Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Thursday, 24 December 2009


Obama's taking quite a bit of heat for the outcome of the recent climate summit. For example George Monbiot writes:
the immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama
Naomi Klein also holds Obama's feet to the fire.
I think there is some counter-evidence to push back against this notion that Copenhagen was down to Obama's failure to use his powers to fly in the face of special interests and take real leadership on the issue.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

What are we gonna do about OJ Uganda?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's scratching their head at the strange juxtaposition of Uganda's recent move to outlaw female circumcision with moves to pass a bill that would strengthen penalties against being gay.

Unfortunately, this bill seems to be part of a trend of politicised anti-gay sentiment in Central/Eastern Africa; Burundi crimnalised homosexuality in April, and an anti-gay legal code is currently being debated in Rwanda's lower house of Parliament.

It's interesting that the "cherished culture" of Uganda is invoked to defend this bill when part of this culture has just been outlawed.  Also puzzling are the accusations of neo-colonialism levelled at foreign opponents of the bill when the proposed anti-gay legislation has links to the activities of U.S. religious leaders and activists.

Human rights organisations have called for donors to Uganda to withhold their aid, however I believe that this could be counterproductive. Any threats dovetail with the anti-colonial narrative being utilised by supporters of this bill. The activities of international human rights organisations on this issue are also hobbled by the same anti-colonial sentiment. There isn't much these groups can do that will not be demagogued as foreign meddling, and Western disrespect of Ugandan values. That being said, the possibility of losing up to 40% of the national budget might provide a great incentive for politicians to water down the bill. And given its nature I'm hard put to it to voice objections to any actor who'd consider using that source of leverage.

Museveni could still veto it, however while he appears to have given private assurances to U.S. officials that he will work to stop the bill becoming law, Museveni has not yet matched those private actions in public. His history of anti-gay rhetoric will make it difficult for him to come out against any version of the Anti-homosexuality bill.  On the other hand two op-eds against the bill in government controlled media, could be in spite of their problems (outlined HERE and HERE) a sign for optimism.

I think pressure to modify the bill using an approach that focuses on policy analysis, and other forms of expert advice to hammer home the practical implications of passing the bill with its most outrageous language (such as damage to social capital due to people perceiving the law as approval of violence against gays, hindering the fight against the spread of HIV, and the likely violations of international treaties -which signatories cannot just decide to unsign using domestic law-  and the pastoral relationship - no small issue in a country as religious as Uganda) is more likely to be effective than overt LGBT or human rights advocacy as such efforts can more easily avoid demagoguery.

Long term, I believe -based on my very limited understanding of the Ugandan context- that religious leaders are the only actors with enough legitimacy to change the zeitgeist.  Leaders who do not use murderous rhetoric against gays could be engaged in dialogue with more radical preachers. Meanwhile the Ugandan media could also be engaged to report responsibly on marginalised groups, perhaps through the development of new conflict sensitivity curricula in journalism school. I also think there could be work to introduce disruptive information in order to debunk the ideas in books such as Coming out Straight and The Pink Swastika that have influenced the anti-gay movement. Most importantly great pains would need to be taken to keep any intervention from being seen as anything other than locally owned.

Friday, 18 December 2009


An acquaintance of mine in finance sent me THIS article with a dire prognosis for the future of Japan.

Basically, Japan is really in for it when they can no longer borrow money on the cheap. If the price of borrowing rises the results could be catastrophic. (Think of what happened to many of the people who bought homes using mortages with teaser rates.) The Japanese government may default on its debt or, according to David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, enter a period of hyperinflation where prices rise out of control in response to lack of confidence that the Japanese currency will maintain its value.

Japan's ability to service its truly staggering national debt is dependent on the strength of the export economy and the populace acting as a source of finance. Unfortunately for the government, the export economy has taken a real beating in recent years.  This in my understanding is in large part due to the domestic economic policies of the last decade, which drove Japanese companies to move their assets overseas to get better returns. Japanese companies could do OK because they didn't need Japanese revenue, they got most of their money from sales overseas. However, with the financial crisis, the amount of overseas revenue has been slashed. A strong yen in a global downturn = nicht gut because their exports became less competitive.Worse still, Japan's population is shrinking, and aging; meaning a decrease in available finance as the tax base shrinks and savings are used fund retirement.

What a mess.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Pan wore brown!

Man this intro brings back memories.

I'll try and get reacquainted with this as I remember it being a good series with decent character development and plot. Had Tim Curry as Hook, and dude is one of my favourite actors.

All that pomp, and those horns! Pity about the bootleg synth strings.
Speaking of horns check out 1:14-1:25 from this Star Wars tune. Williams gets cussed out for being derivative (cough! Duel of The Fates = Carmina Burana: O Fortuna cough!) but those horns at 1:20. Jai ho! They do something to me.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Look ye at his works

(h/t a commenter at Balloon Juice) I found part of this 2006 article by Paul Krugman about Joe Lieberman to be quite prescient.

The money quote:
The question now is how deep into the gutter Mr. Lieberman’s ego will drag him.

Well, I think we may all have the answer to that question.

Can't take a compliment

Managed to have a nice long chat with my teacher today. Was good to catch up with her after my three months away in Japan. She seems to take great pride in my achievements, and is generous with her praise, which always leaves me feeling energised and ready to receieve my crown (seriously, right after our conversation you could have shown me all the unemployment figures you wanted, and I would have kept on smiling.) At the same time however receipt of such praise always leaves me feeling very embarrassed.

I think my feelings are rooted in two things: firstly, and this could be a cultural thing, the slightest hint that an elder is treating me as they would a peer is something that is slightly disconcerting. One of the cultures in which I was raised coming up on the mean streets of Southwest London is quite hierachical, with great respect given to ones elders. As a result I usually address people with their titles, and even feel slightly facetious when I use their first names in contexts where formal titles would be strange or inappropriate. Indeed I've been struck by the lack of formality that characterises many of the student-teacher relationships I have seen here in the United States. I think British Academia is much more formal, though it could be changing. Also, the very idea that I am worthy of such treatment is rather strange, my feeling is What, in my few years on this earth could I have possibly done to be given such praise, to have my hand shaken as a peer?

Second, I think part of me hearing that someone thinks I'm great. Again part of me just can't believe that anyone could have such a high opinion about something I've done, or the person I am. It just doesn't match the image I have of myself. This could be because while many of my closest friends, and family have a very abstract idea of what it is I do, I don't think a detailed conversation would be possible, or of interest to most of them.

My mother in particular fretted about my choice of both undergrad and master's courses. For instance, "what job", she asked with clear concern in her voice, "can you do with philosophy?" It was the way she said "philosophy". I'm sure there's a joke out there that the first words of English Nigerians learn (and never forget) are "doctor", "lawyer" and "engineer". If there isn't there ought to be. My mother uttered that word "philosophy" as if it were entirely foreign to her daily vocabulary, and therefore distrusted. Moreover as a word she did not use, I'm certain she considered it -and subsequently the entire discipline- as useless. I'm sure my recent achievements have done nothing to change her feelings.

I also think there's a little fear in there.  I resist the idea that the nice things people are saying could represent me as I am.

Anyway. Please don't get it twisted,  if you have good things to say, keep them coming. I like hearing them. It gives me something I can aspire to. Like that Obama fellow when he got the Nobel Peace Prize.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A cool boss?

These pics courtesy of TPM may have endeared me a little to Republican National Committee Chairman Micheal Steele. However I can't shake the niggling suspicion that the interns in these pics are actually  mocking him. Steele reminds me a little of a boss I used to have when I was on the JET programme working for the board of ed. of a small Japanese city. A bit of a clown, and more than a little inappropriate at even the best of times. He exchanged shaggy-dog gags at social events, and would creep out my female colleagues by making comments with sexual undertones. I regarded him perhaps as I would a drunk uncle who would prove to be an amusing spectacle at any wedding reception but my own. And I could certainly see him striking similar poses.

Down time

My reports have been handed in, orgs to which I could send my work are winding down for the holidays, and are too busy tying up loose ends to attend to me. I'm damn near impecunious, and the job market is dismal.

Looking, with great effort, for the bright side; the down time is an opportunity to try and increase the number of publications I have under my belt, and brush up on useful skills like quantitative analysis. Moreover my decision to return to the US seems not to have been as crazy as the voice in the back of my head was telling me. I have contacts here, and they're looking to hook me up with work. They are stars. I've heard some promising noises, the only problem is that I would need to find a way to survive until about a third of the way into next year to take up those opportunities, they're likely consultancies though, rather than opportunites for regular employment. This is somewhat disconcerting when there is little question about the regularity of bills. Hopefully I, or my contacts, will find something before I run out of money. Once again, fell deeds await.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo...

I recently stumbled across THIS visualisation of a counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan. It really is a thing of beauty. I'm just not sure how such a complex set of dynamics could be shaped to fit coalition interests using an instrument like the United States military.

Reading through the presentation one of the first things that came to mind was the likely costs in terms of blood and treasure that would be required to pull off such a project. It also brought to mind an observation by Eric Martin over at Obsidian Wings. There seems to be a general sense of suspicion towards the idea of "social engineering" by the govenrment, or the government spending large amounts of money on its citizens; yet at the same time similar projects overseas draw little criticism. There is also in the United States the pervasive idea that the government messes up everything it touches, however when it comes to these same vast projects overseas such skepticism is largely absent.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Tonight, we dine in Hell

Back in Londinium, spending time with the family before I return to the States.

Last Thursday's farewell dinner went very well, and I handed in my evaluation report the following day. All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable and valuable experience. I really will miss my former colleagues. It would be great if I were given responsibility to work with the org staff to implement and monitor any changes based on my recommendations. It will be interesting to see what the directors make of my report.

My relationship with the org will continue to some extent, I have some responsibility for the dissemination of an English version of policy papers in the "West" - since I had a hand in producing them.

I'm off to play some Halo. I leave you with a tune from Phantom of the Opera (the movie adaptation with Gerard "This is Sparta!" Butler), which I sing often. Too often.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Fell deeds await

My last full day of work at the org today. I hand in my report to the chief and the directors tomorrow - basically a set of recommendations on strategic and methodological issues. The report is very short, only about four pages, as I want it to be read. Since after I leave Japan I'll have some responsibility for disseminating a recent publication, the org is likely to be in frequent contact with me. I figure if there's anything they need clarification on they can ask me. Who knows, it might even lead to a paid consulting gig in the future.

Tonight is my farewell party, and I managed to convince my colleagues to broaden their horizons and have it at an African restaurant. Fell deeds await.

A fascinating problem

Check out this article from the New York Times Magazine.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Japan up for review on human rights

Ever since signing up to the treaty on the elimination of racial discrimination (CERD) in 1996, the Japanese government commited to submitting reports every two years detailing measures they've taken to tackle domestic racial discrimination. Up until now, the Japanese government has been very bad at living up to its obligations, submitting only its first and second reports together in 2000. The UN wants reports three to six and have a few questions they want answered before the next session of the committee begins in  February 2010.

My current position is that the government of Japan has not taken its treaty obligations under CERD at all seriously, so I'm curious to see how the Hatoyama administration handles this one. From what interaction I've had with leaders of human and minority rights NGOs in Japan, I think their advice to me would be "keep your expectations modest".

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Well, well, well. What have we here?

UPDATE: Article in English added.

Seems the political winds might soon start blowing in favour of immigration.

In a speech given at the recent APEC meeting Hatoyama talked about Japan's low fertility and aging population; saying that Japan needs to work toward becoming a more desirable place for people from overseas to visit, live, and work.

Apparently he even used the word "immigrants". That being said, he seemed to shy away from calling his stance the basis of immigration policy, reflecting his position of giving primacy to child allowances and broader access to education in order to improve fertility rates.

LINK (if you read Japanese) LINK (In English)

I think this may be encouraging in two respects. Firstly if my understanding is correct, according to the article Hatoyama acknowledged that family oriented policies are not the only answer to demographic trends.

Secondly, The ability of child allowances required to raise the fertility rate in any significant way have been called into question by a number of studies (see page 13 of THIS paper. The whole thing is worth a read, though). The Hatoyama administration are going to have to seek other approaches. This presents a possible entry point for the organisation.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Just because

One of the best openings I ever did see. Watched a few episodes again as an undergrad to see if it could still excite, but alas.

Can't beat Mum-Ra, though.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

"Race" in global Japan pt. 2

Color me impressed, I'm glad I dragged myself out of bed on what was a truly miserable Saturday morning.

I liked the idea of looking at transnational constructions of categorical identities, as well as the meanings assigned to the category of mixed-race/ethnicity in Japanese society. The representation and consumption  of people with mixed backgrounds, commonly called haafu, through magazines and advertising is limited to a very narrow set of people of mixed heritage. Japanese and Caucasian in the vast majority of cases.

According to Sato Kozue's research, this can be explained by evidence that these people are situated between the Japanese world (local world) and the white western world (global world). They represent a "white dreamy fantasy world" that is reachable from the Japanese world. Even as their existence in Japanese society challenges ideas of Japaneseness and Whiteness*. Mixed race models, she says, can become "us" (Japanese) and "them" (foreigners) at the same time.

*As Jane Yamashiro went on to say in her own presentation, there are mixed heritage celebrities in Japan who pretty much can only speak Japanese.

Another thing from the symposium that stuck with me was part of the keynote speech given by Millie Creighton of the University of British Columbia. I've always been skeptical about the idea that Obama's ascent to the presidency, and reactions to it around the world represent any sort of fundamental change in any cultural/global zeitgeist with regards to black people. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there hasn't been any change. I think compared to merely 20-30 years earlier there's been a lot of progress.

What I liked was that Creighton came at it from a more nuanced position. Sharing her thoughts she said maybe reaction to Obama is sign of a change because of the difference in reaction to Jesse Jackson, who ordinary people she'd conversed with couldn't understand why he was being considered an acceptable candidate. He wasn't an American they said. (Even though African Americans are amongst the oldest American ethnic groups. Christ on the cross, weeping!)  This time around however Obama was popular in Japan, his candidacy for presidency was embraced. Which really only told me that people had become slightly less morbidly ignorant.

She grabbed me though when she went on to talk about the activities of the residents of a city in Fukui prefecture called Obama. Obama city supported and capitalised on Barack Obama's ascendance early on. Their campaign according to Creighton, represented  a shift in Japan, not of attitudes towards black people per se, but more as representing the reality that marginalized people are less willing to accept their place, largely overlooked by the Japanese elite. Linking the residents of Obama with a nascent movement for disablity rights, she says that the city leaders tapped into the hype/hope surrounding Obama to call attention to the Japanese periphery.

Friday, 13 November 2009

phase shift

One thing that's tickled me pink is my invisibility to most of the people that come to the office. They just don't see me. What I hadn't realised was that they don't see me because I don't actually exist. At least not in the Japanese dimension

I've realised is that I'm phasing in and out of this dimension. No amount of metatron is involved in this feat, dear readers. Not even a thimbleful.

I can do it with two words "Hai, dozo". In one instance, a guest was thunderstruck by my sudden materialisation in his proximity. Upon hearing the high-pitched voice of the OL bidding him welcome, the mysterious apparition - my body - must have shifted back out of the Japanese dimension. His expression of relief that it had all just been a hallucination was quite endearing. Perhaps he decided from then on to stop sneaking a jar or two of ale at lunch-time.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The singing voice is not as good as I remembered

I loved this tune when I was a kid, it still pops into my head now and again.

"Mistakes were made" pt.2

The chief and I talked it out this morning. We're cool.

Though it turns out that the office lady also remembers the chief pretty much putting me in charge of sorting out the org's site. Guess he forgot. I don't automatically impute differing accounts of events to dishonesty, so I'll leave it at that, and get over my hurt feelings.

I'm happy that I could at least generate some discussion about what purpose the site is to serve and what needs to be done to make it congruent with organisational strategy. What still leaves me feeling some kind of way however is the niggling suspicion that nothing will happen with the site. Nothing was actually decided at the meeting. Moreover since it is only the office lady who will have to deal with the site's functionality issues, and the directors all do their own thing, they have little reason to feel an overhaul is a priority.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Good heavens!

From the NY Times. Iraqi authorities: This rock repels tigers...

Hat tip to Brendan. I Koerner

"Mistakes were made"

Presented at the board meeting yesterday, could not have gone worse. I had the impression that I'd been put in charge of sorting out the org's website, which is pretty but has awful functionality, and is not very efficient. I brought in my man young city extraordinaire to probe their requirements for a new site under the premise that he'd be doing me a favour, and that it was just the directors that needed to buy the pitch (which they seemed to).

The chief put the lockdown on me hard.

I was upset, still am actually, but I realise that it's likely I completely misunderstood the result of the previous discussions I'd had with the chief on the subject.

I called in later to apologise to the chief. There will be much low bowing when I come in on Monday as well. Heckuva job, Rubi!

Working my way back to you

I've been a little light on the work related posts lately, as I've been very busy trying to knock out a working draft of my final report -and that's just the English version. The chief is also looking to publish some of my work before I complete my assignment, so the pressure is on to dot the "I"s and cross the "T"s on my manuscript. Getting this all done within the next three weeks will be no mean feat. I will also be presenting at the next board meeting which will be held on Friday, after I have a meeting with the Secretary-general of one of the big Japanese human/minority rights NGOs.

Anyway, I thought I'd fill you in on a little of what I've been up to. I've hashed out a general idea of the organisational theory of change. Now, the process of a theory of change based evaluation basically involves conducting a context analysis, constructing organisation theories of change, identifying assumptions and testing validity by seeing how well it fits the context.

Tracking down information to test the theory of change has been quite a challenge so far. It's been good work for the noggin though. The basic theory of the organisation seems to be that a transformative change in the opinions and attitudes of a critical mass of the Japanese population will lead to a transformative change in the immigration policy framework. More specifically a change in key individuals in the media (mainly national newspapers) who act as gatekeepers to the dissemination of information can be leveraged (in addition to direct lobbying, or nemawashi as the chief prefers to call it) to change the attitudes and opinions of elites, policymakers, and the population at large. Pressure from elites and members of the public, will lead to transformation on the socio-political level, which in turn will lead to synthesis of new policy framework.

I test the theory basically by asking myself, what needs to be true for B to come as a result of A. For example that articles in national newspapers will lead to a change in thinking about immigration. One of the main assumptions would have to be that newspapers are considered a credible source of information in Japan. Another would be that information and opinion in newspapers have influence.

There is some evidence to support those notions. The mass media remains a powerful institution in the Japanese context. Numerous researchers (Russell 1991, Murphy-Shigematsu 1993; Yamashita 1996; Tsuda 2003; Shipper 2005, Hyung Gu 2006; Maeshima 2009) present information that points to the influence of the mass media over Japanese public opinion.

According to a 2005 survey carried by the Japanese public broadcaster NHK 93% of the population watches television at least once a day, (a 2007 poll by the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association (NSK) puts the figure at 91.3%) while the nation on average watches 3 hours and 43 minutes of television every day. Japanese newspapers have an extraordinarily high diffusion rate, with a per capita circulation of at least 528 newspapers per 1000 people according to the latest data from the NSK. Information from the same organisation provided good evidence that a solid majority of Japanese (60.7%) see newspapers as having influence over society. Though only 36.8% think they can trust the information provided by this medium, newspapers are the single most trusted form of media after NHK which 38.5% of respondents saw as providing trustworthy information.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

"Race" in global Japan

More info here. I was pleasantly surprised by the last event I attended that touched on multiculturalism, so I'm going to be heading to this conference as well methinks.

Monday, 2 November 2009

End game

My assignment will soon be over. I'll leave Japan in about 4 weeks. I've mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I'm excited about seeing my friends and loved ones again, however I feel as though I'll be leaving just as I'm really beginning to get into my groove. I've been made to feel like a valuable part of the organisation, and my work has been enjoyable. The prospect of staying on to discuss and oversee any implementation of the recommendations I'll submit in my report is quite exciting. I think I'd jump at the chance to take on that sort of responsibility. Again though, I've mixed feelings about living in Japan long-term. Despite the fact I consider it -or perhaps more accurately parts of it- to be one of my homes.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

A cypher

Watched these cyphers from BET and I was, for a moment, excited about hip hop again.

The first joint is just ridiculous, Black Thought and Eminem especially lay it down. Eminem kills it. He was cyphering like he was possessed. However his content just doesn't really touch me anymore. He's still rapping about drugs, and making rape gags.  It's like I have to admire his skill and let his flow run through my mind, without really analysing what he's saying. KRS1 is a dad-burned beast in the second, and I believe he was the only one to have cyphered straight from the "top of the dome", as in spontaneously.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Heh, indeed

I didn't know this until now, but apparently there's been a mini explosion of parodies of a scene from the film "Downfall". Apparently the makers of "Downfall" Constantin Films, are so displeased by this state of affairs that they've made moves to have the videos removed from youtube. In response Brad Templeton, chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation has gone and made his own parody video, mocking Constantin Films.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Coexistence and Complexity

I ought to be writing a paper, but right now I'm much too depressed and demotivated to even look at my draft.

I think that because I initially set out to write out my thoughts on my experiences here for close friends and classmates that I did not realise that there are some people who may actually look to be informed, and want to be able to read what I post here and be confident that I actually know what I'm talking about. For the same reason, I believe I have been writing with the assumption that the terms I am using would be easily understood by anyone reading this blog.

In being a champion for coexistence, what I hope to be doing in my role at the organisation is pull my colleagues to a place where they can view the context in which they work, and on which they work from a coexistence perspective.

A coexistence perspective is to me one that queries to what extent ideas, initiatives, policies and contexts embrace diversity for its positive potential, pursue equality, recognise interdependence between different groups, and eschew the use of weapons to address conflict. It examines if  there is, as Oxfam GB put it, recognition of all people's status and rights as human beings, and a just and inclusive vision for each community’s future.

It is my perception that in order to design initiatives and policies for coexistence,  that is to say a society with positive relationships across social differences, practitioners must endeavour to practice the values they seek to encourage. Practioners I think have to be prepared to "jump out of their skins", and attempt to assist others to make that leap. I think very basically that that leap is empathy, but it's very hard to empathise when you are firmly part of a context that does not readily facilitate it.

A societies "others" are not synonymous with the normative. As such their representation, over which they have little control, is generally unbalanced and dehumanising. What I mean by that is the complexity, diversity, and value of their lives -the same complexity, diversity, and value we give to "our" own-  is often poorly conveyed, if at all. I think Chimamanda Adichie expresses the concept beautifully in this speech

(I have a ridiculous girl-crush on Adichie... and Rachel Maddow.)

I attempt to get my co-workers to combat the privilege they have in facing little if any penalty for being satisfied with a single story about the groups whose interests they ostensibly represent. At the same time, it behooves me to make sure that I don't fall into the same trap. It's hard, but hopefully you guys can help keep me honest.

Friday, 23 October 2009


I'd kind of assumed that not many people were reading this blog. However it's just occured to me that quite a few people other than acquaintances and classmates may be reading this. I really have no idea. Therefore I think I owe it to myself to be as tight as possible without making every post an academic paper. Apologies for my slip ups.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Championing coexistence

Had an interesting convo with my colleagues the other day that made me think about the importance of having minority groups represented in institutions and organisations, especially those tasked with addressing issues pertinent to minority groups.

The conversation was about the protest raised over a McDonalds commerical being run in Japan. The commercial uses a goofy, bespectacled white fellow called Mr. James as a mascot for a promotional campaign. The imagery is problematic because it plays into all sorts of stereotypes about Japanophile white men, and non-Japanese residents in general. Dovetailing with historical presentations of non-Japanese as weird, perpetual outsiders, with broken Japanese.

You can read an article by the leader of the protest, Arudou Debito HERE

Personally, I think that it's a little more complex than Prof. Arudou makes out. I agree with the professor that the use of broken Japanese (which has since been remedied, kinda), and the representation of this character serve to perpetuate offensive stereotypes and behaviour towards non-Japanese. Where I kinda part ways with his argument is where he asks whether the stereotyped have a chance to reply and balance views. Debito argues no, and I would agree with him in the general sense. In general non-Japanese are not given a voice in the media, and are not presented in a balanced, humanising way. However I have to say that there is a lot more balance when it comes to caucasians. I would argue that most images of whites in Japan, are presentations of a people and culture that it is desirable to emulate. Anyone exposed to the Japanese media, will see representations of white politicians, scientists, sportsmen, musicians, models. The same can't really be said of non-whites. Then again it could be argued that the positive imagery only applies to caucasians who are not known to be living in Japan. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to tackle this with Prof. Arudou soon.

One of my colleagues' response was to say that they just couldn't understand what the problem was about. "It was just like that time when the `Little Black Sambo` book came out, black people said it was racist, how was it racist? Little Black Sambo is cute."

My response to my colleague was that Little Black Sambo means something completely different to black people. The images in that book have been used to denigrate and dehumanise black people, and are part of a history of oppression. That the key is to hear out the people who are upset or offended, let them know that their voice is valued, and try to learn about their history and their views of history. Ultimately it makes your society stronger.

Consider yourself part of the furniture

Been busy with applications for research funding and graduation, calling up researchers and journalists, and reading literature on getting ideas to policymakers effectively. Still feel as though I've achieved very little.

I think that I'm quite settled into the organisation. I'm sharing jokes, I'm teaching the office lady to sing, I feel a camaradie with her against "the man", exchanging knowing looks with her in when "the men are talking". I listen to her, and sympathise with her grievances. I share my own freely. I feel trusted and wanted. I walk with the chief to the station almost everyday on my way home. I'm feeling more and more like a valued addition to the organisation, to the extent that it feels kind of weird writing down things that are said as part of my evaluation.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Bless the internet

Whenever people asked me to give me an example of irony, I would point them to Marc Anthony's speech in "Julius Caesar" or the Simpson's episode where Mr. Burns says of Smithers, "he doesn't know the meaning of the word 'gay'". I think I may have found another, and by 'is 'ounds it is a beauty!

LINK h/t Ta-Nehisi Coates

Done! Done! On to the next one!

Finally finished with my translation of the policy essays. Currently getting it mailed out to some of the chief's contacts in the press and academia. I'm wondering how to get it into the hands of people with some real clout in the Japanese context.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Come, I evolve

I'm thinking that perhaps I'm beginning to be perceived as having specialist knowledge of utility to the organisation. First, the chief solicited my criticism of his ideas concerning the development of a Japanese ethnic identity. Second, I've been granted the authority to make whatever changes I deem necessary to the manuscript of my translation of his policy papers. Needless to say, that's a lot of trust he's placed in me. I won't feel right unless I run the modifications by him for his approval. On the other hand I think it puts me in a position to point out some things that the chief, and directors just may not see.

For example the chief has a real antipathy to one group that advocates for Zainichi Koreans. "They called me an assimiliationist, and a colonialist!", he said. Basically my understanding of the chief's position is that Zainichi should sever their self-concept from the Korean penninsula, and become Korean-Japanese i.e. naturalise.

I pointed out, or rather tried to point out that if you use the word "extinction" to describe how intermarriage (and naturalisation) will "solve" the "Zainichi issue" it could reasonably be seen as problematic. The first is that by framing the problem as a Zainichi issue, and not one of a history of Japanese exclusion and oppression, you may give the message that the social problems are due to to the existence of these people in Japanese society and perhaps implicity that these problems are their responsibility to fix. As opposed to the idea that the Japanese majority has arranged their trouble for them, and therefore the Japanese majority must move to solve the issue. It's kinda like saying, "well if you stopped being/acting gay, people would stop persecuting you", when the onus should be on changing the behaviour of the people doing the persecuting.

Second, the message that these problems will go away once there are no longer any Zainichi again could be seen as framing the issue as being the responsibility of the disadvantaged group, and send the message that once they no longer exist the problem will be solved.

As such it is understandable that such a group would use the words "assimilationist" and "colonialist" in their criticism. As the chief's message could appear bereft of a nuanced understanding of the resistance to naturalisation, and as merely a continuation of the history of Japanese colonial, and post war policies towards its (former) imperial subjects, albeit wrapped up in somewhat more pluralist language.

Another example is that newspaper article from the Nikkei Shimbun. No one in the office batted an eye at the journalist accepting the education minister's rationale for keeping the current nursing exams Indonesian nationals at face value, or the "we Japanese"-centered subtext. I've only had a rant about the article to you lot (my dear readers), and the office lady. The chief was so excited about the support of the Nikkei, I didn't want to rain on his parade. I think however that I'll have to recommend not just looking at the levels of the use of "immigrant" as opposed to "foreign worker" in the media, or stories that support the organisation's position, but also at how immigrants are being framed. The increased use of the word "immigrant" doesn't mean much if every story mentions crime, or concern trolls. Working the media means being media-savvy. I'm about to take a look at all my GLAAD literature to mull over some ideas.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Say what?

Check out this exchange with US Supreme Court Justice Scalia.

Ha! What a prankster! Very funny, your honour...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Research group

The chief gave a talk at a meeting held yesterday by a research group on immigration. I toddled along with the chief, and a board member. The Secretary General of one big Japanese union was in attendance, who if I heard correctly, has the ear of at least one minister. People in attendance were largely in agreement with the changes the chief proposed. However my perception is that few of them are real movers and shakers. Conspicuous lack of representatives from the government, and from the communities that any change in policy would affect.

The board member who came along strikes me as a man who keeps abreast to happenings in Japanese politics. He was aware of the new controls over the policymaking process(outlined here) the DPJ is bringing in, which I was thinking of alerting them to, that may require a rethink of lobbying strategy. I also caught a glimpse of part of at least one of his theories of change when he discussed the need to first engage in "agenda setting" through the media to build awareness, and the pressure on lawmakers to respond. I'm looking forward to reading his answers to the questionnaire I sent him.

The boss keeps calling me Obama, before correcting himself and saying my actual surname. I suppose I could kinda take it as a compliment, if Obama wasn't the worst presn't EVAR in the whole history of the United States!!eleventy-one!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Policy Jiu-jitsu

The chief writes that Japan must thoroughly crack down on illegal immigrants, and that Japan must take a stance of zero tolerance towards them. His rationale is basically that in order to maintain support for the policy framework he is calling for, immigrants cannot be percieved as being connected to criminality or terrorism. In fact, I would argue that the words "immigrant" and "immigration" already to some extent evoke criminality and the risk of social unrest in the Japanese social context.

My instinct then is to point out that the policy the chief recommends, and the rhetoric he uses to sell it may end up unnecessarily bolstering negative social perceptions of undocumented migrants as a sort of dangerous, monolithic, criminal element; and suggest the focus should be on the demand for their labour that brings undocumented workers here, the companies that hire them, and adding complexity the concept of illegal immigration so it isn't simply imputed to desires to predate Japanese people.

That being said I wonder if it's that simple. Now I doubt that this is the chief's thinking - as he is unquestionably anti-illegal immigration and I daresay anti-illegal immigrant. (During his career in officialdom, a fair few of the undocumented migrants he came into contact with were gulity of crimes more serious than illegal entry into Japan) - but presumably such policy could be a way of aligning the practical interests of the Japanese minority groups that will grow if the doors to immigration are opened to the interests of "native" Japanese. Even if it plays on prejudiced thinking.

If what it takes to get the policies the chief believes will benefit Japanese and non-Japanese alike adopted and implemented is for significant numbers of Japanese people to believe that the people the new policies would bring in are "a different kind of foreigner" -nothing like the kind that risk causing social unrest, nor the criminal illegals- then I can't say I'm sure about whether or not I ought to recommend that that part of the paper be changed.

On the other hand it's precisely this kind of prejudiced, and in some cases racist thinking that can get in the way of policy adoption and implementation, even when it is recognised that the policy would benefit the vast majority of the population. For example all it might take is for the issue to be framed as, "our taxes going to pay for programmes for those people", for the policy to be derailed (just look at the U.S. War on Poverty, and the current rhetoric surrounding the health care debate). So perhaps it behooves us to point out thinking or language surrounding policy that is at odds with coexistence whenever we encounter it.

Friday, 2 October 2009

You know you're a nerd when you waste time by looking at stats

A fair bit of ink has been spilled on the division of gender roles in Japanese society and the ensuing effect on fertility rates (a dismal 1.21). Poor prospects for employment, especially after child-rearing, and a lack of support for mothers discourages many Japanese women from having children. The response of the Japanese government has been to provide incentives to keep women at home, pretty much the worst thing they could have done in my opinion. Furthermore, the politicians haven't really been putting their money where their mouths are. Japan has hitherto spent a mere 0.75 of their GDP on benefits for families. The new Hatoyama administration has said they'll do more. We'll wait and see. They did campaign on bread and butter issues (Seikatsu Dai-ichi) after all. However I think the majority of voters are worrying more about their pensions, and so I have my doubts that the fertility issue will get higher up on the agenda in practice.

Anyway, I've been a little idle, and in an attempt to do anything but work on my paper I decided to take a look at a little of the family policy of Sweden, which has a better Total Fertility Rate (1.91 2008 1.67 2009 est.), and spends about four times as much as Japan on family benefits. Check out the progressive, yet super complicated, parental leave provisions. I think though that the state's strict policies on gender equality might have more to do with shaping the effectiveness of this policy. Since in Japan I'd argue that it is generally accepted that men will earn more and are more likely to be able to work consistently over their lifetimes. Therefore I can't see men taking time off work to provide childcare for any significant time as flying over here. I believe it would be percieved as hurting earning potential, and many men dread the thought of stares from people who think the only reason they're out with the stroller is because they're somehow "damaged". Why else would they be out of work, or doing "women's" work?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Breaking Glass

My favourite version of this song. Caught it by pure chance while channel surfing my mother's digital TV service.

Monday, 28 September 2009

What the papers say


A fellow from a very serious newspaper here in Japan called the Nihon Keizai Shinbun (Nikkei), had a meeting with the chief and has just written an article basically calling on the new administration to get serious about bringing in people to support the economy and welfare system, now now. According to this reporter, he doesn't think that the DPJ will put much effort into getting such policy put together during these bad economic times, but expects that after Lower House elections next summer, they'll start making moves. He went on to say that he will be looking to get out an editorial calling for such action from the ruling party.

To the chief this is good news. He believes that the paper has a great deal of influence over the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Indeed, the article conveys a sense of urgency, lambasts the hitherto lack of serious discussion on immigration and immigrants, lays out the cold hard facts of population decline, with no nonsense about robots possibly filling in all of the labour shortages.

The article also touches on some of the barriers current policy puts up for some non-Japanese by describing the challenges facing partcipants of a programme aimed at filling shortages in nursing and care for the fast growing number of elderly people. Since last year Japan has been recruiting nurses and care workers, through agreements of economic cooperation with Indonesia. Under the conditions of their visas participants of the programme who wish to become nurses here must sit, within three years of their arrival, a national exam that is performed once every year. Those who wish to become care workers, must take a one-time test after completing three years of work experience. Should they fail to pass their respective exams within the time allowed, they have to return to their home countries.

The national exam for nurses and care workers is quite difficult for programme participants. It is quite unrealistic to expect Indonesians to be able to gain the level of Japanese necessary to pass these exams with only six months of Japanese study. The main barrier is acquiring Japanese as an academic language, a similar problem for other immigrant groups from countries that do not use a kanji system. So in reality the programme operates as nothing more than a revolving door system. The author seems to look unfavourably on this.

That being said, in my humble opinion, the article is not without its problems. The author interviews the vice minister of education who reacts to the issue of language by saying that they write the exam in Japanese because of concerns that providing seperate exams, written in the students' language would lead to problems in the workplace. The author then goes on the say that such concerns are natural because Brazilians of Japanese descent and participants in the Foreign Trainee programme very often had little chance to learn Japanese language and culture. He then links this trouble with the local populace involving things like rubbish disposal practices. He actually focuses on rubbish disposal as the most salient example.

While I understand that rubbish disposal is very important to some people over here. I can't help but feel that this is a very Japanese-centric statement, which glosses over (and perhaps minimises) the more problematic, structural barriers to social inclusion immigrants can face here. No word of the fact that the programmes, as constructed give little opportunity or incentive for learning Japanese.

In the case of the Foreign Trainee programme, while on the surface it appears to be a programme that transfers skills to people that they can use to benefit their home countries in reality many employers want cheap labour, and many trainees come for the more favourable salaries. Trainees can end up working long hours in awful conditions, but put up with it because of the money they hope to earn, and in many cases because there is little they can do about it.

In other cases, such as the factory work many South Americans of Japanese descent engage in, the belief is often that the stay in Japan will not be very long, and so they work as many hours as they can get. The nurses and care assistants from Indonesia get only six months of formal Japanese language education, and the Japanese govt only implemented programmes to assist some Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese descent in January. There has been little opportunity here to pick up Japanese. The Japanese Government was never keen on these people actually settling in Japan. Furthermore when one comes to earn money, or when one's job and daily life involves little contact with Japanese people, there is little incentive to learn Japanese. It's just not a priority, and policy did not give any impetus for people to reassess that priority.

Furthermore, Why is the choice presented as writing exams in Japanese, or in a foreign language? Why the false dilemma? And why didn't the author choose to validate this assertion by alluding to the trouble these people with little Japanese ability caused for local people? Again very Japanese-centric. Making policy with the premise of making sure newcomers don't cause trouble for Japanese people is not going to deliver anywhere near the best possible results.

Found the article in question reproduced on this website.

Friday, 25 September 2009


There's been a little something that I've found a little perplexing about the writings I've been working with thus far. Basically I've been a little concerned about the dearth of citations and sourced statistics. This is something quite alien to me, and a little disconcerting in light of the work I had to put in with regards to citations in order to get myself published.

My good mate, who lives here in Tokyo, made a very interesting observation about my impressions. He argued that it's merely indicative of the fact that Japan is a high context culture. The fact that my boss is who he is, a man with a long history in the bureaucratic officialdom, gives him a level of credibility that makes citations unecessary.  His message is viewed in its context. Who is giving the message? What organisation does this person represent? What is this person's academic credentials? He also said that a lot of business and academic practices, coming from this cultural background, fall short of international standards.

I've been mulling this over a bit, first I wonder if this is in fact an accurate analysis of the cause of my observations. Second I've thinking a little bit about what I can bring to the organisation. As far as I know, my name will on the work I've produced. As I need the exposure to make this internship a beneficial investment, it is certainly not in my interests to put something out there that isn't ready for prime-time. More imporantly though, and what I think I'll have to argue is that it isn't in my boss' best interests either. I believe that I am correct in my belief that without sources, the English version of the chief's book I've written will be viewed with some interest, but that it will lack the gravitas that the chief will need if he hopes to influence the appropriate movers and shakers in the English-speaking world.

This has also made me think again about my role in the organisation. Am I wearing my evaluator hat when I make this observation? I just being myself, an enthusiastic employee? It's probably a mix of factors (complicates the idea of being a detached non-participant evaluator). Considering my context (young, less experience, non-Japanese) would my arguments be taken seriously? Can I even be seen as a qualified advisor and evaluator here?


A journalist from the public broadcasting company brought her film crew along to interview the executive director. She's also interested in bringing her crew along to film the exec's upcoming presentation. So my work might just show up on national TV. Pretty chuffed about that. Feeling the pressure a bit too, want it to be received well. Making a decent presentation with powerpoint is harder than it looks. You don't want too much information in the slides, nor do you want too many slides. You'll overload and most likely bore the audience. Who really wants to spend time and/or money just to have someone read slides to them? I've also got a deadline coming up for a literature review, and I need to make time to get that done as well.


I've managed to complete the first draft of the presentation. My aim is simply to provide a basic framework of talking points for the chief to discuss. The ideas are in his book, so my thinking is that he only needs to have some anchors to keep him focused and on track. We'll see what he makes of it.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Knowing my role

What exactly is my role here?  I do not believe that I'm in a position to answer that question fully at this point in time. My brief was to contribute to the work of this organisation, at the same time as I evaluate their activities. Right now I’ve just been more formally recognised as a researcher in the institute. My business cards have been printed, I’m to write a presentation for the executive director, and I’ve been asked to help improve the office lady’s English. My identity here is rather fluid. I am not merely a non-participant observer many times because I’m working both in and on the organisation. I'm asked to complete tasks, directly solicited with questions, or comments about my appearance are made as openings for conversation. The office can be quite chatty, and I am encouraged to join in. Moreover everyone was very supportive during my earlier troubles.

It’s almost as if the fact that I’m here also to evaluate the organisation is on a complete backburner in people’s minds. There doesn’t seem to be any hesitation to tell me things. No announcements of news or tidbits of information intended to give me a favourable impression, or reach the ears of funders etc. Maybe this is a reflection of my status within the organisation. Perhaps their understanding  is that I am not connected to any actors whose approval or disapproval could affect their operations.What could I really do to them if I came away with an unfavourable impression of their work? 

At the same time at least one of my informants reacted to what might have been an incongruence with his perception of my identity. The tone of the conversation certainly felt more formal once he saw me wield my pen to make a note of his comments. Also I can’t help but think I am granted privileges due to my sex and my academic credentials, as the organisational structure I've perceived thus far tends to align with structural inequalities in wider Japanese society. However as I've yet to fathom exactly where I fit in within the organisational structure, I can't be sure that my sense is at all correct. As I am by far the youngest person working in the organisation, a total newcomer, and have no coercive or resource based power over the organisation; I wonder how the final product of my research will be received, and what benefit others, especially the executive director, derive from my presence.


Just about settled into my new place A very cosy ten square meters. As a food lover I am dismayed by the size of the kitchen, but that's just most Japanese apartments for you.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

First Post

About two weeks ago I started an internship at an organisation that has been working not only to change Japan's immigration policies, but the ways that immigration, immigrants, and mulitculturalism are conceptualised. The executive director of this org is one of the most controversial figures in Japan's bureaucratic circles. He has gained a reputation as a Javert of immigration for his strict enforcement of the law, earning himself a law suit for the alleged inhumane treatment of deportees during his tenure as an immigration chief. On the other hand he is considered a maverick for refusing to ignore the problem of human trafficking, and for his outspoken views on the treatment of Japanese ethnic Koreans. Such actions earned him death threats, and de facto demotions from politicians who were benefitting from human trafficking, and illegal immigrant labour.
The main work that I will be carrying out will be to analyse and evaluate his activities using a theory of change based methodology. I will work with all of the org's directors to construct their theories of change, compare and contrast them, compare them to the context to measure their likely effectiveness, and finally use the findings of my report to help them construct a new organisation-wide theory of change, if needs be. Or something like that.
At the moment, my role is "researcher". It's what it says on my business card. However up until now my efforts have been concentrated on completing a first draft translation of a collection of essays written about policies towards non-Japanese, which the executive director hopes will generate new ideas and debate outside of the spheres of the usual suspects -Japan hands, and those with an interest in the country. My current understanding of his thinking is that he wants to reach people who don’t have any particular interest in, or knowledge of the Japanese context, and people who don’t speak or read Japanese. Indeed he writes in the foreword of the updated booklet that the people he most wants to read the book are the future immigrants who will be building a multicultural Japan hand in hand with young native Japanese. He also believes – to my knowledge – that the dissemination of his ideas will lead to the generation of constructive criticism, increased knowledge, and greater support for his proposal, which I imagine he believes will prompt a tangible policy-based response from the powers that be.