Monday, December 31, 2007

Best of KPIJ

Some of what I consider the best entries in terms of writing and substance from this past year on Keeping Pace in Japan. Will report on Narita fingerprinting when I return on Thursday.

Talking with a Naked Yakuza - my experience in one of Beppu's finest onsen, and an exercise in humility.

Not entirely sure this is legal - the discovery of a racially discriminating sign at a club in Hiroshima.

Safety in Japan - pretty self-explanatory.

Ikkoku Mairi - hiking through the mountains of Shikoku following in the footsteps of Buddhist monks.

Quarter of a Century Gone by - short, but sweet; my birthday in Japan compared with that a year prior in the states.

The Truth About AEON - a seven-part series covering all aspects of this major eikaiwa.

Call to Arms - taking action against fingerprinting.

More than Sulfur, a Peaceful Getaway - my first excursion to one of the smaller islands south of Kyushu, Ioujima.

Nibble Nibble - a most unusual onsen featuring flesh-eating fish.

Nakanoshima: Listening to Moonlight - adventures on one of the smaller islands in the Tokara chain, featuring wild horses, an observatory, and great hot springs.
Running in Fear - news spoof article about gaijin card checks and the Tokyo Marathon.

Adoption in Japan - spending Christmas with some children at an orphanage.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I seem to be following in the footsteps of Stephen Colbert a little too closely these days...

I believe in truthiness. I'm not a fan of books - they're all fact, no heart. And despite Colbert's attempts to raise wrist awareness across the globe, I have fallen prey...

This will be my last entry for the next 2-3 weeks as I travel home and learn how to type with my left hand (details below), but I will have details on fingerprinting at Narita after that.

Tuesday, December 17th, 2007

9:20 AM
Picked up dry cleaning and am riding back to work on my bike. In front of a Sunkus, the front wheel jams, the bike flips, and my body is sent sailing over the handlebars. My right hand touches down first. Quickly.

9:22 AM
Eerie sensation. I find myself on the ground on my stomach. I don't try to get up right away, but I feel certain that I can. There is considerable pain, but it's like it exists somewhere else; the pain doesn't belong to me, as though it's just out of reach of my body. A passersby reminds me of the existence of the rest of the world: "daijobu desu ka?" (are you ok?).

I look around, and that's when I notice that this is not something I'll be walking away from anytime soon; my wrist is bent in the wrong direction, and there are two huge piles of flesh that I can see are the results of the bones pushing each other apart.

"Byoin!" (hospital!), I say with as much voice as I can muster through the increasing pain. Somehow I was still able to keep my mind in Japanese mode and not let out a string of English curses.

I soon drew a crowd, and people were quick to act - calling the hospital, getting my office information, setting aside my bags. Since this was my first broken bone, I really didn't have much experience in this area, but let me tell you something: breaking your wrist hurts like hell. Even without moving, I was getting the full spectrum of pain: dull, sharp, throbbing... Everyone around me was very nice; elevating my head, reassuring me, moving my bike.

9:35 AM
The ambulance arrives, and the three paramedics temporarily immobilize the wrist in an inflatable cast (which really, really hurt). I was able to understand them well enough to provide the pertinent information, but not explain exactly what happened. Later, I was informed that my coworkers thought that I had been hit by a car. Not this time (although I was run over by a car two years ago).

~10:00 AM
Arrive at Chuo Clinic (中央クリニック), the central hospital for Kagoshima. Each time the gurney hit a crack or a barrier I howled in pain, feeling every vibration at the deepest nerves in my arm.

X-ray and CT scans. The Chuo Clinic is divided between two buildings, meaning I had to be wheeled outside and back to complete the scans. One doctor spoke passable English and acted as an interpreter, informing me the wrist was shattered.

My boss arrives soon after and takes over the administrative details.

1:30-3:30 PM
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Lying and waiting in a treatment room with no pain meds, my wrist still very much exposed, for the time when the specialist will be ready at a different facility.

3:40 PM
Arrive at the ambulance loading zone for my specialist treatment. In the corner, I can see a clear plastic case labeled "SARS" - apparently, this hospital was prepared for anything. A good sign.

Instead of being taken straight to surgery, however, I am once again subjected to a variety of tests - blood sampling, blood pressure, EKG, breath sounds, lung capacity, more x-rays... In retrospect, I suppose everyone was just doing his and her jobs, but I was angry and in a lot of pain, yelling out "why am I waiting?" and "where is the doctor?" (in Japanese, of course).

During all this, my boss actually has to negotiate with the insurance representative before I could receive treatment... vultures. If I hadn't been covered, would they just have sent me out with a band-aid?

4:30 PM
Under the knife. My first time in surgery, with a broken bone, and under general aenesthetic. I vaguely remember them saying they were begining the administration, then waking up with my arm in a white cast, an hour of my life vanished.

All in all, I suppose I received good care from the medical staff. I know they needed to pinpoint exactly what had to be done in the OR, but that kind of logic doesn't hit you when your bone is jagged and rubbing against your nerve - the wait was excruciating. Post-op, while waiting to be discharged, the nurses laughed when I tried to speak to them. There's a time and a place for treating a foreigner like a tourist and poking fun at cultural differences - sitting in recovery with a complex fracture isn't one of them; it was a little insulting.

Nevertheless, the pain is gone, I am sitting at home, and if I can elicit enough sympathy from the staff at Narita to receive a business class or first class upgrade, it will have been worth it. When people see me, I can just tell them my arm slipped into a volcanic fissure, or I fell off an airplane while saving some orphans... might work. In any case, I will see about the Tokyo Marathon... I will probably be out of the cast by then, but not in a position to give 2:56... we shall see.

Merry Christmas and Happy Buddha to you all. Wriststrong. Live easy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Japan and the UN

Trans-Pacific Radio beat me to the punch here, by providing a very detailed rundown of the UN Charter, and how Japan has failed to meet key requirements of that charter, especially in regard to racial equality, gender equality (salary discrepanies in particular), and the criminal justice system. Read the full story here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Adoption in Japan

I've run kilometers on end. I work out regularly. I can hold my own in a fight. Adrenaline and I are close friends.

And yet, I recently found myself beyond my natural limits, all in response to the saddened look on a six-year-old girl's face. Pushed to the point of exhaustion and tired from lifting her up with enthusiasm, shouting like a crazy man, and making her "fly" around a gym for over forty laps.

"もう一回!" (one more time!) she exclaimed, her expression quickly transforming from delight to slight disappointment that I had set her down after another ten minutes of flight. "高い!" (up high!)



"オーケー," I said between dry heaves. I mean, how do you say no? Is it even possible to do so without feeling lousy?

The girl in the blue shirt and pink dress (both thankfully lacking an obscene English expression) is Haruka. Officially, Haruka is a "child who requires protection" according to Japanese law: an illegitimate child, an abandoned infant, a child whose parents have died or disappeared, a child whose parents are incapable of providing support, or an abused child (Source).

I don't know her story, where her parents are, or what her future holds. All I can see in the present is bringing a moment of happiness to her life.

A group of volunteers and I made our way to Aira in Kagoshima prefecture to visit this particular orphanage (though the term isn't exact) for the annual Christmas party: setting up an xmas tree, decorating the room with crafts, small English lessons, playing ball and running around the gymnasium until some of us (hint, hint) pass out from "fun".

I first saw her apart from the three or four boys screaming and trying to get a soccer ball into the basketball hoop, sitting alone, legs together, her head between her knees, arms crossed over her head. When she happened to look up to avoid an accidental collision, there was no joy written on her face. No love. No hope. I am by no means an expert, but she had every indication of someone being written off.

Sadly enough, that's usually the case in Japan (well, many countries) for the children in these centers. Although their quality of life is far from impoverished - school, meals, TV, warm futons, entertainment provided - the chances of their being "rescued" and returned to a caring family are slim to none. "An estimated 65,000 adoptions of unrelated children occur each year in the United States. The official number in Japan is about 600." (Source)

Extended family ties are strong in Japan, and relatives often care for each other's children when the need arises. But when that is not possible - for financial or other reasons - many relatives would rather see these children in state homes than adopted by strangers.

Many Japanese view their families as a privileged, almost sacred group. Western families, particularly American ones, are seen by Japanese as careless with that privilege. In their view, American families often start out of wedlock, end in divorce and often accept a stranger's child as their own through adoption. In Japan, millions of people see these actions as scandalous, or at the least, not to be discussed in public.

Kazuko Yokota, who runs Motherly Network, a private adoption agency, said she believed doctors quietly help broker the adoptions of ''hundreds of children'' each year. ''It's all done in secret,'' she said. ''Adoption is not the Japanese way.'' As a result, she said, some people go to great lengths - even moving to a place where they are not known, and feigning pregnancies with pillows - to conceal an adoption.


Part of the reason for this is the existence of the koseki (戸籍), or family registry. If you're a Japanese citizen, you have a koseki. It is the record of records. Family history. Mothers. Fathers. And, all births...

A law enacted in 1988 allowed young adopted children to have their birth family name erased from their koseki and replaced by their adoptive family's name. Before this, both names were listed, which essentially meant ''adopted'' was stamped in bold letters on this important record. The new law was meant to make it easier for families to adopt nonrelatives without fear of stigma.

Such was the case for single Japanese mothers who chose to give their children up for adoption - the names stood on the koseki, and that was seen as more of a stigma than anything else, visible to employers, potential husbands, even friends.

And what of the children of foreign mothers, or fathers? Institutions see no shortage of them; plenty of their parents come over here on short-term work visas and surrender their rights to any offspring when departing. "Halfs" - I don't particularly like that term, but it is common enough - as half Japanese/half non-Japanese, are even less likely to be adopted, as they couldn't possibly be passed off as the biological children of parents trying to feign pregnancies, thus avoiding the explanations and possible shunning of the child later on.

Slightly off topic, in cases of foreign fathers and Japanese mothers... in the event children are born outside of wedlock, custody is automatically awarded to the mother. If married and then divorced, custody can only lie with one parent - it is at the discretion of this one that the other is allowed visitation. (Source).

This is major factor behind these international kidnappings in Japan; although a father might be awarded joint custody in another country, Japanese law does not recognize it as such. Even if both live in Japan and have an unspoken agreement on custody, the mother can just as easily pack up and leave without bothering with a forwarding address. Although a court might recognize the rights of one parent to see his child, it is unable to remove that same child from the custody of the other to allow visitation (Source); this is the same mentality we see regarding the UN code against racial discrimination in Japan; Japan has confirmed that it is bound by such a code, yet unable to make such laws to enforce it...

I digress, but it all comes to parental rights: who can adopt, who can give children up for adoption, what children are out there waiting to be adopted...

And it helps to see them up close. Even Haruka, who might have been shifted from institution to institution since birth, is capable of joy when the moment strikes. I didn't see these children as any different as those walking down the street returning from a junior high school, on their way home to, hopefully, caring parents.

It's still difficult. To imagine what it's like without a real home. One of the volunteers is literally in tears as we pull away, bidding farewell to the staff and thanking them for the opportunity to visit. We can escape. We can return to our apartments, Skype our parents, and continue on with our lives. They will wake up, go to school, and return to a place not unlike school, where they will most likely live for the next few years, until reaching 18 or 20.

We saw one day. One atypical day. They live it for years. It's not horrible, it's not cruel, but it can't be what's best; even a mother shouting and screaming for ten minutes because you forgot to call home is a sign of love. Something that just can't just duplicated without a home, a family.

More Information

Adoption in Japan: Comparing Policies for Children in Need, by Peter Hayes and Toshie Habu
Baby Hatch in Kumamoto
Hiroshima Oyako (parenting blog in Hiroshima)
Types of Adoption in Japan
Children's Rights Council of Japan

Back to Fingerprinting

Bringing your attention back to Re-Entry Japan, a site devoted to receiving stories from people being fingerprinted upon returning to Nippon and all the associated legislation.

Accounts are being submitted every day. One contributor just posted his experience at Narita Terminal 2.

They and I are united in finding stories from mixed-race families who have gone through - any firsthand experiences, or secondhand knowledge?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Thinking Out Loud

Yet again, I find myself being pulled in seven different directions, only to discover that I haven't moved at all. It's not the first time, nor will it be the last.

During my junior year of high school I had to decide which university I wanted to attend. From my 2nd year in college onward, I was job seeking. After a year working freelance in the city of Austin, I had a wide variety of countries in which to live abroad. Earlier this year, while still living in Hiroshima, I knew I wanted to stay in Japan for a time.

And so I find myself in the remote city of Kagoshima, (LAT 31.5840, LONG 130.540), right back where I started. Not that it hasn't been a worthwhile ride, mind you. No... I don't think I'd recognize the person I was in high school, and I don't regret any of my past decisions.

Right now, in Japan, I have an apartment. I have a bed. I have access to food. I'm involved with the foreign community. I go out. I travel. I take risks. But, I'm still too comfortable; I eat the same type of lunch every day; I have a routine of going to the gym and exercising; I know how to find American food and drink; work is necessary, but completely useless.

It's not a question of finance; I make enough money to survive and live, and that's all I need. The question is... where will I end up? What will I do? Who will I meet? Does love exist?

I've said it before, and I say it again, more to remind myself than anyone else, there is no point in working a joyless job to fill your life with stuff; the only thing that will accomplish is get you to comfortable and accustomed with your life that you believe there is no other way to live... far from the truth.

That's my concern now. I am living in Kagoshima. I have no permanent ties, little debt, and my heart still aches for more of everything. But a part of me sees the appeal of settling down, looking for a girlfriend, and building a world of my own.

I can't stay, and yet I kind of want to stay. But I won't. My Japanese skills advance every day. Conversations become easier. The city becomes more familiar. Another piece of the puzzle is brought to light.

Japan or not, community or no community, I have to remember that there is more out there. For better or worse, I have to see it, experience it, learn from it.

Staying in Japan


Although I think it would be interesting to live in Tokyo for a time, I know it'd be the wrong decision in the long run. With assess to so many English speakers and American food, I'd probably fall into the same routine I had in Austin. I do miss acting and more opportunities to socialize, but this just isn't the place.

Any thoughts from Tokyo residents?


I love what Hokkaido has to offer, and I just might need to experience it before I leave for good. I've never experienced all four seasons as they are meant to be experienced - a warm summer, a snowy winter, a colorful autumn, and a bright spring. Skiing, adventure sports, sulfurous onsen, fresh milk, delicious chocolate... in a prefecture almost a country in itself.

I've been looking into summer positions as an adventure guide, as well as some of the ski resorts. Anyone reading from up north?

Southeast Asia

Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam

To explore. To see Angkor Wat. To rent a beach hut and spend days doing nothing in Thailand. To go over a darker page of history in Vietnam. I'm not planning on anything full time, but southeast Asia would be a good transition between Japan and...

New Zealand

Where I want to try living next full-time. Another island country, but filled with a great percentage of English speakers. I wouldn't be the minority. I could live with greater comfort, greater freedom. Full of mountain climbers, skydivers, surfers, and thrill seekers.

Antarctica Marathon

No question. I will do this once I raise the $300 deposit. March 2009. Running on solid ice at last.

Marathon Tours

Just as the title suggests. Any thoughts?

The Delights of Kagoshima

I've strayed from my calling. Although I enjoy bringing interesting news stories to light and offering my take, I realize there are blogs better suited to such material - Japan Probe, for one.

Truth be told, I've just become somewhat accustomed to life in Japan that I take so many "foreign" concepts for granted. Right now, I'd like to step back and see things as you, the travelers, would first glimpse them upon arriving in Japan.

These are the stories from the city of Kagoshima on the southern tip of Kyushu.

A tradition going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years in Japanese culture is the art of bathing. I say art because the Japanese truly went above and beyond all the pragmatism behind bathing - keeping clean, healing the skin, preventing disease - to a place where there is only the soul and the water. The Yin and the Yin's bath.

Well before the Romans were building marble bathhouses, the early inhabitants of Nippon were submerging themselves in waters fueled by the rage of nearby volanoes. At a time when Leonardo da Vinci was still able to invoke feelings from a variety of canvasses, neighborhood sento were up and running.

Sento, or Japanese bathhouses, are still rather commonplace in modern Japan, although they are starting to wane in response to the more popular themed bathhouses called "super sento" (how can a small neighborhood bath from the 60's compare to new waterpark featuring champagne soaks, chocolate dips, and fountains of tea?)

In Tokyo, the number of sento is holding (for the moment, anyway) at about one thousand. Kagoshima, however, hasn't quite seen quite such a dwindling effect on its bathing culture. I believe this is due to two reasons:

1. Kagoshima, as the biggest southernmost city of mainland Japan, is generally cut off from the steady flow of tourists who stick to Kyoto and Tokyo. Although the city is rich in culture and still draws in travelers, there hasn't exactly been a great deal of pressure to develop big waterpark attractions like super sento. The residents stick to what's comfortable, and the tourists enjoy the familiarity of the simple bath.

2. Although there are bathhouses around every corner of every street as one would expect in a typical Japanese city, the ones in Kagoshima are unique. Being in such close proximity to the volcano Sakurajima, it doesn't require much effort to remove the hot spring water from beneath the earth's surface. As a result, although they have the appearance of common sento, tbe bathing facilities are onsen. Natural hot spring water in a sento wrapping. Granted, there are still plenty of luxury onsen baths like those in nearby Beppu, but I have yet to see a city in Japan with such an abundance of bathhouses fueled by onsen water.

A Few Onsen in Kagoshima

Toso Onsen (とそ温泉)

Open from 5 AM - 10 PM

About a 25-minute walk west of Kagoshima University (鹿児島大学). If you're taking the tram headed south from Kagoshimachuo (鹿児島中央), exit Toso.


This onsen, strangely enough, allows patrons to swim in the largest pool. Men's and women's baths do not switch.

Castle Park Hotel, Satsuma no Yu (さつま乃湯)


On top of Shiroyama (城山) in Kagoshima.


At that price, you'd expect quality. You get it. This is one of the nicest onsen in the city, with a great view of Sakurajima. Like Tanayu Onsen in the Suginoi Palace Hotel in Beppu, this is a luxury onsen providing all the soaps, yukata, towels, and a relaxation area with massage chairs.

Yoshino Onsen (吉野温泉)

Open until 10 PM everyday

From Kagoshimachuo take the bus from platform 2 heading towards Kami Kedana (上化棚) or the Yoshida Interchange (吉田インター). Stop at Shuujikujoumae. Follow the signs west.


To escape from the smaller baths in the city be sure to travel to the Yoshino (吉野) and Yoshida (吉田) areas. Yoshino Onsen features a faux rotemburo (outdoor bath style, indoors), and a huge pool with water jets and massage-jet stone chairs. Men's and women's sides change daily. Closed the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays.

Nakahara Bessou (中原別荘)

Prices vary

Right across the street from Chuo Park (中央公園), just west of the Tenmonkan shopping area (天文館)


An onsen ryokan (Japanese-style hotel) in the heart of Kagoshima city.

Ashiyu in Dolphin Port (足湯)

Open 9 AM - 9 PM everyday


A great foot onsen in the middle of Dolphin Port (ドルフィンポート), a collection of restaurants and shops near the ferry departure terminals.

Monday, December 10, 2007


The treatment of diseases, injuries, and other physical ailments with baths and bathing, esp. in natural mineral waters.

Wikipedia info

Currently reading

Getting Wet: Adventures in the Japanese Bath

Who would have thought there was a science behind the absorption of minerals through the skin and the effects of hot waters? Well, you may not need to quantify everything behind a bath if you're just looking for an occasional soak, but this is an interesting read. Japanese onsen.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Numbers Racket

"Sheer chance is better than no chance" probably bounces around the mind of every last person playing the lottery in America. With the Powerball in the eastern states reaching totals over $300 million, one can't help but buy into the 1/600,000,000,000 probability.

Even among those select few who happen to win the entire jackpot, however, there are just, well... idiots. Jack Whittaker, who took home $113 million after buying the lucky numbers in 2002, proceeded to lose his family, store $500,000 in cash in his car (naturally, he was mugged and the money was stolen), and have problems with drugs.

Japan, as a cash-based society when not relying on electronic transfers, may not have too many Jack Watanabes doing something so foolish, but the superstitions and mentality surrounding the numbers racket are practically the same.

In Tanegashima, one of the larger islands in Kagoshima-ken, a two-headed snake was discovered, bringing hundreds of Japanese visitors revering the snake as a good luck charm for the upcoming jackpot.

If you're from a country that is intelligent enough to spare its citizens from this particular form of gambling, take heed:

Japanese Lottery (ロト)

1st prize - hundreds of millions of yen; all six numbers (本数字) match, plus the bonus ball (ボーナス)

2nd prize - around ¥10,000,000; five numbers match, plus the bonus ball

3rd prize - around ¥300,000-500,000; five numbers match

4th prize - around ¥5,000-10,000; four numbers match

5th prize - ¥1,000; three numbers match

Where to go

Most supermarkets have a lotto booth next door or attached to the building - look for the manekineko (招き猫, beckoning cat).

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Call for Interviews

Updated December 7th

With the fingerprinting and photographing system in place at all ports of entry, I would like to hear from people over Skype or email about their experiences. Everyone is welcome to voice their opinions, but in particular, I'm looking for:

1. Permanent residents who were separated from their families

2. Anyone who registered for and used the automated gate system

3. People who were mistakenly directed into the "foreign guests" line by immigration officials, despite being exempt

4. Those who had trouble with the scanning equipment

5. Foreign visitors to Japan who have Japanese ancestry, or look "Japanese"


Pearl Harbor Day

December 7th, 1941

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

My Kind of Japanese Game Show

If only I had a way to get in touch with them... no treadmill can take me.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Test

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test wrapped up this Sunday, with universities around the country seeing a plethora of foreigners invading their halls.

It's an interesting experience; in fact, most of the students I saw there were Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.

All participants who took the test in Fukuoka had an excellent opportunity to see the frontrunners of the 61st Fukuoka International Open Marathon Championship (results here) during their lunch break.

And so, I say goodbye to meaningless standardized tests for the time being. Sayonara, JLP; you shall join the ranks of the SAT, the ACT, and other examinations designed not to gauge skill, but to see how much money one will pour into the economy in attemtps to better the score.

Well, the SAT and ACT may be like that, but the JLP seemed pretty fair, though difficult. If you're looking for alternatives in obtaining certification for your Japanese skills, look at the following:


A more practical test with business and everyday conversations. Includes a writing segment. Two levels - easy and difficult; you are scored not as a simple pass/fail, but a number of points (the people at the highest level with the highest number of points are qualified as translators).

BJT - Business Japanese Proficiency Test

Difficult, even for those at JLP Level 2; includes a business interview.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nakanoshima: Listening to Moonlight

There's a passage from one of my favorite Michael Crichton books that's easily overlooked the first time around:

"There's no ambient noise here: no radio or TV, no airplanes, no machinery, no passing cars. In the 20th century, we're so accustomed to hearing sound all the time, the silence feels creepy."

Even here, on one of the most remote islands of the Toshima Mura, my life remains governed by sounds.

The regular beating of the motor, the turning of the regulator, as black smog slowly dissipates in the air surrounding the transient ferry to the Toshima islands.

A large rope hitting the shore, awaiting two men native to Nakanoshima, whose sole responsibilities are to catch it, drag it, and moor it.

My feet scrambling for a frictional surface as I avoid the smooth boulders of the eastern shore, still slippery and wet from the steady pounding waves. There is an art to jumping from rock to rock that leaves one's footing secure and one's carcass not scattered across southeast Asia, or wherever the tide chooses to take it.

The crashing of bamboo made by my own exhausted attempts to make a path where none is meant to exist, to find a route from the lowermost point near セリ岬 (Cape Seri) back to the "civilized" roads of this small Japanese territory, to the silence allowed by the open road beneath a sky as blue as there ever could be, or, later on, a moonlit world reflected only by a few passing clouds and the eyes of pensive cows.

The faint, very faint, cry of butterflies struggling to move against the slightest gust of wind, flying beside me, flaunting an intricate wing of fluorescent blue. You know you are truly at peace with nature when a shirochou (白蝶, butterfly) lands on your hand, when you have allowed yourself to stay in one place long enough to appreciate the sights and sounds for more than three minutes. Let them land.

Or perhaps the crunching of green grass stalks in the mouths of the few Tokara Uma (トカラ馬) on the island, not restricted to horseshoes or load-bearing, but allowed to roam free in a sunny meadow, a protected reserve for these noble creatures.

Sulfurous gas hissing through yellow volanic fissures on towering Ontake (御岳), the reward of a long afternoon climb.

These are my escapes from the modern world – a world always in motion from cars honking, children screaming, airplanes buzzing overhead.

I'm hardly in the midst of the Ginza district of Tokyo. And yet, I cannot escape the pulls of 21st century interconnectivity. No matter how remote an island Nakanoshima is, if it's accessible, it's wired. Even now, my hand is gently moving across the tatami mat in a private room of the Oki Ryokan, accompanied by the gentle hum of the heater and the hushed Japanese conversations next door... buoyed by the hydraulics of the construction equipment ensuring a secure place for future ships to dock.

If I should somehow forget the time my means of escape will approach the island, there are speakers scattered everywhere, interrupting my moments of zen as I gaze longingly at the fish in the shallow waters of the northern coast, reminding me of noon with a siren that should be reserved for warnings of incoming enemy aircraft.

Despite the inconveniences this technology may bring those truly seeking to get away, it provides many wonders in return.

The tenmondai (天文台, observatory) allows sights not long realized by human eyes to come into focus, humbled by our desire to reach into the unknown. The craters of the moon as clear as if we were in an Apollo spacecraft on approach. Two stars caught in each other's gravitational pull over two hundred million light-years away, yet close enough to touch in my mind.

And the opportunities it affords by allowing me to come into contact with fellow travelers and residents alike...

Onsen-goers who enjoy the not-so-tepid sulfurous waters of the Nishiku (西区) and Higashiku (東区) hot springs, milky-white from the effects of dormant Ontake (御岳). One of the few native children, giggling as her father makes sure she bathes properly, unabashed in the presence of so many others.

I know I'm still new to this world, a child attempting to understand divine intent. There are still those that came before me to this island, wanderlust and courage in their hearts, inspiration in their eyes.

Their descendents follow their footsteps to honor the memory. A family of five brothers and sisters retrace the journey their parents undertook in 1946. At a time in postwar Japan, when Okinawa remained in seige and overseas travel was questionable, a single family set out to explore their homeland to remind them that despite the horrors of war and whatever changes lay in the future of their country, some aspects of culture are eternal. Some things cannot be taken away by force, a broken spirit, or a great loss. The feelings we hold, the memories we cherish, that adventurous desire to prove our self-worth and break boundaries some dare not.

Practical Information

It takes 7 hours 20 minutes to reach Nakanoshima from Kagoshima South Dwarf, at a roundtrip cost of ¥12,020. As I mentioned, there is currently a lot of construction going on all over the island... a surprising amount. The onsen are free and very nice; sulfuric and mineral-rich. The people are friendly and few. It's about 8.5 km from the Nishiku area (literally "western district") to the top of Ontake, but the view of the island is well worth it; it's completely unrestricted up there; if you like, you can sacrifice yourself to the volcano in one of the five or six fissures, but I wouldn't recommend it.

The observatory is definitely worth a view; it's open from 7:30 PM to 11:30 PM Weds-Sat, but you need to get the attention of the man running the place; he might not have it open if there don't appear to be any visitors:

Takahiro Fukuzumi

Overall, this is just a pleasant stretch of farmland filled with retired couples and a few families wanting a safe life for their kids. Most of the walking is restricted to the paved road - believe me, you don't want to try to navigate the dense bamboo - but the northern side is very quiet and scenic; be sure to take most of the morning and afternoon to trudge out to the northeast cape (セリ岬).

Tokara Islands
Profile page on the Tokara website
English information
Aruzou Information
Nakanoshima Junior High and Primary School
(apparently, there are nine students)

More pictures of Nakanoshima

A Good Start

Re-Entry Japan has just uploaded a tract which can be presented to immigration authorities upon being asked for fingerprints. This is a good start in response to my call to arms back in August, but I wish it would include information on the previous fingerprinting system, and why it was abolished.

However, there are some useful suggestions on distribution:

• Pass a copy together with your passport at the gate. The staff will probably give it back to you and it's OK. There are still ways to reuse it before leaving the port of entry.
• When coming back in family discuss together before arrival and decide on the opportunity that each member slip a copy with his/her own passport.
• Print several copies before boarding the plane or ship back to Japan and neatly put a stack of copies at the counters before after passport control where Japanese nationals may stop to fill import tax or other paper.
• Before leaving the airport, visit the washrooms and neatly paste a copy inside the door using easy to scrap tape. Making things cleanly is important.
• If you leave the airport by limousine bus or train, why not stash a copy inside the onboard magazine.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Who's Honoring Me works, anyway. More than a year after my trip across the Shimanami Kaido bridges in Honshu, I was contacted by a man representing the estate of the late William Brown, an internationally-recognized engineer known for his work on bridge designs.

I have seen your shot of the Tatara Bridge on Flickr.

I used to work for an engineer, William Brown, who designed
many bridges (Forth, Severn, Humber, Bosporus), but who died
last year. I am producing a website to celebrate his life
and achievements for his wife and family. I would like to
include this shot in a presentation of 50 world bridges. I
will give you a named reference/copyright statement. I am
unable to offer any fee. Please state your name for the

The site will be a legacy to him and I hope linked to the
UK's Royal Society of Arts and the Institute of Civil

True to his word, my photo (shown above) is now online at; just click "World Bridges" and then "Tatara".

Cape Sata Half Marathon

Cape Sata Half Marathon (佐多岬マラソン)

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

Registration has already passed, but you can still run bandit. Be warned:

I've just returned from Nakanoshima in the Toshima Mura, and will post on that experience soon, as well as some further commentary on the fingerprinting issues.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Scribblings of an Framed Blogger

Michael Hurt, an American living and working in Korea, was arrested after calling the police to report a drunk harassing him and his party in the middle of a photo shoot. Read the full story here, on his blog Scribblings of the Metropolitician.

The worst part about this? I was disappointed in the police, but I wasn't at all surprised.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Son of Heaven

For those of you living in or passing through the Tokyo area in the next month or so, be sure to visit the Imperial Palace for the only two events that bring the gates flying open:

Emperor Heisei's Birthday (天皇の誕生日)

Sunday, December 23rd

Citizens tend to congregate on the Nijubashi Bridge early in the morning. The gates to the palace will open at 9:30 AM, and Japanese flags will be distributed to be waved when Emperor Heisei makes his appearance.

10:20 AM on 12/23, behind bulletproof glass. The Emperor of Japan speaks in one of only two times he appears to the general public (the second below). These events are mainly attended by seniors, as they tend to hold a higher opinion of the emperor since his gradual weakening position from WWII, but a great many foreigners have been known to come as well.

First Appearance, 10:20
Second Appearance, 11:05
Third Appearance, 11:40

Signing of the Guest Book

12:30-3:30, in front of the palace

His Majesty's Birthday, (日本語)

Shogatsu Celebration (新年一般参賀)

Wednesday, January 2nd

First Appearance, 10:10
Second Appearance, 11:00
Third Appearance, 11:50
Fourth Appearance, 12:40
Fifth Appearance, 13:30
Sixth Appearance, 14:20
Seventh Appearance, 15:20

People's Visit to the Palace for the New Year Greeting, (日本語)

Running in Fear

Tokyo's Finest in Training for February Marathon
by Trent Steel

With the participants of the 2nd annual Tokyo Marathon arriving in less than three months, there has been an unusual rise in the number of city officials competing for the pride of Japan, in particular police officers.

Last year, nearly 30000 ran through the streets of the largest Japanese city, a good number of them international contenders looking to broaden their intercontinental racing experience - Americans, British, Kenyans, Australians, Chinese, Koreans...

Such diversity did not go unnoticed by Tokyo's own keisatsu (警察, police), who, this year, are coming out uniformed, organized, and ready to run.

"We thought an international race like this one would be the perfect opportunity to perform routine checks (ルーティンチェック)," said one official who chose to remain anonymous. "With so many dangerous gaijin penetrating some of the most valued residential and commercial areas, we must look out for the welfare of our citizens."

In response to how such actions might sit with permanent residents and those who have lived in Japan long enough to obtain citizenship, he countered with a small laugh:

"This is Japan. They are not Japanese. With so many gaijin running and carrying nothing but energy gel packs, we have the chance to detain those who can't present their passports or gaikokujin torokusho (外国人登録証, "gaijin cards", which foreign residents of Japan are required by law to have with them at all times).

"We would have attempted this at last year's marathon, but weren't prepared for such a great distance. This time, after months of training, we should be able to catch at least a few hundred of them."

The police in Japan are within their rights to request proof of residence from any non-Japanese citizen, but only "if based on a reasonable judgment of a situation where the policeman sees some strange conduct and some crime is being committed, or else he has enough reason to suspect (疑うに足りる相当な理由) that a person will or has committed a crime..." Police Execution of Duties Law Section 2. In other words, probable cause.

Officer "Yamamoto", as he chose not to reveal his real name, said this was an easy fix:

"We are allowed to stop gaijin based on suspicious behavior. What could be more suspicious than running from the police at full speed? What are they trying to hide?"

Full speed indeed. With Daniel Njenga of Kenya having come in at a respectable time of 2:09:45 in last year's event, we will certainly see the resolve of these men tested.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Automated Gate System

Application Form for User Registration of the Automated Gates

1. Introduction

Automated gates will be placed at Narita Airport from November 20th, 2007, in order to improve convenience of immigration procedures by simplifying and accelerating them. We would like to ask foreigners who wish to use the automated gates to provide their personal identification information (fingerprints and a facial portrait) in advance and register themselves as applicants in order to use the gate.

2. Registration as an Applicant to Use the Automated Gate

(1) Required Items for Registration

1. Valid passport (including Re-entry Permit) and re-entry permission
2. Application form to use the automated gate

(2) Where and When to Register

We will be accepting applications from November 20th at the locations stated below:
1. Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau
Application Counter for re-entry permission (2F) 9:00-16:00 (Except Saturdays, Sundays, National Holidays and December 29th to January 3rd)
2. Narita Airport District Immigration Office
The departure inspection area at South Wing of Passenger Terminal 1: 9:00-17:00
The departure inspection area at the South Exit of Passenger Terminal 2: 9:00-17:00

(3) Registration Procedures

Submit your application form with your passport and provide fingerprints of both index fingers and a facial portrait.

Then, when the official affixes a registration stamp on your passport, the registration procedure is complete. In principle, you can use the gate from that day forward.

(4) Points of Concern for the Registration

1. Time Limit of Registration
You can register until the expiration date of your passport or the expiration date of your re-entry permit, whichever comes earlier.
2. Registration Restrictions
In some cases, such as when you cannot provide fingerprints, you may not be able to register.
3. Using and Providing the Registered Information
We will manage information including fingerprints and facial portraits provided at the registration as personal information set forth in laws on protection of personal information held by administrative agencies, and the information will not be used or provided beyond the range allowed for in these laws.
4. Deletion of Registration
Submit the application form to delete registration if you wish to delete your registration. Then, your registration will be deleted and the fingerprints and facial portrait you provided will be erased.

3. How to Use the Gate

(1) How to Use the Gate

1. When you arrive
Step forward before the immigration officer and place your passport over the Passport Reader. After being recognized as a registrant, provide your fingerprints and facial portrait. Then, submit your passport and ED card to the immigration officer. After checking, the gate will open. Arrival inspection procedures are now complete.
2. When you depart
Step forward before the immigration officer and place your passport over the Passport Reader. After being recognized as a registrant, provide your fingerprints. Then, submit your passport and ED card to the immigration officer. After checking, the gate will open. Departure inspection procedures are now complete.

(2) When you use the automated gate, as a rule, the entry/departure record (a stamp) will not be left on your passport.

Operation of the Automated Gate
Users' Guide to the Automated Gates

Foreign nationals who wish to go through the automated gate are required to pre-register by submitting their ID (face photograph & fingerprint).

The application for registration will be accepted at Tokyo Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa or Tokyo Immigration Bureau Narita Airport Branch.

You will be asked to submit your passport and the registration application form, and your face will be photographed and both index fingers be fingerprinted.

From Debito

Application Form for User Registration of the Automated Gates

Ministry of Justice Homepage (日本語)

Fictitious Email from a Fictitious Official

This is good enough for The Onion. The terrible thing is, it's not that far off from some of the justification we've heard...

Starting today, 'gaijin' formally known as prints

Exclusive to The Japan Times
Today sees the introduction of a law requiring the majority of foreigners entering Japan to be fingerprinted and photographed. This change has been met with howls of protest from foreign residents and the foreign media, who have pointed to the fact that the only terrorist attacks on Japanese soil have been carried out by Japanese.

Matters were not helped by recent comments from Justice Minister Kunio Hatoyama, who attempted to justify the law by saying a "friend of a friend" of his was an al-Qaida operative who had entered Japan a number of times, using a different fake passport on each occasion.

In an effort to get an inside perspective on the new law, I wrote to a high-ranking Ministry of Injustice official closely involved in the planning and implementation of the measure. My source, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent the following statement by e-mail:

"Firstly, let me explain exactly what Mr. Hatoyama meant by his comments at the Foreign Correspondents' Club. What he was trying to emphasize was the relative ease with which foreigners bent on causing harm can enter Japan. Rather than giving dry statistics or resorting to vague and empty scare tactics, Mr. Hatoyama thought it would be better to give a concrete example of why this law is necessary. He also hoped to show that, despite his position as justice minister and scion of one of Japan's most famous political families, he is comfortable moving in any social circle. In hindsight, his choice of words was perhaps inappropriate, but the truth in what he said is undeniable. The simple fact is that this law will make Japan a safer country by tightening its borders and preventing would-be terrorists from entering.

"The main beneficiaries of this law will not be the Japanese or even foreigners living here, but foreigners who haven't even been here, and the international community as a whole.

"Take the bankruptcy of Nova Corp. Thousands of foreign teachers have been left jobless and facing eviction in a country where many of them cannot speak the language. Had this new law been enacted years ago this unfortunate situation could have been avoided.

"Consider why these people came to Japan — to teach foreign languages, mainly English, to Japanese people. Why do Japanese people want to learn? Partly to help foreign visitors who come to Japan for pleasure or business. The unique history and culture of Japan attract millions of visitors to these islands each year. However, the new law will significantly reduce this number so the need for foreign language teachers will decline sharply, and it is highly unlikely there will be a repeat of the Nova fiasco.

"In addition to protecting people from taking risky teaching jobs in Japan, this law will also help reduce the effect of brain drain on a number of countries. Huge numbers of Asians currently take advantage of Japan's generous immigration laws to come here and work. Although they often send money home, the fact that they have had to move overseas has a serious effect on the quality of the workforce in their home country. Again, the new law will reduce the number of foreigners in Japan, and the benefits of this will be felt throughout Asia as countries' brightest brains choose to stay and work in the land of their birth.

"The new immigration controls will also impact on globalization and its benefits for developing countries. The new law will probably cause some companies to close their offices in Japan and relocate to countries with less stringent border controls: developing nations in Asia, for example. As it has done in the past, the generosity of the Japanese government will allow other countries to develop economically and socially. Japan is a rich nation, but not a greedy one, and is glad to spread the benefits of globalization and free markets as widely as possible. This new law will indirectly allow us to do so.

"Of course, there will be benefits for the Japanese: Fewer foreign workers will mean more jobs for Japanese and this may go some way toward combating the growing income gap in Japan. Also, the pressure to learn English will be reduced, and this will allow Japanese people to spend more time studying their own country's history, traditions and culture. English will become an optional language for those who really want to study it, and there will still be enough foreigners here to meet the reduced demand. But, as I outlined above, the main benefits will be felt internationally, as Japan steps back slightly on the world stage and graciously allows some other countries the chance to shine."

Note: This is a fictitious e-mail from a fictitious government official.


These are the beginnings...


There were protests at the Ministry of Justice in Tokyo. Read the story from Debito here.

November 20th, 2007

All foreigners will begin getting fingerprinted today upon entering Japanese soil. Already delays have been reported roughly six to seven times longer than those under the old regulations. No word about any organized protests at immigration control or how the automated gate system is working.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Re-Entry Japan

Picked up from Japan Probe

Re-Entry Japan: informing and thinking about biometric controls at entry gatepoints in Japan. A collaborative blog.

Fingerprinting will begin this Tuesday, November 20th; if you are traveling through Narita or Nagoya that day, be sure to write some notes about the experience and submit your story to this new blog.

Don't Nuke the Trash

With more news about foreigners being excluded from housing in Japan due to their ignorance about sorting garbage, I feel it's best to go over some of the rules. It's difficult to explain...

Disposing of burnable items (もえる ゴミ)



Disposing of glass (びん)



Disposing of PET bottles (ペットボトル)




Thursday, November 15, 2007


Japan drops rape case against US Marines

TOKYO - Prosecutors have dropped a case involving allegations that four U.S. Marines raped a 19-year-old woman in southwestern Japan, an official said Thursday.

Earlier this month, Hiroshima police decided not to arrest the Marines, saying there were discrepancies between their accounts and one given by the woman. Police had handed the case over to prosecutors to make a final decision on whether to continue an investigation.

The decision to drop the case "was made in light of the evidence," an official at the Hiroshima District Public Prosecutors' Office quoted Deputy Prosecutor Keiichi Yamakawa as saying.

"In view of the nature of the case, we will refrain from offering specific reasons for dropping the case," added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of policy.


The Dementor's Kiss

You know your life is on a downward spiral when coffee becomes part of your routine. Not a refreshing mochachino after a leisurely game of tennis or an espresso with a dessert of rich chocolate and strawberries... black coffee, bitter coffee, recycled coffee, coffee that can only be made at 8:30 in the morning in the hellish depths of a ten-year-old machine containing a glass pot stained brown with the grounds of so many Mondays. Take a sip of that to survive, and you have given in to complacency, to the nature of the corporate world.

The corporate world of Japan... just what is it like over here? Well, it's just like home. Except there are all these Japanese people. And Japanese signs. And more trains. Aside from that, salarymen tend to work much later than you'd expect in other countries, despite the fact that Japan's worker productivity isn't remarkably high by global standards; although American workers, for example, may not all be putting in 14-hour days, they do put in the 8-5, and remain more focused on what they are trying to do in attempts to go home, relax, and spend time with their families. In Japan, this hasn't really caught on, despite governmental influence (trying to raise the low fertility rate): Japanese men are still, for the most part, expected to be the breadwinners, and to put in the hours accordingly. Even if these overtime hours are spent doing nothing but playing solitaire, it's all about maintaining the facade: you are here late, you are a good, hard worker, an asset to the company. Add the grounds to the filter.

As a result of this mentality, many Japanese are not expected to spend time at home or take long vacations (durations usually less than one week).

This is the world I have entered into willingly as part of the experience of living and working abroad. Although I am living in a foreign country, interacting with Japanese nationals, and enjoying Japanese cuisine on a daily basis, I'm still swallowing my pride, giving up a huge part of my adventurous spirit every morning, subjugating myself to conditions I had promised I would never endure at home. Open up the plastic flap, add the water.

Honestly, I'm torn - I want to be traveling abroad, experiencing a foreign culture, but to do so... I thought I was willing to take whatever employment was available to me, a job that would allow me the opportunities to explore on the weekends and receive a small stipend for my troubles... but I'm not.

By taking a job in any major corporation in Japan (or anywhere, really), you are slowly destroying yourself. If you are working right now and believe this to be untrue, I would argue you have forgotten what it means to be a traveler, a free spirit. Day after day of answering emails, finding coworker rapport slowly becoming more comedic, noticing your legs don't cramp up quite so much after ten hours of sitting, offering to do the most trivial tasks for your manager just for a slight change of pace, listening to the hum of the computers, adjusting to the grey and white surroundings and the splattered light from flourescent bulbs... these things lead to complacency. Turn the brewer on.

But perhaps the biggest mockery of all is the beauty of the world, seeing it every day from the window of an office building. Taking five minutes to get a breath of fresh air when in fact you should be breathing free every moment of your life. Going outside is not a treat. Seeing the sun slowly brighten and extinguish from the same place indoors is not a miracle.

Yes, there is the issue of money. But there's also the issue of you. Would you have been happier to have been born a millionaire, without ever having needed to work or strive for anything? To have everything turned to leisure, nothing essential to living? Would you rather get something new, or experience something new?

Now imagine yourself poor. Earning your existence through nothing but perseverance. Traveling abroad and living on the goodwill of others and the few dollars you gained through blood and sweat. In the end, that sounds more meaningful to me than living at a Privet Drive, buying a $6 cafe latte, and spending a majority of your waking hours doing something that makes you wish you were elsewhere.

Pour it into a cup and take a sip.

How's that taste?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Instructions for Narita

Debito has put up a translated version of the MOJ instructions for those who wish to use the automated gate when entering and leaving Japan - supposedly, this is going to minimize the inconvenience of being fingerprinted, but why then would we still be printed going in and out of Japan?

Operation of the Automated Gate

Ministry of Justice, Immigration Bureau

1. Introduction
Automated gates will be placed at Narita Airport from November 20th, 2007, in order to improve convenience of immigration procedures by simplifying and accelerating them. We would like to ask foreigners who wish to use the automated gates to provide their personal identification information (fingerprints and a facial portrait) in advance and register themselves as applicants in order to use the gate.

2. Registration as an Applicant to Use the Automated Gate
(1) Required Items for Registration
1. Valid passport (including Re-entry Permit) and re-entry permission
2. Application form to use the automated gate
(2) Where and When to Register
We will be accepting applications from November 20th at the locations stated below:
1. Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau
Application Counter for re-entry permission (2F) 9:00-16:00 (Except Saturdays, Sundays, National Holidays and December 29th to January 3rd)
2. Narita Airport District Immigration Office
The departure inspection area at South Wing of Passenger Terminal 1: 9:00-17:00
The departure inspection area at the South Exit of Passenger Terminal 2: 9:00-17:00
(3) Registration Procedures
Submit your application form with your passport and provide fingerprints of both index fingers and a facial portrait.
Then, when the official affixes a registration stamp on your passport, the registration procedure is complete. In principle, you can use the gate from that day forward.
(4) Points of Concern for the Registration
1. Time Limit of Registration
You can register until the expiration date of your passport or the expiration date of your re-entry permit, whichever comes earlier.
2. Registration Restrictions
In some cases, such as when you cannot provide fingerprints, you may not be able to register.
3. Using and Providing the Registered Information
We will manage information including fingerprints and facial portraits provided at the registration as personal information set forth in laws on protection of personal information held by administrative agencies, and the information will not be used or provided beyond the range allowed for in these laws.
4. Deletion of Registration
Submit the application form to delete registration if you wish to delete your registration. Then, your registration will be deleted and the fingerprints and facial portrait you provided will be erased.

3. How to Use the Gate
(1) How to Use the Gate
1. When you arrive
Step forward before the immigration officer and place your passport over the Passport Reader. After being recognized as a registrant, provide your fingerprints and facial portrait. Then, submit your passport and ED card to the immigration officer. After checking, the gate will open. Arrival inspection procedures are now complete.
2. When you depart
Step forward before the immigration officer and place your passport over the Passport Reader. After being recognized as a registrant, provide your fingerprints. Then, submit your passport and ED card to the immigration officer. After checking, the gate will open. Departure inspection procedures are now complete.
(2) When you use the automated gate, as a rule, the entry/departure record (a stamp) will not be left on your passport.

For the Sousha

As I've been lacking in entries with any substance lately, I'll simply have to post something; behold, the official shirt of Keeping Pace in Japan:

Traveling to Kaihin Park in Minamisatsuma town this weekend, followed by an excursion to Nakanoshima in the Tokara chain, if the weather holds. Peace.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Man with the Golden Head

Honestly, I'm at a loss for words. I was visiting the Kawanabe Magaibutsu Matsuri (川辺まがいぶつまつり), browsing the sumo festival and nibbling on yakitori, when a huge gleaming object suddenly caught the sunlight and screams of five-year-old boys... turns out, it was some foreigner in a black cape, with his head painted gold, supporting a giant "ぶ" on his chest.

Other than a few simple instructions for the pawing schoolchildren, he seemed to focus on his insignia, "bu". Even had a few cards to hand out with a webpage address (I checked it, not working):


There's only one rational conclusion I can draw from the evidence provided; being a foreigner in Japan for so long a time not only gives you the impression that you have strange powers over the populace, but it in fact does give you superhuman abilities, to the point where one must don a cape, protect his identity, and help the helpless.

Buman is the first of his kind, a pioneer in what will no doubt be a race of super-foreigners; I myself am destined for superspeed before my time in Nippon is at an end.

We must track down this individual and unlock the secrets to his power. Although it is 99.9% certain he is still in Kawanabe, I propose a total world search:

- To my cousin in the Department of Justice, use your NSA connections and give me intel from the satellite feeds

- To my South African readers, take a hike north and search the extent of the Sahara

- Watchers of South Park, dig deep into your imagination

- Debito, if you know anyone in Duran Duran, have them search the 1980's

- Nozomu Sahashi, look through the remains of your dignity; you might want to hire some 4,000-odd people to help you

Find the man, dream to fly...

It's beginning to look...

As everyone knows, Christmas begins the day after Halloween. Violin players strum "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in Tenmonkan shopping center, "Happy Xmas" sign stock prices soar an incredible 1200%, and every major train station in Japan boasts its own holiday tree:

Somewhere in Nirvana, Buddha is crying at this betrayal.

Breaking 3:00

98 days and counting...

With the Tokyo Marathon approaching, I am making two announcements:

1. It is my intention to break three hours this time, thus confirming my old classmates' belief that I am completely insane. I'll be aiming for 2:56.

2. Although costs aren't terrible, I would be interested in hearing if there are any companies or individuals willing to sponsor me; it will be my first international marathon, my first in Japan, my first in Asia, my third overall (Boston qualifier first time; how often does that happen?), and my first to break three hours. Even if you just want me to don a logo or yell a phrase at some appropriate place on the course, let me know. Looking at you, Runner's World...

Friday, November 09, 2007

Fingerprinting: Smoother through Narita

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Fingerprinting will begin in 11 days - Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

It's now looking like there will be separate lines for re-entry permit holders, foreign guests, and Japanese citizens. Whether this is a result of protesting or a random display of pragmatism remains to be seen.


Courtesy of

In addition, immigration authorities at Narita will be the sole ones to host an automated gate system for residents who register their passports and fingerprints prior to entry. This does not prevent you from having to repeat the procedure when arriving in Japan, but rather seems to be a way to expedite the process.

Notice from Ministry of Justice (日本語)

Registration for the automated gate system is optional. Those who choose to do so must provide their passport information and have their fingerprints scanned and photographs taken. This has to be done first at select locations in and around Tokyo, including the immigration office at Narita airport.

Once registered, participants will go through the immigration line by having their passport electronically scanned and fingerprints confirmed.

They may still face questioning by immigration officials before being allowed to officially enter Japan. However, officials say people who are registered are likely to get through immigration quicker than those who aren't.

While all of Japan's international airports and ports will have the new equipment to take fingerprints and photos, Narita will be the only entry point where people will be able to register with the automatic gate system.


What you should do before:

- Sign an online petition to protest this unjust and illogical treatment of foreign residents at

- Keep checking with Debito for the latest developments; I'll be posting my own experience with this system after I return home from Christmas.

- As the unavoidable is unavoidable at this point, it's best to minimize the inconvenience. If you're traveling into or out of Narita in the near future, visit one of the immigration offices in Tokyo to register for the automated gate, and cut down the time in line

Japan's Bad New Policy of Fingerprinting Foreigners
Flyertalk Forums
Fingerprinting foreigners won't stop terrorists, critics say

Thursday, November 08, 2007

One False Step

Despite speculation that four US Marines suspected of committing a rape in Hiroshima on October 14th might not be charged, it now appears the case will be pursued by prosecutors...

The case of four Marines accused of gang-raping a Japanese woman was handed over to prosecutors Tuesday, Hiroshima Prefecture police announced.

The police recommended the four servicemembers from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni be charged with abduction for the purpose of sexual assault, gang-rape and robbery, according to a police press statement.

Japanese prosecutors must now decide whether to indict the Marines on those charges.

The four unidentified Marines, ages 19, 24, 34 and 38, allegedly forced the woman into a vehicle, raped her and stole her money in a Hiroshima neighborhood early on the morning of Oct. 14, police said.

No arrest warrants have been issued, and the men remain confined by the U.S. military in cells at the air station.

"The action today is another step in an ongoing process during which we will continue to fully cooperate with Japanese authorities," said Iwakuni spokesman Master Sgt. John Cordero.

Under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, servicemembers charged with Japanese crimes remain in U.S. military custody until indicted if they are being detained on military property.

However, a "gentlemen’s agreement" was reached to hand over suspects accused of violent crimes after the public outcry caused by the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by two Marines and a Navy corpsman in 1995.

Police refused Tuesday to explain why Japanese authorities have not attempted to gain custody of the Marines.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Tuesday that authorities chose not to seek arrest warrants but continued on with the investigation because the alleged victim’s memories were vague and the Marines denied committing any crime, saying it was consensual.

Once a suspect is taken into custody, police and prosecutors have 23 days to indict, according to Japanese law.

Police and prosecutors work in tandem in the Japanese legal system, and as cases progress, prosecutors typically take over the lead.

The case was transferred to the prosecutor's office after Japanese authorities questioned the Marines for several days earlier this month.

A command representative and military police were present during the Japanese questioning on Nov. 2, 5 and 6, the air station public affairs office said.

If indicted for the alleged crimes, the Marines face a legal system that is tough for defendants — more than 99 percent of those charged in Japanese courts are convicted, according to the Japanese Federation of Bar Associations.


Support Satsuma & Saigo

With the 2008 Tokyo Marathon in three months, it's time to unveil my colors:

If anyone else is interested in supporting Satsuma and Saigo Takamori, email me for a shirt.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Letter to Japan Railways

This is a piece of fiction, a satire

To the bowing workers in multicolored uniforms manning so many entry and exit points:

I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Really, thank you. When I arrived at immigration control in Narita four years ago, I was concerned at just how difficult traveling across this country might be; with trains readily accessible but fairly expensive, I was sure I would end up with nothing but a short weekend commute, and few opportunities to explore.

However, the staff at Japan Railways continues to surprise me on a daily basis; not only do you create so many opportunities for foreign guests to pay little-to-nothing for train fares, but your "hands-off" attitude to anyone who doesn't appear to be Japanese invites all of us to explore the land of the rising sun in ways we never thought possible.

Let me take a moment to illustrate your success and express specific causes of appreciation for foreigners who partake in riding the rails...

1. While some Japanese might be forced to repay the price in full for a lost ticket, foreign guests are merely asked for the amount they paid and sent across the barrier, if they are acknowledged at all. This makes JR especially appealing for us non-Japanese, for who wants to pay for services rendered, if it can be avoided?

2. We are not always forced to do arduous tasks like opening up our rail passes and providing appropriate identification, like a passport, despite the fact that regulations indicate this should be done. This gives me hope, shows me the Japanese bureaucratic system cannot be so inflexible, if it would allow those using expired rail passes to easily circumvent authorities. As many Japanese are aware, we foreigners have difficulty understanding and doing the simplest tasks (e.g. bending back the cover on a train pass), so your understanding in this matter not only saves us from an exceptional inconvenience, but provides us with the means to travel anywhere the tracks will take us.

3. Those of us who choose to sleep in the non-reserved sections can always rest easy, for we have noticed you will not disturb sleeping passengers, let alone sleeping foreigners. Such courtesy on your part allows us to travel for hours without having to wrestle around in our gaping pockets, nearly losing our hands to present tickets for inspection. There is also the added advantage of lying about our points of departure when it comes time to disembark, for they cannot be confirmed; foreign residents of Tokyo can buy the minimum fare ticket to Shinagawa, enjoy a leisurely 5-hour nap, and awaken in Hakata, refreshed and ready for ramen, explaining that they have in fact come from Kokura. Marvelous, and the fact this is allowed makes us all wonder why more families even bother owning cars or taking buses, if a distance of 1137 km can be covered with a few thousand yen.

I know in my heart of hearts JR loves each and every one of us, as they must want us to travel without payment and to not show respect where respect is due. Yes, being tolerated, even laughed at, by the Japanese staff (for our abuse of a national institution) is preferable to being hauled away by police and arrested for theft. Employees know this full well, and keep foreigners out of prisons and around ticket barriers for their continued amusement and "internationalism". We are more than happy to oblige, and will continue to entertain you in exchange for the rewards of travel.

Best regards,
Your silent partners,