Tokyo’s Olympic Slave Labor Plan


Everybody’s excited about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, right? Well, not everybody. Some of us never wanted it in the first place, because we know what it will bring. An orgasm of unneeded construction in a city that already supports an endless cycle of demolition and building. An influx of short term visitors to a country that is both enjoying and grappling with skyrocketing numbers of inbound tourists.


Who stands to benefit from the Olympics? The same entities that always benefit from such endeavors: major media and marketing companies, big construction firms, “the Olympic” brand, the Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) and, one would hope, the athletes. 

What about the common citizen? Tokyo residents, both Japanese and foreign, may experience an incremental increase in pride and a burst of excitement as the world turns to Japan, but those feelings will largely be offset by mountains of inconvenience, the hollow pain of the post-event hangover and the realization that nothing has really changed for the better, or really at all (aside from a few new sidewalks).


If you build it, they will come and work for free.


Everyone knows that Tokyo will produce an event that is brilliantly branded, perfectly orchestrated and admired worldwide as a sparkling example of Japan’s collective resources. But this is not 1964. The world does not need to be shown just how far Japan has risen from the ashes of war. Japan Inc. won, it got fat and lazy and yet, despite metabolic issues, it hungers for more.

For those reasons, the Tokyo 2020 plan for soliciting an all-volunteer Olympic work force is both puzzling and repulsive. You might think that Olympic volunteers would be charged with tasks like making sure runners don’t veer off course, providing directions to visitors and maybe passing out maps and pamphlets. But the JOC has much, much more in mind.

According to the JOC, there are two categories of volunteers: Games Volunteers and City Volunteers. Both Japanese and foreign residents who are 18-years old are welcome. Games Volunteers should be able to participate in training sessions and work for 10 days or more. City Volunteers should be able to work five hours a day for five days.

Here’s a small sample of some of the volunteer jobs that are on offer. Drivers, language services, logistics support, medical support and doping control. Yes, you read that correctly. The JOC expects to recruit licensed physicians and pharmacologists to provide their free time to conduct one of the most important and politically charged aspects of the Olympics: drug testing. That is making sure the athletes don’t cheat by ingesting one or more of a seemingly endless array of performance enhancing chemicals.


What should I do with this vial of blood?

Surely, the JOC is not expecting pharmacists and physicians to take on the vital role of doping control for free. Yes, it is, and that's not all. These volunteers will have to pay for their own transportation and accommodations. Here’s the official statement.

“Games Volunteers and City Volunteers are not compensated. In principle, these volunteers will be responsible for transportation costs to and from Tokyo and for securing their own accommodations.”

Say what? Even slaves get provided with meals, transportation and accommodations. Don’t worry, the JOC may decide to help you find a place to stay and give you a “cool Japan” uniform. Here is the rest of the statement.

“Providing information related to accommodations will be considered. Meanwhile, we will now consider details concerning what may be provided to volunteers, including uniforms that instill a sense of unity and pride, training, and meals.”


United colors of volunteering

I know nothing fills me with pride and helps me sleep better at night than having a crisp new uniform hanging in my closet. However, it comes as no surprise that not everyone is happy with this situation.


“Let me say again to all students who are thinking to be a volunteer for Tokyo Olympics…because the Olympics is the biggest commercial event. And for now, more than 40 billion yen [has been] collected from 42 sponsors, so they don’t need volunteers. If you do, the money just goes to JOC and Dentsu. It is just silly,” tweeted Ryu Honma

Yes, Tokyo 2020 volunteers have a lot to look forward to, such as the unbridled joy of helping companies, such as the advertising giant Dentsu, fatten their pockets, while making the fat cat dinosaurs that run the JOC look good.  Sounds like a win-win. Where do I sign?

Every Dog has its Day

NC Nengajo 2018.jpg

Or so they say. It seems like 2017 was the year of the dog with all the barking and biting and growling going on around the world. Although, to be fair, there was a lot of crowing in 2017, so the rooster had his say. We are looking forward to a 2018 that behaves more like humankind’s best friend. Loyal and lovable. If you’re looking for someone to get your message out, feel free to toss us a bone. We promise to be good listeners, able retrievers and stalwart team players. Happy New Year.

If You Brand It, They Will Come


How much would you pay for a T-shirt? For the 5,000 people who lined up for hours to just to have an opportunity to shop at the Supreme pop-up boutique in Tokyo this summer, that could be as much as ¥60,000. Heck, people were re-selling their tickets on Twitter, just to shop at the store for ¥500,000. Only 400 people were allowed in on the first day.

Crazy? That’s what I would call it. Personally, I’m partial to Hanes Beefy Ts. They go for about 1,500 yen, are of decent heft and quality, come in all colors of the rainbow and are very comfortable. You don’t get a swank logo, but there’s a lot to be said for minimalism these days.  In my humble opinion, there’s not much to the Supreme logo anyway, but for some people it has a kind of hyper-spiritual cachet, provided you worship the God of Brand Consumerism.

Want a little more cotton with your brand? A Supreme hoodie, featuring the Louis Vuitton logo retails in Japan at about ¥132,000 yen and were being re-sold on sites such as Yahoo Auctions for more than ¥500,000 this past summer.

 A Plan for Outfitting Supreme Beings
Unfortunately, the after-sale market is the only place Japan Supreme fans will be getting their merchandise anymore. The Tokyo pop-up store, which opened on June 30, was supposed to run until July 13. By July 7 with 80,000 souls waiting to get in and most items out of stock, the pop-up was shuttered.  A similar situation unfolded in Los Angeles, where, not surprisingly, fights broke out. That store was mercifully closed as well. And Louis Vuitton has reportedly canceled plans to offer Supreme goods in its Tokyo outlets. Although word has it that VIP sales may be initiated.

What the heck is Supreme anyway? Originated by James Jebbia, it began as a skateboarder fashion boutique in New York in 1994. After a series of collaborations with designers such as Kermit, Takashi Murakami and brands such as Nike, Vans, North Face and, most recently, Luis Vuitton, and designs and ads featuring Kate Moss and the Supreme Box logo, the brand rapidly became a global phenomenon. With hooks into the music world and pop culture, designs have featured Prodigy, Isaac Hayes and Miles Davis, Supreme is often compared to Harajuku’s very own BAPE, which features collaborations with Pharrell and Kayne West, among others.


Going Organic with Louis Vuitton
Supreme’s connection with Luis Vuitton began in 2000, when the brand released caps, T-shirts and more emblazoned with the LV monogram pattern. Copyright law suits were threatened by Louis Vuitton, but too many celebrities had already posted photos of Supreme LV gear on Instagram. (For the roots of organic LV collaboration, check out the story of Harlem’s own Dapper Dan aka Daniel Day). By 2017, LV-Supreme collaborations became official, pop-up stores popped up around the world and the madness followed.

Call me a dork, but I’ll stick with Hanes and Uniqlo and sneakers you can buy at ABC Mart. I’d rather save my money for a trip to the real home of Louis Vuitton.

Last but not least, those who feel that ignoring Supreme isn't enough of a statement may want to go for the Rick & Morty (of Netflix) inspired knock off, "Schwifty." You can order one online for 20 bucks. 

Supreme Schwifty.png

Foreign Correspondents of Bad Behavior


“Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” You may be familiar with this quote attributed to a telegram Groucho Marx sent to the Friars Club in Los Angeles. They had initially refused his membership because he was Jewish and later accepted him after he became famous. Right now, the line is a good summation of my feelings for the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, of which I am a member, and especially for its Board of Directors.

On August 17, my Toastmasters’ group, the FCCJ Toastmasters, received a terse email, in Japanese, from the Board of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ). We were told to immediately stop using “FCCJ” in our name and informed that beginning on September 1, we would be charged a 32,000-yen room fee (each meeting), on top of food services, for our use of FCCJ facilities in Yurakucho.


Our club was founded by FCCJ members, and for more than nine years the FCCJ has been our only meeting place. That means on two Mondays every month, 15-20 Toastmasters and guests (including many FCCJ Members) purchased lunch from the FCCJ and occupied the usually empty Media Room for our two-hour sessions to help people become competent communicators and better leaders. 

On the surface, one might think the requests are not unreasonable. Nomenclature is important to branding. Economics change. Fees go up.

However, the way these directives were issued was not only unsavory, but nothing short of ugly. No warning. No request to discuss the changes. No one from the FCCJ Board approached us in any way. Just the email, in Japanese only, from a press club that uses English as its official language.

Why would the FCCJ, which has been bleeding money for well over a decade and is in desperate need of new members, treat a loyal customer, one who has been paying its bills without fail for nearly 10 years, with such contempt and disdain?


Why send out a single directive that couples two unrelated issues:a name change and a fee increase? One can only deduce that FCCJ Board harbors some abnormal distain for Toastmasters and decided, like a petulant child, to do something to hurt our club.It would not be exaggerating to call this it a slap in the face.

What does the FCCJ stand for anyway? Foreign? Yes, if that means aberrant or peculiar. Correspondents? But no communication. Club? Clique is more accurate. I recommend a course in public relations for the FCCJ Board.Just because the FCCJ is going down in flames doesn’t mean that everyone around deserves to get burned.


UPDATE: A KINDER, GENTLER FCCJ (November 14, 2017)
Since we posted this tale of woe and outrage, the FCCJ has come around. After a series of meetings with our Toastmasters executive board, the FCCJ board has allowed us to continue meeting at the Press Club, under the original terms of our agreement until the end of 2017. What happens next year is still under negotiation. The name issue has also been suspended. What’s that old chestnut about standing up to bullies?

Art That’s Fun and Frisky

There’s no shortage of art on display in Tokyo museums and galleries. In fact, the sheer volume of exhibitions in any given month can leave one feeling spoiled for choice. Terra Cotta warriors? Yawn. Warhol? Whatever.

Seeking something completely different, I recently checked out the “Parody and Intertextuality: Visual Culture in Japan Around the 1970s” exhibition at the Tokyo Station Gallery. Don’t let the dour tittle bring you down, this exhibit is a rollicking ride fueled with a high octane mix of clever and cocky social commentary (for the adults in your party).



Welcoming visitors is a small room packed to the ceiling with playful portraits by Leo Yamada who is currently working on 100 versions of the “Mona Lisa” as if painted by masters other than da Vinci. There were several of the works on display at the Tokyo Station Gallery. It’s both engaging and unsettling to work out who he is mimicking, mimicking da Vinci. He’s also done a “da Vinci” on some current world leaders, many of which are on display, giving the exhibition a timely and political edge. Alas, there’s no Trump.



One of my favorite displays featured a vibrant array of Tokyo Metro manner posters from days gone by. Hitler as a seat hog? Jesus bemoaning lost umbrellas? (See below) They certainly don’t make ‘em like that anymore. These days, we are usually served impotent illustrations of animals and giant kanji lessons. I can’t imagine anything released in the last 10 years ever being displayed in a gallery, unless the subject is unintentional irony. Remember “Please do it at home”? Please don’t.





Another eye-grabbing display, was a wall papered with dozens of the colorful covers of “Bikuri House” a parody magazine that ran from 1974-85. There was also a treasure trove of manga, with many volumes laid out for personal perusal. Guilt consumed me as I picked up a weathered copy of Bikuri House and quickly found out how easy it was to damage some of the fragile pages. Reminder: keep those comics in plastic.

Overall, it was fun, informative and eye-catching. Isn’t that what art is supposed to be? I think so. While the “Parody” exhibition is finished, keep an eye on the Tokyo Station Gallery website for future events, as they seem to feature art that’s decidedly off the beaten path.