Access Denied

Back in October, the building home to Chongryon (the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) in downtown Tokyo’s Chiyoda district went up on the auction block for a second time. The winning bid went to the mysterious Mongolian Avar LLC for 5.01 billion JPY (about 49 million USD).

The Korean residents that Chongryon was established for have long been known to be North Korean sympathizers, and the headquarters has been referred to as a de facto embassy in Japan.

Yesterday, it was reported that Avar’s bid to purchase the building was denied by the Tokyo District Court. The court blamed it on photocopies of required documents being submitted instead of originals, but there were also rumors that the business address in Ulaanbaatar provided by Avar LLC didn’t actually exist.

It looked bad for Avar from the get-go. Mongolian companies don’t own a lot of property outside of Mongolia, there were doubts about whether or not Avar could pay the winning bid, and questions about whether or not the purchase was actually being carried out on behalf of North Korea.The first time the building went up for auction, a Buddhist priest made the winning bid, but couldn’t come up with the cash and was found to have close ties to North Korean officials.

The UB Post published a short interview with a rather curt President of Avar back when the decision to finalize the sale was first postponed.

Here is a brief interview with President of Avar LLC, Ch.Erdenebat.       

 -The Japanese court has delayed the decision to proceed with the sale of the Chongryon site. Why has the court decision been postponed for the building you’ve purchased at auction?

 -The court decision is delayed because of various reports related to the auction by the press and media of Japan and Mongolia. The court decision was supposed to be issued last Tuesday. But a court decision will be issued soon.

-Your company has not been active before this? How did you participate in the auction?    

 -Our company has not been established for a long time. It is true that we have not been active. The company participated in the auction via a Japanese law firm. It does not matter how active the company is to participate in the auction.

-Your obliged 5.01 billion JPY is a very large amount of money. How did you organize the funds?

 -We will gather it through a foreign investment fund. After the court has made its decision I will give you specific information.

-According to reports by some Japanese press, Member of the State Great Khural D.Sumiyabazar and professional sumo wrestler and 68th grand champion Asashoryu D.Dagvadorj are connected to the purchase, or the Japanese government is behind this to bring back its citizens who were kidnapped in North Korea.

 -There are no links with any government bodies in Mongolia, Japan, North Korea or South Korea. It is just a business. Member of the State Great Khural D.Sumiyabazar is the husband of my sister Ch.Michidmaa. That is why people say that D.Sumiyabazar is involved in the purchase.

-Is Asashoryu D.Dagvadorj connected to the purchase?




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Gift Ideas for the Beauty Conscious

Some holiday gift ideas for the beauty conscious in your life, or for the people who are into weird body appliances to do… stuff with…. These items are all available at Japan Trend Shop. Although, if you aren’t looking to seriously frighten your friends and family, do your holiday shopping at Giant Robot instead.

There’s Face Yoga, and then there are these tools to aid you – maybe more like Face Pilates.


This is the Face Slimmer Exercise Mouthpiece. It’s like a Thigh Master for your face. The manufacturer recommends using it for three minutes a day. Practice pronouncing vowels and work your way to a slimmer, firmer face.

Your loved ones may enjoy the Pupeko Anti-Ageing Mouthpiece. This utilizes breathing exercises through a restricted airway to help you tone and tighten those sagging face muscles. Puff your cheeks as you force air out of the mouthpiece and suck in hard. Firm face in no time. No need for botox, but you may want to make sure you aren’t using this at high elevations, if you’re a smoker, or asthmatic.

This is the Hourei Lift Bra, and it looks horribly uncomfortable. Its supposed to be a bra for your sagging face. It will hold up your drooping cheeks and help prevent unsightly laugh lines and jowl-age through the magic of gravity.

One size fits all.

It also totally wouldn’t be weird at all for you to buy these items for yourself. Not one bit. Do it. You aren’t getting any younger.

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Twenty years of Envy (Japanese hardcore/post rock)

Remember Envy, one of the bands that I interviewed for the final issue of Giant Robot? The group from Japan is celebrating its twentieth anniversary with Invariable Will, Recurring Ebbs and Flows, a killer box set with fourteen LPs, two DVDs and a 100-Page book that contain absolutely everything, starting with its vicious hardcore roots and culminating with its cosmic post rock present. For this mother lode of amazing vinyl, I hit up singer Tetsu Fukagawa with some questions and pulled out Doug Kim’s photos from their 2010 stop at Santo’s Party House.

MW: You recently toured Japan to celebrate your 20th anniversary. What was that like? How did you model your set for the occasion?
TF: It was great. We only did three shows but lots of people showed up and the reactions have all been good. We played a lot of old songs so rehearsal was a bit hard, but we had a great time.

MW: What inspired the making of the new box set? Has it ended up as you expected or is it something different altogether?
FT: We didn’t really plan on doing anything initially but Jeremy from TRL came up with the idea of remastering all our songs, pressing vinyl, and putting it all together in a box set. We’re all really happy with how it turned out.

MW: It must have been a trip to look back to the beginnings of the band. Do you remember those days vividly or was revisiting the old songs like a time warp?
FT: There were some things we forgot about, and it was a really good experience for us to look back on all those years. Our old songs were fast and a lot of them were in English, so we haven’t played them at all recently. We’d forgotten about some really good songs we had! I think we’ll start playing them at shows from now on.  (more…)

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Strange Fruit

What you’re looking at is what some believe to be radioactive produce from Fukushima.

Photos are making the rounds online and fear is likely spreading with each click of the “share” button. Probably not so great for the businesses trying to revive Fukushima’s manufacturing centers. Once a major producer for Japan’s agricultural and fisheries industry, Fukushima is a long way from recovery in those sectors.

Even if clean-up and recovery efforts are successful, it will probably be several generations before the fear of contamination disappates. Volunteer-led efforts to inform and empower the public (like Safecast) continue, refusing to wait for the powers-that-be to call all the shots about the coast being clear.

In more local news (for this particular Robot), radiation contamination scares persist in the Gobi Desert, where herders living near uranium mines have reported births of two-headed goats and baby camels born without eyes. It rallied a handful of nationalists fond of Nazi fashion to call for more monitoring of mining sites, and government action, but the eccentric dressers have gained more global attention than the environmental concerns they’ve tried to raise.

Two headed peaches and mutant baby goats. They make great memes, but at some point – hopefully before we’re all sprouting extra appendages – they probably warrant a closer look beyond the Reddit hits.

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281_Anti-Nuke’s Art and What it Means For Japanese Politics.

Art has the power to provoke ideas and inflame passions. Politics and art, in this way, go hand in hand. When an event of historical magnitude occurs, it’s only a matter of time before an artist emerges and addresses it.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic plan (Abenomics) as the story of the hour in news circles, it’s easy to forget that Japan endured a nuclear catastrophe just 2 years ago. In March 2011, the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant underwent a partial meltdown from the 3.11 Earthquake and Tsunami.

Approximately 157,000 residents were forced to flee their homes due to radioactive contamination in Fukushima prefecture with little hope of ever returning. Critics blamed the disaster on negligence and incompetency concerning safety regulations willingly overlooked by TEPCO and the Japanese government.

Flash-forward to today and the public carries on as if it’s business as usual. The earthquake, tsunami, or even Fukushima rarely comes up in casual conversations. On the surface, it appears that the populace and Japanese government have forgotten the disaster altogether.

One artist hasn’t.

The man calling himself 281_Anti Nuke designed stickers, posters, and indiscreetly plastered them throughout Tokyo. His most recognizable piece is a small girl in a slicker with “I hate rain” printed beneath. It isn’t until you glimpse a nuclear trefoil inscribed beneath the text that its message dawns on you and all the events broadcasted from yesteryear return to you in a flood of regret.


His ‘mock’ propaganda is a sharp–albeit intrusive– reminder of the gravity of what happened in Fukushima not so long ago. It’s a tragedy that he claims the government created. It’s a tragedy that he believes they coerced the public to forget.

Giant Robot Magazine previously reported sightings of his art in October 2011. Back then, information on 281 was scarce. Two years later, major outlets like The Economist, Financial Times, and Wall Street Journal have featured photos of his art in articles about national politics. Others like Japan Rolling Stones, Channel 24, and The Japan Times have even interviewed the enigmatic artist himself.

Besides his distrust of the Japanese government and his drive to hold them accountable, almost no one knows anything about 281′s personal life–let alone his actual name.

The retrospective at the Pink Cow bar in Roppongi on June 6th, 2013, was held to raise awareness of his work and offer a little more insight into the artist himself. The retrospective hosted a preview screening of filmmaker/photographer Adrian Storey’s self-titled documentary about 281.

Storey formerly featured some of 281′s designs in a segment that he submitted for Ridley Scott’s Japan in a Day documentary. 281 contacted Storey and requested permission to use the images from Japan in a Day for his own personal website. Story agreed on the condition that 281 consent to be the subject of the aforementioned self-titled documentary. Filming began in January of this year.

Stroey’s documentary not only depicted the platform for 281’s opposition to the corruption of Japanese politicians and nuclear industry, but also further illuminated some of the seedier undercurrents of Japanese politics and why 281′s anonymity is so imperative.

People known as the Netto Uyoku (Right-wing netizens) accuse 281 of secretly being a Zainichi Korean (Korean born in Japan) and vandalizing public property. Certain right-wing groups in Japan often associate foreigners and the Zainichi with delinquency and organized crime.

The preview featured numerous posts on message boards from the Uyoku discussing 281’s art. One in particular contained a disturbing rant from someone reacting with a wish to kill all minorities in Japan. 281 doesn’t admit it explicitly, but several of these posts accumulated to enough threats against him that he temporarily shut down his Twitter and personal webpage.

He was also originally slated to attend the retrospective and answer questions from attendants, but backed out at the last minute and held a Skype conference with visitors instead.

Ryan Roth, his manager, explained that prior to the gathering, he took precautions to ensure 281′s safety. “We had to make sure that there was a back exit,” Roth said. “Just in case things got hairy.” There was a lingering anxiety that one of the Netto Uyoku would appear and start trouble.

Roth holding a skype conference with 281 at the Pink Cow's artist retrospective

Roth took in interest in 281’s art after seeing it on the streets of Tokyo. He contacted 281 online and they agreed to meet sometime between July and August, and Roth offered to represent him through his art investment company, Roth Management. Because he is a client, Roth is one of the few people who have seen 281’s face and know him by his true name.

As severely paranoid as that sounds, it’s not without precedent. The popular Japanese image board, 2Chan, is notorious for its death threats posted liberally throughout its forums.  It reached a point where the police had to intervene and crack down on these incidents. As with the case of the “Neo-Mugicha Incident” and imitations of the “Akihabara Massacre,” which originated as threats online, observers have every reason to take these threats seriously.

Additionally, even though the image board concentrates mainly on anime and popular culture, David W. Marxy of the Neojaponismé blog pointed out that posts on the board possess a heavy footed right-wing bent.

As a result, there’s a comically predictable tendency for Japanese right-wingers to accuse people with disagreeable opinions of being “Secret Koreans” much in the same way that they responded to 281’s art. For example, online netizens have erroneously accused New York Times journalists Hiroko Tabuchi and Norimitsu Onishi when they wrote about historical tensions between Japan and South Korea.

This and the threats inveighed against 281 even had Storey treading lightly around the topic of the Uyoku in the documentary. “Notice that I simply depicted what they wrote,” Storey said. “I didn’t take any of it out of context.”

All of this adds up to a dire portrait of Japan’s political dynamics. A poll for the Asahi Shimbun claims that 59% of the people oppose Abe’s nuclear power policy. This means that the Uyoku defending this policy are in the minority.

Admittedly, the Netto Uyoku already dwell on the fringes of society and demographically don’t possess a dominant votership in Japanese elections.

And that’s precisely the problem. It doesn’t bode well for a country if the tyranny of the few can bully someone with a dissenting opinion into silence.  Despite the high number of people who share 281’s views on nuclear energy, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet seems intent on restarting the nation’s reactors again in the near future. While economic matters are the forefront of the Japanese public’s concerns, one has to wonder what will happen if “Abenomics” fails to deliver. Prime Minsister Abe may be enjoying a high approval rating at the moment, but he’s arguably done little to placate his countrymen’s anxieties about the hazards of nuclear energy. One has to wonder whether voices like 281’s will grow louder once the intoxicating effects from Abenomics dissipate and bring a looming hangover.

A special thanks to Ryan Roth of Roth Management who represents 281_Anti-Nuke. To learn more about Roth Management, visit: http://roth-mgmt.com/. All inquiries to the artist should be directed to [email protected].

For more information, visit: http://www.281antinuke.com/. Follow 281 on Twitter @ 281_.

A trailer for Adrian Storey’s documentary can be accessed here. To learn more about Storey and his work, visit: http://www.uchujin.co.uk/. Follow him on Twitter @Uchujinphoto


Souzou: Japanese Outsider Art

The Wall Street Journal’s Japan Realtime reports on an interesting show at London’s Wellcome Collection, “Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan”. The venue is intriguing – a home for the collection of a wealthy pharmaceutical magnate who traveled the world and collected art and objects related to medicine – an interesting residence for this particular group show.

The artists are all disabled beneficiaries of Japan’s social welfare program, Haretari Kumottari, which is engaged in the arts as a means of self-expression for marginalized members of society. Over 300 pieces represent the work of “disabled” people with no formal training in the arts, but an uncanny knack for creativity and imaginative expression. They look like a pretty capable bunch to me.

The show is being blogged about, featured in international media, and perhaps raises the aesthetic bar for some people who thought Outsider Art was just scrap metal welded into zoo animals by people who’d never been to a zoo. Now it’s also Gundam mecha made out of shiny twist ties! It definitely looks like a show worth checking out if you’re in London. It runs through June 30th, with free guided tours, and a ton of educational events tied in.

We’re not really fans of the label “Outsider Art”, but it’s not going away as long as it still appeals to the mainstream art market that relies heavily on “Insider” art existing.  The WSJ article seems a bit behind the times on the rise of the Japanese art world beyond what makes it to MoMA, but they still get kudos for spotlighting Souzou.

The work being shared from this show brought me back to 2006, when Eric was invited to be a juror for Takashi Murakami’s GESAI art festival. GESAI has been pivotal in opening up the Japanese art world to more than just the juggernauts, and creating access and exposure for its “outsiders”.  I was lucky enough to go in 2008, and was completely blown away by the wall to wall magic. Every other exhibit booth had work that felt completely original, earnest and gallery-worthy. It felt like home, and we all came back from that trip re-energized and enthusiastic about what supporting artists meant to all of us.

I love when art can do that, when it can create (sometimes inadvertently) a world that you feel a part of. I’m not sure the Souzou artists would want us all up in their heads, but I thank them for sharing these pieces which brought me back to a very special experience, and a reminder of how powerful creative expression can be.




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Korean Comfort Women Photographed – A Sad Tale

Photos by Ahn Sehong capture “comfort women” in Korea. Most are poor, broke, and even embarrassed. The ones that photographer Ahn Sehong photographs are still living in China, the place they were sent and subsequently “left” after World War 2. It’s a sad tale that has no resolve. (NY Times – Korean Comfort Women)

“Comfort Women” will be on view at the Korea Press Center, 7 Broad Avenue, Palisades Park, N.J., through April 18.

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Japanese Elected Official Barred from Meetings for Wearing Wrestling Mask

OITA  ~ “Skull Reaper Eiji” (transliterated as “Skull Reaper A-ji” by the Western press) was elected to the city council in this city on the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu back in February promising local folks educational reform and improved social welfare facilities. He managed to garner only 2,828 votes, but that was enough to win him a seat. Eiji, 44, was supposed to attend his first council meeting this week, but his tight-assed council colleagues sucker-punched him by barring him from the meetings until he removed his wrestling mask. The Skull Reaper is the third masked politician elected to public office in Japan.  [TIME ~ Politician Banned for Wearing Wrestling Mask]


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Tsunami, Then and Now

Amazing images of how things changed or didn’t too much in Japan. (Rocketnews24 – Tsunami)

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Sounkyo Ice Fall Festival



Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, elevates the term ‘Winter Wonder Land’ to an all new standard. Tourists are already familiar with the Sapporo Snow Festival and may have even heard of the Asahikawa Winter Festival. Just a two hour bus ride away from Asahikawa, Sounkyo is renowned for its waterfalls and natural hot springs. Once winter sets in, a crew sets to work and constructs an ice castle like something fashioned from a Japanese RPG. (You can see a video showing how its built here). This, coupled alongside the ethereal lights illuminating its frosty walls, creates a feast for the senses. It’s one additional reason why Hokkaido is an ideal destination for the season.


We had a chance to visit and take photographs of the area shortly after night fall. Be aware though, the last bus returning to Asahikawa departs shortly after dusk. Unless you’ve booked a hotel nearby then you won’t have the opportunity to see the firework show that goes off on most weekends until the festival’s closing ceremony.


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Change is Growing

The Tohoku Cotton Project is one of the many ongoing efforts to recover and empower the land and people who were affected by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Cotton was planted in the salt-soaked rice fields that had made the region famous. Farmers were given new hope to keep the land alive, and members of the community volunteered to plant and harvest the crop that would speed the recovery of the soil.

Watch the film about the project.

On the whole TCP is genius. It’s about better land usage, rebuilding people’s lives, becoming less dependent on imported raw materials, and moving forward.

Follow the Tohoku Cotton Project on Facebook, and if you’re in Japan, keep an eye out for the logo appearing on goods produced with Tohoku cotton.

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Spam Goes Glam in Japan

Spam, the kind you eat. It’s made it across! (Boston Globe – Spam)

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For Relaxing Times… Make it Leonardo Time

Jim Beam!


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The Yen Loses Value so Louis Vuitton Raises Prices

Will it drop prices if the Yen gains strength? No! (Bloomberg – Louis Vuitton Japan)

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Uh-oh, Uniqlo…

I was surprised to read this story from The Korea Times, since it’s usually big Korean mass-market clothing companies doing the knocking off, but Uniqlo got busted for being copy cats.

Korean clothing company, Coevel caught Uniqlo in the act of copying their “Navajo” socks. It’s a pretty blatant rip-off, and while Navajo inspired designs aren’t particularly unique, the Uniqlo design looks like a direct pull from Coevel’s. The Southwest decor craze of the late 70s, and the pastel version of the late 80s, seems to be on the rise again. Even Shepard Fairey’s  Obey Clothing came out with a series of “Navajo” clothes and accessories.

Uniqlo issued a public apology on their Korean website, but there’s been no official statement about how the issue will be resolved, and the CEO of Coevel is readying her legal team. Too bad there aren’t any royalties for the Navajo Nation.

Here are the socks in question:

No mention of it on the You Thought We Wouldn’t Notice But We Did blog, but there are plenty of rip-offs to go around these days.


Fax Machines in Japan

While they are nearly gone, or at least dwindling, they’re alive and well in Japan – the place where people pay to download music, and where the Walkman was still available until recently. The term Galápagos effect is quite funny: “Japan has this Galápagos effect of holding on to some things they’re comfortable with,” said Jonathan Coopersmith, a technology historian who is writing a book on the machine’s rise and fall. “Elsewhere, the fax has gone the way of the dodo.” (NY Times – fax)

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Modern Day Hurt Locker, Japan

Hurt Locker style bomb exploders are still finding WWII bombs in Japanese city centers. 160,000 tons of bombs were dropped in WWII, so plenty are hiding out under buildings built upon lots. It’s an interesting story. (Bloomberg – Hurt Locker)

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Every Valentines Day in Japan

Women, yes women do the giving. Who likes you? You might find out on Valentine’s Day. Yet, one month later, dudes have White Day to reciprocate. Will they? (Dawn – Valentine’s in Japan)

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The 1980s Future Is Now: K-Pop Holographic Concert Theatres Coming Soon

Although it’s challenging to say that anything at Coachella could be considered ground breaking (especially considering this year’s lineups of reunions vs. new discoveries) it seems that  Hologram Tupac may have led the way for the future of K-pop.

The Korea Times reports that SM Entertainment, home to some of today’s most popular idol groups, are seriously considering investing in holographic theatres that would offer “concerts” of their top acts. As their story points out, they had  to use a hologram Tupac at Coachella, because he’s DEAD.

According to The Korea Times, SM Entertainment  has been wanting to do this for a while, and after they pulled off a successful holographic  Girls Generation concert, their passion for 1980s futurism was re-ignited.

Just imagine how AWESOME it would be to be able to pay to go to a holographic concert, watch the whole thing through your Galaxy s3 screen (wriggling through the crowd of people in front of you with their giant phones blocking your view) while you record the show to post on your tumblr on the subway ride back home to your parents house.

The future is bright for groups like Girls Generation and steady hitter, BoA. At least they get to have boyfriends and be “themselves” in real life, unlike their J-pop counterparts, AKB48.  GR Familia, Anne Ishii wrote a brilliant piece about the weirdness of AKB48′s idol reality.

It’s like K-pop is Jem and the Holograms, and J-pop is the Misfits – seriously, like with the evil manager, and the orphanage, and the holograms, and the Misfits always having hard times but better outfits… Everything we thought was only a cartoon futuristic techno fantasy is our now.




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Dead in the Water

The Japanese whaling industry is dying, but the government is still spending millions to keep it alive. It’s getting a renewed financial boost now. Where is the money coming from? Taxpayer dollars and funds earmarked for tsunami disaster relief.

Despite a decline in the demand for whale meat, nearly 30 years of a moratorium on commercial whaling, a Japanese public ambivalent to keeping the industry afloat, and international pressure to abandon the program, conservatives in government continue to shovel money into its gaping mouth.

The Guardian reports on it, as there’s been increased concern about the government subsidy as the Japanese economy works to recover from the financial crisis topped with the fallout from March 2011.  In an interview with Australian media, Masayuki Komatsu – the man who engineered the “research” program that kept the Japanese whaling fleet in business after the 1986 moratorium on commercial catches – says it’s time for an end to the subsidy. C’mon Japanese people, get mad and put an end to it.


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