There's a passage from one of my favorite Michael Crichton books that's easily overlooked the first time around:
"There's no ambient noise here: no radio or TV, no airplanes, no machinery, no passing cars. In the 20th century, we're so accustomed to hearing sound all the time, the silence feels creepy."
Even here, on one of the most remote islands of the Toshima Mura, my life remains governed by sounds.
The regular beating of the motor, the turning of the regulator, as black smog slowly dissipates in the air surrounding the transient ferry to the Toshima islands.
A large rope hitting the shore, awaiting two men native to Nakanoshima, whose sole responsibilities are to catch it, drag it, and moor it.
My feet scrambling for a frictional surface as I avoid the smooth boulders of the eastern shore, still slippery and wet from the steady pounding waves. There is an art to jumping from rock to rock that leaves one's footing secure and one's carcass not scattered across southeast Asia, or wherever the tide chooses to take it.
The crashing of bamboo made by my own exhausted attempts to make a path where none is meant to exist, to find a route from the lowermost point near セリ岬 (Cape Seri) back to the "civilized" roads of this small Japanese territory, to the silence allowed by the open road beneath a sky as blue as there ever could be, or, later on, a moonlit world reflected only by a few passing clouds and the eyes of pensive cows.
The faint, very faint, cry of butterflies struggling to move against the slightest gust of wind, flying beside me, flaunting an intricate wing of fluorescent blue. You know you are truly at peace with nature when a shirochou (白蝶, butterfly) lands on your hand, when you have allowed yourself to stay in one place long enough to appreciate the sights and sounds for more than three minutes. Let them land.
Or perhaps the crunching of green grass stalks in the mouths of the few Tokara Uma (トカラ馬) on the island, not restricted to horseshoes or load-bearing, but allowed to roam free in a sunny meadow, a protected reserve for these noble creatures.
Sulfurous gas hissing through yellow volanic fissures on towering Ontake (御岳), the reward of a long afternoon climb.
These are my escapes from the modern world – a world always in motion from cars honking, children screaming, airplanes buzzing overhead.
I'm hardly in the midst of the Ginza district of Tokyo. And yet, I cannot escape the pulls of 21st century interconnectivity. No matter how remote an island Nakanoshima is, if it's accessible, it's wired. Even now, my hand is gently moving across the tatami mat in a private room of the Oki Ryokan, accompanied by the gentle hum of the heater and the hushed Japanese conversations next door... buoyed by the hydraulics of the construction equipment ensuring a secure place for future ships to dock.
If I should somehow forget the time my means of escape will approach the island, there are speakers scattered everywhere, interrupting my moments of zen as I gaze longingly at the fish in the shallow waters of the northern coast, reminding me of noon with a siren that should be reserved for warnings of incoming enemy aircraft.
Despite the inconveniences this technology may bring those truly seeking to get away, it provides many wonders in return.
The tenmondai (天文台, observatory) allows sights not long realized by human eyes to come into focus, humbled by our desire to reach into the unknown. The craters of the moon as clear as if we were in an Apollo spacecraft on approach. Two stars caught in each other's gravitational pull over two hundred million light-years away, yet close enough to touch in my mind.
And the opportunities it affords by allowing me to come into contact with fellow travelers and residents alike...
Onsen-goers who enjoy the not-so-tepid sulfurous waters of the Nishiku (西区) and Higashiku (東区) hot springs, milky-white from the effects of dormant Ontake (御岳). One of the few native children, giggling as her father makes sure she bathes properly, unabashed in the presence of so many others.
I know I'm still new to this world, a child attempting to understand divine intent. There are still those that came before me to this island, wanderlust and courage in their hearts, inspiration in their eyes.
Their descendents follow their footsteps to honor the memory. A family of five brothers and sisters retrace the journey their parents undertook in 1946. At a time in postwar Japan, when Okinawa remained in seige and overseas travel was questionable, a single family set out to explore their homeland to remind them that despite the horrors of war and whatever changes lay in the future of their country, some aspects of culture are eternal. Some things cannot be taken away by force, a broken spirit, or a great loss. The feelings we hold, the memories we cherish, that adventurous desire to prove our self-worth and break boundaries some dare not.
It takes 7 hours 20 minutes to reach Nakanoshima from Kagoshima South Dwarf, at a roundtrip cost of ¥12,020. As I mentioned, there is currently a lot of construction going on all over the island... a surprising amount. The onsen are free and very nice; sulfuric and mineral-rich. The people are friendly and few. It's about 8.5 km from the Nishiku area (literally "western district") to the top of Ontake, but the view of the island is well worth it; it's completely unrestricted up there; if you like, you can sacrifice yourself to the volcano in one of the five or six fissures, but I wouldn't recommend it.
The observatory is definitely worth a view; it's open from 7:30 PM to 11:30 PM Weds-Sat, but you need to get the attention of the man running the place; he might not have it open if there don't appear to be any visitors:
Overall, this is just a pleasant stretch of farmland filled with retired couples and a few families wanting a safe life for their kids. Most of the walking is restricted to the paved road - believe me, you don't want to try to navigate the dense bamboo - but the northern side is very quiet and scenic; be sure to take most of the morning and afternoon to trudge out to the northeast cape (セリ岬).
However, there are some useful suggestions on distribution: • Pass a copy together with your passport at the gate. The staff will probably give it back to you and it's OK. There are still ways to reuse it before leaving the port of entry. • When coming back in family discuss together before arrival and decide on the opportunity that each member slip a copy with his/her own passport. • Print several copies before boarding the plane or ship back to Japan and neatly put a stack of copies at the counters before after passport control where Japanese nationals may stop to fill import tax or other paper. • Before leaving the airport, visit the washrooms and neatly paste a copy inside the door using easy to scrap tape. Making things cleanly is important. • If you leave the airport by limousine bus or train, why not stash a copy inside the onboard magazine.
...my works, anyway. More than a year after my trip across the Shimanami Kaido bridges in Honshu, I was contacted by a man representing the estate of the late William Brown, an internationally-recognized engineer known for his work on bridge designs.
I have seen your shot of the Tatara Bridge on Flickr.
I used to work for an engineer, William Brown, who designed many bridges (Forth, Severn, Humber, Bosporus), but who died last year. I am producing a website to celebrate his life and achievements for his wife and family. I would like to include this shot in a presentation of 50 world bridges. I will give you a named reference/copyright statement. I am unable to offer any fee. Please state your name for the copyright.
The site will be a legacy to him and I hope linked to the UK's Royal Society of Arts and the Institute of Civil Engineers.
True to his word, my photo (shown above) is now online at http://www.b2.co.uk/; just click "World Bridges" and then "Tatara".
For those of you living in or passing through the Tokyo area in the next month or so, be sure to visit the Imperial Palace for the only two events that bring the gates flying open:
Emperor Heisei's Birthday (天皇の誕生日)
Sunday, December 23rd
Citizens tend to congregate on the Nijubashi Bridge early in the morning. The gates to the palace will open at 9:30 AM, and Japanese flags will be distributed to be waved when Emperor Heisei makes his appearance.
10:20 AM on 12/23, behind bulletproof glass. The Emperor of Japan speaks in one of only two times he appears to the general public (the second below). These events are mainly attended by seniors, as they tend to hold a higher opinion of the emperor since his gradual weakening position from WWII, but a great many foreigners have been known to come as well.
First Appearance, 10:20 Second Appearance, 11:05 Third Appearance, 11:40
Tokyo's Finest in Training for February Marathon by Trent Steel
With the participants of the 2nd annual Tokyo Marathon arriving in less than three months, there has been an unusual rise in the number of city officials competing for the pride of Japan, in particular police officers.
Last year, nearly 30000 ran through the streets of the largest Japanese city, a good number of them international contenders looking to broaden their intercontinental racing experience - Americans, British, Kenyans, Australians, Chinese, Koreans...
Such diversity did not go unnoticed by Tokyo's own keisatsu (警察, police), who, this year, are coming out uniformed, organized, and ready to run.
"We thought an international race like this one would be the perfect opportunity to perform routine checks (ルーティンチェック)," said one official who chose to remain anonymous. "With so many dangerous gaijin penetrating some of the most valued residential and commercial areas, we must look out for the welfare of our citizens."
In response to how such actions might sit with permanent residents and those who have lived in Japan long enough to obtain citizenship, he countered with a small laugh:
"This is Japan. They are not Japanese. With so many gaijin running and carrying nothing but energy gel packs, we have the chance to detain those who can't present their passports or gaikokujin torokusho (外国人登録証, "gaijin cards", which foreign residents of Japan are required by law to have with them at all times).
"We would have attempted this at last year's marathon, but weren't prepared for such a great distance. This time, after months of training, we should be able to catch at least a few hundred of them."
The police in Japan are within their rights to request proof of residence from any non-Japanese citizen, but only "if based on a reasonable judgment of a situation where the policeman sees some strange conduct and some crime is being committed, or else he has enough reason to suspect (疑うに足りる相当な理由) that a person will or has committed a crime..." Police Execution of Duties Law Section 2. In other words, probable cause.
Officer "Yamamoto", as he chose not to reveal his real name, said this was an easy fix:
"We are allowed to stop gaijin based on suspicious behavior. What could be more suspicious than running from the police at full speed? What are they trying to hide?"
Full speed indeed. With Daniel Njenga of Kenya having come in at a respectable time of 2:09:45 in last year's event, we will certainly see the resolve of these men tested.
Automated gates will be placed at Narita Airport from November 20th, 2007, in order to improve convenience of immigration procedures by simplifying and accelerating them. We would like to ask foreigners who wish to use the automated gates to provide their personal identification information (fingerprints and a facial portrait) in advance and register themselves as applicants in order to use the gate.
2. Registration as an Applicant to Use the Automated Gate
(1) Required Items for Registration
1. Valid passport (including Re-entry Permit) and re-entry permission 2. Application form to use the automated gate
(2) Where and When to Register
We will be accepting applications from November 20th at the locations stated below: 1. Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau Application Counter for re-entry permission (2F) 9:00-16:00 (Except Saturdays, Sundays, National Holidays and December 29th to January 3rd) 2. Narita Airport District Immigration Office The departure inspection area at South Wing of Passenger Terminal 1: 9:00-17:00 The departure inspection area at the South Exit of Passenger Terminal 2: 9:00-17:00
(3) Registration Procedures
Submit your application form with your passport and provide fingerprints of both index fingers and a facial portrait.
Then, when the official affixes a registration stamp on your passport, the registration procedure is complete. In principle, you can use the gate from that day forward.
(4) Points of Concern for the Registration
1. Time Limit of Registration You can register until the expiration date of your passport or the expiration date of your re-entry permit, whichever comes earlier. 2. Registration Restrictions In some cases, such as when you cannot provide fingerprints, you may not be able to register. 3. Using and Providing the Registered Information We will manage information including fingerprints and facial portraits provided at the registration as personal information set forth in laws on protection of personal information held by administrative agencies, and the information will not be used or provided beyond the range allowed for in these laws. 4. Deletion of Registration Submit the application form to delete registration if you wish to delete your registration. Then, your registration will be deleted and the fingerprints and facial portrait you provided will be erased.
3. How to Use the Gate
(1) How to Use the Gate
1. When you arrive Step forward before the immigration officer and place your passport over the Passport Reader. After being recognized as a registrant, provide your fingerprints and facial portrait. Then, submit your passport and ED card to the immigration officer. After checking, the gate will open. Arrival inspection procedures are now complete. 2. When you depart Step forward before the immigration officer and place your passport over the Passport Reader. After being recognized as a registrant, provide your fingerprints. Then, submit your passport and ED card to the immigration officer. After checking, the gate will open. Departure inspection procedures are now complete.
(2) When you use the automated gate, as a rule, the entry/departure record (a stamp) will not be left on your passport.
This is good enough for The Onion. The terrible thing is, it's not that far off from some of the justification we've heard...
Starting today, 'gaijin' formally known as prints
By GRAEME JARVIE Exclusive to The Japan Times Today sees the introduction of a law requiring the majority of foreigners entering Japan to be fingerprinted and photographed. This change has been met with howls of protest from foreign residents and the foreign media, who have pointed to the fact that the only terrorist attacks on Japanese soil have been carried out by Japanese.
Matters were not helped by recent comments from Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, who attempted to justify the law by saying a "friend of a friend" of his was an al-Qaida operative who had entered Japan a number of times, using a different fake passport on each occasion.
In an effort to get an inside perspective on the new law, I wrote to a high-ranking Ministry of Injustice official closely involved in the planning and implementation of the measure. My source, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent the following statement by e-mail:
"Firstly, let me explain exactly what Mr. Hatoyama meant by his comments at the Foreign Correspondents' Club. What he was trying to emphasize was the relative ease with which foreigners bent on causing harm can enter Japan. Rather than giving dry statistics or resorting to vague and empty scare tactics, Mr. Hatoyama thought it would be better to give a concrete example of why this law is necessary. He also hoped to show that, despite his position as justice minister and scion of one of Japan's most famous political families, he is comfortable moving in any social circle. In hindsight, his choice of words was perhaps inappropriate, but the truth in what he said is undeniable. The simple fact is that this law will make Japan a safer country by tightening its borders and preventing would-be terrorists from entering.
"The main beneficiaries of this law will not be the Japanese or even foreigners living here, but foreigners who haven't even been here, and the international community as a whole.
"Take the bankruptcy of Nova Corp. Thousands of foreign teachers have been left jobless and facing eviction in a country where many of them cannot speak the language. Had this new law been enacted years ago this unfortunate situation could have been avoided.
"Consider why these people came to Japan — to teach foreign languages, mainly English, to Japanese people. Why do Japanese people want to learn? Partly to help foreign visitors who come to Japan for pleasure or business. The unique history and culture of Japan attract millions of visitors to these islands each year. However, the new law will significantly reduce this number so the need for foreign language teachers will decline sharply, and it is highly unlikely there will be a repeat of the Nova fiasco.
"In addition to protecting people from taking risky teaching jobs in Japan, this law will also help reduce the effect of brain drain on a number of countries. Huge numbers of Asians currently take advantage of Japan's generous immigration laws to come here and work. Although they often send money home, the fact that they have had to move overseas has a serious effect on the quality of the workforce in their home country. Again, the new law will reduce the number of foreigners in Japan, and the benefits of this will be felt throughout Asia as countries' brightest brains choose to stay and work in the land of their birth.
"The new immigration controls will also impact on globalization and its benefits for developing countries. The new law will probably cause some companies to close their offices in Japan and relocate to countries with less stringent border controls: developing nations in Asia, for example. As it has done in the past, the generosity of the Japanese government will allow other countries to develop economically and socially. Japan is a rich nation, but not a greedy one, and is glad to spread the benefits of globalization and free markets as widely as possible. This new law will indirectly allow us to do so.
"Of course, there will be benefits for the Japanese: Fewer foreign workers will mean more jobs for Japanese and this may go some way toward combating the growing income gap in Japan. Also, the pressure to learn English will be reduced, and this will allow Japanese people to spend more time studying their own country's history, traditions and culture. English will become an optional language for those who really want to study it, and there will still be enough foreigners here to meet the reduced demand. But, as I outlined above, the main benefits will be felt internationally, as Japan steps back slightly on the world stage and graciously allows some other countries the chance to shine."
Note: This is a fictitious e-mail from a fictitious government official.
All foreigners will begin getting fingerprinted today upon entering Japanese soil. Already delays have been reported roughly six to seven times longer than those under the old regulations. No word about any organized protests at immigration control or how the automated gate system is working.
TOKYO - Prosecutors have dropped a case involving allegations that four U.S. Marines raped a 19-year-old woman in southwestern Japan, an official said Thursday.
Earlier this month, Hiroshima police decided not to arrest the Marines, saying there were discrepancies between their accounts and one given by the woman. Police had handed the case over to prosecutors to make a final decision on whether to continue an investigation.
The decision to drop the case "was made in light of the evidence," an official at the Hiroshima District Public Prosecutors' Office quoted Deputy Prosecutor Keiichi Yamakawa as saying.
"In view of the nature of the case, we will refrain from offering specific reasons for dropping the case," added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of policy.
You know your life is on a downward spiral when coffee becomes part of your routine. Not a refreshing mochachino after a leisurely game of tennis or an espresso with a dessert of rich chocolate and strawberries... black coffee, bitter coffee, recycled coffee, coffee that can only be made at 8:30 in the morning in the hellish depths of a ten-year-old machine containing a glass pot stained brown with the grounds of so many Mondays. Take a sip of that to survive, and you have given in to complacency, to the nature of the corporate world.
The corporate world of Japan... just what is it like over here? Well, it's just like home. Except there are all these Japanese people. And Japanese signs. And more trains. Aside from that, salarymen tend to work much later than you'd expect in other countries, despite the fact that Japan's worker productivity isn't remarkably high by global standards; although American workers, for example, may not all be putting in 14-hour days, they do put in the 8-5, and remain more focused on what they are trying to do in attempts to go home, relax, and spend time with their families. In Japan, this hasn't really caught on, despite governmental influence (trying to raise the low fertility rate): Japanese men are still, for the most part, expected to be the breadwinners, and to put in the hours accordingly. Even if these overtime hours are spent doing nothing but playing solitaire, it's all about maintaining the facade: you are here late, you are a good, hard worker, an asset to the company. Add the grounds to the filter.
As a result of this mentality, many Japanese are not expected to spend time at home or take long vacations (durations usually less than one week).
This is the world I have entered into willingly as part of the experience of living and working abroad. Although I am living in a foreign country, interacting with Japanese nationals, and enjoying Japanese cuisine on a daily basis, I'm still swallowing my pride, giving up a huge part of my adventurous spirit every morning, subjugating myself to conditions I had promised I would never endure at home. Open up the plastic flap, add the water.
Honestly, I'm torn - I want to be traveling abroad, experiencing a foreign culture, but to do so... I thought I was willing to take whatever employment was available to me, a job that would allow me the opportunities to explore on the weekends and receive a small stipend for my troubles... but I'm not.
By taking a job in any major corporation in Japan (or anywhere, really), you are slowly destroying yourself. If you are working right now and believe this to be untrue, I would argue you have forgotten what it means to be a traveler, a free spirit. Day after day of answering emails, finding coworker rapport slowly becoming more comedic, noticing your legs don't cramp up quite so much after ten hours of sitting, offering to do the most trivial tasks for your manager just for a slight change of pace, listening to the hum of the computers, adjusting to the grey and white surroundings and the splattered light from flourescent bulbs... these things lead to complacency. Turn the brewer on.
But perhaps the biggest mockery of all is the beauty of the world, seeing it every day from the window of an office building. Taking five minutes to get a breath of fresh air when in fact you should be breathing free every moment of your life. Going outside is not a treat. Seeing the sun slowly brighten and extinguish from the same place indoors is not a miracle.
Yes, there is the issue of money. But there's also the issue of you. Would you have been happier to have been born a millionaire, without ever having needed to work or strive for anything? To have everything turned to leisure, nothing essential to living? Would you rather get something new, or experience something new?
Now imagine yourself poor. Earning your existence through nothing but perseverance. Traveling abroad and living on the goodwill of others and the few dollars you gained through blood and sweat. In the end, that sounds more meaningful to me than living at a Privet Drive, buying a $6 cafe latte, and spending a majority of your waking hours doing something that makes you wish you were elsewhere.
Debito has put up a translated version of the MOJ instructions for those who wish to use the automated gate when entering and leaving Japan - supposedly, this is going to minimize the inconvenience of being fingerprinted, but why then would we still be printed going in and out of Japan?
Operation of the Automated Gate
Ministry of Justice, Immigration Bureau
1. Introduction Automated gates will be placed at Narita Airport from November 20th, 2007, in order to improve convenience of immigration procedures by simplifying and accelerating them. We would like to ask foreigners who wish to use the automated gates to provide their personal identification information (fingerprints and a facial portrait) in advance and register themselves as applicants in order to use the gate.
2. Registration as an Applicant to Use the Automated Gate (1) Required Items for Registration 1. Valid passport (including Re-entry Permit) and re-entry permission 2. Application form to use the automated gate (2) Where and When to Register We will be accepting applications from November 20th at the locations stated below: 1. Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau Application Counter for re-entry permission (2F) 9:00-16:00 (Except Saturdays, Sundays, National Holidays and December 29th to January 3rd) 2. Narita Airport District Immigration Office The departure inspection area at South Wing of Passenger Terminal 1: 9:00-17:00 The departure inspection area at the South Exit of Passenger Terminal 2: 9:00-17:00 (3) Registration Procedures Submit your application form with your passport and provide fingerprints of both index fingers and a facial portrait. Then, when the official affixes a registration stamp on your passport, the registration procedure is complete. In principle, you can use the gate from that day forward. (4) Points of Concern for the Registration 1. Time Limit of Registration You can register until the expiration date of your passport or the expiration date of your re-entry permit, whichever comes earlier. 2. Registration Restrictions In some cases, such as when you cannot provide fingerprints, you may not be able to register. 3. Using and Providing the Registered Information We will manage information including fingerprints and facial portraits provided at the registration as personal information set forth in laws on protection of personal information held by administrative agencies, and the information will not be used or provided beyond the range allowed for in these laws. 4. Deletion of Registration Submit the application form to delete registration if you wish to delete your registration. Then, your registration will be deleted and the fingerprints and facial portrait you provided will be erased.
3. How to Use the Gate (1) How to Use the Gate 1. When you arrive Step forward before the immigration officer and place your passport over the Passport Reader. After being recognized as a registrant, provide your fingerprints and facial portrait. Then, submit your passport and ED card to the immigration officer. After checking, the gate will open. Arrival inspection procedures are now complete. 2. When you depart Step forward before the immigration officer and place your passport over the Passport Reader. After being recognized as a registrant, provide your fingerprints. Then, submit your passport and ED card to the immigration officer. After checking, the gate will open. Departure inspection procedures are now complete. (2) When you use the automated gate, as a rule, the entry/departure record (a stamp) will not be left on your passport.
Honestly, I'm at a loss for words. I was visiting the Kawanabe Magaibutsu Matsuri (川辺まがいぶつまつり), browsing the sumo festival and nibbling on yakitori, when a huge gleaming object suddenly caught the sunlight and screams of five-year-old boys... turns out, it was some foreigner in a black cape, with his head painted gold, supporting a giant "ぶ" on his chest.
Other than a few simple instructions for the pawing schoolchildren, he seemed to focus on his insignia, "bu". Even had a few cards to hand out with a webpage address (I checked it, not working):
There's only one rational conclusion I can draw from the evidence provided; being a foreigner in Japan for so long a time not only gives you the impression that you have strange powers over the populace, but it in fact does give you superhuman abilities, to the point where one must don a cape, protect his identity, and help the helpless.
Buman is the first of his kind, a pioneer in what will no doubt be a race of super-foreigners; I myself am destined for superspeed before my time in Nippon is at an end.
We must track down this individual and unlock the secrets to his power. Although it is 99.9% certain he is still in Kawanabe, I propose a total world search:
- To my cousin in the Department of Justice, use your NSA connections and give me intel from the satellite feeds
- To my South African readers, take a hike north and search the extent of the Sahara
- Watchers of South Park, dig deep into your imagination
- Debito, if you know anyone in Duran Duran, have them search the 1980's
- Nozomu Sahashi, look through the remains of your dignity; you might want to hire some 4,000-odd people to help you
As everyone knows, Christmas begins the day after Halloween. Violin players strum "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in Tenmonkan shopping center, "Happy Xmas" sign stock prices soar an incredible 1200%, and every major train station in Japan boasts its own holiday tree:
Somewhere in Nirvana, Buddha is crying at this betrayal.
1. It is my intention to break three hours this time, thus confirming my old classmates' belief that I am completely insane. I'll be aiming for 2:56.
2. Although costs aren't terrible, I would be interested in hearing if there are any companies or individuals willing to sponsor me; it will be my first international marathon, my first in Japan, my first in Asia, my third overall (Boston qualifier first time; how often does that happen?), and my first to break three hours. Even if you just want me to don a logo or yell a phrase at some appropriate place on the course, let me know. Looking at you, Runner's World...
Fingerprinting will begin in 11 days - Tuesday, November 20th, 2007
It's now looking like there will be separate lines for re-entry permit holders, foreign guests, and Japanese citizens. Whether this is a result of protesting or a random display of pragmatism remains to be seen.
In addition, immigration authorities at Narita will be the sole ones to host an automated gate system for residents who register their passports and fingerprints prior to entry. This does not prevent you from having to repeat the procedure when arriving in Japan, but rather seems to be a way to expedite the process.
Registration for the automated gate system is optional. Those who choose to do so must provide their passport information and have their fingerprints scanned and photographs taken. This has to be done first at select locations in and around Tokyo, including the immigration office at Narita airport.
Once registered, participants will go through the immigration line by having their passport electronically scanned and fingerprints confirmed.
They may still face questioning by immigration officials before being allowed to officially enter Japan. However, officials say people who are registered are likely to get through immigration quicker than those who aren't.
While all of Japan's international airports and ports will have the new equipment to take fingerprints and photos, Narita will be the only entry point where people will be able to register with the automatic gate system.
- Keep checking with Debito for the latest developments; I'll be posting my own experience with this system after I return home from Christmas.
- As the unavoidable is unavoidable at this point, it's best to minimize the inconvenience. If you're traveling into or out of Narita in the near future, visit one of the immigration offices in Tokyo to register for the automated gate, and cut down the time in line
The case of four Marines accused of gang-raping a Japanese woman was handed over to prosecutors Tuesday, Hiroshima Prefecture police announced.
The police recommended the four servicemembers from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni be charged with abduction for the purpose of sexual assault, gang-rape and robbery, according to a police press statement.
Japanese prosecutors must now decide whether to indict the Marines on those charges.
The four unidentified Marines, ages 19, 24, 34 and 38, allegedly forced the woman into a vehicle, raped her and stole her money in a Hiroshima neighborhood early on the morning of Oct. 14, police said.
No arrest warrants have been issued, and the men remain confined by the U.S. military in cells at the air station.
"The action today is another step in an ongoing process during which we will continue to fully cooperate with Japanese authorities," said Iwakuni spokesman Master Sgt. John Cordero.
Under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, servicemembers charged with Japanese crimes remain in U.S. military custody until indicted if they are being detained on military property.
However, a "gentlemen’s agreement" was reached to hand over suspects accused of violent crimes after the public outcry caused by the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by two Marines and a Navy corpsman in 1995.
Police refused Tuesday to explain why Japanese authorities have not attempted to gain custody of the Marines.
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Tuesday that authorities chose not to seek arrest warrants but continued on with the investigation because the alleged victim’s memories were vague and the Marines denied committing any crime, saying it was consensual.
Once a suspect is taken into custody, police and prosecutors have 23 days to indict, according to Japanese law.
Police and prosecutors work in tandem in the Japanese legal system, and as cases progress, prosecutors typically take over the lead.
The case was transferred to the prosecutor's office after Japanese authorities questioned the Marines for several days earlier this month.
A command representative and military police were present during the Japanese questioning on Nov. 2, 5 and 6, the air station public affairs office said.
If indicted for the alleged crimes, the Marines face a legal system that is tough for defendants — more than 99 percent of those charged in Japanese courts are convicted, according to the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations.
To the bowing workers in multicolored uniforms manning so many entry and exit points:
I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Really, thank you. When I arrived at immigration control in Narita four years ago, I was concerned at just how difficult traveling across this country might be; with trains readily accessible but fairly expensive, I was sure I would end up with nothing but a short weekend commute, and few opportunities to explore.
However, the staff at Japan Railways continues to surprise me on a daily basis; not only do you create so many opportunities for foreign guests to pay little-to-nothing for train fares, but your "hands-off" attitude to anyone who doesn't appear to be Japanese invites all of us to explore the land of the rising sun in ways we never thought possible.
Let me take a moment to illustrate your success and express specific causes of appreciation for foreigners who partake in riding the rails...
1. While some Japanese might be forced to repay the price in full for a lost ticket, foreign guests are merely asked for the amount they paid and sent across the barrier, if they are acknowledged at all. This makes JR especially appealing for us non-Japanese, for who wants to pay for services rendered, if it can be avoided?
2. We are not always forced to do arduous tasks like opening up our rail passes and providing appropriate identification, like a passport, despite the fact that regulations indicate this should be done. This gives me hope, shows me the Japanese bureaucratic system cannot be so inflexible, if it would allow those using expired rail passes to easily circumvent authorities. As many Japanese are aware, we foreigners have difficulty understanding and doing the simplest tasks (e.g. bending back the cover on a train pass), so your understanding in this matter not only saves us from an exceptional inconvenience, but provides us with the means to travel anywhere the tracks will take us.
3. Those of us who choose to sleep in the non-reserved sections can always rest easy, for we have noticed you will not disturb sleeping passengers, let alone sleeping foreigners. Such courtesy on your part allows us to travel for hours without having to wrestle around in our gaping pockets, nearly losing our hands to present tickets for inspection. There is also the added advantage of lying about our points of departure when it comes time to disembark, for they cannot be confirmed; foreign residents of Tokyo can buy the minimum fare ticket to Shinagawa, enjoy a leisurely 5-hour nap, and awaken in Hakata, refreshed and ready for ramen, explaining that they have in fact come from Kokura. Marvelous, and the fact this is allowed makes us all wonder why more families even bother owning cars or taking buses, if a distance of 1137 km can be covered with a few thousand yen.
I know in my heart of hearts JR loves each and every one of us, as they must want us to travel without payment and to not show respect where respect is due. Yes, being tolerated, even laughed at, by the Japanese staff (for our abuse of a national institution) is preferable to being hauled away by police and arrested for theft. Employees know this full well, and keep foreigners out of prisons and around ticket barriers for their continued amusement and "internationalism". We are more than happy to oblige, and will continue to entertain you in exchange for the rewards of travel.
When I was eight, my biggest concerns were defeating the shadow in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and avoiding Jennifer Li, who loved to tear into me during free period with her harsh words.
If my parents had woken me up every morning and told me to prepare for a nonstop 40-mile run, I think I would have gathered my stuffed animals and run across the creek to safety.
Others in this best of all possible worlds don't have that luxury. With the 2008 Olympics in a matter of months, China is going to extra lengths (pardon the pun) to bring its athletes into the spotlight...
An 8-year-old girl runs 2,212 miles to Beijing in 55 days...
Zhang Huimin spent the summer running 40 miles a day from her home on the southern island province of Hainan to Beijing in northern China, her father trailing behind her on an electric bicycle.
In China, where one-child families are the government-enforced norm, pushing a child to overachieve is a social imperative.
"Here in this part of the world, you've still got very different ideas about children and their relationship in the family to what you have in America," Evans said. "The idea that children should have rights over and above their parents is simply culturally foreign."
Let me address this story not as a concerned parent or an American, but as a runner: this is a terrible idea. There’s a reason that people under seventeen are barred from participating in long distance races (even with parental consent, in some cases) – this girl, barely old enough to write complicated sentences, is destroying her legs.
"China's sports system has long concentrated on training athletes from a very young age. And by the time these athletes should be winning gold medals, their careers are already over because they were forced to over-exercise at a young age," Chen said. "The injuries will hit her in two or three years."
The controversy surrounding the young runner may not be over yet. Her father is now talking of another, even more risky ultramarathon - from the peaks of Tibet, all the way to Shanghai.
Her father, Zhang Jianmin, believes she can compete in the 2016 games, when she will be 17.
She said she needed a break A little time to think But then she went to Otaru With some guy named Kazu That she met at the bank
There's nothing wrong with Hokkaido Except the snow and the trees I really like Arudou Debito And I'd love to see the beer and chocolate factories
So when you're done doing whatever And when you're through doing whoever You know eastern Honshu will be right here waiting for you....
Come back to Tokyo It's just not the same since you went away Before you learn a new dialect And forget all about Roppongi There's a seat for you at the sumo show And I've got a love hotel saved Besides there's not much else to do north of here anyway
I think I made a mistake It's not that easy to take She went to buy a bento Then she took the train towards Ueno Guess I'll sit here and wait
For her to say tadaima (I'd wish you'd say tadaima) It shouldn't take very long (so long so long) I bet she misses Tsukiji And the view of Mt. Fuji but I could be wrong
So when you're done doing whatever And when you're through doing whoever You know eastern Honshu will be right here waiting for you....
Come back to Tokyo It's just not the same since you went away I bet you missed your train Or rode right on through Atami There's a seat for you at the sumo show And I've got a love hotel saved Besides there's not much else to do north of here anyway
Ayumi Hamasaki wants you back Hello Kitty wants you back JAXA wants you back And the bijin want you back And Harajuku wants you back And Suntory wants you back
I got a premonition I'm taking a petition And all 区's are gonna sign
Come back to Tokyo It's just not the same since you went away Before you learn a new dialect And forget all about Roppongi There's a seat for you at the sumo show And I've got a love hotel saved
Come back to Tokyo It's just not the same since you went away Before you learn a new dialect And forget all about Roppongi There's a seat for you at the sumo show And I've got a love hotel saved Besides there's not much else to do north of here anyway Besides there's not much else to do north of here anyway Besides there's not much else to do north of here anyway
Any chance of getting Texans like Chuck Norris and Lance Armstrong out to support (or run in) the Tokyo Marathon? I need you guys there at the critical moments! Com'n....
Notice to all NOVA teachers, if you are currently unemployed:
To anyone who would like to offer help, in the form of yen, temporary housing, food, or even frequent flier miles (you can transfer them, you know), post a comment to this post or email me asap. I will move your offers to the top of the blog as they are made. This is for everyone, from the shores of Hokkaido to my neighborhood (Kagoshima).
Kagoshima City, Yoshino Town (鹿児島市吉野町), 11/2 Temporary housing, food, and a little spending money offered.
Kagoshima City (鹿児島市), 10/29 Temporary housing offered to teachers in need of a place to sleep. Bring a futon. Can support 1-2 people. Contact me for details.
FILL IN THIS SPACE WITH YOUR OFFERS
In addition to other assistance as needed, the Australian government has negotiated with Quantas airlines to provide discounts airfares home (possibly with deferred payment as well).
All right. You want to come to Japan. You want to travel off the beaten path, away from Fujisan (富士山), Kyoto (京当), and Tokyo (東京). Many have tried, many have succumbed to the foreigner-friendly suggestions from Lonely Planet and Frommer's.
Where do you want to sleep? A minshuku (民宿) in rural Kyushu? A hot springs ryokan (旅館) near Aomori? (Incidentally, there's not much difference; ryokan tend to be more expensive and offer private dining; minshuku usually have you eat as a group with the mama-san. Both are Japanese style. The quality of either depends on the area.)
I know you're looking to be comfortable as you travel, and it's very tempting to stick with clear English directions, English suggestions, and lodging areas that have proven themselves to be open to international guests.
There's nothing wrong with them, per se... but you can definitely see the effects of tourism wearing down these once traditional houses, and taking you further from Japanese culture than you might have envisioned when making the reservation.
With that in mind, I suggest two simple, straightforward ways to find lodging in lesser-known parts of Nippon:
1. The best, by far, would be to just play things by ear and look for a place when you arrive. Naturally, this may not be possible (or convenient for those who don't speak Japanese). Try to avoid asking the tourist information center, if the area has one. A good idea would be to find a seasoned local or a police box and ask for their recommendations:
近くに安い民宿はありませんか？ Chikaku ni yasui minshuku wa arimasen ka? Is there a cheap minshuku in the area?
Again, depending on your Japanese level and familiarity with the country, sometimes an インターネトの予約 is just easier. Keep in mind that if the area has a member of the Japanese Guest Houses or a youth hostel, you'll most likely be directed there; keep a guidebook on hand to eliminate those choices.
2. On the internet. I know this may seem like common sense, but I'm sure plenty of people overlook it. Google your search in Japanese, not English. This will ensure you reach the main website of the town you will be sleeping in, and possibly a few local lodging websites.
10th hit on Google gives me a site with every single place offering lodging on the Mishima island chain.