Thursday, May 28, 2009

Impatient Film Buff

One of those things I fail to comprehend about Japan even this many years in is why so many Hollywood films open later in Japan than in other countries. I don't just mean later than English-speaking countries, either. When there is a film I want to see, it inevitably opens in Russia and Malaysia and Djibouti before it opens in Japan. The same translation issues apply, don't they?
Lately Japan has been getting international premieres in Tokyo, and most big action blockbusters open just a couple weeks later than in LA. If they can open some movies in a similar time frame, why not all?
There seems to be no rhyme or reason the the selection of movies. Harry Potter opened soon after the US release, which is understandable, but so did House of Wax (this is how desperate I am for English, I paid ¥1800 to see this steaming pile of shite). Star Trek (which I am going to see this weekend!) is only a month late, but Twilight opened 5 months after the US premiere.
My biggest disappointment is that all of the Chronicles of Narnia films open much later here. I loved the books, and I have loved the films, and I hate waiting. The first film was 5 months later than its US premiere, and Prince Caspian was 3 months later. The DVD was out in the US a week after each of the films opened over here. I prefer watching films in theatres, but when it's faster to import the DVD than to arrange childcare, I'll do that.
I've never figured out why films open so late here. I do have a conspiracy theory that involves Johnny's Jimusho and the protective Japanese film industry, but nothing concrete. Whatever the reason, I hope this practice stops. I'm impatient and I don't want to wait until 2011 for Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Good news for abused kids (and all families)

Today finally brings some happy news to the children of Japan. Only 20 years after signing the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, Japan has decided to consider suspending the parental rights of abusive parents.
I am not foolish enough to believe that this means the government will do this within the next year or 3, but just discussing the issue is a long-awaited step in the right direction.
The issue at hand is the feudalistic family register. The head of the family in Japan has all the power. Even if he lives away from the wife and children he abused, since they are in his family register, he gets payments from the local government for children's benefits (usually around 10 000 yen a child per month), as well as the recent 12 000 yen per person vote-buying scheme.
The family register has no place in modern society- I am not even really sure it had a place in history either. Now, I love records, and historical records like this would normally make my heart flutter with excitement. The problem is that the historical records are not normally kept in Japan. Japan's municipalities are notoriously crap with keeping records, and once everyone in a certain family register has died, there is not much chance of archiving. So if these aren't going to be kept as historical records, what's the reason for having them at all?
I think it's to have a legal way to discriminate against those who are different. One look at the family register, which is required for school registration, passport applications among other applications, and someone can tell if your family is the right kind or not. If you (or your parents) were not born in wedlock, it says the child is a "boy" or "girl," rather than "oldest boy," "oldest girl," "second boy" and so on. Which doesn't matter in the rest of the world, but Japan prides bullying those younger than you, so birth order (even for twins) is extremely important.
I'm getting somewhat off-topic (what's new?), but I think that the idea of suspending parental rights is a good one for the the reformation of the legal standing of people within a family.
Eventually, I hope that neglect is considered child abuse, and that children languishing in institutions with no ties but legal ones to their families are able to have their guardian's rights suspended so they can be available for adoption.
Adoption is a sensitive topic for me. We've been trying to adopt through the government (rather than through a religious agency) for 5 years, and had one adoption fall through. The reason that we can't adopt is because there are so few children available. Even though orphanages have hundreds of residents, there are very few whose parents or guardians actually give up their rights so that the child could be adopted by a loving family. Adoption outside the family is looked down upon in Japan, and living in an institution is considered better than living with another family that is not blood related. It's also about saving face. If another family can raise the child you gave up on, that makes it your fault rather than the child's, and no Japanese wants anyone to know when something is their fault. This makes me blind with rage. I really hope the government steps up to the plate and suspends the parental rights of people who have abandoned their kids as well as those who are being physically abused.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cashless in Japan

Japan is a cash society. It is slowly moving away from this, but it is still predominantly run on cash.
One of the reasons for this is the tax system. Like in France, small businesses prefer to receive cash so they don't have to log a purchase and therefore don't have to pay taxes. Almost all Japanese businesses run a loss every year to get out of paying taxes, and many salaried workers have a small business on the side, such as rice farming, in order to report a loss and get their taxes reduced on their regular salary.
It's not all about tax evasion, however. Now the problem is the lack of a coherent cashless system. It's not that there are no options in Japan for paying without cash, it's that there are too many.
Many stores and petrol stations have their own cards. You load the card with cash and then just use it for that- but they are never unified, so you end up with dozens of cards. The way the company makes a profit from this is those tiny balances you just can't use up, similar to North American gift cards. I just counted up the cards I have in my wallet (5) and the balances- and I have 7230 yen just waiting unused in my wallet. I am going to use that up over the next month, come hell or high water.
The good thing about some of these cards are their rewards. I've gotten free elecronics from BicCamera using this system, and a lot of batteries. The best for me, however, is Jusco's Waon card, with which I collect JAL airmiles. Between this and excessive use of my JAL credit card, I earned a free domestic flight last year and a free overseas flight this summer. My husband has enough on his card for a flight to Asia, and I hope we can take advantage of the recent 2-for-1 JAL mileage campaign to have a long weekend in Shanghai or Phuket this autumn.
My parents were highly amused with my ability to pay for things with my mobile phone when they visited. This has the potential to be very convenient, but for some reason it's been mucked up. A quick perusal of the Wikipedia page about the "mobile phone wallet" lists 37(!) different systems for paying with your mobile. You have to sign up for each. If you lose your mobile, you have to contact each company to cancel each system as well. This means it's actually a gigantic pain in the rear. What happened to the good old monopoly? I think Japan needs Bill Gates to come over and reform the cashless system.
Today I read about the ability to send money to someone's bank account using their mobile number. This sounds great, a very Japanese take on Paypal (which cannot yet be linked to Japanese bank accounts, although that might be coming in 2010 or 2011). It also helps with privacy issues and with avoiding having to go to the bank or ATM during the short hours they are open. I hope this doesn't get mucked up as well. I can just imagine that you could only send to someone on the same service provider as your mobile phone or something else ridiculous.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What do you believe?

Over the last couple of years I have become more and more sure in my atheism. I'm not a militant atheist by any means. I'm not going to convert theists. But I do enjoy my spiritual journey much more now that I am not feeling guilty for not believing what I was taught to believe.

I recently took one of those meaningless quizzes on the internet to figure out if I am as much of an atheist as I proclaim. Apparently I am not. The site recommends these as the religions that are most closely aligned to my beliefs.

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Secular Humanism (93%)
3. Theravada Buddhism (87%)
4. Neo-Pagan (86%)
5. Liberal Quakers (78%)

Am I surprised? A little. If I had ranked them myself in the first place I would have probably done it in the order of 1. Non-theist, 2. Secular Humanism, 3. Neo-Pagan, 4. Mahayana Buddhism, 5. Liberal Quaker.

Of course, being in Japan does give me a different perspective from the writers of this quiz. Our door-knockers are just as often from Buddhist sects as they are Mormons or Jehovahs Witnesses.

I do believe that it is nye on impossible to choose a religion by multiple choice. I believe in a lot of "probably but coulds." There is probably no afterlife, but our essence could be reincarnated. There is probably no reckoning, but karma could take care of evil to give cosmic balance. Just more questions on my spiritual journey. If I had all the answers it would be a damn boring journey, wouldn't it?

What do you believe? Take the quiz here.

So Long Life-Time Employment

The job losses at Canon, Toyota, and Sony last week are hitting hard. The mood around here is not happy- in fact, this is the bleakest I've seen it since I arrived. Japan's economy was a bit shite from the moment I arrived, but with no inflation whatsoever and a consumer price index that fell from its height of the bubble era, people could make do.
How do they make do now?
These companies basically prop up the little towns in which they are located. Outsourcing is a huge part of their succcess- so it's not just the thousands of temp workers who have been fired, but also the small parts business which are going bankrupt. So many of the little factories in my neighbourhood are going to go belly up in the next few weeks, just because one of these companies is cutting production in our town. The snowball effect isn't going to leave anyone unscathed. There's a little family-run alcohol shop by our house, which is owned by a couple the same age as my husband and I. They had been doing quite well- they are open at odd hours which is good for a 3-shift factory system, and our neighbourhood is peppered with workers from that big factory. On Sunday the husband told me he will have to decide whether or not to close by January 15th. That's how scared they are.
Honestly, I was shocked that Sony cut thousands of full-time regular (seishain) workers. Those of us who are seishain work hours that are too long without overtime pay for the main reason that our jobs are supposed to be safe as long as the company doesn't go bankrupt. That's not the case anymore. I hope my co-workers realize it's all a big fallacy and they might as well spend time with their families now. I doubt it though.
I, too, am scared. My husband's work depends on the local economy justifying his branch's existence. He won't get fired, but if his branch closes down he will be commuting for hours a day in a car we don't own (because the trains don't run at the time he has to go to work), and I won't stand for that. I have so few precious fucking hours with him I don't want to lose any more. But what can we do? I want him to try to find other work now, but he has this stupid sinking ship mentality.
What can anyone do? Sacrifice more Ichiban noodles to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I guess.

Attack of the Killer Foot Massager

Three people who used a foot massager for a neck massage died when their clothes got caught in the uncovered massager.
The manufacturer has recommended not taking the cover off of the massager.

Why not just recommend taking your clothes off first? Makes sense to me!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sending New Year's cards to online friends and enemies

December has rolled in again, and like most people in Japan, I am busy scribbling addresses and the same boring greeting to all my colleagues, bosses, and acquaintances in Japan. Things have gotten easier over the years. You can buy custom printed cards and even use your computer to print the addresses on (if you can figure out how, which I decidedly cannot).

Mixi, the myspace of Japan, has figured out how to make things easier on you if you want to send new year greetings to your online friends- by introducing an SNS greeting card service. The apparent plus point is that you can send this but still be anonymous. If your mixi screen name is kawaii-kitty-chan-daisuki, that's the name that will be on your greetings. No fussing about with learning the real names or addresses of the people you flirt with online.

Maybe it's just me, but I find this creepy. My foyers into the Mixi world haven't been very interesting, so I might be biased. I do find that Japanese web forums, all stemming from the totally anonymous 2-ch, lack the community feeling that most English-language forums have. I'm also scared that anyone I meet on Mixi might end up inviting me to a suicide pact forum, but that's probably just irrational. Probably.

If I like someone online so much that I want to send them a new year's greeting, why wouldn't I already know their name and where they live, or at least have the balls to ask them for that information? I guess it would stop pervs from getting the addresses of 12 year old girls, but there should be something in place to stop this happening long before these pervs are getting close enough to send them cards.

Who do I want to send anonymous greetings to? Certainly not people I like. Prime Minister Asshole is on the list, as are most goverment ministers. Bullies I have worked with in the past and the nutjobs who commit crazy crimes around Japan are at the top of my list. They wouldn't be the normal greetings, which are basically just a plea for people not to hate you (thank you for everything last year, please like me next year too). It would be more along the lines of, I hope you get attacked by this:

Or, since 2009 is the Year of the Bull/Cow

I like this idea better and better.