All posts by Magda

Getting abused online via Facebook, and Facebook’s complete lack of support

Language warning

Trigger warning: online harassment and abuse, death threats, online stalking

お久しぶり。 Long time no see.

It’s been a long time since I posted on this blog. I wish this post could be a happier update, talking about my new life in Kyoto, Japan. But something upsetting happened this week which I need to explain to anyone that’ll listen. It’s about the totally random online harassment I received last year via Facebook, and Facebook’s complete lack of support for me.

Background

I didn’t have a personal Facebook profile for many years. I haven’t liked Facebook for a long time. Its awful privacy policies, its virtual extortion of personal government ID data, its extremely creepy algorithms to identify me and the people I know, and yet extremely crappy algorithms that dictate my news feed; these reasons and more meant that I was very happy without a Facebook account.

But in 2014, when I decided to emigrate to Japan, I had friends who worried about how they’d keep in touch with me. (Apparently a blog, Skype, SMS, multiple chat apps, multiple emails, Twitter and just regular telephone calls weren’t enough – but that’s a different story.) So, as a compromise, I created a Facebook Page called Kyōto Bōken (which translates as “Kyoto Adventure”). Facebook Pages are different from regular accounts. They’re usually used by organisations or celebrities, and people with regular Facebook accounts can “Like” these pages.

Page accounts don’t have news feeds, so while my friends could read my posts, I couldn’t see their profiles or anything they posted on it. Which suited me just fine. In the past, I found that the news feed was a massive time suck, and having a Page account meant that I didn’t have to deal with that.

Kyōto Bōken had been live for about a year before the harassment started.

The Koshien app drama

In late July 2015, I received this comment on my Kyōto Bōken page:

Remove me from this page now!

I was confused to say the least. I can’t add anyone to my Facebook Page. I didn’t even advertise it. There were only about 20 people who “liked” the page and they were all my friends. Maybe someone shared my post to their own timeline and my page appeared on this person’s news feed? I explained this in a message to the person who sent it. He responded with:

Kyoto your site was hacked. Remove people who were added yourself or delete your page

Well, now I knew that I was dealing with someone who didn’t understand how Facebook works. I didn’t have a “site”, I had a Page on Facebook. I double-checked that it wasn’t hacked (I could log in and there wasn’t any vandalism on the page). I asked my friends if they had noticed any strange behaviour coming from my Page (they hadn’t). And like I mentioned before, I knew that I couldn’t post or comment on anyone’s account (only other Pages, which I hadn’t done). I can’t remove anyone because I didn’t add anyone! And I certainly wasn’t going to delete my Page just because he demanded it.

I tried explaining again, but his responses messages started getting nastier. And now there were other messages from other people asking or demanding to be removed from my Page.

Please delete me from your page

From koshien stadium please delete me from this

Please remove my name from the Koshien page!!!! I don’t even like sports!

Can you delete me..this..i not want it.

Delete me from that koshien crap i dont want to be apart of it!!!

I had no idea what was going on. My only hint was the word “Koshien” that kept appearing. Koshien is the name of a baseball stadium near Osaka. Actually, I had been to Koshien – and posted about it – just the day before the messages started. This was my post (before all the strange comments appeared):

the original post on Kyoto Boken about Koshien Stadium

I made a new post to my page explaining that I hadn’t hacked anyone, I hadn’t added people to my Page, that it was in fact impossible to do that. I was hoping that anyone making their way to my page to complain about would read it and understand. Well…

The online abuse

Here is a collection of responses I got to my post explaining that I wasn’t a hacker:

I too have been hacked by this person !! It’s been reported over & over. I live in the U,S,A & I think you do know mr. kyoto.

Get your piece of shit fucking app off my fucking Facebook you fucking cunt!

Probley cause you have blocked them all. Delete it and delete me from the stupid fucking thing which i didnt join!!

No it has not remove it you motherfucking chinch little bitch fuck you if you don’t you will be taking a dirt nap

Just in case you weren’t aware, “taking a dirt nap” is slang for dying. I had received a death threat and I still wasn’t even sure why.

Some people had figured out how to contact me via email and the Facebook Messenger app, so more comments came in:

Are you a fucking toddler? Do you seriously have nothing better to do with your life than to ad people to a meaningless facebook group? How very sad and pathetic. That being said, remove me from your pointless little group. And everyone else while you’re at it. You must be quite an insecure, insignificant little man to get your kicks out of doing something like this. I feel sadness for you and at the same time you make me want to laugh hysterically. Truely very sad for you, it must be awful to be you.

One man took it upon himself to go through my past Kyōto Bōken posts and make this same comment on fully ten different photos:

Your a cunt

The repetition and bad grammar almost made it funny.

But it wasn’t really funny at all. I’m pretty sure it was the same man who went to the Japan Cheapo website where I sometimes write articles and started bombarding the site with more abusive comments. According to my editor, “he was blowing up JC and we just banned him from the site”.

I’m also pretty sure it was the same man who found this blog, and went back through my archive to post these comments:

A screenshot of abusive comments made on my blog

Notice that he came back to my blog 6 times over the space of 5 days to make these comments. It wasn’t just one explosion of abusive spluttering until he felt better. He was thinking about me for about a week, and came back to harass me again and again. For something I didn’t do. And while not as explicit as the death threat I received earlier, there are undoubtedly threats in these messages. On top of that, these messages started about a week after most of the commotion on Facebook had calmed down. Even after other people had moved on from the drama, this guy couldn’t.

As an aside, I used the recorded IP address to find out that he’s a customer of the Comcast ISP in the United States. I contacted Comcast to report the IP address for harassment. I didn’t feel very hopeful after the conversations I had with the staff, but the abusive comments stopped soon after, so maybe Comcast actually did tell him to knock it off.

Facebook’s response, or lack of it

I had reported a lot of the abusive messages sent to me. Facebook’s abuse reporting system is fairly easy, and with a few clicks, the report was made. But every single thing I reported received this response:

Thank you for taking the time to report something that you feel may violate our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment. We reviewed the comment you reported for harassment and found it doesn’t violate our Community Standards.

Every. Single. One. Not a single report I made was found to violate their “standards”. Not the death threat. Not the repeat posts with insults. Not the harassment via email or their Messenger app. Actually, one of my posts was reported by one of my harassers and was taken down by Facebook. Sure, I was swearing in that post, but why was my post taken down and not theirs? I certainly wasn’t threatening anyone.

Wounds reopened

All this abuse happened over a year ago, in July and August of 2015. I’ve been reminded of it a few times since then, like when I uncovered the blog comments that had been deleted but not yet purged, or when I went through my email archives and found most of the automated emails sent from Facebook sent at that time. Every time I was reminded of it, my mood plummeted. I’ve deleted quite a lot of the traces of what happened then. The things that I have left, and what I shared in this blog post, were only a portion of the whole.

This week, I was reminded again of this saga when an acquaintance of mine jokingly complained that I didn’t respond to his message on Facebook. He showed me the message he sent, and I noticed that the avatar for my account was not my current avatar. In fact, it was the avatar for my old, long-deleted account. My original thought was that Facebook didn’t completely delete my old account, but after investigating a bit more, I found out that it’s a fake account, set up to impersonate me.

There was only one post on the profile, dated August 2015 – the same time as the abuse listed above. It links my name to Kyōto Bōken. There doesn’t seem to be any other activity after that. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was set up by the same man who commented on my blog and Japan Cheapo. So actually, there were other forms of abuse that I didn’t even know about for over a year: online impersonation.

A screenshot of the imposter Facebook account

Again, Facebook’s reporting system is pretty easy – with a few clicks, I reported the account as an impostor yesterday. But later the same day, I received this response:

Thanks for letting us know about something you think may go against our Community Standards. Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment.

In this case, we reviewed the profile you reported and found that it doesn’t go against our Community Standards

I was speechless when I read this. I immediately rated the response poorly and explained at length that it was clearly an impostor account, but beyond that, Facebook doesn’t allow any kind of appeal system. The ticket is closed, and there’s no obvious way to reopen it. I reported the profile again, but Facebook seemed to recognise it as a duplicate and hasn’t created a new ticket in my support inbox.

When I realised that I couldn’t report the account again, I found myself in tears. In a way, Facebook’s response was worse than finding out that one of last year’s abusers had created an impostor account. I’ve been combing through my email archives and writing this blog post ever since then. It’s 6 a.m. (I’ve been up all night) and I’ve written 2000 words in this post already. Because I want to make very clear: while that is indeed a photo of me, it is not my account. My photo wasn’t simply cropped like that in my old account. The original photo showed the elephant in the background more clearly. I am not from Sydney. I would not write a status update saying that I am the Kyōto Bōken blogger – I would have created links to the relevant pages. Furthermore, my name is incredibly unique. I’m the only Magda Stremeski in the world. (“Stremeski” is a simplified version of my original surname and was created by my father. No one else has it.) That account is clearly fake.

What makes Facebook’s response even more infuriating and frustrating is that my own account was at one point suspended until I provided Facebook with a government-approved photo ID. I highly doubt the impostor account provided any kind of ID. And yet Facebook still can’t see that account for the fake it is?

The final straw

This response from Facebook has renewed my loathing for that company. Its “community standards” are weak if they don’t include forbidding death threats. Its appeal system is non-existent. Its process of identifying impostor accounts is awful.

So I’m boycotting Facebook. I’m deleting my account, my Kyōto Bōken page, and also my WhatsApp and Instagram accounts. I no longer wish to have anything to do with Facebook. Unfortunately, I know that they’ll still keep track of me, and they’ll still have a large amount of information about me. But I’m never going to actively use their products again. It’ll take a while to back up all my data and permanently delete the accounts, but I expect to be done by the end of next week.

To the friends who wonder how they’ll keep in touch with me, I say: get out of that Facebook walled garden and go see the rest of the internet. I suspect this blog might get a bit more active, for starters.

So what actually was this Koshien app?

The first answer to this question is: it doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t have had to suffer that abuse.

But I think it’s worth answering this question to point out that it would have been an even more hellish situation if the person targeted wasn’t tech savvy like me.

Not all the comments I received were abusive. Some asked for help politely, and thankfully a few people explained the problem better:

I haven’t got a clue who runs the Koshien app. But the problem is it has somehow been forcefully added to the mobile facebook apps of a lot of people in the same way we have apps like instagram whether we like it or not. I included a screenshot. People are upset because they cannot remove it like other apps. Hope that helps you understand what is happening.

The screenshot mentioned is gone now, but it looked just like any other Facebook app, like a game or Instagram.

A few lovely people were trying to defend me:

I can’t say for sure. But it looks like this guy has just tagged that page… much like you might tag a friend in your personal status update which results in your status appearing on that friends wall too. I think this man has tagged the page resulting in his blog post therefore showing up on the Koshien page as well. That does not necessarily mean the app is his at all.

I didn’t have access to this app. I couldn’t see for myself what was going on. So when I asked another person to describe what they saw when they clicked the app, they responded:

Thank you for your prompt reply and I can see you are getting abuse however I have this koshien icon appear on my side panel in Facebook it sits above trending when I press it Isee pic of stadium at very top says live events and obviously everything is n Chinese the other evening was trying to get live streaming of Celtic v qurabag game I clicked button and I think it said linking to Facebook truly am not sure I didn’t get the game it was only next day noticed the green button I have contacted Facebook but all they say is they don’t support this channel! I don’t know if there is anything you can do but thankyou for trying

So what I gathered is that this app trawled Facebook for any mentions of Koshien. Being a Japanese stadium, the vast majority of posts were in Japanese. But I happened to make a post about Koshien in English. This was used by the app and was either visible in the app or forced into people’s news feeds – I’m not sure. Since I had probably made the only English post visible in this app, the abusers honed in on my Kyōto Bōken Page and accused me of…well, all sorts of things.

Once I grasped the situation a bit better, I tried explaining to the people affected. After a while, I stopped hearing anything about it. I’m not sure if it’s because Facebook acted on complaints about the app, or if people figured out how to remove it.

This app was clearly malicious. It was either installed when the user clicked a suspicious link, like the sports livestream mentioned, or perhaps they had installed an app earlier that had been repurposed. There are thousands upon thousands of apps developed for Facebook that do all sorts of superficial things: maybe they allow people to change their avatars for a cause, or are games, or perhaps they are required to enter competitions. And because I’m tech savvy and a former IT professional, I know that these apps are bought and sold on a daily basis, so an app that may have started as a ribbon campaign ended up being sold to someone who wanted to use it maliciously. But the people affected by this app were clearly not aware that such things could happen.

The takeaway here is to think twice before giving permission to any app on Facebook (or just about anywhere). And if you don’t use an app any more, then revoke its permissions.

I also recommend ditching Facebook, but unfortunately I don’t think many people will listen to me.

Scooter Diary Day #2

Clearly, I was drunk on the success of yesterday’s ride home from Ringwood, because when I woke up this morning, I jumped out of bed immediately (unknown for me on a Sunday!) and got my gear on for another ride.

It’s much easier for me to get the leather gloves on now. Yesterday they were too tight and Naomi had to help me get them on (leading to amusing context-less announcements to friends that she was “yanking” me). But the leather loosened up quite quickly and now there are no problems. I’ve already created a rhythm for getting my gear on – which pieces go on while I’m still in the apartment and which wait til I’m at the bike. My helmet still causes a few issues with my newly pierced ears, but then again, so does sleeping, so I’m not letting that stop me.

Anyway, being the cavalier fool that I can be, I decided that my SECOND EVER RIDE would be to Corio, near Geelong, where my sister lives. That’s about 60km away from home, via the Princes Freeway. Yup.

It went well! The map shows the route I took. As usual, I’ve marked my home and my sister’s home as being the local post office for the sake of privacy.

I took the slower route via Geelong Road to begin with, because I knew that I wouldn’t need to go faster than 80km/h for a while. That gave me a chance to get used to the higher speeds, and of course, get used to riding in traffic. A huge Mack truck decided he’d stalk me along Footscray Road, but even at a putt-putt speed of 40km/h, I was able to take off and get well ahead of him after the lights turned green, heh.

Then came the freeway. The speed limit rose to 100km/h and I cranked the throttle to see what this baby could do!

…which was about 90km/h. Well, that’s not completely true. I did manage to hit 100km/h on a downhill section when I had a tailwind.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have worried too much about being slow on a freeway. I kept to the left part of the left lane and everyone just overtook me as they needed. There was plenty of space and I kept myself in a visible position whenever there were lane merges.

My helmet was good at insulating noise from the scooter and the wind. It’s not the same level of quiet as being in a car, but actually, it was nice to enjoy the birdsong that I’d never noticed before while driving along the same route.

Other highlights included:

  • A very “bikie” looking old dude on a Harley honking at me and giving me the thumbs up as he overtook me
  • Being overtaken by a very old vintage car (like 1920s era) – dang, I must have been slow! Or he was really secretly overpowered under the hood?
  • The speed check display showed “XS” when I rode past. Too small?!
  • No rain this time!

I had that one nice encounter with a fellow bikie, but there were others that weren’t so great. In particular, one sports bike that overtook me in the same lane where I was riding. I could have hit him if I had moved to the right to dodge a pothole or something! I didn’t even know he was there until his probably-illegally-modified-muffler roared right next to me. So much for the hypothesis that those loud engines are safer because they let others know that you’re around. Doesn’t work when you have your own engine and wind noise!

The ride back from Corio was very windy. I had a heck of a crosswind/headwind coming across the farmland and my average speed dropped to 80km/h. Queue even more overtaking!

The petrol use surprised me too. I basically needed a full tank to get from Point Cook to Corio and back. So I couldn’t even do a round trip in a tank. Dad called me last night to chat about the ride yesterday and warned me that I’d be stopping frequently at petrol stations. Seems like I get almost exactly 100km for 5L. It may not actually be that much cheaper than just geting the VLine to Corio…hmmmm….

Heading back to Melbourne, I took the West Gate Bridge route back, but I didn’t take any glimpses at the view like I’d normally do. Too busy monitoring my speed and traffic around me. A friend in Brunswick was having a birthday party, so I stopped by there before going home, but didn’t stay too long because I was nervous about riding home in the dark. As it was, I left when it was well and truly dark enough for headlights anyway, so I suppose I can add “night-time driving” to my list of new riding experiences. Along with freeway riding and my first ever hook turn!

Total distance travelled: about 140km. What a big day!

To wrap this post up, I’ll share what my darling brother-in-law said when I turned up on his doorstep announcing that I’d ridden there on my new scooter:

“Jeez, Magda. Couldn’t you just get a fan and a box of crickets to get the same effect?”

Scooter Diary Day #1

I now own a scooter. I bought a second-hand Yamaha Vity 125 and today I had to get it home from the dealer in Ringwood. This was going to be scary as it would be my first time actually riding on the road. Before today, I had only ridden in carparks and as part of my learner course. So I recruited my friend Naomi to drive behind me in her car. She was my support vehicle, and I’m grateful for her efforts.

I mapped out the route we took to the CBD where I live on Google Maps:

One thing that surprised me was how much fuel was used up for that trip – about a quarter of a tank. It seems like my scooter uses about 5 litres per 100 km. That’s not as fuel-efficient as I would have liked, but I guess it’s still better than a car.

Ringwood is a fair distance from the CBD, but I knew I didn’t want to take the freeway. I didn’t even want to take the Maroondah Highway, which I thought had a speed limit of 80km/h. Instead, I opted for Canterbury Road, which I thought had a top speed of 60km/h. Nope! It went up to 80km/h! So my plan to ride in low speed traffic was thwarted. So too was my plan to ride in the dry – because while it was clear, blue skies in Ringwood when we left, it started to rain just after our pit stop at Forest Hill Shopping Centre. It wasn’t ever too heavy, so I rode through it, but it did make the trip a little scarier. On the plus side, my gear was quite waterproof, and I never even felt damp.

I wanted my first ride to be an easy one, but instead I ended up experiencing many different and difficult riding conditions!

  • 80km/h traffic
  • Car park traffic and manoeuvring at Forest Hill Shopping Centre
  • Roundabouts and speed bumps
  • Wet roads
  • Wet tram tracks(!!!)
  • Riding around buses
  • Up and down hills
  • Roadworks
  • Heavy traffic around shopping strips
  • Riding in the CBD

I had a few wobbles going over the wet tram tracks – man, they are slippery! And I braked too hard at one traffic light with only my rear brake, causing a little skid, but thankfully that was more noise than movement.

The most fun part was actually cruising down Lonsdale Street in the city. There are no tram tracks there, the speed was low and the traffic was light, so I found myself gently swaying side to side in my lane. It must have looked amusing to Naomi behind me.

So I made it home safely! I parked my scooter and went into my apartment to strip off the motorcycle gear and have a hot shower.

Odometer at start: 1208km
Odometer at end: 1245km

A Fourth Mode in Anime?

I completed an essay for my “Manga and Anime in Japanese Popular Culture” class (I love that I can do a class on this!) as part of my Graduate Diploma in Humanities. It was a great essay topic that helped give me a deeper insight into the anime and manga I love…but something bugged me. The essay was based on Susan Napier’s excellent book Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke:  Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation (this is the 2001 edition; there is an updated 2005 edition too). In it, Napier said that apocalypse, festival and elegy are – in her opinion – the three most significant modes in anime. The essay asked to discuss three anime or manga that showed aspects of these three modes.

Now, I don’t doubt that apocalypse, festival and elegy are incredibly significant modes in anime and manga. Napier gave very convincing historical background and examples to show this. She also states immediately that

“…anime is an immensely wide-ranging popular cultural form. Anime mines all aspects of society and culture for its material, not only the most contemporary and transient of trends but also the deeper levels of history, philosophy, and politics.”

(Napier 2001, p. 32)

So Napier never suggests that apocalypse, festival and elegy are the only three significant modes in anime – far from it. Her main argument in the book is that anime is an art form, and can offer great insights into Japanese culture:

At its best, anime can be highly creative,  intellectually challenging, and aesthetically memorable. But even at its most pedestrian, the incredible variety of animated works can offer rich insights into a complicated and sometimes agonized culture.

(Napier 2001, pp. 32-33)

Yes, yes and yes. I agree with all these points. Anime can be incredibly varied – as varied as the human imagination. I often say that there is an anime (or manga) for everyone (now if only I could convince my dad to sit down and try some…).

So after reading Napier’s description of the apocalypse, festival and elegy modes – and from where they derive in Japanese culture – I started thinking about the anime and manga I wanted to analyse  for the essay. And this is where I hit a stumbling block.

My pavlovian choice when selecting an anime to analyse is One Piece. It’s my favourite (at the moment, at least) and has so much material after over 15 years of being serialised that it should be easy to use as reference material. But…it didn’t seem to fit quite well in any of Napier’s three modes. It’s certainly not an apocalyptic series. It has elements of elegy – particularly nostalgia – but these are mainly in the background stories of each character. Seriously – nearly every background story of the Strawhat Pirates made me cry. But these are just background stories and – while adding plenty of depth to the story – they’re probably not critical to the plot. There was certainly mourning and some nostalgia, but not much lyricism. The idea of transience isn’t strong within One Piece; the nature of the world it’s set in doesn’t mean that you watch the seasons change – at least not in order! Rather, everything changes in too short a space of time to appreciate its impermanence. Mono no aware does not come to mind when watching One Piece.

One Piece
© Funimation.
Used here for review and educational purposes.

So, I couldn’t really write about the elegy of One Piece. That leaves festival. While some One Piece fans can immediately equate the series with a festival, I felt uncertain. Because, yes, sure, there is plenty of humour: bizarre, pun-based, juvenile and sophisticated. There are also elements of sexual themes – scantily dressed women and the perverts that chase them. One Piece is a battle genre series, so there is also violence (even though, for the longest time, no one ever seemed to die – I won’t give any more spoilers than that). But…Napier’s three modes were all compared with elements of Japanese culture. And when it comes to festivals, or matsuri in Japanese, One Piece didn’t feel very Japanese at all.

It’s a pirate series. There are characters named after famous historical pirate figures, like Blackbeard. The ships and weaponry used are reminiscent of those in the 17th and 18th centuries. While Japanese pirates did exist, One Piece‘s pirates show a very European/Western influence – similar to those depicted in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Monkey Island franchises. Furthermore, the One Piece universe is very different to our own. Japanese-like characters have appeared, but they were noted as being very unique, and none of them are major characters (yet). Overall, the One Piece world is not a Japanese world.

I could have perhaps shoe-horned my analysis of One Piece into the festival mode but it really didn’t ring true with me. Yes, there is humour and violence and overtly sexy characters. Yes, these characters are doing something unique – not something that everyday people would do. But it’s not because of matsuri; it’s because they are pirates. Mangaka Eiichiro Oda’s research on pirates is very thorough, and the freedom theme found throughout the series feels much more Western than Japanese to me.

One Piece recently overtook Dragonball to be the highest selling manga of all time in Japan. Merchandising of the franchise has run rampant too, with everything from candies to underwear to eyeglasses being sold. The series has a huge and varied audience, with more people over the age of 60 reading it than under the age of eighteen. That’s right: even though it is theoretically a shounen (boys) series, One Piece has a huge adult following. I would rate it with The Simpsons as an animated series that made huge cultural impacts in their respective countries.

That was the start of my stumbling block. If a massive manga and anime series like One Piece didn’t really fit into the three modes that Napier called the “most significant”, then what did that say about One Piece? Or the three modes? I moved on and thought about some other series I knew well enough to analyse and compare with Napier’s modes. But I seemed to hit the same wall again and again. Admittedly, my choices were restricted to those that had not already been analysed by Napier in her book – otherwise I could have easily written about Cowboy Bebop, or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds, or Neon Genesis Evangelion.

But thinking about the series I had read recently, I couldn’t really put them into one of those three categories. Silver Spoon is a wonderful series by Hiromu Arakawa of Fullmetal Alchemist fame, and may overtake One Piece as my new favourite. It’s about a teenage boy from the city moving to rural Hokkaido to attend agricultural school. There really isn’t anything in there that I would identify as particularly apocalyptic, elegiac or festive. It’s a slice-of-life series with an educational bent.

Skip Beat! is a shoujo (girls) series about a teenaged girl spurned by her lifelong love after he enters the music industry. She becomes determined to be more famous and successful than him in the entertainment world as revenge. Moyasimon is another agricultural-themed series where the protagonist can see and communicate with micro-organisms in the world around him. Fairy Tail is basically a mages-as-opposed-to-pirates version of One Piece. Even the hugely popular Naruto and Bleach seemed to not quite fit into Napier’s three modes. Sure, I could find small elements of Napier’s modes in each of them, but they all felt like I was grasping at straws.

In the end, I analysed Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou for apocalypse, Gin Tama for festival (which felt much more fitting than One Piece) and Pom Poko – one of the few Studio Ghibli films not analysed by Napier – for elegy. Interestingly, all three of those anime showed very strong elements of at least two of Napier’s three modes. Gin Tama arguably shows all three. And yet I couldn’t really comfortably tag One Piece or any of the other series I mentioned with even one mode.

While I still agree that Napier’s chosen modes of apocalypse, festival and elegy are incredibly significant in anime – and certainly have deep roots in Japanese culture – it feels like one more significant mode is missing. So I’d like to propose a fourth significant mode in anime: growth.

One Piece, Fairy Tail, Bleach and Naruto – pretty much any battle genre anime – have huge plot points revolving around characters getting stronger or better skilled so that they can reach their goals. The educational series like Silver Spoon, Moyasimon and Yakitate!! Japan aim to teach their readers something, even if the plot does not actually depict the characters learning too. Shoujo series like Skip Beat! and Cousin show their protagonists coming-of-age and learning about how to better themselves to meet their goals. These all either depict their characters growing in some way, or allow the reader to grow with new knowledge.

The motto of Japan’s highest-selling manga magazine, Weekly Shounen Jump, can translate to “Friendship! Endeavour! Success!”. The “Endeavour” element of the motto – and perhaps “Success” too – certainly lend themselves to a growth mode in anime – and boy, do the Jump series show it! One Piece, Naruto and Bleach – sometimes referred to the Big Three series of today – were all serialised as manga in Jump before becoming anime, as was Gin Tama and Dragon Ball. This motto was created after asking readers what the three most important things were in life – so it’s easy to link this aspect of growth in anime to Japanese culture.

But beyond Jump‘s motto, there is more evidence of a growth mode evolving from Japanese culture. The most obvious example is Japan’s spectacular economic growth after World War II, when Japanese goods became known worldwide as superior, and the economy became one of the world’s largest. The 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games is often referred to as a coming-of-age point in the history of modern Japan; that it had rebuilt successfully after the ravages of war and was part of the world stage again. Even after that, Japan held high economic esteem for decades, although the economic troubles starting in the 1980s reduced that somewhat.

Some argue that the medieval period during which Japan closed its border to foreigners created a boom growth in unique Japanese cultural elements, such as kabuki theatre and the geisha tradition. Even after its borders were opened again in 1854, the Edo period heralded a new age and immense growth and modernisation. Perhaps the mode of growth could extend to regrowth, considering Japan’s history of rebuilding from natural disasters like the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. It would seem that perhaps the growth mode we see in Japanese culture is often tied to the apocalypse mode. But that is fine. After all, as I wrote in my essay, apocalypse, festival and elegy were often tied together. I feel that elegy and growth also link together, particularly nostalgia, while festival is linked to growth in celebrations like the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.

These examples of growth in Japan’s history are all off the top of my head (and not referenced!), so it can’t be considered as well-researched as Napier’s explanation of apocalypse, elegy and festival and their roots in Japanese culture, but I don’t believe it would be hard to make an argument for growth as a fourth “most significant” mode in anime and point out its influences. Furthermore, the addition of this fourth mode would cover some of the most significant anime series that didn’t fit before, like Dragon Ball and One Piece, as well as entire genres like educational or coming-of-age.

Plus, it would’ve made my essay much easier to write!

Gmail’s new tabbed system and how to turn it the hell off

I must not be a typical email user in Google’s eyes. I don’t sign up for promotional spam, I don’t have a Facebook to bombard me with updates and I’m only on three (rather quiet) mailing lists. I’m also pretty good at keeping Inbox Zero after adopting “The Secret Weapon” method of GTD (blog post on that later).

So the new update to Gmail, introducing tabs like ‘Promotions’, ‘Social’ and so on is nothing but a nuisance to me. Particularly since Gmail seems to have adopted its own filtering system for these tabs, and those filters can get it wrong.

Anyone looking to switch off these tabs may have already discovered the “Configure Inbox” item in the settings menu. Unchecking some check boxes and these tabs are gone, right?

Only on the web version of Gmail, it seems. I still had emails flagged as “Promotion” appear in my Gmail for Android app.

To turn off the new tabs completely, you’ll also need to go to the settings for your email account in the Gmail app and uncheck the tabs you don’t want. This is applicable to the Gmail app on Android only. I can’t speak for other apps or OSs.

 

EDIT (26/8/13): I had trouble getting the Android category settings to ‘stick’. They reset themselves as soon as I exited the settings. There is a discussion thread here with better instructions on how to turn the categories off on Android.

A “6:50 p.m. Photo” Project Retropective

When I left for my secondment to the U.S. in May of 2012, I decided I wanted to try a little photography project. Every day, I would take a photo at 6:50 p.m. of whatever was around me at that time. This isn’t a new idea. I had first heard about it back when I was a LiveJournal user (so you know it was a long time ago!) and had actually done something similar on a 2007 backpacking trip around Japan (sadly, those photos seem to have gone missing). I wanted to keep this daily log of my life in the U.S. because I knew I wasn’t going to be very good at making daily blog posts.

I picked 6:50 p.m. as the designated time because I felt confident that I would be doing something interesting then. I would have finished any work for the day and would be exploring New York or whatever city I was in. I may just be eating dinner, but given how amazing the food scene is in New York, it was bound to be something interesting and memorable.

Well, I just spent the weekend cleaning up image links on this blog after reinstalling it (more on that in another blog post), so I ended up going through every 6:50 p.m. post I made. It was a little depressing to look at them, especially considering my assumption that I would be doing something “interesting” at that time. The main thing that struck me was that I was actually still in the office quite often, or commuting to or from work.

There were quite a few days without any logged photo too. I know that a few of them were because my phone battery had gone flat, but most were missing because I was on a plane and my phone was switched off.

Another recurring theme was just the view from my apartment or hotel room. I wasn’t out and about, I was lurking in my room. Even some pictures that look like I was out exploring were really just coincidentally taken on my walk home for the day. Now, I’m not worried about staying at home to get out of the heat or to exercise or to study Japanese, but I did still spend a large amount of time not doing any interesting.

It’s disappointing for me because before I arrived in New York, I had found a number of sites with lists of events happening each day. There were also friends to catch up with and food to try, so I’d have a choice of at least two or three things to do every evening. But I rarely did even one.

I think a lot of this was due to the travel exhaustion I mentioned in my last blog post. Long weekly commutes and long hours at work left me with little energy at the end of the day. Some of the missing posts were also due to me being asleep by 6:50 p.m.! I noticed there weren’t any posts from my time in Atlanta either. I’m sure I was either at work or at home by 6:50 p.m. though, since I didn’t have a car and Atlanta is not a city you can enjoy without one.

It wasn’t all completely uneventful though. I’m pretty pleased with the adventures I did actually have. All the posts from Burning Man and Japan are missing, but that was because I had no internet connection. I’m pretty sure I was having an interesting time though 🙂

Despite the negative tone of this post, I think the 6:50 p.m. project was a worthwhile one. I did manage to log quite a lot during my six months in the U.S. and these photos coupled with my social media posts are my memories of the trip that might otherwise be forgotten. It was also a project that garnered a lot of interest from those that witnessed me randomly taking a photo when an alarm sounded, heh.

Additionally, this retrospective of the project has taught me something – namely, I need to better manage my energy levels if I’m going to make the most of my time. I know now that I burn out if I travel too often, or work too late. I need to make sure that my work pace is sustainable, and my commuting minimised. It’s something that I had thought about for a while but has just been confirmed over the last few weeks, and with this little post.

Time is the only resource you can’t get back after wasting it. I’m going to try and utilise all of it from now on.

Time Off

Gosh, it’s been a long time since I blogged here. And so much has happened since then too.

I’m on the verge of a one-month break from work. I can’t lie: I’m really looking forward to it. I won’t be going anywhere – that’s the whole point.

My life has been lived out of a suitcase for over a year now. In February 2012, I moved out of my rental apartment as the landlord had sold it. I couch-surfed for a few months (visiting Margaret River and Uluru in the interim) until leaving Australia for my secondment in New York. While I was based in New York, I didn’t actually work there, so I was travelling weekly – first to Philadelphia, then to Atlanta. And, of course, while I was in the States I did some touristy travel – to Chicago and the Burning Man Festival in Nevada. Then there was my 30th birthday holiday extravaganza in Japan via Singapore…

My U.S. secondment was meant to be for a year, but I heard news that my off-the-plan apartment was going to be completed before I was due to return – and being unable to pay for rent in New York as well as a mortgage, I came home to Australia in November 2012. But my apartment wouldn’t be ready until February 2013 – so again I couch-surfed, this time with my sister in Geelong (which, as you can imagine, meant long commutes to work in Melbourne every day).

My time in Geelong was broken up a little with a 2-week long project in Singapore and then three months in Bangalore, India where I was a trainer for ThoughtWorks University graduates. India brought its own travels – to Hampi, Bandipur and Mysore. I was also meant to take another trip to the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, but I was asked to cancel my leave and go to another project in Singapore.

My mortgage and settlement were finalised while I was in India- so I had an empty apartment in Melbourne waiting for me! I asked if I could have a week in Melbourne between my projects in India and Singapore, just so I could move in and sign papers. While I was in Melbourne though, I heard that the Singapore project was canned (so I lost my holiday in Madhya Pradesh for nothing, oh well). But! Now this meant that I could now stay in my apartment in Melbourne! So for a few nice weeks, I lived in my new apartment, that had a bed and…not much else. I had sold all my furniture a year earlier, so while I was living in my new home, it wasn’t really that comfortable until I started getting a few basics: fridge, table, sofa…

Unfortunately I didn’t even have a chance to finish doing all that until my next project sent me off again – this time to Sydney. I’ve been travelling back and forth every week for a few months now. Weekends in Melbourne have been spent scrambling to buy more furniture, appliances – even basics like a toilet brush.

I’m getting to a point now that the basics for living comfortably are now in place in my apartment. I’m nowhere near done unpacking though: I still need to install bookshelves for my library, bring out my various game consoles and set up a work desk for crafting. But those things can live in my storage cage for now. The fact that I have an armchair and I can curl up with a blanket to read while eating something I cooked in my own kitchen – this has been bliss for me. And it makes it very hard to pull myself away to catch another flight to Sydney.

I’m typing this at the airport while waiting for my penultimate flight to Sydney. From the end of next week, I’ll be taking a month off work. I won’t be travelling anywhere. I want to stay at home and just enjoy it. I love travelling but the last 18-odd months have really ground me down – especially the time in India, where my health took a dive and hasn’t fully recovered since. I think it’s the living-out-of-a-suitcase aspect that caused that.

That, and not really having a place to call my home. Filled with my things. I sold a lot of my belongings when I moved out of my rental – and placed the rest in long-term storage. I took a lot with me to the U.S. – then back home again. And, since I never really got the hang of packing lightly, I took a lot with me to India too. Carrying the things that were important to me around the world doesn’t make life easier. I know I should pack lighter, but when there’s nowhere to keep the leftovers – what choice do I have?

I do have a home now. All my things are safely in my new apartment in the middle of Melbourne. From a packing point-of-view, it’s helped a lot; I never have more than carry-on luggage for Sydney. It’s also just a nice, settled feeling: this is my home.

So I’m going to be spending my month off enjoying my new home. Repainting it. Adding bookshelves. Making it truly my own. I’ll also spend time getting healthier – getting more sleep and enjoying the apartment’s pool facilities. I want to spend time reading, coding, writing, studying…It’s so hard to do any of these things when you get home from work and just fall straight into bed from exhaustion.

I haven’t lost the travel bug completely, mind you. I’m planning to spend the New Year break in Tokyo, and an opportunity just came up to ride the Trans-Siberian Railway next year. But for the rest of this year, I’d really just like to stay in Melbourne. This city has changed so much while I’ve been gone. I want to reacquaint myself with my hometown.