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Haruki Murakami's Japan: See the real - and surreal - land of the rising sun

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Feb 06Haruki Murakami's Japan: See the real - and surreal - land of the rising sun
At the Uniqlo UT store in Harajuku, Tokyo, printed T-shirts, packaged in canisters, are delivered to the customer automatically on vending-machine shelves. Some have manga designs, but discriminating shoppers also browse four styles of shirt bearing the words "Norwegian Wood", the coming-of-age book that made Haruki Murakami a literary star in 1987. The writer is due another big year in 2011. (Independent)
Feb 06Snow, steam and sashimi: going off-piste in Japan
Fat snowflakes were falling as we walked through the pine forest along a path deep in powder when something suddenly caught my attention through the branches. A flash of pink, and then another – two bare bottoms that suddenly dropped out of sight into a thick white cloud. The path turned into a series of slippery, ice-coated stone steps and descended to a series of small pools, just visible through the fog of steam that rose gently from their surface. (Guardian)
Feb 06There be all kinds of monsters among us
An old saying goes "Issun no mushi ni mo gobu no tamashi" (even a one-inch worm has a half-inch soul); i.e., even the most humble and powerless creature can put up with only so much before turning on its tormentor. As if to confirm this aphorism, the media has been abuzz since belatedly learning that last September, a teacher at a public primary school in Gyoda, a city of 85,000 in northern Saitama Prefecture, filed suit against the parents of a girl in her third-grade class. (Japan Times)
Feb 05Lass with class serves up lusty lesson in brotherly love
"At the rendezvous that day, instead of my boyfriend, it was his younger brother who showed up, bearing with him a note on which he'd scribbled, 'Something urgent has come up; please have a good time with my brother instead.' On the one hand I felt terribly let down, but on the other I decided to take advantage of the situation and have as much fun with him as I could." Thus begins another ribald tale from the February issue of women's soft porn mag Ai no Taiken Special Deluxe, as introduced in Shukan Bunshun (Feb. 3). (Tokyo Reporter)
Feb 05Hello Kitty sandals lead to arrest of suspected burglar
A 36-year-old truck driver suspected of involvement in hundreds of burglaries in Gunma and Saitama prefectures between 2004 and 2010 was likely wearing Hello Kitty sandals during the crimes, just like when he was arrested, Saitama police have said. Masakazu Kanda, currently on trial for theft and other charges at the Saitama District Court, was wearing pink sandals bearing the famous feline character when he was walking on a street in Saitama Prefecture in June 2010, catching the eye of police officers after footprints collected from residences where burglaries had taken place showed the perpetrator was wearing Hello Kitty sandals. (AP)
Feb 05The comic life of expats in Japan
Tales of expat life in Japan all too often get blown out of proportion and quickly become picaresque adventures that little resemble real life. For some reason, many writers can't resist the temptation to exaggerate things. In their stories - be them fiction or memoir - weird, exotic details abound, turning this country into a sort of Wonderland that, depending on the witness, alternate between sleaziness and the Theater of the Absurd. (Japan Times)
Feb 05Over 700,000 condoms stolen while transported to Japan
A major manufacturer in Japan has complained after their products were stolen while it was transported from Malaysia towards Japan. According to Sagami Rubber Industries, their 726,000 condoms were stolen, which came from their factory in Malaysia and should be taken to the company's main plant in Japan. When the shipment arrived in Japan, the container van was empty and the lock was changed before leaving Malaysia. The said condoms are 14 percent more thinner than the ordinary condom. (allvoices.com)
Feb 05Kyoto Pref. seeking ordinance requiring child porn images be destroyed
The prefectural government here is seeking an ordinance requiring child pornographic images to be destroyed, insiders have revealed. An expert panel on the issue is expected to work out the final draft of an anti-child porn ordinance as early as the end of this month. The prefectural government will seek approval of the bill from the prefectural assembly within fiscal 2011. If enacted, it will be the first local ordinance requiring child porn images to be destroyed, even though several prefectural governments are preparing or have enacted anti-child porn ordinances. (Mainichi)
Feb 04Ice castles and ale
Landing on Hokkaido in mid-winter is a highly provisional business. As our plane descends from blue to white above the coldest and emptiest of Japan's main islands, the pilot says he might yet have to divert as far south as Tokyo. When he somehow finds the runway at New Chitose Airport, it looks and feels like touching down inside a snow cloud. The same whiteness fills the windows of the train into Sapporo, whose citizens appear to live underground in a complex of heated passageways, malls and subterranean transit systems. Advertisement: Story continues below At street level, the foothpaths and roads form a grid of ice embedded in a snowfield, which illustrates the way this city was made to order. (Sydney Morning Herald)
Feb 04Man gets life term for slaying woman
A 25-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison for killing a woman and seriously injuring another after demanding money from them in separate stabbings in the city of Fukuoka in 2008. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Suguru Noji, telling the Fukuoka District Court on Wednesday that his actions were "despicable and atrocious" and there is little chance he can be rehabilitated. (Japan Times)
Feb 04Record 47 suspects arrested through wiretapping in 2010
A record 47 people were arrested in 2010 in investigations using authorized wiretaps into cases such as suspected illegal drug sales, a Justice Ministry survey showed Friday. Investigative authorities wiretapped a total of 7,475 communications, all of which were cellphone conversations and text messages, in eight suspected drug smuggling cases, one suspected gang-related murder, and one case of gun possession. (AP)
Feb 04Hair of the dog: Wig artist explores unusual possibilities
A long-nosed Afghan Hound sticks out its tongue. Every detail of the dog's head, including its long, flowing hair, closely resembles that of the sight hound dog breed. Upon close inspection, it becomes clear the tongue, too, is made with meticulously placed tiny, shiny hairs. But this piece of art, with its brownish head and golden hair is not just a reproduction of a dog: It is a unique wig made of human hair by Shinji Konishi. (Yomiuri)
Feb 043 sumo wrestlers, elder admit to match-fixing
Two sumo wrestlers and one elder have admitted to being involved in fixing matches in high-profile tournaments, Sports minister Yoshiaki Takaki said Thursday, in the latest blow to the traditional Japanese sport that was already reeling from a string of scandals. The unprecedented revelation angered Prime Minister Naoto Kan and prompted the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which oversees the JSA, to reconsider the association's future as a government-affiliated entity. (guardian.co.uk )
Feb 04Stephen Fry Japan trip scrapped after A-bomb joke
Plans for Stephen Fry to film part of a documentary series in Japan have been shelved after complaints about nuclear bomb jokes in his quiz show "QI". The programme featured a discussion about a man who survived the blasts at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The Japanese Embassy accused the BBC of making light of the attacks, which killed up to 250,000 civilians. (BBC)
Feb 04Cat cafes are stretching beyond Japan
Neko cafes have been popular in Japan for about five years now. They look just like your typical cafe, with students ignoring schoolwork to watch YouTube videos, posers trying to convince others that they're intelligent by reading Atlas Shrugged, guys making awkward advances at cute waitresses, and aspiring writers strategically directing the angle of their laptop to show everyone that they're writing the next great novel. But we all know that the Japanese have a predilection for weirdness (see: industrial tourism, urinal video games, lingerie tour guide uniforms, festivals of naked men, etc.). So it should come as no surprise that this isn't a regular cafe. What makes neko cafes different is that... they're filled with cats. (Reuters)
Feb 04Yokohama's Chinatown community marks lunar new year
Yokohama's Chinatown district is ready to get the party hopping. Feb. 3 marks the beginning of the new year according to the Chinese lunar calendar. This year, as the Japanese already know, is the year of the rabbit. Boasting one of the biggest Chinatowns in the world, you can be sure there will be an abundance of celebration in Yokohama over the next two weeks. (Japan Times )
Feb 03Raw meat sushi bar in Tokyo attracting female meat-lovers
A new kind of sushi bar in Tokyo has been proving popular with customers, especially younger women who have a liking for raw meat. Instead of raw fish, slices and cuts of uncooked beef, chicken, pork, deer and horse meat are used as toppings on hand-pressed rice at "Nikuzushi" (meat sushi), which opened last May in the trendy Ebisu district in Shibuya Ward. (Kyodo)
Feb 03Tokyo man arrested for paying schoolgirls 30,000 yen to pose nude for photos
A 36-year-old man has been arrested for allegedly inciting young girls to commit lewd acts by asking them to pose in the nude in breach of Japanese pornography laws, police said Wednesday. The man, who has been identified as Koichi Isaka, contacted schoolgirls via a website he established in 2004. It is estimated that around 100 girls modeled for Isaka, each being offered 30,000 yen in exchange for posing nude. He has been charged with allegedly taking photographs of a 15-year-old Chiba school girl in a Ginza hotel on Dec 5 last year. (Japan Today )
Feb 03Recession propelling impecunious punters to Otsuka's 'pink' parlors
Japan's ongoing recession is forcing Otsuka's collection of adult clubs to drop prices but maintain sufficient erotic services, drools Shukan Asahi Geino (Feb. 3). Passing through the single ticket gate at JR Otuska Station, located in Tokyo's Toshima Ward, and moving through the North Exit reveals a shopping street filled with what are referred to as "pink salons." "I was bit shocked by the high-quality girls available at pink salons in Otsuka," explains Mantaro Kikko, a fuzoku writer. "You know they say about Otsuka: 'get in, get out - and for less.'" (Tokyo Reporter)
Feb 03Human trafficking cases in Japan at record low in 2010
The number of human trafficking cases in Japan last year fell by nine from the previous year to 19, a record low since comparable data became available in 2001, a National Police Agency survey showed Thursday. Many cases involved women from the Philippines in bogus marriages being forced to work at adult entertainment establishments, it said. The total of 37 victims comprised 24 Filipinos, 12 Japanese and a South Korean. (AP)
Feb 02In Japan, if you can't beat them, eat them
Across Japan, a new approach to dealing with alien animal species that threaten the native ecosystem is taking hold: Eat them. Authorities hope eating such dishes as catfish burgers and crawfish soup -- both species have been designated as harmful by the government -- will also raise public awareness of environmental problems. In Namegata, Ibaraki Prefecture, the local chamber of commerce and industry in 2009 began selling namepakkun burgers made with catfish meat. The catfish patty also contains pieces of lotus root, one of the city's specialty products, which gives the burgers a crispy texture. (buffalonews.com)
Feb 02Man given life term for stabbing woman to death, injuring another
The Fukuoka District Court on Wednesday sentenced a 25-year-old man to life in prison for killing a woman and seriously injuring another after demanding money from them in separate stabbing incidents in Fukuoka in 2008. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Suguru Noji, saying his actions were "despicable and atrocious" and they did not see the possibility that the defendant can be rehabilitated. (AP)
Feb 02'Popular Hits' takes aim at Japanese gender roles
Like a video game in narrative form, Ryu Murakami's satire, "Popular Hits of the Showa Era," with its stark violence and sexuality, appears to be targeted to a young male audience, while arguably attaining artistic merit through its exploration of gender roles in late-20th-century Japan. Best known in America for his novel "Audition," which was made into a cult horror film in 1999, Murakami here uses violent themes to achieve a darkly comedic effect. "Popular Hits" -- whose titular era refers to the period of Emperor Hirohito's reign in Japan, from 1926 to 1989 -- revolves around two groups of friends, which Murakami positions like boxers at either end of a ring. (Boston Globe)
Feb 02Loneliness a national crisis in Japan
It's not political deadlock or economic meltdown, but loneliness. Within a couple of decades, single person households will be the dominant demographic in Japan, and there have been a litany of cases in recent times of dozens of people dying alone. Increasing incidences of divorce, a plummeting birth rate and a lengthening average life span are making life an extremely solitary experience for millions. But some see this lonely demographic as an untapped business opportunity. In an empty park in Tokyo, Mokoto Asami is phoning a friend, albeit one he's never met. Yuzo Kikumoto offers a sympathetic ear, but at a price. (ABC News)
Feb 02Kyoto plan to boost visitors with aquarium irks locals
The ancient capital of Kyoto, already a major tourist destination, is moving forward with plans to further boost the number of domestic and international visitors. But the construction of an aquarium that will feature live dolphin shows as a way to attract more tourists is being opposed by local Japanese and foreign residents, who have called the project an environmental hazard and a slap in the face for Kyoto's cultural heritage. Opposition groups are suing the city over the project and have launched a campaign to get foreign and domestic tourists to boycott the aquarium when it opens next year. (Japan Times)
Feb 02Snow-hit Niigata requests defense force help as avalanche danger looms
Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida on Wednesday asked the Ground Self-Defense Force to dispatch troops to a city heavily covered by snow, saying the danger of avalanche is increasing as temperatures rise. The GSDF is expected to dispatch a team from Camp Takada in Joetsu city in the prefecture to Uonuma city where roughly four meters of snow has accumulated. (AP)
Feb 024 arrested over forging of will / 'Inherited' land allegedly sold through gang-linked religious group
A former member of a crime group and three others have been arrested on suspicion of forging a will to illegally inherit a large fortune--including land and cash deposits--from a Tokyo woman who died in 2007. The four allegedly sold the land to a Tokyo company by way of a dormant religious organization, the Metropolitan Police Department said. They may have used the Sapporo-based religious group to launder the profits from the land sale, MPD investigators said. (Yomiuri)
Feb 01Philippine immigration nabs Japanese for arranging fake marriages
Philippine immigration authorities have detained a Japanese national in Manila upon the request of Japanese authorities for allegedly arranging fake marriages between Japanese men and Filipino female entertainers. The Immigration Bureau said Tuesday that Yoshifumi Fujii, 49, was nabbed Jan. 24 at its main office in Manila while the suspect was trying to extend his expired visa. (AP)
Feb 01Abused wife finds safe shelter in the arms of friend's beau
"The thing that pushed me over the edge was the night my abusive husband staggered home dead drunk and fell asleep out in the corridor. When he awoke the next morning, he bellowed at me, 'You shouldn't have let me sleep in a place like that!'" On this tension-filled note begins a raunchy tale from the February issue of women's soft porn magazine Ai no Taiken Special Deluxe, as introduced in Shukan Bunshun (Jan. 27). "Looking for a place to flee, I called my close friend Ms. J., although I felt bad about doing so because she'd just started shacking up with her boyfriend. When I phoned her place, the boyfriend told me she was working the night shift, but since he would be around, he told me to come over." (Tokyo Reporter)
Feb 01Naturalized Japanese: foreigners no more
In Dec. 28's Japan Times, Charles Lewis wrote a respectful Zeit Gist column asking three fellow wise men (sumo wrestler Konishiki, musicologist Peter Barakan and Diet member Marutei Tsurunen) about their successful lives as "foreigners" in Japan. Despite their combined century of experience here, the article pointed out how they are still addressed at times like outsiders fresh off the boat. Their coping strategy? Essentially, accept that you are a foreigner in Japan and work with it. (Japan Times)
Feb 01Stranded Fukui travelers sleep in cars, trains
About 1,200 cars were stuck in traffic on a national road and an expressway in Fukui Prefecture from Sunday night through Monday morning as heavy snow hit areas mainly along the Sea of Japan, the road operators said Monday. Heavy snow also stranded seven local express trains between Kanazawa Station in Ishikawa Prefecture and Tsuruga Station in Fukui Prefecture, forcing a combined 1,700 passengers to spend the night on the trains, West Japan Railway Co. said. (Japan Times)
Feb 01Barred from Japan for a teenage pot conviction
Dear Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, Justice Minister Satsuki Eda and Prime Minister Naoto Kan: I am a 32-year-old student who was supposed to study for a semester at a Japanese university. I am a very good student; I have been a teaching assistant in my department for a year, and I have many professors at my university that would attest to my character and abilities. What was the terrible thing that I had done that prevented my entry into Japan? Why am I now banned from ever entering the country? I have a marijuana conviction on my record that occurred in 1997 - that's right, 14 years ago. (Japan Times)
Feb 01Japanese royals plan to attend British royal wedding
The Japanese Crown Prince and Princess could be making their first official visit together since 2002, at the British Royal Wedding. The royal household in Britain extended an invitation to the wedding on April 29 at Westminster Abbey to Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko at the Queen's request last week. The Emperor and Empress were said to have busy domestic schedules so will not be able to attend. The Imperial Household Agency has therefore announced that the Crown Prince and Princess intend to attend, health permitting. (CNN)
Feb 01Trendy Harajuku draws crowds
For several decades, the trendy Harajuku district in central Tokyo has been a magnet for young people seeking the latest fashion trends and also for those who want to express their own style. From imported luxury brands to "fast fashion," tiny individual stores offers shoppers and browsers a huge range of fashion goods, turning the area into Japan's fashion mecca. The area is in Shibuya Ward and can be reached by train or subway. It is actually hard to identify the boundaries of Harajuku because the name itself has not been used for addresses since 1965. (Japan Times)
Feb 01Volcano evacuation zone widens
Officials in Takaharu, Miyazaki Prefecture, have told about 500 households to evacuate because the volcanic eruption on Mount Kirishima could trigger landslides and send boulders flying their way. Takaharu issued the recommendation at around midnight Sunday after the Miyazaki Local Meteorological Observatory said the lava dome on 1,421-meter Shinmoedake peak was rising. The warning could affect 1,100 residents. (Japan Times )
Jan 31Heavy snow disrupts transport; 1,200 cars stuck
About 1,200 cars were stranded Monday in central Japan as heavy snowfall blanketed in many parts of the country. As a winter snowstorm dumped more snow on to the Sea of Japan coastline, local authorities closed sections of major roads and highways in Fukui prefecture. The fresh snowfall pushed the snow accumulation to 64 centimetres in Kanazawa and to 118 centimetres in Fukui, surpassing 100 centimetres for the first time in 25 years, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. (Economic Times )
Jan 319-year-old girl slashed in face and neck in Osaka
Police said Sunday that a 9-year-old girl was slashed in the face and neck outside her grandmother's apartment in Higashiyodogawa, Osaka, on Saturday afternoon. According to police, emergency services were called to the apartment building at 2:10 p.m. after the girl was found lying near the third floor elevators. She was bleeding from her face and neck and taken to hospital where she was treated for multiple superficial knife wounds. (Japan Today )
Jan 31Ichihashi's stated celibacy while on the lam possibly exaggerated
Garnering a fair bit of attention in recent days has been the book written by Tatsuya Ichihashi, the accused murderer of Briton Lindsay Hawker. Naturally, Nikkan Gendai (Jan. 28) felt it necessary to verify his claims about his sex life while on the run. In March of 2007, police arrived at Ichihashi's apartment in Chiba Prefecture to investigate the disappearance of the 22-year-old Hawker. Ichihashi bolted from the scene and officers discovered Hawker buried in sand inside a bathtub on his balcony. The suspect was captured in November 2009. (Tokyo Reporter)
Jan 30Tokyo Dome ride hit by fatal fall
A 34-year-old man died Sunday after falling from an amusement park ride at Tokyo Dome City Attractions in Bunkyo Ward, police said. The victim, who was pronounced dead at a hospital two hours after the accident, was not immediately identified. The man was on the Spinning Coaster Maihime, a roller-coaster ride with revolving cars, when he fell at around 12:40 p.m. Sunday. The accident is the third to hit the park in as many months. (AP )
Jan 3010 fall from snow-covered roof at World Heritage site in Shirakawa
About 10 people fell from the snow-covered roof of a temple at a World Heritage site in Japan's Shirakawa village Sunday morning, with one of them hospitalized, with one hospitalized, police said. The accident occurred when 14 people were removing snow from the thatched roof of Myozenji in the village in Gifu Prefecture at 8:10 a.m. (AP )
Jan 30Proof of Tokyo 'hooker pub' proves elusive
Shukan Taishu (Feb. 7) reports that as one result of the intensified competition at izakaya (Japanese-style pubs), shops have been giving first priority to hiring young and cute waitresses. "These days in Tokyo telephone booths and public toilets in parks and so on, you see handwritten advertising fliers pasted up. Their contents boggle the mind," a "pink" industry reporter tells the magazine. One such flyer, measuring about 10 centimeters square, read, "If you request a Chinese employee Ms. So-and-so, she can fix you up with a girl." (Tokyo Reporter)
Jan 30Art at your fingertips
One Sunday morning in late November, a throng of people, mostly women in their 20s and 30s, made long lines to get into a convention hall at Tokyo Big Sight in Koto Ward. Many others were sitting on benches outside the hall, opening suitcases at their feet and examining tiny bottles, cotton swabs and whatever else they would need in their upcoming competitions. (Japan Times)
Jan 30'LED smiles' - how a nonexistent Japanese schoolgirl craze became a meme
A nonexistent Japanese style trend turned into Internet meme this past week, thanks to a New York Times blog, the online version of The Guardian and other news websites. If the report - which was passed verbatim from site to site, tweet to tweet - was to be believed, the latest craze among Japanese schoolgirls was a colorful dental accessory: flashing LED lights, held in the mouth. The Japanese artists who created the device, however, say it's a stretch. (Japan Times)
Jan 30Baseball: Falling ash fails to deter Giants
Yomiuri Giants players working out in advance of the team's spring camp in Miyazaki were undeterred by ash falling on the city from the volcanic eruptions of Shinmoedake on the border with Kagoshima Prefecture. "I was really surprised to see the ash on the car," pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura, the club's top draft pick last autumn, said Friday. (Yomiuri)
Jan 30Cultural insensitivity no laughing matter
The tempest in a teapot whipped up by a segment on the British quiz-cum-comedy show "QI" has prompted debate on cross-cultural sensitivity. The BBC has apologized for the segment, which, contrary to a statement issued by Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, did not make fun of its subject, the late Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who was a victim in both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. If anything, it made fun of the British railway system, which was found wanting in comparison to Japan's. (Japan Times)
Jan 30The decline and fall of Japan and its sex drive
Only our descendants will know for sure, but we may be witnessing something not seen in the world since the slow demise of ancient Egypt - a nation expiring of natural causes. Nations, unlike people, are potentially immortal. When they die, it's usually violently. Japan may make history by its manner of leaving it. It may simply crumble into dust. That its vital signs are weakening is well known, and though the words "natural death" are not used, expressions just short of them are, conveying an unspoken, unspeakable fear of the worst-case scenario, that this is a country without a future. (Japan Times)
Jan 30Indicted prosecutors freed on bail
Two prosecutors indicted over the coverup of alleged evidence-tampering by a subordinate in a high-profile criminal case were released on bail Saturday about four months after their arrests, and continued to deny the charges. Hiromichi Otsubo, a 57-year-old former head of a special investigative squad at the Osaka District Public Prosecutor's Office, and Motoaki Saga, a 50-year-old former deputy head of the squad, posted bonds of \15 million each. (Japan Times)

By JS on Feb 10, 2011

tag : Japanese Society



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