Declothing the Emperor — A Viral Story

Folktales abound in ancient cultures and countries of some vainglorious king who is hoodwinked by a dishonest tailor and made to believe he is wearing a magnificent suit of fine regal robes, when, in fact, he is wearing nothing at all — as he finds out only after he leaves the castle walls and parades himself to a gawking public that sees his royal highness in all his nakedness.

India has just such a folktale dating back to around 1200 AD; Spain too has a story like that from back in the 1300s. For most of us in the modern world, though, the most famous version of this tale is The Emperor’s New Clothes, written by author Hans Christian Anderson of Denmark in 1837.

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Inside the Quake Zone, 25 Years On

We walk the streets of the old neighborhood this afternoon, remembering another place, another time. Our former apartment building is still there on the south side of JR Koshienguchi station in Nishinomiya, but the cozy third-floor unit where my wife, son and I first lived as a new family, apartment #303, is now being rented out to some local business. The family-run liquor shop just across the way from us in the local shopping arcade is still there, as is the old family-run stationery shop, the shelves filled with office supplies and paper that seemed unmoved since 17 January 1995, the day of the big quake.

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Banned in Japan: The Little Statue that Roared

Welcome, dear readers, to Aichi Trienniale 2019, one of the largest Japanese contemporary festivals in the country. Held every three years since 2010, this festival attracts artists from around Japan and the globe, while promoting such lofty goals as “contributing to the global development of culture and art” and “bringing culture and art into people’s daily lives” as its mission.

The exhibitions for year’s Aichi Trienniale are being held at several major art venues in the cities of Nagoya and Toyota (home of the famous Japanese Toyota cars), in central Japan, under the theme of “Taming Y/Our Passion”. The festival is running 75 consecutive days from 1 August to mid-October 2019.

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Meet the Neo-Fascist Leader’s Long-Lost Twin Brother

You can always judge a person by the company he/she keeps, as the old saying goes, and nowhere does that hold truer than in the world of global politics. The fake president of the United States (FPOTUS), Donald Trump, for one, has never met a right-wing extremist leader of a nation or a military strongman he didn’t like, and these dangerous leaders have returned the love to the American fake president in kind.

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When Freedom of the Press Means ‘Unfree’

An independent journalist decided earlier this month to travel overseas to the Middle Eastern nation of Yemen, hoping to cross over legally into the war-torn country and report on the dangerous situation there. Saudi Arabia, using military weapons supplied in part by its ally, the United States, has joined the civil war in Yemen, one of the poorest nations in the Arab world, and the result is one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. This particular journalist decided to take a risk and try to get into Yemen, with the idea of telling the world what is really happening there on the ground. That is what journalists do, after all.

But when the journalist tried to board an airline flight to the Middle East, he was stopped cold at a major international airport in Japan by an unexpected source: the government of his own country. Passport officials invalidated his passport right there at the airport and ordered him to surrender the passport or face the consequences. The journalist was effectively banned from traveling outside of his country and is now prevented from doing his job.

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Memories of a Grassroots Man

It has been heartwarming and heartbreaking, inspiring and saddening, all at the same time, to see all the tributes to and news coverage about Native American elder and activist Dennis Banks, in the wake of his passing on 29 October at age 80.

Banks is most well known for having co-founded the American Indian Movement in the late 1960s at a turbulent time in modern history and the many confrontations he led or joined in during that time, most notably the 71-day occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, USA. He was a warrior who stood up when his people most needed him, when the times most demanded it, and for that he will always be remembered and loved.

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The Boy in the Picture: A Remembrance

A 16-year-old Japanese boy lies face down on a hospital bed, his eyes closed and face partially obscured from view. His back and arms, oozing blood and pus, show the severe radiation burns he suffered during the atomic bombing of his city, Nagasaki, just five months before by the United States. He is still clinging to life and the Japanese doctors keeping him in a bath of penicillin to fight off infection seem amazed that the boy is still alive.

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Arigato, Japan, for Thirty Years

The sight of huge gaudy billboards, one next to another, advertising some of the biggest names in Japanese electronics: Sony, Panasonic, Fujitsu — that was my first image of Japan. That was how Japan presented itself on the world stage back in the 1980s, and several decades later that is still the strongest memory I have of the country I’ve long called home.

The date was 23 December 1986, exactly 30 years ago today. It was the day I first arrived in Japan.

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Three Books in the Bag (or, A Year of Living Creatively)

It is always worth a celebration when you get a book project finished. You naturally want to share with the world the results of your labor, and you watch with great anticipation how your work is being received one way or the other. These past few years I’ve been lucky enough to get at least one book project (and sometimes two) brought to completion in a year’s time.

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POTUS Comes to Hiroshima

History was made one month ago when POTUS (President of the United States) Barack Obama landed in the city of Hiroshima, Japan — the first sitting American president to ever visit the site since it was destroyed by a single atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.

Depending on who you are and what your political views may be, the visit to Hiroshima by Obama was: (1) flawless, with one of the greatest speeches of all time (2) a good photo opportunity and little else (3) a great disappointment, since he didn’t apologize to the Japanese for anything (4) an insult to American war veterans for daring to go there in the first place (5) an obvious slight to the Japanese atomic survivors, since he didn’t listen to any of their stories of suffering (6) a missed chance at making a major anti-nuclear policy speech (7) or anything else you can think of.

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Fukushima, Year 5, and Counting...

Nine days ago, March 11, marked Japan’s slide into Year No. 5 of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. So much has happened these past five years, and yet so little seems to have been meaningfully accomplished in the way of resolving what can be called without exaggeration the worst nuclear accident in the history of humankind.

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A Place Called ‘Motomenai’

The Japanese press reported widely in early January of this year about the recent death of someone I had known fairly well, Shozo Kajima, of old age. He was 92 years old. He was cited in most of the obituaries as the author of a mega-bestselling poetry book titled Motomenai [Not wanting], published in 2007.

But what most of the media here didn’t report in their brief stories on Kajima were the kinds of things I had gotten to know personally about him in recent years: how he had been among the up-and-coming literary figures in Japan after World War II, how he became a renowned scholar and translator of English-language classics (especially by the U.S. author William Faulkner), how he found a new form of expression in watercolor painting, and how, later in life, he rediscovered his Asian roots in the Chinese philosophy of Taoism and had become known as a respected Taoist philosopher in Japan.

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Where is the People’s Tribunal on Fukushima?

Leaders of three powerful nations were being tried in public in Japan in summer 2004, more than a year after the United States invaded the nation of Iraq, and it was an incredible scene to witness. This was no small matter, either: U.S. president George W. Bush, British prime minister Tony Blair and Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi were being charged with crimes against humanity in connection with the Iraq invasion and/or support for that invasion.

I sat transfixed in the audience of a public hall in the downtown Japanese city of Kyoto, astonished that such a scene was playing out right before me. On stage there were prosecuting attorneys representing the public, defense attorneys representing the three leaders on trial and a procession of witnesses — including some Iraqi exiles who had come all the way to Japan just to testify about the tragedy befalling their country.

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The Stain of Sexual Slavery

The Japanese government’s censorship of nationally used school textbooks — deleting or downplaying the many bad things Japan did during World War II — has been going on for decades. But it is only recently, with a neo-fascist prime minister back in power, that such official censorship is now moving into dangerous areas beyond Japan’s borders and into textbooks used in overseas countries.

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One Who Made a Positive Difference

Japan as a nation is still mourning, as I write these words, the recent killing of two Japanese citizens — especially independent journalist Kenji Goto — in the Middle East.

It was with a heavy heart that I, too, watched the videos of Goto and heard his emotionally cracking voice reading his captors’ messages, and then saw his beheaded, blood-spattered body lying on the ground. It was such a cold, cruel, senseless killing. Goto’s family loses a beloved father and husband, and the ranks of journalists in Japan lose a valued colleague.

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January 17 — A Remembrance

It was a Monday in mid-January of 1995, and as a daily newspaper reporter I had an appointment scheduled for the next day to interview some local activist group. For some reason I can’t remember now, I had been hoping to get out of doing the interview and thought to myself: A big disaster would be about the only way to knock this off my schedule for the day....

No lie; that is just the way it happened. The next morning, almost as if I had jinxed myself (and a whole lot of other people), that “big disaster” came to pass.

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Where the Real Obscenity Lies

Rokude Nashiko, a manga comic book and visual artist based in Tokyo, was arrested in July of this year and detained by police. Her crime? Posting and distributing information pertaining to vaginal art — thinly disguised, sculpted images of her own genitals, to be exact. She faced a possible two years in prison for making such “obscene” images public through her website, which she operates openly and legally.

Thousands of people in Japan, and apparently abroad too, took exception to the heavy-handed Japanese police actions and put a public petition in motion. Within a week Rokude Nashiko (her artistic name and a play on words, loosely translated as “Good-for-Nothing Girl”) was released from custody, the police apparently too embarrassed by the publicity to keep her any longer.

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The Death of Article 9?

Article 9. [1] 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.

[2] In order 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.

This historic and important clause in Japan’s postwar Constitution, ratified in 1947, stands unique in the world for its clear renunciation of war and “war potential” as a policy of the state.


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The True Face of TEPCO

The Fukushima nuclear crisis of March 2011 revealed many unsavory truths about the Japanese press, the nuclear power industry and the government’s so-called nuclear regulatory agencies that had lay hidden and mostly unreported for decades here in Japan.

But recently we have been getting a close-up look at just how arrogant the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), has been in dealing with the Japanese public — and indeed the world — in this post-Fukushima age we now live in.

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‘No One Will Ever Know’

I got a phone call one day from my boss, an overweight, middle-aged publisher of a small, weekly newspaper in my town in southern California, to go to a nearby hospital and interview some person for a story. The guy had something to say about some kind of nuclear accident, my boss said, look into it.

A young cub reporter in my early 20s, fresh to the scene and always hungry for a scoop, I called the man at the hospital and made an appointment. It was circa 1980-1981, and the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 was still a hot news topic in the United States. A nationwide grassroots anti-nuclear movement was then being born. I was curious about what the man at the hospital wanted to talk about.

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