How the Revolution Ate the Joropo-Playing Japanese Students

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A special investigation by Kanako Noda. 

This post is available in Japanese here. 日本語でも読めます

Este artículo está disponible en español aquí.

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The four Japanese students look hot and excited as they clutch their instruments and break into a rendition of “Fiesta en Elorza.” Their performance is accompanied by children dancing in colorful costumes. They’re in Elorza, playing at the “Fiestas Turísticas Elorza 2014 Dedicadas al Comandante Eterno Hugo Chávez,” organized by the Ministry of Tourism.

The students are members of Estudiantina Komaba, the all-Japanese group that plays traditional Venezuelan music. You may remember them from a couple of posts on this blog from 2012. Their version of Alma Llanera went viral back then. And here they were, playing in Apure State this March, amid the biggest student revolt in Venezuela’s recent history.

 The music is lovely. And the little dancers are too cute!

After the song, it’s time for their live VTV interview.

“¿Por qué la música venezolana?” The journalist in a llanero cowboy hat asks.

Ken Toyoda changes the subject and started to introduce the members, talking about their experience in Venezuela. Sho Makino, on the other hand, comments passionately “Venezuelan music is beautiful. I want more young people and kids to know about Venezuelan music”.

Watching this, my heart started to beat faster, and I felt ever more uneasy and confused. It was March 19th.

One month earlier, Bassil Da Costa had been gunned down in downtown Caracas. The student protest movement was at its height.  People were being tear-gassed, rounded up, arrested, and tortured every single day. 

Just weeks earlier, the Japanese embassy had cancelled some of the events and concerts that had been planned for the “Semana Cultural del Japón en Caracas” due to the instability.

And amid all this, here were four University of Tokyo kids playing on Venezolana de Televisión!

I was…confused.

You have to understand, the University of Tokyo – known as Todai – is not just any University. In Japan’s famously hierarchical society, Todai is unquestionably the top of the heap. Only the very best students can go there, and only after passing a brutal admissions exam. Todai is the puerta grande to the Japanese elite: its graduates float effortlessly to top jobs in Japan’s top companies or into the foreign service and the highest echelons of Japan’s highly prestigious state bureaucracy. These weren’t, and aren’t just any kids. These are supposed to be Japan’s best and brightest. 

So why would four Todai students be singing in honor of the Eternal Comandante Hugo Chavez, live on Venezolana de Televisión, Venezuela’s flagship state propaganda network? Why was the singer wearing a Chavez T-shirt? What on earth were they doing at FitVen?!

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Were they doctrinaire chavistas trying to give the government a helping hand, or were they just “useful idiots”, ingenues easily manipulated by a government with propaganda needs they could not understand?

That’s when my investigation started.

On March 1st, Ken Toyoda, (who plays cuatro, bandola, and guitar) and Toshihide Koya (vocals and cuatro) boarded their planes at Narita airport, just outside Tokyo. Both about to graduate from the University of Tokyo: Toyoda from the Arts and Science faculty, and Koya from the Law School.

Although thousands of anti-government protesters marched in Caracas on 2nd March, many Venezuelans still went to the beach to enjoy their holiday. And the two Japanese students were also heading to a carnival, Carnaval de El Callao, South Eastern Venezuela’s most famous mardi gras celebration.

Koya and Toyoda arrived on March 3rd to jam with Family Ground, a local Calypso group. They sang with them, played the Cuatro and the drums with them. They even painted their face black for the Carnaval.

The Japanese students received a rapturous welcome everywhere they went. It’s quite unique and exotic for many Venezuelans to see these “chinos de Japón”, who turned out to be masters of this very Venezuelan music.

“It was amazing experience”, said Koya, excitedly, when I asked him in a Skype interview how he saw the actual situation in Venezuela.

“You know, it’s always dangerous, because it is Venezuela,” Koya told me. “But, I can tell you, there was no such war situation during all my stay in Venezuela.”

On March 15th, two more members of Estudiantina Komaba, Sho Makino (maracas), and Seiichiro Honjo (cuatro), both ex-students from Todai, arrived in Maiquetía to join Toyoda and Koya. Makino currently works at Komatsu and also a member of Fundación Música de Maestros in Bolivia, while Honjo is a lecturer at Faculty of Business Administration at Hosei University, specializing in communications.

The two joined Toyoda and Koya and all four took the long, jolting bus ride to Elorza alongside a number of Venezuelan musicians.

The Elorza Festival got going on Wednesday, March 19th.

That afternoon, dozens of architecture students at UCV were attacked by collectivos. While these students were being physically and psycologically traumatized, Estudiantina Komaba members were playing live on State Television.

Estudiantina Komaba have repeatedly described their work as apolitical, and their musicians think of themselves as sharing an innocent passion for Venezuelan folk culture, but anyone can see that the Fiesta de Elorza was in no way innocent or apolitical.

Publicized by the government under the banner of #FiestaEnElorzaPorChavez, the folk music as well as the festival itself are heavily politicized. An image of Chavez is baked right into the festival logo. It is for Chávez, and addresses itself exclusively to people who followed Chavez. Even the folk music got expropriated.

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You see why the timing of their “cultural exchange” strikes me as so wrong? How could these elite students have been so blind?

Maybe it has something to do with Estudiantina Komaba’s leadership.

Back in February, the founder of Estudiantina Komaba, Mr. Ishibashi, an associate professor of the University of Tokyo, had taken on the role of “expert commentator” seeking to explain the chaos in Venezuela to Japanese people. Mr. Ishibashi even studied at UCV in 2004, and is an expert on Afro-Venezuelan culture.

According to him, the images and sensational information that portrayed a “civil-war like situation”, “paramilitary bikers supported by the government are shooting the protesters” or “students are arrested and badly tortured” were all lies; media concoctions cooked up in information war labs.

Here’s his take on the situation on 23rd February,

“I think you are receiving more and more messages from Venezuelan people about the current disturbance. However, those who are taking troubles to send the sensational videos or images about Venezuela are probably committed too much to politics, irrational  or irresponsible. I strongly recommend you to ignore them thoroughly.”

And he appealed to his followers asking:

“Your close Venezuelan friends say “SOS”? Wait a minute, where do they live? In Miami? Toronto? London? Mexico City? Paris? It’s possible that they got the information from the Internet like you. You say they live in Venezuela. Ok, but do they speak Spanish? Aren’t they sharing the information they can get in Japanese among Japanese community? Do you really believe that people who usually don’t take subway nor metro can grasp current Venezuelan situation?”

To be clear, Mr. Ishibashi is entitled to his own political views. It is his right to personally support Venezuela’s experiment in socialist dictatorship. It’s his right to deny the Human Rights Watch report on torture because, in his view, HRW is a NGO which is in conflict with Venezuelan government and in the past they gained a reputation for being politicized.

What’s troubling is that even as he echoes the government’s propaganda line, Mr. Ishibashi nonetheless insists on characterizing his position, and Estudiantina Komaba’s, as scrupulously apolitical. Worse, his mischaracterization of Venezuelan situation could have put his students in serious danger in a volatile situation in a country they just didn’t understand.

In fact, on 20th March, the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs updated the travel advice about Venezuela from caution alert to travel warning, officially telling Japanese nationals to avoid visiting Venezuela. And the Ministry has been advising not to take part in any political activities for security reason even before the update.

That day, Mr. Ishibashi tweeted, proudly but nonchalantly, that Estudiantina Komaba’s performance was also reported by Ultimas Noticias.

After the appearance in Elorza on VTV, chavista interest in EK seemed to balloon. Soon they were doing recordings at VTV and ViVe, and started being featured more and more heavily on other pro-government media.

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I don’t doubt that some Venezuelans were thrilled with their sudden stardom. However, I imagine that not all Venezuelans appreciated their performances made in the context of heavy-handed Bolivarian revolutionary propaganda. And actually, Estudiantina Komaba rushed to tweet plausible excuses;

Hemos representado muchas veces la cultura  Venezolana en Japón, sin o con la presencia de la Embajada de Venezuela en Japón,” adding, “Nuestra actividad es apolítica. Aparecemos en VTV, Globovisión, C del Orinoco, U Noticias, El Nacional, BBC, CNN sin barreras“.

In his Skype interview with me after his return to Japan, Toshihide Koya, the singer, acknowledged that they received some negative comments from some in the audience saying that they were disappointed to find Estudiantina Komaba supporting the government.

“Whatever they may say, we are apolitical and only devoted to cultural activities. We don’t touch politics at all. You could have, individually and personally, certain political idea but it’d never be as a group. Estudiantina Komaba is apolitical.”

On the 21st, Toyoda, Makino, Koya and Honjo returned to Caracas from the Llanos to conclude their Venezuelan tour. They had a lot of concerts and interviews lined up in Caracas. After the sensation of Fiesta en Elorza, people rushed to them to take photos and to cheer them at bus stations. It was as though they’d become local pop stars.

So, on the 22nd of March, EK members were likely busy for their concert. Perhaps that’s why they missed the enormous march in Caracas that day.

Some could wonder how it could be possible for them not to see a march that big. What’s alarming is that it may well be true that they had no idea: given the heavy pressure on local media not to cover the protest, it seems possible that people hanging out with government handlers, exposed only to government media, and under the leadership of people telling them that these protests were a few fanatical neoliberals of little importance could have been in Caracas that day and simply missed the tens of thousands on the streets. After all, EK appears to have moved around entirely inside the pro-government media bubble.

In the morning of March the 24th, Estudiantina Komaba continued its tour at the CANTV Auditorium, doing another live broadcast for the “Contrastes” programme on VTV. This event is entitled “Homage to the Comandante, delighting the audience with the best parts of traditional Venezuelan music, as a tribute to eternal giant Hugo Chavez”.

Makino posted emotionally on Facebook after the CANTV concert.

“I’ve never dreamed that we would receive such a welcome. Applause for the music and the endless cheer after the performance. I realized once again the cultural meaning of EK activities, and I’m newly confident in the mission in the future. I want to share this deep emotion with more and more Venezuelans. It was a wonderful experience and I will never forget it”.

VTV got some very nice pics at that concert, to boot:

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It’s easy to see what VTV wanted from Estudiantina Komaba. This is the Venezuela-Japan cultural exchange Maduro wanted despite EK’s intention.

Even more carelessly, at that moment, the EK fan site on Facebook had a cover image with the four in Chavez T-shirt in front of Chavez mural.

At the same time, the webmaster of Estudiantina Komaba’s Facebook fan site was busy erasing the political comments and warning people not to write any comment that touched political matters in any way.

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The irony of this happening because EK was being charged with supporting, among other things, a state actively engaged in censorship, seemed lost on them. In EK’s view, since their activity is apolitical, all political comments had to be censored from their Facebook page.

Estudiantina Komaba held the final concert of its tour on the 26th of March.

This last one was more actively promoted than any of the previous ones. It was a part of Maduro’s project, Concierto de Paz. Mintur cheerfully broadcasted a commercial for the upcoming concert. Andrés Izarra, the Minister of Tourism himself, promoted this “Concert for Peace”.

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Perhaps sensing that the Japanese musicos were a big hit with the VTV audience, Izarra took the chance to climb up on stage and even give a speech to them. Just check out how apolitical their participation really was:

In this video the musician William Alvarado explains that the world wide (which means in Japan) success of Venezuelan folk music is derived from the glory of the Comandante.  “Venezuela is the eye of the hurricane thanks to Comandante Chavez and the audience of teleSUR, which is growing all over the world.”

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In my interview with Koya, he seemed to have had no idea who Andrés Izarra was, or what he had done before becoming Tourism Minister. To him, Izarra was just another local official, nothing to distinguish them from the other dignitaries who had showed them around. At no point did they seem to grasp that they were dealing with the designer and original implementer of chavismo’s state propaganda system, or that their music was being systematically used for propaganda purposes.

And Koya defended their media profile, saying “we did not choose exclusively the pro-government media. Unfortunately only pro-government media are interested in our activity.”

It never seems to have occurred to him that this could have something to do with the fact that independent media were so busy covering the historic outbreak of mass protests shaking the entire country that covering some joropo-playing Japanese kids was not a priority just then.

For a brief time in March, to someone relying only on state media, the four “chinos de Japón” from Estudiantina Komaba were a kind of national music sensation. It’s obvious that the pro-government media had good reason to promote their activity. What’s troubling is that such elite students from Japan’s top university never seemed to have asked themselves what that reason was.

As thousands of dissidents were being arrested, hundreds hurt and dozens killed, the state media apparatus was desperately looking for feel-good stories that kept the protests off official screens while giving a sensation of international acceptance. EK was perfect for them.

Koya, Toyoda, Makino and Honjo will go back to Japan always have colourful stories to share about their South American adventures back in their youth. Even today they don’t understand, and  they will probably never accept, the role they played in entrenching Latin America’s newest dictatorship.

Kanako Noda translates selected Caracas Chronicles posts into Japanese. She is married to the founder of this blog. 

1 COMMENT

  1. I’m have to admit that I know very little about the Japanese culture, but I bet “fuertes contra lochas” that Japan people will never see a political regime like ours in all of his lives.

  2. Just another bite the monstrous hydra called “comunications hegemony” strikes against Venezuela itself and against the rest of the world.

  3. Kanako,

    One of the Germans who has written a lot of positive stuff about Chávez was a history “professor” called Michael Zeuske. He has written a couple of books about Venezuela…tragically THE only general book about Venezuela’s history in general in decades is his.

    I wrote a couple of posts about him. In a similar way as that professor you mentioned, he calls himself a specialist in African American culture and history and slavery.

    Now, he didn’t go to Venezuela to study anything, although he had a background of communist father (Eastern Germany) who worked for a time in Cuba. Interestingly, he firstly wrote a tiny book about Venezuela history and then he approached the Venezuelan embassy…and after that an agreement came in which the Venezuelan embassy would finance his department and he would “help to disseminate what is going on in Venezuela”. After that he wrote a much thicker history of Venezuela called “From Bolivar to Chávez” (in German). In it he basically portrays the opposition as the white racists. He repeats that a lot.
    Curiously he comes from a region in Eastern Germany where neo-Nazis are particularly strong.

  4. I wasn’t really going to write anything but a few people send this to me today via email so here I am. The reason I am taking the time to write is probably has more to do with the fact that I don’t want people to walk away and read something on a group of Japanese musicians dedicated to doing a beautiful job promoting Venezuelan heritage with the wrong impression. Especially because Venezuelans are very ignorant in general of Asia and probably don’t even where and in what country Tokyo, Honk Kong or Beijing are in.

    As we know in Venezuela we have such a limited cultural sensitivity that we bunch of all Asians and call them’ ‘chinos’ when in fact it a region where two 2/3 of the worlds population and is so cultural diverse one cannot even imagine — even within countries themselves–.

    So…. prsonally I don’t quite understand why make such a big deal about this and invest so much time in an effort in commenting on Japanese students traveling to Venezuela to sing folk music. The articles is framed as if it were an ‘investigative piece’; when it is actually biased, opinionated, has an agenda, and is more commentary than anything else. It has little news sense.

    While I am big fan of this blog and I do follow some of the writers I must say there are much greater issues happening in Venezuela at the moment and I don’t see how this adds to the discourse. It is too polarized and shows little understanding of Japanese culture. In Japan if your professor explains a situation to you, you believe it. Please understand it is a very apolitical and hierarchical society where respect for your professor would override many other considerations. I have personally have met all these people in the article and they are almost naive when they speak about politics.

    Professor Ishibashi has always supported Venezuelan culture before and after Chavismo, even if he does have a soft side for the regime. Partially it is because he is such a Venezuela junkie that he perceives Chavismo as am honorable-nationalist-culture-promoting cause. I also think the author should have contacted the Venezuelan Embassy in Japan for comment as you probably know Maurice Reyna, the son of Freddy Reyna, is after all the cultural attache at the Venezuelan embassy in Japan. So naturally for these kids taking cuatro lessons from the has become a blessing.

    It is no secret he is barely a Chavista and while one could question if its possible to work at an embassy and pretend to be neutral, let’s just say that at least he can overcome differences with others and work hard to promote Venezuelan culture in Japan. Little credit is given to this. Japanese people do not have this Machiavellic sense of politics nor do they have a conspiracy oriented mind as we do. Estudiantina Komaba were definitely manipulated and I would say mostly framed but I do not blame them from sticking to a commitment they had probably made months earlier. That is how Japanese culture is. These people do far more good for bridging cultural gaps between two countries that barely understand anything about each other than they do bad. So this needs to be celebrated and left as is. Not everything can be political and especially when we are talking about countries that have little geopolitical understanding about the other. This doesn’t really have an ‘impact’ on domestic nor international foreign affair policies of the countries involved.

    And seriously “the role they played in entrenching Latin America’s newest dictatorship?” I think we need to seriously leave these kids alone and analytically and with sound judgement look at the bigger and zoom in on many more important and crucial actors playing roles in Venezuela. Out of all the propaganda that is broadcasted on VTV 24/7 to brainwash media illiterate citizens this event is probably one of the least harmful. Either way I am very appreciative of these musicians for all they do to promote our culture here in Japan and I celebrate that when we all meet up we can leave all our political differences at the door and celebrate the beautiful and amazing heritage that our country had produced and is admired internationally.

    I simply invite people to put things into perspective.

    • It’s true that in Japan few people know and care about Venezuela. Almost no information about current Venezuelan situation is available. But even so, I can’t just say, Japanese people are ignorant and indifferent, so you have to accept whatever the ignorants do.
      Because I’m a Japanese and I care about Venezuela. I also know some Japanese people who really care about their Venezuelan friends and family, and some of them took part in SOSVenezuela en Japon.

      I know Japanese hierarchical society, and that’s why I’m criticizing their mentality of following their leader blindly without any question. It’s a big problem in Japanese society today that people say everything is apolitical and avoid to assume their responsibilities.
      And yet, I think even in Japan what EK did with Venezuelan state media is unacceptable. People don’t say so, only because they don’t know about Venezuela. So this article is about Venezuela and Japan.

      And importantly, I’m not criticizing EK’s activity in Japan nor all the activity in Venezuela. They could perfectly proceed their cultural activity in Japan, and could have meaningful exchange with people from El Callao, without playing a stupid role in the government’s propaganda.
      Their activity could be just interesting and meaningful to both Venezuela and Japan, but they ruined it because of their lack of curiosity and imagination.

    • [According to him, the images and sensational information that portrayed a “civil-war like situation”, “paramilitary bikers supported by the government are shooting the protesters” or “students are arrested and badly tortured” were all lies; media concoctions cooked up in information war labs.]

      If the above quotes, and characterization, of what Profesor Ishibashi said on twitter is accurate (I don’t read Japanese), than he has more than a “soft side for the regime”. He is a propagandist and belittling the grave human rights abuses being perpetrated by the regime. Either that, or he is hopelessly naive and being used to transmit regime propaganda, propaganda that blithely dismisses assaults on human rights. In any event, i have nothing but contempt for him. Is that fair? Probably not, but when you’ve had family members terrorized and traumatized by chavista thugs and then hear that these thugs apparently don’t exist, it’s how one feels.

      As for the music group, yes, it’s not a big deal. I did find the article rather interesting, as a group of Japanese students playing traditional Venezuelan music is quite a curiosity. They are all young and surely don’t realize what some of these folks they sometimes share a stage with are involved in.

    • “Japanese people do not have this Machiavellic sense of politics nor do they have a conspiracy oriented mind as we do.”

      SERIOUSLY??? That alone demonstrates you have barely scrapped Japan through manga.

  5. Did the government pay the bill of their trip? Did they make money joropeando?

    If yes, then I agree with the post, if not: well, great post, but I have to disagree with it. The government used them a little, and in exchange they used the government “fake interest” to have a great time in Venezuela. Yes, they did not take a deeper look at the situation, yes they put on the Chavez T-shirts….

    But does that really matter?

    Even if they are a little or very red, what harm did they really do? I mean they played joropo and were part of a circus act, but Maduro did not stay in power because of them. So yes, they were a little too concentrated in their self interest to play joropo, had a great time and were politically incorrect.

  6. Thanks for the great post.

    It is of course theoretically possible to have cultural exchanges which pass ethical tests — but that’s clearly not what happened here.

    Naivete is no excuse…

  7. I get a feeling of deja-vu with the commenters trying to separate culture from politics. Same stunt was tried when our own Dudamel was directing at the same time the protests were raging.

    The problem is their “culture” activities are either sponsored or being facilitated by the guys stomping on the human rights or part of venezuelans.

  8. Isn’t saving face a huge thing in Japanese culture? I suspect that no one will admit that they were duped, or that they are not apolitical after all.

  9. Great post Kanako. Thank you for that.

    I find a parallel between EK and Dudamel both have been used and manipulated by their mentors Ishibashi and Abreu to give luster to the regime. Although their naivete is much more excusable than that of Dudamel.

    • It’s embarrassing and pathetic to see Japanese elite being such imbecile and defended by Venezuelan people saying that they are just naive. I’d be rather relieved if people said they were evil chavistas.

  10. Well fuck me.
    That’s all i’m going to say.

    I’m gonna wear a chavez shirt, tattoo his face on my chest, wear red shirts for the rest of my life and say im not into politics.I’m done with words, they have lost all meaning

  11. By the way, Chavismo is conquering the world.
    Do you need more proof?
    Yes, the same people that is forcing me to live on 2 hours of water a day and with random blackouts and all the issues i don’t want to name. First Carvajal, then this. I gotta tell you, i’m seriously thinking i’m going crazy for not liking chavismo. It seems everyone else loves it, even in JAPAN.

  12. Interesting post.

    The term chino, or chinito, really irks me. Round Apure way, it is generally not a term of endearment, so these folks may be more than just politically tone deaf.

      • We used to do it all the time: venezuela’s solution to delicate political correctness issues, blast them!
        I remember growing up with the portus, the turcos, the chinos, the chinos de Japon, o corea o vietnam, etc.

        Los pibes, los cachay, los palestinos y judios de Puerto Azul, los gallegos (any Spaniard regardless), and a long etc.

        …negro, flaco, gordo, tuerto, catire, calvito, gago, etc. Any term was used as a term of endearment.

        Funny, each and everyone of the previous terms could also mean harm and be pejorative if intonation changed, or additional adverbs were added : negro de…., portu de…..etc.

        All cultures are complex, and find their own solutions. In Canada by contrast, the solution is to abstain from any descriptors of origin, race, physical appearance, speech, etc. makes for a smooth social lubricant, but misses so much flavour and nuances IMO.

        I do not even want to imagine the complexities involved in the Japan society driving the editor’s choice to call this article slanderous… Perhaps you don ot mess with Uni tokio, Period.

  13. No entiendo bien… ¿La propuesta es que matemos a los chinosjapones por “malditos chavistas”? También vino Ruben Blades y dio un concierto ¿es un arma del chavismo para idiotizarnos? y Shakira le mandó una guitarra… ¿le pedimos a Felipillo que la expulse del reino? no se hermano, hay cosas más lindas en este mundo que criticar a cuatro pendejos que quieren aprender joropo, y el único sitio donde se toca es en los llanos, hoy en día, colombo-venezolanos…
    como es que dicen los gringos…
    GET A LIFE!!!!!!!!

    • Creo que lo de que “que matemos” lo tienes en tu cerebro porque la violencia forma parte de tu actitud.
      En ninguna parte de este artículo se habló de violencia de ningún tipo.
      Son idiotas útiles usados por un gobierno represivo para propaganda ante todo interna y eso importa.
      Y es por eso que debemos recriminar a dichos idiotas útiles de manera pública, para que su posición
      sea insostenible no, como tú tienes en tu entorno familiar como solución normal, mediante el uso de violencia, sino mediante la difusión de todos los datos. Así, otros japoneses harán presión social
      (no sé si entiendas qué es esto) para que los otros desistan.

  14. Yay Kanako sama!!!! Magnífica investigación, completely agree with you. If you want to be “apolitical” go play longhorns in Switzerland or panderetas in Costa Rica. Even Bhutan is political these days. Me encantó ese new “PC” china de japón. LOL

  15. I officially inform to CC readers that my Japanese article about EK posted and “published once” at Huffingtonpost.jp http://www.huffingtonpost.jp/kanako-noda/music-of-venezuela_b_5630770.html was censored! The chief editor Matsuura emailed me saying ” We found part of this article is slanderous and decided not to publish it. Thank you” He didn’t show me which was the slanderous part though.

    I’m surprised, because “slander” means writing a lie in my understanding. Some of my friend told me this is because of University of Tokyo.
    Everyone in Japan knows that our media is as bad as Venezuelan, yet shocking.

    • Kanako, you should be proud that your well-researched article was censored by HuffPoJp. That tells you it pushed buttons. Perhaps your article will be picked up by a Japanese blogger with a wide circulation. Though I doubt it, from the little I know about Jpnese society — what with the saving-face mantra and all. After all, you made the Japanese Todai-crème-de-la-crème students look like gullible innocents abroad. Not the best look for that subset of Jpnese society.

      • On 2nd thought.. might you reply to chief editor Matsuura and ask (a) what part of your article he found slanderous? And (b) might he mean libelous, this term used to represent a written (deemed) defamation? Just don’t hold your breath for an answer, as though you don’t already know that.

        • In fact, right after I got the email from the editor, I sent an email back asking these points you mentioned. I wrote I’m ready to rewrite the problematic part, too. But I got no answer from them.

  16. Kanako-san,

    First of all, I’m impressed by your deep interest in what is going on in Venezuela. Not a surprise considering your family’s composition, but still it is heartening to see someone put this much attention and effort into writing a post like this one. I respect that immensely.

    However…

    1) I think that, probably for the sake of the narrative of this post, you are seriously overestimating the prowess of ToDai students in general. No one doubts that it is deemed the best school in the land (though KyoDai students might disagree), and of course that within its student body there are many remarkable people who have gone through my idea of academic hell (incessant studying, endless tests, continuous after-school tutoring) to get there. But that does not necessarily equate to well-rounded and international politics aware students. Especially so in places like Japan and Korea. Many ToDai students I know excel mainly at one thing: getting accepted into ToDai. So even though I understand your concern about students of one of the best universities in Japan being apparently naive, I think you have abused the “top of the crop” argument.

    2) I am by no means an expert on Japanese culture and the character of the Japanese people, but after living there for 7 years I can confidently express my opinion about it. I was always impressed by the tendency I see in Japanese society to devote immense time and energy into a single passion. Be it becoming a craftsman for a living or just a hobby, when people are passionate about something they seem to be able to single-mindedly pursue it. That’s how I see the EK members and their relationship with Venezuelan folk music. They have surely devoted a lot of time and effort in what is without a doubt a VERY minor area of interest in Japan (and Asia…and the world, for that matter). They have practiced. They have become good at it. They enjoy it. And now they got an opportunity to share that with people who understand their passion and share it. Wouldn’t you expect them to take it? They mention it themselves when they say that they would have loved to play in all kinds of events or be in other forms of media…but they were not presented with the chance. To say that they should have known better than playing in Venezuela while students where protesting strikes me as excessive. They are sharing our culture and making music…that the government blatantly appropriates and co-opts all of our national cultural attributes and symbols is not the EK’s fault. As Irene mentioned, we cannot shut down all these connections and cultural expressions just because the government co-opts them. Same goes for our athletes, just to name an example.

    3) About Ishibashi-sensei…He used to work for the same company I work in, and at a colleague’s behest we met for dinner in Ginza once (how revolutionary haha). He is genuinely passionate about Venezuelan culture, but as a person who has been in contact with Venezuela for so long and has surely seen it deteriorate into the mess we’re in now, he should know better. He of course is entitled to his political opinion, but I do not agree with him. I also found his way of speaking authoritatively about Venezuelan issues in general rather insulting. He’s a bit of an odd figure, but I wouldn’t use that to discredit the EK.

    Sorry for the long rant…I agree with you that it would be best (for themselves and for the image of Japan) that these students made a more assertive attempt at distancing themselves from politics (just saying “we’re apolitical” doesn’t cut it). But still I think your claim about them and what you expect from them borders on the irrational. It is easy for you and me, deeply engaged with the political situation of our countries, to say. Not so much for university kids and alumni enjoying their hobby and finally finding some recognition for the effort they have put into it.

    拙い表現で恐縮ですが、ご考慮を宜しくお願い致します。

    Oscar

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