Koreans had and

sometimes still have a tough time

of it in Japan


I’ve recently finished reading a novel called Pachinko by Jin Min Lee (a Seoul-born Korean American).  It’s a family saga which runs from 1911 to 1989 in the life of a Korean immigrant family in Japan.  it was difficult to put down. I had previously learned a few things about Korean immigrants in Japan but this opened my eyes a little wider to their experience.

It was really sad to see how some Koreans would be so desperate to hide their Korean ancestry from people as to do what one character does.  However, as the author says in her notes at the end, Koreans don’t all want to be seen as victims of the Japanese – they’re a proud people – and, as one or two of her characters point out, Japan has good and bad Koreans and good and bad Japanese.  That said, they must have felt severely tested by the fact they were in a kind of limbo situation – they might have called it purgatory! – in that they could not leave Japan without a passport (which would require citizenship which they could not get) if they wanted to come back and if they wanted to go for good, they would have gone back to a Korea which was both very poor and, as time went on, unwelcoming (their nostalgia would probably have been beaten or starved out of them soon enough).  They really felt like they did not belong to either country.  They could also be deported at the whim of the local authorities. Of course, many Koreans were heavily involved in the Pachinko business which might or might not have lead to Yakuza dealings.   Some of the characters involved in pachinko in this book make every effort to stay away from Yakuza and keep their business clean, but the stigma remained. Any sign of criminal activity would obviously have resulted in deportation.

I’m still surprised that up to a point Koreans could not be employed as teachers, nurses or even policemen in Japan.  Hard to believe right?   It’s like they were not allowed to contribute to society through traditionally respected occupations while being maligned for being a burden or for being criminals even when they weren’t.   They had to be kept ‘in their place’.

I recommend the novel – which has a very pretty cover I might add with a typical Korean wedding dress pattern adorning it – for anyone wanting to learn a bit about the experience of Koreans in Japan.  Sadly, right wingers who parade their hatred through Korean sections of various Japanese cities still believe Koreans have no business being in Japan, whatever they work as.  Worse, hate speech is still not outlawed as far as I know.    A sad state of affairs for a country which likes to say how cooperative it is with peaceful ideologies.

Interestingly, the Emperor of Japan who recently abdicated is rumoured to have Korean ancestry.  How about that? If that’s true, it’s Korean food for thought : -)

About the novel itself, it was well researched and flowed pretty well though I thought there were a couple of gaps in the stories of certain characters that could have been filled in.




(Cyber-) Mania, Magazines and Memorials

Positive change can

only come, it seems, from

one group at a time


I wonder if Black Friday took off in Japan this last Friday …. or Cyber Monday? I haven’t noticed anything in the Japanese newspapers I’ve been browsing on-line this evening. Do you know in French, they call it Vendredi Fou? Mad Friday.  In some francophone parts of the world anyway.  No wonder!!  People do go a bit mad but I guess it is a good time to get early Christmas shopping in as long as you do it wisely, and even if it is just for yourself : P.  I took advantage of Cyber Monday myself- seeing as I missed Black Friday (and Black Weekend for some shops) as I was busy working – to buy myself a coat which I’m going to consider my Christmas present to myself.  I never buy clothes online as I prefer to check something out myself first but I guess I got caught up with the buzz.  I hope it looks good because the thought of returning clothes makes me feel very lazy!   I have bought footwear on-line and luckily that turned out well so I’m hoping this does too.  I’m a big fan of coats and would have bought this one at its normal price (25 euros more) so I think it will be worth it.

Speaking about news articles from Japan, I was just thinking back to my post on #metoo.  It seems to be gaining traction now in Japan with various recognisable people talking about their experiences, one of them a journalist writing in an article about being groped by a chikan on a train at the age of just eight!!  The stigma about being a victim in Japan, whatever about everywhere else, is said to be very strong so people prefer to be silent but hopefully they’ll get the courage to at least talk about it with people even if they cannot get justice against the men in question.  She only began to speak about it as an adult.

On a similar subject, I came across another women-related article about how a well-known convenience store chain in Japan is planning to take pornographic magazines off its shelves.    Why?  The Olympics apparently.   It has taken them this long and only because of the Olympics to take these magazines off the shelves, realising that it would make foreigners uncomfortable.  What about regular Japanese people, or indeed anyone living in Japan, who feel uncomfortable seeing men (I think it’s safe to assume it’s just men who do this!) in the shop just to perve at the young women, probably young girls (or boys) in these magazines, while they (the regular folks) are in getting their groceries or what not.    I understand that Japan wants to make as good impression as possible on visitors for the Olympics (or indeed the Rugby World Cup the year before) and of course Japan already makes a good impression on most visiting foreigners but just to make this decision now when they could have made it a long time ago which would have pleased an enormous amount of people. Hmmm. It says a lot that it’s even news.

Yet more unbelievable news about how women are thought of by some men in Japan, this time in a historical sense.  The Mayor of Osaka has cut a six-decade tie with San Francisco after the latter’s mayor designated a comfort women memorial as city property.   Not only has this Mayor announced his plan to cut ties because ‘trust was broken’ (get real!) but the Japanese government itself opposes the existence of that memorial and others.  I say bravo to the Mayor of San Francisco.  Cool city, cool mayor!!   Of course, many Japanese abhor this denial policy of Japan’s leader and support the memorials to these victims – let’s not forget that either.  Better for Abe and his cronies to change their views themselves than be forced to do it later just to look good for the Olympics or whatever.  The idea of cutting off ties with a prestigious city like San Francisco – a bonkers idea in general – just because its mayor clearly does not ‘bow’  to Japan’s policy is just fascist.

The news from Japan should be a real eye-opener this evening.   There’s another story about rent boys in Japan (vulnerable victims as well) but I’ll leave you to chew on the above for today, or check it out yourselves. Besides I could just read the headline as I had reached my ‘story limit’ for the day (annoying or what).

Postscript:  It seems that the convenience store is only ‘suspending’ (中止する )the ban on those magazines, implying that they may return.  Hopefully not though. They should realise that they should have been doing this along.   The English used by the person who translated the article (you can opt to translate it yourself but there is a translation already done) isn’t great by the way.  They used the word ‘nationwidely’.   Noone says that.  Widely by itself yes (widely known, widely regarded, etc.)  Nationwidely ….no!  Nationwide is fine. This is for the English language version of a big Japanese newspaper by the way but the quality of writing, or lack of editors to pick up on poor quality writing, in newspapers is pretty dire these days from regional newspapers to bigger national newspapers everywhere, so unfortunately it’s not alone in its misuse of words.   Are people so keen to get out the news that they forget their English?  Apparently so.  Then again, I was in a hurry to report this interesting news and missed the word suspend so I should have been more careful myself, even if I’m not a national newspaper.




Strange weather

Reading can seem a 

rare pleasure but for me

it still beats n/f.


I’ve made quite a bit of time lately for reading lately, thanks to a certain hurricane which meant the time was made for me as online tv/film watching was unavailable but also, pre-hurricane, thanks to certain brilliant books I have been borrowing from the library which prompted me to ditch the online viewing (nf mainly, occasionally yt.) myself. In addition to the brilliant library books, I also decided to go back to ones on my shelf which I bought a year or two ago (and read – no tsundoku here!) but for some reason did not put them in my literature list.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (called The Briefcase in other parts of the world, which is also the title of the last chapter in the book) is a good one from Japan. It shows love in a different light.  Once you put aside the initial weirdness of how the mature woman and a former high school teacher of hers come to meet, the story is quite sweet.   It’s not the age gap that is wierd exactly as they are both now adults (Memoirs of a Geisha is way creepier in that regard), only that he first recognised her as the school girl she had once been and keeps commenting throughout their relationship on her studiousness, or lack of it, in school and saying things like ‘good girl’ and patting her on the head (you wouldn’t even pat a child on the head).  However, they’re clearly somehow meant to be as they find out, despite her occasionally feeling at odds with the association, and I guess more unusual couples exist.    This is a book I bought a few years ago and read at the time but the second reading is better and the humour comes out more on a second reading.  The translator who worked on the book is Allison Markin Powell (I like to name the translator).

Another book I had time to read for the second time, bought around the same time as Strange Weather was Revenge by Yoko Ogawa.  This is a book of eleven dark tales with the main characters in each being connected in the oddest ways.    The translator of that is Stephen Snyder.   This was a very quirky one which also explores loneliness.

By the way, I’m so glad to see the Nobel Prize for Literature went to Kazuo Ishiguro.  He’s such a good writer.  I’ve been meaning to buy one of his recent novels, having read some of his earlier ones.  Nice to see the prize go to an actual author again, and a very deserving one he is.   They might have learned their lesson now and continue giving it to authors. I’ve nothing against Bob Dylan, whose lyrics are lovely, but he didn’t even seem to want it and took his time showing up to receive it!!  What’s more, you don’t know who’ll be expecting one now, using Bob Dylan as a precedent.  I shudder to think.  So, just stick to writers please.

It seems the political climate in Tokyo is going to stay the same for a while with Shinzo Abe’s landslide victory in the elections.   Despite the additional options available this time around, including the current Tokyo governor whom I’ve mentioned before with her Party of Hope, and another new party, the CDP (Constitutional Democratic Party) led by a Yukio Edano, he still won due to his hard line stance, understandably I guess, on North Korea.  This CDP sounds interesting though and might prompt change in certain areas.