Friday, June 23, 2006

Blaze killed mum, siblings

Murders, arson and stabbings may be more common than we'd like, but there's something a little extra disturbing about this story. Can you imagine how the father felt coming home to this?

Friday, June 23, 2006

High school boy admits deadly arson

NARA (Kyodo) A 16-year-old boy was arrested Thursday on suspicion of arson and murder in connection with a fire at his Nara Prefecture home in which his mother, brother and sister were killed, police said.

The boy, whose identity has been withheld because he is a minor, admitted he started the fire at the bottom of the stairs in his house with the intention of killing his mom and siblings, who were home and whose bodies bore knife wounds, investigative sources said.

Police said the boy indicated he had felt pressure from his father over his performance at school, noting the boy said he has done an irrecoverable thing and feels "really sorry."

The high school sophomore had been missing since the fire broke out early Tuesday in the two-story wooden house in Tawaramoto, central Nara. He was found by police and taken into custody in Kyoto Thursday morning. He had no money, identification or mobile phone in his possession.

Police said the boy broke into the home of a 60-year-old woman in Kyoto around 7:45 a.m. and was watching TV in the living room when she found him.

The boy fled on a bicycle and was apprehended by police who had responded to a call from the woman.

"I wanted to watch (the World Cup) soccer matches . . . I was hungry," police quoted the boy as saying.

Police began questioning him at around 11:30 a.m. He admitted setting the fire, knowing his father was away that day, the investigative sources said.

Although his mother, Dr. Minka Yoshikawa, 38, brother, Yoshiki, 7, and sister, Yumin, 5, died of carbon monoxide poisoning, their bodies bore knife wounds, police said.

The boy's 47-year-old father, Motoyoshi, also a doctor, was working on a night shift at a hospital in neighboring Mie Prefecture at the time of the fire, police said.

The Japan Times

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In the pipeline

Will be exceptionally busy for the next couple of months or so, and consequently won't have much time to update. In brief, this is what's going on.

  • Newsweek Feature No specifics on exactly when this will come out, but I have been interviewed by Newsweek and will feature in an upcoming issue. Most likely this will be limited to the Asia edition, but will probably appear translated in the Japanese edition too. I've also been photographed for the cover. Very vague on specifics.

  • The Japanese Tradition Remember that sushi video I sneakily subtitled and unleashed on the world? The production company has been in touch and wants me involved in a new production they're currently working on. Again, vague on specifics, but will find out around the end of this month. I will not be putting this on the net.

  • Buying a House Decided to put my citizenship to good use, and am currently waiting for the outcome of a mortgage application. Assuming it all goes well, most of the next few months free time will be taken up organising removals, redoration etc.

And now back to work.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Shinagawa Station

Congratulations everyone! It's June again, and according to this great big banner in full public view, that means it's the month for cracking down on illegal foreign workers! (Sign courtesy of no less than the immigration office). While I don't entirely disagree with the sentiment - workers should have the correct permission to stay, and those that break the immigration laws should be dealt with in some way (and that goes doubly for human traffickers and those that intentionally employ illegals) - I can't help but feel this kind of alarmist approach is going to do little more than invite human rights abuses. Visas are serious issues, but they're also ultimately administrative procedures - not the sort of thing you would normally try to whip up public fear with. I have to wonder how many people walking past as I took this picture were wondering to themselves "I wonder if he's here legally?"

My questions. What are they really trying to achieve with this public show of xenophobia? And more importantly, what are they trying to divert attention away from? What are they up to?

Update Here is a link to full details of the campaign on the Ministry of Justice webpage. I will endeavour to translate the highlights in due course.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Protecting Human Rights is Dangerous!?

They say that nothing hurts a cause better than really lousy propaganda, and it surely doesn't come much lousier than this. Originally posted in Japanese by fellow citizen, activist, and all round nice guy Debito Arudou, I felt this was way too precious to deprive the English speaking world of, so please scroll down for my English translation. The FUD-o-meter is off the scale, but if there ever was a pro-human rights text, this would be it. Little further comment from me is necessary as the text largely speaks for itself, but where relevant I've added Debito's own commentary (thanks for the English version!)

Protecting Human Rights is Dangerous!

(Click the images to enlarge)

COMMENTS (by Debito Arudou)
Problems with the above:
  • At the above company, the boss had sufficient reason to fire the employee (disobeying instructions) and the public baths want to avoid problems with organized crime. It's not unreasonable to assume that if Human Rights Committee heard about this, they would examine the circumstances very carefully. Where is the writer getting the idea that they will only listen to one side and will not check their facts? This is alarmism, plain and simple.

  • When we look at the bigoted landlord and the stoneheaded school teacher, can you honestly say they did nothing wrong? Is it really okay to refuse accommodation to all foreigners on the grounds of a prior unrelated Chinese tenant? And is it really okay for a teacher to foster his own prejudices about women onto a female student in front of her impressionable classmates? Shouldn't somebody official be out there to encourage them to rethink their behavior?

COMMENTS (by Debito Arudou)
  • Kim Jong-Il is a public figure, not a random individual. Freedom of speech more than allows for the free criticism of public figures. Where is the evidence that the Human Rights Committee cannot or will not make this very obvious distinction? Again. this is alarmism, plain and simple.

COMMENTS (by Debito Arudou)

  • I would like the writer to explain the actual reasons for the old guy being under investigation. You've got to do that, otherwise this is an unrealistic portrayal. To illustrate: In the above cartoon, try replacing "Human Rights Committee Members" with "Police". Now an "investigation by police" without the reason made clear would be seen as an abuse of police power. And it would become an argument against the very existence of the Police Forces. Very few people would make that argument, of course, since we generally give the police the benefit of the doubt in its pursuit of social order. And in any case, the accused has the right to know what he's accused of. Point is, you just can't omit the criminal charge from the story. By doing so, you can jump to all manner of logical extremes. "Omigod! Police can do that too. So now I oppose the police exercising their legal powers!" etc etc. This disingenuous lack of attempt to strike a balance is by definition propagandizing.

  • Further, although a foreigner started the fight in the comic above, what if I claim it's normally the other way round? (There are Japanese that deliberately target foreigners for fights.) There's no definitive evidence either way. But that's not the main problem: Why in every instance in the above cartoon are foreigners depicted as the bad guys? The vast majority of foreigners in Japan are peacefully living their lives. This cartoon is baiting the reader and depicting its own prejudices. In fact, the cartoon itself is a great example of why we need anti-discrimination legislation.

  • It goes without saying of course, but if anybody--regardless of nationality--does something bad, why not simply report it to the police? Lock up the criminals, fine. But don't assume a person is more likely to be a criminal because he is a foreigner. Anyway, this logic is unrelated to the existence of a Protection of Human Rights bill.

Update After reading some of the many comments here, I would like to clarify that I am not in any way trying to imply that the views expressed in the manga are representative of the majority of the Japanese population. There are ring-wing extremists in any country. My reason for putting it up is that it unwittingly brings to light issues many Japanese people would have been previously unaware of, making a powerful case for the very laws it's opposing.

So for example, if I started complaining that without a human rights law, landlords can freely refuse minorities based entirely on superficial factors (skin colour, country of origin etc.) without the person in question having committed any wrong or given any reason to indicate they will, they assume you're talking extremist nonsense. They really do. "In theory sure, but if you talk to them and show them you're a serious individual with a proper job, then surely they'll change their minds!" they say (and no, this doesn't work in the majority of cases). On the other hand, when the people that are opposed to introducing such a law claim that landlords will no longer be able to freely refuse accommodation to minorities based on something that somebody else did, it makes the point abundantly clear that this is real and is happening enough to be considered common.

Of course, a lot of it is just scaremongering. The second and third page don't involve the Human Rights Committee at all, merely the fear that the writer assumes will be associated with their presence. In all of the examples shown, if the person had simply said "fine, call them and we'll let them sort it out" then it would lose much of its propoganda punch. In the case of the landlord, they would more likely instruct him that legally he can't refuse a tenant on the stated grounds. He lets the guy stay, the guy pays his rent on time each month, everybody's happy. If the guy doesn't pay his rent or causes too much of a nuisance in the neighbourhood, then take measures to have him evicted and keep the 2 month security deposit (on top of the 2 month's rent "gift money") to sort it out. Bear in mind that Japanese are just as likely to cause problems.

Likewise in the example of the schoolgirl, let's say she didn't like the teacher so decided to contact the police and say he sexually harassed her. Bearing in mind this is Japan and not the tabloids, the police may choose not to investigate at all based purely on the word of one person. If they do, and fail to find any other evidence, the case will be dropped. It may even be dropped if they do find the evidence. The investigation will cause embarassment to the teacher, and most likely problems for the girl when it all blows over. All of this can currently happen. At the same time, none of this though is an effective argument against having a police force.