Here’s to True Expression

•October 23, 2011 • Leave a Comment

By Dominique Flemings

Recently, some girlfriends and I went out to a club that was showcasing some “underground” bands that night. “Underground” bands, for those less familiar with the moniker, are what I would describe as simply lesser-known or entirely unknown bands that, because of their disregard for critics, are free to play whatever they want, however they please. As a result, I greatly enjoy these bands because they have the genuineness that most bands seem to eventually replace with popularity.

The venue was a perfect spot for such a concert – one of those clubs that seems to violate every interior décor principle and be all the better for it. Amongst the dimly-lit, non-matching seats that seemed as varied as a used furniture store, we found a spot and ordered drinks just in time to see the first band. It has been some time since I’ve indulged in any live rock music, much less the rawness of underground rock. Underground bands don’t put much stock in what critics say; subsequently, they would starve if they ever tried to make a living off their music, but their music and soul is anything but creatively malnourished. They are artists who bend and rewrite the laws of music because they are above the “art police” who enjoy enforcing their own favorite rules.

Underground bands have guts. Their bravado in the fulfillment of their artistic vision is, to be honest, something that most of us do not get a chance to achieve on an equally regular basis. Most bands acknowledge that the source of their freedom is their obscurity, to the point of promoting it. I had a chance to talk to a member of one of the bands during a break, and asked if they had a website or blog I might visit. He related, with a hint of pride in his voice, that it was the band’s decision to forego having a website, or even CD recordings. If people wanted to hear their music, they would have to find them first.

The band returned to the stage for what I think was the best performance of the night. The drummer was clearly the anchor of the band and in control of the other instruments’ direction, which leads to a well-defined sound as band. While their style was firmly cemented in rock, I enjoyed the subtle influence of old-school indie music in their bass lines and riffs. If anyone has heard of the Canadian indie band, Islands, you can imagine the sound of this band if you add a faster beat and enough volume and distortion to cause the chairs to vibrate in sync with the chords.

I am envious of the artistic freedom these bands have. Oftentimes, in my work, I pine to be more vibrant, avant-garde, flamboyant and variegated – but clients have their own desires and expectations that often rein my own intuition in. Of course, unless you happen to be Frank Lloyd Wright or Picasso, customers prefer their own designs over your unbridled artistry, so my creative leanings are not indulged as often as I would like. I suppose that is why I enjoy having this blog – I am able to indulge in writing purely for the sake of having a creative outlet. We may not have the readership of the some of the more mainstream blogs, but then again, we aren’t obligated to pursue certain topics in order to maintain a large readership. Neither Sergio or I are out to become the next Siskel and Ebert (though we’ve been kindly compared to them) – we quite simply like to write.

It seems to me that a great deal of commercially popular art is ruined once it becomes mainstream. Not because it becomes popular – I am always glad when an artist’s brilliance is recognized – but because, for the artist, delivering what is popular seems to eclipse simply creating and not giving a thought to whether or not it will be well received. There are, of course, notable exceptions – once-obscure Sufjan Stevens comes to mind (any Age of Adz fans?) –but by and large the sad tendency seems to be that popularity is not conducive to creativity.

It is encouraging, however, that there will always be deviants in art; artists who don’t do it for the accolades, the followers, the money or the ego, but simply for the love of creation. I’d like to think that I’m among them: if not always at work, then here on the blog and in my other artistic pursuits. Had the setting been a little more formal (and quiet), I think a toast would have been in order back at the club: to creating for creating’s sake; to making art true to your ideals. Here’s to true expression.

– Dom


Tepido the Torpedo

•September 13, 2011 • Leave a Comment

By Dominique Flemings

A reason I tend to stay out of political catfights is that there never seems to be a place for an easy-going individual such as myself who has a life outside of the issue at hand. It’s always a most unpleasant experience when someone will simply not shut up about a certain topic. I try my very best to not do this – an excellent example found in the Japan Blog Review is my angst over one Arudou Debito, and how this manifested itself in party of my review of the Japan Times. Sergio had his turn when he reviewed Debito’s own website, and then we were done. As you can guess, there is a certain website on my mind that has not been so restrained in its criticism of Debito:

One common characteristic that I have with Tepido is our general dislike of Debito. I say “general” because Tepido seems to have made smearing Debito his life purpose. I cannot imagine what drives Tepido to hound Debito to the point of tracking the physical location of Debito’s book collection. The determination that he has in monitoring Debito’s every word (and, apparently, every book) reminds me a great deal of the “torpedoes” or hired guns that were the favorite tool of bosses in most gangster films starring one of my old favorites, James Cagney. Next thing we know, Tepido will shouting on his home page, “Debito, you dirty rat!”

James Cagney? Or Tepido when asked
what he thinks about Debito?

I am certainly not sticking up for Debito, here. Quite the opposite – I just fear that he’s managed to have quite a negative effect on a fellow critic. When your dislike of something or someone begins to define you, you are the loser in the situation. Even if Debito was running for political office, he wouldn’t merit the volume or scrutiny Tepido gives him. Debito is simply a vocal columnist and author –until Tepido practically elevates him to the level of a revolutionary by criticizing and dogging him in the way he does. The sort of nitpicking and espionage Tepido undertakes with Debito verges on ludicrous.

More relevantly, I feel that Tepido is by and large working against himself. When one clicks on the “Welcome to” tab, you are invited to identify yourself as either a Debito skeptic or supporter, but I have a feeling that skeptics are not wont to remain skeptics after a quick skim through Tepido’s rants. Supporters, on the other hand, no doubt come to the conclusion that if all Debito detractors are as mad as this one, then there is no use in talking with him. In summary, Tepido makes a sensible and rational discussion of the issues far harder than it needs to be.

My only hope is that Tepido the Torpedo decides to tone things down, as he succeeds in doing little but making those who have rational and genuine criticisms of Debito look as foolish as him. And as long as Tepido continues in his absurdity, he’s only doing Debito favor after favor. Thumbs down to a simply ridiculous site.

Once You Go Cool Biz, You Can’t Go Back

•August 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Last summer, shortly before the debut of this blog, I headed back to the States to spend some time with some old college chums who live near our alma mater. In the North East, it’s hot – confoundedly hot and humid, similar to those sultry summers we have here. The solution back in the States is to crank the air conditioning as high as the dial will allow and toss back a shot of some potable on the rocks (well, this might not be true unilaterally in the States, but it was a good stand-by in college). This was very much our solution during one muggy day as we met up at an old haunt of ours with fine air conditioning and a well-stocked wine cellar, but I also had a new trick to counter the summer heat that seemed to perplex my friends: Cool Biz.

They, in their ties and tightly-buttoned shirts with ever-increasingly obvious perspiration stains, were surprised when I rolled up in a nicely cut dress shirt, collar unbuttoned and neck bereft of the shackles of a tie. There was some doubt in their eyes as to whether or not old Sergio, once the bulwark of keen fashion, had forgotten what “business dress” meant – but as a few approving glances from the more attractive ladies in the bar validated my proposal that I had learned to dress ever better during my time in Japan.

It goes unsaid that Japan’s summers are brutal, and I say this even having spent some time in the humid continental of the States. My first summer here was pre-Cool Biz, and I cannot recall a time where my collared shirts and ties felt more like strait jackets. Add to this a business jacket and I might have very well been able to broil some bruschetta underneath all my layers. How Japan survived without Koizumi to liberate us from the necktie and introduce Cool Biz, I’ll never know. The only complainer to the concept was the necktie industry, and even they seem to be “warming” up to the idea by designing new fashions to keep both us cool and the air conditioner turned down low.

Of course, this summer with the recent loss of the Fukushima power plant, has been the era of “Super Cool Biz.” I must admit, I’m quite a fan of this trend. It never made much sense to me to wear clothing that proved stifling and, consequently, sweaty and disgusting – and prior to Jun-chan, business dress in Japan was like taking a parka to a sauna. Cool Biz and its most recent incarnation, Super Cool Biz, does an excellent job of keeping those of us who need dress well cool as well as dapper. Now if only the rest of the world would catch on.

– Sergio

The Social Network – Or, the Sorry State of Social Networking

•July 25, 2011 • Leave a Comment

By Dominique Flemings

After too many recommendations to ignore, I sat down last Saturday night to watch last year’s award-winning flick, The Social Network. As the story unfolded before me, I realized that I was watching more than just a well-done film with a strong cast. The characters are wonderful insights into the generation to which Facebook pertains, and the plot they find themselves in, though it may deviate from the actual events surrounding Facebook’s creation, sets a stage in which we can explore the rich and painfully veracious emotions present in both the characters in the film and the generation that Facebook was built for. And it also might help you understand why I’ve not touched my own Facebook in months.

There is one defining characteristic of virtually all the core characters of The Social Network – they have low to no self-esteem. They long to be acknowledged, yet all their actions seem only to repel them from those who actually might care about them. Almost every action can be traced down to the fact the character wants to be acknowledged – and when they receive no such attention, they are driven further to find it. This sentiment, I feel, is at the root of social networking. I once heard a Twitter tweet described as writing down a thought on a post card (under 140 characters, mind you) and mailing it out to every one of your acquaintances. Of course, you would have to feel that your idea was most important to merit all this hard work. As the essential publication of an idea that you feel is important enough that all your friends must know about it, a tweet or status update circumvents all that writing and mailing but still has the same effect. As such, Facebook and Twitter facilitates our quest for acknowledgment by allowing us to publish, with great regularity and ease, our every musing to our friend’s home pages. We are rather bummed when no one likes or comments on our status, and there’s a certain warm feeling when more than ten people take the time to click “like” on the picture of you posing in your car before work (I am not guilty of this). Social networking, at its core, is driven by the desire to be known, acknowledged, and thought of by all your “friends” and followers. While we might not be driven to the lengths that the characters in The Social Network were, I fear that there are other side effects.

Far from facilitating human interactions, social networking has instead impaired the social mindsets of many, it seems. Due to the fact that the means of satisfying our desire to be acknowledged are as instant as a text message, we unconsciously seek approval and fulfillment every time we go on Facebook or Twitter and scrounge up something to tell the world. What’s worse is how social networking has begun to eclipse genuine social interactions in the real world. The phrase “Facebook official” is one example – the idea being that a relationship is validated only when it has been announced the couple’s friends via an online medium, rather than a face-to-face confirmation. At a wedding I attended a little while back, the first thing the couple did upon entering their car and being driven to the reception was not the smooching seen in my other favorite movie, It’s a Wonderful Life – no¸ the iPhones came out so that relationship statuses might be adjusted. Few on Facebook have a concept of a “private” life or different social spheres, and oftentimes, in terms of information and pictures that can be seen by everyone, complete strangers are privy to the exact same “you” that your real friends and family are. The phrase, “Facebook me,” is handy, it’s true, when you want someone to find out more about you but don’t have the time – but one can only wonder how genuine the end result is. Instead of a friend, a new acquaintance seems to become just another face on Facebook.

Our desire to be acknowledged is undeniable and in no way a bad thing – we are social beings and we need and thrive on interaction. What does cause me concern is when a medium like Facebook – or Google + and Twitter – offers a way for that desire to be immediately quenched but in no way fully met in the ways actual social interaction can. It seems as though so many individuals that are part of the “Facebook” generation are both as interconnected and lonely as ever – a sad state of affairs for any social network.

*Epilogue: You all might be very pleased to know that it was I who caught the bouquet at the reception of my friend’s wedding. According to tradition, it seems that I am slated to be the next to be married – I suppose I need to get busy…* the Tale of the Boy Who Cried “Gaijin!”

•June 27, 2011 • 5 Comments

By Sergio Lombardi

About a month ago, Dominique wrote an article on the Japan Times, the “ugly” of which was none other Debito Arudou. I was partially envious, as Debito annoys me just about as much as people who insist that Domino’s pizza is authentic Italian. However, I realized that there was one facet of Debito that we hadn’t reviewed, and that was the hornet’s nest itself, I won’t waste any time on the poorly coded layout or poking fun at the t-shirts for sale. . Summarized for your reading pleasure, here are Debito’s three strikes:

Strike one:
Debito’s spreading of blame to all Japanese. Debito has often accused the whole of the Japanese population of being guilty of the isolated badmouthing committed by a comparatively few citizens who were lacking discretion. When the word “flyjin” surfaced, Debito blew the whole ordeal surrounding the idiom (based on the “epithet,” gaijin) out of proportion¸ suggesting to his readers that the word had become a household word in the vocabularies of Japanese everywhere. In reality, this word originated on the Twitter account of an expatriate, who hadn’t intended it to be used as a derogatory term – much less fuel for Debito’s incessant complaining. Debito’s analysis of the situation is facile and superficial at best, and his sweeping generalizations effectively attempt to define a people based on a handful of Japanese who picked up the term and used it tactlessly. It’s understandable that when a few Japanese hotheads call the whole lot of foreigners terms intended to be offensive, Debito’s feathers are ruffled. But when he turns around and classifies this as one more example as to how the whole of the Japanese nation is discriminatory towards foreigners, he is only spreading their bigotry and becoming one of them in the process. His incessant magnification of isolated slurs indicates an ulterior mission to smear the Japanese population and avenge himself – at whatever cost to his honesty or the dignity of himself or his fellow foreigners.

Debito sure would make a lousy travel writer for the Japan Times – he would visit a city, find its most notorious gang and proceed to say that all the locals were just as churlish. The fallacy is the same when he misrepresents the whole of Japan over phrases that seem to upset no one but him and his followers – yet Debito does this on a regular basis. I’d place good money on the fact that if a Japanese teenager were to laugh at a foreigner with a funny haircut, you can be sure, hot off the presses the next morning, will be a missive decrying the “extreme” disrespect Japan’s youth have for us. Debito extrapolates the most minute of incidents ad nauseam, and it disgusts me and half of the foreign community.

Strike two:
Debito finds it necessary to use his newspaper column as an extension of his blog. Because Just Be Cause would have been unlikely to have come about without the blog being in existence, I am placing the blame for this waste of newspaper space squarely on its shoulders. One Japan Times reader summarized my sentiment exactly: “If I really want to read Mr. Arudou’s fringe opinions and attacks on his Internet critics, I can skip paying ¥180 and go directly to his blog and read that for free.” It seems that because of this blog, Debito finds it acceptable to preach from his other pulpit in the Japan Times, as though his column in a professional newspaper entitles him to campaign for his online cause through a medium that gives him the high ground. Almost every Just Be Cause is essentially a plug for the ideas in Debito’s blog, and I often wonder if Debito writes for the Japan Times “just because” his blog isn’t getting enough hits.

Strike three:
Debito impedes actual progress. Dominique and I have always been clear on our contention that discrimination does exist in Japan, just to a much lesser degree than Debito and his disciples would contend. This minute amount of discrimination, however small, is still a problem that needs resolved, and doing so very much lies in our hands. You won’t hear such common sense, though, when you peruse the rubbish on Debito’s blog. He effectively feeds negative sentiment against foreigners by turning its recipients (or, in many cases, those who imagine that they are recipients) into surly individuals who would be “discriminated” against anywhere from Japan to Vatican City. He inflates the smallest of incidents or the most isolated discriminations and blows them far out of proportion, insulting the Japanese, inciting foreigners living here and tarnishing the image of the rest of us.

And yet Debito continues in his romanticized crusade against imagined injustices. Like the boy who cried wolf, it seems to me that Debito really loves harping on these incidents in order to attract attention to himself. When and if there actually is a widespread discrimination of foreigners in Japan, Debito will be nothing more than the boy who cried “gaijin!”

To be honest, Debito and his blog have many more faults, and it doesn’t take a magnifying glass to find them. These three, however are the embodiment of most of them, and as we all know, it would only take three strikes in baseball to send Debito back to the dugout. If only someone – the Japan Times, perhaps? – would tell him that he’s out. As a member of the stadium crowd, I’ll have to settle for giving him a good thumbs down.

Folded Glory: The Delight of Origami

•June 4, 2011 • 2 Comments

By Dominique Flemings

It seems that adults like to suggest future careers to children with the toys they give them. My uncle, a brawny and lumbering building contractor with a gentle nature, would always recount how my grandparents would give him Tinkertoys as a child. My cousin’s son, a strapping young fellow of thirteen, seems to have gotten football gear or clothing festooned with football insignias every Christmas since his birth, and is now quite the budding quarterback in his team (sounding like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers yet?). Of course, I’m sure you are quite curious as to what gifts I, the budding young interior designer, received that set me on this path. While my interest in interior design actually blossomed during college, one gift still stands out as something that helped place a love of artistry in me: a day-by-day origami calendar, in which each day was a set of increasingly complex instructions and interludes into the world of creating from paper. Since that time, I have always dabbled in origami, though not to the point of my original once-a-day obsession.

Moving to Japan did rekindle my interest in the art, and I have come across quite a few websites dedicated to the Japanese aspects of what really is, now, an international delight. What I hoped to find is a website that provides something similar to the depth and variety of my original calendar, and I found a website that comes quite close: Origami Club.

I considered quite a few origami websites to review for this post, but Origami Club is by far the best, simply for the reason that it has a plethora of easy-to-follow instructions on how to turn a piece of paper into virtually anything you’d like. The origami “blueprints,” if you will, are rated by stars to indicate their difficulty – the more stars, the more complex a piece is. Some of the one and two stars are a bit mundane for anyone who has folded the quintessential crane before, but the others are quite detailed, intensive and thus rewarding. One of the most beautiful pieces that I found is this Omuta Rose design, but this is one of many intricate and lovely works. The website provides quite useful categorizations for the hundreds of designs available, ranging from furniture and dogs to flowers and letters, with just about everything in between. There are even holiday-themed groups – something to think about for a unique and innovative holiday greeting card?

As I mentioned before, instructions are, for the most part, clear, and certainly as clear as most online diagrams you’ll find. What I found particularly neat were the animations that go along with the diagrams. If you weren’t quite sure make of a certain step (and, admittedly, some origami instructions look more like architectural schematics), the animation makes it quite clear what you need to do next. In conjunction with the diagrams, you should have no trouble folding your way to success.

The website itself is of little interest, in the sense that, aside from the origami instructions and advertisements, there is really no other content. No pictures of origami masterpieces, Q & A, articles, links or news – this might upset some origami aficionados, but I think it is excusable given the wealth of such information already available on other websites and blogs. The creator of the website, Fumiaki Shingu, seems to have had some experience in taking the complex art of origami and making it easily understood but just as nuanced and delightful. Shingu is a graphics designer – a somewhat surprising fact, given that the website has a strange and slightly juvenile feel, but the layout is maneuverable. Graphics, like many things in Japan, tend to be slightly childish, so perhaps that is what Shingu was aiming for, or perhaps he also had a younger audience in mind to begin with. I might even call the design “quaint” – one does get the feeling of a craft store.

Contrary to what its name suggests, Origami Club does not require a subscription or even your email address, and you can enjoy every one of the origami pieces for free. It’s a great website for the dabblers and dilettante of the art, or even those who would like to start. I do, however, lament the lack of a Q & A section, as I would really like to know what one does to protect your cranes from your chocolate lab. Despite the lack of answers to such questions, I give the website a thumbs up and highly recommend you spend some time perusing at Origami Club.

– Dom

The Japan Times – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

•May 9, 2011 • 11 Comments

By Dominique Flemings

***Sergio’s excuse for not writing a review was work. Mine, I am afraid, is pure laziness. Many is the night that I have watched a movie rather than dutifully review a website – just ask Fritz. Fortunately, one of those films served as the inspiration for this review***

My guess is that most of you have seen the classic Western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In this film, a good-looking Clint Eastwood stars as Blondie (the “good”), who eventually aligns himself with Tuco Ramirez (the “ugly”) to kill Angel Eyes (the “bad,” of course). Things are a little different at the Japan Times corral. If the newspaper’s website had only the good and the bad, then I would be writing a thumbs up review for a very decent newspaper and website. Unfortunately, there is an “ugly” on the scene, and perhaps only Blondie himself properly could rid the Japan Times of this cowboy who is anything but the “good’s” amigo. Keep reading to find out just who this Tuco is.

Contrary to how the movie introduces the characters, let’s start with the good of the Japan Times. As a dog-owner and lover, I look forward to any and all articles written about the wonderful admirable work of ARK, specifically the animal of the week article. Every week, one of the (many) adorable animals rescued by ARK is showcased for future loving owners to see. I applaud the Japan Times for allowing ARK to use their newspaper as a medium to find homes for the animals they have saved from often horrible settings. Kaori Shoji and Mark Schilling’s movie reviews are humorous, enjoyable and often poignant (though Giovanni Fazio, one of the other reviewers, often falls flat with his reviews that often result in my wasting money on a bland movie he recommended). Another highlight is “Ceramic Scene,” a terrific column by Robert Yellin, whose personal website I heartily gave a thumbs-up to last summer. Yellin is full of insight in every column, and one wonders if he could begin to replace some of the other writers. The same for Robbie Swinnerton, whose restaurant reviews are always spot on and are most often as mouthwatering and fascinating as his subject matter. And whenever I see “Alex Martin” or “Eric Johnston” at the top of a news story, I know that it’s bound to be good. Those two simply excel at well-done journalistic writing. There are a number of good columnists I like as well. And before we get onto the “bad,” let me say that the newspaper has a very impressive history, with it’s first publication date of March 22, 1897. Its 11th president, Hitoshi Ashida who worked at the Foreign Ministry for twenty years, even went on to become prime minister of Japan.

True to the film’s title, there is a “bad” in the Japan Times. Again, I must emphasize that the good could and does easily outdo the following – it’s the ugly that leaves the Times hurting. That said, I’m not sure what the first thing about the Japan Times was that left a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps it was the fact that they dropped Garfield from the comics section; I may be a dog lover, but the rotund feline always gave me a laugh and, what’s more, helped make up for the dull humor offered by Roger Dhal. Perhaps it’s that, every now and then (perhaps a little too frequently), I’ll spot an error I would expect to see in an elementary English class, not in the celebrated columns of the Japan Times. I can disregard these, though – not everyone likes Garfield and not everyone is as fastidious when it comes to grammar and English as my college writing professor taught me to be.

One thing that I can’t put aside as easily, though, is the overall tone of the paper. It is true that, first and foremost, the Japan Times is a Japanese paper. This is not entirely the case with its readership. If the Reader’s Forum is to be believed, the Japan Times is read over coffee and sausage back home in Canada, a croissant in Paris and before a siesta in Spain, just the same as it’s read in a Tokyo café. The paper is an international news source, much in the same the way the Wall Street Journal is. As such, one would think that the Japan Times would be written in such a way to appeal to a broad audience – it really isn’t. Some of the stories, it seems, are written in Japanese and then hastily translated to English in what seems to be an afterthought. The Japan Times would have made a wonderful local paper, but for the self-ascribed “World’s Window on Japan,” it seems that those in charge assume readers were born in Japan and have no need to look through the window in the first place.

Before we get to the “ugly,” there is one thing about the Japan Times website that I’d like to mention. I suppose I can compare this to the bridge that Blondie dynamites in order to dispel the Union and Confederate armies from the treasure site, in the sense that the Japan Times could easily correct this problem. The website version fails to utilize fully one of its printed form’s biggest strengths: the Reader’s Forum. This part of the paper is an excellent opportunity for readers to contribute to the Japan Times as if they themselves were writers. Now, imagine the forum, but intensified over tens of thousands of web pages instead of the meager half-page that it’s given in the printed form. How would this work? Simply allow online readers to comment on the stories directly. Readers would be sure to utilize it fully – already, the readership of the Japan Times comments extensively on news stories through the Forum, and often the conversations that ensue after a story are as enlightening (or, at least, amusing) as the story itself. Better yet, the Japan Times could enhance its revenue flow with the increased exposure it could offer its advertisers online. This has already been introduced to great success on websites like Japan Today – it certainly could work for the Japan Times. The Times needs to catch up with the times and take full advantage of their website as their competitors have already beat them to it.

Despite its shortcomings, the truth is that the Japan Times, in both newspaper form and on its website, has some very good parts that make it an enjoyable paper to pick up from the stands or peruse on the website. I could compare it to an art gallery that has some phenomenal works that make the rest of the mundane pieces endurable. There is only one problem to this otherwise thumbs up-deserving site, and, indeed, newspaper – a stain that is too big to ignore. This, friends, is the ugly.

The ugly is none other than Arudou Debito. My reaction, when I see the latest Just Be Cause, is always something between disgust and embarrassment as a member of the community Debito supposedly fights for. Debito’s shtick, as most of you know, concerns the discrimination that foreigners sometimes face when living here in Japan. I’ll agree with Debito in that, yes, there is a problem of discrimination, and yes, we do need to work towards a resolution of that problem – but my approval ends there.

Debito has become an entirely repulsive figure who certainly doesn’t represent the majority of foreigners living in Japan with his rambling and oft-offensive writings. This writer, who compared the plight of the foreigners here to that of the African Americans in early America (infamously comparing gaijin to “n*****,” resulting in an onslaught of criticism), seems to fancy himself as Japan’s version of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Debito’s columns are an exercise in self-pity instead of an advancement of positive change. Making things worse is the fact that he never seems to learn from past mistakes. Not too long after the “N*****” incident, which badly backfired in his face, Debito likened the comparatively minor discrimination foreigners experience here to the experience of Jews living in Germany during the thirties and forties of the last century. This is simply taking things too far.

I’ll say it again – there is no doubt as to whether or not there is discrimination against foreigners and Japanese of foreign origin in this nation. It is a problem that should and ought to be solved. But Debito has embarked on a quixotic quest to fight an issue he artificially inflates so that his writings can have more weight. None of the evils exacted on the Jews of pre-war Germany have ever been faced by foreigners living here, and to compare segregation here to that experienced by African Americans in the antebellum American South is a mockery of those who fought to undo such injustice. There are legitimate and positive ways of fighting the discrimination that does occur here, but Debito has yet to use any of them; he chooses instead to wallow in self-pity and point fingers. Consequently, he has, in my humble opinion, made the situation worse. Not just for the community that he is intent on protecting, but also for the Japan Times. When I’m finished with an issue of the Japan Times, I usually notice two stains stand out the most – my coffee mug stains and Debito.

Debito is the last straw, I am afraid, for the once highly-regarded Japan Times. Such tripe is simply unfit for publication in an international newspaper, but I suspect Debito is retained simply for the fact that his controversial writing sells. It’s a possibility that, the Japan Times, in years when money is tight for publications across the board, has turned to the reliable pulp fiction that always sells because of its sheer absurdity. I would hope that the Japan Times was above such a move, instead focusing on its existing strengths instead of retaining its attention-getting weaknesses; it would seem that this is not the case.

And that, dear readers, is why I am afraid that the Japan Times, and Debito, get a Good, Bad, and Ugly rating. Perhaps the best solution to their problems – and the best way to get a thumbs up, here – would be to follow the path laid out by Blondie himself. Get rid of the bad, and leave the ugly in the middle of nowhere with his paycheck and no horse!