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.