Monday, August 31, 2015

Ancestor Reflections

Ocho na Manera

Put i estaba yu' giya Hapon gi este na mes, ti meggai na tinige'-hu gi este na blog.

Para unu na mes tinane' yu' nu asunto Hapon yan i fina'pos guihi, ya ti hu gof tatityi hafa masusesedi giya Guahan yan gi Estados Unidos.

Lao pa'go matto yu' tatte para Guahan, ya achokka' bai hu konsigi tumuge' put i inaligao-hu giya Hapon, bai hu tutuhun kumukubre ta'lo otro na asunto, put hemplo i botasion para i presidente gi sanlagu.

Desde humalom Si Trump gi i inacha'igi manatlibas todu. Esta kalang manracist i meggaina na taotao gi patidan Republican, lao manlasinehyo siha ni sinangan Trump. Ya mas oppan yan annok ayu na chinatli'e'.

Estague ocho na puntan para taotao Asian (lao sina lokkue' Pacific Islanders) ni' taimanu sina ta nega (kontra) ayu na klasen kandidatu siha.


Here's 8 Ways Asian Americans Can Stand Up to Racist Presidential Candidates
August 26, 205

Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Donald Trump this week unleashed a string of racist insults against Asian Americans and Latinos.

Trump pulled a “ching chong” at a rally and earlier called for the deportation of all undocumented immigrants. He then threw out a renowned Latino journalist from a press conference just for asking questions. Bush said “anchor babies” was an immigration problem caused by the “Asian people” and then said today he would “quadruple down” on his position.

UPDATE (8/29/2015): And now Carly Fiorina.

We just got a terrific preview of how a President Bush III and President Trump would treat Americans who are not White. In a more perfect Union, these idiots would have been forced to end their candidacies by Americans of all colors who believe that our President should at least be a decent person.

What to do? For one thing, forget about apologies. Genuine contrition by candidates and elected officials can only be proven by actions. In the context of a high stakes political battle, a well-crafted apology is often used simply to counter a news cycle, and not reflect the person’s true feelings.
Here’s eight suggestions on what Asian Americans can do to hold Bush and Trump accountable.
  1. Strengthen alliances with Latinos and other people of color. These candidates don’t discriminate when it comes to racism against Americans. They’re equal opportunity racists. Asian Americans are in the same boat as Latinos. Bush and Trump see us as The Other, not as Americans. Let’s stand up for our Brown and Black brothers and sisters, because we’re all in this together. Don’t know where to start? Here you go: and #BlackLivesMatter.
  2. Find pressure points and make them hurt. Asian Americans may not have the largest numbers, but we have buying power. Let’s identify a Trump business that depends on Asian Americans and boycott the hell out of it. With Bush, we can comb through his FEC records and identify his Asian American donors to contact and ask them to hold their candidate accountable.
  3. Ask our organizations to step up. Many Asian American groups quickly responded to the racist insults. Other organizations have yet to respond. Understandably, many 501(c)(3) organizations are leery about weighing in to political situations because of IRS restrictions. But certain groups, like the Asian American Journalists Association, have watchdog roles that would be helpful in this situation. Let’s nudge them into action. UPDATE (8/29/2015): AAJA issued this. 
  4. Join in ongoing actions. The most notable response to this situation has been a hashtag campaign by Jason Fong, a 15-year-old student in the Los Angeles area. #MyAsianAmericanStory was started on Monday evening and has been used more than 6,500 times.
  5. Share your voice in the media. Write a letter to the editor, or an opinion piece. Write a blog post. Throw something up on social media. Staying silent is the worst thing we can do. Search for your favorite ethnic media or mainstream media outlet; most have easily accessible information on how to submit letters or opinion pieces.
  6. Ask the political parties and other candidates to weigh in. The Republican and Democratic parties seem to be watching this from the sidelines. If they oppose racist rhetoric in campaigns, we need to hear from them. We need the other candidates to demonstrate their opposition as well. Here’s contact info for the Democratic and Republican parties and a website listing the various presidential campaigns.
  7. Share this blog post. This one is pretty easy, right? The share buttons are below!
  8. Do the one real and tangible action to influence this election. If you’re not registered to vote or if you don’t vote, you’re giving up the one essential tool you have to ensure that we elect a President who can advance this country by caring about all Americans, not just some. Register today.
Let’s elect a President who is, well, not racist.

We’d love to hear your ideas on how we can respond to these racist candidates. Share your comments on Facebook or email

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CAPA21 ( is an Asian American Pacific Islander political action committee that invests in progressive candidates, AAPI field operations, and projects to improve AAPI participation in the political process.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #11: The Miracle Tree

On my trip to Tohoku, the Popoki Peace project visited several towns that were affected by the tsunami. In each there were markers of the tragedy, stories of survival and also worries about what the future might bring. Along the roads, each town would have a markers identifying the point at which you were entering the tsunami inundation area and exiting it. Because of this, even if towns and roads are rebuilt, you can still imagine how far the waters and the destruction reached as you drive up the coast. Each town also had markers on street corners, on the side of buildings, power poles and street lights indicating how far away that point was far high ground where someone might be safe from a future tsunami.

Each town has markers not only of the destruction, but also of their survival and their endurance. They are usually remnants of life before.  A building that did not fall. A particular survivor with a powerful tale to tell. In Rikuzentakata, there was a tree. Around the town it was referred to as different things, but most of them circled around it being “the miracle tree of hope.”

The coastal plain in Rikuzentakata was once covered with some 70,000 pine trees, all planted as a deterrent from tsunamis. On the afternoon of March 11, 2011 when the waves hit, the trees didn’t provide much resistance or protection from the waves which were close to 50 feet high. The waves plowed down the trees as well as most buildings in the area killing an estimated 1,7000 people.

 After the waters have receded though, amidst the rubble and ruins, the residents were surprised and overjoyed to find a single tree still standing. It became a symbol of the town and rebuilding. In a small museum near the tree, right in the center of a construction area, the tree was featured in posters and brochures. This wasn’t a museum meant for the tree per se, but a place to describe the scope of the destruction from the tsunami and the plans by the local and national government to clean things up and keep the community safe.

It was a museum designed to show the Japanese people that their government is taking care of things and spending their money wisely. Nearby there was a small store that featured all sorts of tree related souvenirs. There were postcards, posters, t-shirts, bags, even gloves and socks which prominently featured images of the trees. Once a new sea wall is built and the ground level raised, a memorial park will be built in the area.

After seeing so much of this tree in pictures and souvenirs I was eager to see it with my own eyes. The tree, the museum and the gift shop are all located in the center of a huge construction area. As we drove into the middle of it, I felt as if we had entered some other dimension. Massive machinery, towering conveyer belts and behemoth like earth-moving equipment surrounded us in a steel city. They stretched out across the landscape giving the impression of a steel spider web. Behind the trucks, the walls, the gates, the mountains of dirt, far in the distance along the shore I caught a glimpse the miracle tree. The reconstruction obscured it, but I could still make out its outline against the hazy overcast sky.

This wasn’t the real tree mind you. The real tree did survive the tsunami but died from its roots being exposed to too much salt water. It was preserved however, with a metal skeleton being inserted into its trunks and artificial branches and leaves attached. In June 2013 the "enhanced" tree was returned to its original location, standing watch over the shoreline. Providing both hope for the rebuilding efforts and safety against future disasters.

As much as I wanted to feel and believe the type of this miracle tree of hope, the web of construction engulfing it and hiding it made it difficult. As we visited different towns along the coast, the emissaries of the greedy construction state were everywhere. The slow work of building walls, raising the ground level also caused delays in terms of rebuilding and relocating, leading to some families and individuals living in temporary housing for close to five years. As much as I felt hope when I saw the fading outline of the tree in the distance, the steel and machines that stood between myself and that tree nonetheless reminded me there is far more than just hope here. Was so much of this construction more terrible disaster capitalism? More busy work, the larger and more expensive the better, to make it seem like something is being done, when little is really being accomplished? More human hubris? More evidence of the human ability to ignore something and then hope that it will just disappear?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #10: A Shrine of Forgetting

Yesterday I spent the day at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. It was a very surreal experience. On the surface it appears like many other shrines or places or worship or reflection in Japan, but it was an incredibly militaristic space. It featured museums dedicated to a whitewashed military history of Japan, thousands of letters from soldiers writing home about how happy they were to die for Japan, and statues for the courage of war widows. The shrine is meant to serve the more than two million souls who have died as soldiers for Japan over the past century, so the militaristic and warmongering tone makes sense, but given what I know of Japanese history it was still shocking to see the way things were twisted in order to create a sense of sinlessness and honor in the midst of a very blatantly imperial period of their history. The shrine reminded me that if you win your wars, you can always explain and justify the deaths involved as heroic, as necessary, as part of a teleology of greatness. But if you lose, more effort is required in order to give those deaths social meaning that doesn't call into question the nation or the government. 

It was insane walking through room after room where Japan's imperials wars were transformed in text and image to wars of self-defense, where Japan was just protecting itself from Russia, from Korea, from China, from the US, perhaps even from Chamorros in the Marianas.

 Before leaving the shrine I wrote the following haiku: 
A priest is sweeping
At a shrine of forgetting
The dust hits my feet.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about this shrine in the coming weeks. But in the meantime here are some articles about it in relation to recent Japanese politics and also memory dynamics.


 "Japan's Shinzo Abe angers neighbors and US by visiting war dead shrine"
Justin McCurry
The Guardian/UK
December 26, 2013

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has made a visit to a controversial war shrine in Tokyo, prompting a furious response from China and concern in the US.

Abe, who became prime minister for a second time exactly a year ago, is the first Japanese leader to have visited the Yasu­kuni shrine since Junichiro Koizumi just over seven years ago.

A conservative who has spoken of the need for Japan to end its “masochistic” feelings of guilt over its wartime conduct in Asia, Abe had voiced regret that he did not make the pilgrimage during his first, year-long term as prime minister from September 2006.
Thursday’s visit sparked predictable outrage from China and South Korea, which view Yasukuni as a potent symbol of Japanese militarism, and visits by politicians as evidence that Japan has yet to atone for atrocities committed in parts of China and on the Korean peninsula in the first half of the 20th century.
“The Chinese government expresses strong indignation at the Japanese leader’s trampling on the feelings of the people of China and the other war victim nations, and the open challenge to historical justice … and expresses strong protest and serious condemnation to Japan,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Qin Gang, a foreign ministry spokesman, added: “We strongly protest and seriously condemn the Japanese leader’s acts. The essence of Japanese leaders’ visits to Yasukuni shrine is to beautify Japan’s history of militaristic aggression and colonial rule.”
China later stepped up its response by summoning Japan’s ambassador in Beijing, Masato Kitera, to lodge a “strong protest”.
South Korea’s culture minister, Yoo Jin-ryong, said Abe’s visit was “an anachronistic act” that “hurts not only the ties between South Korea and Japan, but also fundamentally damages the stability and co-operation in north-east Asia.”

“We can’t help deploring and expressing anger at the prime minister’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine … despite concerns and warnings by neighbouring countries,” Yoo said.
Yasukuni honours about 2.5 million Japanese who have died in wars since the late 19th century, including several wartime leaders convicted as class-A war criminals by the allied tribunal.
Abe insisted he had “no intention” of hurting the feelings of the Chinese or South Korean people.
“There is criticism based on the misconception that this is an act to worship war criminals, but I visited Yasukuni shrine to report to the souls of the war dead on the progress made this year and to convey my resolve that people never again suffer the horrors of war,” he told reporters.
“I prayed to pay respect for the war dead who sacrificed their precious lives and hoped that they rest in peace. Unfortunately, a Yasukuni visit has largely turned into a political and diplomatic issue. I have no intention to neglect the feelings of the people in China and South Korea.”
He attempted to strike a conciliatory note, saying his pilgrimage had been made in light of his “severe remorse” over the past, although he did not make specific mention of Japan’s brutal occupation of parts of China and the Korean peninsula.
“Japan must never wage war again,” he said. “This is my conviction based on severe remorse for the past.”
Abe would have expected strong words from Beijing and Seoul, but not the US’s rare public expression of concern.
In a statement carried on the website of the US embassy in Tokyo, the state department said: “Japan is a valued ally and friend. Nevertheless, the United States is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbours.

“The United States hopes that both Japan and its neighbours will find constructive ways to deal with sensitive issues from the past, to improve their relations, and to promote co-operation in advancing our shared goals of regional peace and stability. We take note of [Abe’s] expression of remorse for the past and his reaffirmation of Japan’s commitment to peace.”
Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, later explained Abe’s reasoning for the visit in a telephone conversation with Washington’s new ambassador to Tokyo, Caroline Kennedy.
The visit is expected to inflict more damage on Japan’s ties with its neighbours. Japan is embroiled in a long-running standoff with China over a group of islands in a strategically important area of the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, and with South Korea over sovereignty of the Takeshima islands, known as Dokdo by South Koreans.
Some analysts believe Abe’s visit will add to concern overseas that he is a nationalist with revisionist views of history. “[Abe] probably thinks that it’s OK, that he’s relatively popular and it’s a matter of conviction,” said Koichi Nakano, a professor of politics at Sophia University in Tokyo. “But everyone knew with Koizumi … he wasn’t a revisionist nationalist. But with Abe, that is precisely the question some people were asking. Now we know the answer.”


Agence France-PresseApril 22, 2015

Japanese parliamentarians on Wednesday paid homage at the Yasukuni war shrine, risking fresh anger from Asian neighbours that fell victim to the country’s aggression last century.
A cross-section of MPs, 106 in all, paid their respects at the shrine in central Tokyo as part of the spring festival. However, no cabinet ministers were seen among them.
The shrine honours those who fought and died for Japan, but also includes a number of senior military and political figures convicted of the most serious war crimes.
“I feel very grateful anew that we have maintained peace for 70 years,” said Hidehisa Otsuji, a member of the conservative ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), who lead the group. “The souls (of the dead) must also be pleased with this.”
China and South Korea see the shrine as a symbol of what they say is Japan’s unwillingness to repent for its military misdeeds. The US tries to discourage visits, which it views as unnecessarily provocative.
Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, drew sharp rebukes from China and South Korea on Tuesday after sending a symbolic offering to the shrine. He has not visited since December 2013.
He has also said he may not repeat a formal apology for his country’s second world war transgressions in a forthcoming statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.
Japan and China are reported to be arranging a meeting between Abe and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in Indonesia where the two men are attending an Asia-Africa conference. This could take place as early as Wednesday evening. The two men met briefly at the Apec summit in China last year, but have never held a formal sit-down meeting.

On Tuesday, Hong Lei, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, cautioned Abe over the symbolic importance of this year’s anniversary.
“The Japanese leader must take concrete steps to honour (the country’s) commitment of looking squarely at and reflecting upon its history of aggression, properly handle relevant issues, and win the trust of its neighbours and the international community,” Hong said.
Abe suggested in a TV interview broadcast late on Monday that provided he says he agrees with previous statements: “I don’t think I need to write it again.”
Beijing and Seoul argue that Tokyo has not properly atoned for its war crimes and insist that a landmark 1995 statement expressing deep remorse with an apology – which was repeated in 2005 – must stand.


Akie Abe pays visit to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine
by Reiji Yoshida
The Japan Times
May 22, 2015

Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, indicated Thursday that she had recently visited war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, a move that may rile China, South Korea and possibly the United States.
She posted two undated but recent photos of the visit on Facebook. In one, she stands in front of the shrine’s main structure, and in the other she poses with the Yushukan war museum in the background. Exhibits at the Yushukan, a facility adjacent to the shrine, are often criticized for glorifying Japan’s wars in the 1930s and 40s.
“I paid a visit to Yasukuni Shrine for the first time in a long time. And I also entered Yushukan,” she wrote in a comment attached to the photos. Yushukan displays many mementos of dead Japanese soldiers, and other war-related items.
“I feel pain in my chest when I read letters and farewell notes (of soldiers) left for their families,” she wrote.
“I’m really thankful for being able to live in a peaceful, rich Japan, and again have come to feel I should do what I can do for world peace,” she wrote.
Yasukuni enshrines the souls of 2.47 million Japanese soldiers who “dedicated their lives to the state.” The enshrined, however, also include Japanese Class-A war criminals from World War II, most notably wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo.
The Shinto facility is thus often regarded as a symbol of Japan’s militarism before and during World War II. Visits by top Japanese politicians, in particular the prime minister, have been criticized by China, South Korea and even the United States.
Shinzo Abe visited the shrine in December 2013, drawing condemnation both at home and abroad.
Abe insisted he was visiting as a private citizen, but signed the flowers he laid there as “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.”
His visit to the shrine, however, Which he said was to pay his respects to the soldiers who died for the state and not to glorify Japan’s wartime deeds, damaged Japan’s ties with China and South Korea, ties that have only recently begun showing signs of improving.
Chinese President Xi Jinping held a brief summit meeting with Shinzo Abe in November and April.
The Japanese leader, however, has been unable to meet South Korean President Park Geun-hye in a formal one-on-one meeting.


 Rewriting History at the Yasukuni Shrine
The European
The Yasukuni Shrine memorializes Japan’s war dead, including WWII-era war criminals. For this reason, it has always been a controversial memory site. A much greater problem than the shrine itself, however, is the revisionist museum attached to it.

On 29 April, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed a joint session of the Senate and House during his official visit to the United States, the first Japanese Prime Minister to do so. A major distraction in the lead-up to his speech was a renewed debate on how Mr Abe would handle the issue of Japanese culpability and atonement for its role during World War II. China and South Korea continue to press Japan to apologise. South Korea also highlights Japan’s role as a colonial power and reminds the world of “comfort women”, a euphemism for sex slaves.
Back in Japan, Mr Abe’s ambivalence is supported by influential nationalists in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party who feel that China and South Korea are manipulating the history issue for cynical political advantage. They want to undermine Japan’s regional and global standing and seek perpetual apologies from Japan. In Washington, Mr Abe handled the issue delicately by visiting the World War II Memorial and mentioning his “remorse” and “repentance” in his congressional address. But the issue will not die.
Memorializing War Criminals
Yasukuni Shrine, which honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead since the Meiji Restoration, has emerged as a litmus test. It is seen by many as a reminder of Japanese World War II militarism. Although Mr Abe will not visit Yasukuni Shrine while he is Prime Minister, he will continue to send a ritual offering and senior LDP members will pay their respects on ritual holidays. China, South Korea and Taiwan will criticize these moves.
The criticism of visits follows the enshrining of 14 Class A war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine in 1978, without any public consultations. Japan’s emperors have not visited the shrine since then. The enshrining and the criticisms of Japan’s neighbours have reinforced the controversial image of Yasukuni Shrine.
I visited the shrine on a recent visit to Tokyo in an effort to understand the sentiments of Japanese and Chinese protagonists. The shrine had an air of tranquility, with older Japanese paying their respect to their ancestors as “guardian deities”. I felt that it was understandable that the Japanese people would commemorate the memories of their war dead.
A Revisionist View
The real problem is the museum attached to the shrine. It presents a revisionist view of World War II which draws attention to the perspective of the Shinto leadership responsible for the shrine.
As a Southeast Asian, I was shocked by the honoured place at the entrance to the museum of the original locomotive used during the opening of the Siam/Burma railway in 1943. The building of the “death railway” resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 Southeast Asian forced labourers and 13,000 allied prisoners-of-war. There was no indication of the lives lost or the privations of the conscripted work force. The beautifully reconstructed Zero fighter and heavy artillery located near the locomotive paled in comparison.
Although there were a wide variety of displays, the highlight of the museum was the section on kamikaze suicide attacks. There were photographs of successful kamikaze air attacks on naval vessels. I should have been prepared for this as a statue honouring kamikaze suicide pilots was in the well-tended garden just before the entrance to the museum. But there was more to follow.
There were photos of those who had undertaken these attacks, including poems and letters they had written before they embarked on these acts. There was a display of a kamikaze mini-submarine torpedo and a piloted kamikaze glider with three rocket engines that fired for nine seconds each which would be released from an aircraft.
As someone familiar with the eulogies to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria suicide terrorists, I found this paean to Japanese suicide pilots a chilling reminder.
The stark revisionist message was dramatized in a 50 minute documentary film which highlighted that Japan was forced to go to war by the American oil embargo imposed to support American demands that Japan withdraw from China. The film denies the Nanjing Massacre and criticises the “wrongful” convictions in the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.
Japanese Role Not Recognised
International attention has focused on the visits to the shrine by Japanese leaders. The displays in the museum are really more worrying. It reminds us of the lack of recognition in Japan of the Japanese role in World War II.
Stridently nationalistic views of history in China and Japan make peace-making between these Asian powers more difficult. This is the difference between East and Southeast Asia. Southeast Asians remember the past, face the present and hope for a better future. They are able to reconcile with Japan, just as they have reconciled with China, which has never acknowledged its role in supporting insurgencies in Southeast Asia after World War II. By contrast, historical memories shape Chinese and Japanese perceptions, preventing the building of bridges and risking future conflict.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #9: Signs

I may have only been in Japan for a little less than a month, but it seems to me that Japan enjoys a heavy emphasis on instructions, signs and communicating properly. Perhaps because I can't read most of these signs as they are in Japanese and so because of that they are more visible and noticeable to me, whereas for others they simply fade into the background like visual cicadas. When walking by a construction site, signs are everywhere warning people to be safe, to not enter and even to apologize profusely for the inconvenience. Everywhere you go helpful and usually colorful mascots offer everything from advice, advertising and even just cheery, "hang in there!" messages. I'm used to walking into stores where I exchange less than ten words with a clerk, but here each employee is their own tenderu techa and every purchase offers their their own rosary or two about what I am buying, the money I am giving them and the importance of having a good day as I leave. Even in the bathroom, Japan seems to have turned my life into a joke from the film Demolition Man. When Sylvester Stallone is woken up after a lifetime in cryosleep he is very disorientated and unfamiliar with the new world and new time. One things which confuses him is the three sea shells in the restrooms, which are where toilet paper is supposed to be. When he discusses this with others they laugh at him because for them, whatever those shells do is normal and so it is ludicrous to them that someone wouldn't be able to understand their purpose. For me, using the bathroom in Japan is sometimes like that, except rather than three simple seashells, toilets contain master thesis size descriptions of all the marvels that this machine can do. I can't read Japanese but I imagine that some toilets can do my taxes for me if I can just figure out which button to press.

I've become accustomed to this type of information overload as I have traveled throughout Japan, which is why when it disappears or is lacking around something, I notice. When there is a gap and suddenly this social obsession with communication breaks down and vanishes, it makes me pause and it makes me wonder why? The silence for me is, to borrow an already overused phrase, deafening. The lack itself is a huge sign. The lack of a structure to give this a clear and distinct meaning can be troubling.

When I was in Fukushima I encountered some massive gaps in the social structure. Where huge monuments to a terrifying problem in contemporary Japan, stood tall with little to no meaning attached to them. With few signs explaining what they were, what was happening. It was as if the government or corporations hoped that if they attached no specific signs to these edifices then no one could or would see them. They would simply bleed into the landscape, disappearing into the normal visual ebb and flow.

In Fukushima City, as with much of the surrounding areas which were contaminated by the radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, there are ongoing cleanup efforts. There is a brightly colored and very welcoming office in Fukushima City where you can pick up flyers and posters and other information about how this cleanup effort is going. There are even TV shows that are designed to help people feel better about their prefecture by focusing on how things are improving and getting better, so that they do not get too caught up in their concerns about contamination or increased radiation at their schools, in their homes or in the fields. As I wrote in my previous post 'Rich Dirty Secrets" there are huge earth-moving projects throughout the disaster affected areas. In Fukushima City, the earth in yards, in parks, around schools is being dug up, put in large plastic bags and then either being buried back into the ground or taken to temporary storage areas, where they are piled high in rows, covered by green tarps and surrounded by fences or walls.

Over the course of a single day I was taken to visit four such sites of temporary dirt storage. Three of them were on the outskirts of the city, while one was right in the middle, close to a park where children play and dance in a large water fountain. The radiation of the dirt in the bags in high, but by covering it and surrounding it by other dirt or sandbags the government claims that it is safe. While standing at the temporary storage center in the downtown area, I stood above it near a set of apartments, and watched the scene below. People walked along the walls without any concern for what lay behind them. People stopped and bought drinks from vending machines that were against the wall. A restaurant across the didn't seem to have much trouble getting lunch customers. While there I learned that a week before a film crew had talked to children who play or walk in the area to ask them if they knew what was behind the wall, inside of the towering green mounds. The children stated they had no idea what was in there, and figured it was just some construction equipment or a construction site.

It was then that I first realized there was something different about these temporary storage locations. Unlike the world around them covered in signs indicated what you could and couldn't do and what was safe or unsafe, these locations seemed to have very little signage. There were euphemistic signs indicating that this was a dirt storage area, but nowhere were their signs that mentioned why the dirt was being stored there and if it was dangerous. As expected terms like contamination and radiation were scarcely used at all the sites I visited. But surprisingly numbers, radiation readings were quietly and anonymously placed on walls. Small slips of paper, thrown onto the walls and fences almost as an afterthought. They were the only clues as to why the dirt was there and the potential danger the dirt or nuclear power represented to Japanese people today.

For the storage units that were away from Fukushima City the signage was even more quietly disturbing. In those areas stock construction signs warning people not to enter an area were used or even signs featuring just the letters for don't enter. These small warnings appeared in front of huge mounds of contaminated dirt, each of which with their own markings on them indicating how much radiation is emitting from the bags. It was incredible to see these areas, natural landscapes, beautiful forests and wooded areas, where the earth had been gutted to create these storage facilities, and then no information or explanation as to what was being stored there.

It was a testament to the Japanese government's approach to dealing with the issue of nuclear power and its potential dangers. Simply don't talk about it, don't mention it, find ways to indicate its existence or effect in the most minute and harmless way possible, and then people won't worry about it. And even if you are digging up every yard and park in a city, if you eliminate as many of the signs as possible, people will eventually find a way to integrate it into their daily cognitive landscape and either pretend it doesn't exist or that is doesn't really matter.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #8: Rich Dirty Secrets

During this past research trip to the Tohoku Region of Japan with the Popoki Peace Project there was one visual constant as we traveled the most significantly affected disaster areas. In Chamorro, odda', in English, dirt.

On March 11, 2011 a huge earthquake struck Japan and caused a meltdown in the Fukushima nuclear power plant, causing radiation to blanket areas even one hundred miles away. Although the areas of compulsory evacuation were much smaller than the areas that were significantly affected, you could still see signs, even four years later of how the radiation have infected the land and threatened populations.  Some areas the Japanese government says it will try to move people back to within the next few months, others a few years, other areas may take decades or centuries before they are "safe" for human habitation again. The earthquake also led to a huge tsunami which battered hundreds of miles of coast and destroyed the coastal areas of several cities and towns. Tens of thousands more were displaced and some still live in temporary housing, as prefectural and national governments go about building sea walls and raising the sea level of their towns.

As our research trip wove in and out of these communities, who in the minds of nearly everyone are clearly different and dissimilar with the exception of both having tragic experiences originating from the same natural disaster and fact of their geography. Even the activists and refugees that we spoke to didn't really see much of a connection between their experience other than that they were terrible and that they experienced hardship. In the landscape of trauma in Tohoku, there are hierarchies, there are opposing ways of seeing the hardship of one and the hardship of another. Those who received mandatory, forced evacuation orders from the government due to radiation contamination receive a sizable amount of compensation for having to leave their homes. Those who were displaced or forcibly evacuated because of tsunami destruction receive far less compensation and some have been living in small, partially subsidized temporary housing for four years.

But the one way in which these tragedies continue to be connected, is in the way that they have created a huge windfall for construction companies. As part of the "cleanup" of Fukushima prefecture, large chunks of earth around homes, in parks, beneath playgrounds, baseball fields and schools are being excavated, stored in large plastic bags and then either reburied in the ground or taken to temporary storage areas. These areas are considered to be decontaminated because the radiation exposure is much lower from the soil with the plastic covering and also the soil that is around it and covering it once it is reburied. Around Fukushima city, we visited several of the temporary storage sites where giant black trash bags are piled up several rows high. All the signs around these storage facilities say they are only for temporary use. We visited the oldest of these sites, started just a few months after the Fukushima disaster. It has long been closed and no new dirt is added to the pile. A huge concrete wall has been built around the facility, which was once a baseball field. You can still see the batting cage peeking through the fences. As my friend Ronni Alexander, a professor at Kobe University, and my guide and translator for the trip joke, "nothing says temporary like tall, thick concrete walls."

This doesn't even tough on the earth-moving that is taking place in the far more contaminated areas. Huge areas, such as farmlands are being excavated and their earthy contents shoved into giant trash bags. They are then stacked and lined along the road or along the fields, like nuclear gargoyles, standing watch over the destruction they have wrought.

In the coastal areas, the earth-moving is far more prominent. There it is not just a matter of moving earth, but also building. The depopulation from the tsunami, due to the damage, death but also displacement has led to a huge swell in the population due to construction workers and earth-moving equipment. From the hill above the local government office in Otsuchi, you could barely see any people on the coastal plain below. But what you could see where dozens of dump trucks and excavators. The day I visited there, the workers and their machines had the day off because of the Obon holiday. The vehicles were parked in rows, resting, but making clear it seemed, their dominance over the earth around them. These machines could make a conquistador's claim to the village they work in. The land that they bring in comes from other areas in Japan, some from places that I will write about later. It is being piled up to increase the sea level of the town in preparation for any future tsunamis. The machine could claim this new territory as theirs, when you stand in what was the middle of Otsuchi, there doesn't seem to be many people around to challenge them.

But this is only part of the construction boom, there will be walls. Huge concrete seawalls, some of them more than 40 feet high in different towns. Tragedy and opportunity, for some companies this disaster is a huge chance for profits.

This is my first real introduction to what some call doken kokka or the cement industrial complex, the collection of corporations in Japan that hold a great deal of economic and political power. When I return to Guam I'm looking forward to getting a copy of the book Dogs and Demons by Alex Kerr which discusses among other things this industry and its effect on the environment, the politics and everyday life in Japan.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #7: Tsunami in Words

Last week I met with Yoko Ito, a resident of Otsuchi. She lost family members, her house and her coffee shop in the March 11, 2011 disaster. She herself was fortunate as she was visiting her mother at the time the tidal wave smashed into her town. She returned hours later via icy backroads to witness the destruction the wave had brought. She took pictures of what she saw and later combined them with images of Otsuchi before the catastrophe to create a photo book to document the tragedy of 3/11 in her town.

With the Popoki Peace Project I spent the morning with Ito-san, driving around Kamaishi and Otsuchi looking for signs of that disaster. Even four years later, we found them everywhere. Marks that indicated the highest point of the tsunami wave on buildings. Even signs inside of buildings that remind those who see them that the water level reached this point within the building before it receded. Even the lack of signs, were themselves landscapes of haunting beacons. The absence of houses and stores in Otsuchi, the town now just a wide flat expanse, with small clusters of temporary buildings and huge mounds of dirt meant for rising the sea level prior to any rebuilding taking place. It seems that in Otsuchi there are more dump trucks and excavators than human beings.

By this point all the mangled metal, concrete and bodies has long been cleared away. Although a further reminder of that violent day is the fact that across the coast of the Tohoku region hundreds of people still remain officially missing and some bodies cannot be identified as their is a lack of living family members in order to run DNA tests. But Ito-san's book, her photos and her stories keep alive images of what was there before and what was lost. Her eyes were alight as she would speak, imploring us and the rest of the world to think about the example of Otsuchi, to learn from it. To remember what this force of nature is, to never let human hubris fool us into thinking we are ever completely safe.

She punctuated this point by asking her several times to consider what a tsunami is. Most people think of the images and videos that were made on 3/11, where mountains of water slowly push aside fleets of cars and ships and knock down building after building. She showed us one such video, a film of the tsunami slowly tearing down building after building in her beloved town. The video was filmed in the cemetery close to where we were standing, looking down upon the now largely empty plain below.

She cautioned us as we watched and talked about the wave. She said that it is easy for people to see something like this and think of it has something that is not so bad. The damage is bad and it makes us shriek and cry when we see it, but the ocean itself doesn't look so bad. It is something that you could easily survive. She said that some younger people have told her that they are good at swimming and they would be able to navigate the waves and stay safe. She shook her head when she recounted this, marveling at how problematic a notion that was. She reminded us all that when we see images and videos of tsunamis we are almost always looking at them from above. We see them primarily through whatever is on the surface and in some cases, it just looks like an ocean of water and nothing more. We lack the images and the videos of what it looks like within a tsunami, within the typhoon of debris and waste. If we were able to better imagine what that was like, people would take these disasters more seriously and prepare for them better.

Ronni Alexander, who is in charge of the Popoki Peace Project who was also the  translator on this study trip, recalled what one survivor of the tsunami had said about what it was like. He said it was like being in a washing machine, filled with glass, churning at the highest spin cycle. An important point, as we tend to think of tsunami's as pure natural force, and it is, but there is also danger in what the tsunami rends and shatters along the way, which becomes part of its destructive power. As Ronni translated Ito-san's descriptions and warnings, I found myself embellishing them, trying to find my own ways to fill in the imagination gaps with words.

From above, from a distance in what appears to just be brackish water, we find the waves have dragged down and carry with them all the castles that men build to their greatness. All the things he has invented and concocted to give him a sense of dominance over the world is mixed into that avalanche of force. When you open your mouth in the water, their crumpled and splintered forms rush in and through you.

When a tsunami washes over a place like Otsuchi, it brings with it oil, glass, cars, doors, boats, dirt, wood, electrical wires, pipes, appliances, bodies, all the building blocks of modern life. They become tortured beyond recognition in the angry currents formed by the wave breaking over the land. When the waters recede and leave behind the detritus of human living, there are often terrible fires, which feed off of the remnants of peoples' lives and can last far longer than the wave itself.

The cover of Ito-san's book has a boat sitting atop a building. Most likely it was ripped from its moorings or its anchor and tossed atop the land and left behind after the waters had reversed. The helpless machine barely balanced in the air, over a squat, struggling form seems to fit both the power and the uncanny force of the tsunami.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #6: Meanwhile, in Guam...

One issue that constantly appears while traveling in Japan and speaking to people, is Guam's political status. I am not saying in any way that people here are knowledgeable about it or that they understand it. But there are constant, irritating reminders about Guam being a colony and how that means to much of the world you simply belong to another country and that is the extent of your existence.

The first time I traveled to Japan, I met with a large number of antiwar, demilitarization and peace activists. This was at a time when the transfer of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam was considered to be a hot issue, and somewhat controversial. Japan had agreed to pay more than half of the cost of the move, which had caused an uproar throughout Japan, because of the strange surreal fact that Japan had agreed to pay the expenses for moving another nation's military out of its borders. A number of Japanese political delegations had visited Guam, including representatives from Japan's Communist Party. As one Japanese politician told me, "People are starving and sleeping on the streets in our country, how did our government agree to spend all this money to move someone else's military?"

When I met with those Japanese activists, they were all very happy and excited and proud that protests and pressure had succeeded in accomplishing some things, such as the moving of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Some of them actually told me that I must be so happy to have the Marines coming to Guam, and that didn't it feel better to have them in American lands as opposed to Japanese lands. Some activists proposed that Guam should take more of the US military in Japan and that bases be closed throughout Japan and reopened in Guam.

I think that for most Chamorros, this is exactly how they would feel, since most Chamorros feel American throughout the day, until it is rejected or challenged somehow and then causes them to puke up colonial dread. But for me this was ridiculous. I wondered what kind of peace or antiwar or demilitarization activists these people could be if they simply saw Guam as just another US base, a colony on the other side of the world which just existed conveniently for the US to move military to. In order to understand the points of these activists, it should first be noted that their sense of critique regarding bases and militarization ended at the borders of their nation and their national imagination. Bases within their country, especially US bases were problematic, but once elsewhere and not posing a danger to them, the bases were perfectly fine.

As their own consciousness was built primarily on national borders, there was little room to interrogate those claims and challenge those lines drawn over sands and oceans. This meant that Guam as a colony did not exist for them. It was just American lands and nothing more. It mattered little that Guam was a colony of the Japanese during World War II, in their minds Guam was Guam U.S.A. a quaint piece of America ideal for their cheap tourist vacations. They saw Guam complete with all the colonial castles of illusion, the fictions that help to erase the violence of Guam's colonization and militarization, and did not further their demilitarized critiques to see that as a colony or a possession, moving troops there might be different. The people there might not have a safe, might not be in charge of their lands, and end up shouldering another burden on behalf of their colonizers.

These initial conversations were difficult, but with each visit to Japan, I felt like they were making a difference, that more and more activists in this country were able to perceive that Guam was not just any piece of America. If Japan had taken Guam as a colony, sure it meant that it could be a colony of the United State as well, no?

When I traveled to Okinawa things shifted remarkably. For them, the issue of moving US Marines to Guam was a ruse, a spectacle to distract, a tempting tableau as the US kept pretty much the same contingent in Okinawa, just shuffled around, with one base closed and another expanded. For activists I met with in Okinawa it was very easy for them to comprehend Guam's status because it paralleled so tragically with their own. They had experienced a long history of discrimination by mainland Japanese, just as Chamorros had with the United States. They had a period of postwar displacement to build US military bases just as Chamorros. They have families still fighting for compensation from that era, just as Chamorros do. Okinawans feel like they are discriminated against or oppressed because of the absurd amount of US military facilities they have to host. Chamorros, sometimes as we saw in the DEIS period when Pagat was threatened, sometimes feel the same. Ti na'magof i lina'la' gi i puntan i lansa. 

As I've been away from Guam all summer, things have started to heat up with regards to Guam's political status. The Commission on Decolonization that I'm a part of as been meeting more regularly. The three political status task forces are set to receive money in the coming months to conduct educational campaigns to advocate for Independence, Statehood and Free Association for Guam's future. The issue has even been appearing more in the news, especially through the columns/letters to the editor of former staffer for Congresswoman Bordallo Joaquin Perez. I've included his latest column below as well as a few other recent articles.


"Self-Determination has been denied"
Letter to the Editor
Pacific Daily News
August 15, 2015

The discussion and debate between the two UOG professors brings up interesting points. However, the two teachers make no mention of why discussions over political status and self-determination were even initiated. I do not doubt that the two gentlemen know their history and fundamentals of U.S. government, but these two scholars seem to avoid addressing agreements built into the treaty that ceded Guam to the United States.

They do not address certain treaty obligations, commitments and responsibilities, signed by the president and ratified by Congress in 1898. I understand that one Congress cannot bind another and perhaps, one president can choose not to honor the agreements of his predecessors, but then how does this speak to America’s honor in their commitments, governance and respect of the principle constitutional benchmarks on which America was created in the first place?

The two professors, when they decided to move to Guam, exercised their right to determine for themselves the political status and environment under which they would live for however long. Every individual, whether Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean, who comes to Guam and becomes a U.S. citizen recites the naturalization oath, exercises their right to determine for themselves their political status by becoming a U.S. citizen and a resident of Guam.

That same right of self-determination has never been granted to or exercised by the indigenous inhabitants of this island or their descendants.

We are possessions
As an unincorporated possession of the U.S., Guam enjoys no permanent political status. The Chamorros, the indigenous inhabitants, and their descendants, are also possessions, property of the U.S. government, which defies that fundamental of the Constitution which states that human beings cannot be become the property of another.

Until the island becomes an incorporated territory, with even a slight hope of becoming an integral part of the U.S., Guam will always be a possession. In recent years, U.S. policymakers and high-ranking government officials have made statements to that effect, alluding to the idea that the U.S. can do anything it wants with this island because the U.S. “owns” it.

The Organic Act of Guam granted limited and conditional U.S. citizenship, but, as recently ruled by a federal court, a citizenship not extended by the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has stated, in the past, that the Constitution does not follow the U.S. flag. In this vein, the indigenous inhabitants of Guam, and their descendents, who choose to remain and live on their home island, have no constitutional guarantee of their U.S. citizenship, even though the U.S. flag flies on every flagpole from Ritidian to Dano.

To the two professors: You have determined for yourselves the political status under which you are willing to live. Now, please respect the inalienable right of the indigenous inhabitants of this island, and their descendants, to exercise their right to determine their political status. Your terminal degrees declare that you are awfully smart — we ask that you temper that intellect with a bit of wisdom and an understanding that many of us wish to exercise those same rights, rights that are promised to us under the fundamental principles of the Constitution upon which the U.S. was established and the guiding light to its principles of governance.

Joaquin P. Perez is a resident of Santa Rita.


"Commission on Decolonization to meet Friday"
Steve Limtiaco
Pacific Daily News
August 14, 2015

The Commission on Decolonization, which is responsible for determining whether the island’s native inhabitants prefer statehood, independence or free association with the United States, is scheduled to meet 3 p.m. Friday at Adelup, provided enough members show up to form a quorum.

The commission last was scheduled to meet July 28, but only one of its 11 members, Republican Sen. Tony Ada, showed up for the meeting. It was canceled for lack of quorum.

Commission Executive Director Ed Alvarez also was at the July 28 meeting, but he is not a commission member.
The following commission members did not attend the July 28 meeting, based on the current membership list:
  • Gov. Eddie Calvo,
  • Speaker Judith Won Pat,
  • Sen. Rory Respicio,
  • Piti Mayor Vicente Gumataotao,
  • Youth Congress representative Leonard Orsini,
  • Michael Bevaqua,
  • Jose Garrido,
  • former Sen. Eddie Duenas,
  • Lisa Natividad, and
  • Lisa Baza.
Although Respicio didn’t attend the last commission meeting, he sent a representative from his office.
The Legislature wasn’t in session July 28.

According to Guam law, any commission member with three unexcused absences shall automatically be disqualified from the commission and replaced by a new appointed member.

The commission’s purpose, the law states, is to “ascertain the intent” of Guam’s native inhabitants with respect to the island’s future relationship with the United States and transmit that desire to the president, the U.S. Congress and the United Nations.

Guam currently is an unincorporated territory of the United States, or one of the world’s last colonies.
A political status plebiscite for native inhabitants first was scheduled to happen in 1998, but it has been postponed several times, primarily because of a lack of resources committed to the effort and a failure to register and educate eligible voters about the three options.

It now is scheduled to take place after an education campaign is completed and after the Guam Election Commission has determined that enough eligible native inhabitants are registered to participate in the vote, although the Election Commission’s executive director and Calvo have said the law needs to be clarified.

No legislation has been introduced to clarify the law.

Governor’s spokeswoman Oyaol Ngirairikl has said Calvo now wants the plebiscite to happen sometime in 2017, but said that is not a firm timeline.

A case in federal court, challenging the plebiscite on the grounds that it discriminates against voters who are not native inhabitants, is scheduled to go to trial next summer.


"Decolonization Meeting"
Letter to the Editor
Marianas Variety
August 18, 2015
ON FRIDAY, Aug. 14, I attended the Commission on Decolonization meeting at Adelup. I arrived first and Mr. Paul Zerzan arrived soon after. After we introduced ourselves, we spoke briefly and learned that we had both just recently returned to Guam after an extended absence. He had been gone for 10 years, teaching English in China; and I for 14 years in the military, some of that time in the active-duty Army and some of that time in school pursuing graduate degrees. Mr. Zerzan joked about how his job was not done in China because not everyone there speaks English yet.

This led to a conversation about language and he intimated that when he tried to speak Chamoru, he was not well received because he got the impression that Chamoru people did not like a non-Chamoru speaking “their” language. He stated that the world would better off anyway if everyone just spoke English. We started to delve into a discussion on Guam’s self-determination when he shifted suddenly to make a point that the U.N. demands that all adult persons, no matter what race, ethnicity, or national origin must be allowed to participate. I began to opine that Rice v. Cayetano is inapplicable to this type of vote, the Voting Rights Act is inapplicable to this type of vote, and the court system is the incorrect forum anyway to resolve these issues, and finally that the U.N. and all international law is “soft law” and nonbinding when it comes to decolonization. That ultimately the body politic of the territory can and should decide for themselves, the method and means of self-determination. By this time, many others had arrived for the meeting. Mr. Zerzan then exclaimed that nothing can be done until the courts resolve the Dave Davis case. I then rhetorically asked Mr. Ed Alvarez whether or not the commission is being influenced or driven in any way by the Dave Davis case. Mr. Alvarez then remarked that his work is not in any way being influenced by the case.

Quorum being met, the meeting started and the members started discussing budget issues. I noted that in the audience was Mrs. Trini Torres and Mr. Tony Artero Sablan (first cousin of my late grandfather Pedro Sablan Santos). At one point Mr. Alvarez, the executive director, proposed funding a governance study, and a member of the public, Mr. Jose Tudela Sablan (also first cousin of my late grandfather), yelled, “Bull crap” and mumbled something about too many studies. Mr. Alvarez sternly advised Uncle Jose that he was not recognized and that he was out of order. Uncle Jose later apologized for his outburst and explained that he was unhappy about yet another study. I thought that Uncle Jose’s little outburst was exciting and fun.

Later in the meeting while commission members started to delve into discussing the process of self- determination Mr. Zerzan interjected. Mr. Zerzan is not a commission member so he too was out of order, however the commission decided to recognize Mr. Zerzan and allow him to speak. He repeated his spiel about how the U.N. requires universal adult suffrage and that any other method will be unrecognized and illegitimate. He started to cite “examples” of other territories that had gone through the process and that those territories or colonies had permitted everyone to vote. This led to an exchange between Mr. Alvarez and Mr. Zerzan arguing point and counterpoint and at one point Mr. Alvarez asked Mr. Zerzan to cite what article or section he was relying on to assert these “requirements” of the U.N. Mr. Zerzan could not cite anything but stated that he’s read a lot about the issue of decolonization and read everything the U.N. has to say about it. Mr. Alvarez cited the articles from the U.N. declarations that he was relying on and Mr. Zerzan demanded that Mr. Alvarez provide the copies immediately. Mr. Zerzan at this point had raised his voice and was practically yelling. Sen. Rory Respicio who is the chairman, directed that the meeting move forward. Only moments later while discussing a wholly different subject Mr. Zerzan stood up and began yelling at the top of his lungs. He repeated over and over again that his rights cannot be denied. Mr. Zerzan was extremely obnoxious and disrespectful, just repeating the same things over and over. This went on for a few of minutes. Finally Mr. Alvarez, who had been gracious and patient, asked Mr. Zerzan to leave since this was highly disruptive, unproductive and inconsiderate of all who were in attendance. Mr. Zerzan continued to scream and shout as he reluctantly left the room. I could hear him shouting some more out in the breezeway. The meeting resumed and a lot of good discussions took place.

God, it’s good to be back home.

Peter J. Santos,
Santa Rita

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #5: Nuclear Reactions

Japan is at an interesting crossroads at present, with regards to nuclear power.

Prior to 2011 Japan had 54 nuclear reactors providing approximately 1/3 of all the electricity to Japan. After the March 11th earthquake and the subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant all of those reactors were shut down. The shutdown of these plants became a means for the power companies in Japan to obtain hardship subsidies from the government but also increase rates. There have been regular rumors of power outages and conservation, with the power companies all threatening that without nuclear power they cannot meet the needs of the country.

The nuclear power issue has constantly popped up again and again as Japan, a nation which is strongly antinuclear in a sort of populist way, has a corporate that is eager to make money off of its nuclear power infrastructure. There have been pushes to restart these generators not just to begun feeding energy into the country again, but also as a necessary part of selling the technology to other nations such as India, Vietnam and Turkey. Part of the reason for this, is that although Japan has developed this nuclear technology, its current system is fairly old. 3 of its nuclear reactors are over 40 years old and 13 more are over 30 years old.

The antinuclear sentiment in many ways is something focused in older generations who remember the atomic bombings of World War II or who remember the antiwar and antinuclear protests of the postwar years. For younger generations that ideology was something beyond their immediate cognitive map. The Fukushima meltdown helped create new critical possibilities with new generations, by reminding them about the inherent and terrifying dangers of nuclear power.

For people that grow up near or around nuclear power plants the most significant problem that people consider is when the plant fails, and as we saw in Fukushima, Chernobyl or Three Mile Island, terrible environmental damage takes place and turns hundreds of thousands into nuclear refugees. But this notion of nuclear power being a problem only if it breaks down misses the fact that nuclear power itself is a huge resource drain and incredibly wasteful. According to the website Ecowatch, "nuclear power is actually not an “alternative energy” source—it’s an incredibly fossil fuel intensive process."
We can start with how much cement is required to contain and protect the reactors and other sensitive parts of the plants. Cement and concrete are hugely greenhouse gas intensive to produce—and the only way we know how to protect our power plants is to use more concrete.
Beyond that—the size of the projects require tons of truckloads of materials being hauled in and away—adding to the toll of carbon costs. Even if we just look at the material inputs used in nuclear power—it is carbon intensive to mine uranium—it is carbon intensive to enrich the uranium—and we still don’t know what to do with the nuclear waste.
This past week there have been protests in Japan as the Kyushu Electric Power Company has restarted the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan. Although the Japanese government and the electric company are both arguing the plant is safe and everything is ok as the reactors have been improved to meet increased safety standards, the problems of Fukushima persist. More than 200,000 people live within a 30 kilometer radius from the newly restarted plant. The frequent earthquakes that Japan suffers make any nuclear facility an unimaginable bomb just waiting to explode. To make things even more frightening, the Sendai power plant is just 50 kilometers away from Sakurajima, one of many active volcanoes in the area.

According to Mamoru Sekiguchi, a member of Greenpeace Japan:
"The lengths to which safety issues have been ignored in the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s review process for the Sendai plant restart shows just how desperate the nuclear industry and their government allies are..."
“Rather than a nuclear renaissance, much of Japan’s ageing nuclear reactor fleet will never restart. Prime minister Abe and the nuclear regulator are risking Japan’s safety for an energy source that will likely fail to provide the electricity the nation will need in the years ahead.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #4: Akahama Rock and Roll

While in Kobe I watched the film Akahama Rock and Roll, a documentary about the Akahama area of Otsuchi, which was dramatically affected by the 3/11 tsunami in Japan. It gave me a interesting introduction to the area that I've been visiting this past week. Akahama was home to a strong fishing community, which was devastated by the tsunami. The village itself suffered incredible human damage with 1 in 10 residents perishing in the waters and fires. The tsunami in the area reached more than 60 feet in height and easily devoured the seawall and almost everything else. The documentary showed how people are rebuilding and also disagreement over certain proposals meant to help keep the community safe from future tsunamis, namely the rising of the land on which new buildings will be erected and the creation of new, higher sea walls.

I haven't posted anything this week on my blog because I've been so overwhelmed with the stories I've been hearing as my research study group has been heading up the Tohoku coastal region. Here's an article however which connects some of the political issues to the documentary film.


"Fighting to recover from the ocean's wrath"
Phillip Brasor
Special To The Japan Times
April 25, 2015

On April 11, Wataru Takeshita, the minister for reconstruction of the areas most seriously affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, met in Kamaishi with local government representatives to discuss the budget for Iwate Prefecture. After the meeting, the mayor of Kamaishi spoke to the press and said Takeshita told them the central government would continue paying for reconstruction work through next year, but after that he expected the prefecture and municipalities to cover part of the burden themselves.

“Please understand that the money we spend on reconstruction is from taxes levied on people nationwide,” Takeshita reportedly said during the meeting, which was closed to the media.
According to an article in the Asahi Shimbun, the local governments in attendance rejected the minister’s remarks, mainly because he neglected to go into detail about how much of a burden he was talking about and what sorts of things they would be paying for. The mayor of the city of Rikuzentakata seemed offended by the government attitude.

“They must discuss our financial situation and the reconstruction process,” he told an Asahi reporter. “Otherwise, we can’t envision a future for ourselves.”

Rikuzentakata is currently spending ¥30 billion to elevate levees and prepare higher ground for new residential housing, an amount equivalent to 2.7 times its whole annual budget. “And we still have to build schools and a new city hall,” he added.

Takeshita seemed oblivious to the resistance. He told reporters that he and the local governments “came to a common understanding” regarding division of reconstruction costs. A prefectural representative tried to point out that the municipalities weren’t saying “the central government should pay for everything and we pay nothing,” only that there had been no substantive discussion about what would happen after the current reconstruction budget expired in 2016.

As the Asahi presented the story, it read like a classic instance of official condescension, but the situation is more complicated. The report implies that the local governments formed a united front, but as the vice mayor of the town of Otsuchi said, the degree of damage suffered and the amount of reconstruction required differs from one place to another. By treating all the local governments the same way, the agency effectively demonstrates a lack of imagination and coordination, while the media gives the impression that money is the only issue.

Otsuchi, in fact, is the subject of a new documentary by Haruko Konishi called “Akahama Rock’n Roll.” Akahama is the district closest to the sea and the one that contains the town’s fishing industry. One-10th of Akahama’s residents died in the 2011 tsunami or remain missing. The central subject of the film is the surviving residents’ objections to the central government’s plan to build a 14.5-meter-high seawall along the edge of the community. The rest of the town approved the seawall, or, at least, didn’t object to it.

The budget for construction was set in January 2012, when the town’s residents were still in shock from the disaster and hadn’t had time to think over the plans carefully. Since then, the people of Akahama decided that a better idea would be to move homes in the district to higher ground. The seawall, they contend, causes more problems than it solves. The tsunami, after all, was 22 meters high, so 14.5 meters may not do any good, but in any case, the fishermen of Akahama need to have constant visual contact with the ocean, and not just for the sake of their livelihoods. One reason so many people died in the tsunami was that they didn’t see it coming, since there was already a seawall blocking their line of sight, and that one was only 6.5 meters high.

Akahama is too small to attract the interest of the mass media, but Konishi managed to enlist one powerful supporter: Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. At the U.N. Disaster Prevention Conference in Sendai in March, she raised the matter of the seawall during an awards ceremony, saying that if you have to destroy the environment in order to safeguard a community from the forces of nature, then something is wrong. Since then, the movie and Akahama have been featured in a number of newspaper articles.

Konishi divides her footage between two principals: Tsutomu Abe (no relation to the prime minister), a fisherman who went back to work a few days after the tsunami, even though it killed his father, and Hiromi Kawaguchi, chairman of the Akahama Reconstruction Committee, who spearheads the local resistance to the seawall. This dual narrative approach toggles between the political aspects of the issue and the less concrete cultural ones.

Abe the fisherman represents the community’s soul, a man whose close relationship with the sea is primal. The tsunami was a tragedy, but, as he says over and over, you can’t fight nature.

“As long as our lives are connected to the ocean,” his mother says, “we have to be here.” And what’s the point of being here if you can’t see the water? When your life is dependent on the sea, you make peace with it as best you can.

People, however, are another matter, and it’s Kawaguchi’s job to fight the powers that try to tell him and those he represents what is best for them. Once the bureaucracy has a notion in its head, it’s difficult to change, and his fellow committee members, worn down by the subtle but relentless force of authority, seem willing to compromise, but Kawaguchi isn’t.

“Life comes from the sea,” he says. “And keeping the sea separate from us destroys life.”
If Konishi’s purpose is to show how a community’s desires should not be discounted even if those desires place it at risk, her movie acutely points out how specific needs can’t be summarily dismissed by logic or taken care of by charity.

“I’m not interested in people’s sympathy,” says Abe as he shucks oysters. “I just want to sell my products.”

Monday, August 10, 2015

Japanese Peace Movements #3: Life in Videos

Since I can't speak Japanese, I have to rely on translators and interpreters to learn more about recent protests in the country. I'm grateful for a growing group of people who have been helping me understand more and more about continuing and recently developing protests. Videos on Youtube, some thankfully subtitled with English have also helped. I wanted to share some of them below, to help others understand more about life in Japan in terms of peace and protest.

Japanese Peace Movements #2: The Women Only Car

I've been in Japan for two weeks now and things have been quite busy, I haven't had as much time as I would like for blogging or writing. I have been swimming in a sea of small and large differences from my life on Guam. The things each day which strike me slowly or suddenly and remind me that I am in a different part of the world, and that my level of knowledge about Japan, barely scratches the surface of the surface for existence here. Transitioning from Guam, which is very car-centered to life here in Kobe where my life, my cognitive and temporal geography is all dictated by public transportation is a massive shift.

One thing caught my eye the other day while I was riding the train. Some trains would have cars with pink signs on them such as the one in the image above. These trains would only for female users of public transportation. When I asked my friend why they had these and were these common throughout Japan, she stated that they were created in response to the frequent groping or other perverse acts that would sometimes happen against women on crowded train cars. Unable to deal with the fetishism and sexism in the culture in other ways, they decided to give women their own cars in order to insulate them. The forms of sexism in Japan that I have been introduced to and have perceived are quite intriguing at times.

This is especially interesting in the context of the low birth rate in Japan, and how women, those capable of reproducing are more than ever essential to the strength of the entire nation. I came across this article below from last year which touched on a number of issues that women confront today in Japan, introduced through the experience of one female politician who was verbally harassed by other elected officials for her references to women's issues. 

The Sexist Abuse That Threatens to Shake the Nation
Mamiya Jun

Recently the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly was the scene of a sexist heckling incident that has since blown up into a major political flap on a national scale. On June 18, Your Party assembly member Shiomura Ayaka was presenting questions to Tokyo Governor Masuzoe Yōichi. When she touched on the need for the metropolitan government to craft policy addressing women’s concerns, including infertility treatment, in the context of Japan’s declining childbirth rate and population, the catcalls started: “Why don’t you get married first?” “What’s the matter, are you barren?”

The jeers came from seats assigned to Liberal Democratic Party members of the chamber. On June 23, LDP member Suzuki Akihiro was named as one of the hecklers. That same day he admitted having shouted abuse during the session and met with Shiomura to apologize directly. He then offered to quit the LDP group in the assembly, although he did not go so far as to step down from his seat. The next day, June 24, Prime Minister and LDP President Abe Shinzō followed this up with his own apology to Asao Keiichirō, head of Your Party, in the National Diet.

Apology, but No Understanding

At first, the LDP organization in the Metropolitan Assembly showed little willingness to identify the hecklers. Suzuki himself denied that he had shouted at Shiomura. In the five days between the incident and his apology, criticism of the unnamed hecklers mounted, as did pressure for them to come forward and apologize.

If it’s the sort of thing that merits an apology, it shouldn’t be done in the first place, of course. But the way that the various parties have sought to handle this matter makes it clear that Suzuki, along with the others around him in the assembly organization, still lack a basic understanding of what the problem truly is. At the press conference where he publicly apologized, for instance, Suzuki stated: “Japan now faces a falling childbirth rate and the average age of marriage gets higher every year. I made my comment out of a desire to see more people get married earlier in life. I had no intent to slander Ms. Shiomura.”

I view this whole incident as indicative of a serious matter facing Japan: namely, that people in positions of authority don’t understand what the real problems are. Specifically, in this case, the politician’s thinking his jeers were not slanderous is the crux of the issue.

An Unawareness of Human Rights

This is a rather standard pattern seen for blunders of this kind in Japan. They are committed by men and women alike, always of a certain age or older. In recent years, the most serious example of these has been the cross-border uproar over the “comfort women” issue. This historical dispute between Japan and Korea pits people against one another in debate over whether the euphemistically named “comfort facilities” that Japan set up around East Asia during the war were officially managed houses of prostitution or institutionalized battlefield rape. I will not go into the details of this debate, which can be examined elsewhere. Here I will simply state that the facts of this history are not the true problem.

In 2007, during his first administration, Abe Shinzō was asked about his understanding of the “comfort women” issue. His reply that “there was coercion of these women in the broad sense [in terms of military contracts with these facilities for their services], but not in the narrow sense [of direct action by the military to force women into them]” touched off an international firestorm. His intent was to counter tenacious Korean claims that Japan’s imperial military had been directly involved in forcing women into sexual slavery with a claim that recruitment had taken place within a prostitution system that was legal during those years. But this brought Abe harsh disapproval from the international community—and from the United States in particular.

A look at nothing but the facts, as far as I know them to be true, shows that Abe’s statement was relatively sound. But as soon as his statement strayed into territory that felt like he saw no problem in “coercion in the broad sense,” the listeners could only hear him presenting human-rights violations as little more than matters of sexual relations. Building on this logic, he also appeared to be offering his tacit approval of officially managed prostitution systems.

A system like this—in other words, licensed prostitution—is, for women, a horrific marketplace for the buying and selling of human flesh. Recognition of this point remains shallow in Japan, though. In its past Japan gave formal approval to the system of prostitution, and the prime minister seemed to be stating that there was nothing wrong with this. Managed prostitution systems are publicly sanctioned human trafficking, and as such are emblematic of the trampling of women’s rights, a fact that remains whether or not the military is involved in it. Yes, in the past all human cultures saw women placed in this social role, but in the modern era we see this to be a discriminatory construct that must be rejected in all cases. Once people perceived the prime minister of Japan to be offering his approval, it left a scar on the Japanese image that has yet to be effaced—despite Japan’s leadership in this area, as one of the first Asian nations to outlaw licensed prostitution as early as 1958.

Japanese Ignorance of Gender Theory

There is an essay on gender that has been making waves in Japan recently. The critic who wrote it analyzed women’s issues through the prism of the popular Disney animated feature Frozen, negatively critiquing the way several high-profile Japanese women are currently living their lives. This essay actually leaped to prominence after it was rejected for publication in a certain well-known monthly magazine.

I read the piece to see why it had been turned down, but found it to be a fairly straightforward Jungian analysis of the movie’s narrative and psychology. To sum it up, it argued that the Frozen story—in which Elsa, the elder sister, must suppress her magical abilities for the sake of the younger sister Anna, flees to the mountains once she allows her power to run wild, and is finally made whole and welcomed back into society through her love for her younger sibling—actually presents a single personality in the form of the two sisters’ characters. The dark side of this personality is Elsa, who begins the film under the societal pressure to “act like a woman” (or girl) and then lets her power run free. Through her eventual reconciliation with Anna, the personality becomes whole. Structurally, this narrative is quite similar to that seen in A Wizard of Earthsea by the feminist author Ursula K. Le Guin.

There are rumors in publishing circles that this essay was viewed as problematic for its critical treatment of statements and actions by members of the imperial family or women close to those in political power. Only those involved know the truth about this. One thing I can say, though, is that writing about people in positions of authority from the perspective of oppressive traditional views of women is still taboo in today’s Japanese media landscape.

In Western societies, meanwhile, societal strictures about “acting like a woman” are generally seen as oppressive toward women, and forcing these rules onto women as a violation of human rights. This is a fundamental tenet of gender theory. In Japanese society, though, we see almost none of this acknowledged. Indeed, we hear cries that “women are meant to stay at home and bear children” in the very halls of power. And the problem goes beyond this: observers from overseas will look at Japan and see a country that has failed even to reject human trafficking, the worst violation of women’s human rights there is.

Are Our Values Truly Shared?

The present Abe administration, of course, has made needed corrections to its past mistakes. Both the prime minister and his chief cabinet secretary, when pressed on the “comfort women” issue, are careful to begin by clearly displaying a more enlightened stance on women’s rights issues.
This is a sign that international criticism to date has had an impact. Some years ago, when the security situation in East Asia was beginning to change dramatically, the term “values diplomacy” was commonly heard. But since Abe’s 2007 “comfort women” comment there has been little room for this. When a country is viewed as unresponsive to human rights concerns, it no longer matters that it is a democracy just like other nations: they will not bring themselves to talk about the values they share with it. In 2007, both Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Senator Hillary Clinton—key players in America’s foreign and security policy, Republican and Democrat alike—were furious at Abe’s remarks. This US response caused Japan’s diplomats no end of trouble.

The incident that took place this month in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly came at a very poor time. On June 20, just two days after the jeering, the administration submitted to the Diet a government panel’s report on its review of the 1993 Kōno Statement on the “comfort women” issue. Based on this report, the administration said it would not alter Japan’s position on the statement. Outside Abe’s central circle, though, supporters of his government in the ruling coalition and elsewhere continued to show that they see “comfort women” as nothing but a historical problem between Japan and Korea, repeatedly complaining about “the historical facts” of the matter. Again, though, for Japan, the biggest problem is not these historical facts. It is the larger picture of human rights issues, especially as they involve the United States.

The government panel that produced this report had an extremely delicate task. It had to defuse both the pressure from hardliners on the “comfort women” question in Japan and the criticism from the American side. Just before the panel was scheduled to wrap up this work and issue its findings, the government found itself tripped up by the same old brand of verbal blundering and ignorance of gender issues. One can imagine the maneuvering that must have taken place behind the scenes between the jeering in the Tokyo assembly and Suzuki’s apology some days later.

Apologies Will Not Be Enough

The apology has been offered, but this does not mean that we have seen the last of this kind of problem, of course. This can be seen from the very text of the apology, which makes it clear that the offending party does not think “You’re the one who needs to get married and have babies” is a slanderous thing to say.

The jeering was not a problem because it was slander, though. The core of the problem is that it was discriminatory. To force outdated values on a women holding public office is to hold her in contempt. That the apologizer does not recognize this means that the problem is still there. And this lack of recognition means many more “comfort women” statements and jeers to come.

We are likely to hear people in Japan—even women in positions of considerable authority—retort that these are matters of Japanese society’s own values, and other nations should not be butting in. If we go this route, though, we should not be surprised when those other nations come back with: “The concept of human rights is central to our society. Whether we can remain allied with a country that does not share this concept is something for us to decide based on our own values.” Shared values are a core ideology underpinning Japan’s alliances. I fear that the jeering in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly foreshadows a diplomatic crisis that could shake Japan.

(Originally written in Japanese on June 24, 2014. Banner photo: Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly member Shiomura Ayaka sheds tears after being jeered. Courtesy Nikkan Sports/Aflo.)


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