Expat Musings, Opinion

Tokyo 2020 Employees: Where Do We Go Now?

There is little reprieve for the many contract workers, freelancers, and interns of Tokyo 2020.


One of the reasons why I chose to study in Japan was to be able to live in the same city as the Olympics; to feel the vigor and unity as hundreds of thousands of people join underneath the five interlaced rings. I, along with thousands of others, joined the volunteer program. I, along with thousands of other college students, raced to apply to the olympic broadcasting program, which would consequently make us employees of the olympics broadcasting systems. And I, along with thousands of others, were let go last week, when the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee announced that the Olympics would be postponed. 

I knew that the Olympics would have to be postponed. Months leading up to the announcement, I had doubts about Japan’s capacity in holding the Olympics in the midst of a global pandemic. While Western media praised Japan for its efforts and often alluded to the mystery why Japan had avoided the fate of many of its neighbors inundated by the novel coronavirus– Japan had deliberately avoided widespread testing and relied on contact tracing in order to keep the cases at a minimum. For months, discontent over the current incumbent government has been stirring over a multitude of problems: tax policies, corruption scandals, inability to enact social change, and the response to the coronavirus pandemic. The mismanagement of the Princess Diamond, resulting in 712 infections and 10 deaths was just the brim of what to come. 

I briefly wondered whether I should rescind my position. The virus had no sign of stopping as it ravaged through Europe and America. If the Olympics were to be held in the summer, what sort of precautions should I take? Would I be endangering myself, exposing myself to thousands of people everyday in enclosed spaces like stadiums, broadcasting trailers, or commentary rooms? Would I be endangering others, interacting with my teammates, my colleagues, and thousands of other Olympic employees? 

I expected that the announcement would come soon, as countries were quickly dismantling in the midst of the pandemic. Health care workers in America were pleading for people to stay home; city upon city were issuing quarantine orders. Borders were closing down as thousands of people rushed against the virus to return home. I watched as headlines blared new jumps in cases and new jumps in death tolls. A week prior to the announcement, the government continued to press on, refusing to consider any derailment to their dreams of Olympic grandeur. And yet the world screeched to an abrupt halt as everything shuttered down around us.

The announcement was brief: the Olympics was to be postponed to 2021. I felt relief for a moment before the sinking emptiness and realization hit me. Yes, I would be safe this summer. Yes, I would not be exposing myself to others. And with a brief statement that was released the next day by the broadcasting systems, me, along with thousands of students, and thousands of freelancers, contractors, and volunteers at the Olympics, were let go. 

I realized that I would have to do over the series of tests, applications, training sessions, group discussions next year. My place would not be guaranteed. Hundreds of other students around me gave up coveted positions at other firms for a chance at the Olympics. Many of us are scrambling to apply to other positions, only to find out that many firms, facing an economic crisis, have shuttered their internship programs and turned back new recruits. Our plight cannot compare to the thousands of contract workers and freelancers who work during the Olympics, serving as ticketing organizers, broadcasting professionals, and transportation service providers. With rescinded contracts, many may be without work for several months. Most Olympic employees are on a contract basis without the safety net that other full-time employees have. There is no unemployment insurance to collect; there is no compensation for lost time.  At the end, all of us are faced with the same question: where do we go now? 

With the world in disarray, there is little hope for the many who have become unemployed. There is little solace in the misfortune of many who have the same plight. However, we will continue on, as we always have. 

 

Opinion

Where Are The Asian American Public Figures Now?

Coupled along with the spread of coronavirus, xenophobia is spreading from shore to shore, causing Chinatown to become deserted as fearful patrons avoid the entire area. Asian businesses have seen a loss as much as 80% of customers, and Asians have become targets of racially charged abuse. Asian students have been bullied, and in some cases, violently attacked. Authorities have spoken out and have been investigating some of the major cases of racism, but when will it stop? How can we prevent more abuse against Asian Americans in schools, workplaces, and public transit? Is there any preventive action against xenophobia during crises such as covid-2019? What are authorities doing to help protect Asian communities across America?

According to UNICEF, there are 5 ways to fight racism and xenophobia. The White House is unwilling to set aside its partisan differences to fight not only the virus but also the xenophobia that accompanies it. And the White House is doing next to nothing in combating either. President Trump’s last few years of antagonizing China has done nothing for the millions of Chinese Americans besides encouraging an irrational fear of China, which has spurred a green light to racism. His continuous tirade against Chinese businesses and government has done little to help either country’s economy, and the continuing trade war has soured US-China relations. And with the spread of the novel coronavirus, Chinese Americans and other Asian communities have been caught in the crossfire. 

Xenophobia in the US, unfortunately, has been normalized as a constant for many people of color. An infographic released by the University Health Services by University of California, Berkeley, was heavily criticized for advising that “xenophobia: fears about interacting with those who might be from Asia and guilt about these feelings,” as normal. The school later apologized for their actions and took the infographic down.  Is this how authorities fight racism on its campuses? By normalizing it? Several students at the university have recalled experiences such as being called “coronavirus,” or told to “go back to China.” Many of those who face harassment in public transit or other public places have expressed frustration at the lack of empathy by the public. “Each person I turned to looked away. The room was silent.” Tien wrote when she was harassed at a Vietnamese nail salon. 

There is little reprieve for the Asian community administ the crisis. While local officials have promised to investigate cases of racism, the general public have failed to call out hate speech and prejudice. Using humor to justify hate speech and other forms of racism is hateful; and speaking out against racist news or occurrences is a step in the right direction. Western media has painted the Asian community as cover art of non-Asian coronavirus patients, blaming them for poor hygiene and different eating practices. American media has always been a victim to constant fear-mongering; President Trump’s entire campaign was run on populist, inexorable fears of the “other,” thus alienating minority groups. America’s love of fear and American media have spearheaded racism against Asian communities, at the expense of decimating local Chinese economies. 

So who are the ones who are leading the fight against anti-Asian sentiment in America? Who were the ones who called for Asian representation in film and other media? Where are they now? In 2018, we were treated to “Crazy Rich Asians,” and in 2020, coronavirus? There has been a lack in Asian public figures who have called out against the xenophobic experiences of Asian Americans. While some have condemned hate speech on social media, most of them have remained largely silent. Is it too much to ask for Asian-American influencers in 2020 to engage in political activism? Many of them have endorsed political candidates. When will they begin to endorse their own communities that they have vowed to vouch for? There have been some occurrences of Asians coming together to protest against the discrimination they have faced, such as trending hashtags of #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (I’m not a virus) from French Asians, and We zijn geen virussen! (We are not viruses!) by Dutch Asians. There is a lack of a rallying cry of Asian Americans; Tien’s experience at a Vietnamese nail salon illustrates how fragmented Asian American community is. 

If nobody stands for Asian Americans, who will? 

 

Opinion

Why Startups Need Diversity: Being the Only Woman in the Room

Being the only woman in the company taught me that diversity is often an afterthought for startups when it should be the first priority. Photo: Women in Tech


When I was hired for my first internship, I was ecstatic. I was in my second semester of college and I was shocked that two companies decided to further my application down the hiring process. One was faster: it was a startup. There was no process: I wasn’t hired on the spot, but I was just passed along until I ended up two weeks later in front of the coworking space where the startup was located. I tried my best to learn quickly; I picked up new tasks everyday and shadowed other interns. But on the days when most of the team wasn’t there, I felt increasingly lonelier. As I sat by myself on one of the long tables, I noticed that not only was I the only woman sitting at the table, but also the only woman in the entire room besides the receptionist at the front. At first, I didn’t mind that I was the only woman in my company. But as days grew into weeks, I felt increasingly isolated. There was no blatant discrimination; there was no pay gap because the other interns weren’t paid either. 

On one occasion, as a hiring representative, I attended a job fair along with the CEO. I soon realized not only was I much younger than both the candidates and the company representatives, but also I was also the only woman on the company side. Here I was, a nineteen year old, explaining and trying to hire graduate students. I felt like an impostor, trying to act and dress like a thirty year old when I wasn’t even twenty. I even skipped class that day to avoid suspicion that I was still a student and continue with my facade as a HR manager. After the event, I stayed behind to clean up and push the tables back into place. I nearly cried from a mixture of exhaustion and stress. I had invested so much into buying a new wardrobe, new shoes, and crafting a new personality because I felt like I had to represent all women in the startup workplace. I had internalized such pressures because I felt like others wouldn’t take me seriously unless I dressed in a certain way or talked in a certain way. 

I began to dread going to work. I felt like a four year old child trying on a mother’s high heels, except I had to keep on the shoes, both physically and mentally, for hours on end. Work productivity dropped. I wished there was another woman on the team. Maybe if there was, my experience might have been better. We need more women in startup teams to not only enrich the startup culture but also to mentor other women who want to join the community. The lack of women and the lack of visibility deters and discourages a diverse startup community. 

Startups in Japan are led by an overwhelming majority of men. 83% of startups in Japan are led by men, and most venture capitalists are men as well. The playing field in accessing venture capital is largely led by men: startup competitions that are key to securing investors are made up of a disproportionate amount of men. The gender gap in the startup community is not only discouraging to budding female startup entrepreneurs but also women systematically lack the funds and resources that their male counterparts have. Less than 3 percent of venture capital funded companies have female CEOs. One of the biggest challenges that women entrepreneurs face is lack of investor confidence; male investors are more likely to invest in male entrepreneurs. Dana Kanze, an entrepreneur, noticed that she was getting asked “prevention” questions much more often than “promotion” questions by investors during pitches. She tested her hypothesis that women who were asked more “prevention” questions would have less funding than men who were asked more “promotion,” questions at a funding competition. 67% of male entrepreneurs were asked promotion questions, while 66% of female entrepreneurs were asked prevention-focused questions. Women must overcome social expectations and limited networks besides systematic setbacks. The startup game is skewed towards men; and women’s participation should not only be encouraged but also the startup ecosystem must change to give women a fair playing chance.

Visibility of women in startups is imperative: as startup founders, venture capitalists, or working professionals in the startup community. With a lack of female mentors in the startup community, women lack many of the resources that are needed for success. By showing solidarity across the community, women can excel and further empower future generations to come. 

 

Opinion

Japanese Response to Covid-2019: Too Little, Too Late

The Princess Diamond should be a lesson for all: too many missteps will be a slippery slope to disaster.


As guests enjoyed the theater shows, crowded the bars, and dined at large buffets, the virus was already sweeping through the cruise ship. Unbeknownst to the passengers, the virus would then incapacitate the entire ship, leaving it stranded at sea for weeks as officials scrambled to contain its spread. As passengers continued to mingle and eat together, the virus continued to permeate through the enclosed spaces, and further delays by health officials turned the idyllic cruise ship into an epidemiological disaster. It took several days after the first case of the coronavirus was announced before the lockdown took place, and ten people had already been infected. Many passengers with symptoms were not tested, and those who entered and exited the ship worked without protective gear. Crew members, often four to a room, continued to work despite some becoming sick as well. Those with windowless cabins were allowed out periodically for fresh air, and not everyone kept their distance or wore masks. Passengers had little to no information about the situation; many receiving news from social media and news rather than ship’s officials themselves. Some were within close proximity with suspected infectious people: they feared they would become infected by remaining on the ship. Cases began to double daily, multiplying each day at a terrifying rate, becoming the second largest region of cases after mainland China. Thus, WHO rendered the ship as its own category:  “International Conveyance,” with 634 cases. 

An infectious disease specialist from Kobe University, Iwata Kentaro, criticized the measures taken during the lock down, describing the situation as “completely chaotic,” and infection control management was poor. He had posted a Youtube video documenting the errs of the lock down, and took it down afterwards, citing a violation of the ship’s chain of command. (New York Times). In the video, he stated that people were continuously passing through infection free “green zones,” and infectious “red zones,” without taking protective measures, which would lead to possible secondary contamination.  He also criticized the delay in bureaucratic measures that prevented him from entering the ship earlier. He criticized the bureaucratic control, stating that there was “nobody,” in charge of infection control aboard the Diamond Princess. Unlike other countries, there is no agency equivalent to CDC (Center for Disease Control) in Japan; the current crisis is managed by the Japanese Ministry of Health. 

This is possibly attributed to Japan’s lack of experience with viral diseases: while neighboring regions have experience with SARS in 2003, Japan was unaffected by the SARS outbreak, with 0 reported cases. In comparison, Hong Kong and Taiwan have taken drastic measures by delaying school, cancelling public events, closing borders, controlling medical supplies, and issuing government-sponsored information campaigns. Both regions had the most SARS cases and deaths besides mainland China. 

Citizens from different countries began to raise concerns to their respective governments as cases increased at a terrifying rate. US officials were the first to announce repatriation of American citizens on Diamond Princess. Canada, UK, South Korea, and Italy similarly stated measures to evacuate citizens from the Diamond Princess. 

As the 14-day quarantine ended, thousands of passengers disembarked in Yokohama following the blue tarp tunnel last Wednesday. Without a specific plan for transporting such passengers to their homes, many boarded taxis, buses, and trains. Some officials have criticized the decision to let the passengers return after the quarantine; others disagreed, stating a fear of further rebuke. Media crowded the port; many were without masks while reporting or taking photos of the disembarked passengers. 

Just one day after the end of the quarantine, two Japanese passengers died from the Covid-19 infection. They had been taken off the ship before the end of the quarantine to be treated. Both were senior citizens with underlying preconditions.  On Sunday, another man, also in his eighties, had died from the infection. 

A few days after the end of the quarantine, Tokyo Games Committee Chief, Mori Yoshiro, stated that he “prays everyday that the coronavirus will vanish,” and he has “no plans to wear a mask,” in a press conference. He further criticized rumors being spread about delaying or cancelling Tokyo 2020 due to the virus, and emphasized that the executive board is currently implementing measures in response to the virus. His comments infuriated online audiences; his name trended for a few hours after news of the press conference were aired. One stated, “I cannot trust his words,” and another stated, “His comments are a bad example.” 

Small clusters have appeared across Japan, such as cases appearing in Hokkaido, which experts suspect are connected to Sapporo’s annual snow festival. Two boys were infected, and the disease was transmitted to their father. A week later, some schools were closed after further cases were reported. A JR train worker was also infected as well, prompting concerns about Tokyo’s public transportation and whether control measures are being implemented properly. As cases continue to rise in Japan, public events have been cancelled or delayed. The government must further implement measures before the situation escalates and community spread is rampant. With many hard to trace cases and delayed bureaucratic procedures seen on the Diamond Princess, it is not a question of if, but when the situation spins out of control.

 

Her Campus, Publications

Shurijo: A Symbol of Distinct Culture and Identity

OKINAWA, Japan- On October 31, 2019 at 2:40 am, flames engulfed the palace of the once-powerful Ryukyu Kingdom, reducing its structures into crumbling rubble. Juxtaposed against the darkness of the night, the bright flames were a surreal sight seen from all across Naha, Okinawa’s capital city. The fire quickly spread across the Seiden, the main hall, and soon, both the Hokuden and Nanden, adjacent buildings to the north and south, were shrouded in flames. By the time the fire had been put out at around 11am the next day, the three structures including the Bandokoro were destroyed. Residents across Japan woke up to treacherous news the following morning: the symbol of Okinawa had burned down. Thousands mourned the loss of the castle, including the mayor of Naha, Shiroma Mikiko, who told reporters, “We have lost our symbol.” More on Twitter expressed their shock, sharing videos of the billowing smoke and flames, commenting, “I cannot believe this,” and “I could not stop my tears.”

The loss of Shuri Castle rings close to the hearts of Okinawan people because its complex history starting from the powerful Ryukyu kingdom, its annexation by the Meiji government, and the last site of the Japanese empire’s struggle against the US navy, known as the Battle of Okinawa. The first king of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Sho Hashi, or Shang Bazhi in Chinese, established Shuri Castle as his residence. For 450 years of the Ryukyu Kingdom, Shuri Castle was the royal court and administrative center. It hosted foreign vassals from China and Japan, and its distinctive red color and dragon motifs echo Chinese architecture and artwork. Relations with China started as early as 1374, and diplomatic missions between Ryukyu and China established a hubbub of trade between the two kingdoms. Many of the stone carvings that mark different entrances to the palace are relics from both Ming, Yuan, and Qing dynasties. 

In 1879, a decade after the Meiji Restoration, Ryukyu Kingdom was forcibly annexed by the Japanese empire. The monarchy was abolished and Ryukyu became known as Okinawa Prefecture. There is continuing political discord suggesting whether the forced annexation is a form of colonialism, and that Okinawa had operated more as a colony rather than an integral part of Japan. Traditional Ryukyu religious practices, language, culture were replaced by Japanese public education. Shuri Castle was taken over by the imperial army, and used as a military base. 

The Battle of Okinawa was one of the last battles of WWII, as Japan’s last stand against the US forces. It was the only land battle within Japan, and around ⅓ of the Okinawan civilian population perished during the war. The Japanese 32nd Army stationed its headquarters on the foothill of Shuri Castle; it became a target and was subsequently destroyed by the intense gunfire and bombardment. Its destruction marked Japan’s loss of Okinawa: nothing was left except for the American flag on the hill in May 1945. 

After its destruction in 1945, in the following years, Shuri Castle was slowly reconstructed based on photographs from the Meiji period. In 2000, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Restoration continued until 2014 of the surrounding structures and gardens in Shuri Castle Park. It serves as a tourist hub for those who wish to see the vestiges of the Ryukyu Kingdom and the distinct heritage of the Ryukyuan people.

A week after the fire, Naha Police Department disclosed that the fire was most likely caused by a problem in the electrical equipment located in the main hall. It is suspected that a short circuit in the electrical board had caused the fire, due to melt marks on many of the power lines across Shuri Castle. Ishii Takaaki, a journalist, criticized the Okinawan government for failing to protect the castle. 

Shuri Castle exists as a pride of Okinawan and a symbol of the rich history of Ryukyu. It highlights the distinct Ryukyuan identity and the existence of 1.3 million ethnic Ryukyuans who make of the Japanese ethnic minority. The demise of the castle may call on Japanese people to recognize diverse cultures and Japan’s complex history. The loss of a significant symbol in Okinawa has ignited a sense of unification as donations have poured across Japan and the world. The initial goal of 100 million yen was exceeded by over 400 percent, at 434,534,000 yen as of November 9th. The city will continue to accept donations to fund the future reconstruction of Shuri Castle. 

 

If you are interested in donating, here is the link to donate to Naha City (in Japanese).