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Stories from and

Tokyo Marches in Solidarity With US Protesters #TOKYO4FERGUSON

Two recent court decisions in the US exonerating police officers who killed two black men — 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and 43-year-old Eric Garner in New York — has sparked demonstrations across the country. The African American Youth Travel Program (AAYTP) organised a protest against police brutality, racism and injustice on December 6 in solidarity with the protests in the US and around the world. 

One protest occurred in Tokyo.

Is the ‘Sky Cycle’ Japan's Weirdest Theme-Park Ride?

seto ohashi

The Great Seto Bridge, looking south towards Takamatsu on Shikoku. Image: Nevin Thompson.

If you're looking for a breathtaking view and aren't afraid of heights, the “Sky Cycle” in Okayama Prefecture's Brazilian Washuzan Highland park is definitely worth a ride.

Photos of the Sky Cycle have been appearing on Twitter recently, thanks likely to the striking image found below of a tandem bicycle overlooking the park from an elevated railway.

Washuzan is located at the northern end of the Great Seto Bridge, a massive structure that spans Japan's Inland Sea to connect the island of Honshu to the north with the island of Shikoku to the south. The bridge is a true marvel of engineering, stretching more than 13 kilometers (8 miles) over the ocean.

The bridge is also a beautiful site, which of course is why an amusement park was built at its base.

The soaring, slightly scary Sky Cycle ride, with its magnificent view, is perfect fodder for Japanese prime time television:

Caption: The fearsome Sky Cycle of Washuzan

While Brazil's connection to the area (and hence the name) remains unclear, it is worth nothing that many Brazilians of Japanese ancestry were recruited to work in nearby industrial areas.

Japan's countryside is dotted with large amusement parks, many bearing ethnic themes, that date back to the affluent years of the Bubble era. International travel was still a novelty for many Japanese people then, and ethnically named theme parks provided a glimpse of foreign cultures without the expense of traveling abroad.

The remote area of Niigata, for example, was once home to the Kashiwazaki Turkish Culture Village. Meanwhile, visitors to Nagasaki in Japan's far west could visit a theme park filled with life-size replicas of Dutch heritage buildings.

It's also customary in Japan to include an amusement part at prominent national landmarks like the Great Seto Bridge. Even Mount Fuji has its own park, Fuji-Q Highland. There, thrill-seekers can gaze upon Mount Fuji's slopes as they endure punishing g-forces aboard the park's famed roller coasters.

We made it to Fuji-Q!

@tamiho_29

Okayama Prefecture's Brazilian Washuzan Highland seems to take the cake, however. Japanese Internet users are dubbing it the world's weirdest theme park.

Hirotan Forest, an Increasingly Rare ‘Satoyama’ School Connecting Rural Japanese Kids to Nature

生まれて初めてのこぎりで竹を切り、手作りした装置や食器を使って流しそうめん体験。外で食べるそうめんの味は最高! 撮影は2014年8月2日、SanoRieによる。使用許可済み。

Children are being taught how to make use of an abundent satoyama resource, bamboo. Bamboo can be used for tools, food, or in this case, a sluice for slurping noodles in the summertime (eating noodles outside in summer is always fun). Photo taken in August 2014. Image credit: SanoRie.

A satoyama school in rural Toyama Prefecture Japan's Hokuriku “north lands” that was closed down earlier this spring has been given new life.

Satoyama is a term rich with meaning in Japan, and broadly refers to an intensively cultivated land that blends in with the surrounding environment. Much of rural Japan was once such satoyama, where wet rice cultivation not only depended on clean water flowing from the surrounding hills, but the rice fields played a keystone role in supporting a rich, vibrant ecosystem.

A satoyama school, then, resided at the heart of a community, serving as a method for transferring important lessons about land stewardship to future generations who would continue to live in and help sustain the satoyama. As Japan's rural population declines, over the past two decades these schools have continued to shut down.

In the case of the Toyama school, a group of local parents, caregivers and other volunteers have resurrected the school and have called it Hirotan No Mori, or Hirotan Forest. The repurposed school, now a community NGO, posts photos and information about classes and events on their Facebook page.

The purpose of Hirotan Forest is to provide local children of all ages the opportunity to experience nature. The school is located about 30 minutes by car from the small rural city of Takaoka in Toyama, quite close to the Japan Sea coast.

Hirotan Forest gives kids a chance to experience the traditional pursuits of rural kids: digging up bamboo shoots, gathering to watch fireflies in June, and making traditional crafts out of bamboo. In November there are plans to give children the opportunity to build a treehouse in the forest.

The idea is to teach children about rural traditions while allowing them to experience a deeper connection with the natural world. The hope is to pass on methods of living within and protect their satoyama and at the same time learn how to enjoy both working and passing time in the surrounding forest.

Ultimately, the satoyama school and Hirotan Forest are also all about preserving a way of life that is vanishing in the rest of Japan as the population ages.

Non-Japanese Who Stayed in Sendai After 3.11 Earthquake Walk for Recovery

Despite being uncertain of what the future might bring, dozens of non-Japanese people decided to remain in their adopted home of Sendai, a coastal city located in the north of Japan hit by massive tsunami triggered by the earthquake of March 11, 2011.

Sharing the footsteps to recovery, those standing together with the locals will join the parade “Da-te-fes“, a walk  on September 28th with Sendai residents of ten different nationalities dressed in traditional kimono.

Participants will include geisha, a bride and bridegroom, and traditional dancers who succeed the moves from 17th century.

With support from Finnish Wellbeing Center Project in Sendai, the parade looks to boost the welcoming mood for upcoming UN  World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in next March, and let the residents know about the conference. 

Learn more about Sendai on Tourism Sendai's Facebook page.

Image of geisha walk. Photo provided by Yumi Nakano

Image of geisha walk. Photo provided by Yumi Nakano

VIRAL VIDEO: ‘But We're Speaking Japanese’

Screenshot of YouTube video "But we're speaking Japanese" by user name helpmefindparents

Screenshot of YouTube video “But we're speaking Japanese” by user helpmefindparents

video skit of a Japanese waitress serving a group of foreign-looking customers who speak Japanese has gone viral. The clip has resonated among many Japanese-speaking expats who occasionally experience how local Japanese communicate with foreigners based not on the language they are speaking but on how they look.

Watch the video (with English subtitles) below:

Japan's Citizen Media Meet at Mikawa Medifes 2014

第12回市民メディア全国交流集会 三河メディフェス2014のウェブサイトのスクリーンショット

Screenshot of the Mikawa Medifes 2014 website

Citizen media makers in Japan are gathering in the Mikawa region of Japan's Aichi prefecture this weekend for the 12th annual citizen media conference Mikawa Medifes 2014 [ja]. Dozens of sessions about civic media will be held at the Kariya City Cultural Center from May 3 to 5, 2014.

Themed in “the media near you”,  the conference counts the participation of local media makers such as Kariya's citizen broadcasting station Channel Daichi [ja] and community radio station fm838 [ja]. Participants will share their case studies and practices in areas such as film production, hyper-local media, online broadcasting, remixing newspapers [ja] and student-produced radio programs.

Over three days, the conference seeks to exchange ideas and information about the relationship between civic engagement and participatory media for the future.

The post was edited by L. Finch.

Manga “1F” Takes You Inside Fukushima Nuclear Plant

Ichi Efu, by Kazuto Tatsuta.

Ichi Efu, by Kazuto Tatsuta.

A manga by artist going by the name Kazuto Tatsuta takes readers inside the crippled nuclear plant of Fukushima Dai-Ichi, or ichi efu (1F) – as insiders dubbed it – a place he himself worked in 2012, a decision he took in a period of financial struggle.

The graphic novel “1F: The Labor Diary Of Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant,” (いちえふ ~福島第一原子力発電所労働記~) offers a rare peek into the plant which was hit by one of the most powerful tsunamis in Japan's history on March 11, 2011.

The plant currently remains accessible exclusively to plant workers, employees of Tepco – the operating company – and few representatives of the press, on occasional tours.

In the pilot chapter, he describes the daily routine of the laborers, the different masks, layers of protective suits and clothing they have to wear every day, the use of an Active Personal Dosimeter which alerts them when they reach the daily radiation dose allowed, and their trip back and forth from the J-village, a former sports center that was converted into a residence for the laborers after the accident.

Tatsuta's manga won the 34th Manga Open award in 2013.

Join IGF Japan to Discuss Internet Governance

IGF Japan, the Japanese chapter of the Internet Governance Forum, where people involved in web come together to discuss Internet governance challenges, will be held on March 14, 2014 at Aoyama Gakuin University. Sessions cover topics such as personal data and privacy, emerging generic top-level domains in Japan, and global online trends.

Ethnic North Korean Schools in Japan Face Ever-Hostile Situation

Koreans living in Japan‘ is a vague word glueing very different groups together under the same umbrella term. Based on their affiliation to North/South Korea and the timing of diaspora (whether it happened before/after the Japanese imperial rule during the World War 2 ear), each sub-group goes by a different name, sharing little similarities. Stark division between them is once again solidified by education system; North Koreans in Japan attend a special ethnic school that resembles ones that are in North Korea. Markus Bell, after visiting one North Korean school in Japan, wrote an extensive report on multiple threats those schools face, with some background information about the concerned ethnic group, as the financial help from their home country has been significantly reduced and also funding from the Japanese government was recently cut off. 

Heavy Snowfall Brings Playtime to Tokyo

Heavy snowstorms hit Japan on Feb 8, 2014. Twenty seven centimeters of snow fell in central Tokyo, for the first time in 45 years. Moro Miya, a writer and a blogger who specializes in introducing Japanese culture to Chinese readers, collected the photos of snowmen and snow-animals that were posted by the netizens on twitter.

Adorably Ugly Cats Take Over Tokyo Train

"Ultimate Relaxation," the winner of

“Ultimate Relaxation,” the grand prize winner of Japan's recent busukawa neko “adorably ugly cat” contest. Image source: Canon Japan

The winners of a popular contest to find Japan's most “adorably ugly” cats (busukawa neko) have taken over select trains on Tokyo's Yamanote Line. 

The Yamanote Line is full of “adorably ugly” (busukawa) cats!

Many train lines in Japan are already plastered with print advertising. Now, for two weeks in November and early December, the Yamonote Line, the loop line that travels around central Tokyo, is decked out in photos of the winning cats. A YouTube video titled “Canon's Adorably Ugly Cat Campaign Hijacks Tokyo Trains to Promote New PIXUS Printer” offers a glimpse:

The campaign is sponsored by PIXUS, a line of Canon desktop printers, and offers a grand prize of 100,000 yen (US$10,000). Out of nearly 6,000 submissions, 288 finalists and prizewinners ended up displayed on the train.

One lucky cat won the top prize:

And here is the grand prize winner! The photo's title: “Ultimate Relaxation.”

 There were a variety of runners-up. This cat won second place in the contest:

And here is the second-place prize. The title: “No f-ing way, man.” The golden color of this cat's coat perfectly balances the fine silver fur of our grand prize winner.

As the purpose of the contest was to promote Canon's new printer, many of the cats were awarded prizes according to how well their ugly mugs might accessorize a variety of personal belongings.

And the winner for “would look best printed on a handbag” is “May I eat a sticky bun?”

Here is the winner of “would look best printed on a T-shirt”!!! This cat has tickled the fancy of T-shirt designers everywhere!

The cacophony of ugly cat images has become quite popular with Japanese commuters, who have posted photos of the decked-out trains on social media.

This is so cute!  #スマフォトレイン (smartphone photo train) #山手線 (Yamanote Line) #ブサかわ猫ちゃんグランプリ (Adorably Ugly Grand Prix)

The Yamonote Line is CRAZY! It's turned into a total advertisement for PIXUS. The carriage is absolutely plastered with adorably ugly cat pictures. Now I totally want to make a calendar! \(^o^)/

The full list of adorably ugly cat contest finalists can be seen here. To keep on top of Japan's adorably ugly cats, follow @busakawaleon

Japan's Internet Runs on Cats and Dogs

It's said that the Internet runs on cats. Japan is no different, although cute dogs can quickly become the subject of massively popular memes too.

One of the most popular omoshiro neta (cool internet memes) in Japan at the moment is a dog with an unusual coat:

While I thought for the longest time this was a Husky with an unusual markings, it turns out this doggy is actually a breed called a Yakutian Laika. I think I'm in love!

In just two days, @LoupGarou12's post about the Yakutian Laika has been re-tweeted 8,500 times and has been marked as a favorite 12,000 times on Twitter.

Another popular Twitter meme is this cat:

Cat being sucked face-first into car.

So far the image has been re-tweeted 26,000 times since the beginning of the week and has 36,000 favorites.

Meanwhile, this cat has also become Internet-famous in Japan:

Looks more similar than I had ever imagined.

Dogs that behave like cats are also popular on the Japanese internet.

For two years our Husky has acted just like a cat. (`・ω・´) Too cute! (p`・ω・´) q 

Fashion Week Turns World's Gaze on Tokyo

The six-day Mercedes Fashion Week kicked off in Tokyo on October 13 and culminated on October 19. Fashion Week is all about launching hot new 2015 fashions from the planet's biggest brands, with daily runway events and fashion exhibitions.

For nearly 20 years Mercedes Benz has sponsored “fashion weeks” all over the world in fashion centers such as New York, Paris and Milan. The Tokyo show marks the start of a series of events all over the world this fall taking place in 20 cities all over the world.

As one of the “top 5 cities,” Tokyo was for one week the center of attention in the global fashion scene.

It's a party atmosphere filled with celebrities, events, and plenty of high fashion.

Kicking off the festival on October 13th was “MORI HANAE designed by Yu Amatsu”, an exhibit showcasing a new collection by Hanae Mori, a young designer with a bright future, while introducing a new brand by Mori Hanae.

Fashion journalist, stylist, and blogger Misha Janette writes in Japanese and English about her impressions as a newcomer to Tokyo Fashion week:

*時間厳守。海外では”ショーのスタート時間にホテルを出ても余裕で間に合う”よね?でもここは東京。数分の遅れでも車掌さんが丁寧に謝罪してくるような街。ちょっと早めに到着するべし。せめてスタート時間には着いてないと見逃すよ!

*…電車を活用すべし!東京の交通網は他のファッションシティとは比べ物にならないくらい優秀。[…] それに、タクシーに乗るのも他の国より簡単。でも[…]電車がおすすめ。だって、東京のタクシーは高い!!!初乗り2キロで710円って。。[…]電車に乗るのってちょっとした冒険みたいでいいじゃない?

*指定席ではないよ!基本的には早い者勝ち。優先順位はちょっと海外より難しいかも。第一優先:ビジネスパートナーと古くからの友人。第二:ブランドを取り上げてくれるメディア(年功序列)。第三:ニューフェイスのメディア。…バイヤーはあまり大切に扱われないハプニングが多いという噂だが…汗。

* BE. ON. TIME. I cannot iterate this enough. I know that the rule of thumb for overseas shows is “Leave your hotel the same time the show is scheduled to start and still be on time.” But this is Tokyo, where train conductors will get on hands and knees to apologize for being a minute late. Get to the show a few minutes early, or at least *right* on time, or you WILL miss it.

* ….take the train. It’s true that traffic in Tokyo is not nearly as terrible as it is in every other fashion city (um, an HOUR to get from SOHO to midtown?? And in Paris I had to run from the taxi to the metro or I would have missed the Chanel show). And yes, it’s easier to get a cab than any other city, too. But most shows are conveniently held at the Hikarie shopping complex connected to Shibuya station and taking the train is not seen as so bourgeois as it is in other world cities. Taxis in Tokyo are some of the most expensive in the world (starting 710yen=USD$7 for 2km) so honestly, if you’re taking cabs every where you’re just being stupid and unadventurous.

* Seats don’t have name reservations. Seats come on a first come first serve-ish basis, and the heirarchy is a bit different than overseas. TOP: Business partners, long-time friends. NEXT: Media, in age from oldest people to youngest, despite who they write for. LAST: Media, who are new to the brand, despite who they write for. NOSEBLEED: Buyers.

To keep on top of events at Tokyo Fashion Week, follow the Facebook page.

China's National Mahjong Team Loses To Japan

Mahjong, originated from China is considered a national game. The fact that China's national mahjony team lost the the fifth Open Mahjong Championship in France and finished in 37th place out of 51 teams came as a shock to the country. Worse, the individual title was claimed by a Japanese competitor. Nanfang.com translated an article from New Beijing Daily on the reasons behind China's defeat.

Japan's Yu Terasawa Named ‘Information Hero’ by Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders, a France-based non-governmental organization that defends freedom of information and freedom of the press, has for the first time created a list of 100 Information Heroes. From Japan, Yu Terasawa was among them. He is an investigative journalist and has written books exposing police corruption. 

Reporters Without Borders writes:

Yu Terasawa has few friends in the Japanese police. He was still a student when he began his career in journalism by exposing police corruption. More than 20 years later, about 100 agents and officers have been fired, prosecuted or subjected to disciplinary action as a result of the countless articles and books he has written on the subject.

[…]

Even among his own colleagues, not everyone is a friend… On 28 March this year, he launched legal proceedings against the government after a law on state secrets was introduced, a major attack on investigative journalism.

 

Remote Hubs in Asia for NETmundial Internet Governance Meeting

NETmundial logo

NETmundial logo

NETmundial, which will bring together people from a variety of backgrounds to discuss the principles of Internet governance, is set to be held in São Paulo on 23 and 24 April 2014. It will also have 33 remote hubs in 31 cities spread throughout 22 countries that will allow for real-time interaction with the event in São Paulo.

Hubs for remote participation in Asia includes five locations in India, one in Hong Kong and one in Indonesia. Tomoya Inyaku, the former director at Japan Computer Access Network [ja] which promotes empowerment through information and communication technology, lamented the lack of a hub in Japan:

NETmundial will be held in São Paulo on April 23 and 24 to discuss the future of Internet governance. They write that they will have hubs in 22 countries around the world. There will be hubs to participate in the discussion from Indonesia, but there is none in Japan. Wish I could connect to talk about rights online.

Lies and Falsehoods Keep the World Go ‘Round in Japan

Twitter user @suzaks1 criticized [ja] the amount of lies and inaccuracies that are making Japanese headlines:

[Japan is a] country covered in lies: fake ingredients on the menu of top Japanese hotels, railway gauges fabricated in Hokkaido, major symphony music by a fraud composer, and falsehoods continues to prevail in the nation's top-level research institute, as well as on doctoral dissertations. It's scary to see how this country is run by continuous frauds. No wonder the nuclear plant exploded. Even if the land ends up contaminated, they can just lie everyone and continue on with life.

VIDEO: Fashion Resistance to Militarism

The “Fashion Resistance to Militarism” [ja], a fashion show organized by Asian Women’s Association, a non-profit women's right organization to call attention to the issue of violence against women, took place on December 1, 2013. The full video is now available here.

Image captured from youtube video of Fashion Resistance to Militarism by the Asian Women’s Association

Image captured from YouTube video of Fashion Resistance to Militarism by the Asian Women’s Association

Art Arises From Snow-Covered Tokyo

The heaviest snowfall in 45 years hit Tokyo over the weekend. The unusual amount of snow triggered traffic accidents, killing 11 and injuring thousands, and travel was disrupted across the country.

However, amid the cold and white, some used the snow to create beautiful, fun and sometimes strange artwork. RocketNews24 has compiled photos that were taken and shared by Japanese Twitter users.

Is Japan Alone? Survey on Dance Regulations and Clubbing

Fresh off writing a series of posts on dance club regulations in Japan for Tokyo's city life magazine Time Out, James Hadfield is taking a survey on clubbers around the world:

In light of the ongoing controversy regarding clubbing in Japan, where clubs continue to be shut down and harassed by the police for the ‘crime’ of dancing, Time Out Tokyo is looking to get to the bottom of the problem. We'd like you to tell us a few things about the clubbing environment in your country, city, or area, wherever in the world that may be. 

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