Saturday, November 29, 2008

Perhaps it is understandable that folks in Japan (and elsewhere) think that the US has gone insane:

In a sign of consumer desperation amid a bleak economy, the annual rite of retailing known as Black Friday turned chaotic and deadly, as shoppers scrambled for holiday bargains.

A Wal-Mart worker on Long Island, N.Y., died after being trampled by customers who broke through the doors early Friday, and other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man. Story at the Seattle Times here.

I do remember an incident in Tama Plaza, Kanagawa a few years ago where a group of female shoppers burst through the doors at a big sale which resulted in several going to the hospital. Fortunately, nobody died then.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The invasion of evil (baka) gaijin

Some 51.8 percent of Japanese said a rise in foreign tourists visiting Japan made them "concerned about safety" and thought "some steps should be taken" to address such concerns, according to a government survey released Thursday. Japan Times.

Remember back in the 80s and early 90s when things were simpler and folks only had to worry about sneaky, dangerous, drug-using, quasi-criminal non-Japanese spreading AIDS? Now da' gubbermint is actually tryin' to git more of them to visit the Land of Purity.

What else could be expected when people are exposed to government officials promoting xenophobia; when the media often dwells on crimes committed by non-Japanese in a way that is all out of proportion to similar crimes committed by Japanese; when nearly everything people are exposed to from childhood on claim a unique Japanese "race" which is different from all other human beings? When the government wants to take attention off of its (and society's) own failings by exaggerating problems elsewhere so as to make those of Japan seem minor in comparison, why would fear of others even be newsworthy?

Since neither the poll results nor the questions are described in any detail, It's hard to know what to make of it. There is nothing at all surprising unless one considers the 51.8% low. In fact, 48.2% not feeling concerned
(I'll generously assume this) about non-Japanese visitors could be considered progress, little or no thanks to the media and government.

However, I agree that "steps should be taken". It could be called education, perhaps. We could start with the elite then move down the ladder to the folks who think Japan is the only country that has four seasons and drinkable water.

Remember the minister (
Nariaki Nakayama) who was fired because he said (among other things) that Japanese do not like foreigners?

It's not worth worrying about. I just had to do something as I postponed my trip to the mountains for a week and had some free time for ranting.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Beware of cod sperm and enchanted backpackers

Another backpacking journalist on a quick jaunt through Japan (to cover cycling) has discovered the total weirdness of the land. Part one is here, and we are threatened with---I mean promised---more to come.

Japan on the other hand is far from business as usual, and I have been experiencing all sorts of new things here, from food to transportation to toilet technology, it has been an eye opening experience for sure. Next time though, I am going to make sure I get an adequate description of each food item before chowing down, so I can avoid eating things like Shirako, which, it turn out, is boiled cod sperm and is considered delicacy in Japan.

Although this delicacy is one I have not heard of, I will try to avoid cod sperm in the future, as it must be so common here. Sorta like the sea urchin rectums that TIME (comedy) magazine wrote about in the 80s. The article is from Velonews.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


After all the time that I have wasted worrying about the global economy, I was reassured today by my buddy, the Thunderbird MBA, who explained the rationale behind his theory of why Japan will not be seriously affected by the downturn and will possibly once again (?) take over from the US the position of the world's top economic power.

It goes like this: Since Japan's financial system has not (!?) been affected by the global financial crisis, the fact that the other major economies of the world are having serious problems will provide Japanese companies with an opportunity to increase their market share in those countries. It will also cause foreign investment to increasingly flow into Japan (where we are to assume that it will be welcomed with open arms?) I am a bit confused as how companies will be able to increase market share of shrinking markets when nobody is buying anything unless Thunderbird guy is counting on a lot of bankruptcies. Of course, there would be no moves by any of those countries to protect their weakened industries either. Unfortunately, I never pursued those points any further.

However, just for fun I mentioned the indebtedness of US consumers and government and the dependence of the US on borrowing from foreign countries like Japan and China* (why did I so enjoy emphasizing Japan as a foreign country? How could Japan be foreign?) and wondered how he thought it could be sustainable. He seemingly had no knowledge of this and could not say much about it. Well, he is working in HR...

It has been said that you can judge the size of a man by the size of the things which irritate him. I am shrinking. Rapidly.

*I linked to this below, but Japan Focus has an article explaining in very easy to understand terms the risks and dangers of this system and why this system must be reformed or replaced. Debt Man Walking, by John B. Judis---very much worth reading.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Speaking of a depression

Just after Japan's real estate bubble burst in 1989, I came to Japan for 2 years (1991-1993). At that time, Japan's economy was starting its long recession, but few average people seemed to realize it. Instead, folks were more convinced that the US was going all to hell. A lot of this was due to the 1992 US election between Daddy Bush, Willy Clinton, and crazy-man Ross Pea-rot.

Clinton was running around screaming about "the worst economy since the Great Depression" and others about the "end of the American Dream" whatever that is. The problem was that it was all believed here by many. I heard time and time again, on TV, on the train, and from people whom I knew about the end of that dream. Few had much to say about Japan's economic problems, although it would be mentioned in the press. It seems that it was not yet real to many.

It seems similar today, (at least among people I speak to*, most of whom should know better) only this time the problems of the US are very, very, real and very, very, serious. The problems have just begun for Japan too, and I suspect they will be very, very real and very, very, serious soon enough---no matter what the government, the banks, and others were claiming just a month ago. I have even had one Thunderbird MBA explain how the US problems meant that Japan would surpass the US in his imaginary world of a US/Japan who's-on-top cycle. He sorta forgot China and the fact that we may all be on a downward cycle.

John B. Judis has an extremely interesting and important article on Japan Focus in which he takes a look at the house of cards that the US/Japan/China economies are operating on:

The international monetary system is in big trouble.

For decades, the United States has relied on a tortuous financial arrangement that knits together its economy with those of China and Japan. This informal system has allowed Asian countries to run huge export surpluses with the United States, while allowing the United States to run huge budget deficits without having to raise interest rates or taxes, and to run huge trade deficits without abruptly depreciating its currency. I couldn't find a single instance of Obama discussing this issue, but it has been an obsession of bankers, international economists, and high officials like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. They think this informal system contributed to today's financial crisis. Worse, they fear that its breakdown could turn the looming downturn into something resembling the global depression of the 1930s...

...economists Brad Setser and Nouriel Roubini argue that even the implicit threat of dumping dollars--or of ceasing to purchase them--could limit U.S. maneuverability abroad.

We are all just waiting for the other (truckloads of huge) shoes to drop. See Japan Focus here for the full article.

Also see a translated essay at Japan Focus (here) by Tahara Soichiro The Tamogami Essay: The Danger of Indignation is the Heart of the Problem.”

*Polls and surveys are showing that a majority are worried about the economy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Of Dirty tap water, Autumn leaves, Nature, Trash, and Depression

Saturday morning, as I sat in Kawasaki talking to some guy who saw me studying kanji and decided to invite himself over to chat (you know, a supposedly "shy" Japanese), he began to question me about all the usual---Is Japanese difficult? Is kanji hard?; Where are you from?; Are there any Japanese there?; Can you drink water from the tap in the US?*; and so on, my mind began to wander to the subject of bovine feces (i.e. BS) and naturally on to nihonjinron.

In his book, Dogs and Demons**, Alex Kerr wrote about how folks in modern Japan were somewhat less conscious and respectful of nature (among other things) than they were in the past. One of the smaller examples he wrote of was how people were so quick to trashcan fallen leaves in the autumn.

When I was a kid, folks back home got rid of fallen leaves too, but there was no great hurry to sweep them away as soon as they fell. We never went into the woods or parks to sweep leaves off of dirt trails as we do in Tokyo, for here one must keep nature naturally natural for the convenience of humans. And, perhaps, to give the older gents something to do for their pay.

While in a nearby park a few weeks ago when the leaves had just began to change colors and fall, I was surprised at how hard it was to find any on the floor of the park. Then I discovered the reason. The park trails had been swept clean of the ugly yellow and red fallen leaves to reveal the beautiful mud-brown dirt below. (One could assume that this was done so that nobody would fall on wet leaves until one recalls that if a rare snow falls, the same trails would be snow and ice-covered until it melted.)

Then, last Friday as I was walking down a local street specifically to look at the autumn leaves, I was pleased to see that those leaves were also being swept up as soon as they fell.

Ahh, Japan. Where we humans make nature more natural than nature itself.

When the world economy seems ready to collapse into the biggest disaster since the Great Depression (and for some reason, few whom I meet seem to be concerned) perhaps I should worry about other things.

*Alas, another fine example of nihonjinron. I have run across a number of people who seem to think that Japan is the only country on earth which has safe, drinkable tap water.

**A very controversial book to some---mostly non-Japanese---as Kerr was critical of modern Japan.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another sign of autumn in Tokyo

As I was purchasing the December issue of Mountain and Valley (Yama-to-keikoku) I was just a bit worried to see that the young lady at the register was busy wiping her runny nose. I suppose that I should have been somewhat pleased that at least she was using a tissue, but her bright red nose and face made me wonder if I should just forget the purchase and leave. Why should I pay for a virus when I am usually given them for free?

As I got to the register, I was relieved when another clerk appeared and accepted the magazine. Whew! Close call, I thought---until I found that she was only going to put it in a bag and ol' Rudolph was going to ring it up, take my money and give me change and snot.

As she told me the total in a fully blocked nasal passage voice that seemed to shout "Severely infectious! Danger! Stay away!", I searched in vain for the correct change. I could not find it. I would have to accept it from her freshly mucous-coated hands.

Damn. Should I just tell her to keep the change, grab the magazine and run? No, this is Japan and that would be unheard of and probably rude on my part. I had to bear the unbearable and accept both the change and the germs from her. Couldn't be helped. Wouldn't want her to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed or anything.

After avoiding touching much of anything on the walk home, I took out my keys (must sterilize keys) and opened the door. (Bleach the handle later.) I immediately turned on the hot water, waited the 1-2 minutes for hot water to actually reach the faucet, and scalded, soaped and scrubbed my hands for at least a minute. Now I have to wonder if I will catch her little gift. Sure glad she came to work today. Thank you Kumazawa book store for having her there too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christopher Hill has done it now...

I think if we do find a solution to the problem of Darfur, it will be because we worked with China. If we find a solution to the problem of Iran, it will be because we worked well with China. Similarly, if we close this deal with North Korea, it will be because of our efforts with China. So I think China has emerged as a country with whom we have to work globally on security challenges. There are increasing signs that we can do that. China suffers at times to an extent, I think, from a caricature of what it is. It’s a really complex society. I don’t think it should be defined by one dimension, its economics, or security, or human rights. We need to look at all the issues. CHRISTOPHER HILL Full article in the NYT Magazine

Note which country is not mentioned as being the key player in talks with North Korea or anywhere else by the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and US representative at the six-party talks with North Korea.

Wonder why? A sneaky US plot to sideline a self-sidelining unnamed country? Oh, the rightists of said---or unsaid---country will soil themselves over Hill's comments.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Babbling fools

A video posted by Ken Worsley on Japan Economy & News Blog shows why those talking-head cheerleaders who appear on U.S. TV shows giving their "expert" opinions on the stock market and what you should invest in should generally be ignored. Except for Peter Schiff, most appear to have been somewhat off on their predictions. Were it not so depressing, it would be funny.

Of course many will now begin to worship Peter Schiff as the new guru of gurus.

Japan worried about Obama?

Ayako Doi writes of the Japanese response to Obama's election:

Surfing Japanese news Web sites for commentaries on the Obama victory from a key U.S. ally, I was taken aback by the skeptical, even negative, tone that prevailed...

...The most astounding article appeared in Sentaku, a monthly magazine with a reputation for objectivity and solid analysis. Writing in anticipation of an Obama victory, the magazine raised most of the same charges the Republicans had leveled against the Democratic candidate, including Obama's associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former Weather Underground leader William Ayers and "communist and socialist professors." It called him "the most dubious character in history to occupy the White House." Criticizing Obama's foreign policy statements as "abstract" and "strings of empty words such as 'consultation' and 'cooperation,' " the article concluded that under Obama, the United States would lose its position of global leadership and drag the world into "enormous chaos."

Although she says Japan has now begun to warm up to Obama, she discusses some reasons for the initial skepticism:

...Then there's the issue of anti-Americanism...the main cause of the current round of America-bashing is no doubt the Bush administration's opening to North Korea... is disturbing that no senior politician, journalist or scholar in Japan has had the courage to say that it is in the country's interest to go along with the U.S.-backed six-party talks to put a halt to Pyongyang's nuclear program and integrate North Korea into the community of nations -- or that a "solution" to the abduction problem is likely to be found only in that context.From the Washington Post here.

Perhaps Japan should just leave the six-party talks and solve the abduction issue on its own. The rest of the world will continue, though Uncle Sam may be slightly discomforted because it could not suck funds for any agreement from Japan.

Oh, wait! Japan knew---at least unofficially---about the kidnappings 25 or more years ago. At least Japanese citizens did. The government did nothing then, but now wants to play hardball with someone else's balls. As always.

Japan will not have any choice in the matter of dealing with the next U.S. president. One hopes Obama takes a fresh look at the relationship and does not simply accept the standard "The Japan/US relationship is the most important in the world" nonsense.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rules? What rules?

Why is it that I hear and read that Japanese always obey rules? Which rules? When? Where?

Its members adhered to the sacred rules of living in a Japanese neighborhood by handing out small moving-in gifts, exchanging greetings with the neighbors and, needless to say, properly sorting out their trash.

I have had a few neighbors give gifts when moving in---about once in a blue moon. Exchanging greetings? Maybe, but quite often it is sorta like Sgt Shultz and "I see nothing, nothing." OK, generally most people mostly sort out their trash most of the time except when they don't.

Anyway, the NYT has its typical article, this time on people suing to get rid of the yakuza in the neighborhood. The police, you ask? Are you insane?

The lawsuit was the first of its kind in Japan, where the yakuza’s offices tend to be out in the open. It shined a spotlight on how the yakuza — long considered a necessary evil, tolerated by, and sometimes politically allied with, the authorities — occupy a place much closer to society’s mainstream than its American counterparts do.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Aso does an Abe

"No facts have been confirmed," the prime minister told the Upper House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense when asked whether Aso Mining used Allied POWs as forced labor during the war....

...Although Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Yukihisa Fujita stressed that records at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration show that forced labor did take place, Aso repeatedly told the Diet that no factual details have been confirmed. Japan Times.

I knew MangaMan Aso was a rightist/revisionist, but up until now, I had thought he was a sharper politician than "I-quit-'cause-I-gotta-s*@t" Abe. Oops. Wrong again.

As I said, I love it when these fossils let us know exactly what they believe and where they stand. Let's hope the rest of the world is watching and listening.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Keep talkin'

I love it when the loony-birds of the right speak openly and unapologetically of their true beliefs. This will insure that the rest of the world gets the message that some of the kooks who have never accepted that Japan did anything wrong in World War 2 are still around, still in power, and still accepted by many.

Pugnaciously defending his version of Japan's role in a war that killed millions across Asia, Toshio Tamogami, 60, told parliament Tuesday that he does not see "anything wrong with what I wrote." Washington Post.

At least he has the guts to continue to defend what he truly believes, unlike Abe who expressed what he believes then claimed he didn't really say what he meant, or mean what he said, or that what he said didn't mean what it meant. Or whatever he mumbled before he retired because of bowel trouble.

Of course Tamogomi is able to stay in the news and publicize his beliefs and perhaps gain a few new believers or put some doubt about WW2 in the minds of others. Others may have a less kind reaction and take it out on Aso.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Is there something missing here?

Reiji Yoshida and Jun Hongo of the Japan Times take on Gen. Tamogami's view of Japan in Asia during WW2 and interview a few historians to get a more informed, accurate version of what Japan did during the war.

Interestingly, they wrote the following:

Japan's colonial policy, however, was largely aimed to help the economy at home, and Japan later further exploited the colonies' economies to help it continue the fight in China and against the Allies.

In Korea, Japan forced locals to adopt Japanese family names and worship Shinto, while limiting Korean-language education, which all gave rise to strong anti-Japanese sentiment.

Japan in addition inflicted devastating economic damage on China and other parts of Asia in the 1930s and '40s.

Economic damage?
Didn't the damage inflicted---especially on China---include a bit more than economic damage? Wasn't there a huge cost in human lives?

Perhaps I'm being too picky by noticing this omission.

General Tamogomi continued

Herbert Bix, the author of Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (among other things) has posted an article at Japan F0cus concerning the essay that got Tamogomi relieved:

...essay contest sponsored by a large scandal-marred construction and real estate conglomerate, the APA Group, which required contestants to write on “The True Outlook for Modern and Contemporary History.” APA's President is Motoya Toshio, the author of historical works and a key figure in political organizations supporting the Komatsu Air Base in Ishikawa Prefecture (fronting the Sea of Japan). He has strong ties to former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and other rightist politicians, including Tamogami. [2] As far as is known, superiors in the Defense Ministry's chain of command did not carefully scrutinize Tamogami’s essay. A notorious Nanjing atrocity denier, Professor Watanabe Shoichi, headed the panel of judges that awarded the prize. And the essays were apparently “solicited for the purpose of ‘steering Japan toward a correct understanding of history as an independent nation.’”

Bix then analyzes Tamogami's essay and rightist beliefs (as did Tobias Harris earlier at Observing Japan here here, and here). Bix discusses some of the Western Allies' hypocrisy during the Tokyo Tribunal which gives the right-wing some of their rational for dismissing the war crimes convictions as victor's justice. He also discusses US/Japan alliance and why it may not be so good for Japan's future by its pressuring Japan to rearm (thus playing into the right-wing's hands.):

...But the real problem with the US-Japan security relationship is that it is a poison injected into the arteries of Japan’s political system, continually weakening Japan’s commitment to its constitutional ideals.

A link is provided tin Bix's article for the text of Tamogami's essay in both English and Japanese.

See Japan Focus for the full article.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Until recently, I laughed when I would hear some politician in Japan (or to a lessor extent, a business leader) lecture the US or other countries about "free trade"---whatever that is.

I cannot do so anymore, as I can no longer consider such lectures hypocritical:

Democratic leaders in Congress urged the Bush administration on Saturday to consider using the $700 billion bailout for the financial system to aid distressed American automakers, in a prelude to what may become urgent negotiations over additional economic stimulus measures. New York Times

What is next? Over the last year, Starbucks has been having lower sales in the US; certainly, its stock has gone down. Perhaps it too is too big to fail. Walmart? Why wait? Why not send them several billion before they get into trouble. McDonalds? Why not? Dairy Queen, if it still exists, ought to get at least a billion or so as we don't wanna discriminate against smaller companies.

I may go back to the US and start up some sort of company, hire a few folks, and then wait for problems so that Uncle Sam can transfer tax dollars (or loans/investments of foreign origin) to me. Can I do that in Japan too? Why not? Get some US investors, start Happy Boy's English Fun Palace and Baked Beans and wait for failure---although in the eikaiwa racket it might just succeed. I won't even need a billion. A few million is enough for me.

From a near religious belief in "free trade" to---I don't know what else to call it---near socialism. There is a change coming and I don't think it has a lot to do with what President-elect Obama does or doesn't do. Of course, it could all just pass like the gasoline crisis did along with the sudden and short-lived embracing of greener energy sources.

Being as volatile as the markets have been recently, I am now wondering if Japan is actually closer to reality in the way it has set up its economy/markets? If only the US could get another country/region to depend on for exports while restricting/regulating access to its markets more than it does now...

Friday, November 07, 2008

I think maybe we were a little bit more dispassionate and have a little bit more perspective. I sometimes had the feeling that those who were here in the Occupation and perhaps the missionary generation felt a kind of need to almost defend Japan, explain Japan, in a sympathetic way. That's not to say that we're not sympathetic, but, coming with our academic perspective, perhaps we were a little bit more dispassionate. Japan Times

Historian Kenneth Pyle discussing his generation of Japan historians from the US who came compared to those such as Edwin O. Reischauer---one of the, if not the most influential. Ol' Eddie's books were still being using in universities at least as late as the late 80s/early 90s event though it was obvious that his view of Japan was "sympathetic" to the point of being slanted and misleading.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

There are times that I miss being in the US---in the autumn when the seasons change, in the winter when I miss a real winter, during some holidays---but I really feel like I am missing out on something big after the election yesterday. I rarely listen to post election victory speeches, but Obama's was worth hearing yesterday.

Like Mark Shields said on the Jim Lehrer Newshour this afternoon on BS NHK, I feel hope more than expectations, but still I wish I were there to get a full sense of what is happening. (It always amazes me that people who have never been to the US for more than a quick are able to confidently feel that they know so much about the country from reading the NYT or watching Michael Moore/Oliver Stone movies.*)

There are many reasons that Obama's election should be good for the US, but one of my favorites is that the right-wing in Japan apparently did not like Obama. Although this was not the main reason I voted for him, it gave me a special sense of pleasure knowing that in some small way I could piss them. In some small way other than being a non-Japanese living in Japan who does not fall for the pure, Innocent Japan nonsense that many of the more extreme espouse.

*Love that fact that some of these folks, Japanese and not, who explained to me such things as the US would "never elect a black man" have been proven, yet again, wrong. Hmmm. Perhaps things aren't as simple as one could be led to believe on a diet of newspaper editorials & opinion pieces. D'ya think, J? Well, try this one:

There is another paradox about the world’s view of the election of Mr. Obama: many who are quick to condemn the United States for its racist past and now congratulate it for a milestone fail to acknowledge the same problem in their own societies, and so do not see how this election could offer them any lessons about themselves.

(Of course the quote above would not in any way apply to Japan.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

MangaMan' curious reading habits

Although Aso is well-known for his overly publicized comic book reading habits, it appears he reads other books too. This is somewhat reassuring for a man who is leading the current second largest economy in the world.

Unfortunately, his other choices of reading material might be a bit controversial. It seems that he may like to read books by folks with similar beliefs to the SDF general who he just fired for writing an essay on those beliefs. Tobias Harris has some observations about MangaMan's more serious reading at Observing Japan.

Beautiful country continued

Fired Japan Air Force Chief Gen. Toshio Tamogami (sorry, I meant Air Self-Defense Force. Air Force sounds like a military branch) defended his and his fellow traveler's interesting beliefs:

In his first public appearance since being sacked over the essay Friday, Tamogami reiterated that Japan was not an aggressor nation and that the people have been misled by erroneous education...

"It is necessary to revise the view that Japan did wrong during the war, if it wishes to prosper as a nation in the 21st century"

Tamogami also touched on the 1995 war apology issued by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, saying the statement, now the government's official line on Japan's wartime responsibility, "needs verification."
(means withdrawn?) Full article at Japan Times.

The same old thing over and over.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Rambling holiday nonsense

November, the middle month of autumn. Cool, crisp nights with frost. Brilliant blue skies above what remains of colorful autumn leaves. The smell of woodsmoke in the air as folks light up the woodstoves or fireplaces. Occasionally, even the smell of burning coal as a few still use it for fuel. Hikes into the woods where is is easier to see wildlife as the foliage decreases and some bigger game becomes more active for breeding season. The bugle of a bull elk. The chance of seeing one of the most impressive animals in the woods---a bull moose.

Oh wait. I am having a nostalgic daydream. I am in Tokyo, Japan, which although it is the only country on earth with 4 distinct seasons (make me barf) I occasionally have trouble figuring out which clearly distinct season it is without the help of a calendar. I still very much miss being able to just walk out the backdoor and be in a forest within 5 minutes like I could as a child. I miss the ability to drive to the woods like I could as an adult in Washington state, Washington DC, or that most beautiful state of Montana without a major undertaking like it is in Tokyo.

The more I live here the more I live to get out of town and at least find some fresh air, hills, and forests. A big bonus is to see wildlife, although nothing interests me less than seeing a damned monkey. Perhaps disinterest that may change someday. But the biggest bonus is to be able to get out in the woods and not see nor hear another human for the whole day. I suppose my wife is OK, but as a city girl she has no such interests. Not in Japan anyway, but she did while in Washington and Montana to some degree. (Usually it involved her getting to eat---picking wild blueberries, or me hunting. Occasionally she enjoyed seeing a bear cub, or some other baby animal.)

Since I can't get out of Tokyo as often as I would like---which would ideally be every damned day---I have to make do with what passes for "nature" here. In order to do that, I look for nature on a much, much smaller scale. I have to ignore all the unnatural surroundings, all of the human activity, all of the noise, and all of the obviously man-made (or arranged for man's pleasure) parts of nature. For example, flood lights on at night so that we can "enjoy" cherry blossoms.

I spend a lot of time near the Tamagawa (river) as it is about the closest thing there is to natural in my part of Tokyo. I can spend hours and hours there on top of what I spend riding my rode bike along the river. There is some wildlife, mainly waterfowl which although very, very wary of humans can provide opportunities to watch, learn, and relax. (There are various species of ducks around as well as egrets, herons, cormorants and other large waterfowl.)

Quite often if someone sees me photographing in the area, they'll come up and start talking. This is not something that is all that common in Tokyo, but it seems to happen a lot there. Most of the time people will be speaking in Japanese instead of assuming that I cannot speak a word of the language. Although this can be a bit of a nuisance if I've been trying to get close to a heron to take a photo and Watanabe-san chooses that time to noisily walk up to me and start asking about the lens I am using, generally I find such encounters very enjoyable as folks speak to me as a fellow human being and don't give me the full (baka)gaijin treatment. I have learned a lot of interesting things about the birds there and the river from older guys who get all excited about the chance to tell me what they know. (Did you know that some of the lava flows still visible at times in the river were formed during volcanic activity 300,000 years ago? Me neither, until earlier this year.)

Anyway, I have spent the last 2 weekends trying to find some signs of autumn. They are here, of course, but on a different scale. It's cooler. A few leaves have started to change. I have become so desperate for fall that I have gather some of the fallen sakura leaves and have a pile on my desk. In about another month, most will have finished and be falling. Fall subtly (and officially) began in September. In small ways. I began to notice the difference in the type of winds while riding my bike by late September. Naturally, the length of the day had shortened and light angles---and thus color---had begun to change. These changes are very subtle compared to what I have been used to for most of my life before coming to Tokyo. Thus, I have found myself becoming more sensitive to them by necessity, because the seasons, the weather, and the outdoors (nature, wild areas, mountains, wildlife---not golf or other games) have always been extremely important to me.

But still, I have to get into the mountains occasionally or I will become completely insane. And within this month, I plan on at least two trips to the mountains. I won't wanna come back...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Buyer's remorse? Maybe later.

Earlier this year when Obama and McCain were ahead in the primaries, I thought that this would be the best choice of presidential candidates that the US had had in well over a decade. Well over. Once the two were officially nominated and the campaign had begun the quality of the debate sank to the usual cesspool level. Obama appeared to come out on top mainly because he played calmer and steadier by mostly keeping his mouth shut. McCain seemed to set out to destroy his own reputation and image by resorting to the petty, irrelevant nonsense that Bush had used in his campaigns. (So did the Obama campaign to some extent, but they were less aggressive about it.)

Washington state finally got around to sending my absentee ballot 2 weeks ago (I hope the effort did not strain anyone there) and I finally was able to vote. I voted for Obama even though I have never voted for a Democrat for president (I take zero responsibility for Boy George as I did not vote for him either. I did not vote for a presidential candidate when the choice was between him and AlGore--good god!---and John Kerry.) There were a lot of reasons to support Obama, many of which require more of a faith that he will do what he vaguely says he will do and a hope and prayer that he is not as left-wing as his record and as some of his colleagues in congress.

I lost any belief that he was much different as a politician than any other when he decided to opt out of accepting federal campaign finance (he broke his word, i.e. he lied) and then gave his sorry excuse for doing so. Still, I have some hope that he may live up to the promise that he showed early in the campaign. Perhaps he will do well if he can avoid the extremes of some in his party.

Obama is not, any more than other politicians, a paragon. He reneged on his promise to use public funds for his general election campaign, driving a stake into the heart of the post-Watergate effort to reform the campaign finance system. He rejected McCain's invitation to hold joint town hall meetings -- opening the door to the kind of tawdry exchange of charges that we have seen. In both instances, he put his personal goals ahead of the public good -- a worrisome precedent.

But he has engendered widespread enthusiasm in a jaded and cynical public, especially among young people. And if he does not disillusion them in the years ahead, that would be a real gift to the nation. David Broder, Washington Post.

We shall see. Let's hope he does not turn out to be another Jimmy Carter, the previous worst president in the history of the universe before Bush. Perhaps he will do well. He could hardly do worse, could he?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

We were victims I tell ya, innocent victims!

“Even now, there are many people who think that our country’s aggression caused unbearable suffering to the countries of Asia during the Greater East Asia War,” he wrote, using the term favored by Japan’s right to refer to World War II. “But we need to realize that many Asian countries take a positive view of the Greater East Asia War. It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation.” Comments courtesy of now fired Japan Air Force (which is, of course, not to be mistaken for a military branch) Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami and the NYT. recent years, nationalist politicians belonging to the right wing of the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party have waged a campaign to revise Japan’s wartime history... Full article at the New York Times.

Our rightwinger claimed that innocent Japan was tricked into entering attacking the US at Pearl Harbor and denied that Japan had invaded China and Korea and that Roosevelt, in addition to victimizing Japan was a Comintern puppet. I always knew that lefty Roosevelt was a Commie! (Guardian UK)

Although the above essay already won him $30,000 from a contest sponsored by the real estate developer Apa Group, General Tamogami also deserves the Shinzo Abe Foot-in-the Mouth Award for fearless public denial of history and furthering the cause of WW2 revisionists and apologists. He has stated that he will explain his views to the public next week. Can't wait.

Also articles here and here in case the NYT/Guardian links die suddenly.