I Think I’m Turning JapaNEWS 3.31.14 Edition

Hiho there folks!  Sorry for the recent lack of updates.  I was in Tokyo for most of last week for work stuff and then, when I got back, I was sicker than a slug.  Couple that with the insanely beautiful weather right now and it’s really any wonder that I’m writing something at all!

Anyways, since I am doing my best to keep the JapaNEWS as a weekly-ish show, I pumped out a March 31st edition of the thing, no matter how unprepared or sick I was.


On this week’s/ last week’s show, I discuss:

A dude is released from Japanese Death Row after 40 years.

A Fukushima cleanup worker dies but not from what you think.

The Japanese tax hike and its fallout.

And finally, the big Tokyo Youtube Hanami thing happening on the 5th.  Also promoted here


As always, if you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to leave them either here or on the youtube channel OR on twitter (@STEPHEN_TETSU).


And with that, expect this week’s installment to drop in a few days.


PS Sorry for the total lack of updates.  I have been really busy with work and sicker than fish.  I promise to be better going forward and if I’m not, you can shoot me.





I Think I’m Turning JapaNEWS

So in my every expending quest to never sleep again, I decided to go the news anchor route and bring some of the news from Japan to you, the beloved reader/viewer/stalker on a new endeavor I am calling I Think I’m Turning JapaNEWS or just JapaNEWS for short.

A little bit of background:  Way back in the day, I used to do a podcast with my friend called The Mark and Stephen Show, a show in which Mark did most of the work while I sat around in the back of the room and did the typical goofy sidekick shtick.  While our numbers weren’t ever mind-blowing or anything, they started to get on a bit of an up-tick thanks to a bit of radio exposure (it’s a long story but Mark has a tendency to make friends with people in convenient places).  And then, things sorta fell apart, burnout ensued, and the Mark and Stephen Show vanished into the ether, never to be heard from again.

That was something like three or four years ago at this point and I seem to remember enjoying the whole semi-organized show thingy far more than I probably did at the time.  So I’ve been looking for any excuse to do a show of some sort and the move to Japan finally provided me with enough fodder for one.  For the past couple of months, I’ve been mulling over the precise format of what it is that I want to do.  Last week, I put out a test podcast on my Soundcloud account (FOUND HERE) but honestly, the end result was a little more bloated than I wanted and, honestly, not that good (which isn’t to say that this new attempt is good either).

Living in Japan, I’ve come to notice how bad most international media is at providing news stories about the country aside from the occasional “FUKUSHIMA IS GOING TO MELT ALL OUR FACES OFF!”, “No one in Japan is having sex!!!!!”, or “Look at how weird Japan is! ROFL” stories.  This of course does nothing to account for the other 99% of things going on in the country at any given time.  I Think I’m Turning JapaNEWS is my sad little attempt at showing off some of these other events (along with the occasional “Japan is into some weird stuff” story).

This show is obviously a work in progress and it will probably be several more weeks before I even begin to feel comfortable reading the news and then subsequently ad-libbing on camera/mic.  As I’m obviously the guy compiling/translating/writing/reading the news stories on this show, the content is going to be a bit smarmier and edgier than a straight forward news show.  (Disclaimer:  I am a huge fan of SNL’s Weekend Update and the Daily Show so that is consequently how I like my news.)

Now, as for how to find my show…

As of right now, I plan on ultimately offering the JapaNEWS via two main channels: a visual newsdesk-style show via my Youtube channel and an audio podcast feed via an as yet unestablished RSS Feed/ Podcast hosting service.  Those of you expecting or wanting a written version of my show will either be sadly disappointed or have to transcribe the show yourself (even if I do have a copy of the script containing the bare bones version of the show itself).  Those of you looking for a Braille version of my show are probably better served just doing something else or listening to the audio feed.

When it comes to the frequency of the show, I am going to try to maintain a weekly schedule, which is of course dependent on how busy I am at work and whether or not I’m sick.  If something major happens, you can probably expect me to issue some special edition episodes to talk about stuff in a timely manner.

If you would like to contact me about the show and/or are an expert in some Japan news related field, please feel free to do so either through my twitter account or the comments section here or via another yet unestablished email address.  Also if an awesome person wants to come up with a cool looking logo for the show, I would love you forever and totally sell you my kidney.

Until next time.


3/11: Three Years Later (A Newcomer’s View: The Meaning of 頑張る)

The rallying cry of an entire nation

The rallying cry of an entire nation

Three years ago around this time, the lives of millions of people living along the entire northeastern side of Japan changed forever.  Only a few kilometers east of where I sit today, tsunami waves ravaged coastal communities, obliterating centuries worth of traditions and family businesses in the blink of an eye.  Several dozen kilometers north of me, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant would also be hit by massive waves that reached a reported 133 feet high in some areas, setting off a chain of events that have removed thousands of people from their long-standing homes in its radius.  Even today, more than 267,000 people remain displaced by the events of March 11th, 2011, many residents of communities that no longer exist after being swallowed whole by the churning arms of the angry sea.

Living where I do, between the greater Tokyo community and Tohoku, I am placed in the interesting position of being in a place that was spared of much of the earthquake’s wrath but one that has still suffered much of its psychological damage, affected by the disaster nevertheless.  One of my co-workers is originally from Fukushima but moved for the sake of his young family following the aftermath of the nuclear disaster.  But a short train ride away, the coastal port town of Oarai is struggling to return to normal after being hit by the tsunami (though it was further down the coast than the hardest hit areas,  the town was still hit with a considerable amount of water).  Many of you may have seen images of a whirlpool in a harbor from that day.  That harbor was Oarai.

Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture shortly after being hit by the March 11th tsunami. (photo credit: Kyodo)

Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture shortly after being hit by the March 11th tsunami. (photo credit: Kyodo)

But only an one hour train ride away is Fukushima prefecture, a name that has now become synonymous with nuclear disasters and radiation leaks but was even ravaged more by waves of biblical proportions that ripped out the hearts of entire communities with unwavering cruelty.  The train line that once ran from Tokyo, through Mito and Fukushima, to Sendai in the heart of the northeast now effectively stops at the border between Ibaraki and Fukushima, the tracks from that point on either washed away or smack-dab in the middle of a nuclear exclusion zone.

I ride this train ever week just about an hour from where this picture was taken.

I ride this train ever week just about an hour from where this picture was taken. (Kyodo)

Almost everywhere I look, I can see banners, signs, flyers, ads, streamers all sporting the same message: 「がんばっぺ茨城」 (ganbappe Ibaraki).  がんばっぺ, or it’s more common form がんばれ, is an interesting phrase in that while there are various ways people can translate it into English, there’s really no term in English that really comes close to capture it’s meaning.  I’ve seen がんばれ translated as “fight” (Keep fighting, Ibaraki!), “keep at it”, “do your best”, and various other forward momentum terms for putting 120% of one’s effort into doing something but none of them really seem to come close to the Japanese word, no matter how many syntactic hoops one jumps through.  So I could try to tell people in Tohoku, Ibaraki, and all of Japan to keep on fighting and to keep on keeping on, but, at the end of the day, がんばれ is all that needs to be said.  And that’s the mentality here and all across the northeastern portion of Japan I now seem to call home.  Something terrible happened but there’s nothing to do but keep がんばれ-ing until those terrible days have somehow vanished from the land.

People don’t seem to smile here as much as they should.  And after what they’ve had to go through, who can blame them?  In many ways, the March 11th earthquake signified the end of a way of life for the people of Tohoku.  While most of the international media world has decidedly turned its eye from the plight of the survivors of the earthquake save for the occasional nuclear meltdown fear-mongering, people are still struggling to this day.  Over 11,000 people were killed that day, thousands more still missing.  The number of stress-related deaths attributed to 3/11 has increased year by year.  Over 267,000 people remain refugees, countless more have been forced to move away from the long-time familial homelands.  Entire cities remain empty or washed away in the North, many never to be populated again.  It’s all enough to make someone’s head spin.  Millions of lives changed forever in the blink of an eye.  Think about that next time you complain because you can’t find a parking spot at Walmart or you have to wait ten minutes in line before you can order your triple-milk soy latte from Starbucks.

Having moved here only four months ago, I did not have to experience those terrible days after the earthquake and tsunami, the uncertainty of the fates of those that I love, the despair when someone dear never came home, the ache of a hometown lost, never to return again.  The worst thing that almost happened to my hometown was our basketball team leaving.  In other words, I will never be able to comprehend the events that continue to rock Tohoku.  I can’t relate to their sadness so all I can try to do is make them smile.  A foolish sentiment maybe, but one that increasingly drives me forward.  I want to see people laugh.  I want people to forget the troubles of their life if only for one fleeting moment.

Today is a day to be thankful for the lives that we do have, to be thankful that our loved ones are safe and sound, to be thankful for the roofs over our heads, the clothes on our back, the times we laugh when something funny happens.  Today is a day to remind ourselves of those people who unfortunately cannot do the same, a day to keep the victims of one of the worst natural disasters the world has ever seen in our hearts.  Today is a day to remember to take a page out of the Tohoku playbook.  When things are rough, when times are dark, grit your teeth, tighten your belt, lace up your work boots, and がんばれ like it’s the last thing you’ll ever do.  Maybe you’ll even learn something in the process.

Kamiashi in Iwate-ken in 2011 and 2014

Kamiashi in Iwate Prefecture in 2011 and 2014 (Kyodo)

Me Versus the Japanese Cockroaches (Not a Racial Epithet)

Pictured: An infant Japanese cockroach (photo taken from Rakuten)

So one thing that they don’t really cover in most of those fancypants English-language living in Japan guides is the fact that there are crazy bugs here.  Like nasty, gnarly, size of your fist monster insects that are probably capable of surviving five nuclear winters.  They’re absolutely ridiculous and apparently resistant to the frigidly cold climate of Mito, the northeastern Japanese city I now call home.

When I first came to my apartment one month ago, things seemed pretty hunky-dory aside from the lingering stench of cigarette smoke left behind by the last tenant of my place.  Sure the bathroom seemed exceedingly dark and the ladder up to the loft where my bed was was crooked but, hell, I could get over those little things.  I’m a manly man, after all.  But this manliness would soon be put to the test.

Life on my own in a small apartment in a relatively alien city with a climate much colder than I’m used to (snow expected on Thursday) went relatively well for the first day or two.  But then my new friend decided to crash the party.  Cockroaches aren’t uncommon in Sacramento but they’re usually pretty small, die off whenever the thermometer dips below forty degrees fahrenheit, and still afraid of the usual bug deterrents (bugspray, traps, the bottom of a boot).  Japanese cockroaches, on the other hand, are like the hardened ex-cons of the insect world.  If you saw one of these things coming at you in a dark alley, you’d be best off just throwing your wallet at it before making a run in the complete opposite direction while screaming like Chekov in the Wrath of Kahn. Seriously.

My new friend is probably the size of my fist with a shell that’s probably thick enough to be bulletproof.  He smokes three packs of cigarettes a day and runs a drug cartel from my closet.  On occasion, I have seen seen him open the fridge and feast on leftovers.  You may not always see him or hear him, but you know that he’s there.  Watching.  Waiting.  Planning his next move, thinking of new ways to make your life a living hell.

I’ve tried a number of proactive measures but he’s too smart for any of them to work.  The dude just walks right through the sticky cockroach traps and someone in the administration staff of my household appears to be leaking the details of my planned bugspray raids.  I’ve heard cold temperatures are supposed to kill this things off but I’m pretty sure my friend has somehow been altered by Fukushima radiation, resulting in some sort of super-roach capable of breathing fire and devouring entire villages of unsuspecting people.  Nothing is going to get rid of this thing, nothing can stop it.  Like the aftermath of an unfortunate night of drunken antics, all you can really hope to do is try to contain the damage.

In the battle of man versus bug, the bug has emerged victorious.  I give up.  Resistance is futile.  There’s nothing more to be done.  I accept the rule of my new insect overlord.  All I ask is that he chip in for rent every once in a while.


P.S. His cousin Larry’s getting out of prison in a few weeks so if anyone wants to volunteer to take him in, just drop me  a line.  Even if you don’t, he’ll come to stay anyways.  Cockroaches aren’t really big on courtesy.