Thursday, January 19, 2006


A Kurume branch of Lawson was the scene for a bizarre attempted crime yesterday, as a man's plans to rob the store backfired. Arriving in a large sedan car, the man, according to witnesses, swerved dangerously and crashed into the store front window. With the crimes of dangerous driving and damage of public property under his belt, 42 year old Kenshiro Sarubuta is then said to have staggered from his car wearing a black hat, a Zoro-style eye mask and black and white stripey jumper and carrying a crowbar and a brown sack marked "SWAGU" (sic). According to eye-witness Sonny J'Piker, "he then tiptoed across the car park in an exaggerated way, and used his crowbar on the door, despite it being open. Once inside he seemed to panic and tiptoed out again, mumbling something."

Questioned after his capture a few minutes later, Sarubuta said that he had been so concerned with creating the right image that he hadn't considered what he would do once inside the store. The police officers that caught the tiptoeing ne'er-do-well had no comments to make.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


When the Kuiku Katsu hair salons opened across Kyushu, publicity was one of their priorities, and it enabled the Fukuoka-centred business to flourish. This week, however, the publicity has turned bad, and for the first time in its 5 year history, Kuiku Katsu could be in trouble, all because of one of its salons refusing to admit a non-Japanese.

Accounts differ, but what is known is that last Wednesday, Hazel Rorner, an Englishwoman teaching in Fukuoka, entered the Hakata branch of Kuiku Katsu, but was unable to get a haircut. She claims that the salon workers saw her coming and hurried to lock the door and draw down the blind. Undeterred, Rorner says she opened the letter box and asked them in Japanese what they were doing. Apparently the staff refused to say anything, but eventually a note was pushed through the letter box, saying "So sorry. Our cutting sissars (sic) can not hope to deal with your superly strong hair." Rorner claims discrimination and wants to take the salon to court for defamation of character and racism (hailing from XXX, long considered the home of racism, Rorner appreciates the irony).

Naturally, the salon staff deny all charges, and as the note has been misplaced and there were apparently no witnesses, it seems that it will be their word against Rorner's. Six months ago it would have a been a foregone conclusion for the salon to emerge unscathed, but with anti-discrimination legislation being reviewed in the Diet, this could well be a turning point in Japanese law.

Monday, January 16, 2006


There were angry scenes at Bakabatake Station in Kurume this week, as the long awaited cycle parking facility caused mayhem with commuter cyclists. Having spent close to 3 billion yen of local taxpayers money on the 3 year expansion, rail executives were pinning their hopes on the project, but if they expected a smooth transition they have been sorely disappointed. In chaotic scenes over the past few days there have been neverending queues, piles of unfinished paperwork and scores of parking officials running on the spot and pointing.

Whilst all of the Japanese commuters we spoke to refused to comment on what was happening, a number of local ELT teachers were more than happy to vent their spleens. Gracie Leanberry, originally from England, complained that "the queues are entirely unnecessary - instead of simply cycling in and parking you have to get off your bike and push it around one of those roped off mini-maze things, and then have your credentials checked by a parking attendant who fills out a form. After that, you have to stand on an incredibly slow moving conveyor belt, which takes about five minutes to travel up 20 steps. Once at the top, you have to present your credentials to another parking official and wait whilst he fills in another form, and then you have to park in the space that is designated to you."

Lynn Kiwi, a colleague of Leanberry from Canada, said that she made the mistake of not parking in the designated space. "The parking area was almost empty," she complained, "so I decided to park close to the entrance, at which point a red light started flashing and a parking attendant appeared carrying a torch and a clipboard. He told me that I had commited a grave error and would have to go to my designated space, which was at the very back of the complex and would have taken me at least 5 minutes to get there. I refused and started to lock up my bike but two more attendants appeared, each holding the ends of a small plastic fence and they tried to shut it around me. Fortunately I escaped."

Despite the silence of the Japanese commuters, these experiences can only be the norm. What Leanberry and Kiwi didn't mention was that once your bike is parked and the paperwork completed, you are required to walk on concourse that circumnavigates the train station in a gentle spiral, taking tens of minutes to traverse and meaning that commuters need to arrive at least 2 hours before their train is due to arrive instead of the usual hour.

Rail executives are obviously hoping that the conformity of their Japanese customers will keep things running, but although the holes are plugged and the ship is upright, it's not watertight by any means.

Friday, January 13, 2006


"Let's just say we won't be pursuing links with Kurume in the future."

The understated words of Ryan Aaron, chairman and CEO of Australasian corporate behemoth Aaroncorp, who until last week was about to instigate a multi-billion dollar expansion into northern Kyushu, were the Tasmanian-born multi-millionaire once taught in a conversation school. However, following his impromptu visit to the company he sought links with, Aaron has not only cancelled his project but posted a scathing report on his corporate website,, detailing the reasons for his actions.

In short, Aaron claims that when he visited the Kurume company Ha Ha Miwa last Thursday, he discovered what at first seemed to be "a normal-functioning, work-conscientious office place where everythings seemed to be in place." However, once he started talking to some of the 500 or so workers, he became increasingly suspicious. "I asked to see the boss and had to wait an ordinately long time, before being escorted to a distant office. I then proceded to introduce myself and started to question him, only to be told that he would have to refer me to his boss, which he did, and the waiting process began again. When I met the new boss, I was again referred, and again, and again and again, a total of 10 times in all, and to my surprise I found myself back at the office of the first so-called boss."

It was when Aaron started to investigate the day to day duties of the staff that alarm bells really started ringing. "Every single person I asked was unable to give me a satisfactory answer, and essentially told me the same thing in a hundred different ways - 'I liase between departments'. After a day of questioning and exasperated searchines for company records and information, I can categorically say that Ha Ha Miwa is a non-entity. That is, it doesn't actually function as anything, other than a place for 500 people to spend 10 hours a day in. All the phone communication that I witnessed was between employees in the building, as were faxes and emails. In short, it's a giant piece of red tape that pays people for zippo," he concluded, a little cryptically.

Aaron has reportedly promised to make his findings known to the relevant authorities, though with the status and encompassing corporate membership that his website enjoys he may not have to. Whether the staff of Ha Ha Miwa were fully aware of their situation is unknown, although this is not the first time that such things have happened in Fukuoka prefecture. The Japanese unwillingness to question orders and ingrained desire to be seen to be doing a good job aside, it seems remarkable that such wool gathering could continue unchallenged for so long. How did it start? Who started it? Where does the money come from? What will happen next? These are questions that no one seems to know, least of all Ryan Aaron, who must be mightily relieved to have backed out when he did.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


A Kurume-based conversation school teacher has sparked controversy amongst residents by daring to speak out against a written decree issued by Japan Railways.

In essence, Ben Treeskin, originally from England, is upset at the way he is being charged for ten shinkansen tickets instead of one. The decree, which is written on gold-leaf paper and is reportedly handcrafted over a period of weeks, states that on the 4th of November, ten Japanese passengers abandoned their seats when Treeskin sat down next to them, and the English teacher is thus liable. The decree goes on to say that in addition to the reimbursement of 400,000 yen to Japan Railways, Treeskin is encouraged to make personal calls to the passengers' homes to formally apologise.

In the history of Japan Railways' fabled golden decrees, this is the first time that one has been questioned, much less refused, but Treeskin is determined to see that proper justice is served.

"I wholly refute the so called decree," Treeskin told this reporter yesterday, "and categorically refuse to pay the money and apologise. The so-called victimised passengers in question should be apologising to me - the manner in which they fled when I sat down was highly discriminatory and xenophobic, and just shows how backwards this country can sometimes be."

When asked for his comment on the recently proposed train regulations from Tokyo (that foreigner-only trains should be introduced, following the death of an office lady that jumped up and broke her neck on the overhead rail when an American teacher sat down opposite her), Treeskin said something not suitable for print.

Whether Japan Railways will pursue this case is unknown, as in the past it hasn't been known to get involved with legal precedents. One thing is certain, however - be it a drawn out court battle or a swift settlement, Treeskin won't be welcomed on any JR train anytime soon.


The Nagasaki arm of Japan's National Self Defense Force has suffered a humiliating defeat against US soldiers from Sasebo, in what was supposed to be a friendly tactical exercise to showcase the former's progress as a military force. In a manner more akin to Police Academy than Bravo Two Zero, the Self Defensers managed to squander a 4 to 1 man advantage in a farcical mock siege that was over almost before it started and was broadcast live across Japan.

That the exercise lasted only 6 minutes is even more remarkable when you consider that the Self Defensers - poised to breach the American stronghold - all paused for 4 minutes to remove their boots and shout "Ojamashimasu!" as they entered the premises. Once inside, the 20 man strong Japanese contingent came face to face with a venerable Japanese elder in a grey kimono (actually one of the 5 marines in disguise), who reportedly told them to hand over their weapons and go into the next room, which the bowing, humbled Japanese soldiers quickly did. It was then simply a case of the costumed American locking the door and walking outside with his four companions and arm fulls of fully loaded Japanese guns, the victors of perhaps the fastest and easiest military exercise in the history of modern warfare.

Faced by the nation's media immediately after the exercise, a high-ranking and rather red-faced representative of the National Self Defense Force promised that he would do his best in the future and said that the 20 gullible men in the 6x8 room would remain there overnight as punishment.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Black smoke still billows over the hills of Yamato Town today, but even after it clears, the events of Sunday evening will live long in the memory of its 1000 residents. Details of the blaze that razed Muimi Syuugou High School to the ground remained unconfirmed until this morning, and it was thought that the fire was either due to a faulty electrical appliance, or "foreigners!", in the word of three local pensioners this reporter spoke to yesterday.

Now however, a startling confession has emerged from the depths of Tosu gaol, which in part proves the pensioners right. If the confession is to be believed, the fire was started deliberately and with premeditation by Louisa-Ann Sittle, the ALT that worked at the now destroyed High School. The confession, in its entirety, is reprinted below:

"I, Louisa-Ann Sittle of Chuuhai Machi, Kurume, originally of Edinburgh, Scotland, hereby confess to the deliberate starting of the fire that consumed Muimi Syuugou High School on Sunday. Whilst I must admit to not expecting the fire to completely destroy the school, in the wake of learning that no one was injured or killed I am wholly satisfied with the result.

"What are my reasons for doing what I did? Where to start... could it have been the petty bureaucracy that meant I had to stay at my desk for an extra 3 hours a day regardless of finishing all my work? Or perhaps it was the daily meetings in which the same things were said every single day with slightly different wordings that lasted for an hour and made me want to kill myself. Or maybe the fact that despite being fluent in Japanese and holding degrees in management and education, I was passed over for promotion for a simpering imcompetent who can't find his arse with either hand but knows how to say "hai!!" 20 times in a row when on the phone and how to speak like a pouting 5 year old when answering a question he doesn't know the answer to. Or even the fact that the whole school was made of wood, and the first year students were made to polish it day and night, with stick beatings befalling them if they missed a spot. No, in the end it would have to be the memo library, in which every single written memo - be it on lined paper, the back of a receipt or beer mat - had been pointlessly catalogued and filed away for the last 20 years, never to be seen again.

"I don't regret what I did, and I believe wholeheartedly that the world is a better place without Muimi Syuugou. So punish me how you see fit. I really don't care, as anything has to be better than spending the next 25 years in that place. To paraphrase the Beatles, so I lit a fire, isn't it good Japanese wood?

With *warmest* regards,

Louise-Ann Sittle, Tosu Gaol, December 2005"

Ironically, were it not for the fact that Ms Sittle's alien registration card was not in its required plastic wallet - a grave offence in Fukuoka prefecture - she might have escaped incarceration and received no more than a warning and endless paperwork for the much less serious charge of grand arson and endangerment. More news on this as soon as it comes.