Plain Talk


North Korea and Its Nuclear Weapons: What Should Japan Do? by Patrick Hattman

When I first lived in Japan as a teacher in the late 1990s, my home was in the city of Niigata. Situated on the Sea of Japan coast and facing the Korean peninsula, Niigata is only 720 miles from North Korea's capital of Pyongyang. Due to its proximity to North Korea, the city and surrounding areas were prime targets for the abductions of several Japanese by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. During my time there, the people I met were mostly concerned about the fate of the missing, and not so much about North Korea's early nuclear weapons program.

But fast forward 20 years to the present and, while many of the abductees have been returned to Japan, North Korea's nuclear weapons program has grown dramatically. In fact, North Korea's nuclear capabilities have improved so much that the current leader of the pariah nation, Kim Jong-un, may be able to order the launch of a missile carrying a nuclear warhead soon.

In order to combat North Korea's nuclear threat, Japan has tried working with the U.S. and through the United Nations, but to no avail. Diplomatic initiatives have not had any measurable success in recent years, and economic sanctions have not resulted in any demonstrable change in Kim Jong-un's grip on power.

With the clear and present danger North Korea represents, Japan must make bold statements and take aggressive actions. First, Japan needs to state unequivocally to North Korea that it can and will defend its people and territory from any attack. Next, Japan - following the lead of the U.S. - must continue to display the overwhelming firepower and defensive measures the alliance could use to repel a North Korean attack, or bring about its annihilation by American military power, if necessary. Finally, China must be convinced to use its influence over the Kim Jong-un regime and get them to the bargaining table to work towards nuclear disarmament and step back from the brink of war once and for all.





Plain Talk



I remember my student days in Kyoto when I wrote a paper about the aspects of minimalism, miniaturization, and compactness in Japanese culture in relation to design. As I continued to immerse myself in the Japanese way of life for years, these aspects have somehow revealed to me a sense of isolation.

I recall asking my professor about this subject. “Isolation?” my professor asked. “Give me an example.” I said, “Sensei, what do you think about the o-bento (lunch box) with the red, round umeboshi (pickled dried plum) in the middle of pure, white rice? It’s called the hinomaru bento, isn’t it, taken from the rising sun image of the Japanese flag?” My professor started to smile. I continued, “Sensei, do you think that is just o-bento art or a symbol of isolation of the Japanese, just as it is symbolized in the Japanese flag?” My professor threw me a wide grin, almost laughing. However, I never got a definite answer.

Perhaps, it is exaggerated imagination to correlate the red plum in the center of a boxed rice with shades of isolation, parallel to the red circle, proud and untouchable sitting on a blanket of white purity in the Japanese flag. After all, in reality, Japanese do not really perform as isolated individuals, but rather as loyal groups with common beliefs and aspirations. Domestically perhaps, but the striking impression of that round, red entity, all by itself somehow filters a sensation of isolation from the rest of the world.

We can feel isolation in language as well. There is no coincidence between Japan’s isolation period (Sakoku) from the rest of the world for about 250 years during the Edo period and the manner by which the society is culturally isolated by language.

Take the “half-Japanese.” Being “half” in Japan sometimes injects identity complex. There are some half-Japanese who have been living in Japan for a lengthy period of time, who look Japanese “enough,” and speak excellent Japanese, yet could never come at equal rank with “native” Japanese, because Japanese do not know how to relate to and accept them. “He looks Japanese, acts and speaks like a Japanese, but he can’t be one of us, can he?”

You can be a hen na gaijin (strange foreigner) in two ways: for speaking Japanese with an odd use of words expression and accent; or speaking “too perfect “ Japanese when you are not Japanese. That just doesn’t make sense to them, and therefore keeps you at arm’s length no matter how fluent you are in their language.

Day in and day out, we walk past ancient temples, sushi bars, soba noodle shops, noisy electronic stores, and throngs of congested pedestrian crossings, unmindful of the hundreds of symbols of isolation flying around us. Japan has been home to the social culture of the karaoke. While it is normally a crowd-gatherer for peers, company workers or families, the private karaoke rooms are also isolated nitches for loners who want to be alone, sing alone or while a few hours away from the stress of family and work. Capsule hotels are best examples of an isolated culture that not only confine a single person in a solitary unit of space but within suffocating dimensions that seem ample enough for breathing air. There is also the manga kissa or comic manga coffee shops that are actually more like overnight “convenience store” motels, providing the single person a private cubicle with a couch, TV and Internet.

Having traveled a bit to other countries, I have realized that it is only in Japan where I can feel completely safe and comfortable coming alone to a cafe´, restaurant, movie house, or concert without that awkward sensation of aloneness, but rather with a territory of respected privacy. Perhaps the dignified umeboshi on a serene, white flag brings this effect, and remember that a plum can be both sweet and sour even in bland, white existence.

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Tokyo Voice Column


My Thai dogs in Japan by Rose Miller

There is something to be said about the proverb the grass is always greener. Having lived in Japan for 6 years I finally felt I had lost my way a little, and I'm not sure when it happened, but my happy life in Japan felt it had been getting stale for a while. Family was calling me home after a long stint away, and I felt it was time to embark on a new adventure. I wasn't ready to go back home yet so I decided to immerse myself in a different culture, and ended up as a teacher in Bangkok. The differences in lifestyle were overwhelming at times and somehow along the way I adopted 2 dogs (I'm a sucker for animals in need).

Having taken myself away from Japan it was obvious to those closest to me how my time in Japan had rubbed off on me. I was shocked when things weren't structured, when people didn't queue up for things, and I automatically bowed my head when saying thank you, or goodbye to the amusement of my Thai coworkers. When I left Japan many people said to me I would be back, but I laughed and said "no way!" determined to eventually return to England.

After a year and a half in Bangkok I finally went back to England. It was the biggest culture shock of all to realize I didn't fit there anymore. I didn't know what to talk about to friends or family, who soon grew tired of hearing about Japan. I didn't understand that way of life anymore, and I struggled and easily got frustrated with simple daily things because it wasn't the Japanese way of doing it.

After a few months I had already found a new job in Japan, and booked a flight for me and my two dogs (it's really not easy bringing dogs into Japan). Maybe I don't fit in here completely, but it's good to be home.






Strange but True


I smell chicken... literary!

Do you like baths? Do you like KFC? If so, you might like KFC's new fried chicken bath bomb. The fast food giant has launched limited edition bath bombs, which smell like its secret spice mix. Unlike conventional fizzy bath products, KFC's is shaped like a chicken drumstick. Though it still promises to create an 'explosion' in the tub. So if you want to smell like a boneless banquet, jump in. Novelty retailer Village Vanguard has worked with KFC to manufacture the oddity. Apparently, it really does smell like KFC's famous recipe, a homage to the delicacy. Luckily − of course − it's available only in Japan. The company has launched the quirky bath bomb in Japan as a limited edition. Just 100 lucky winners will get to enjoy it. Still, it's quite interesting. How on earth do you get a bath bomb to smell like fried chicken? People around the world are excited.

Things we eat...

Do you know what you have eaten so far today? Perhaps you popped out at lunchtime and grabbed a wrap from the local shop. Or maybe this evening you'll have a quick ready-meal from the supermarket's 'low fat' range. Not too bad, right? So you might think, but lurking in everyday meals are some pretty unappetising ingredients, according to a TV network. Like say... something in the line of vanilla flavouring and raspberry-flavour in alcoholic beverages, baked goods, frozen dairy products, chewing gum, sweets, meat products, pudding, gelatin, ice cream? Guess what it is? Beaver anal gland secretions! Yes, you read that correctly. Castoreum is a tasty additive made from the secretions of glands near the anus of beavers. They use it to mark their territory and attract a mate: we use it as a sweet vanilla, strawberry and raspberry flavouring in drinks and sweets. You wouldn’t know it’s there as it is allowed to be listed as ‘natural flavouring’ on ingredients lists. So, next time you are enjoying ice cream or cakes, just remember you may be eating Beaver anal gland secretions!


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