Tokyo is back to normal

As of yesterday evening, the omnipresent police have completely disappeared, put back into cryogenic storage, ground up into tasty hamburger meat or maybe they were never police to begin with, and they’ve been given back their tattered homeless rags.

It’s a good thing too. By the last day they were all looking pretty bored. I started to see them congregated into groups talking to each other instead of standing watch over commuter/terrorists.

Seriously, I really want to know where the hell they all went.

P.S. I’m posting this using ScribeFire.

Something’s up in Tokyo this morning

I noticed a policeman posted at the exit of the Ginza line in the Aoyama-ichome station this morning who’s normally not there. He was watching people carefully and had his baton in his hand, in addition to the pistol strapped to his belt. Then when I passed by the garbage cans near the exit of the Oedo line, I noticed they were taped shut. To top it off, there was a policeman patrolling the street behind the Canadian Embassy, and he wasn’t there to ticket the illegally parked scooters. My guess is the extra security has to do with the over 300 death threats posted to the Internet since the killings in Akihabara a few weeks ago.

Want to know what scenario worries me the most? Some nutjob mixing together a batch of hydrogen sulfide on a crowded train or subway.

Update: Twitter friends say the extra security could be related to the G8 summits. That would explain the cop outside the Canadian Embassy.

Update #2: The illegally parked scooters got ticketed. He looked pretty bored wandering the neighborhood all day. I guess he needed something to do to pass the time.

Suicide in Japan

A few months ago when I was posting random tidbits of stuff from the Japanese news media to this blog, I came across an article about a group suicide that happened in a hotel less than an hour from where I live. Three people–two men and a woman–packed into a bathroom, sealed the door with duct tape and mixed together some household chemicals to create hydrogen sulfide gas, which in high enough concentrations kills in less than 15 seconds. It was the first time I had heard of that method being used, and I thought it was interesting but too depressing to post. Also, I didn’t want to give anyone any ideas. It’s not too difficult to figure out that it’s simply a matter of finding something made with hydrochloric acid and something else containing sulfur, and mixing the two together in a bowl.

Weeks went by and I slacked off from reading news articles in Japanese, because frankly, it’s a time consuming pain in the ass, and keeping up with election news from the US in English requires far less effort in comparison. But eventually I did go back to it. (It’s what I do when I can’t sleep at night.) That’s when I discovered that suicide by hydrogen sulfide had become a fad. Between the beginning of this year and the end of May, there have been 517 deaths nationwide, compared to only 29 in all of last year. In at least one incident, the elderly parent of a suicide victim was found dead just outside the bathroom where the 39 year old man took his own life. In far more cases, entire neighborhoods have had to be evacuated until the air was deemed safe to breathe.

People who are suicidally depressed often feel like they just want to disappear; to go to sleep and never wake up. On various online bulletin boards (such as 2chan), blogs and websites, death by hydrogen sulfide has been toted as a way to take one’s own life quickly, easily, and painlessly. In fact, when you search Google for the term “hydrogen sulfide” in Japanese, the second highest ranking result after the Wikipedia article is a web page giving a step-by-step instructions on what chemicals to use, how to buy them, how much to mix together given the size of the room, and even a PDF sign to print out and tape to a door warning others to stay away and call authorities. Two links at the very bottom of the page take you to the sites for two suicide prevention organizations. I don’t know what the author’s point is, given the contents of the rest of the page.

But here’s what really blows me away: Even though for the past 10 years in Japan over 30,000 people have committed suicide annually, the government is doing very little to combat the problem. That statistic is four times the number of people who die in traffic accidents every year. On year’s total is roughly equal to the number of soldiers killed and wounded since the beginning of the Gulf War.

Nearly 20% of suicides are attributed to depression, the rest mostly to physical ailments or unsurmountable debts. It’s the ones caused by depression that are the most disturbing to me. If 6,060 people had died in 2007 from any other cause–homicide, SARS, AIDS, paper cuts–the news media would be in hysterics over the epidemic and the government would throw billions of yen at the problem. As it stands, the only concrete action I’ve been able to dig up on the part of the government is their declaration to cut the suicide rate by 20% by 2016. Maybe I just haven’t hit Google paydirt yet on what’s actually being done; the relevant section of the National Institute of Public Health’s website has a pretty picture of some flowers to show their concern, but the page hasn’t been updated since 2003.

I don’t know what my point is, other than 30,000 people out of a total population of 127 million is a hell of a lot of people, and the thought blows my mind. That, and I’d like to see psychotherapy cognitive behavioral therapy covered by national health insurance. Taking antidepressants without therapy is like taking anti-cholesterol medication but still eating at McDonald’s three times a day.

A Family Update

Andy last week decided that he really wants a dog, and he wants to buy it with 50,000 to 100,000 yen of his own money, made 100-150 yen at a time by helping around the house. He has suddenly become the model son, helping out washing dishes, vacuuming, and housecleaning without being asked, but extorting as much money as he from us afterwards.

We took him to a pet shop on Saturday to look at the dogs, and he really liked a yappy little brown chihuahua that was going for only 50,000 yen. Every time I commented on how much cheaper that one was compared to all the others, my wife turned to me and told me to STFU under her breath. Personally, I’m a fan of much larger dogs, preferably one that could eat a chihuahua for breakfast.

My wife told him (and me) that she’ll think more about getting a dog when Andy’s in the fifth grade, which is a euphemism for “when hell freezes over,” but to Andy that just means he has plenty of time to save up enough money. I’ve suggested a few alternative animals for pets: a penguin, a snake, a poo-flinging monkey, a chicken or a hamster that’ll make his room stink like rodent piss. But for him it’s chihuahua or bust. Mommy’s vote is for the latter.

Tony has been spending every waking moment playing Monster Hunter on his PSP, and he’d even play it in his sleep if we let him. It bothers me to see him wasting his formative years slaying imaginary monsters, so last Monday I very lovingly confiscated his PSP’s battery and told him I’d give it back after he read a book of his choice in English. He chose The Cat in the Hat Beginner Book Dictionary, which he chased me around with every day until we finally finished it together on Saturday afternoon. Immediately he went back to putting his young life on hold to spend hours and hours slashing more monsters and collecting bigger and more deadly weapons, so last night I asked him for the battery again, and he gave it up with barely a whimper. After all, there’s still Smash Brothers on the Wii and Animal Crossing on the Nintendo DS which he can use to waste his life.

This morning I sent a text message in English to his mobile phone: Your PSP battery is in the top drawer of your desk, inside the blue Oreo chocolate candy box. It he can decode the message, he can have the battery back. The messages will get progressively harder from now on, and eventually he’ll have to start answering questions. By the time he reaches junior high school, he’ll be decades ahead of his classmates in English ability, and he’ll thank me for being such a prick.

This guy keeps writing me.

I came upon this article by accident. (I hope you don’t mean that literally. -ed.)
Don’t you realize that although you did your civic duty, you also stopped the practiced skills of an art form. Chikan can indeed be considered an art form. Where else can one find throughout history that an entire culture has tolerated and encouraged the groping of its female population. Video and film industries have sprung from the art of Chikan. Techniques that have been passed down from generations of men to their sons on the groping of females so that the act becomes one of pleasure for both the male and female. Although many women will not admit it, I truly believe that they love the attention of being touched and fondled, not to cause injury but to make women feel loved. For many of these women the anonymous touch of a man’s hand rubbing her buttocks with his hands or erect clothed penis is an act of appreciating her beauty. There are millions of Asian females who know that their breasts are small in size, appreciate that Asian males touch and fondle them in respect of their beauty. When a woman’s undergarments are lowered as in panties or raised as in a bra, the material is never damaged or torn. That is a rarity. Also very rare is for a female to have her clothes cut off with scissors.

With this new all female trains thing in Japan and new laws, the beauty and spiritual joy of the art of Chikan will soon disappear forever.

痴漢は犯罪Frotterism is not an art form. It’s a sex crime, like rape. Nampa, otherwise known as “picking up women,” on the the other hand is not illegal and requires some finesse. It also empowers the woman by giving her the choice of shooting you down, but gropers are too cowardly to accept those terms.

Every woman who’s accosted on a crowded train is someone’s daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife or mother. It makes me happy to give them a safe zone, knowing that I’m doing it from them and for the people who care about them but aren’t there. I don’t do it because I’m all high and mighty, I do it because I’ve found that it makes me feel good. The same goes for giving up my seat to someone who needs it. I guess I’m just lucky that being kind to others what does it for me.

Four Day Weekend, Day 4

In the morning, Tony and Andy played together. In the afternoon, Tony had soccer practice and Andy played with his loudmouth friends. While watching him and his friends play together, it made me realize that Grand Theft Auto is the adult equivalent of smashing trucks together on the living room floor.

Me, I scanned more photos (Tony’s birth, B&W photos from my time at Penn State), drank beer and reminisced about my college days. Out of the hundreds of people I knew back then, I can probably name about 15 now.

I can’t believe I used to go out in public wearing those enormous Harry Potterish glasses. No wonder I never got laid much back then.

Four Day Weekend, Day 2

On Saturday morning (day 1) I drove my wife to work so we could have the car to go to Navel Park. That was the plan, but when I got home I crawled back into bed and didn’t wake up until the crack of 1pm. I felt refreshed, but guilty for shooting our plans for the day to hell. The kids didn’t mind though, they had their fill of portable, TV and PC games while I was in lala land.

Sunday I was determined to get the kids out of the house to do something fun. As a parent I’m supposed to do that. My wife is a lot better at it though. It was easy to convince Tony to go to Navel Park with me, but try as we might we couldn’t convince Andy to come along. He wanted to stay home and play with his friends, who are a bit nutty but good kids. They think it’s funny to talk to me all the time in a fake American accent. It kind of makes me want to whack them over the head, but I just go with the flow instead.

Tony and I had fun together at the park. We played catch until his arm gave out, roamed around the tunnels below the roller slide, swung on the skyrope, and climbed the rope and log jungle gym. Afterwards we bought lunch at a food stall, checked out the outdoor tsuri bori lake then went home to make sure Andy was still alive. My wife would be really angry if I left him home alone and he got hit by a car or something. But Grandpa was home and so was his friend’s mother so I wasn’t too worried.

Four Day Weekend, Day 1

It turns out we have a four day weekend, not a three day one. Saturday was Constitution Memorial Day (kenpou kinen-bi), today is Childrens’ Day (kodomo no hi), tomorrow is Greenery Day (midori no hi) and Tuesday is a freebie because two of the holidays were over the weekend. That freebie didn’t show up on the desktop calendar I use at work, but somehow everyone else in Japan but me knew about it. I suspect it’s something genetic.

Yesterday (Saturday) I finally hooked up the flatbed/negative/slide scanner (CanoScan 8400F) that I bought second hand for 8000 yen months and months ago but has been sitting in a corner of my room still in the box. I stayed up till the wee hours of the morning looking through my slides from my year as an exchange student in Ecuador and my black and white negatives from college, and found the negative of the best photo I’ve ever taken:

Here are some of the photos I took while I was in Ecuador in 1985-86. Unfortunately most of my negatives are still at my parents’ house in the US. And really, they don’t seem so special anymore now that it’s possible to search for the most interesting photos on Flickr tagged “Ecuador” and find hundreds of images better than the ones I took.

While I was upstairs in my habitat home office reminiscing and playing with my scanner, Andy was outside playing MTV Jackass with his neighborhood friends: