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International Japan News

Japan’s Revolutionary Transparent Toilets Reveal Deep-Seated Problems

Social and cultural issues drive the need for transparency.

On the ground, sentiments regarding Japan’s new transparent toilets have been a mix of privacy concerns and praises for safety; on Twitter, most Japanese netizens have felt that they were impractical due to fears of malfunction.

But what exactly are these transparent toilets?

THE TOKYO TOILET Project

These transparent toilets are part of a new project unveiled by The Nippon Foundation in early August. As part of this project, three conjoined transparent toilet cubicles were installed in Yoyogi Fukamachi Mini Park and three other in Haru-no-Ogawa Community Park.

The main aim of these installations is to address two main concerns surrounding public toilets, especially those located in parks: cleanliness and safety. They come amidst stereotypes among the Japanese public that public toilets are “dark, dirty, smelly, and scary”.

These stereotypes could be caused by mysophobia and sexual harassment.

Mysophobia

A cultural phenomenon in Japan, ‘keppekishō’, could be one possible cause of the nation’s fear of using public toilets. Roughly translated, the term means “fastidiousness” or “phobia of dirt”.

From antibacterial products to squat toilets, Japan’s obsession with cleanliness has always been fascinating.

Yet, it has also been a sign of a serious mental epidemic. According to an anonymous 52-year-old Japanese reporter, his fear of contamination by germs in toilets became so extreme that he would avoid public toilets in train stations altogether.

Of course, he isn’t the only one suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and there are many more like him.

Sexual harassment and perverts

The Japanese social phenomenon of ‘sekuhara’ could be another possible cause of the fear of using public toilets. The term is an abbreviation of ‘sexual harassment’. In a country where sexual harassment and public indecency are grossly under-reported and under-criminalised, public toilets are hotspots for sexual predators to lurk in.

In 2018, two men were arrested on the same night for willfully entering a Sapporo supermarket’s women’s toilet. One of them was caught secretly filming a female supermarket employee from a neighbouring stall while the other was wearing women’s clothing and occupying a stall. Both of them were middle-aged men.

Public harassment faced by Japanese women has been reported to be much more common than that faced by Japanese men. 47.9% of Japanese women surveyed in 2019 claimed that they had been touched inappropriately before, while 41.9% of them claimed that they had experienced close physical contact (presumably unwarranted).

Similar campaigns in other countries

In a bid to weed out voyeurism, Seoul’s government dispatched 8,000 workers in 2018 to inspect “more than 20,000 public restrooms, in subways, parks, community centres, public gyms and underground commercial arcades”.

In the West, the British Toilet Association (BTA) had implemented the “‘Use Our Loos’” campaign in the same year to have more toilets in businesses open to non-customers, following a 39% decrease in the number of public toilets. The aim of this campaign was to make public toilets more accessible to the general public.

Would Japan’s transparent toilets campaign work in Singapore?

Unfortunately, no. This is simply because the Singaporean government’s focus has always been on keeping local toilets clean and improving mass awareness of good toilet etiquette since 1982, when the first “Keep Public Toilets Clean” campaign was launched. Therefore, a campaign like THE TOKYO TOILET would be highly irrelevant to the imperative needs of our nation in its current stage of development and would not soothe Singaporeans’ fears of public toilets being dirty.

A step forward in the right direction

While these newly-sprung toilets continue to garner attention from both Japanese and international news media, unwelcome fundamental issues have also been brought to light. Thankfully, The Nippon Foundation has acknowledged the presence of said fundamental issues.

Still, the country lacks legislative safety nets for sexual abuse as well as public awareness of and treatment for mysophobia.

On the governmental level, women’s sexual rights protection is nonexistent. In fact, Japan is the only high-income country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) without a law prohibiting sexual harassment.

On the social level, sufferers of mysophobia (and OCD in general) normally delay seeking treatment until their conditions become severe. Moreover, the lack of trained therapists has prevented diagnosed patients from receiving the proper treatment they need.

The transparent toilets are a step forward in the right direction. Thereafter, the real work begins.

Categories
Local Singapore

Massive Retrenchments in Singapore Due to COVID-19

What lies ahead of those affected by the recent string of layoffs?

As Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrinks by a historic 13.2% year on year, retrenchments have abounded. On 18 August, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) announced that it would be laying off 140 employees from its media sales and magazines operations due to the negative “impact COVID-19 has had on advertising revenues”. This figure is, as of yet, the highest when compared to those of past exercises held by the company in October 2017 and October 2019.

According to the World Economic Forum, a decline in advertising revenues can be largely attributed to “changing consumer behaviour”. In a troubling time when social distancing and stay-at-home measures are the norm, digital consumption (i.e., use of social platforms and streaming services and gaming) has risen dramatically, thus allowing digital advertising to take precedence over its print counterpart.

Furthermore, in a debilitating recession, advertisers have been looking to speed up the sales process by focusing on purchase immediacy through “direct response campaigns”.

But advertising has not been the only sector to be severely hit by the pandemic. The hospitality industry has also faced its fair share of large-scale layoffs, with Millennium Hotels and Resorts making the headlines. A day after SPH’s announcement, the said hospitality management group retrenched 15.2% of its Singapore-based workforce. As an offset, the company also reduced its foreign employee dependency by 45 per cent, resulting in a net increase in its “Singapore core” from 61 per cent in January to 69 per cent on 19 August.

drastic drop in the number of tourists is to blame for this phenomenon. In April, visitor arrivals in Singapore dropped to 748 for the first time in history. Compared to a year ago that saw 1.6 million tourists hit our shores, this counts for nearly a 100 per cent dropMoreover, the number of tourists from January to April decreased by 58% compared with the same period last year.

Consequently, the average occupancy rate of gazetted hotels plunged by 27.2 percentage points to 58.6 percent, contributing to a 30.9% fall in overall revenue in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period last year.

Uncertainty creates opportunities

Corporate loyalty can often turn into disillusionment when retrenchment suddenly strikes. Take it from Madam Josephine Low, a 75-year-old lady who was laid off after a near 10-year career at a hotel.

Maybe, the trick to fighting structural unemployment is not upskilling but reskilling.

After all, Mr Andy Yap, once a digital design director of an events company, has now turned to food delivery via mountain bike after he had been axed during a retrenchment exercise.

He claimed, “‘Food delivery is pandemic-and recession-resistant.’”

Governmental schemes

Currently, the most prominent reskilling programme rolled out by the government is SGUnited Skills.

Under this scheme, trainees can learn skills relevant to their preferred industries which will help improve their employability. These certifiable courses are delivered by Continuing Education and Training (CET) centres, including Institutes of Higher Learning. As bonuses, they will also receive a training allowance of $1,200 per month for the duration of the programme, to cover basic subsistence expenses and its highly subsidised course fees will be deductible from their SkillsFuture Credit.

For those who have been recently retrenched, it would be wise to pair this scheme with the Enhanced Hiring Incentive to maximise their chances of getting employed upon completing their reskilling training.

SkillsFuture Singapore

The latter scheme, which is an upgraded version of its predecessor (Hiring Incentive), boasts a salary support of 40% for six months, capped at $12,000 in total for employers who hire a local worker aged 40 and above, and a salary support of 20% for six months, capped at $6,000 in total for employers who hire a local worker aged below 40. These are assuming that the said hired workers have undergone eligible reskilling or training programmes.

But, given the 6- to 12-month length of the SGUnited Skills programme, such would not make for a feasible short-term solution for those who have borne the brunt of massive retrenchment exercises.

Gig economy

With employment agencies unable to cope with the piling application forms following the widespread displacement of workers from their jobs, the once go-to alternative for finding a job has quickly now become a bottleneck to steer clear of. Instead, freelancing has replaced these agencies as a quick fix for those who have lost their jobs.

The two main advantages that freelancing has over the traditional corporate setting are greater efficiency and lower costs. Besides, jobs like food delivery courier and freelance stylist/designer entail the freedom to schedule one’s working week and an extremely short time lag between the application for gigs and the hiring (no traditional intermediaries like job interviews and contracts).

The only downside is that freelancers are not entitled to health benefits. Fortunately, on 4 November 2019, the government enacted the contribute-as-you-earn (CAYE) scheme to divert a portion of their earnings to their MediSave accounts, which would aid in the payment of their medical bills where applicable.

This scheme, however, applies only to those working in the public sector.

COVID-19 has challenged the paradigm that longstanding employment is permanent and has forced us to value subsistence over complacency. And while the future may look bleak from where we are standing, all is not lost: reskilling and job opportunities are out there for us to fully utilise provided we do not give up on searching for them.

Categories
Culture Games

For ****’s Sake, Call of Duty League, Stop Fining Players

Call of Duty League’s recent clampdowns on so-called profanities violate the very conventions of free speech.

Censorship within games is not unheard of. From time to time, both casual and professional gamers are banned from in-game chats for cursing excessively. But censorship that extends to and infringes on personal vocalisations are justifiably rare.

Therefore, it comes as a surprise to find out that Call of Duty League (CDL) has been imposing fines on players who spoke out harshly against Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

As a former Modern Warfare player myself, I am not convinced by these accusations. I first started playing the game on my Mac desktop in late 2011 when my father bought it as my birthday present. The online multiplayer community was thoroughly wholesome and generally innocuous during typed or voice chats. Even when there were vulgarities, they were few and far between the usual banter. Compared to games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, and DotA 2, Call of Duty has a decently clean track record of swear words.

Maybe I’m just liberal. But terms like “trash” and “one of the worst CoDs ever made” barely constitute anything remotely vulgar. If Seth ‘Scump’ Abner, who has the second most major tournament wins in the history of Call of Duty and has competed professionally in other Call of Duty franchise installments (Ghosts, Advanced Warfare, etc.) wants to voice his opinions candidly in a livestream, it’s ultimately his right to do so. Why should CDL fine him for it? After all, it could have at least tried to be a little humbler by seriously considering his genuine (albeit extremely forthcoming) feedback.

Let’s backtrack to early October last year. Call of Duty: Mobile had just been released when Reddit users brought to light the game’s profanity filter. They reported “blocking of all words related to war”. Under this filter, words such as “boom”, “sniper”, “Jesus”, and “kill” were blocked from chat. Ironically, expletives were, at most, only partially censored.

Call of Duty’s mindset can be summed up in one word: hypocritical. Yes, the game’s developers are hypocrites who plan to water down a violent game into a Fortnite-esque one aimed at children aged around 12, while secretly using their conservative, kid-friendly stance to suppress dissent. Violence is violence and gore is gore. And where there is blood, there is bound to be blood-pumping rage and anger-fuelled vulgarities. This is the target audience of all Call of Duty games. Pretending that this hasn’t always been the case and penalising players for ‘profanities’ is akin to playing Silent Hill and bitterly suing its developers for its graphic scenes and immensely terrifying monsters: you should have known what you were getting into in the first place.

Besides, those accused of obscenities were actually giving relevant feedback on in-game issues like “confusing Modern Warfare spawns” and being “kicked out from the game” after changing class.

Call of Duty League’s inaugural season was only launched at the start of this year in late January and has, within the span of only five months, already gone on a fining spree of its top participants. But despite its widespread efforts to silence its dissenters, some of them have chosen to continue speaking out against it until the aforementioned issues are rectified. In a reply to Scump, Sam ‘Octane’ Larew, a fellow competitor from Seattle Surge, stubbornly affirmed that he would “pay to speak” his “mind” because CDL had robbed him of a year’s worth of money.

So far, neither the affected players nor CDL has disclosed the amounts of the imposed fines.

Free speech is an essential civil liberty that applies to the citizens of the esports world. As such, CDL was absolutely wrong to punish players for speaking out against it in secular settings (i.e., in non-competitive environments). The same couldn’t be said if such comments had been made during live matches, though. But whatever the case, I am strongly in favour of those who have been persecuted and silenced into oblivion (players like Octane and Skrapz have since deleted their offending tweets) and feel that CDL’s militant approach will only steer serious players away from participating in its future competitive seasons.

Categories
Culture Games

Dethroning Twitch: How an Eminent Streamer Defied the Status Quo

Dr Disrespect has wooed many fans with his sleek moustache and over-the-top taunts.

“I’m the two-time, back-to-back — 1993, 1994 — Blockbuster Video Game champion.” were the words of a man who was once the Face of Twitch. However, ever since his June 26 ban, Herschel “Guy” Beahm, or more famously known through his online persona, Dr Disrespect, has been looking elsewhere to conduct his livestreams.

His fan base has stayed on firmly by his side notwithstanding. In fact, his Youtube stream, which had gone live at around 4.30 am SGT on August 7, amassed an audience of over 340,000 active viewers within an hour of “going live”. To put this into perspective, within just 1 hour, the number of views his livestream garnered was approximately 16.6% of his Youtube channel’s total subscriber count.

His fans are surely excited about his long-awaited comeback after he finally broke his silence earlier last month. Times are definitely changing and even Twitch cannot deny this.

Rumour has it that Dr Disrespect will be making Youtube his mainstay for streaming. And there is some weight to this hefty claim. After all, he isn’t the first to depart from Twitch. According to Quartz, two of Twitch’s “top streamers”, “Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins” and “Michael ‘Shroud’ Grzesiek”, “left Twitch for Mixer” in 2019.

As of now, Dr Disrespect’s options are wide open and there is no telling where he might end up for good. For all we know, Youtube might very well be merely an interim solution to the sudden void caused by his loss of partnership with Twitch, especially since he has a huge following on the video-sharing platform.

Meanwhile, streamers such as Tyler “Tyler1” Steinkamp and Timothy “TimTheTatman” John Betar — the former being Dr Disrespect’s main rival while the latter being his former Twitch-streaming buddy — were among the top 10 streamers that captivated the masses in July.

The status quo for Twitch has always been ‘for the streamers, by the streamers’ — at least since late last year when it underwent a major reformation.

Rebranding

In September 2019, Twitch redrew and optimized its extruded logo at the pixel level and developed it into a “new, two-tone” one “designed for co-branding with their streamers”. The development of its new logo culminated in “a three-tone animated rainbow gradient” which symbolises “Twitch and everyone who is part of it”. As an added gesture, “each streamer” would be allowed to “choose their own color scheme” on the “landing page”.

If you were to visit its official brand website, you would notice something fascinating at once: you are guided along a scroll path that explains to you why it decided to undergo its rebranding process, eventually ending at a video which explains to you its mission.

Marketing and Outreach Campaigns

Apart from being the home of esports, Twitch has “recently hired former Spotify exec Sunita Kaur as its managing director for APAC” and improved “its sales teams” for both “South East Asia” as well as “the Oceanic region”.

Moreover, the company strives to become synonymous with a “live, interactive, personality and content-based, community-driven video platform where anyone can play a role in creating the moment”, by “working with brands” in “the APAC region” to ensure “the experience lands in an authentic and meaningful way to Twitch’s communities”.

Lastly, with the occurrence of the COVID-19 “pandemic”, Twitch has found relief in that “new artists are turning to” it “to find community now that touring has paused”.

What will Twitch’s Q3 2020 look like — will Facebook Gaming and Youtube Gaming Live steal the show?

Will Twitch’s aforementioned efforts prove sufficient to cement its edge over Facebook Gaming and Youtube Gaming Live in Q3 2020?

Highly likely — provided its shortcomings do not get the better of it.

Despite its total streaming hours rising sharply by “58.7%” from Q1 to Q2 (2020), it has also been set back by a slew of copyright infringement “takedown notices”, “allegations of gender-based discrimination, harassment and sexual assault”, and its poor “ad revenue” generation.

Simultaneously, Facebook Gaming has been given a fortuitous leg up by Microsoft Mixer’s planned transition of existing “partners and streamers” to the former streaming platform.

But this also implies a potential positive externality, albeit to a smaller extent, of both streamers and viewers migrating to Youtube and Twitch as well.

The fact remains that Twitch still dominates the leaderboard with a 67.6% market share and is therefore unlikely to be dethroned anytime soon. But then again, partnerships can crumble as easily as streamers migrating from one streaming platform to another. And history has taught us that crowds follow wherever their leaders go.

Categories
Culture Games International

Chess as an Esport: Conservatism Versus Progression

Chess Grandmaster, Hikaru Nakamura, has finally opened the floodgates to the online streaming community.

The Controversy

Chess has always been a tabletop board game. From Bobby Fischer’s “The Game of the Century” to Garry Kasparov’s historic defeat by IBM supercomputer, Deep Blue, it has stood its ground against the digitalisation of board games competitions.

However, just three months ago, Hikaru Nakamura, currently in 18th place in the Fédération Internationale des Échecs (FIDE) August 2020 list of top 100 players, stirred up a controversy with a fellow chess streamer by the name of Ben Finegold.

Previously, Hikaru had decided to reach out to popular gaming streamers like BoxBox and xQc to teach them and, hopefully, rekindle an interest in chess among the younger generations. But Ben, who is also a chess Grandmaster, conducted a live stream, two weeks later, in which he openly criticised Hikaru’s decision to expose chess to “negative talent”.

And how did Hikaru respond to this?

Just three days later, he tweeted to publicly thank all the streamers who had been receptive to his attempt to teach them chess.

Then, moistcr1tikal, better known as penguinz0 on Youtube, issued a video on this whole saga in which he denounced Ben’s attitude as a form of “elitism” and “gatekeeping”. In fact, to show his support for Hikaru’s cause, he even decided to let Hikaru coach him in chess.

Chess.com soon jumped onto the bandwagon and organised PogChamps, a two-week chess competition from June 5 to June 19, which invited 16 top Twitch streamers to “compete for their share of a $50,000 prize fund”. Of course, Hikaru was chosen to be the commentator throughout the entire competition.

What are the Experts’ Take on Promoting Chess to Online Streamers?

FIDE Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, David Llada, echoed penguinz0’s sentiment by stating that the chess world lives in “perpetual endogamy” and that there has been very little effort to reach out to “new audiences”. Hence, he suggested that PogChamps would be a great “initiative” to send “a message to a huge audience, showing how easy it is to learn the game, but how difficult it is to master it”.

Furthermore, he added that there was a need for “more PogChamps” and “celebrity tournaments”.

However, Stefan Löffler, the features editor of ChessTech, strongly disagreed with David, firmly stating, “Letting beginners play for an audience is something one should never do.” He also likened PogChamps to a “trash” reality TV show and accused it of allowing its participants to join solely “for attention, publicity and a handful of cash”.

According to Stefan, “chess” is a game that “takes years of play and study” in order to “occasionally produce a game that is worth seeing”. In other words, he was suggesting that “Chess.com” should have reformatted PogChamps to develop its participants’ critical-thinking skills and problem-solving abilities through “mini games” and “Puzzle Rush exercises of the simpler variety”, before finally progressing to the final stage of a “normal chess game” to be played “in a cool, gamified display as gamers and their fan audience are used to”.

A Precedent Has Been Set and There is No Turning Back Now

In late July, Chess.com announced that it would be hosting yet another online chess tournament, PogChamps 2, from August 21 to September 6. The released lineup includes former PogChamps contestant, xQc, as well as famous Icelandic strongman and Game of Thrones actor, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson.

Like the first PogChamps, its sequel will involve participants “competing” for a total of “$50,000 in prizes”.

Hikaru recently tweeted this in expectance of PogChamps 2:

From the looks of it, the digitalisation of chess tournaments is quickly gaining traction despite the lingering hate from chess gatekeepers and traditionalists alike — a new age of chess is in the making and we are all bearing witness to it right now.