Friday, May 30, 2008

Japanese Are Loath To Rebuild Workforce Through Immigration
Politicians Avoid Issue They See as Toxic (The Washington Post)

...Japan faces a much more fundamental threat to its future -- demographic decline that experts say will delete 70 percent of its workforce by 2050...

...among highly developed countries, Japan has always ranked near the bottom in the percentage of foreign-born residents...

...Based on a round of interviews with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and several other senior government officials and politicians, the issue is too politically toxic for extensive public discussion...

..."We really need to let the people know that the economy simply cannot be managed without the help of foreigners," said Seiji Maehara, a member of parliament and a vice president in the opposition Democratic Party of Japan...

The article continues with a reference to another possible way for Japan to pull itself out of this hole---that of actually making of easier for women to join the workforce and have and raise children.

I wouldn't expect much action on either until disaster is imminent.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Senba Kitcho kicks the bucket

The famous restaurant, Senba Kitcho, which was involved in one of the many recent food scandals has gone under. It seems that the public thought that such things as re-serving food from previous customers as new food was a bit of a problem---unlike health officials in Osaka. Short article here. (OK, for some reason, Blogger won't take that link correctly. The May 29 article is on the Japan Times site. It was also reported on TV news.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bonsai Nature

It's not a new idea. Many people have noticed that "nature" in Japan seems a bit man-made. A walk in forests in the Kanto area can easily give this sense. Some of it is obvious---platforms on top of popular mountains with trees trimmed and cut away so that those who have braved the climb up (often at least partway on stairs) can have a convenient view to ohhh, ahhh, and sugoi before taking the standard photo with the old cellphone. Some areas, such as certain ski resorts, even provide loudpeaker announcements, blaring music, and bright lights to help one enjoy a more natural experience.

At other times it is more subtle. As one walks through a forest there is a very convenient opening in the woods just at the point of some special view. Don't be surprised to see a bench there either. In some areas---such as parts around Nikko---you will notice that all the trees are planted in straight lines and are amazingly almost exclusively the same type for acres and acres. The type happens to be the cedar tree which bureaucrats decided to plant for lumber years ago with out figuring out how to harvest it economically.

More than an interest in nature or wildness, there seems to be more emphasis on the famous spot. Folks will walk though the woods ignoring everything until the reach the spot marked on their map which is officially scenic, beautiful, and famous.

There is a park near my house with a waterfalls which shuts off every evening before closing time. I just saw a falls in Kyoto with a nice concrete bed in the shape of stairs which certainly ruined the effect for me. For some reason, I think of nature as a place where the obvious, intentional impact of, and manipulation by man is less common. Stairs up a hill, music, trees lit up at night with lights, woods partially cleared for a view of the ugly city below, or for a view of a nearby hill sort of cheapen the experience. I rarely feel the urge to bring a radio along to blare at full blast as I hike or camp either.

Donald Ritchie recently reviewed a book on Japanese gardens which got me this subject again.

Two attitudes toward nature are everywhere possible: you confront it or you accept it...

[In Japan] Nature is thus not only accepted, it is also naturalized. Just as the flowers in ikebana ("living flowers") are presumed to be more flowerlike than any natural bloom (even though those seen in ikebana are, having been picked, either dead or dying), so the Japanese garden is to be more natural than nature...

Yes, man-made synthetic nature is more natural than nature. I understand. I just wonder where the wildlife is in this version of "nature." Recorded birds sounds?

I enjoy Japanese gardens, but sorry, they are neither nature nor natural. There are a pretty, but lessor imitation of the real thing. If you want to see nature in Japan, you can find it, but you gotta get far out in the sticks where the going is difficult enough to discourage most people from going, and others from "improving" it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sounds familiar, but..

it ain't Japan.

In temporary courtrooms at a fairgrounds here, 270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents....

I dunno, somehow I doubt these arrests and sentences had a heck of a lot to do with false documents...

The hearings took place on the grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, in mobile trailers and in a dance hall modified with black curtains, beginning at 8 a.m. and continuing several nights until 10...

Please don't infer that the immigrants themselves were treated like cattle.

..the immigration agent, said the criticism of the proceedings was “the usual spate of false allegations and baseless rumors”...

Yes, critics of the US gubbermint are unpatriotic idjits spreading lies. Good god man, what reason would a bureaucrat have to be anything but honest and straightforward?

Mr. Nadler said the plea agreements were the best deal available for his clients. But he was dismayed that prosecutors had denied them probation and insisted the immigrants serve prison time and agree to a rarely used judicial order for immediate deportation upon their release, signing away their rights to go to immigration court.

What?!!!! They have rights?

Linda R. Reade, the chief judge who approved the emergency court setup, said she was confident there had been no rush to justice...

Of course not. And if Linda or her friends ever get in trouble with the law, she hopes that the same type of process is applied. Even better, she'd like her hearing in a circus tent.

The immigration lawyers, Judge Reade said, “do not understand the federal criminal process as it relates to immigration charges.”

Uh-oh. Could this be a problem for the Honorable Judge Reade? If the lawyers who represented the now convicted criminals did not understand immigration law, would that not mean the the defendants lacked competent legal representation? Would that not be grounds for appeal? Would that not be unconstitutional and to say the very least, un-American?

Oh wait! The Constitution? Does that still apply to anything or is it simply a tool of pinko commies? No, pinko commies are out-of-date. I meant terrorists and their sympathizers. This is a security issue, after all, and security trumps everything.

At least there will be more jobs for real Americans at the sweatshop meatpacking plant. And it is nice to see that the USA is sticking with the policy toward immigration that has existed since the first real Americans landed at Plymouth Rock.

Full NYT article here.

Beware of dangerous foreign food

It could be a threat to the health of the public. Inspectors are not doing enough to protect us:

The agriculture ministry and the health ministry have conducted appallingly slipshod safety inspections of imported food, putting consumers' health at risk, officials of the internal affairs ministry said Friday.

In some inspections, quarantine inspectors tested samples chosen by the importers themselves. Other inspections did not cover the required number of samples.

Those inspections, the officials said, cannot be regarded as fair or trustworthy. Asahi Shimbun.

Luckily for us, we can trust domestic food as as there is absolutely no evidence of any company falsifying expiration dates, mislabeling it, reselling used food as new, or anything else, and it must be because of the strict domestic inspection system as well as the natural purity of all things Japanese.

Them thar damned sneaky foreigners need to be carefully watched by someone.

(Could there be hope? Could this be real or would a new Consumer Affairs agency end up like other agencies---putting government and industry interests above that of consumers? Let me guess.....)

On to Yasukuni, Children

The government Friday declared null and void a 1949 state-imposed ban on public schools organizing field trips to Tokyo's war-related Yasukuni Shrine.

Nothing wrong with that, after all this is a free country. What business does the government have in telling schools and school children what to say, do, or think?

A recent controversy over the shrine focused on a restriction of freedom of expression after some 40 LDP lawmakers held an unprecedented preview of Chinese director Li Ying's award-winning documentary "Yasukuni" in March.

Following the preview, which was widely taken as effective censorship, several cinemas that had initially decided to screen the film canceled it for fear of possible intimidation by rightwingers.

Well, unless one thinks in a way which offends the nutjobs.

Full Japan Times article here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Perhaps now they can wash their hands

before handling food---even at the Denenchofu McDs.

- McDonald's Japan, the nation's biggest fast-food chain, said on Tuesday it would begin paying overtime to managers of its outlets from August...

...Hiroshi Takano said he had worked 60 to 80 hours of overtime per month but was not allowed to claim for it after he was promoted to store manager despite having little discretion in setting his work hours, according to media reports....

I thought Japanese did not sue, how could this be? McDs Japan is nearly half-owned by the McDonalds Corp according to the article. However, they take no responsibility for McDs Japan.

Oh, I am still awaiting a reply from my complaints to McDs. I think I shall be waiting until hell freezes over.

Full article here while it lasts.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Another of Blinky's Follies?

Ishihara's Shinginko bank has been sinking under the weight of bad loans, so recently he and the Tokyo Assembly decided that taxpayers should bail him out.

Another one of his brilliant ideas is to move the Tsukiji fish market to a new, highly toxic site. Why worry about contaminated food from China when we can provide our own. Of course that may be a little exaggerated because the site will be cleaned up before the market is moved and everything will be OK in the end. Ishihara is no blithering idiot, after all.

The Japan Times reports:

In studies conducted from February to April, the metropolitan government detected benzene, which can be a cancer-causing agent, at up to 43,000 times the legally acceptable level.

It also found that the groundwater of part of the site contained benzene at 10,000 times and cyanogen at 130 times the acceptable level.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The huge, gaping loophole in the child porn law will be closed according to news reports tonight. Possession will soon be illegal with penalties of up to 1 year in prison and a one million yen fine. A tough break for the mob.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rice shortage relief?

...Japan imports a substantial amount of medium-grain rice from the US and long-grain rice from Thailand and Vietnam.... protect its domestic rice protection, Tokyo stocks the imported rice until it deteriorates, then sells it as livestock feed on the Japanese market...

..."Japan would be very happy to dispose of this rice to the world market, but it cannot do so without US acquiescence"....Yahoo Malaysia

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I can (not) feel it in my bones...

nor anyone else's for I am not Japanese.

I was thinking about this while I was watching a Three Stooges show on the subway coming home this evening . I am not a fan of the Three Stooges, but I pass the time watching it on the train everyday. It seems strange that one can watch an old American TV show from the 1930s on the subway in Tokyo, but we are in a hi-tech world.

To enjoy this show, all one has to do is watch the train exits when it stops at a station and the doors open. Everyone will then rush for the exit as if the conductor is going to slam the doors shut and take off before anyone can get off. There will be about 20 people stuck in the doorway at the same time. Then, as soon as they are out of the door, the rush ends and folks start walking at the normal dead-one-legged-turtle-in-molasses-in-January Tokyo pace while playing games in their cell phones.

The show isn't over yet. As soon as most have pushed, shoved, kicked, gouged, scratched and clawed their way through the door---politely, of course, this being Japan---the folks outside begin a reverse Three Stooges move.

However, just as they start, the guys or gals who have either been sleeping or too lazy to stand up and move until the last possible second make a mad, insane, rush for the door and push, shove, kick, gouge, scratch and claw their way out as the others begin to push, shove, kick, gouge, scratch and claw their way in. Politely.

There is always an element of mystery to this. What happens to the one who stands in front of the doors at each major station and acts as if he/she has no clue that someone might want to get off or on the train and so remains in everyone's path---like a rather dull tree stump---as the doors open?

As I watched this rerun for the millionth time, my mind wandered. I started thinking about an aikido-jujitsu (juujutsu) martial arts course that I was conned into taking for a few months last winter. The way it was taught, it would take someone about 30,000 years to become proficient enough to whup a marshmallow, but that wasn't my problem.

The problem was that as a non-Japanese, I was unable to feel my opponent's "bones move". Our esteemed sensei mentioned in one of the early classes that this was a key technique, but that only Japanese could feel it. I think he said that for my benefit as I was the only non-Japanese in the class. I would have asked "Then why are you taking my money if you cannot teach me?" but I didn't really get what he was talking about. It made no sense to me, so I thought I must have misunderstood. I was corrected on this later.

Anyway, the students then proceeded to practice feeling each others' bones move. He had me try too, even though I was evolutionarily unequipped for the task. Strangely enough, nobody else in the class could feel their opponents' bones move either. Obviously, nobody was Japanese even though everyone claimed to be. Chinese spies? North Korean agents? Sony Clones? (Wait---would a Sony clone be Japanese? What if it were made in a Sony factory in China?)

There were other things that were way over my non-Japanese head in the course. Once our fearless sensei was teaching us how to defend against a knife attack. He chose me as the guinea pig as he seemed to like to do. He handed me the wooden stick that we used to simulate a knife and told me to stab him.

I did. Right in the gut. Would have been a very painful, deep, and nasty wound were it a real knife. He told me to do it again. What a man! Knifed and asks for more! This time he blocked me and avoided the stick in the gut.

I never did master that move as getting stabbed in the stomach and then asking someone to do it again did not seem to be a good idea to my befuddled non-Japanese mind.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

How Uncle Sam treats detained non-citizens

Anyone who immigrates to another country is taking risks, as they often have few or no real rights. Although it does not excuse Japan for its polices---the bandwagon "everyone does it" nonsense---the US has become increasingly hostile to immigration. Should one be detained by US immigration at the border, he/she has entered a no-man's land in which there are no constitutional rights.

The Washington Post has a series on some of the abuses, neglect, and incompetence in the US system which has resulted in the death of a number of detainees. This is bound to occur when a bureaucracy is responsible for ensuring people are treated decently. After all, it is not likely that anyone in a position of authority will have to accept personal responsibility for anything. Just go before Congress and say that "We're trying" (while they're dying). Will the public care enough to force substantial changes? One wonders. Uncle Sam does not. Just a small example:

Last year, the Arizona State Board of Nursing heard that nurses at Eloy [a federal immigrant detention facility] were being required, without enough training, to take the chest X-rays that new detainees are supposed to get to check for tuberculosis. The board sent ICE [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement] a terse, two-sentence letter. "Nurses are not radiologists," it said. "Taking X-rays is out of the scope of practice for a nurse, and a nurse who does so is violating the Nurse Practice Act and will be subject to discipline on his/her license." The response from Washington: "Nurses working in federal government facilities are not subject to state licensing requirements."

I suppose little more can be expected for immigrants---look at how the some members of military have to live in in substandard slum-like housing on posts and bases in the US after returning for war. Seems like military housing is back in the Carter era again.

The most recent Washington Post article is here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Japan's John Gotti

After about the unluckiest day of the last 12 years or so---my 3-day old Canon G90 electronic dictionary blew up; I was stranded 30 minutes from home with no money because UFJ bank & ATMs were closed yet again; and my Canon printer suddenly stopped working---it was refreshing to read an article on the y*k*za. Like the mafia, there is romanticizing about them by some. Others fear them very much.

About 20 years ago, there was a book published by 2 American journalists which was appropriately titled The Y*k*za: Japan's Criminal Underworld. I read the original and the updated version too, but always wondered just how accurate it was. The journalists were based in the US and had access to US law enforcement officials as well as some in Japan, but I wondered how much they could really do working from what appeared to be even more outside than the norm for non-Japanese reporters.

A former reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun, that sometimes surprising right-wing newspaper---it actually published a decent book on Japan's WW2 responsibilities---has written an article about the y*k*za in the Washington Post. He was the first non-Japanese to work for the Yomiuri.

Most Americans think of Japan as a law-abiding and peaceful place, as well as our staunch ally, but reporting on the underworld gave me a different perspective...

...In Tokyo alone, the police have identified more than 800 yakuza front companies: investment and auditing firms, construction companies and pastry shops. The mobsters even set up their own bank in California, according to underworld sources...

...In the good old days, the yakuza made most of their money from sleaze: prostitution, drugs, protection money and child pornography. Kiddie porn is still part of their base income -- and another area where Japan isn't acting like America's friend...

[On the relatively recent law banning producing and selling child porn, but not possessing it] The ban is so weak that investigating yakuza who peddle child pornography is practically impossible. "The United States has referred hundreds of . . . cases to Japanese law enforcement authorities," a U.S. embassy spokesman recently told me. "Without exception, U.S. officials have been told that the Japanese police cannot open an investigation because possession is legal." in Japan of criminalizing simple possession, but some political parties (and publishers, who are raking in millions) oppose the idea...

[US law enforcement officials] can't even keep the yakuza themselves out of the country. Why? Because the national police refuse to share intelligence...

I knew that child porn had been made "illegal" several years ago, but I did not realize that Japan did not ban the possession of child porn. I did know that the Japanese police have always been very, very reluctant to share its information with foreign police.

The reporter then goes on to describe what he calls the biggest story of his life: The deal that the FBI made for the "John Gotti of Japan" to be flown to the USA for a liver transplant.

He had to drop that story and resign from the Yomiuri Shimbun due to pressure from some very kind folks with an unusually small number of fingers. The Japanese police themselves were, of course, very helpful.

The author ends the article with a confession of bias:

Of course, I'm a little biased. I don't think it's selfish of me to value the safety of my family more than the personal privacy of crooks. And as a crime reporter, I'm baffled that the Japanese don't share intelligence on the yakuza with the United States.

And I am baffled that the US, and other governments, tolerate that.

Is it safe in Japan to even refer to this article? Well, its only being done here in order for someone in the know to "debunk" it so as to to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. After all, this is not the Japan of temples & shrines, geisha girls, tea ceremonies, sake, and onsen that we all know.

Full article at the Washington Post here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Yet another less than optimistic view of Japan's future

Again, what exactly is the government doing? Waiting until disaster is imminent before seriously moving to do something as it has done historically?

Robert Feldman, managing director of Morgan Stanley in Japan, says conservatives in the government and bureaucracy are staging a rear-guard action to defend Japan's old, insular way of doing things. "In the end, what the traditionalists prefer is the current system with themselves in power," he said in his Tokyo office. "For those of us who are concerned about Japan's economy, for its place in Asia and its ability to sustain living standards for an aging population, that sort of traditionalist position is incomprehensible." A 20-year veteran of Japan's reform battles, Mr. Feldman says reform goes through a kind of "hog cycle." When hog prices are good, farmers produce more hogs, so prices go down and they produce fewer hogs. In the same way, government hastens reform when the economy worsens, reform revives the economy and the pressure for reform eases, as it has in the past few years.
...The question is not so much whether Japan can change, but whether it can change fast enough... The Globe and Mail.

More bowel trouble for ex-PM Abe

The Women's Active Museum on War and Peace in Tokyo has published a booklet on sex slavery in WW2 detailing how the women were recruited and what happened to them.

During the war, the Imperial army set up "comfort stations" to prevent soldiers from raping local women and from contracting sexually transmitted diseases. The military also tried to boost morale by "assigning" women to the troops.

Thousands of women and girls in Japanese colonies or occupied areas were either recruited by force or coaxed into becoming comfort women, and beaten if they tried to escape from the stations. Military doctors surgically enlarged the vaginas of those victims who were not yet fully matured.

Let's hope ex-PM Abe and his fellow right-wing nutjobs do not get too upset and lose control over this. After all, they claim that there is no evidence (that is acceptable to them) that the Japanese Imperial Army was much more than an innocent bystander. It was all contractors...

Tokyo getting greener

With the world's greatest love of and respect for nature, one wonders how Japan and Tokyo could be any greener than it already is. I personally love being able to take walks through all the virgin forests, natural parks, and wilderness areas here. To see all the wildlife and listen to the sounds of nature---old men with transistor radios blaring etc.

Now Tokyo is going even further:

Tokyo's Big Change: the 10-year plan, which was laid out in 2006, responds to growing environmental concerns worldwide and aims to boost the capital's image as it prepares to bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

"Tokyo has always worked on increasing greenery, but we'd like this Olympics bid to be a tail wind," said Motoaki Kobayashi, the metro official in charge of the environmental section's greenery plan. "To host an Olympics, it is essential that the city be environmentally organized."

Some might argue that it would be more accurate to say that Tokyo has always worked on increasing the tonnage of concrete laid, but those folks don't understand either Japan or nature. Nature, you see, is man-made just like bonsai. And the point of increasing man-made nature is to increase biodiversity, such as the 2016 Olympics.

Well, at least there will be a few square meters not covered with concrete. The question is: Will the "Sea Forest" be offset by denuding and concreting over a wooded area elsewhere? I'd wager yes.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Warning! Do NOT read

on a full stomach. A NYT journalist has done a report on Japan in which he seems to have believed everything he was told by representatives of the government. You'll learn how Japan's special love of nature is causing crow problems and how things would just be all gooder if we could return to the past. No, not as far back as when peasants were forced to supply the wonderfully kind samurai class with food, but at least before the crow problem got all out of hand due to Japan becoming a foreign country.

Check the blog Shisaku for the story and a link.

A barf bag might be advised when you read the NYT/IHT article. (Then again, you could die laughing, though if you pay taxes in Japan you probably won't.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Speaking of Denenchofu and mysterious Japan

A fellow commented on a slightly different version of this photo taken in Denenchofu saying that it showed the juxtaposition of the old and new in Japan.

I had never thought of that. I was thinking of something else entirely. I should have realized the deeper uniquely unique Japaneseness represented by the photo. Everyone has heard that Japan is a fascinating mixture of the old and new. Why, you can find a "new" vending machine right in front of an "old" building. Where else but Japan?

I have always wondered why this is "true." Could it just chaotic zoning laws? A lack of urban planning as even Blinky Ishihara has mentioned? It is actually hard to find much preservation of old things in Japan unless it is a temple or something. Old buildings and houses will be razed without a second thought. Some will protest, but the government, bureaucrats, and construction companies are rarely persuaded by mere citizens.

Anyway, every time I pass that building from now on, I will remember that it represents something uniquely Japanese and not just a bright yellow and white vending machine in front of an old building with bright, blue paint on it near the less well-off part of Denenchofu. This sort of thing does not exist elsewhere.

(The longer I live here and the more people I get to know, the less "different" the average Japanese becomes. Donald Richie, in his book The Japan Journals, stated that some guys from Ohio can be more different than guys from Japan. How perfectly true, to the disappointment of the uniquely unique nihonjinron Japan crowd.)

Denenchofu, the customer-free zone

Denenchofu Tokyo (Ota-ku) is an interesting place. It is quite expensive in nearly every part, but especially so on the hill above the station. Lots of TV stars and sports figures live in the area.

There is a small shopping area---perhaps it could be called a "downtown." The interesting thing about it is that you almost never see a customer in any of the shops. In fact, even if one wants to shop in one, it might be a bit difficult as the hours can be somewhat irregular. Then there are the prices. One woman remarked that the shops there all had old products at double the price. This is only a slight exaggeration.

Some people think that these shops might be operated for tax purposes. Take a loss on your business and write down your overall tax bill. Whatever it is, given the price of real estate in the area, it is hard to believe that most of those shops are not losing tons of money.

There are a few places with customers---the drug store with discounted prices which are still higher than the surrounding areas; Denenchofu McDonalds, where hygiene is a dirty word; over-priced Precce, the only grocery store nearby; the aerobics school for kids; and the English school (not "downtown" but near the station.)

The latter two seem to have a good arrangement here. The kid's aerobics school is said to have a relationship with a TV station. That TV station often uses children in some of its programs. Guess what one of the sources for the children is? It is so popular that the parents are said to have to undergo interviews to put their children in the aerobics class.

The English school is said to have made a sweet deal with the powers in Denenchofu. No other English school will be given permission to open in the area. Sort of a competition-free zone.

Okusawa, which is the next station up the line---or a 10 minute walk away---has many small shops and is bustling compared to Denenchofu. The folks there even appear to want business. It seems that they are not very interested losing money to lower taxes, or to make special deals with English schools.

*8 May 2008: Somewhat properly proofread and corrected.*

Osaka's Senba Kitcho serving leftovers

This has not been in the news much. I saw a story on the news Friday evening (posted below) but not much else.

This company got caught in a food mislabeling scandal late last year. Apparently, the re-serving of food occurred prior to that. This is not some kind of mystery of the Orient puzzle. Everyone whom I have talked to about this thinks it is disgusting. Except, apparently, the government. Were it a restaurant run by non-Japanese or one using imported "untouched" food from a foreign table, would the media and the government be so complacent? Or would there be endless reports on TV and in magazines? Would the government and bureaucrats be lecturing foreign companies and governments and be warning the public about the dangers of foreign food?

The Asahi Shimbun had a brief report in English here.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Mmmm...Used Food Served in Osaka

Just heard on the news that a restaurant in Osaka got caught re-serving food that had been previously served to another customer. Seems they would take such items as "untouched" tempura, refry it and serve it to another. According the the Osaka Health Department, this violated no laws as long as nobody got sick. Great!!! Let's go out to eat in Osaka! What's that? Someone has gnawed half the meat off of your chicken leg? Don't worry about it. If you get sick, the Health Department will maybe have a meeting and debate having the restaurant owner make a very sincere apology if it isn't too much trouble.

Doesn't this make you wanna barf? Would it be alarmist to say that one cannot trust any food anymore? The Japanese media has warned us off of all Chinese food. They have not warned us off Japanese food, but the repeated scandals over the last year (and remember, these are only the ones that come to light) are enough to make one hesitate to eat Japanese food. Well, not really as we'd starve, but it is enough to cause more than a little concern.

Is there a functioning government in Japan? What does it do except build roads and bridges to nowhere and debate trivia? There have been no investigations, no new regulations or laws pertaining to Japanese grown/produced/served food have there? Why not? It can't be because they are too busy trying to resolve the pension scandal as that has dropped off the radar. WTF do those old, bald-headed, gummers actually do for their salary?

I believe the name of the restaurant is *Kicho, supposedly another old and respected establishment. Sachiko Yuki was the one apologizing and a Mr. Yuki (her husband?) was also involved. I will have to confirm that later.

*6 May 2008: It is Senba Kitcho in English.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Assimilation in Tokyo: The Mama Chari

In order to live comfortably in a foreign country one has to adapt. Japan is no different even though non-Japanese can never understand Japan. Still, when in Rome...

I hope to cover some aspects of life in Tokyo that I rarely see discussed anywhere beginning with how to ride a mama-chari like a Tokyoite:

One of the most common means of transportation in Tokyo is the bicycle. Two types are very common: the mama-chari (heavy, slow handling, clunker) and the imitation "mountain bike." We will look at the mama-chari with the understanding that the fake mountain bike can be utilized in nearly the same way.

Let's look at purchasing your mama-chari and setting it up like a true Tokyo-ko:

Purchase. Something to keep in mind is that although these things can be found anywhere, it is always best to get a good brand-name. The fake mountain bikes are available with many famous brand-name decals on them. You can choose from the standard Giant, or such exotic types as Levi or maybe even Frito-Lay. For the mama-charli your choices are fewer, but Tokyu department stores sell their high quality brand and I have seen a genuine Burberry sold in a Burberry shop. Go for one of these babies because you know that a heavy low-grade steel bike with a famous name stuck on it at a higher price has to be good. Be sure and ask the salesperson detailed questions about the bike and cycling in general as you can be sure that they know what they are talking about. After all, why else would they be selling them?

Set-up. The first step after you get your finely crafted, high quality machine home is to set it up properly. If you have ever ridden a bicycle of any type, now is the time to forget everything that you learned.

1. Let's begin with the seat. The very first thing you must remember is that the seat can never be too low. You should at least be able to plant both feet firmly on the ground while sitting on the wide, pillowy saddle. In fact, if your rear could drag the ground while riding, it would be nearly perfect.
When pedaling, your knees should come up to about your chin---be careful and don't knee your nose! From the side, a properly positioned cyclist should look something like a person on a squat toilet.

2. Tires & Wheels. Let's prepare our tires next. You may find that the shop where you bought it has filled the tires with air. This is for shipping purposes only. You will find a valve on the round steel things that the tires are attached to. (Bummer if yours are aluminum. These should be avoided as they can cause stopping when brakes are applied.) Remove the cap and press on the valve. Let most of the air out. Your tires should be at minimum 50% flat when you are riding it. The wheels themselves should be properly dished. This is more accurately referred to as "tacoed." If yours are not, remove them from the bike and loosen some spokes on one side or the other. Then either run over each wheel with your car or jump up and down on them until they assume the approximate shape of a taco shell. These steps will make it easier for you to wobble from left to right.

3. Brakes. The pads should be a well-aged hard rubber. When applied, they should make a loud squealing sound. Make sure, however, that they cannot lock the wheels no matter how hard the brakes are applied. Your feet are your main braking source. Brakes are for irritating and scaring pedestrians so that they will get out of your way.

4. Bike bell. This is a required item. They vary in size, but look something like the bells used in boxing. The difference is that there is a little thumb thingy for you to clang the bell with. This, along with the squealing brakes, helps assure that you as a mama-chari rider get the proper respect from those who interfere with your god-given right to the sidewalk.

5. Lights. Legally required for riding after dark. Don't worry much about these as you don't want to be the only fool using them. Remember, the nail that sticks up gets banged down.

6. Handle bar. You probably won't need to adjust this as long as you can comfortably rest on it while reading your e-mail, playing video games, reading your book or newspaper and those other things you may do to keep your mind occupied while riding. Some folks use baskets on the front to help make them even more comfortable as they can then rest almost the entire arm from elbow to wrist on something. Remember, using these are optional. The cool stud and police officers can show their mama-chari riding skills and all-around manliness by riding with one or no hands in crowded areas. Since you will likely be riding while doing other things with your hands, handlebars are of limited use.

7. Mirrors. Very important. Adjust these so that you can look at and admire yourself as you ride. Can be valuable for women to use for applying make-up while riding. Can also assist in properly picking one's nose. WARNING! Do not improperly adjust these so that you could see someone approaching from behind. This could result in such bad habits as awareness of surroundings and anticipation of danger. These types of mama-chari riding errors will be covered later in part two: Riding your mama-chari.

Off for Golden Week?

If you have an hour or so, you might want to listen to Arubito Debito's speech at the Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan. He discusses his new book Handbook for newcomers, migrants, and immigrants to Japan, as well as other issues which should be of interest to anyone of any nationality---including Japanese---in Japan. He even mentions ol' Blinky Ishihara, without whom no discussion of discrimination would be complete but he also discusses much more and talks about why immigration is vital for Japan.

Interestingly Amazon Japan search brings no results for the title, or either author. I have e-mailed them to find out why. Amazon US will receive the next if the answer is not believable.

**2:17pm: Amazon sent me a link. Note that it is in Japanese (I had searched in English for an for a book primarily targeted at non-Japanese---how silly of me).**

US energy policy

The McCain-Clinton gas holiday proposal is a perfect example of what energy expert Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network describes as the true American energy policy today: “Maximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.” Thomas Friedman column in the NYT.

Well, we can forgive Hillary for her idiocy on this one as she had a buzz from the last few shots of grain alcohol she had while relaxing from her spring grizzly hunting trip with her long-time NRA friends. Plus we have to allow that she is still dealing with personal nightmares from her combat experiences in Bosnia.

John is a Republican so we have to expect that the answer to everything is to cut taxes.

The funny thing is that neither will be president this summer so they won't have to worry about dealing with economic problems. They only need make absurd proposals.