Thursday, November 30, 2006

Japan Focus and Gregory Clark's article

Interestingly, the article in last Monday's Japan Focus by Gregory Clark in which he discusses the attacks on him, and to his employer by right wing in Japan, has completely disappeared from the sight. None of his other articles have disappeared, even those in which he criticizes the rightists.

Did Clark withdraw it due to some error on his part or other reasons? Was he pressured to withdraw it? Was Japan Focus pressured? These are questions which have to be asked in Japan, but the likelihood of that type of pressure occurring is very high, as Clark discussed in the (removed) article.

In the US, "political correctness" usually refers to how minorities are addressed or how certain issues concerning minorities are discussed/addressed. generally the idea is that one should not use language which would offend people just by the language. In Japan, political correctness means not openly disagreeing with anyone, most especially the rightwing nationalists. To do so is very risky for a Japanese, and now it seems to be becoming risky for non-Japanese. I guess it always has been, if one looks at what happens to many foreign academics who are critical of Japan. As has long been known, money and access tend to dry up.

3 December update: The article was removed at Clark's request, according to an email that I received from Japan Focus.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The risks of open debate/criticism in Japan

Most people know that it is very risky to publicly criticism nearly anything in Japan. Even politician who do so are taking risks. This is most especially true when the rightwing nut crowd is touched. Often they will send their lower-level thugs in their sound trucks and park it in front of the critic's home and shout over the loudspeaker attacking him/her at nearly all hours. The police will do nothing at all such as to tell the nutters to perhaps find another way to respond other than making life unbearable for for the critic and all his neighbors, because to do so would interfere with the right-winger's free speech. The free speech of the rightwing is the most important in Japan.

Gregory Clark, who has been in Japan for years and is generally considered quite knowledgeable and sympathetic toward the country has apparently been targeted by one of the rightists. He is now getting anonymous messages sent to his employers from these groups. He tells about it and also discusses his criticism of Japan's response to North Korean kidnapping of Japanese 20 plus years ago. (Hint: Japan is heading further right, but Clark attributes part of this to pressure from Washington. I'd guess Japan doesn't really need a push from D.C. to go right, but it helps. If the U.S. were applying pressure to Japan to go left, there would be more government resistance.)

Anyway, the article is in today's Japan Focus, here. Hopefully the link will still be there, if you click it.

29 November update: Not surprisingly, the article has disappeared from the site. Not to start conspiracy theories, but doesn't it make you wonder if the rightwing had something to do with it?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Why English teaching is considered a dead-end job in Japan

From a job site:

Language instructors generally need no skills other than being a native speaker of the language with a 4-year college degree. Working Holiday or Spouse visa eligibility can be substituted for the 4-year degree.

This is an unfortunate fact of life here. It isn't necessarily a loser's job, although many Japanese and foreigners consider it to be so, it is simply the best paying job open to the majority of native English speaking residents in Japan. Of course you could be a waiter or a bartender at less pay. Perhaps you can start your own non-teaching business. Forget the salaryman fantasy even if, like Tom Cruise, you become more-Japanese-than-the-Japanese. Best case---you get on with a foreign company as a local hire. Not easy and requires a lot of networking and a lot of luck.

The biggest waste of time and money in my life was the year that I returned to college to get a TESOL certification (one which could be used for teaching in the U.S.) before returning to Japan to what I knew was a ad career destroying move. I hardly use anything I learned, and if I actually tried, I would piss off many "students." A good CELTA certificate is more than one needs here. In fact, because it focuses on practical aspects more than SLA theory, it is probably more useful than what I got. As I have mentioned, even the simple rudimentary Berlitz basic instructor training is MORE than sufficient for the vast majority of jobs.

The skills you really need are:
  • customer service (ass-kissing or groveling in some cases),
  • entertaining skills (make it "fun"),
  • the ability to tolerate people who make foolish/racist/sexist statements without getting losing your cool or openly challenging them. If someone looks you straight in the eye and says, "Japan is the ONLY country in the world with 4 distinct seasons," you MAY NOT laugh and call them a "retard."
  • the ability to make people feel relaxed, to be nonthreatening,
  • patience
  • not take offense at subtle or not-so-subtle insults
  • enjoy debating trivia (the British say "in main street" but Americans say "on main street." Which is correct, "that" or "which." You cannot openly say "I don't really give a flying f**k." You are teaching "communicative" English. BAHAHAHAHAHAHA)
  • The ability to endure a dead-end job with no future and no real opportunities to advance or make more money. A job in which the standard salary has not increased since at least the 1980s.
  • endure being seen as a baka gaijin , who although entertaining, can't really be taken seriously.
  • teach attractive women without assuming that they want you to date them or have sex with them. They don't want that anymore than an American, British, Canadian woman would. You will have to check with a female instructor for any advice specific to teaching mostly Japanese men as a female.
  • Ideally, you should be able not to take a student's physical appearance into account when teaching them, however I knew many who did at Berlitz and still seemed to be successful. Let's pretend it is valuable skill here.
  • able to pretend that a lazy, time-wasting student who would fail or be thrown out of a class in your country is a good student. (Most places will not let you evaluate a student as less than average which is usually called "good" here.)
  • Understanding that just because someone is polite to you and laughs at your stupid jokes, or even says that they enjoyed your class, does not necessarily mean that they did enjoy it or like you.
  • As a few Berlitz Instructional Supervisors told me: " Just make sure they have fun and "think" they have learned something." This is the bottom line, although it is not what would be considered teaching in the West. (If you are doing a company course---especially for foreign companies, their HR may hold you to much higher standards than Berlitz et al. Still, good luck on getting people to seriously study. Some will. Most won't.)
  • Finally, for you own sanity and self-respect, the ability to find something outside of the job to provide meaning, challenge, and direction to your life. Find something to keep mentally and intellectually challenging. Stay physically active and fit. Otherwise you will become a fat idiot, although this will not in any way disqualify you from most teaching jobs. The idiot part may even help. So far, I have not become fat.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Shintaro "Blinky" Ishihara

The old bigoted woman-hating, Korea-hating, Chinese-hating, Caucasian-hating, non- "pure blood"-Japanese hating racist, fascist gummer whom the fine, open-mind non-bigoted non-racist citizens of Tokyo elected and reelected came out with another one of his memorable statements.

Reacting to the recent focus on rampant bullying in Japanese schools in which several young children have committed suicide and schools have been caught covering up, the old Emperor worshiping fellow has made another one of his deeply thoughtful remarks:

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has weighed in on the bullying issue, saying last week that the victims were "spoiled and weak" and that the recent spate of letters sent to the education ministry, most anonymous and all apparently written by children threatening suicide over bullying, were probably pranks. From the Japan Times.

Now of course, just because he has been elected and reelected by folks in Tokyo, and just because he continues to enjoy support and suffers no consequences for his crude remarks, we cannot assume that this in any way reflects poorly upon the citizens who elect him. Not at all. It's only Americans who are stupid. Japan is different---don't you know?

Bushido---saving Japan and the world!!!

Tokyo Thanksgiving

It isn't too difficult to find items to prepare an American-style Thanksgiving dinner there. You just have to be prepared to pay. And if you go to one of the grocery stores which cater to ex-pats, you have to be prepared to pay more than any sane person with the slightest knowledge of what is available in regular Japanese grocery stores would.

In Tokyo, a turkey will cost maybe $25 for a 7.5-8.5 lb bird. You can get whole cranberries for about $4 per 6 ounces or so, or canned cranberries for about $3.25 per can. You can get pie shells, fake gravy mix in the little envelopes ($4 for some), pumpkin pie mix, mashed potato mix, stuffing mix, whatever you want.

Naturally, you are better off to buy the ingredients and simply make most things yourself. We usually make as much as we can, but if we are pressed for time, we waste money on stuff like dried-out bread with spices (stuffing mix) and boxed-dried mash potato stuff. We haven't sunk to the point where we have to buy the fake chemical gravy mix yet.

On Thursday morning, I was short a few things, so I decided to make a quick run to the grocery store before we started cooking. What a mistake! I somehow thought the stores would be open in the early morning, but this is Japan so most never open before 10. (Other shops wait until 11 before they open). Thursday was a holiday in Japan too, but that was not the reason nothing was open. So I wasted time walking to the 3 nearest grocery stores until I gave up and finnaly went to Denenchofu National (there is another one in Hiroo.) This is an ex-pat store in which they sell 99% the same things available in bigger Japanese grocery stores (Tokyu etc) for an extra 10-30% in price. They are even more expensive than the Denenchofu Precce (A Tokyu-group grocery store with a 30% snob surcharge). The selection is poor, some of the meat looks old, and the prices are ridiculous. But a lot of ex-pats from the area go there. No problem as many are on company expense accounts. And besides, about 25% of the floor space is taken up with wine.

I spent about $40 on $15 worth of food. But I deserved it for being dumb enough to shop there.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cycling in Japan

I love riding a road bike. I actually get more than 5,000 miles per year riding. That's a little more than I did in the US in an average year.

I usually ride along the Tama River (Tamagawa) bike path. On week days before noon it is somewhat safe and if I time it right, I can get in decent hi-intensity training rides. It can also be one of the most extremely dangerous places to ride a bike. Rules, laws, and common sense are routinely (and intentionally) ignored. Frankly, it seems that some people there---on mama-chari (the old 30 pound steel clunkers that everyone has) do not care whether they kill themselves and you or not. Road biking has become a little more popular recently, but the skill level of many novices is directly transferred from their mama-chari skill set. In other words, they are dangerous idiots riding with their bike under semi-control (head up ass) and going a little faster. (mama-chari rider's average speed is 6-8 mph. Road bike novice during a "hi-speed" downhill sprint with a tailwind might achieve a wobbly 17 mph before he tires out after 30-40 meters.)

Anyway, Japan Cycling Navigator's site published a short piece on law and reality in Japan as far as cycling goes. It is a good site and this article gives you some bare-bones information of what cycling can be like.

I especially like this quote: "Japanese ordinary bikers have a notorious reputation for bad behavior." His summary of cycling roads (like that along the Tamagawa): "They are like kind of lawless area. Please don't assume cycling roads are safe." Written by a straightforward Japanese guy. And so true. So very true. Ignore that advice at the very serious risk of severe injury and/or your life.

Regular roads are actually safer as laws and rules are enforced and generally obeyed on them. Many riders refuse to ride on a bike path at any time due to the danger from careless, negligent pedestrians and "cyclists."

Bic(Biku) Camera

There are several of these big electronics shops in Tokyo (and Yokohama). What they seem to have in common other than merchandise is the long wait in long lines required to buy anything. This is especially true in the one near Ginza (Yurakucho). I stopped shopping at them because they seem to have a fetish for opening only enough cash registers to keep people waiting in line unnecessarily.

I guess it was even worse when the Sony PS3 went on sale last Saturday. Bic Camera outdid themselves this time. Miraculously, nobody was seriously injured. You can read about it from a blogger here and another story here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Japan in a word or two

Back in the early 90s, after I had spent a year in Toyama City working for a small Japanese company---and pretending to teach English as a foreign language part-time at the YMCA there and in Takaoka City, I thought that if asked to describe Japan in a single word, I would have said xenophobic.

Now I realize it isn't that simple. I would still describe Japan as very xenophobic but would also add passive-aggressive (note how wikipedia's definition in most part describes Japanese society, in nearly the same way as as the Japan explainers/apologists/Edwin Reishcauer-types do) and racialist with some racist tendencies.

I am looking for an additional word which would mean something like unrepentant, unapologetic for past actions, assuming it has done no real wrong (unless forced to by evil, sneaky foreigners or foreign ideas), always in the right, pure at heart etc. I haven't found a single word or phrase for that.

Words I can't imagine using are: exceptionally or especially polite, especially kind, clean, open, straightforward, politically aware/active, educated---none of these come to mind.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Minato Mirai, Yokohama

One of my favorite places in the area right on Yokohama Bay. There is a lot to do there; a huge shopping mall, cruises on the bay to Tokyo and back (I recommend a cruise near sunset) smaller boats to Chinatown for about 500 yen, the tallest building in Japan if I am not mistaken, and much more. You can easily spend a full day there.

Japan Focus "Page not Found"

I have placed a lot of links to articles from the Japan Focus site over the past few years. There is a lot of very good information on that site, but unfortunately, since they reworked the site earliet this year there have been repeated problems with finding anything from their archive. About all I can consistently get is the latest articles on their front page.

I will most likely have to discontinue linking to that site. I would suggest that if you have any real interest in northeast Asia and Japan that you visit Japan focus and sign up for their free newsletter.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The U.S. to continue to play Uncle Sucker

To make sure we don't become isolationist (and to make sure we continue to provide highly discounted---nearly free---military protection for South Korea and the world's second largest economic power, Japan), and to ensure that we continue to work for free trade (open our markets while some others in the region, Japan in particular, do everything they can to keep theirs closed), George Bush warned that the U.S. must avoid any such isolationist tendency under the Democrat party's new congressional leadership. ( See the New York Times article.)

We must continue to fight wars in foreign countries and get more and more less financially well-off young Americans killed doing so. (You know, as in John Kerry's "joke," the ones who aren't wealthy enough to go to college without G.I. bill-type assistance.) And we must continue "free trade", even though such a thing does not really exist on this planet, while borrowing tons of money from those who export products but buy very few from us---Japan, China, and South Korea. Oh wait, we get real things and all they get are pieces of paper. Ask any free trade theorist. I remember when I used to believe in that stuff too. I used to be a religious believer too, until I figured out there was no real evidence that a god exists. When there is evidence that free trade actually exists, perhaps I'll believe in it again.

I wouldn't worry about the Democrats doing anything that will disturb "free trade" nor our military involvement in foreign countries. They never have before. It's just a lot of talk with at best; a little tweaking around the edges. Remember Bill Clinton' great victory over Japan and its refusal to allow U.S. auto makers equal access to the Japanese market in the mid-90s? Has to be the biggest joke ever in the name of free trade. No, the Democrats won't change anything except decreas the time needed to become corrupt from 5-10 years to a few days. ("Cleanest Congress in history" Nancy Pelosi and her support of "Abscam" John Murtha.)
FBI sting video of ABSCAM John.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Even to be charitable... is not hard to describe the past 60 years in Japan as an unbroken history of insincerity in telling the truth and in coming to terms with the past, particularly on the issue of forced labor.”

Indeed, as nationalist scholars and politicians in Japan, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have led efforts to minimize Japan’s militarist past in textbooks, the mood has hardened against reparations. In a suit brought three years ago by Mr. Tang and 44 other former laborers or their relatives, Mitsubishi Materials for the first time went so far as to deny that it had used forced labor.

In a defense that echoed comments made by Mr. Abe and other nationalist politicians, Mitsubishi’s lawyers questioned whether Japan had in fact invaded China and said they would leave the final judgment to posterity. From an article by Norimitsu Onishi in today's New York Times.

Does anything more need be said about where Japan is heading and the subject of its sincerity in expressions of regret for its WW2 actions?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Japan's view of immigrants

Most people know that Japan is not very accepting of people who want to immigrate here. There is still a strong prejudice against foreigners and those suspected of being descendants of "non-Japanese," 2nd or 3rd generation Koreans for example. Japan is still an insular, xenophobic society. This contributes to some of the huge problems some Japanese have with interacting with non-Japanese. I have seen full-grown adults shaking with fear in EFL classes because of myths and consciously promulgated falsehoods (by the government and media)about the dangers of foreign things/people.

Japan Focus has an article on the subject here. In the article, the author discusses the possible impact this ignorance will have on Japan's future future as it's population ages and dwindles. A few folks believe that Japan will have to truly open its doors to immigrants to address this. I am very skeptical that this will happen, but some believe it has to...

In London too?

Maybe I have been in Japan too long. Maybe I have forgotten how irritating thoughtless people anywhere can be to one another; how rude and inconsiderate. It's not only Japan, although I suppose that Japan is the only place about where any possibility of less than perfectly polite, considerate citizens is denied by most of the residents and a huge number of foreigners who have a "Japan is uniquely unique" fetish. Anna, in London noticed similar irritants about folks in that city too in a few posts on her blog Does that mean that we can all be irritated by the actions of strangers in big crowded places? Could it be that Japan is not so uniquely unique after all? Blasphemy!

Autumn, maybe

Yesterday morning was the "coldest" so far this year in Tokyo. There is a tradition (according to some here) that the first strongly windy day in November marks the beginning of winter. I'll settle for the beginning of autumn.

However, there was actually a strong smell of winter weather in the morning. I can't describe it, but you'd know it if you live in an area with a winter.

I don't mind the beginning of winter. My favorite seasons are fall and winter. Spring follows and summer is last. Even though I am in Japan, I still celebrate Thanksgiving with a big turkey meal. Well, big is relative. I guess our turkey will weigh maybe 7 lbs. And that will cost about $20-25. I take the day off every year. This year, it falls on a Japanese holiday.

I have not worked on Christmas for years---I believe the last time was when I was still in the Air Force nearly 20 years ago. It is not a holiday in Japan, but I take it off. Berlitz actually gave most Christmas off with pay. I have to take it off now and give up the pay for that day. We still get to enjoy it and the long Japanese New Year break. Unfortunately, since my wife works for an American financial firm, she won't get many days off this year because it is the end of the year closing for them. But she will get comp time.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Trick Question

I suppose. I was talking with manager of a foreign accounting firm who "happens to be a Japanese female." (Whatever happens to be means.) We were discussing the Clint Eastwood film Flags of Our Fathers. She found it boring because it was just about a flag and a Native American. There were too many stories in the film and she was confused and disappointed. She likes simple things. One good thing about being Japanese is that the Japanese "are simple." (Her words.) Most are of "one group"---meaning one race. She won't bother with the Japanese Letters from Iwo Jima because she believes it will be boring too. Probably be just about letters and writin' I suppose.

Anyway, this led to a short discussion about Native Americans in the US. She, of course, was concerned about discrimination as most Japanese are, unless it involves discrimination in Japan. People usually deny or excuse that away.

We were talking about the origins of Americans, and then I asked her a simple question. "Where did the Japanese come from?" She was completely shocked, as if she had never considered such a thing before. She probably hadn't. I thought for a moment that she was going to answer "From the Sun goddess." But she finally came up with "maybe Mongolia."

I didn't go further and mention that China, Korea, and parts of southeast Asia were involved too, as I was afraid that she would take offense at being told that she could have some Korean or Chinese blood. Then I said that most evidence points to Africa as the origin of the human race and she began to giggle. She thought I was joking. "But the skin color changed!!"A university-educated woman did not know that simple fact that most 3rd graders (outside of Japan?) know.

We baka gaijin are so stupid and troublesome

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Japan and Human Rights: Shameless Deception?

Some believe so. Most do not care. The Japan Times article is here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Prime Minister Abe

according to a story in today's printed Japan Times, is planning ways to make "second chances" easier for people in Japan. A second chance means if you have started a business and it failed, or you were released from your your, you will have an opportunity to try again. At present, Japan's bankruptcy laws make it very difficult to recover from a failed business venture.

Hopefully there will be some real action taken on this. There was no real mention of exactly what Abe has in mind, but improved retraining opportunities, lower business license fees, and revised bankruptcy laws would be nice. A recognition of the fact that many permanent residents of Japan are in need of these opportunities too would be a good thing for most of us. Very few want to spend their lives teaching English---at least as it is done on Japan.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Blogger wants us to use the new beta

version when the old one is still full of bugs. Don't hold your breathe for that.

Nutty ol' Kim Jong Il

North Korea said that there was no need for Japan to attend the renewed six-party talks because Japan is just a state belonging to the US. Is it wrong? Other than leeching a military off the US and depending on the US for foreign policy (other than Japan's "money diplomacy"), what has Japan done independently since the end of WW2 other than anger and insult other countries with official visits to the Yasukuni shrine? Well, Abe has promised to change some of that.

Signs of Autumn

Autumn isn't a real autumn in the Tokyo area, certainly not like a New England, Mid-Atlantic, Northern Mid-West, or Northwestern autumn in the US. It actually reminds me of northwestern Texas where once it gets below about 75 degrees, people start wearing jackets and complaining of cold. So it can be confusing knowing that it is supposed to be autumn but with weather similar to May or early June.

The key sign that autumn is finally here though is snot. Yes, snot. Runny noses, colds, flus. And the repeated constant sniffling without ever using a tissue or handkerchief. Hands, fingers, or even sleeves are fine, but one must refrain from blowing ones nose. As it was explained to me, this is because you'd just have to do it blow it again if you did so. I wonder what people do when they have diarrhea here. Go to the toilet? Wipe? Why, you'd just have to do it again.

Of course with sniffling and colds come coughs and sneezes. Commonly, open, uncovered coughs and sneezes. Cough in peoples face, sneeze in their face. Covering your mouth is polite, but in a crowded train, restaurant, or other public place, it's not really a necessity. Why do you need to be polite to strangers whom you have no personal interaction with? This is Japan. And everyone knows that stifling a sneeze is unhealthy. It is better to let it all blow out full-blast all over everyone and everything in the area.

The constant sniffling can drive non-Japanese nuts. It really gets on ones nerves. I often see that people have done Google searches for things like "How to stop her from sniffling all day" and land here. Wish I knew how, but in Japan it is something that you have to endure. It is a constant sound. Not just once a second or so, but more likely 2-3 times a second all damned day without relief. Imagine a train or office full of people doing that. Offer a tissue? Doesn't work. Punch in the nose? Tempting, but would land you in jail and reinforce the stereotype of non-Japanese as dangerous violent criminal thugs.

Men sniffle like little girls too, but often there are very deep loud sorting, snot-sucking breaks in the sniffling. In the train, at lunch, anywhere and everywhere is fine. Hacking a big goober can be an added accompaniment. I even see actors on TV do this snot-sucking to reinforce their masculine coolness. (Kimtaku, for example, does it occasionally in roles.)

Was down at a nearby 7-11 yesterday. (Setagayaku, Higashi-tamagawa 1 chome 27). A young clerk wearing black-framed glasses was stocking food and openly sneezing right on the products. Showed no embarrassment nor signs that anything at all was unusual. A little spit and snot and virus to go with your vitamin c? Then this morning I went to the same store, the female clerk was doing her sniffling-without-pause performance. I hated to let her touch anything that I was buying, but since I was getting bleach, I figured I would take the risk. At least she didn't do like the Denenchofu Precce (Tokyu) grocery store clerk a few months ago who wiped her nose with her hand and then used the same still snotty hand to give me my change.

It's Shinto, you know. Cleanliness. Purity. Japan is the cleanest country on earth. Just ask nihonjinron fundalmentalists.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Back in the mid/late-eighties when I was in college and Japan's economy was peaking, there were all kinds of "the sky is falling" stories about how much better educated the Japanese were than nearly anyone else in the history of the universe. We knew this was true because they consistently had high scores on multiple-choice paper tests. We never noticed that Japanese education is heavily weighted towards memorizing huge quantities of "facts" for little other reason than passing tests. Few noticed that a Japanese university education is a joke---little to no studying takes place in a Japanese university for the majority of "students." Foolish non-Japanese professors who come to Japan to "teach" at a university have found out about this tradition of non-study when they were asked by the fine, polite, obedient Japanese, "Why do we have to study? This is a JAPANESE university." But the idea of a superior Japanese education fit in well with the unique Japan myth.

We get to see this superior education every day. We poorly-educated non-Japanese are often shocked by such facts as "Japan is the ONLY country with four seasons." One could wonder how anyone with any basic understanding of seasons, or climate, or the earth could think this, but that would be because one is too dumb and foreign to understand Japan.

I was talking to a guy (an engineer with an American company in Tokyo) the other day and brought up male colorblindness (the tendency of many males to have some degree of colorblindness to some greens/reds. Naturally, with his superior education and strong belief in nihonjinron, as well as the knowledge that all non-Asians have blue eyes and can see in the dark like a cat, informed me that this was because of our blue eyes. Strangely enough, I never said that this was a characteristic of only blue-eyed non-Japanese, but he figured it was. I was foolish enough to believe that Japanese males were members of the human race like everyone else, but I forgot that they were different, special, unique, and much better educated.