Uyoku Protest

On our way to a much nicer type of Japanese tradition, we ran into some local uyoku demo.

I know I should be a little more annoyed at the continuing existence of these subhuman leeches, but I nearly felt bad for them:

A few dozens sexually-frustrated ojisans (plus one very angry lady on the microphone), matched at least 3 to 1 by a cordon of (very nervous) police officers and easily outshined by the crowd of energetic counter-protesters in the public… Most of whom were young-enough to still be in university in a few years, when the Dai-nippon grandpas finally get sent to retirement homes (presumably staffed mainly by immigrant Asian workers. Oh, sweet, delicious, irony).

It took moving away to Tokyo (being back on my semi-regular weekend trip to Kyoto), to finally get to see a traditional dance show at Kaburenjo. With the extra awesome bonus of hanging out backstage and watching Tomi-san (who invited us) get ready.

These days, presumably to make up for the shutting down of US panda-cams, the World has taken a keen interest in the reproduction problems of the Japanese people.

The last wave started with a cheap click-baiting article in the Guardian, who really, by now, should know better than publish poorly-researched articles about made-up Japanese “trends”. On par with its gratuitously sensationalising title, the article gleefully mixed miscellaneous unconnected research data with completely random anecdotal stuff. Using the thin pretense of studying Japan’s problematic demographics, to go on a fact-finding mission with a Japanese dominatrix turned sex coach: because prurient article on the wacky sexual habits of the Japanese sell so much better than boring age pyramid charts and the like.

In response to this new milestone in paid-by-the-click pseudo-journalism, a few marginally better-written articles popped up, somehow attempting to reframe the discussion into something approaching fact-based reporting. While a whole lot more just piled on, presumably in hope of getting some of that sweet sweet internet buzz. Finally, some journalists pointed out the glaringly racist undercurrent running through the whole thing (not that orientalism is a new thing), charitably overlooking gross journalistic incompetence as the key ingredient to that potent mix of offensive stupidity.

In the lesser spheres of non-retributed publishing, every Japan-related blog or forum has contributed its fair share of anecdotal comments ranging from the Reddit-topping hilariously inept armchair pop-psy take on it1 to the ubiquitous (and no less silly) counter-argument: “These articles must be wrong, because I know lots of Japanese who are having lots of sex. (wink wink nudge nudge)“.

Some Japanese blogger came very close to summarising my exact thoughts on the subject, in a few neat statistical plots2. But it still missed some fundamental issues I have with this joke of a news trend, so I thought I’d give it my own try:

  1. Extra irony points for having started in the psychology subforum of Reddit, where people are hard at work dispelling any notion that it might be an actual science. []
  2. I know: not exactly gonna sway the masses against the appeal of “Queen Ai, professional Japanese dominatrix” and Guardian in-house resident statistics expert. []

They thought it defeated.

Its hideous shapeless mass: buried and gone forever. Its death the prelude to an everlasting era of warm happiness and sunny days.

But the beast was merely bidding its time and has finally returned.

Stronger than ever, steeped in the blood and hopes of the thousand brave men it has devoured whole, its bone-shivering ululating howls fill the space…

From the deepest, darkest, recesses of the Winter storage closet, the kotatsu is calling.

Vermont Academy

I spent most of last week in the heart of Vermont, speaking at a small highly-targeted bio conference, tangentially related to some long-forgotten PhD research of mine. The conference took place on the campus of some remote boarding school, empty of students during the Summer break.

Overall, the manageable number of attendees, circumscribed topic and complete absence of alternative for entertainment within a 30 mile radius, made for a convivial atmosphere and stimulating discussions.

Nevertheless, I spent a good deal of my time there feeling like the unfortunate hero of some weird time-travel story, living in secret fear that I might not be allowed to go home at the end of the week.

The overall Overlook Hotel meet The Prisoner vibe of the place may have helped. Jetlag may also have played a role. But mainly, it had to do with serious flashback to my own boarding school days, down to some spooky architectural similarities (not so surprising considering those were typically the type of Old World schools that a posh US “academy” would try to emulate). I had opted for the on-campus lodging option and was assigned a very typical dormitory room, complete with communal sinks and showers at the end of the hallway. Having to share the floor (though not my room) with other grown men long past their boarding school days and finding the bed made every afternoon when I’d get back to the room, only added a weird twist to the whole déjà vu experience.

I only started freaking out for real toward the second day: when, waking up from a sleep-dephased nap at 8 in the evening, I realised that, not only was the cafeteria hall the only option for food in a walkable radius, but the campus may have been the last square mile of US territory without a single vending machine on it. Missing the 6pm-to-7pm dinner service in that place meant going hungry until breakfast. If you’ve never known that feeling, you’ve probably never been to boarding school.

I carefully observed dinner times thereafter and, truth be told, had some lovely evenings sipping beers with colleagues in the school’s rec room (temporarily refurbished for use by legal-drinking adults)… But was still pretty relieved when they let me leave the grounds at the end of the week without special parental permission.

Through a combination of lack of time, opportunity, resources and general indifference driven by a complete absence of necessity, I managed to make it to my mid-twenties without having ever held a proper driving licence, or learnt to drive a car for that matter. By then, I was living in Japan, where the prospect of going through the entire process in Japanese made the task even more daunting. A few months ago, I finally went for it. And while I realise it is quite a narrow target demographics, I figured I’d document my experience for the benefit of other foreigners looking to get a driving licence in Japan.

Note: This here is about getting a full-fledged Japanese licence from scratch, not converting an existing foreign licence, which is a considerably shorter and easier process: most European licences only require some certified translation and a bit of paperwork, US (and a few other countries) will require you to take a very basic written and driving test on a course (somewhat similar to the process described below, but much, much, easier). The conversion test from a foreign licence is well-documented elsewhere on the Net, although you might find a few useful applicable tidbits in my recount below.

What you need, in a nutshell

  • Time: lotsa. By far the biggest annoyance with the process is having to take the time off for the tests. Lessons (if you need them) can often be conducted outside of office hours, but you will need at the very least 5 work half-days for the tests and CPR practice course (more if you need to retake any).
  • Money: lotsa. No surprise there. Depending on all sorts of factors, you could theoretically manage on about ¥30k (if you are already a near-perfect driver who does not need any practice). More realistically, your wallet will be ¥300k lighter by the end (give or take, depending on your skills and success at exams).
  • Japanese abilities: surprisingly not so essential. There are English-speaking private instructors (see below) and the written tests can be taken in English. Provided you understand enough Japanese to follow very basic driving instructions during the test (“Turn right at the second light”, “Stop the car on the left” etc.) and do not mind being completely lost during the many pre-test explanation lectures (mostly stuff that could be guessed with enough common sense or the help of a personal instructor), you will manage.

Main steps to obtaining your licence

Buckle up, it’s a bumpy ride: