Monday, 15 November 2010

Negotiating the road to gender equality ... with a flip-up map

With attention focused on the APEC conference in Yokohama, here are some stories from the past week you may have missed.

On Monday 9th, police arrested a panty thief who had attempted to steal three pairs of underwear from a washing line on a woman`s balcony. When police searched his home they found 3,000 other stolen pairs of panties. The 55-year-old man said, "I have always been interested in women`s underwear". So too, apparently, were the police who displayed the panties at the police station and invited journalists to photograph them.

Also on the 9th, Seibu announced the launch of Maid Trains on the Chichibu to Ikebukuro line. Maids will ride the trains, playing games with the passengers. Some station shops will have photo studios so travellers can have photos taken with the maids. (

On Thursday 11th November, Triumph displayed their `concept bra` designed to introduce foreigners to Japanese tourist spots. The bustier has three buttons which when pressed welcome tourists in English, Chinese and Korean. A short skirt `flips up` to reveal a map of Japan.

What a sad, third-rate little country ... which by the way ranks 94th out of 134 in terms of gender equality in the annual World Economic Forum ranking.

Next week, granny arrested for pinching Y fronts from launderettes and police display them for women who have `always been interested in men`s underwear`, Seibu launch the Beefcake Express and Triumph display the concept tourism boxer shorts ... with flip-up map. Never going to happen, is it?

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Accio final Harry Potter movie and the end of an era!

Feeling very British today. Did two lectures on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the continuing popularity of Sherlock Holmes. Then on the way home I was greeted by this poster on platform 9 3/4 at Iidabashi subway station. (Note: magical commuter apparating in foreground.)

Monday, 8 November 2010

Aokigahara Suicide Forest on VBS

I have received some emails asking why the Japanese birth rate is so low. Today I have been correcting some essays written by students for an upcoming essay competition. They could write on any topic and several wrote about how difficult it is to live in Japan. Looking over their essays they say much the same things, that Japanese people have little spare time, are forced to overwork, take few holidays and that Japan is "not a gentle country for women because the co-existence of work, housework and childcare is difficult in our country". Another student writes, "I think many people feel a lot of stress and tiredness". Yet Japanese people seem unable to express their worries. The student states,

"When we need help, we cannot ask for help. Why? In my opinion, many Japanese have superficial relationships, so we don`t have close relations. As a result, we can`t consult about our worries ... I guess there are many people who have negative thinking. People are sometimes afraid of failure in work, and they don`t speak actively. If they fail in something, they will lose their confidence. On the other hand, I think power harrassment by their boss and bullying also causes suicide".

Of course there are many good points about Japan. The trains run on time, it is clean and safe. But this is only the case because the rules here are very strict, and happiness of the individual is forfeited for the benefit of the group.

Watch the beautiful but tragic video below to see what happens to those who cannot ask for help.

Nice lunch, shame about the students ...

In 1992 there were 2.05 million 18-year-olds in Japan. Due to the drop in the birth rate there are 1.3 million today. There is now a university place for every 18-year-old who wants one but since just over 40 percent go on to tertiary education that leaves a lot of empty chairs in a lot of expensively air-conditioned classrooms. MEXT, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, estimates that around 46 percent of Japan`s 595 private universities are missing their recruitment targets and around 40 percent are in debt. Small colleges, in particular tandai (two-year colleges), are closing or amalgamating. The word from colleagues even at higher level universities is that they are lowering entrance standards in order to attract enough students.

How is it playing out at my university? A few weeks ago, we held our first round of entrance tests and interviews. 29 lecturers were called in to work on a Saturday (tasty obento provided, see above) to test 17 high school students. In a room which seats 144, I and a colleague invigilated a 30-minute entrance examination for three students who were interested (hopefully) in attending our college`s tandai.

Last weekend, I and a colleague interviewed 9 students (6 colleagues interviewed a further 28). They had to read a paragraph in english and answer one question about it. Not a single student could answer the question correctly, nor could they adequately answer other simple questions that I put to them. What the hell are students studying for 6 years in their compulsory junior and senior high school english-language classes? The sad thing is, on their shibo douki (the part of their application on which they write their hopes for the future) most wrote that they want to work for travel companies or as english-language teachers. (Last year it was hotel staff and flight attendants but since then JAL`s gone into the red and the strong Yen has emptied the international hotels of foreign tourists). Moreover they were well prepared for the Japanese-language part of their interviews with many reciting answers that they had obviously memorised in advance. They seemed to have motivation but were let down by the poor level of education they had received.
Will they get a place at our university? What do you think? And even more importantly for us, will they accept it?