Gakko Project, an innovative cross-cultural education experiment in Naoshima

Screen Shot 2012-07-30 at 3.08.44 PM

I’m excited and honored that Kenta Koga invited me to teach a course at Gakko Project, a cool new initiative founded by the Yale undergrad to redefine cross-border education between Japan and the US. We’re going to be on Nao Island (Naoshima) from Monday to Wednesday next week. Kenta’s one of those innovative, entrepreneurial young Japanese leaders that we at The Tofu Project want to see more of. Stay tuned for updates from the event next week!

New We Are All Radioactive episode features Joi Ito and a humble government official

We Are All Radioactive – Chapter 5: Measurements from Lisa Katayama on Vimeo.

In Chapter 5, a team of hackers in Tokyo and Boston take radiation monitoring into their own hands, mapping the measurement levels across the entire country of Japan. Greenpeace and a blogging organic farmer join them in this civilian effort, and a government official admits that they need help.

Today is A&PI HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

You guys — take a moment today to think about all Asian and Pacific Islanders living with or who have died of HIV/AIDS. In addition to the physical effects of the disease, our communities deal with a lot of stigma, which often includes the inability to even mention it to our closest friends and family. Of course, that is counterproductive to the fight against the issue.

This post is a shout out to the A&PI Wellness Center, an amazing Bay area organization dedicated to this cause, and its Banyan Tree Project. The above video is part of Taking Root, a national digital storytelling advocacy initiative.

Table for Two, a cool non-profit that aims to solve hunger and obesity at the same time

Screen Shot 2012-01-14 at 9.15.11 AM

My childhood friend Fumi heads the US office of a Japanese non-profit called Table for Two. It’s really neat — you should know about it if you don’t already. Founded by former McKinsey consultant Masa Kogure, TFT aims to simultaneously solve hunger in the developing world and obesity in places like Japan and the US by offering healthy meals in first-world cafeterias that also donate a portion of proceeds from that meal to a school lunch for a kid in Africa. TFT collaborates with NGOs in the hunger countries to distribute 20 cents from every meal purchased in the US or Japan to buy a nutrient-rich meal — usually including maize, some protein (beans, dried fish), and green vegetables — in non-conflict zones with high levels of malnutrition.

The idea that hunger and obesity are two sides of the same global issue has been echoed by Ellen Gustafson, co-creator of FEED bags (watch her TEDTalk here).

On Tuesday, TFT is launching a campaign to try to get TFT meals into 100 school campuses in the US in 100 days. Anyone can start TFT at their school cafeteria or kiosk, or help publicize the campaign. More info is here. If you want to learn more about TFT over a healthy delicious meal, check out one of the existing participating restaurants here.

Video: Government’s ominous meth warning

This short video clip made by the Japanese government aired on TV shortly after the recent drug arrest of actress Noriko Sakai. In it, a “bad” man peer pressures his girlfriend to try meth. She ends up folding to the pressure, then suffers choking coughs, addiction, and hallucinations. Is it just me or do these “drugs are horrible!” videos seem propaganda-ish? This is not only in Japan, btw &mdash I think the American PSAs about smoking, etc are just as bad.

(Thanks, Dave!)

Psychiatrist convicted of leaking arson-murder boy’s confidential info

In June 2006, a 19-year old boy set fire to his home in Nara, killing his mother and two siblings almost instantly. It was horrifying. What happened next is pretty bad too. The court appointed a psychiatrist, Morimitsu Sakihama, to conduct psychiatric tests on the boy. Sakihama did as told, and then he leaked his assessment and confidential information the boy gave him to a journalist. “I did it to benefit the boy” was his lame excuse. The journalist, a woman named Atsuko Kusanagi, used the information to write a book about the boy titled I Decided to Kill my Dad.

Sakihama was convicted to four months in prison for violating the privacy of his patient yesterday, but I think the larger problem here is that news like this creates an even deeper mistrust of psychologists and psychiatrists than there already is. Mental health care in Japan is scant, and most doctors are quick to prescribe meds without even taking the idea of seeing a shrink into consideration. Problems like hikikomori and suicide arise in large part because these people see no escape. And then some government-entrusted psychiatrist dude comes along and spills his guts to a reporter… not a very good thing for mental health care’s rap in an already skeptical society.


Many Japanese die in ambulances because of strange policy

ナンバープレートも119の救急車P8132962A 69-year old Tokyo man died two weeks ago because of a huge glitch in the Japanese ambulatory system. Somebody was just telling me about this recently. In Japan, if you call an ambulance, they then in turn have to call around to neighboring hospitals to see if the doctors in the emergency room have time to see another patient. As it goes, emergency rooms are often pretty busy and a lot of them say no. On this particular night, 14 hospitals said they were too busy and refused to take the ambulance in. The guy died 90 minutes after he was hit by a motorcycle. Most of those 90 minutes were spent in the ambulance, even though paramedics were at his side within minutes. He had severe head and back injuries and lost too much blood.

More than 14,000 emergency patients were rejected from hospitals three or more times in 2007. The record is a woman in her 70s who was having trouble breathing. She was denied entry by 49 hospitals. WTF?? One pregnant woman died in 2006 from a brain hemorrhage during childbirth because she was rejected by 19 hospitals.

Note to self: If ever in an emergency situation in Japan, don’t call an ambulance. Call a cab instead, because if you show up at the door instead of succumbing to the courtesy system of the ambulances, they’ll have to see you.

(Thanks, Walter!)

Want to Attend Japan’s First Public Lesbian Wedding?

Kanako Otsuji, the openly gay politican who is running for national elections this summer, announced that she will be having a public wedding ceremony with her partner so that everyone can attend and see that this is totally okay. Here are the details:

Place: Ikeda Park, Naka-ku, Nagoya
Date: June 3, 2007
Time: 4:30PM
Dress code: Not specified
Gifts: An open mind
RSVP: Not necessary.

If anyone actually makes it out to the wedding, will you email me with an update? And pics, if you get any. Thanks!

Help Me Help My High School Not Destroy the World

To the board members of the American School in Japan:

I heard you guys are about to accept a giant donation from a cluster bomb company executive so you can light up the football field. That’s the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard, and I hope someone knocks some sense into you before you sign up for it. Come on, guys. Cluster bombs are on the brink of being banned via a joint effort by the UN, Human Rights Watch, the Vatican, and many other global VIPs because they’re dangerous and threatening to global peace and security, and because that makes them just suck.

It is so not cool to revamp a football field on the blood of thousands of civilians across the world.

OK, thanks. Hope you change your mind.


Blog readers: Sign this petition if you agree with me.

Note: I didn’t write this letter, some other do-gooder alumnus did.

Abused Woman Arrested For Visa Violations

TraffA story about a kidnapped sex worker in the news today highlights a classic problem in Japan concerning trafficking and immigration.

A 37-year old Chinese sex worker in Tokyo was walking home early in the morning when a group of men gagged her, tied her up, threw her in a truck, beat her, and then made repeated phone calls to her friend asking for ransom money.

She was released today for no known reason, and arrived at her friend’s house on a cab. They called the cops. The cops arrested the kidnapped Chinese sex worker.

Okay do you see why this is really fucked up? True, the woman was guilty of violating her visa provisions and being in Japan illegally. But hello. She’s a kidnapping and abuse victim. And I am almost willing to bet that part of the reason she was kidnapped was because she was involved in one of the many trafficking rings that manipulates a vast majority of foreign sex workers in Japan in one way or another. If anyone learned a lesson from this incident, it’s probably this: foreign sex workers learning that they should not report things like abuse, kidnapping, and trafficking to the cops because they could be deported.

It’s the wrong lesson.

For more about trafficking in Japan, please read my Metropolis article.

107 People Died, But Is It All the Driver’s Fault?


Today marks the second anniversary of a tragic train crash in Hyogo Prefecture that killed 107 people and injured over 500. They had a gathering commemorating the dead, but excluded the 23-year old driver, Ryujiro Takami’s name from the ceremony. Takami died too, of course. But Japan Railways is making the point that the accident was his fault, and hence he should not be honored–honoring him would marginalize the regret that the company is trying to express to the victims’ families.

This is interesting. What do you guys think of this decision by JR? Kinda cold, or appropriate given the circumstances?

Tangential thought: After last week’s Virginia Tech shootings, 32 stones were laid out on the campus lawn, each one representing a victim. On the fourth or fifth day after the tragedy, a 33rd stone was added to honor the death of the killer himself. Was VT claiming him as a victim too? Maybe. Maybe it means that anyone’s death, regardless of his mistakes or fuck-ups or psychosis, is a tragedy, no matter what. Or maybe it’s acknowledging that he, too, was a victim of something, even if it was just something in his head. Of course this is highly controversial, but I’m sure Cho’s family is deeply moved by the fact that someone thought it appropriate to mourn him, too.

In any case, I do feel bad for the train driver in the 2005 Hyogo incident. There is a lot of pressure on train drivers, especially in Japan, to be not a second late and barely a centimeter off in arriving at train stations. If there wasn’t so much pressure to be on time, he might not have lost control and everyone might still be alive. And how can that be just that one guy’s fault? In NYC, subways are late all the freaking time. But isn’t that because the MTA prioritizes safety over timeliness? I think the right approach would have been for JR to say, yeah. Our driver messed up. But instead of scapegoating him, we are doing our best to protect our employees and customers from this ever happening again.

I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud.

Drop Off Your Baby Here

A Kumamoto hospital just announced that they’re going to start a baby drop off service for parents who decided they don’t want to raise their kids anymore. It’s literally called the Baby Post Box, and it’s presumably going to be at some side entrance of the hospital.

Do they have this in the US? It is the first in Japan, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It’s kind of a good idea that would prevent death from neglect, etc. I guess. But does it make it too easy to abandon the responsibilities of parenthood? Also, sometimes I put things in the mail that I don’t really mean to, like magazine subscription postcards. Isn’t it possible that a parent might, on a whim, drop off their kid while it’s having a temper tantrum, only to realize what a mistake they made later?


Multimillion Dollar Home Giveaway In Hawaii

What do you do when you’re one of the richest guys in one of the richest countries in the world, and you have a reputation for spontaneously evicting residents from your mutimillion dollar real estate ventures so you can sell them, and you want to redeem yourself? Well, Genshiro Kawamoto was in this kinda situation, and his solution to bad karma was to lease 8 of his many Oahu mansions to poor, single Native Hawaiian mothers who were previously homeless or on welfare.

Pictured left is the Worley family, who received this 5 million dollar home in Kahala. Needless to say, they’re psyched and grateful. Of course, the rich white neighbors in this neighborhood aren’t happy with the arrangement. They don’t want the ghetto natives from Waianae Coast (on the other side of the island, where homelessness is rampant) hanging out in Kahala (the posh ‘hood behind Diamond Head where some of Kawamoto’s homes are). Some apparently think that Kawamoto’s venture is all strategy and zero philanthropy–an attempt to drive down real estate prices in these wealthy areas by bringing poverty directly in, so he could buy up more land and then kick the poor people out again once he’s taken over.

Link (Thanks, KFC!)

Lady Teacher Rapist Is On The Run

I just read this horrible story about a boy who was repeated raped by a female teacher at a children’s home run by the government. His parents were in jail, and he had no choice but to live there. And every night, the teacher–who was always on night duty, in her early 20s, and overweight–would come to his bed and take advantage of him. It started when he was 15, and still a virgin.

"She kissed me, fellated me and then had sex all the way to the end.
It must have lasted 10, 20 minutes. After she’d finished with me, she
told me over and over, ‘don’t tell anybody, don’t tell anybody," Boy A
tells Shukan Asahi, adding that he had never been with a woman before
that time. "I wanted my first time to be with a woman I liked."

that, every time Teacher K worked night shift, she would creep into Boy
A’s futon, strip his pajamas off him and have her way with him. She
also began sending him love letters, all of which ended by imploring
him to keep her actions a secret.

The kid finally told his sister when he was graduating high school, and now the teacher’s been fired and is running around avoiding calls from the boy’s family and the media.



Retired Weapons Art Project


Retired Weapons is an art project started by peace activists in Japan. The idea is that, if enough people have pictures of weapons sprouting flowers–not shooting bullets–on their desktops, it would create a viral message of peace. I don’t know how well it’s working, but the images are pretty cool, and the message is simple and nicely executed. Also reminds me of the lady planting daisies(?) in ceramic grenades.

Mom Commits Suicide After Beating Kid

A 39-year-old mom on trial for beating her kid committed suicide yesterday. The 39-year-old was found hanging in her apartment, with a note that said:

I would never be able to apologize to my son enough. I am sorry I could not do things like a mother to you.

I always think it’s kind of unfair when someone dies before being brought to justice. Like how Ken Lay died right before he started serving his jail time. Or how Milosevic died in the middle of the war crimes trials in the Balkans. What she really should have done is stood trial and stuck around afterwards so the kid wouldn’t be motherless and guilt-ridden for indirectly causing her death–or at least so he will believe.


Domestic Violence Reports Are Up

Police records show that there were 18,236 reported cases of domestic violence in Japan last year, making it the highest recorded number ever. This is up 8% from 2005, and 99% of the victims were female. But the most surprising thing about this piece of news is that domestic violence wasn’t officially monitored before 2002. So even though we say 2006 was the "highest," this is only relevant to the last 4 years.

This is my own presumption, but I don’t think this higher number necessarily indicates that domestic violence is occurring more frequently. If anything, it may have more to do with women feeling that it’s okay to report their fist-happy hubbies to the cops. Especially with the new divorce law kicking in on April 1st, women are going to be complaining–officially–a lot more in the coming years.

Abe Denies Wartime Sexual Slavery

LadyI think it’s horrible that PM Shinzo Abe is denying that comfort women ever existed. Sure, there are plenty of ultra-nationalists who would argue the same thing. And granted that is exactly who he is at heart, I don’t think he should be saying things like:

"The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion.That largely changes what constitutes the definition of
coercion, and we have to take it from there."

He’s basically painting this and all the other women who have sacrificed their dignity to speak out against a war crime as liars. Come on, man, we already officially apologized for this in 1993. You can’t take that back. Shit happened during the war, and you’re never going to get along with our neighbors if you don’t face up to it.

Let’s not forget that Abe is the grandson of the conservative post-war ex-war criminal ex-prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, and how that lineage influences his perspectives on politics.

Man Seeking Pedophile Friends Arrested

Toshio Watanabe is a pedophile. His fascination with naked and dead children began when he was 15, and only worsened as he grew older. To satiate his hunger, he became an elementary school teacher. In 1999, Watanabe created a Web site on which he posted photographs of children who died in car accidents. He got some crap from some of the parents of the dead children, who were rightfully freaked out. And then, a few years later, he sent pictures of naked kids to two other pedophilic men. The e-mail was traced by the local police, and Watanabe was arrested for violating child prostitution and pornography laws in February. They found around 800,000 pictures of naked kids on his computer.

When asked why he e-mailed naked pics to his friends, Watanabe said: "I wanted to know I wasn’t alone."

Does anyone know of a self-help group for this guy? Maybe there’s one in prison for pedophiles? They say being a pedophile in a US prison is like the worst thing ever. You’re at the bottom of the bottom and you’ll probably get butt raped a billion times before they grant you a bed move. I wonder if the same applies in Japan.

By the way, if you’re fascinated by pedophiles, watch Capturing the Friedmans


Man Kills Forest For Paraglide Launch

PatchSee that giant bald spot in the middle of this hill? That’s not natural, it was ordered by a company exec in Hiroshima who decided he needed 1100 trees cut down so he could launch his paraglider there. WTF?? Now the guy’s in trouble for violating the Forest Law.

The owner of this private forest had carefully planted these cedar and cypress trees, which were mostly between 20 and 50 years old, but 55-year old Hashimoto chainsawed them down. Damages were worth 7.5 million yen.

Mr. Hashimoto, you’re selfish and mean, and you suck.