Due to my recent article on Matador Study (58,000 hits and counting in just over 24 hours), I think it's time to show these readers what KPIJ is all about. Some of what I consider to be the best entries in terms of writing and substance from my time in Japan, which is slowly drawing to its natural conclusion.
November 2006 An Epidemic - bullying in Japanese schools.
October 2007 Nibble Nibble - a most unusual hot springs featuring flesh-eating fish.
November 2007 Nakanoshima: Listening to Moonlight - adventures on one of the smaller islands in the Tokara chain, featuring wild horses, an observatory, and great hot springs. Running in Fear - news spoof article about gaijin card checks and the Tokyo Marathon.
December 2007 Adoption in Japan - spending Christmas with some children at an orphanage.
An unwitting passenger arriving at Japan's Narita airport has received 142g of cannabis after a customs test went awry, officials say.
A customs officer hid a package of the banned substance in a side pocket of a randomly chosen suitcase in order to test airport security.
Sniffer dogs failed to detect the cannabis and the officer could not remember which bag he had put it in. Anyone finding the package has been asked to contact customs officials.
"This case was extremely regrettable. I would like to deeply apologize," said Narita International Airport's customs head Manpei Tanaka.
The customs officer conducted the test on a passenger's bag against regulations. Normally a training suitcase is used.
"I knew that using passengers' bags is prohibited, but I did it because I wanted to improve the sniffer dog's ability," the officer was quoted as saying.
"The dogs have always been able to find it before... I became overconfident that it would work," he said.
Japan has strict laws against drugs and possession of small amounts of cannabis can lead to a prison sentence.
I'm with some critics who would argue criminal charges are in order for the officials who negligently misplaced an illegal substance. What if someone were to collect their bags, stay in Tokyo overnight, and then fly through Bangkok or any other country, for that matter? In Thailand, the possession of drugs is a harsh, harsh offense... many people have been executed for distribution or possession of drugs. Remember the movie Brokedown Palace?
A good website about Thai laws, and prisons, which states: "Please don't even consider taking or dealing in drugs while in Thailand. Penalties are harsh even for minor drugs. You could easily get life or a death sentence. People serving long sentences are sent to the infamous Bang Kwang Prison which is far harsher than this one. You have been warned! Don't join the thousands of foreigners already in Thai prisons."
Remember that scene in the movie Crash, where the movie producer has his car hijacked? (Cue video to 5:34, then follow through to part 9)
This guy has had it; he happens to be black, and within 48 hours, he's been victimized by the police for being "a black man in a good neighborhood", and had his partners confess they don't believe the American public is ready for the idea of an intelligent black man in the media. Sitting in his car, pondering, he believes there's no way anyone will ever, ever, look past his skin color and be open-minded.
Then the perfect opportunity to go down in flames presents itself.
He's carjacked by two guys with guns, and just loses it, no doubt thinking to himself: The world wants me to be a poorly-spoken, gangbanging criminal? Fine, I'll let them have it. I don't care anymore. Nothing will change. He goes on a rampage, cursing the police, acting like a madman, and is just about to get himself shot when a cop steps between the line of fire and tries to make amends for his partner.
Sometimes... sometimes, being a foreigner in Japan is like that.
No matter how long you've been here, how many experiences or moments of clarity you've had regarding the Japanese, many people see you only at face value: an English-speaking robot, funny to talk about in Japanese when they think you can't understand, incapable of knowing anything about Japanese culture or history, nothing more than a dirty foreign dog who spends his days mocking everything around him and his night boozing and hitting up hostess bars.
It's not a big leap from this movie producer to any one of us: sometimes, you just feel like countering back, even to the smallest, most innocent schoolchildren, shouting nothing but "HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!" because that's all they want to hear, telling Japanese friends you're sorry, but it is beyond your understanding as a foreigner...
It's one reason I don't want to live out the rest of my days here, want to migrate to an English-speaking country where I can be seen as something other than a novelty, an amusing deviation from the norm, lacking any substance or flavor.
It's an adventure being here. And it's been beneficial. But sometimes, I feel invisible.
Although I've spent two years in Japan, I've only been to Osaka twice. Once, for the job interview for my most recent employer. The second time was this past week, to obtain my Thai visa.
I forgot what western Honshu was like, having spent so much time in Kyushu this past year. I don't claim to believe that Japan is a superficially beautiful country, with it having so much concrete laid down and flashing pachinko parlors in every obscure corner, but islands like Kyushu and Shikoku (possibly Hokkaido too, but I've never lived there) are greener and more rural by comparison. Easy to forget the Sanyo Line running from Shimonoseki to Okayama, the subtle changes in the air that come from urban pollution... even the pace of daily life is more rushed, more fluid.
Osaka itself is not a pretty city, an expanse of apartment and office buildings over a flat, grey landscape that seems to have no end. But... I can see the appeal. It is a comfortable life, full of amenities and a dialect few in Japan can understand.
If you happen to be in Osaka for a day or two, feel free to check out the attractions on the south end of town around Tennoji (天王寺).
This district, located just west of Tennoji Koen, is a yakuza-controlled nightlife area which makes one feel as though he's stepped back in time some forty-odd years. The streets are narrow, the pachinko machines lack video screens and computer controls, and old men play mahjong in glass houses near ramen shops.
There are quite a few fugu restaurants in this area, as are there billy-ken statues. I have no idea of the significance of billy-ken, who has the appearance of a great golden Buddha with big feet, but apparently, there's even an image of him atop the Hitachi Tower, also in Shinsekai.
Photo courtesy of David M. - www.lejapon.fr
Spa World (スパワールド)
Spa World, occupying the bulk of Shinsekai, is one of the world's largest indoor baths, and it shows.
I have been to sento around the rails. I have visited onsen ryokan in Kurokawa, Beppu, and Kagoshima. I have soaked in waters with nothing between me and a smoking volcano.
That being said, this place is nothing short of amazing in terms of Japanese bathing locales. 2400 yen will get you in for three hours, 2700 for the day (although they will charge an extra thousand if you check in or out after midnight).
The lobby and entrance area isn't remarkable different from your average super sento. But once one rises to the 4th floor, things become clearer. A decently-stocked gym. Massages of every kind (extra charge, of course). A rooftop pool in the shadow of a neighborhood roller coaster. And of course, the baths.
Men and women alternate each month between the 4th and 6th floors. The 4th Asian themed, the 6th European. Until the end of May, men have control of the fourth floor, and let me tell you - that 2400 yen was worth every last cent, if you'll pardon the currency crossover.
Spa World of Osaka is probably the closest anyone in the world will ever get to experiencing a true ancient Roman bath. And unlike the Romans, the Japanese incorporate modern features and a variety of styles.
You begin your journey in the Islam baths (イスラム, I don't quite get it, either - just reading the katakana), boiling hot water flowing from three different lions' heads to provide a temperate back massage. Once completed, guests can enjoy the same H20 in a central marble bath.
From here... where to go... where to go... perhaps to the left, where three different medicinal baths lay awaiting aching muscles. Or even further, to the salt sauna.
No... straight ahead, to three Japanese-style rotemburo sitting adjacent to a Japanese restaurant. All the styles of the world at my fingertips, and I still see the appeal of outdoor bathing; especially tonight, as the rain gently cools my sweating brow.
Next up, the Persian baths, a mixture of silt and milky-gold waters in a room in which Darius would have no problems feeling at ease, Alexander the Great probably discarding his sword to indulge a leisurely soak.
And you can have all day and night. Sleep. Eat. Exercise. Bathe. Repeat as needed.
New Japan Sauna and Capsule Hotel
This isn't actually in south Osaka, but I thought it was worth mentioning as this is the original capsule hotel, still running smoothly since 1979.
Horner assured reporters that this was normal for him... he would just go to the park, put on his uniform, and wait for the game to begin. Better to save your energy for actual play, he explained.
Many Japanese were horrified to hear this. To them, pregame practice was as much a part of playing baseball as the game itself. To some people, it was more important. A good hard workout every day was considered imperative in order to show the fans, the press, and the opposition that the team was full of fight and ready to play ball. Besides, constant practice was a must if you really wanted to become good. The more you worked the better you got. Everyone knew that.
The Japanese were perfectionists and it was their belief that with constant work and an indefatigable will, one could accomplish anything: overcome injury and pain, defeat a more powerful foe in battle, win the batting title, or whatever. Indeed, the emphasis on "making the effort" was so strong in Japan that how hard a man tried was considered by many to be the ultimate measure of his worth. Results were almost secondary.
You Gotta Have Wa, Robert Whiting - a great book about Japanese baseball, and the experiences of American players joining Japanese franchises
I'm going to try to buy a new domain name and incorporate KPIJ into my worldly travel blog, so don't be surprised if minor superficial changes appear and disappear over the next few weeks. The entries will remain up.
Japan is infamous for having a bureaucracy that surpasses even the anal-retentive souls working at DMVs across the United States:
"You missed a comma here. Please fill out all twenty forms again and come back next month between 8:07 and 8:23 AM." "I'm sorry, but we cannot process this on a Tuesday. It has never been done before, and I can think of no practical reason to start now simply because it would make things easier for everyone." "We require an inkan, family registry, signature, proof of insurance, proof of residence, additional proof of residence, cat's last name, and your expected date of death."
Thus far, I have been quite lucky in avoiding discriminating salesmen and government employees when getting set up with a cell phone, acquiring a gaijin card, installing internet, changing residences from Hiroshima to Kagoshima, and even dealing with the insurance paperwork surrounding my hospital visit.
All well and good. But, in the end, the universe had to tip the scales before I departed the land of the rising sun for good. In the form of Japanese bureaucrats employed at the Thai consulate in Osaka.
Day 1 Step out of exit #7 of Sakaisuji-Honmachi station in Osaka at approximately 9:38 AM, the air full of promise... and a little humidity. My paperwork rests comfortably in my black sweat-stained backpack, the product of hours of checking, double-checking, and having photos taken:
VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR Non Immigrant O (Visa for being volunteer)
Submission: 09.30-12.00 hrs. at 1st Fl. of Bangkok Bank Bldg (except Thai & Japanese national holidays) Collection: 13.30- 15.00 hrs. at 1st Fl. of Bangkok Bank Bldg (first working day after submission)
1. 1 designated application form signed with the same signature as appears on passport 2. Passport (original & copy: holder’s data) with validity over 6 months 3. 1 photo size 4.5 x 4 cm, color or black 4. Airline ticket or flight confirmation sheet from air carrier or tour company (original & copy) with date of entry, flight no. and name of passenger 5. Recommendation letter* from institute in Japan (original in English)
If not belong to any institution in Japan: 1) a guarantee letter** by a Japanese residing in Japan and, 2) a copy of a guarantor’s passport or driving license with the signature of the guarantor affixed.
6. Invitation letter* from institute in Thailand (original in English or Thai) 7. Registration document of an institute in Thailand (copy)
*: Recommendation letter and invitation letter should be typed on the institute’s letterhead, issued within 3 months. Consisting of necessary information: applicant’s name, institute’s name, the purpose of visit, date of entry to Thailand and duration of stay with institute’s seal affixed and signature of assigned authorities.
**: A guarantee letter should identify name, occupation of the applicant, purpose of visit, date of entry to Thailand, period of stay and name, address and signature of a guarantor affixed. The letter should also state that a guarantor guarantees the behavior of applicant in Thailand. 1. The documents required are an original or a copy as stated above. 2. All documents must be in A4 size. 3. Application is not accepted by mail. 4. Please apply at least 2 weeks before your departure. 5. Visa fee should be prepared in an exact amount of payment. 6. Please note that a consular officer reserve the rights to ask for additional documents as deemed necessary.
At this point, I'm still weary after a late arrival in Osaka from Hiroshima, and not at all cleansed by the soothing waters one can only find in the sulfur-rich Kagoshima onsen. Nevertheless, some inconveniences are necessary for travel; dealing with government officials being one of them.
I wait for approximately one hour before my name is called. Strike one - I did not copy my passport pages. Quickly run next door to the Fedex-Kinkos and pay 8 yen/page. Return and start from the beginning.
It looks as though I will be called soon... wait... the Japanese secretary looks over my forms and calls me.
"I will have to talk to the consulate. Please wait a moment."
My first confirmation - this man is a trained desk boy, not someone with any power to officiate. He is going to enforce each regulation as if his life depends on it. No flexibility whatsoever.
"Turner Raito-san, the consulate is in a meeting. Could you wait for a few hours so I can ask them about this?" "Ummm... don't you only accept applications in the morning?" (it being about 10:30 AM at the time)
He shrugs as if to say, "yeah, that's right, but what can you do?"
I'll tell you what you can do, you can stop offering useless suggestions - why have me wait for a decision whose outcome can't be taken advantage of? Without waiting for word from the consulate, he looks over my forms and decides I do not possess the required registration document of the Thai institution for which I will be volunteering. He sends me away, dismissively, telling me he can't accept my application.
A Romanian citizen in front of me had it much worse; he was clearly just passing through Japan on long-term travel, and had been unable to have a Thai visa processed before he left. But, since he was applying in Japan, he was subject to the same regulations: a recommendation letter from a Japanese institution, or a personal reference by a Japanese citizen, including a copy of his passport and inkan.
I believe Japan is the only country to request something like this of non-Japanese, and it's absolutely ridiculous. There's a certain time period for which one can apply for any visa of any country, and if you have to stay and travel around Japan for a few months, you don't want to have to fly back home in order to secure a visa for another Asian country, now do you? This doesn't just apply to residents of Japan, but tourists and commuters as well.
Yet, Japan makes this the only reasonable option by requesting such a reference, in addition to the other paperwork.
Day 2 Check into a nearby internet cafe, and contact my organization in Thailand, begging immediate assistance and stating the problem. The organization is confused, because although they have never had someone apply with them from Japan, they have never had any requests for a registration document (I assume because their other consulates are slightly more sane). Nevertheless, they quickly rush out, scan the document, and email it back to me.
No chance the consulate is thinking about something else? No, this is the only registration paper we have. You're sure? I can't stay in Osaka for long. Yes, go ahead and turn it in.
I walk back in, more than confident I can just drop off the paperwork this time. The same dull-eyed face greets me as I cheerfully but tiredly set my application on top of the others. After some time, and nearly twenty pages of You Gotta Have Wa, I catch my man consulting with another bureaucrat about some aspect of my application.
They must be amazed that a foreigner actually got the required documents... maybe this has never happened before...
I am called to the glass cage shortly, and told promptly:
"I'm very sorry, but we cannot accept this application. This is not the correct form. The name is not on it." "What do you mean? It's clearly the registration form - it has the registration number (confirmed on the recommendation letter) and the government seal." "Yes, but this is not the right document." "Well, you do understand that this organization has no other documents to give me, right? This is it. I have the correct form." "So sorry, I cannot accept this."
Strike twenty. I wait five minutes, walk out the door, do an about-face, return to the desk, and pile my papers on top of the others. Ten minutes later, I am called.
"Turner-san? Has anything changed?" "No, you just seem to always change the rules, so I'm applying again with the same forms." "All right, please wait, I will check."
Yes, this actually happened. And although I wasn't too confident, I felt there was a possibility of getting my visa this time.
No go. He returns, utters the same apology, and calls the next applicant.
All that travel for nought. From Kagoshima to Osaka for nothing. They can't even handle a simple visa.
Day 3 Insult to injury. I call the Thai embassy in Tokyo to confirm the required documents for an O-type visa, and am told I also need to supply a copy of my teaching certification, as well as approval from the Ministry of Education in Thailand.
Yeah... I won't be doing that. With each inquiry, it seems more paperwork is added. The only solution to getting anything done in a Japanese bureaucracy is to bring every single legal document in your possession and every one that can be imagined, even if they don't exist; what does reality have to do with paperwork?
In conclusion, do NOT apply for visas in Japan - take that cheap flight or ferry to Seoul; enjoy a vacation in the US and do some visa-hopping. But do not allow yourself to cave and walk two blocks to the nearest government representatives; it's far easier to just hop the border.
May 30th - My heavier luggage will be picked up by Yamato Transport. If you're moving boxes or luggage within Japan, takkyubin (宅急便) is a useful, cheap method of shipping available at most convenience stores. Nippon Express offers pretty good deals on international shipping (by boat, takes two months).
- Close Kagoshima Bank (鹿児島銀行) account
- My OCN/NTT joint internet fiberoptic account will be canceled, the modem removed. Side note - I beat the bureaucracy on this one by claiming I had no contacts left in Japan; as a result, they decided billing me the early cancellation fee (￥3500) wasn't worth the trouble.
- Go down to the local tax office and pay my taxes flowing over into the new fiscal year. All foreigners leaving Japan should do this (though I bet many forget and don't reap too many consequences). While there, hand in the completed form:
納税管理人の届出書（外国人用） Declaration Naming a Person to Administer the Taxpayer's Tax Affairs (for use by aliens)
If you know a stable resident of Japan, you can designate them to process your tax refund for the lump-sum pension withdrawal. Once you receive the lump-sum withdrawal of your pension in your home bank account, you can mail the receipt to your tax manager, and have them claim the refund, which can be wired directly to their Japanese bank account. A little bit of paperwork, but it pays out.
June 4th - 6th Gradually make my way to Osaka. Plan to turn in my cell phone to any AU office and say goodbye to keitai.
June 6th Depart at 12:00 PM on the Shanghai Ferry. I bought a first class ticket just so I could use the ofuro one last time. There's table tennis on board, and it should be a leisurely international trip. Only ￥21,500 for 2nd class, ￥26,500 for 1st class. Hand in my gaijin card to immigration authorities, as I will be leaving the country for good.
June 8th Arrive in Shanghai at 12:00 PM. Catch a cab to the train station and see if any tickets to Beijing are available for that night. If so, head out that evening. If not, I will have a backup place to crash courtesy of Couchsurfing.
Train tickets for Chinese railways can be purchased up to nine days beforehand:
August - ??? Once my volunteering duties are finished, will look for work in the Chiang Mai area, or other parts of Thailand that might appeal to me.
During this time, the 脱退一時金支給決定通知書 (Notice of the Lump-sum Withdrawal Payment) should be mailed to my home address. I can then mail this original, NOT a copy, to my tax manager in Japan, along with a completed 確定申告書 (final tax report) to receive the tax refund.
Two weeks left in Kagoshima. さよなら日本... but not yet.
Loyal readers, I go in for my final x-ray tomorrow. Right now, I'm fluctuating between 95-100% range of motion - sometimes I can almost do normal pushups... but I'm usually restricted to fisted ones. I can work out normally with the exception of those pushups, have no sense of numbness whatsoever, and present with very little pain.
I'm still getting my distance back, however; it's been months since I've exceeded 10K for a long run, which is really depressing to me. I still have hopes to run a marathon in Asia, but if I do, it will need to be this winter or early next year to give me enough time for decent training. The Yorontou Marathon (与論島マラソン) is a possibility.
The injury has made me take stock of what I consider to be essential physical activity... things I want to be able to do regularly:
Running Swimming Cycling Punching Pushups Excessive travel Heavy lifting Massages Rock climbing Skiing Weight training Pullups Arm wrestling
www.sportsauthority.co.jp/ Probably the largest supplier of athletic supplies in Japan, including weight training equipment, camping gear, and a full selection of shoes. Usually, Sports Authority stores are located in the biggest shopping centers: AEON in south Kagoshima, Canal City in Fukuoka, Diamond City in Hiroshima.
2. Chuo Sports (中央スポーツ)
http://www.sports-nakama.com/chuoh.sports/ Rather than taking the special AEON bus from Kagoshima central station (鹿児島中央駅) for thirty minutes, check out Chuo Sports, located just west of Tenmonkan (天文館). Although it clearly doesn't offer as much variety as major superstores, you can find baseball equipment, running shoes, and training clothes, as well as a section set aside for women.
3. Hayakawa Sports
http://www.hayakawa-sports.com/index.php Hayakawa would be my recommendation for running shoes and apparel in the Kagoshima area; the people there know about the distance, about the speed, and stock their shelves accordingly. A full assortment of racing spikes, distance shoes, singlets, and decent shorts. Local race information is also available. In Tenmonkan, just a few minutes' walk from Starbucks.
A few pictures of my trip to the southern island of Amami Oshima are now up. I'm still editing them, but I visited the Saigo Takamori (or, as he is known on the island, Saigo Nanshu) house, the Ohama Kaihin Koen, and the Mangrove Park on the eastern coast. Enjoy.
The number of children aged 14 or younger in Japan was estimated at 17.25 million as of April 1, marking a record low for the 27th straight year, the government said Sunday.
Children made up 13.5 percent of the total population, giving Japan the lowest percentage of children among the world's major countries. Their proportion to the total population was down from 13.6 percent last year, registering a drop for the 34th year in a row, the government said in its annual report ahead of Children's Day on Monday.
The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research estimates that the number of children will drop below 15 million and 12 percent of the total in 2015.
The ratio of children in the population stood at 35.4 percent in 1950 — immediately after the first postwar baby boom — but has since steadily declined except for a second baby boom between 1971 and 1974.
The ratio of people aged 65 or older surpassed that of children in 1997 and today accounts for 21.8 percent, or 8.3 points higher than the proportion of children.
The child population as of April 1 marked a decline of 130,000 from a year earlier, comprised of an estimated 8.84 million boys and 8.41 million girls.
By more detailed age brackets, children aged 12 to 14 comprised the largest group at 3.59 million, while those up to 2 years old numbered 3.24 million — reflecting an acceleration of the falling birthrate.
The percentage of children in the population was the lowest among the 31 countries listed in the United Nations demographic yearbook as having at least 30 million people. Japan was outranked by Italy and Germany, where children accounted for 14.1 percent of the populations. Nigeria had the highest figure at 44.3 percent.
By prefecture, Tokyo had the lowest proportion of children at 11.8 percent, while the highest was Okinawa at 18.1 percent.
Akita at 11.8 percent and Hokkaido at 12.4 percent were the second and third lowest, while Shiga at 15.2 percent and Aichi at 14.7 were ranked No. 2 and 3 highest.
Response by Trent Steel
Japan faces a crisis at home. Since the post-war era, this eastern nation has combated the problem of an increasing labor shortage by relying on women, immigration (although, recently, to a lesser extent), and improving the efficiency of their own workforce. But despite recent governmental involvement in attempts to raise the declining birthrate and thereby ensuring a stable future for many Japanese living in both urban and rural areas, children now make up less than 14 percent of the population, with people aged 65 and older totaling 22 percent.
The largest percentage of the population eligible for retirement and one of the smallest for children.
In contrast, America faces a crisis abroad. With US troops digging their talons deeper and deeper into the heart of Iraq with no apparent end in sight, they are shifting their role from "liberators" to a policing force, slowly making the Iraqi people completely dependent on them for protection and order in an arrangement that benefits no one.
The best way to kill two birds with one stone, pulling US troops from the Middle East and recovering the Japanese birthrate?
Bomb Pearl Harbor... again.
Hear me out.
As in the US, the Japanese experienced a sudden increase in the number of children born in the post-WWII era, a phenomenon that has become well known as the post-war baby boom: babies born from families so delighted to be reunited, they will copulate without end.
And if WWII were any kind of template, it proved Americans will not tolerate a war fought on two fronts for an extended period of time; a consensus must be resolved, action taken to remedy the situation. How fortunate it had to be in the form of an atomic bomb.
Nevertheless, a second attack on Pearl Harbor may be just what this world needs:
1. Such an unprovoked and completely unnecessary assault would force the executive branch to take a be-all and end-all stance in Iraq, in order to avoid facing an enemy from the east and the west. Troops would be recalled to the US to train for the "inevitable" attack on American soil, leaving only the smallest contingent behind to act as a military liaison. Mission accomplished... again.
2. Japan, having adapted a pacifist constitution, would immediate see the error of its ways, make whatever concessions are required by the US, and recall their troops from the Pacific. Housewives, so relieved to have their husbands returned safely to them, would naturally take advantage of their presence. Hence, more babies. Another post-war baby boom. Rising birthrate, things looking up for 2050.
Headed to a relaxing Golden Week vacation on Amami Oshima (奄美大島), studying Saigo Takamori, soaking in the sun, and avoiding internet at all costs. Rather than lugging my out-of-shape self out to the airport, however, I'll be taking the ferry via the Tokara islands to Naze, and returning on the A-line next week.