TPP: Target People’s Purses


When I first moved to Japan many years ago by my own means, I did what a lot of gaijin (foreigners) do when they lack the luxury of a company backing them… I sought work as a conversation English instructor.

I purposely avoid using the term “teacher” whenever I talk about those days out of respect for the profession. Although a slim few foreign instructors in Japan are actually trained teachers, most are not.

Being completely honest, it wasn’t a bad gig. One could earn a livable wage (in a city as notoriously expensive as Tokyo) while only working what amounted to part-time hours. Interesting characters abounded, and occasionally the after-work parties could be quite uproarious.


I think back on those years with sincere fondness.

And yet one element from that time continues to stand out from all the others. It is how so many, if not the vast majority of, Japanese businessmen and women treat private English lessons as if it were a personal therapy session.

Unlike in the West, Japanese do not have the habit of running to a psychiatrist or therapist to talk about problems at work or at home. Many keep whatever it is inside of them, not even sharing it with their spouse or loved ones. But the rare few who can’t keep it bottled up do what I can only assume they consider a viable option and take private English lessons with a foreigner, as doing so provides them with the opportunity to open up completely to someone outside of their social network and their culture. This is not to say (or even vaguely imply) that Japanese taking lessons need a therapist. Not at all. But this seemed quite the popular choice back then.

Some of these lessons turned out to be rather life-changing for me.


Back in 1999, I had a private student who was an executive at a major international pharmaceuticals company. He was actually my student for about a year, and we would have long discussions on all matters of the world. His English ability was at a point where all he needed to do was use it.

Our conversations revolved largely around his work, as this is the most common area of stress for most Japanese. Shockingly, several of our lessons even ended with him in tears. This is not an exaggeration. Most surprising to me was that these tears were not from typical work stress or even from power harassment (office bullying)… no, rather his reasons were borne out of fear of what his industry was doing to Japan and, more importantly, possibly even his daughter’s future.

With regard to the pharmaceuticals industry, Japan is much more controlled than the United States, as well as most other first-world countries. Back then, this was even more so. The concern that my student (/patient) had was that his industry was systematically tearing down the controls that Japan had in place piece by piece, and that he was complicit in it.

Over the months, I sat and listened to his concerns, concerns which grew increasingly loud as he trusted me and knew that he had my ear. These talks sent my mind into a frenzy. I spent months after (years, actually) going to Internet cafes researching aspects of our talks, mainly anything I could find on the pharmaceuticals industry, which also happened to lead me down some other interesting rabbit holes (as only the Internet can).

I did this not so much out of general curiosity, but because I had a sick mother who relied, and still does, heavily on an industry that promises cures and relief just by popping pills. I wanted to learn more about this industry which not only had my mother worked her whole life in and around as a career registered nurse and lab technician, but which she relied on so desperately now to get her through her day.

Although I owe a lot to this man for showing me another side that most people rarely get to see, or if they do read or hear something it is most always brushed off as just “conspiracy theories,” at the same time I almost wish my head was still stuck in the sand—ignorance is bliss as they say.

Most people that I encounter have a relatively positive image of the pharmaceuticals industry. They usually counter anything negative with, “The positives outweigh the negatives” or “Where would we be without antibiotics?” And while I may agree with much of that, I am less certain that those positives are enough to keep the industry “angelic” any longer. At least not for me, not from my own personal experiences.


A few months back here on knowmadic news I asked the question and wrote an article that was titled
What the Hell Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?” I then attempted to answer this with several sources that were based (admittedly) largely on conjecture and a few loose documents. Now, though, thanks to WikiLeaks the whole world gets that question definitively answered, and it does not sound all that healthy.

It is more or less a “trade” agreement that gives the big pharmaceuticals companies the absolute ability to fleece even more consumers on a global level without interference from governments. In other words, it is about international monopolies, profits, and corporatism at the cost of each citizen in each country who is lining up to sign onto the agreement.

I believe this quote from Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, from a recent New York Times piece about the leak sums it up best, “The leak is just the latest glaring example of why fast-tracking the T.P.P. would undermine the health of Americans and the other countries and cost our government more, all to the benefit of pharma’s profits.”

Get the world hooked on expensive, highly profitable, questionable drugs, and squash all generic rivals through “evergreening”… sounds like a business model thought up by Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, doesn’t it?

But jokes aside, none of this is a laughing matter.

Having read through a large portion of the WikiLeaks’ disclosure on this, it is somewhat astonishing just how accurate many of my conversations were with my student back in Tokyo. He did not predict in any way this monstrous trade agreement—that would have been impossible at the time. But he did mention on several occasions how the industry wanted to destroy Japan’s sovereignty regarding health matters, especially anything that would regulate the pharmaceutical industry.

It may have taken over 15 years, but it seems that “they” finally discovered a way to break down Japan’s walls of bureaucracy—just hand the keys over to the corporations. A novel idea, but one that will no doubt change Japan (and the rest of Asia) forever just like it has the United States: Home of the restless leg syndrome.

The only real question left is, I suppose, does anyone care?

I certainly do, and I hope that my former student still does, although my guess is that he continued on in the industry as only a loyal Japanese salaryman would.

Nevertheless, I am still unsure if I should thank him or curse him. Either way, he is definitely etched into my mind forever, for better or for worse. Ironically, it may take a few anti-depressants in the near future to help me forget some of our conversations and help me slip my head back into the sand. But hopefully not.

H/T: Zero Hedge