Saturday, 31 October 2015

I didn't fight the law, and the law won.

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Chikako Kobayashi shared this image to facebook
Left, from top: Asahi, Mainichi, and Tokyo newspapers Right, from top: Yomiuri, Sankei, and Nikkei newspapers

You probably saw images from the August 1st protests in Tokyo (unless, of course, you read Japan’s more pro-government papers, which had strikingly different front pages the next day). It was actually a national day of action, and Tiger had wanted to attend our local protest. After a very upsetting “peace education” experience last year (he came home having learned that Japan was just sitting around peacefully minding its own business when America suddenly dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, and therefore Japan should kill all Americans. None of which was specifically said by his teacher, but she didn’t interject when children made these statements in presentations to the class) we talked a lot about war. We talked about what happened in Okinawa, in particular, and about how the people who decide to start wars are rarely the ones who actually suffer and die in them. He got very excited about signing a petition against constitutional revision, and then wanted to attend the rally as well. I was very happy to take him, until…

Until I heard about the intimidation and harassment of protesters at previous rallies. I work at a university, and I hear things that aren’t getting reported on the nightly news or discussed in the newspapers. Students talk about police photographing them at rallies, then calling their parents: “Did you know your child was creating a public nuisance? Who is paying for their education? Is this the lifestyle you planned to fund?” Others had their landlord called by police as part of “routine inquiries”: “Do many radicals gather at the building you own? Do you rent to any foreigners? Do you know if political meetings are being held on your premises?”

My visa was up for renewal two days after the protest. As a foreigner, attending a political rally is a valid reason for my visa renewal to be refused. I thought about the consequences if it was declined before we had a valid visa to take Tiger to Australia. In fact, I was even cautious about publishing this post, which is why it is appearing so late. I told him that we couldn’t go to the protest. This is, of course, the exact response the intimidation aims to elicit. Every person who attended was risking something. A promotion, their living allowance, getting into the university of their choice, something important. That might be hard to grasp for readers for whom political engagement is a natural part of democracy, but it’s just the reality in “democratic” Japan. Yet, tens of thousands took the risk.

The Education Ministry on October 5 announced its plan to issue a notice putting restrictions on high school students’ political activities as a measure to respond to the implementation of the 18-year-old suffrage.

The planned notice will impose a ban or restrictions on political activities which senior high school students are engaged in outside of school. Students will be prohibited or constrained from demonstrating in political movements within school-bounds even on holidays and after school. In addition, any such action will not also be allowed in student councils and school club activities.

This notice will not only cause students to hesitate to take part in political activities, but also restrain students from even thinking about and discussing political matters.
Essentially, Japan’s government just ordered all of the country’s public universities to end education in the social sciences, the humanities and law.
A controversial new Japanese personal identification system came into effect on Monday. My Number IDs will unite personal tax information, social security and disaster relief benefits, but critics worry about possible leaks and invasions of privacy.
Protester Hitoshi Ogawa said he is concerned My Number might be abused by the government to collect the most sensitive details of citizens’ lives, from health records to political ideology.
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Monday, 26 October 2015

The Curious Case of Kumamoto


Photo from this site
In Kumamoto, it is easier to abandon your baby than your dog.
I do not know how to feel about that.
Of course abandoning a dog should be discouraged, I'm not critical of that. It's an awful thing to do, and all too common in Japan. I think it is great Kumamoto City is trying to discourage people who bring dogs to the pound:
When an owner brings in a pet, they don’t take it in easily like most centres. They ask them to remember the time they’ve spent with their dog or cat, and ask them if they’ve really tried seriously to find a new owner. One staff member explains, “We don’t want to give local people a bad impression. But we do want the people who come to us to get rid of their animals to leave feeling bad about it. Sometimes we might even be able to change their minds.
“We don’t mind being hated. Even if it comes to tears, we need to ask the owners to think about what they are doing.” Sometimes there are disputes, but if the staff persevere they’re sometimes successful at persuading the owner to take their pet back home with them and give them another chance.
One time a man in his 60s brought in his corgi, saying, “He chews everything, I can’t keep him.” The dog’s original owner, his son, had moved abroad and the dog was nothing but a nuisance to his new guardian. The man was of the opinion that “if the dog does something bad, it’s natural to punish him.” In response, the staff asked him, “Isn’t it your son who’s taught him it’s OK to chew things? If it’s your son’s fault, why should this dog pay for it with his life?”
On the other hand, it jumped out to me immediately that Kumamoto also hosts Japan's "baby hatch", a box into which parents can anonymously abandon their child. Usually these babies cannot be adopted or even in most cases fostered, because consent cannot be obtained from anonymous parents.

This post has been sitting in my draft folder for nearly two years. I don't know what to conclude about the topic and didn't want to do ANOTHER post that just trailed off. In the end, though, I realised I may never figure out how to "conclude", so I'm just going to leave it here and back away slowly. 

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