Curtis–Japan’s top politics expert–is definitely one of them. Here, in a recording from a talk he gave at the Columbia Business School last week, Professor Curtis talks about the distortions created by Western media, the relative competence of the current administration, and why the earthquake could bring positive change to Japan.

By the way, I’m gonna be speaking about the earthquake at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco this Thursday. Come visit! I think the keynote will also be web cast, so I’ll post a link when I have one.

Related stories:

Why it’s hard to be prime minister
LDP got their butts kicked in the election

Dramatic Softbank ad for Twitter phone features dog as political candidate

Finally, Japanese politics has gone so whack that it’s not all too unrealistic to imagine a dog running for office. Japan’s most famous dog, Jiro Shirato, stars in this mini documentary created to parody election time. It’s a Softbank commercial for a Twitter-friendly cell phone, and is chock full of drama, jokes (“manifesto” becomes “Everesto”) and hope for a brighter future. Plus it kinda explains Japanese politics in a nutshell. Amazing.

(Thanks, Kazu Y!)

Statistics show that Japan needs more female lawmakers

Embarrassing stat of the day: The Inter-Parliamentary Union came out with its latest survey results on gender breakdown in lawmaking this week, and Japan was ranked 98th. This is actually an improvement from last year, when we came in 104th, but we’re still way behind China (55th), North Korea (78th), and South Korea (82nd). Rwanda is the only country that has more women than men in its lower house (56.3%). The national average is 18.8%; Japan currently has 11.3%.


Politician’s porn past raises questions of aptitude

This is a clip from a porn horror film called Blind Beast v. Killer Dwarf, based on a novel by Edogawa Ranpo (he’s kinda like the Japanese version of Edgar Allan Poe). It stars Mieko Kikuchi, aka Mieko Tanaka, a Democratic Party of Japan member. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with politicians having a porn past, but an article in the Global Post raises an interesting question of whether the contingency of female politicians in the DPJ are truly qualified to hold official positions, or if it’s just a PR stunt.

Link (via Hiroko Tabuchi’s Twitter)

Ex-finance minister found dead at his home

Eadead05 Former finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa, a 56-year old Tokyo native who made headlines earlier this year when he made some embarrassing drunken public appearances in Italy, was found dead in his home today. The cause of death has not been announced yet, but his wife discovered him lying face down on the bed hours after he had passed. His father was also a politician and a heavy drinker who died around the same age; he had committed suicide in Hokkaido in 1983 at age 57. I’ll update the post as we find out more about the exact cause of death.

via NY Times

Related stories:
Ex-minister Nakagawa accosted Vatican statue, set off alarms
Finance minister’s public intoxication signals need for change
New cell phone game pokes fun at the drunken ex-finance minister

Hatoyama’s wife flies in UFOs, meets Tom Cruise, chomps on the sun

Picture 1Ladies and gents, meet the soon-to-be first couple of Japanese politics, Mr. and Mrs. Yukio Hatoyama. Miyuki, the wife, is quite an interesting character &mdash she used to be a Takarazuka actor, is an excellent cook, and authored a book called Very Strange Things I’ve Encountered. In it, she writes about a journey she took on a UFO:

While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus. It was a very beautiful place and it was really green.

Another one of the very strange things she claims to have encountered is actor Tom Cruise. Apparently, Cruise used to be Japanese in his past life, and that’s why they met. Who knew?

Mrs. Hatoyama also admittedly likes to chomp on the sun for energy. MSNBC reports:

“I also eat the sun,” Hatoyama said on the program, looking up with her eyes closed, raising her arms high as if she was tearing pieces off an imaginary sun. “Like this, hum, hum, hum. It gives me enormous energy.”

Interesting lady!

New leading party may provide cash incentive to people raising kids

The Democratic Party, which takes power soon, is proposing to give Japanese families $300 per month per child through junior high school to help combat the aging shrinking population problem:

The DPJ is promising Japan’s 100 million voters it will grab money away from bureaucrats and redistribute it to them. Topping their woo-list is a pledge to pay a $300 benefit per child per month to families. Another $10 billion dollars in subsidies will go to the nation’s farmers. Other sugarcoated policies include the abolition of expressway road tolls and the removal of a gasoline tax used to fund new highway construction.

Link (Thanks, Alyssa!)

Five facts about the prime minister-to-be Yukio Hatoyama

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Here are five quick facts about Yukio Hatoyama, the guy who will be replacing Taro Aso as prime minister:

1. He’s a 4th-generation politician hailing from a family sometimes referred to as the Kennedys of Japan.
2. His maternal grandfather founded and inherited Bridgestone.
3. He has a PhD in managerial engineering from Stanford.
4. The Washington Post describes him as “stiff, shy and very rich.”
5. Unlike Taro Aso, he can read and write the Japanese language. We hope.

Related posts:
Aso tells poor young people not to get married
Aso and Obama’s cheesy happy handshake photo
Taro “I can’t read kanji” Aso publicly proves incompetence in Japanese language
Aso to be featured in erotic video game
Aso depicted as a local hero in Akihabara
Japanese politics: The man who can explain it all and make you laugh

Aso tells poor young people not to get married

Taro_aso_Taro Aso is getting some heat for a statement he made about money and marriage in front of a group of young Tokyoites on Sunday night. Here’s an excerpt of what he said:

If you don’t have money, you’d better not get married… Marriage isn’t something that you do because you have money and you don’t do because you don’t have money. It depends on each individual. However, you can’t be confident unless you earn a living. It’s difficult for you to be respected if you don’t earn money.

Some youngsters found this offensive since they’re struggling really hard to find work but can’t. I see his point about people gaining respect by earning money, but I don’t necessarily think that has to be a prerequisite for marriage.


The Happiness Realization Party

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Japanese politics has been dominated by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party for half a century, but every once in a while there are these small radical-sounding parties that take a stab at leadership positions. One of the most recent is the Happiness Realization Party. They’ve just published their manifesto in English this month, which includes goals like a new constitution, reduced taxes, protection against North Korean missiles, and the realization of true happiness.

The Happiness Realization Party is actually the political offshoot of a new religious group called Happy Science, which might be something similar to Scientology, though I don’t know for sure.

Link (Thanks, Ted!)

Read more about Japanese politics on TokyoMango’s politics channel.

Learn to speak English with Barack Obama’s speeches

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My mom tells me that one of the most popular English-language learning books on the market right now is this “Speeches of Barack Obama” booklet set, which includes a page-by-page translation of Obama’s iconic speeches throughout the years &mdash his keynote at the Democratic National Congress in 2004, his battles at the primaries, and his acceptance speech among them. The booklet also includes a CD of the actual speeches by the president. At 1000 yen ($10), it’s way cheaper than enrolling in an English lesson taught by amateurs at Gaba, and who better to learn how to speak English than the president in all his motivational oratory glory! Also worth noting that the publisher, Asahi Press, didn’t have to pay anybody for the rights to his speeches nor to write original content, so this is just a huge profit-making venture.

Lords of the Samurai, a must-see exhibit in San Francisco, opens Friday


San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum has a special Samurai exhibit starting on Friday. It’s the private collection belonging to former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa, who comes from a famous samurai family that dates back 700 years. Hosokawa is the 26th generation.


I went to the media preview and met Mr. Hosokawa in person, which was cool! I remember when he was prime minister &mdash I was a kid, but I liked him instantly because he kinda looks like my dad. He was one of the only post-war PMs who was not a member of the Liberal Democratic Party. He also happens to be a talented ceramicist, and has some his art work on display, too.


The collection includes 6,000 items from the Hosokawa clan’s possessions, including armor, samurai swords, and costumes from the times of Miyamoto Musashi. In fact, the exhibit includes original artifacts that belonged to Musashi, like his dual-length wooden swords. Amazing.

The museum will also be hosting fun events on Thursday nights starting next week for those of you who want some nightlife mixed in with viewing art. A must-see if you’re in SF between June 12 and September 20.

Exhibit main page