Earlier this month, the “Japanese-styled family game show” Japanizi: Going Going Gong premiered in the United States and Canada, on Disney XD and YTV respectively. The show puts teams of kids through physical challenges ranging from running along conveyor belts to dressing up as penguins in order to slide down a slippery slope—oftentimes while “ninjas” throw various projectiles at them. Marblemedia, the company behind Japanizi, describes it as a chance for audiences to “experience the zany world of Japanese game show culture.”
This isn’t a new proposition. Japanizi itself is a kid-friendly version of ABC’s I Survived a Japanese Game Show, which ran from 2008 to 2009. Even long before that, Japanese game shows have been sent up by the likes of The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live. The punchline to those gags resembles English speakers’ Youtube comments on the subject: These programs are “crazy,” “wacky,” and “weird.”
But the stereotype of Japanese game shows as bizarre affairs where producers put contestants through strange punishment just doesn’t ring true in 2013. The “Japanese game show culture” Japanizi and I Survived A Japanese Game Show trumpet—and that comedies and comment sections mock—once existed, sometimes in forms even more extreme than Western parodies. But that hasn’t been the case in the last 15 years. If anything, more and more Japanese people say their TV choices nowadays have become boring.
Read more. [Image: Disney; YTV]
"No Child Left Behind." "Race to the Top." The names suggest mobility, progress, moving on up and not falling back. The goal of education, according to these national education initiatives with their standards and testing, is forward motion and competitive advantage, progress and success, both in an unabashedly economic context. President Obama talks about how we need to “invest in our young people” in order to compete in a global marketplace. Bill Gates, too, argues we need standards in order to become “more competitive as a country.”
In this, as in so many other things, Japan preceded us. In her new book, Precarious Japan, anthropologist Anne Allison returns to the Japanese education system that she discussed in some detail in her 1995 monograph Permitted and Prohibited Desires. As Allison says in both volumes, the Japanese education system after World War II was built around highly competitive and rigorous high-school testing, which required enormous discipline and study. The goal was to prepare students for equally arduous employment in Japan’s industrial capitalist economy, where men worked basically all the time. (In Precarious Japan, Allison relates one anecdote of a man sleeping at his desk for no extra pay.) Good scores on tests ensured good jobs in Japan’s corporate economy. For their part, Allison writes, Japanese women were expected to stay home and focus all their time and energy on preparing children for their exams. In Allison’s words, they “worked hard at love.” Family, school, and work thus fit into a single seamless system of economic striving that “catapulted Japan to the heights of global prestige as an industrial power.”
Read more. [Image: Yuriko Nakao/Reuters]
When people retire, they often find new hobbies to fill the time—golf, maybe, or contract bridge. Perhaps Xbox. Rising numbers of elderly Japanese, however, are picking up a more sinister pastime: stalking. In 2012, the number of stalking incidents perpetrated by people aged 60 and over hit 1,834, a surge of 3.8 times compared with 2003, according to the National Police Agency (via RocketNews24, which translates the Japanese press). Stalkers aged 70 and older jumped to 505, a 460 percent increase from 2003.
Japan has a big problem with stalking. A fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old hours after she reported her stalker to the police is the latest in a slew of high-profile stalking-related murders that have left the Japanese public miffed by what many see as police inaction. Only in October did Japan change the law to recognize e-mails as a medium of stalking harassment, along with phone calls and faxes, after a woman was slain by her ex-boyfriend from whom she received more than 1,000 threatening emails.
Read more. [Image: Issei Kato/Reuters]
Here’s an unpleasant bit of new evidence, from a respectable Japanese think tank. The rising red line above shows Japanese people who don’t like China. The rising purple line is Chinese people who don’t like Japan. The plummeting blue and green lines are people in each country who like the other.
You can list explanations for these trends. Japanese leaders have made repeated inflammatory visits to the wartime Yasukuni shrine; Chinese state media have run nonstop anti-Japanese war dramas on TV; both sides have pushed the dispute over the Diaoyu / Senkaku islands. You can also think of officials in each country who would back off (and have, in the past few months) if the hostile attitudes threatened to provoke actual hostilities.
We all do stupid things when we’re drunk, but among bad decisions, this one deserves special distinction: on the night of January 4, 1965, U.S. Army Sergeant Charles Robert Jenkins pounded 10 beers, deserted his infantry company at the edge of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, walked alone across a minefield, and defected to North Korea. He was thrown into a chilly, spartan house (he tried, unsuccessfully, to leave) and forced to study the works of the North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung for 11 hours every day. By 1972, he could recite Kim’s core principles by heart in Korean. That year, he was forcibly naturalized as a North Korean citizen. He went on to work as an English teacher, a translator, and an actor, under 24-hour surveillance and conditions of near-starvation.
Read more. [Image: John Cuneo]
Here’s the crazy thing about the plan to build an almost mile long, 90-foot deep, subterranean ice wall around the Fukushima nuclear plant: It’s not really very crazy at all. Building cryogenic barriers sounds like the specialty of an obscure supervillain, but it’s a well-established technique in civil engineering, used regularly for tunnel boring and mining. Ground freezing was even tested as a way of containing radioactive waste in the 1990s at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and performed admirably.
Joe Sopko, the civil engineering firm Moretrench’s director of ground freezing, has spoken with several consultants about the details of the project, and he’s convinced it’s certainly possible. “This is not a complicated freeze job. It really isn’t,” he told me. “However, the installation, because of the radiation, is.”
Read more. [Image: TEPCO]
Even the most basic framework of Japan’s approach to gun ownership is almost the polar opposite of America’s. U.S. gun law begins with the second amendment’s affirmation of the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” and narrows it down from there. Japanese law, however, starts with the 1958 act stating that “No person shall possess a firearm or firearms or a sword or swords,” later adding a few exceptions. In other words, American law is designed to enshrine access to guns, while Japan starts with the premise of forbidding it. The history of that is complicated, but it’s worth noting that U.S. gun law has its roots in resistance to British gun restrictions, whereas some academic literature links the Japanese law to the national campaign to forcibly disarm the samurai, which may partially explain why the 1958 mentions firearms and swords side-by-side.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
The project, “Memories for the Future,” began with a team from Google Streetview compiling a set of before-and-after panoramas of the region’s street network. Now, with demolition imminent, Google has begun constructing three-dimensional interior maps of dozens of public buildings as well. Like Streetview, they are freely navigable.
[…] The scenes are strange, sad, sometimes beautiful. In Rikuzentataka’s Municipal Kesen Elementary School, flooded by a surge in the Kesen River, children’s toys lie scattered in the rubble. On the first floor of the Rikizentakata City Office, where the carcass of a silver car has come to rest, a purple vase sits boldly on a ledge.
Read more. [Images: GoogleMaps]
A system of national universities would (1) fight the rise in tuition, and (2) accommodate all those smart second-generation kids whose parents we should be recruiting to our country in droves. But it will also help the nation in a 3rd way by giving us an outlet for higher research spending. The U.S. has been spending less and less on R&D as a percentage of our GDP, even as R&D becomes more and more important. In part because of this, there are legions of PhDs being forced to take private-sector jobs in which they have no expertise. These trends need to be reversed in order to maintain America’s status as the leading technological nation. And a system of federal universities is the perfect vehicle to increase research spending and provide an outlet for all those PhDs.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
The People’s Republic of China, the most populous country, and the second-largest economy, in the world, is a vast, dynamic nation that continues to grow and evolve. In this, the latest entry in a semi-regular series on China, we find a tremendous variety of images, including a military theme park, a rocket launch, a seriously massive shoe, a Pac Man soap-box racer, and a man who invented his own prosthetic arms. This collection offers only a small view of people and places across the country over the past several weeks.
See more. [Images: AP, Reuters]