Sunday, December 30, 2007

Shima 3

Another photo.

Shima 2

More from Christmas 2007.

Violinist Yumi Miyagishima (Shima)

This is a bit of a late entry but I spent Christmas at a small pub in Mitaka, where Shima played violin with a singer, pianist, bassist, guitarist and percussionist.
Tokyo is a haven/heaven for young musicians.
Instead of parties, people get together to listen to music for their souls' "iyashi." (The repertoire that night was a collage of sing/clap-alongs _ "Jingle Bells," "Sunny," Japanese pop, etc.)
Shima has always said she wants to play music.
Knowing What you Want is important in Life.
And never giving up/never compromising: It's easier said than done.
Although we may never achieve the heights of our craft we see as Ideal, we can keep going, day by day, (staying True to What We have Decided is our Life) and we go listen to Music in Mitaka to gain courage/strength/purity to go on for the next day.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Is Krispy Kreme cool?

Photographer/visual artist Annette Dorfman from San Francisco is so impressed Japanese will line up for a product sitting around in the frozen food section of a Safeway she is compelled to take a photo.
A new Krispy Kreme opened in Yurakucho Marui (Itocia), where long lines are forming as well.
My story on "gatsoon-kei" food. On the other hand, Annette showed a mysterious penchant for things Japanese that we who live here would find undistinguished.
She bought the new white Shiseido Tsubaki shampoo, tiny figures she thought were cute, "shiso" body soap and other products found collecting dusting on MatsuKiyo shelves.
Human nature is to want hard-to-get things.
Rarity breeds value.
Something to keep in mind when you go Christmas shopping for friends living abroad!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Poem reworked: Little YELLOW Slut

UPDATED with hula dancer:

How could I forget this important fetish image: flight attendant.
And so here goes again:

Little YELLOW Slut

You know her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, proudly gleefully
YELLOW-ly hanging on Big Master's arm,
War bride, geisha,
GI's home away from home,
Whore for last samurai,
Hula dancer with seaweed hair,
Yoko Ohno,
Akihabara cafe maid,
Hi-Hi Puffy Ami/Yumi,
Kawaiiii like keitai,
Back-up dancer for Gwen Stefani,
Your real-life Second Life avatar
Eager to deliver your freakiest fetish fantasies,
Disco queen, skirt up the crotch,
Fish-net stockings, bow-legged, anorexic, raisin nipples, tip-
Toeing Roppongi on
Stiletto heels.

Yessu, i spikku ingrishhu, i raikku gaijeeen, they kiss you,
hold your hand, open doors for me,
open legs for you, giggling pidgin, covering mouth,
so happy to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

Everybody's seen her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, waiting at
Home, cooking rice, the Japanese
Condoleezza Rice,
Smelling of sushi,
Breath and vagina,
Fish and vinegar,
Fermented rice,
Honored to be
Cleaning lady,
Flight attendant for Singapore Airlines,
Nurse maid, gardener,
Japan-expert's wife,
Mochi manga face,
Yodeling minyo,
Growling enka,
Sex toy, slant-eyes closed, licking, tasting, swallowing STD semen,
Every drop.

Yessu, i wanna baby who looohkuh gaijeen, double-fold eye, translucent skin, international school PTA,
maybe grow up to be fashion model, even joshi-ana,
not-not-not happy to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

I recognize her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, rejecting
Japanese, rejected by Japanese,
Empty inside,
They all look alike,
Faceless, hoping to forget, escape
To America,
Slant-eyed clitoris,
Adopted orphan,
Dream come true for pedophiles,
Serving sake, pouring tea, spilling honey,
Naturalized citizen,
Buying Gucci,
Docile doll,
Rag-doll, Miss Universe, manic harakiri depressive, rape victim, she is
You, she is me.

Hai, hai, eigo wakarimasen, worship Big Master for mind, matter, muscle, money, body size correlates to penis size,
waiting to be sexually harassed, so sorry, so many,
so sad to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Taiko and Tap

Amanojaku collaborated with the tap dancers of Takeshi Kitano's "Zatoichi" fame.
Their performance delivered a deliciously unexpected juxtaposition of percussive narratives at a Roppongi Hills outdoor stage.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Film festival for cell phones

No movie theaters needed for this film festival.

GT-R, Toyota robot, Pocket Films Festival

A closed off Tokyo tunnel for that underground (literally) look was where Nissan chose to show off its sportscar GT-R. We stood around for an hour crammed behind a railing with a bunch of reporters and photographers. And finally we got to watch a couple of GT-Rs zip past us. Then actress Ryoko Yonekawa came out of the car.
Easier to get intrigued was Toyota's violinist robot. Here's the story, and the video. When the rolling Robina, which looks like a woman in a skirt, signed its name with a fat marker and said in its smooth feminine voice that she (I mean, it) wanted to help people and be a companion, it was almost moving. Toyota says it's serious about robots. People were skeptical when Toyota showed the hybrid 10 years ago. Now everybody is scrambling to catchup. Maybe Toyota will pull off a repeat scenario with robots?
Yesterday, I was in Yokohama to cover a film festival _ except all the works were shot on cell phone cameras (see photo above).
There is definitely something unique about the art form just because the cell phone is:
_ portable
_ always around
_ interactive
_ personal
The whole thing was more interesting as an idea/concept than as works as such things tend to be. But art getting democratic and immediate is pretty exciting.
It's also an eye-opener about how disappointingly staid and predictable such attempts can get despite the potential freedom in self-expression.
After watching the works on DVD ahead of my interviews, I was awake late at night and Ingmar Bergman's "Cries and Whispers" happened to be on cable.
It was astonishing how I remembered so much of this movie, the scenes, the colors, the moods. I watched it to the end. Everything Bergman wanted us to feel still felt new and intimate _ and absolute.
One of the people I interviewed said it's easy to forget who is taking an image, and cell phone films can counter that.
There's no such forgetting with Bergman.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Seeking DJ/Percussionist/Musician

Any DJs or percussionists willing to collaborate in making my poem into a multimedia performance piece?
I want to read the poem at the Slams (aren't there some in Shinjuku?).
I know this will work nicely with percussive music.
I also plan to take photos (nothing too literal but matching the rhythms/feelings) for a slide show with audio (i.e., your composition w/my voice reading).
My e-mail:
Cell: 090 4594 2911
Phone: 03-6215-8931
We won't be able to do live performances together unless you also live in Japan, but the invitation is open globally for an online debut:
Cell (from outside Japan): 81-90-4594-2911
Phone: 81-3-6215-8931

This is the poem:

Little YELLOW Slut

You know her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, proudly gleefully
YELLOW-ly hanging on Big Master's arm,
War bride, geisha,
GI's home away from home,
Whore for last samurai,
Yoko Ohno,
Akihabara cafe maid,
Hi-Hi Puffy Ami/Yumi,
Kawaiiii like keitai,
Back-up dancer for Gwen Stefani,
Your real-life Second Life avatar
Eager to deliver your freakiest fetish fantasies,
Disco queen, skirt up the crotch,
Fish-net stockings, bow-legged, anorexic, raisin nipples, tip-
Toeing Roppongi on
Stiletto heels.

Yessu, i spikku ingrishhu, i raikku gaijeeen, they kiss you,
hold your hand, open doors for me,
open legs for you, giggling pidgin, covering mouth,
so happy to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

Everybody's seen her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, waiting at
Home, cooking rice, the Japanese
Condoleezza Rice,
Smelling of sushi,
Breath and vagina,
Fish and vinegar,
Fermented rice,
Honored to be
Cleaning lady,
Nurse maid, gardener,
Japan-expert's wife,
Mochi manga face,
Yodeling minyo,
Growling enka,
Sex toy, slant-eyes closed, licking, tasting, swallowing STD semen,
Every drop.

Yessu, i wanna baby who looohkuh gaijeen, double-fold eye, translucent skin, international school PTA,
maybe grow up to be fashion model, even joshi-ana,
not-not-not happy to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

I recognize her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, rejecting
Japanese, rejected by Japanese,
Empty inside,
They all look alike,
Faceless, hoping to forget, escape
To America,
Slant-eyed clitoris,
Adopted orphan,
Dream come true for pedophiles,
Serving sake, pouring tea, spilling honey,
Naturalized citizen,
Buying Gucci,
Docile doll,
Rag-doll, Miss Universe, manic harakiri depressive, rape victim, she is
You, she is me.

Hai, hai, eigo wakarimasen, worship Big Master for mind, matter, muscle, money, body size correlates to penis size,
waiting to be sexually harassed, so sorry, so many,
so sad to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

Friday, November 30, 2007

New taiko tune

This is the latest composition from Amanojaku leader/master drummer Yoichi Watanabe, performed by Ayutsubo Daiko.
It's inspired by Tokyo festival rhythms that even young people these days are rediscovering.
Beautiful beasts, the natives gather around a phallic shrine/float/"yagura," celebrating in dance and music the harvest, filled with gratitude to the gods for the gift of Life.
The beat is nostalgic/primordial with a lot of sexy rock 'n' roll drive that gets your heart racing.
It's both new and old, faraway and immediate, all at the same time.
Why look to the West (rock, R&B, etc.) for the roots of cool when nothing is hipper than Edo-style "iki?"
We cannot live/express ourselves/function as human beings if we cannot be proud of who we are.
Yes, it's a challenge in this increasingly globalizing world. Economic power and other discriminatory hierarchies are used to define superiority, leaving chunks of people/races/regions out of a chance for personal realization, which is a human right.
It seems too easy to use culture (down to the simplest aspects of everyday life) as a tool to dominate/wipe out the legacy of weaker groups.
When a kid grows up to be a giant wanna-be, going blond or wearing dreadlocks (not that I have anything against these as fashion for fun and it's the concept of self-negation that's the problem),
something is wrong with us as parents.
We must also accept that we are all hybrids in this New Era.
We are no longer that Sukeroku samurai of Kabuki.
Japanese grew up on Motown and Mozart.
The cross-pollination from all kinds of music (blond/dreadlocks), as long as that truthfulness-to-who-we are remains, can give birth to a new kind of Japanese music.
The best in Edo culture has always been defined by influences from abroad, Korea, China, Europe.
Fortunately, being open to diversity is the essence of the Japanese aesthetic.
No one writes/creates by starting out with the goal of "being Japanese."
One must write/create with the goal of being honest/yourself _ nothing else.
And in so doing, you create what is Japanese _ and universal _ because that's what you are.
Watanabe talks about what makes for "the Japanese sound" in this englightening Podcast.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Driving simulator 2

This gives you more of an idea of the dome's size. Toyota says the purpose of the machine is to see how people respond in driving when they are tired, sleepy, etc.
But it'd be a good machine to simply test people's driving skills and see if they're fit to drive.
Toyota says that's not the purpose of the machine.

Driving simulator

This is the view from inside Toyota's new driving simulator: The Lexus is real, but the landscape is all computer graphics.
The simulator is a giant ball that tilts and cocks, and swooshes on a rail in a huge warehouse-like building (See the other photo above to get an idea of its size).
NHTSA has a similar machine.
Toyota refuses to say how much it spent on the simulator.

Friday, November 23, 2007

OKINAWA FIGHTERS head to dance competition

Roppongi warehouse-style techno disco Yellow is a eardrum-blasting brain-numbing thump-thumping of trance escapism on the main dance floor Friday night in Tokyo.
But the real action and real soul are tucked away in a corner room.
It's for sitting around and sipping on drinks in between the dosages of trance.
The sound is more funk/R&B. And that's all it takes to get these talented young dancers showing us all what real dance IS:
demonstrate without a doubt the reason Dance is art in movement and feeling as human interaction.
We find out they are in town to take part as the Okinawa Fighters in a rather serious dance competition Sunday at Shinkiba's Studio Coast, Free Style Japan 2007.
I was (innocently) applauding two fantastic dancers who were, as I find out later, practicing, doing an enticingly fun-to-watch mock battle, contesting their hiphop/break-dancing/robot moves.
They suddenly invite me to the dance floor, motioning with their arms, spread wide/open in friendship, showing me moves, comically banging away at my hips, shaking their torsos, swaying their pelvis, cheering/laughing/clapping, making me feel as though I'm a pretty good dancer myself.
The boys are not touchy-feely with just the women but with each other in clean camaraderie that is breath-taking.
Let's face it: It's more fun to dance with a guy who knows what he is doing.
What I got was maybe seven of them _ all good enough to go to a dance competition _ pretty cool!
One says in Japanese "This is the Okinawan style."
There is so much diversity on the island everyone makes a point of being warm, he says.
Dance the way they execute it _ playful, sincere and erotic in the best sense of the word _ is the epitome of that spirit.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Robot crashes 2

Another photo. Another link.

Robot crashes

Some reporters were oooohing that this robot from Hitachi was "kawaii." It has a cute voice, displayed cute arm movements and wheeled about on its knees, sitting Japanese style, pretty cute. Hitachi invited us to their research center, more than an hour-train ride away from Ueno, so the environment would be controlled (just like their test conditions) so their robot would move properly. Little good that did. As soon as it approached noon, and everyone went on their lunch break like good obedient conformist Japanese salarymen, the network server and wireless got jammed with traffic. And the robot failed to work properly. We had to wait an hour for a repeat of the demonstration. Can you imagine what would happen if the robot was in real-life _ eg., talking to a kid or carrying something delicate _ when it suddenly goes dead? I asked Hitachi officials if they agreed the robot wasn't practical yet because of the remote-control glitch, they replied, yes. At least, they were honest. They also said the days of pursuing entertainment robots are over. Robots have to be safe and useful, and they have to make business sense, they said.

Whistleblowers 2

Our story about an American whistleblower came about because someone left a blog comment, telling me about the lawsuit. The lawsuit says that NUMMI plant management routinely pressured an employee to downgrade or delete reports of serious auto defects. Another link to the story.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Little YELLOW Slut (formerly Little YELLER Slut, formerly Puny YELLER Slut, formerly Puny Yeller Gal)

You know her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, proudly gleefully
YELLOW-ly hanging on Big Master's arm,
War bride, geisha,
GI's home away from home,
Whore for last samurai,
Yoko Ohno,
Akihabara cafe maid,
Hi-Hi Puffy Ami/Yumi,
Kawaiiii like keitai,
Back-up dancer for Gwen Stefani,
Your real-life Second Life avatar
Eager to deliver your freakiest fetish fantasies,
Disco queen, skirt up the crotch,
Fish-net stockings, bow-legged, anorexic, raisin nipples, tip-
Toeing Roppongi on
Stiletto heels.

Yessu, i spikku ingrishhu, i raikku gaijeeen, they kiss you,
hold your hand, open doors for me,
open legs for you, giggling pidgin, covering mouth,
so happy to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

Everybody's seen her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, waiting at
Home, cooking rice, the Japanese
Condoleezza Rice,
Smelling of sushi,
Breath and vagina,
Fish and vinegar,
Fermented rice,
Honored to be
Cleaning lady,
Nurse maid, gardener,
Japan-expert's wife,
Mochi manga face,
Yodeling minyo,
Growling enka,
Sex toy, slant-eyes closed, licking, tasting, swallowing STD semen,
Every drop.

Yessu, i wanna baby who looohkuh gaijeen, double-fold eye, translucent skin, international school PTA,
maybe grow up to be fashion model, even joshi-ana,
not-not-not happy to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

I recognize her:
That Little YELLOW Slut, rejecting
Japanese, rejected by Japanese,
Empty inside,
They all look alike,
Faceless, hoping to forget, escape
To America,
Slant-eyed clitoris,
Adopted orphan,
Dream come true for pedophiles,
Serving sake, pouring tea, spilling honey,
Naturalized citizen,
Buying Gucci,
Docile doll,
Rag-doll, Miss Universe, manic harakiri depressive, rape victim, she is
You, she is me.

Hai, hai, eigo wakarimasen, worship Big Master for mind, matter, muscle, money, body size correlates to penis size,
waiting to be sexually harassed, so sorry, so many,
so sad to be
Little YELLOW Slut.

(a poem in progress under new title "Little YELLOW Slut" - updated for the fifth time and should be final version).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Whistleblowers (Criminals Part Two)

I did a story about whistleblowers in Japan.
Someone who has the courage to speak up against the Establishment is special in any culture.
But they are extraordinary in Japan because of the tremendous pressures to enforce corporate loyalty.
I faxed a copy of the article to Mr. Semba, a whistleblower in my story.
I guess he didn't know the article was going to be in English.
He wanted it translated into Japanese.
It would be impossible to get anything else done if I had to translate every article I did.
But I knew he couldn't understand the story that was about his three-decade battle, and I had to do it for him.
He was very sweet: "You wrote all that? You are a genius!"
Not really.
But in translating I realized the Japanese word for "conformity" was "wa," which means harmony, something totally positive.
Did you know that the word for "individualism," "kojinshugi," sounds really negative in Japanese?
How all this relates to the idea of crime was what I was getting to.
The individual courage and integrity of the whistleblower are such contrasts to the criminal.
The whistleblower speaks up, saying "No."
Most of us look the other way, shrugging it off as someone else's problem.
The criminal doesn't merely pretend not to know.
The criminal carries out the act.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Puny Yeller Gal

You know her: That Puny Yeller Gal, proudly gleefully yellerly hanging on that Big Master's arm, war bride, geisha, GI's home away from home, whore for last samurai, Yoko Ohno, Hi-Hi Puffy Ami/Yumi, disco queen, skirt up the crotch, fish-net stockings, bow-legged, anorexic, raisin nipples, tip-toeing Roppongi on stiletto heels.
Yessu, i spikku ingrishhu, i raikku gaijeeen, they kiss you and hold your hand, giggling pidgin, so happy to be Puny Yeller Gal.
Everybody's seen her: That Puny Yeller Gal, waiting at home, cooking rice, the Japanese Condoleezza Rice, honored to be cleaning lady, nurse maid, gardener, Japan-expert's wife, sex toy, open legs, open mind, open mouth, licking, tasting, swallowing, STD semen, every drop.
Yessu, i wanna baby who looohkuh gaijeen, double-fold eye, translucent skin, international school PTA, maybe grow up to be fashion model, even joshi-ana, not-not-not happy to be Puny Yeller Gal.
I recognize her: Puny Yeller Gal, rejecting Japanese, rejected by Japanese, ashamed, empty inside, they all look alike, hoping to forget, escape to America, adopted orphan, naturalized citizen, docile doll, rag-doll, Miss Universe, manga, anime, rape victim, faceless, she is you, she is me.
Hai, hai, eigo wakarimasen, worship the Master Western male for mind, matter, muscle, money, so sorry so sad so many Puny Yeller Gal.
(a poem in progress - updated once)

Isaku's page gets new look

Isaku Kageyama has updated his Web page at
Sunday Nov. 11, his taiko drum group Amanojaku performed at a 20th anniversary concert for Ayutsubo Daiko in Shizuoka.
Amanojaku leader and Isaku's master teacher Yoichi Watanabe has taught taiko in the U.S. and Brazil, but his oldest students are right here in Japan.
The group performed a new piece by Watanabe based on a "matsuri" rhythm.
Three drums were placed on a fancy metal scaffolding _ a big one on top and two next to each other on the bottom.
And four drummers played the drums from each side.
The tune is funky with a lot of drive as it moves into several grooves evocative of "iki/hip" Tokyo festival music that brought to mind mikoshi shrines, colorful floats and shouting crowds.
It's a celebration of the Japanese community, a thanksgiving for life, the harvest, and family.
My story on Isaku.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Usually people make a point of avoiding criminals, but watching criminals up close (relatively up close, that is) is something journalists get to do as part of our jobs.
In movies, criminals are rather special, the anti-hero, or even the hero him/herself, someone to be feared, like a Mafia boss or Hannibal Lecter.
In real life, criminals are simply pathetic.
They are losers.
This was a revelation that came when I covered a murder trial in Detroit.
A man charged with murdering a researcher was asked how the murder happened, and he said _ with a straight face _ that he pushed her and she fell over backwards, hit her head on a sharp corner of furniture and died, as though it was her fault that she died.
We try to understand how a criminal mind works and we sometimes come up with elaborate explanations because we want to understand why something as horrible and tragic as serious crime happens.
This article doesn't address crime.
But I found out rationalizing irrational behavior is called "cognitive dissonance," and it's not that sophisticated because monkeys and toddlers do it.
This is exactly what happens in the criminal mind.
The criminal compartmentalizes, rationalizes, justifies to come up with a weird theory, no matter how filled with laughable self-serving illogical contradictions, to explain how it was the perfectly sound and smart thing to do.
But if cognitive dissonance is about survival, the ability to move on and shrug off complex doubts about the past, then does that mean the criminal is more highly evolved than a person with a developed conscience?
Being able to live with crime isn't a cerebral process.
It's an animal instinct for survival, a level of existence on the basest level.
It's not really about being human at all.

Picasso portraits

Photographs by David Douglas Duncan of Pablo Picasso are now on display at Yoshii, a small Ginza gallery.
Duncan began taking photos of Picasso in his 70s, according to a review in The Nikkei:
Picasso, in shorts, dancing in his studio filled with the bold lines and circles of his paintings.
Picasso, again in shorts, playing with his grandchildren, also just in shorts.
Picasso peeping from a catlike mask of paper that he cut out.
Picasso putting that on top of a closeup photo of his own face, so that the photographic image of his eyes peep from the paper mask.
A photo of that.
Picasso laughing from a bathtub.
Picasso studying his plate sculpture.
Picasso at a bullfight.
Picasso facing a canvas, focused intensely, drawing a single line, the first stroke of the painting.
He is always so full of life.
Duncan is quoted as saying that not a single photo of Picasso he took caught him with his eyes closed.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Despair/Disco (Story of Miu 6)

Miu and I went to a DISCO called The Room in Shibuya.
And it was as tiny and shabby as a room.
People stood next to each other in rows and shifted their weight from one leg to the other nervously to the thump-thump of music as a mirror ball glistened sadly from a corner.
Miu says this is the new, tucked-away look of Tokyo discos.
The big slick ones with shiny floors are obsolete, although they apparently still exist in parts of Roppongi, where old men, many of them foreigners, try to pick up young Japanese women.
We were not dressed appropriately in our T-shirts and jeans.
You must wear short skirts and tops with your breasts about to fall out, then people will want to talk to you and want to have sex with you, according to Miu.
A DISCO is a place where boys take girls they pick up on the streets:
(1) By dancing, the male can make sexual overtures to the female and find out her interests/lack thereof in having sex.
(2) By dancing, the female will get tired, allowing the male to suggest going to a hotel to have sex.
A disco delivers relatively high return for low investment.
Dating for weeks to just kiss isn't efficient.
"There has to be someone out in the world who is your true love," Miu says, shouting a bit over the music.
"Romantic love must exist. Like Romeo and Juliet. Or is that unreal like a father's ghost or a forest moving, which aren't at all everyday like a disco?"
Miu says a man she got to know recently says he finds someone like Juliet a bit too much.
I'll tell her maybe it's better to hang out with another Capulet, or how about my friend Mercutio?
I may be someday someone's Romeo but I will never find a Juliet, he told Miu.
DESPAIR was one of the paintings on display in Uneo by Edvard Munch.
Munch's strongest works depict personal angst.
Despair, Anxiety and Scream were shown in two different sequences.
One had the Scream in the middle.
But the Scream has to be the culmination of the series.
Indeed, Munch painted them in that order: Despair, Anxiety, Scream.
Munch believed art should be about everyday people.
Never mind the people in the paintings may look psychotic, surreal and warped.
Not really everyday at all.
"I will paint living people who breathe and feel and suffer and love," Munch said.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Father of the Hybrid

People ask Toyota Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada for his autograph as though he is a rock star because he is the "father" of the Prius.
Recently, I did a story about how he worked on Toyota's Prius, the first gas-electric hybrid to go into commercial mass-production.
The Prius celebrates its 10th anniversary in December.
I did another story about Toyota: How American executives are being wooed away by rivals Chrysler and Ford.
That's a new challenge for Toyota.
Toyota is very Japanese in valuing lifetime employment and employee loyalty.
To get ahead in Toyota (Japanese-style,) a worker must be loyal and stay with Toyota for years and years.
I wrote about Jim Press after a group interview when he became the first foreigner to join the board of Toyota.
And then again when he left.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Teraflops are what measure the superfast rates at which supercomputers process calculations.
My story about a new supercomputer from NEC.
To be ranked high as a supercomputer, it has to be put to actual use _ not just have peak processing possibilities of teraflops.
NEC is still the underdog in the battle among supercomputers.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Nissan GT-R

What the executives of Toyota, Nissan and Honda chose to drive on to the stage at the Tokyo Motor Show was very telling.
Of course, Nissan's Carlos Ghosn drove the GT-R.
My story on the Tokyo Motor Show.
Toyota's Watanabe scooted out on a single-seater.
And Honda's Fukui appeared in a ball-shaped fuel-cell car of silicone called Puyo (as in cuddly, friendly, rubbery "puyo puyo")
My story on what Mr. Ghosn had to say.
Reporters get to carry around a ton of material automakers give out about their new models.
We trudge around massive Makuhari Messe from booth to booth, which are all packed.
The seats are all taken when the executives give their demonstrations so we're on our feet all day.
Fortunately, there are also monitors to see what's going on in case photographers' heads are in the way.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thoughts on Death 2

A woman in her 20s told me she was able to break up a long-distance on-again-off-again nowhere relationship after she watched her grandmother die.
"I thought to myself: What am I doing?!" she says.
The message of the value of life _ every day we live, every love we love _ was a gift from her grandmother.
Sometimes death can be special in guiding us with our Choices and reminding us that we, too, face Death someday.
Thoughts on Death 1

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tokyo Motor Show

The Tokyo Motor Show opens to the public in a week, and the day reporters run around at sprawling Makuhari Messe is Wednesday Oct. 24.
We already saw some models in previews:
My story on what Toyota is showing.
And my story on cute cars at the show.
The themes of Japanese-ness and cute culture have always fascinated me.
For decades of modernization, companies like Toyota were playing catchup with the West.
Now the time has come, in this age of globalization, for Toyota, and others, to strut their stuff as far as what's unique about them as Japanese.
This is a very very difficult question.
You have to be unique if you want to compete.
But do you set off with the idea/goal of "wanting to be Japanese." (or "wanting to be cute")?
Being Japanese is what you end up being _ as a result of your being yourself.
No matter what you do, if you do it well, and you do it honestly, you can only be yourself.
And if you are Japanese, then your product will be Japanese _ without even trying.
A writer doesn't sit down: Yes, I am going to write that great American/Japanese/Japanese-American novel.
If he/she does, it's likely to be pedantic.
It's backwards.
This is not to deny that it is critical and useful to recognize how you're being yourself/Japanese.
By seeing the world, and studying diversity, a person gains insight into what is unique about a national culture _ and also what's universal.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Letter from Miu (Story of Miu 5)

I got a letter from Miu:

Just dropping a note to tell you about my first ever outing to Shinjuku's Sanchome district.
I was out with a couple friends for midnight mugs of beer at a tiny dingy cafe bar that spilled out into the alleys, dotted by sex-toy shops and gay bars, lonely souls occupying their time between yesterday and tomorrow _ one of those rare places in ethnocentric Tokyo where status/national origin/even sexuality go out the window.
Or so you'd like to think.
Then suddenly this Japanese guy comes up to me: "Are you with somebody?"
His next question: "Are you looking for gaijin?"
That bar, like others in that scene and Roppongi, attracts a fair share of foreigners.
I'd never forget that look in his eyes _ so afraid, so pathetic, so sad.
It was a totally depressing end to the evening.
What happened to this nation with its supposed reputation for right-wing conservative stuck up glorification of Japanese-ness!?
It's like reliving colonialism.
You read about how Japanese women are staying single because they earn their own livelihood and don't find the marrying lifestyle particularly attractive.
But my question is: Do they find the Japanese male attractive?
It would be a total lie to deny this phenomenon _ hordes of Japanese women who thrive on relationships with foreigners, seek them out at bars, hang from their arms, modern-day Suzy Wongs, and worship the foreigner, even unattractive ones, for their foreign-ness!
There's a sexual crisis of some sort going on between the Japanese male and the Japanese female.
They don't find the physical traits, mannerisms, social connotations from their own peers erotically arousing.
They find the alien intriguing.
Maybe exoticism is sexy by definition. But isn't that just a fetish, and certainly not a way to a healthy romantic relationship?

My reply to Miu:
How can you blame the Japanese female for seeking Western-style liberalism in attitudes toward women?
And how can you blame the Japanese female for their definitions of sexual beauty and sexual relationships when they have been fed Hollywood from birth?
And how can you blame the Japanese female for seeking personal partners outside Japanese society, when so many are doing so already with their careers (practically forced to do so, given sexism at major Japanese companies)?
But I see your point.
It is unfortunate how their personal lives fit like a jigsaw puzzle into the larger oppressive landscape of race/sex/class.
When Black Power rose in the 1960s, part of that was an awakening by the people to face up to that to overcome those larger social forces in their personal lives _ by redefining beauty, sexuality, love.
But cooking for/sleeping with/kissing XXX for the Male Master simply don't get fixed by switching His Color.
Staying within one's Color certainly simplifies the dilemma by at least knocking off one possible horrible fetish one has to confront in a sexual relationship.
But that's about it.
Just curious, but what happened in the end with that Japanese guy in Sanchome?
Stay well,

Continued from Story of Miu 4.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Jazz in Japan

Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter and Jack DeJohnette played together for the first time ever in Japan.
It's moving to witness great musicians still standing in old age.
They don't need to re-render those great songs. And so I was impressed how they knew when NOT to play, working the silences like a zen garden _ tasteful and smart, icons of a legacy, playing still like their old selves, and who else has that Feeling?
The colors they played, the blend of that Quartet, the Sound,
so coherent you can hear every Note although they were so far away on that distant International Forum stage, totally professional, impeccably executed, and maybe because of their age, each of us knowing that perhaps this is the Last Time to hear those musicians, and certainly together, like losing a friend, it is so rare a privilege to be there, to hear that combination of those Sounds.
But, yes, so true the performance was exactly the kind of performance that Miles Davis Never
They didn't play anything new.
And Miles perhaps would have been bored. He would have outright disapproved.
He never stopped still long enough to look back.
No time for Nostalgia at hundred dollars a seat!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Fear of flying

My son Isaku, taiko drummer with Tokyo-based Amanojaku, talks about his dreams and his music on this Web magazine that has a nicely done video piece at the bottom of the page.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Virtual virtuoso

As though Air Guitar isn't enough, a game in the works from Nintendo has players pretending to be musicians with their Wiimotes.
Some 40 instruments are going to be offered, including the marimba, congas, shamisen and of course the guitar.
Above is a demonstration today by Nintendo employees "playing" the Mario theme song.
Nintendo says you can be totally non-musical but still enjoy the musical experience.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Meaning of moment

I saw Saburo Teshigawara for the first time about 20 years ago when I was still a reporter at The Japan Times.
He was emerging _ and very dramatically _ as a star of Japanese contemporary dance.
Now, in his 50s, he still stands, in so many ways unchanged.
His piece for his troupe Karas at the New National Theater is titled "Substance." But it's more about life/death, a statement from an older, wiser Teshigawara facing the inevitability/approach of Death.
For two hours, we were transported to a Moment when the daily drudgery/pettiness/greed no longer mattered.
And all that mattered was the Question.
Moving before us _ strangely frail and powerful at the same time _ he flapped his arms, contorted his torso, part rag doll, part clown, part victim, part angel, sometimes appearing to not breathe at all while at other times panting til we breathed with him.
He was just as austere and pure _ and giving of himself as ever.
But perhaps he was growing (I hoped) a little less hard on himself.
At least absent was the bloody, and so painful just to watch, self-mutilation of banging into scattered broken shards of glass, a trademark of his earlier pieces.
We are all lost in a dark urban chaos of loneliness and shapes without meaning.
And all we can do is writhe about and breathe, in and out, in and out.
At one point, the fluorescent lights hanging from above rolled out toward the audience, leaving us suddenly in a cold skeptical spotlight:
What are you doing? How have you lived your life? Who are you?

Auto show previews

Reporters in Tokyo are very busy these days going to previews for the auto show coming up later in the month.
The automakers aren't kidding when they call these models "concepts."
That's exactly what they are.
The guy with the sign is leading reporters to the Mazda cars . Nissan showed the playful Pivo today.
Amazingly enough I took photos for both previews.

Toyota sportscar

Cars are usually unveiled in hotels, event spaces, company headquarters.
And so we knew something was up when Toyota invited us to a Lexus debut at the Fuji Speedway, near Mount Fuji and a two-hour bus ride from downtown Tokyo.
Professional drivers took reporters for two laps on the F-1 course, at one point reaching 240 kph.
That's so fast your body feels as though it's sinking into the seat, and you can't hold your head up straight at corners (especially with the big helmet on our head that Toyota gave us to wear), and the rear wheels skid on the concrete as though we were in a racing video game.
"Anyone prone to carsickness?" the driver asks matter-of-fact after we get on board, as though we have a choice.
It was a bit reassuring the Lexus IS F comes with a computerizied pre-crash safety system, and the whole package of airbags (curtain/side airbags).
Akio Toyoda, the founder's grandson, and other Toyota executives, showed up wearing black racing outfits.
Toyoda had his name and a Japanese flag embroidered on his belt.
It turns out Toyoda (that's him in the photo above) has a racer license and was one of the drivers who took reporters out on the zippety ride.
The executive overseeing Lexus, Takeshi Yoshida, laughed: "I look like a ninja today."
Going fast on a car is a lot of fun.
It's so thrilling you forget your troubles.
And you remember that elation for days.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Sony's new display

I played photographer as well as reporter at Sony's announcement of a TV with a new kind of display _ a world first.
It's OLED, for organic light emitting diode or organic electroluminescence display, which means that unlike LCD or plasma, the material is glowing on its own.
But the screen is only 11 inches, and it costs 200,000 yen.

Father of the Z

Yutaka Katayama, known as Mr. K, was a key figure in building the Nissan brand in the U.S. back in those days when Japanese automakers were still the underdog in the industry.
The "Father of the Z" recently had his 98th birthday party.
He said he has never been a religious person.
But these days, he feels a larger spirituality beyond this reality/life _ something he says is common to all religions, even religions that are fighting each other.
He is always so full of life.
He talks with enthusiasm about the future of cars.
I interviewed him several years ago (although I can't find it on the Web any more!).
As we get older, we may prefer to forget about birthdays.
But being there at a 98-year-old man's celebration helps one understand why birthdays are important.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Virtual worlds

As though we weren't busy enough dealing with reality, welcome to the virtual world.
We are about to get a whole range of cyberworlds to live in and do all the things like shopping and meeting people you do in the real world but were probably too busy to get to.
But people will always be people.
The same social ills and cultural differences in the real world seem to be playing out in these second (third, fourth, etc.) lives.
"Meet me" is the Japanese version and so it's more subdued _ in the same way NTT DoCoMo's "i-mode" is a more controlled and orderly network on cell phones, including ensuring payment of fees.
The question is: Do Japanese want this?
The popularity of DoCoMo as a carrier is dwindling in Japan, but it's not because people are fleeing in droves from a regulated universe.
They are defecting to cheaper carriers (belive it or not, unlimited calls aren't taken for granted here).
Another competition has been music downloads (just as regulated in choices/fees).
"Meet me" is designed to be a hit for Japanese outside the city areas.
If you can't come out to Harajuku, then jump into "meet me."
Non-urban Japanese ("chiho") are the biggest patrons of electronic shopping _ the same target for online worlds.
Similar tendencies are observed for "Second Life."
New Yorkers, for example, aren't the biggest fans of "Second Life."
Not much going on there in Seattle?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jazz transcends boundaries

Caravan, Easy Money, All of Me, Moonlight Serenade .......
Drummer Takayoshi Tanaka is realizing a longtime dream in leading a Big Band.
Most of the band members, as well as the crowd, were Japanese Boomers.
Some didn't even have hair.
But they had swing.
It's moving to witness people who have never given up on their belief in Music over the years.
George Bernard Shaw was right: Youth is mottainai to keep it the sole privilege of youngsters.
The crowd loved it _ Mr. Tanaka, who played for 30 years in the Self Defense Forces band, calls it "ai to roman to kandou no" Orchestra.
After the concert, Mr. Tanaka gave me the '60s Power handshake, still a bit breathless, his hand still sweaty and hot.
You were so cool, kakkoii, I told him.
Honto? Really? he asks, as though he isn't sure and wants to know.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sony delays virtual world, shows rumble controller

It was his first big speech as head of Sony's game business, but the news Kazuo Hirai gave us was the delay of "Home."
He also showed us a controller that vibrates _ not much of a technological razzle dazzle.
Even Hirai called it an item of nostalgia!
Ken Kutaragi, his predecessor, announced a price cut at last year's show.
But no such news this time around.
It would have been so deja vu, as Hirai noted.
Sony is a treasure chest of great technology, and it'd seem like a speech before game fans would be filled with forward-looking news for reporters like us to write about.
Instead, Hirai spent much of his time acknowledging the failure of the PS3, and saying games had to appeal to a wider audience (an homage to Nintendo's strategy).
It's fascinating to see how a dominant game machine thrives on its success to build even more success.
The longest lines at the show were in front of the Wii games _ and these were at the booths of software makers.
Nintendo doesn't take part in the Tokyo Game Show.
Of course, except two years ago, when Nintendo's president, Satoru Iwata, was invited to speak and showed us the wand for the Wii.
The Wii is now gaining more violent/adult-oriented games that we don't usually associate with Nintendo.
Like "Biohazard" on Wii.
I didn't have time to stand in line to try them, but rather intriguing.
Meanwhile, both Sony and Microsoft were trying to do a Wii-number with their lineup, expanding their appeal to those who aren't "core gamers."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Japanese politics

Joichi Ito's opinion piece in The New York Times today was a truly enjoyable piece of bicultural (Japan/U.S.) writing.
To appreciate it, like an inside joke, you almost have to be bicultural in the same way he is bicultural _ observing Japan as part-insider Japanese and part-outsider "gaijin."
I interviewed Joi Ito in 2004 as a star blogger when mainstream journalism was still trying to grapple with blogging as a new medium.
Now, even I blog!
Diversity/sensibilities shed light on life/social change/prejudice/injustices _
Being marginal helps us question societal assumptions and understand what's relative/arbitrary vs. what is fundamental/eternal/universal.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sociology of shampoo 2

Shiseido didn't have much of a new twist to its marketing campaign for its new white version of the now red Tsubaki shampoo.
The shampoo has been a hit here.
But the launch for the revamped Tsubaki played up much of the same themes _ and even the same women.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Letter From North Korea

I've been to North Korea only twice _ in 2002, as part of the press with then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, and with the Foreign Ministry delegation that went there ahead of Koizumi's trip.
I don't know what I was expecting. But it was definitely one of the most memorable places I have visited ever.
Things we take for granted simply aren't there.
There aren't that many places you can go in this day and age to have that kind of eye-opening experience.
And it's just as about depravity of mind/soul as materialistic poverty.
We stayed at Pyongyang's top hotel, but the hallways were dark at night because of the energy shortage.
I had to feel my way, touching the walls, to find my way back to my room.
The toothbrushes in the rooms were primitive wooden sticks with barely any bristles at the end.
The bed was a hardened box.
The night streets were also totally dark.
Streetlamps, skyscraper lights, neon signs and car headlights we are used to as providing visibility just aren't there.
And because of this, you can see the stars so clearly it's dazzling.
The mornings start with blaring broadcast speeches and militaristic singsong music tearing through the air.
The TV, which has maybe two channels, only shows those weird propaganda we see on news footage about North Korea.
It is surreal.
It is like being on a movie set where everything that looks real is a cardboard facade, and the people you encounter are actors, all putting on suspiciously cheery faces pretending to love their dictator.
We were given official tour guides to "babysit" us during our entire trip.
But surprisingly we were pretty free off-hours to roam around as much as we liked, although we couldn't go very far, given that we as reporters had to stick around to go to briefings, and there aren't any cabs to hop on or anything.
When a photographer and I went across the street to eat dinner at a barbecue place, we ordered dishes by pantomiming a bird (for chicken) and mooing (for beef).
As I said, I don't know what I was expecting.
But I wasn't expecting everybody to be so nice.
We don't expect friendly human beings with what we are fed about North Korea, day in and day out_ not the restaurant waitress trying to decipher our orders, the "babysitter" guides, everyone far nicer than people on average, say, in New York.
It's more like visiting a forsaken rural area where people aren't used to visitors and see them as guests who need looking out for.
The landscape (before driving into the city through the famous arch) is also pastoral and untainted.
The sloganistic billboards we associate with communist nations are absent outside the city, and because the nation is too poor to have many cars the whole place looks fairytale (so Nihon mukashi banashi) _ winding dirt roads through luscious green and fresh air.
All picturesque, untouched by the modern world.
It reminded me of Show Era Japan.
Naturally, the press group I was with got taken to the obligatory tourist spots during our free time _ controlled and orchestrated.
We went up Juche Tower.
We went to the statue of Kim Il Song.
We went to the reimen restaurant.
Some reporters put in a request, and we also got to go to a department store.
It was more like a drug store or a Daiei by American/Japanese standards, and the strange thing was that the shelves were filled with the same product (eg., plastic alarm clock) over and over (like a miniature shabby version of a Costco).
A small booth inside the store offered foreign exchange services.
Apparently, the department store caters largely to diplomats and other visitors as regular North Koreans can't afford to shop there.
It was obvious throughout our assignment the country was eager to get foreign currency from reporters:
We were charged an exorbitant fee for transmitting our stories.
You often see in Japanese TV how North Koreans guides speak fluent Japanese.
This is true.
One North Korean man, while we were waiting for a briefing, told me he could sing Japanese songs.
He demonstrated his skill by singing in perfect Japanese: "Konnichiwa Akachan."
It was bizarre to be sitting in Pyongyang and watch this North Korean sing "Konnichiwa Akachan."
But besides this brief rendition of "Konnichiwa Akachan," the standard music there was all numbing blaring militaristic songs.
On my flight back to Japan, the jazz wafting through my earphones (music we take for granted but music that speaks so clearly and so fundamentally of a free, democratic, creative society) literally brought tears to my eyes.
Not only because Music is so beautiful.
But because it is so unfair the people of North Korea don't have the freedom to just reach over and listen to that Music.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Microsoft's Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 event was video show after video show of games in the works for the machine that's losing out big time to Nintendo's Wii and Sony's PlayStation 3 in Japan.
Japanese gamers like role-playing games and so Microsoft must sign on star game creators to get people to buy the console.
The obvious catch is that these designers would rather make games for machines owned by more people.
But you know what? A lot of these games look the same.
There's a lot of blood and gore, choice of weapons (knives/swords of all sizes/shapes, etc. ), knights' armor/the billowy ninja-look.
And the obligatory cast: (1) young male hero (2) sidekick (3) cute female facing off against (1) monsters (2) faceless soldiers.
When you think about it, it'd seem there could be some variety.
Why not a game that takes place in a kitchen (there are knives there as well)?
How are games as a genre going to maintain the momentum for creativity, given the growing competition from entertaiment on the Internet for spending free time without leaving your home?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mimi Yokoo

Phallic asparagus, vaginal mussels, ripened fruit, even pepperoni pizza galore, food is sex, blood, delusions and life itself in paintings by Mimi Yokoo.
The meals are spottled with dots of feverish color.
Her brushstrokes pulsate like swirling psychedelic veins.
She uses glitter and beads in some places, playfully plops fake birds with feathers on the canvas.
She sets an elaborate dinner table with such manic prim and proper detail everything on the top half of the canvas is reflected upside down in the bottom half like a mirror into the unknown.
Why is food so sad?
Food and fat and appetite celebrate orgasm, fertility and birth.
But women aren't allowed to eat.
They stay thin.
And all the food grows dizzyingly larger than life, enticing menacingly, forbidden jewels of desire/hunger/taste.
I went to a gallery opening for Mimi Yokoo's paintings at Nantenshi Gallery.

Sony unveils Rolly

After a lot of buildup on a countdown Web page, Sony showed us the Rolly.
Sony chose to show off the machine in a hotel bedroom (as opposed to big halls where the electronics and entertainment company usually chooses to show new products) to highlight how Rolly's relatively delicate sound bounces in an intimate setting _ i.e., a good way to impress a girlfriend, perhaps fodder for pillowtalk.
Is Rolly a cool robotic toy for Japan's fashionable geeks?
Or just another "so what?" gadget?
I wasn't convinced too many people would shell out 40,000 yen for a music player on wheels, with or without clever dancing.
Sony also showed in a demonstration the machine moving in time to electronic voices in a conversation.
My office colleagues think Rolly would be more petlike if you made it like a Tamagotchi (since it looks like an egg anyway), demanding care and attention.
Their version of Rolly would grow sad, even die, if you don't play music on it everyday.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Toyota's Press departs for Chrysler

I was on vacation but back at work, although from home, when I found out late at night that Jim Press whom I've written about in this blog was leaving Toyota for Chrysler.
Press, an American, just joined the board of Toyota as the first non-Japanese three months ago.
It was a rather high-profile promotion as a clear message about how Toyota was becoming a global company.
Press' getting headhunted to Chrysler is a sign of how Toyota is winning respect in the industry.
But I wonder who'll be the next non-Japanese Toyota brings on board?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Chatter on the sociology of shampoo

My article is stirring up a lively discussion.
But ...
Did I ever say there were never any Japanese women in ads before?
That's a rather absurd idea, isn't it?
The story is about the success Shiseido has had with a new marketing drive that sends the message about "beautiful Japanese women," and hired a bunch of famous women, not just one.
My earlier blog post on the sociology of shampoo.
Looking at gender and ethnicity is one good way to tell a story about Japan _ or any society _ because the "master traits" delve so deeply into our makings on who/where we are in each society.
And one way to get blog attention.

Defining Art

Some thoughts.
And more thoughts:
A South Korean poet with whom I did a reading in Hibiya Park with other poets many years ago told me that being a poet poses giant risks.
Poets speak the truth, he told me with conviction, and that's why they are always going to be seen as a threat from those in power.
This was a new frightening idea to me.
I was more used to seeing poetry as a way of self-expression, something that may draw ridicule or indifference, but not something that got one's life in danger.
Most artists in the modern democratic world spend their time trying to perfect their technical skills and building their marketing/business contacts so they can get an arts grant, a product on the commercial market, a good review in The New York Times, an exhibition at a major museum, or whatever else that translates their skills into a livelihood and a happy state of mind as far as getting worldly Respect.
But in extreme situations, when artistic choice doesn't match the rules of the physical non-artistic society, the artist must even choose art over life.
Today, on NHK, Donald Keene was talking about his favorite Japanese artist, painter Kazan Watanabe, who sought to bring Western influences (perspective, lighting) in his work at a time when the Edo Bakufu had set up an isolationist "sakoku" policy of banning contact with the outside world.
Kazan criticized that mentality as "a frog in the well."
This got him in trouble, and he was imprisoned and interrogated for seven months.
He was released but placed in exile and could not paint freely.
He killed himself at 49, writing in his will he was worried about bringing trouble to his family.
One of his final paintings, a portrait of his mother, uses only traditional Japanese techniques.
But another is a powerful portrait using Western techniques that NHK said Kazan purposely put an incorrect year of creation, to hide his persistent pursuit of even outlawed techniques for his artistic vision.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Sociology of shampoo

The success of Shiseido's shampoo marketing offered me an opportunity to tell the story about Japanese women and their changing self-perception.
Beauty standards may seem trite _ more about self-asborbed conceit than anything else.
But the right to define beauty and see oneself (race, ethnicity, culture) as beautiful is an essential part of human rights.
One of the women I interviewed, Kaori Sasaki, a business consultant who has a Web page called ewoman, says today's Japanese woman strives to be simple and organic in their lifestyles.
But that doesn't mean she has to be digging around on a farm, growing vegetables.
The other key word is gorgeous, she says.
And so that ideal modern-day Japanese woman can be eating organic food and have down-to-earth values, but she may put on a glittering dress and go out.
She gets to have fun.
Still, looking at Race and Beauty never fails to get a bit depressing.
The combination seems to speak to the worst of our fetishes.
A feminist professor I spoke with, Teruko Inoue, told me the barriers of sex are especially pronounced in Japan because there aren't as many other obvious non-gender ways to divide people for hierachical definitions as there are in other societies such as caste, race and ethnic groups.
So females have become synonymous with the underclass, the easiest to corner into exploitable labels.
Women have come to define the bottom rung of this allegedly (mythically) homogenous society.
This is insightful: Part-time workers are almost all female in Japan.
And women are grossly under-represented in Japanese management.
It's hard being a woman in Japan.
And we're so happy to be told, "Japanese women are beautiful," we rushed out and bought shampoo!
Watch the TV ads here, and listen to the hit Smap tune, a Tsubaki original.
I don't know why Unilever doesn't retaliate with a Japanese version of the far more progressive Dove ads.
But maybe that concept won't fly in Japan.
Shiseido meanwhile has more up its sleeve: a white Tsubaki.
The campaign blitz starts September: Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Story of Miu 4: Bon Odori _ Japan's answer to the Dance Party

Japanese summers are never complete without Bon Odori, the neighborhood thanksgiving celebration of the harvest, the annual homecoming of ancestral ghosts, the end of summer.
The dress code: cotton yukata kimonos in white, indigo and goldfish red, splashed with bold patterns of flowers, bursting fireworks, waves of water. Wooden clogs or woven straw slippers on the feet. Big uchiwa fans, the kind that don't fold out gracefully, upper-class, but just stay flat (also with bold patterns) to get flapped around to swat mosquitoes and cool off in the evening breeze.
The smell in the air: Grilled noodles, pancakes and octopus dumplings topped with seaweed and dried fish, peddled at stalls set up like tents, which also sell manga-character masks, goldfish, shaved ice, bobbing balloon yo-yos, chocolate-covered bananas on sticks.
The sound: Deep intestine-curdling thumps of a taiko drum from a stage that's set up _ just for the weekend.
The drum plays in time to funky songs. Some are minyo folk tunes, but others are pop concoctions, like Tokyo Ondo, which has become the rallying theme song for the Yakult Swallows, and children's songs like Anpanman or Obakyu Bon Odori.
The drummers play loud and strong.
They strike poses, fling their arms, twirling and throwing their sticks, staccato out rhythms, swinging with the beat.
The dancing goes in a circle around the stage, repetitions of steps, arm moves and turns that don't require acrobatic skills to execute (although the instructors on stage _ you can pick them out because they wear the same white and blue yukata _ do every move with a certain elegant nuance you can't imitate without taking real lessons.)
Maybe there are only five, six choreography patterns you have to get in your head, but each song is a little different and so it's harder than you think.
Most of the time you end up looking totally ridiculous.
Never mind _ the point isn't about showing off.
The point is about getting down and having fun and doing the best you can.
And knowing another summer is over.
"Oh, this is so much fun," said Miu, who had never been to a real Bon Odori before, wiping sweat she's worked up from dancing. "There is something about this place that's movie-like. It's surreal."
Something about those lanterns hung from the poles and around the makeshift stage bouncing in time with the embryonic heartbeat booms of the drum surround that place where we are gathered in a soft, strange glow _ reminding us of both our cosmic isolation and the terrible death that is so always there but telling us all this in a warm, comforting way, like a grandmother telling us a story: It's going to be OK; there is nothing to be afraid of.
The way I explained it to Miu is that when the moment comes for me to die, and flashes of images like a multicultural slide show play in my mind in a lazy dozing off of death, somehow, I know Bon Odori will be one of those scenes.
My son was just 6 when he played drums with the other children at his first Bon Odori. He was barely bigger than the drum, challenging the drum, until blisters tore his fingers.
He is 25 this year.
It's not hard to understand why Japanese believe ancestral ghosts come home for Bon.

Story of Miu 3.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Poet Plays Piano

Ishamel Reed, poet, essayist and scholar that many of us knew was a genius before the MacArthur Foundation made it official, plays piano on this CD with the same forthright finality of his writing.
Other members of the Ishmael Reed Quintet are David Murray on saxophone, Roger Glenn on flute, Carla Blank on violin and Chris Planas on guitar.
Murray and Glenn are famous as musicians.
Planas, I found out, is also a veteran musician.
But it's hearing Reed explore a new voice as a musician that's so endearing, moving and refreshing.
I mean, why not?
Carla, Ishmael's wife, is also better known as a dancer, but she's gone back to playing the instrument she studied in the past.
This is not to say the music isn't first-rate.
It holds up to all that's out there by people who play music and don't dance or speak poetry.
It is Music that cuts through all the Noise (music making money, music on the charts, music that says nothing) to transport the listener to that special kind of space where people play/speak freely with just the power of intelligence and insight.

On another note, poetry and piano met in Tokyo when Eddie Palmieri took the stage.
My son/drummer Isaku, his percussionist friend Winchester Nii Tete (playing MON Sept. 3 at Shinjuku Pit Inn) and I sat right in front.
And I must say I literally saw colors jump out of that grand piano _ warm yellow like fireflies, sparkling crystal like pink stars and a collage of hues like a swirling rainbow.
Sorry about all the cliches, but it's true what they say about how sounds have colors.
(Please go on Isaku's blog to see video footage.
But you probably can't see the colors on YouTube video. Something that perhaps come close:
Close your eyes and see Piet Mondrian.)

Thank God for all the poets and pianists of the world.

Auto workers in the U.S./Germany/Japan

In some ways, a farmer has more in common with farmers in other nations than with people of other occupations in the same country.
That can be said of other professions _ boxers, chief executives, carpenters, reporters.
That's because what we do to earn a living is such an all encompassing and fundamental part of our being that what is required to perform that job right comes to define how we think and act, and what we ARE.
Recently my colleagues and I did a project together to look at auto workers in the U.S., Germany and Japan, to see what they had in common, as well as what separated them.
The package together told a story that was more than each story on its own:

The U.S. story
The story from Germany
The story from Japan

I remember talking to farmers in Michigan and farmers in Japan and realizing how much farmers have in common, although they don't speak the same language and they live so far away from each other.
I also remember the point in I believe a book by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: We are what we do every day (The way he put it was that we become what we pretend to be and so we must be careful.)
People can justify all they want in their minds to appease their guilt about what they do.
But sometimes matter overtakes mind.
Every little decision/act/word counts.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Politics and Toyota

A couple of our reporters were out this week and so I got to do politics stories for a change.
It's an exciting time to be covering politics in Japan because the ruling Liberal Democrats have suffered their biggest defeat probably in the history of their party, which has ruled Japan virtually all the time for more than 50 years.
The Liberal Democrats are credited with orchestrating Japan's modernization and reconstruction after World War II.
But Japan and its voters are changing.
Many young people, usually associated with total disinterest in politics, voted for the opposition in the latest election.
Analysts say the candidates for the opposition have never been better.
And they may be finally giving Japanese voters a chance for a real alternative to the Liberal Democrats.
It's fun to send alerts.
It gets your adrenaline going.
And it's a bit frightening.
But it's always a moment I look back on (during a weekend, say, like today) as one reason why reporting is so much fun.
Our bureau got to do that earlier this week because the agriculture minister stepped down to take responsibility for the election defeat.
Now the question is if/when will the prime minister resign/reshuffle the Cabinet/dissolve the lower house of Parliament.
I also did my usual job covering business on Toyota's earnings.
Toyota posted a 32 percent rise in profit for the first fiscal quarter.
Another time for an alert.

World's first hybrid train

I took a ride on the world's first hybrid train to go into commercial service.
It's a cute little train in a resort area that's fun to ride.
But this was serious work for writing a story.
The company official there kept giving us strange explanations _ such as the motor running backward _ that I later realized just couldn't be right.
I made calls later to check to make sure we had it right in our story.
It's strange how some Japanese companies don't seem to be aware that if they give us reporters the wrong information, then they aren't doing their job right. We are doing our best to understand the technology, but we aren't experts.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Speaking of rice

Rice holds such a special place in Japanese culture it becomes very political.
I couldn't get into the complexities in my story about the latest effort by the USA Rice Federation to push Calrose in Japan.
Japan's market was closed to rice until 1995.
The government allows in only the amount of foreign rice it has to under WTO requirements called "minimum access."
Much of it comes under what's called "ordinary tender," which means it never enters stores or restaurants or our stomaches as kernel rice.
(Such rice become processed as crackers, sauces and other kinds of food, sits in storage for emergency, becomes foreign aid or even animal feed, according to the government.)
Only 100,000 tons a year enter the market under SBS, which stands for "simultaneous buy and sell." And that's the only kind of foreign rice you eat as real rice that looks like rice.
Any rice that dares to enter Japan any other way faces a 770 percent tariff, so no one is crazy enough to bring in rice that way.
And in a new strategy, Calrose medium-grain rice will be coming into Japan by SBS virtually for the first time ever.
SBS is a kind of bidding system and so the lower the price, the bigger the margin the government gets.
And so the name of the game is cheap rice.
No wonder the Americans have been losing ground to the Chinese in recent years.
In the past, U.S. rice farmers tried to conquer this market by growing fancy short-grain Japanese-style rice like Koshihikari and Akitakomachi.
USA Rice Federation official and rice farmer Michael Rue says there's no scaling back on Koshihikari and Akitakomachi production, although the effort to export those grains to Japan has failed.
The consumption of American Koshihikari and Akitakomachi has grown not only in the U.S. but also elsewhere (besides Japan) because of the global popularity of sushi!
Mr. Sawaguchi in the photo in this link hopes someday to go abroad to advance his career _ which means he's going to be making sushi with foreign rice, he said.
And so he needs to get used to it, he shrugged.
A kind of internationalization of sushi working backwards _ requiring a young Japanese man who's a master sushi chef to learn how to work with non-Japanese rice.
His dish "Beef on a Griddle Sushi" combined sushi with sukiyaki _ served with milky half-cooked egg (seen toward the front of the plate) and sukiyaki sauce (he is pouring it).
It's still unclear whether his dish is going to be served at the sushi store where he works.
But "Sun Souffle," the creation by the winner in my story, Mr. Suzuki, is almost certain to be added to the menue at the Palace Hotel.
Mr. Suzuki said his two children drew a picture of his dish the day before the contest and wrote "Ganbatte Papa!"
He looked like he was going to cry when he won the award.
He also won the top award in the voting from regular folks chosen to be part of the panel of judges.
Appealing to the experts and the masses must be nice _ compliments to the chef.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Taiko in Brazil

This is a photo of my son Isaku during his previous trip to Brazil to teach taiko, Japanese drumming.
He's there now with his master sensei Yoichi Watanabe to do more good work.
Taiko tends to be viewed as something for old people in Japan, but it's totally cool in Brazil.
It's part of kids' lives and a music to party to.
My son is learning a lot from Brazil _ and the youngsters there who believe in the same magic of taiko that he believes in.
Isaku writes in his July 6 entry of his blog:
Learning how to teach
Aside from the 100th Anniversary music we've been teaching in Marilia, we've also been conducting 5th Degree Nippon Taiko Foundation Examinations.
The entry level exams we have been conducting in Marilia test drummers on basic knowledge of music and the history of taiko.
The exams present a high-pressure situation for the kids, because they must perform a piece perfectly as adults, peers and instructors look on.
Today, a boy who had trouble reading music could not perform the piece without making mistakes here and there. One by one, his peers passed the examinations until he was the only one left.
Watanabe Sensei put peers on either side of him so that he could follow them, and told the boy to play the piece again.
The boy, who was now teary-eyed, still could not play the piece.
Sensei shouted "Stop crying! You're almost there," and started the piece again.
The entire room was filled with tension, as everyone prayed. All of us wanted him to play the music perfectly.
After he finished playing, Sensei said "Congratulations! Muito bon!" and his friends ran over to him, hugging and patting him on the back. The boy could not hold back his tears.
Teaching taiko is not only about improving technique. It's about life experiences that will help the kids to be better people. It's about learning things that will help the kids succeed in whatever path they choose to take in life.
We hope the boy gained confidence in himself. We hope he learned that if you stick with something, good things will happen. And we hope all of us in the room learned something about kindness and caring for others.
As teachers, we try to teach these core values - but that is easier said than done. Today I got to see Watanabe Sensei work his magic, so that someday I may work my own.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Lexus dojo

Not all auto workers are created equal. And the top Lexus workers are the cream of the crop.
They have impeccable touch, impeccable technique _ and from the way Toyota puts it even impeccable minds.
Reporters got a tour of the Tahara Lexus plant.
Part of the paint job a Lexus gets (and they get a few more coatings than your humble Corolla) is a rubdown by workers with almost loving hands as though they're petting a thoroughbred race horse.
Toyota calls it "dojo." There's a lot of dojo-ism at any Toyota plant, but it's taken to new heights at a Lexus plant.
The official there told us all the perfections they'd come up with for the first-generation Lexus, like all the pieces fitting just right in the interior, are already available for the Corolla.
And so the pursuit for ever higher perfection must always be at the heart of a Lexus plant, he says.
The tour itself was an exercise in Just in Time and effort at efficiency, and we were zipped around from one place to another, constantly being told we were falling behind schedule. And I felt a bit harried.
I guess I'll never make it as a Lexus worker.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

American on board at Toyota

A white male isn't ususally speaking from the minority side of the diversity divide.
But Jim Press is the first non-Japanese to join the board of Toyota ( my story on his promotion winning shareholder approval last week).
He talks very softly _ Japanese style _ and says much of Toyota's corporate culture is Japanese _ hence the understatement about becoming No. 1.
I asked him about that: Why Toyota officials keep saying they aren't making beating GM/becoming No. 1 their goal, when reaching the top would seem like a victory for a company.
"Do you read your own headlines? Do you believe it? Would you forget how you got there, if you were? I don't see any benefit in that. Customers don't care who's No. 1."
Then Press asked me where I was from _ to make sure I understood Japanese culture.
"There's no satisfaction of beating somebody," he said. "That's not something you're proud of, is it?"
I had to say:
"Sometimes we like to beat Reuters."
His reply:
"But you're not a Japanese company, are you?"
How can Toyota become more American?
Toyota is already an American company, he said.
He said Toyota has a "hybrid" culture _ clever how he got the automaker's key technology in there!
Press compared Toyota to the immigrant who becomes American _ yet continues to be proud of his/her roots:
"At how many generations removed from the original immigrant do you lose your identity? None. You should keep that. That's part of diversity. You keep the strength of what makes you different, what makes you good and successful. But you're doing it in that country. We want to be the best company in America _ period."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Taking a break with krooning rap without attitude

Raheem DeVaughn, a "neo-soul" singer from Washington D.C., who was at Tokyo's Cotton Club, delivers music that's a tribute to R&B of past generations, and the lyrics/rap of his group is powerful poetry.
Absent is the "gangsta" attitude of some hiphop.
Instead there's plenty of hippie love ... and allusions to great African American music of the past.
DeVaughn is the son of jazz cellist Abdul Wadud.
Well-behaved rap isn't the oxymoron it seems it would be with DeVaughn's The Love Experience.

DS beauty tips/bacteria buzz/church vs. PS3

My article on a new Konami game for the Nintendo DS that gives beauty tips has this blogger response. But I do have to ask: Isn't the idea behind the game a trifle too sexist for people outside Japan? One of the recommended etiquette tips: Don't put on makeup on the commuter train. That's so Tokyo!
Net buzz about my bacteria story.
The scientists aren't saying they can stop mutation. But they've figured out a way to put the message in four places in the bacteria to increase the chances it will survive intact.
An interesting news story this past week is the controversy over a PS3 game called "Resistance: Fall of Man."
Some scenes take place in what looks like Manchester Cathedral, and cathedral officials say they didn't grant permission and they're complaining.
The Sony spokeswoman in Tokyo says the company is talking with cathedral officials.
Overnight in London, our reporter there talked with a cathedral official who denies Sony is talking to them at all.
There was no comment from Sony in that story about the denial although Sony has an office in Europe.
I contacted the spokesman there by email, and he confirms (once again) Sony is in talks with Manchester Cathedral officials.
But there will be no further public comment, he says.
Is a bloody shooting in a cathedral different from other similar violent scenes involving landmark buildings like King Kong and the Empire State Building/Godzilla and the Tokyo Tower?
And aren't such virtual bloodbath games offensive to some people, regardless of where they take place?
This is from some time back but someone found my cultural take on the difference between MySpace and mixi interesting.
And finally:
A great place to keep track of my stories complete with color photos!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Story of Miu 3

I haven't written about Miu since April.
Recently we had dinner at an Indian restaurant in Shiodome, where Japanese bellydancers came sashaying out (to the yelps of suit-clad salarymen sitting at another table) right in the middle of dessert.
Miu and I discussed sexual fetishes and how race comes into play although we weren't exactly sure what it meant.
"Pocahontas. Suzy Wong. Thomas Jefferson's slave," Miu, 16, said pensively.
"Nonwhite women are so used to feeling honored to be seen sexually desirable by the Opposite Sex at large but especially the white male."
The pasty stomachs of the dancers rolled around to the music as bells jangled and eyelashes fluttered.
"Does India even have bellydancing?" she asked exasperated.
Miu tells me she has made an important decision.
"I am never going to open up my legs to another white male ever," she announced.
"Race should not matter, but we are all products of history, and what we do can't be taken out of context of what people did before us because that's what's going on in people's heads."
I showed her a poem I wrote a long time ago. It was written tongue-in-cheek but she says the idea is disgusting, politically incorrect on so many fronts.

an ode to the Caucasian male

white man
white man
with the silky blond hair
the emerald-blue eyes
and the cool million dollar grin
I won't mind being a Suzy Wong for you.
I'm tired of the laundry-men
and the dirty restaurant cooks
who can only smell of won ton soup
and talk about chowmein
they don't have the powers,
the style you do
seems you've got to be white
to really be a man
the long sleek legs
with the acid rock walk
in the hot tight pants
where the warm prick dwells
it's okay
you see only the race in me
just a stereotype, not my personality
it's okay
cuz, white man
you have
to give.

"I'm going to find me a boyfriend in Tokyo who is like Bruce Lee," Miu said.
First of all, Bruce Lee is from Hong Kong.
And I didn't even have the heart to tell her that Bruce Lee married a white woman, and supposedly wasn't 100 percent Asian himself.
It is sad, though.
Miu told me there was a guy she dated back in the U.S. who explained to her matter of fact that he had discovered Asian women had softer skin than did other races _ as though that was supposed to be a compliment.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Toyota, Hello Kitty and the Whopper

Sometimes a reporter feels like the fighter in a video game, throwing punches, kicking, twirling and jumping to take on several enemies from all sides, writing a story about Toyota reaching the one million mark on hybrid vehicle sales one minute, while writing a story about NEC Corp.'s Hello Kitty laptop the next minute.
Today I went to cover the opening of a Burger King restaurant.
A long line had formed outside the fast-food restaurant.
Where else but in Japan?
The Japanese business partners behind Burger King's return to Japan are the same people behind Krispy Kreme.
They know how to attract media attention yet manage to put a talk-of-the-town spin on their stores.
That's very important to attract the long lines, which in turn set off more talk and attract more people.
(1) Japanese have a greater tolerance for hourslong cues because they were brought up in a conformist-oriented rigid society that has required them to be one of the masses in a tiny place.
(2) Japanese assume mass interest is a good indicator for quality and desirability, rather than thinking that individuals may have different preferences.
(3) Japanese are afraid about being left out, and so ignorance or disinterest in something that draws long lines is by definition undesirable, dangerous and possibly a sign of derangement.
In Japan, being one of a crowd is (1) the way it is (2) a good thing (3) patriotic.
Being an individual is (1) weird (2) evil (3) not Japanese.
But Japanese are also having a lot of fun being in long lines. It is an event.
Guys were standing in lines at Burger King with their dates.
And the dates looked happy. They didn't think their man was cheap or dumb, but rather an "oshare" jolly guy.
The stereotype about Japanese being subdued is hogwash _ at least among Whopper lovers.
Well-behaved expressiveness was rampant at the the trivia quiz show at the store opening.
What was Japan doing in 1957 when the Whopper was invented?
"Hai!" "Hai!" "Hai!"
OK ... YOU!
It went on and on, and they each got a Burger King T-shirt.
Being part of a mass (at least a modern-day Japanese mass) is (1) fun (2) hip and so far, thank god, (3) innocent.