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TOPIC: tokyo


The Eternal Whims Of Economics, As Seen By Japanese Artist Murakami

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has unveiled a large fresco capturing the history of economics, from the Sumerians to Elon Musk, at a gallery in the suburbs of Paris. French journalist Yann Rousseau met him in his studio near Tokyo.

PARISElon Musk is done. Keynes hangs on the wall. They’re killing Marx on the floor.

In the vast, windowless studio of Takashi Murakami, in Miyoshi, on the outskirts of Tokyo, about 10 assistants are working, kneeling on laminated cushions, above new giant portraits designed by the Japanese artist.

Barefoot, with a ponytail and washed-out jeans, the artist gives a few brief instructions, before heading to the back of the studio, where a separate team works on other projects.

Clothes for a new collaboration, paintings of blue and white carps inspired by Chinese porcelain, a new deck of cards or several tormented versions of his favorite character, Mr. Dob, a kind of avatar created in the 1990s — the artist never stops, too filled with ideas.

He sleeps a bit at night or during short naps in a corner of the studio, always in a cardboard box. “He also has a small space to cook his meals," whispers an assistant. There are no restaurants in the small industrial park where the studio is based, except for a McDonald’s.

On the wall, just like in a factory, organization charts and detailed schedules with the missions of each “artist." His company Kaikai Kiki has a total of 200 employees. On this Friday afternoon at the end of May, the last few squares of paint on the wig of Scottish economist Adam Smith have to be finished, as well as a blow-dry on the aqua t-shirt of Vitalik Buterin, creator of Ethereum and a final touch-up on the image of Chinese historian Sima Qian, before it all departs on a cargo plane for France.

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Japan-South Korea: Why Rapprochement Is Not Always A Sign Of Peace

The weight of history, and of this geopolitical moment, is propelling the current visit of Japanese Prime Minister in South Korea. Washington is happy that its alliances are aligning, but that's a sign of how high tensions are running in Asia right now.


South Korea and Japan have taken a major step to end a paradox. Indeed, both countries face the same threat, that of a nuclear-armed North Korea. They have the same ally, the United States — and are also uncomfortable neighbors of the Chinese giant.

And yet, they've been separated by the weight of history.

Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio's official visit to South Korea, which began Sunday, is the first by a Japanese leader in 11 years. The visit began at the cemetery of war victims, including those of the anti-Japanese struggle: Japan brutally colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, and this page of history has never been completely turned.

Korean public opinion is divided on this reconciliation, believing that Tokyo has never truly apologized.

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Abenomics Revisited: Why Japan Hasn't Attacked The Wealth Divide

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised to tackle wealth inequality and help struggling workers. But a year after he came to power, financial traders are once again the winners.


TOKYO — Panic on the Nikkei, the Japanese stock market. Almost a year ago, at the end of September 2021, traders went into a panic in Tokyo. On Sept. 29, Fumio Kishida had just won the general election for the country's main conservative party, the Liberal Democratic Party. He was about to be named Prime Minister, succeeding Yoshide Suga, who'd grown too unpopular in the polls.

Kishida had won through a rather original reform program, which was in stark contrast with years of conservative pro-market politics. In his speeches, he had promised to generate a “new capitalism”. A phrase that makes investors shudder.

While he did not completely renounce his predecessors’ strategy called “Abenomics” — named after free-market stalwart Shinzo Abe, who was killed last July — Kishida declared that the government needed to tackle the issue of the redistribution of wealth in the island nation.

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New Crimea Blast, Heat Forces China To Close Factories, Academy Apologizes To Littlefeather

👋 Kamusta!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Crimea has been hit by the latest in a string of unexplained blasts, China orders 6-day closure for factories to combat record temperatures, and Native American actor Sacheen Littlefeather receives a belated apology from the Academy. Meanwhile, writing for Hong-Kong-based The Initium, Lee Yee On looks at the parallels between Taiwan and North Korea.


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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Biden v. Democrats, Australia To Lift Travel Ban, Beery Japan

👋 Szia!*

Welcome to Friday, where President Biden suffers a blow as the vote on his trillion-dollar agenda gets delayed, Australia and South Africa are set to ease COVID restrictions, and a wild encounter leaves Shakira shaking. For Russian daily Kommersant, Anna Geroeva reports on how Lake Baikal, the world's largest and oldest lake, is silently being crippled by plastic pollution.


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Chris W. Surprenant*

Transgender Athletes: The Fairness V. Inclusion Debate

In a majority of U.S. states, bills aiming to restrict who can compete in women's sports at public institutions have either been signed into law or are working their way through state legislatures.

Caught up in this political point-scoring are real people – both trans athletes who want to participate in competitive sports and those competing against them.

As a professor of ethics and public policy, I spend much of my time thinking about the role of the law in protecting the rights of individuals, especially when the rights of some people appear to conflict with the rights of others.

How to accommodate transgender athletes in competitive sports – or whether they should be accommodated at all – has become one of these conflicts.

On one side are transgender athletes who want to compete in the gender division with which they identify. On the other are political activists and athletes – especially biologically female athletes – who believe that allowing trans athletes to compete in women's divisions is inherently unfair.

So why is this issue so fraught? What's so special about women's sports? Why do women's divisions even exist? And is it possible to protect women's sports while still finding a way to allow transgender athletes to compete in a meaningful way?

Winners elicit outcry

Let's be clear: Few Americans would care about how to best accommodate transgender athletes if they were not winning events.

But that's exactly what has happened. In 2017 and 2018, Terry Miller, a trans woman, won the Connecticut women's high school track championships in the 55-meter, 100-meter, 200-meter and 300-meter events. Her closest and only real competitor those two years was Andraya Yearwood, who is also a trans woman.

In 2017 and 2018, Mack Beggs, a trans man, dominated the Texas 6A 110-pound girls wrestling division, capturing two state championships while compiling a record of 89 wins and 0 losses. Unlike in Connecticut, where athletes may compete as they identify, athletes in Texas must compete in the gender listed on their birth certificate.

While Miller, Yearwood, Beggs and others have triumphed in their respective sports, the number of transgender high school athletes is very low. Nor is there any evidence that athletes have transitioned for the purpose of gaining a competitive advantage.

Yet some legislators have latched onto these examples, using them as a basis for bills that ban all transgender teens from participating in gendered divisions that differ from their birth sex. But these bills don't solve the competitive imbalances that can occur with athletes like Beggs. Worse, they might prevent transgender teens from competing altogether.

Sports matter – with meaningful participation

Since studies have shown that kids who participate meaningfully in athletics have better mental and physical health than their peers who don't – and teens who identify as transgender are at a significantly greater mental health risk than their peers – it's a worthy goal to try to accommodate their desire to compete.

The phrase "participate meaningfully" is important. Someone who, for example, is nominally on a team but does not take the sport seriously does not participate meaningfully in competitive sports. Similarly, someone who takes a sport seriously but easily dominates all competition also does not participate meaningfully in competition.

Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand weight lifter and the first openly transgender athlete to compete in the Olympic Games — Photo: in.gr_/Instagram

Youth sports organizations exist because we don't believe kids should compete against adults, and kids are further separated by age because age, for children, is a reasonably good proxy for skill and ability. Organizations like the Special Olympics and Paralympics exist to provide opportunities for people with physical and mental disabilities to participate meaningfully and compete against people with similar skill sets.

Male and female athletes are separated for the same reason.

The rise of women's sports

In 1972, the U.S. Congress extended Title IX of the Educational Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination in all federally funded education programs, including their associated athletics programs.

Title IX's impact on athletics for women and girls – and, as a result, U.S. culture – has been nothing short of dramatic. In 1970, fewer than 5% of U.S. girls participated in high school sports. Now 43% of high school girls participate in competitive sports.

Separating athletes by biological sex is necessary because the gap between the best male and female athletes – at all levels – is dramatic.

Serena Williams is not only one of the best female tennis players in history, she's one of the best female athletes in history. In 1998, both Serena and her sister Venus famously claimed that no male ranked outside of the ATP Top 200 could beat them. Karsten Braasch, the 203rd-ranked player ATP player at the time, challenged each to a set. Braasch beat Serena 6-1 and Venus 6-2.

"I didn't know it would be that difficult," Serena said after the match. "I played shots that would have been winners on the women's circuit, and he got to them very easily."

At the 2019 New Balance Nationals Outdoor, the national track championship for U.S. high school students, Joseph Fahnbulleh of Minnesota won the men's 100-meter with a time of 10.35 seconds. That same year, Olympic Gold Medal winner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran the fastest 100-meter time of any female in the world – 10.71 seconds. Her time would have tied for 19th at that U.S. boys high school event.

One more example that's a bit different: In 2012, Keeling Pilaro, a 4-foot-8, 80-pound seventh grade boy, petitioned the New York State Public High School Athletic Association to play field hockey on his school's all-female team. It approved his petition.

As a seventh grader, Pilaro made the school's JV team. As an eighth grader, he made the varsity team. But players and coaches from other schools argued he had a significant advantage because he was a boy. During the summer before his ninth grade year, the league agreed. It ruled Pilaro could no longer participate because his "advanced field hockey skills' had "adversely affected the opportunities of females."

Fallon Fox, a transgender fighter in mixed martial arts, trains at her local gym — Photo: Sally Ryan/ZUMA

I point to these examples because, put together, they show that no fitness regimen, no amount of practice, and no reallocation of financial resources could allow the best female athletes at any level to compete against the best male athletes at that same level.

This advantage isn't simply a difference in degree – it's not just that male athletes are bigger, faster and stronger – but it's a difference in kind. Pound for pound, male bodies are more athletic.

Evaluating trans athletes on a case-by-case basis

So, how can we allow trans athletes to compete without giving them an unfair advantage over their competitors?

One proposed solution, as if taken from the pages of novelist Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron," is testosterone-based handicapping for events. Competitors would have their testosterone levels measured and then algorithms would determine their advantage. Then, competitors would be fitted with weighted clothes, compete on a different track or otherwise receive an appropriate handicap before competing.

But having a higher level of testosterone does not automatically make you a better athlete. Beyond this, while handicapping may be fine for a golf outing with friends, it isn't appropriate for serious athletic contests. The point of athletic competitions is to determine who is actually the best, not who is the best relative to handicaps.

Another proposed solution entails replacing gender divisions entirely with ability-level divisions. Yet this could hinder women's participation in sports. In a world with no female-only divisions, Serena Williams would still win some tennis tournaments, but they likely wouldn't be tournaments you've heard of.

So what's the most viable solution to this debate?

Since there is no typical transgender athlete, broad rules for transgender athletes don't seem appropriate.

Instead, language similar to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's disability accommodation policy could be used for transgender athletes: "The decision as to the appropriate accommodation must be based on the particular facts of each case."

"Men's' divisions could be eliminated and replaced with "open" divisions. Any athlete could be allowed to compete in that division.

Then, transgender athletes could be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Based on their athletic ability, a tournament organizer could determine which division is most fair for them to compete in, "women's' or "open."

For trans women athletes, at issue is their athletic ability, not their womanhood. If a tournament organizer determines that a trans woman athlete is too good to compete against other women because of her biological advantage, requiring her to compete in an "open" division does not undermine her humanity.

Instead, this acknowledges – and takes seriously – that she identifies as a woman, but that respect for the principles of fair competition requires that she not be allowed to compete in the women's division.

While whatever decision is made is unlikely to make all competitors happy, this approach seems to be the most fair and feasible given the relatively small number of transgender athletes and the unique circumstances of each athlete.The Conversation

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Yann Rousseau

Yakuza Blues: Japan's Notorious Gangsters Hit Hard By COVID

The infamous (yet legal) Japanese criminal syndicate was already suffering under new laws when the pandemic hit. Now its business model is crumbling.

TOKYO — Strands of bleached blond hair falling on eyes smeared with kohl, low rise skinny jeans, an oversized wallet hanging out of their back pocket... These "host boys' wait for their midnight shifts in front of the Otsuu restaurant in Kabukicho, Tokyo's "hot" district. This is also the stomping ground of yakuzas, Japan's notorious gangsters.

Cabs block Hanamichi street as they pick up the first drunk customers of the evening. Hawkers swarm everywhere, looking to lure new clients into their clubs or convince lost young women to start a career in nightlife. Watching the hubbub unfold to the echoes of booming sound systems, you would never guess the Japanese capital was under a state of emergency.

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Ishaan Tharoor

Buckle Up For Trump's 10-Day Blast To Asia

The stakes and uncertainty are high as the U.S. President begins a 10-day trip to five Asian countries. To begin with, decorum is extra important in this part of the world.

Set aside the various political battles convulsing Washington and the grim fallout of the terrorism attack in New York City. Starting this weekend, President Donald Trump will, in theory, put domestic issues on the back burner as he embarks upon an important series of state visits in Asia.

Trump's tour will begin in Japan with a golf outing with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday, followed by meetings in Tokyo and then further stops in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. It will be the longest trip taken by any U.S. president since George H.W. Bush traveled through Asia in 1991 - and ended the journey by vomiting in the Japanese prime minister's lap during dinner. Officials in the White House are surely hoping for no such events this time.

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Caroline Rousseau

From Japan, Unpacking Miyake's Pleated Revolution

Hiroshima-born designer Issey Miyake has spent his career creating garments that challenge sizing conventions and are both practical and beautiful. A French reporter ponders his influence.

TOKYO — If he had been like everyone else, he might have called his exhibition The World of Issey Miyake. Instead, it's called The Work of Miyake Issey.

In refuting the term "retrospective" — too pretentious, too definitive, too focused on the past — the exhibition highlights not the brand's success, but rather, Miyake's lifetime quest. It's about the work of a man born in Hiroshima in 1938 and who, over the course of 45 years, put his fervent need to never look back, his innovation and his ingenuity at the service of the fashion industry.

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Ever Beauty-Conscious, Japanese Women Embrace Sports Makeup

TOKYO — At September's annual RunGirl Night, one 35-year-old exercise enthusiast prepared for the evening group run by applying lipstick, foundation and eye shadow. "I would feel extremely self-conscious if I was around so many other people without makeup on," she said. "After crossing the finish line, I want to look good in group photos, too."

She's not alone. The number of women who wear makeup while exercising is on the rise. So-called sports makeup is becoming increasingly popular, as evident not only from the growing popularity of no-smudge cosmetic products but also from the makeup symposiums held in tandem with running events.

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Jonas Pulver

The Japanese Bookshop That Sells Just One Title A Week

TOKYO — It's a bit further away from the bigger stores in Tokyo's Ginza district. Between the sake bars, along the tall towers that watch day and night over the Sumida River, a quiet art gallery hosts large, abstract paintings. And across the street from a shop for urban bikes with monochromatic frames is a bare storefront, where the door is ajar. It's 20 square meters at the most, with a bench, a chest of drawers for a counter and a wooden easel. On it is one open book. Just one. Welcome to Morioka Shoten Ginza, a minimalist bookshop.

Actually, on this day two other paperback formats supplement the stock, a trio of titles by Japanese novelist and poet Sakae Tsuboi (1899 — 1967). The graphic designer and the publisher are here, wrapped in their black cloaks with their ink-colored hair. The narrowness of the space is cozy, and they talk about the choice of paper, font and the plastic quality of the texts. I stay an hour. Another author will take the place of this one next week. That's the cycle founder Yoshiyuki Morioka has maintained since she opened the space a few months ago.

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