About Lulu

I am a student in Sydney, Australia, currently completing my Masters in journalism.

Occupy Tokyo

With the ‘occupy’ movement gaining momentum out of New York to all corners of the globe, Japan has organized its own protests with Occupy Tokyo to held from the 15th of October.

The issues which concern the Japanese protesters are local in nature and revolves mainly around the handling of the March tsunami and the consequent nuclear disaster, the constantly changing prime ministers, high unemployment rate and the fact that making a comfortable living is becoming more difficult as the years pass.

following the March disaster, Tokyo has been the site for something that is rarely seen in Japanese society – public protesters dissatisfied with the way their country has been run. In a country where drawing attention to yourself or speaking out is frowned on it is indeed an unusual sight and organisers are hoping that the anti-nuclear protests could be a catalyst for the Occupy movement.

Many involved questioned the viability of the Occupy Tokyo movement, wondering if protesters would have enough time and force to galvanise the movement. But as the 15th rolled around, 300 people turned up at two locations (Roppongi and Shinjuku) to protest against income inequality as well as nuclear power and Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco).

Here is a video of the Shinjuku protest

More images of the protest can be seen in this article by the Japan Subculture Research Centre.

Slogans seen on the day read “Let’s firmly oppose the TPP that only makes 1 percent [of the population] happy”, “No to Radioactivity” and “The 1 percent who are stained with their greed for profits should disappear for the sake of the world’s happiness”.

Here is an exert from an article off The Japan Times website where Journalist Takahiro Fukada was able to interview some protester;

Kazuko Hirano, an 80-year-old pensioner from Setagaya Ward, said she decided to participate because she strongly believes Japan should eliminate nuclear plants.

“[I joined to get] as many people as possible angry about nuclear power plants and to make demands to the state” to halt them, she said.

Masashi Hayasaki, an employee from Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, decided to show up because he is concerned about the TPP talks.

Joining the free-trade negotiations will see the country “swallowed by global capitalism” and “destroy Japanese tradition and culture,” he said.

“I just want to tell pedestrians not to be indifferent to the TPP and nuclear power plants,” he said

and passers-by;

Passers-by had mixed feelings about the protests.

“Although it would be good if [nuclear power plants] did not exist, it is impossible to make them disappear immediately,” said a 23-year-old employee from Kawasaki who was shopping in the area.

The man, who would only give his last name, Azuma, said one of the key issues that needs to be resolved is the cost of fully making the conversion from nuclear power to wind, thermal and other renewable forms of energy.

Another man from Saitama, who came to see what the protest was like, said, “We should consider” whether to hold onto nuclear power plants.

“Japan is peaceful since people can speak with various opinions,” said the man, 52, who declined to be named.

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She’s a star!

In a similar vein to the last post, as well as humanoid robots, computer generated people are also HUGE in Japan!

Megpoid

The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week that ‘pop stars’ Megpoid and Akikoroid has made the top ten charts in Japan. But unlike the average pop star, nothing about this duo is real.

The duo is completely computer generated, including their high-pitched voices which are made on Yamaha’s Vocaloid program. But despite the fact that these popstars have been materialised out of thin air by some clever programmers, their cuteness and novelty factor has made them a world-wide sensation to techno geeks as well as Jpop lovers.

These are not the first characters to gain fame from the Vocaloid program. In fact there is a whole family of CG characters. Here are some in concert cheered on by what sounds like a stadium of fanboys;

This again demonstrates the prevalence of technology in everyday life in Japan.

There is a robotic pop star as well. The HRP-4C developed by Japan’s Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology last year was very popular in the geek-tech communities and also uses the Vocaloid program. However her stiff dance moves and awkward facial expressions do not measure up to the more fluid CG characters.

Uncanny Valley

Uncanny Vally, the pseudo-scientific hypothesis in robotics that as robots become more human-like but not entirely human, it will cause revulsion in its human observers.

The 'valley' on the graph indicates the level of likeness which will cause revulsion

So why is it that the Japanese are racing headlong into the development of artificial intelligence, especially those which bear a creepy resemblance to humans? Meet Actroid-f, made by the Japanese company Kokoro, which can mimic the facial expressions of its operator.

“Cameras and face-tracking software follow a remote operator so facial expressions and head movements are reproduced in the robot in a master-slave relationship via Internet link. ” Reports CNet

In this video, Actroid-f is dressed as a nurse to fill her intended purpose of an observer nurse in Japanese hospitals. I am not sure how the presence of these humanoid robots will function to reassure their future patients.

Not only has Japan reserved a niche for robots in their future work force, robots has always had a strong presence in popular culture which is not surprising given Japan’s obsession with technology. Anime and Manga characters such as Astroboy, Arale and the cyborgs of Ghost in the Shell are hugely popular.

Astro Boy - The original AI

But when you look at the underlying themes of these stories, things get a bit more complicated. The ‘ghost’ inside the shell is the whisper of the consciousness of the artificial intelligence, and Astroboy and Arale are treated like real children, albeit with super powers and perhaps this established presence of robots in pop culture explains the acceptance in Japan for the uncannily life-like robots.

It’s a sign

For a country with many rigid social rules and etiquettes, Japan has a whimsical way of communicating public service announcements to its public, as to be expected in a country which is obsessed with cute and quirky designs and prints spliced with the emphasis on politeness and being careful not to cause offense.

It is hard to find signs in Japan one would expect in most other countries with their glaring colours and blaring messages. Instead imagine teddy bears in posters against public drunkenness, or this poetic poster against taking up too much seat space on the train:

"Your seat should only be as wide as your bottom, not the width of your spread legs."

and

"If you're going to read words during rush hour, we wish you'd also read between the lines" and "A person was waving at me, he was waving away my smoke"

After the Fukushima nuclear accident there has been a massive public movement for energy conservation. Some Japanese graphic artists have made their own posters for this cause and many are in the same vein as those typically cute yet effective PSA posters.

More can be seen on the Pink Tentacle blog.

Japan’s Prime Ministerial rotating door

On the second of September, Japan welcomed its 95th Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda after he won the run-off vote to succeed Naoto Kan following Kan’s resignation.

Noda (54) – who famously compared himself to a bottom feeding loach in his bid for PM – was the former Minister of Finance, and the sixth man in five years to hold the position of Prime Minister.

To put this into perspective:

Former Prime Minister Kan resigned amid plunging approval ratings and heavy criticism of his handling of disaster recovery. His predecessor Yukio Hatoyama resigned after he broke his campaign promise to close down a controversial American naval base in Okinawa.

Noda has a daunting task ahead as the new PM, having inherited the task of rebuilding after the catastrophic March earthquake and tsunami and the consequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima. On top of that, there is the fractioning in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the country’s economic stagnation and soaring Yen to be dealt with.

But according to Takashi Yokota of Newsweek, Noda is a hard-nosed politician with a clean career unbridled by scandals who is a likely candidate to bring Japan out of many of its woes.

“Noda is a competent technocrat who can speed the pace of reconstruction, reunify his governing party, and rein in the country’s rising currency,” Says Yokota.

“Despite his bland reputation, the politician displayed grit and mettle on the campaign trail.”

Ganbatte kudasai ne, Noda-sama.

Konnichi wa, minna-san!

After years of contemplating a career in writing and then going to university to pursue said career, I am finally starting a blog!

This act of blogging, I am assured by most of my university lecturers/ journalist know-it-alls, is a must have for anyone who is serious about writing – to make a prescence for themselves on the interwebs. But while I love reading blogs, I had trouble pin-pointing one topic in which I am obsessed with, as all my favourite bloggers seem to be with their chosen topic.

I pondered and debated until I though back to myself a few years back when I was doing my undergraduate in Japanese Studies, I was rightly obsessed! I loved everything about Japanese culture; I like anime, J-pop, furos and cherry blossoms, as well as the war in the pacific, the yakuza and Japan’s self implosion as it sped along into the future. I took in the good and the bad, EVERTHING was interesting.

With this blog I hope to bring to readers a certain voyeuristic look at Japan and the idiosyncratic practices embedded in everyday Japanese culture. This won’t be about the over the top absurdities which many associate with J pop culture such as tentical porn, nope, this will be about Japan as experienced by an everyday observer.

I will leave you here with a welcome present – “ponponpon”, the chart topping single by blogger, model and all round Harajuku girl Kyary Pamyu Pamyu which has clocked more than four million views on Youtube in two months. It’s fun, colourful, insane and randomly jammed packed with cute and strange things, and perfectly representative of youth culture in Tokyo.