Saturday, January 31, 2009

There was a news report earlier about how people in China are being laid off just at (Chinese) New Year because of the recession in the US. The program, being a US news and exaggerate-if-it-has-entertainment/shock-value program, made it appear that huge numbers were being fired. This is not really shocking news, so we'll assume that it is an accurate report.

If so, one has to wonder how some countries, especially Japan and China, have allowed themselves to get in such position. China could be given a bit of a pass perhaps, since it is still a developing country and its many of its citizens are not wealthy enough to become "consumers" yet.

But Japan, despite all the old goofballs whining about foreign money and clammering for a return to the Jomon Period, has spent the last 60 years ensuring that it remains dependent on the US for both a market and a military. Developing its own market (and foreign policy) has been an afterthought thought of only after the US leaned on the retrogummers.

While the moans and whimpers are that this was all for the benefit of evil US capitalists and their dirty foreign money (the money is OK, it's the possible foreign control of money---investment---that is evil) it seems to have helped consumers too. An obvious example: Had there been no US pressure, there would have been no Uniqlo had the Japanese tradition crowd continued in their way. Or at least it would have been much more difficult to start. Remember the "Large Store Retail Law"*?

Regardless, one has to wonder what is wrong here? Countries that seem to very unhealthily dependent on the whims of the US consumer are now complaining about consumption and debt in the US. If the improbable should happen and there is a long-term change in the borrowing and spending habits of the US and consumption does fall (along with the dependence on foreign borrowing), do these folks have any alternative plans that does not consist selling of industrial goods to China so that it may produce and export products to the US? Or do they plan to mostly go back to what they've been doing for decades. Change in China seems possible, even likely. Change in Japan....

The other side of the coin is, will the US really change? Wonder where the money for the possible 1-2 trillion dollar deficit the country will face will come from? Two guesses.

* I can't find a link to anything other than extracts, but as I remember it, the Large Store Retail Law restricted stores with a floor space over a certain size from opening in an area unless several hurdles were cleared and the owners of small shops in the area agreed. Owners of small shops tend not to agree to business suicide. (A link to a very good explanation found here.)
On the train home, I was feeling somewhat relieved after nearly 3 weeks of doing generally repulsive work in order to earn enough cash to delay starvation when the recession really hits Tokyo. Finally, I could see light at the end of the tunnel, even though I fear that the light may be a blazing inferno.

That pleasant feeling didn't last long, for at Roppongi station a crowd got on forcing me into a close enough to lip-lock position with a guy who was having what appeared to be severe neck spasms. His pumpkin was jerking unpredictably from one side to the next to such an extent that I was flinching for fear of a concussion.

To make the ride more pleasant, another fellow was snuggling up against me on the left and enjoying a big wad of gum. I admit a certain lack of tolerance for gum chewing etiquette in Japan, because when I was about 5 my parents, grandparents, teachers and about every other person over 6 would tell me not to chew with my mouth open and not to snap and pop gum in other people's ears. So naturally, I was not especially happy that a fifty-odd year old adult male was doing it when we were enjoying such an intimate moment.

Since I didn't know how to handle this situation the Japanese way (when I ask my Japanese friends about these sorts of things they just laugh and are not helpful at all) I had to escape somehow. I tried to recall the pretty freckle-faced lady with whom I had shared a moment of prolonged eye contact with days earlier. No luck. All I could see was the image of Shintaro "Blinky" Ishihara chewing gum and having similar neck spasms, so in desperation, I tried another line of thought before Ol' Barcode-head Fujiwara intruded too.

I started out thinking about how lucky we are to be living in a land where the government can be trusted to do what is right for the country. How nice it is to see someone take action to resolve the economic disaster that Japan is facing. After all, this time it appears that it will be much worse than the 1989-2005 Japan recession. (Yea, I mean 2005.)

I felt a bit confused though, as I don't believe that I have met a single human being, Japanese, American, Australian, New Zealander, British, or whatever (if I may refer to non-Japanese as fully human) who believes a damned word that MangaMan Aho and his merry band of old geezer retrodreamers say. Does MangaMan even believe himself?

How strange it had felt to see how folks from outside the US were so interested in President Obama's inauguration. After all, many of those folks were in Japan for the long-term and in theory the actions of the Japanese government would have a much bigger impact on their future. Even some of the most extreme idiots and liars who write editorials and columns for certain Japanese newspapers "admire" Obama. Just a day or so earlier my acquaintance in the Japanese bureaucracy had told me about an editorial* he had read that gave Obama a lot of credit for the ability to raise money as Obama had charged people $200-$2000 each to attend his inaugural speech.***

Then I tried to think a little more seriously. That was difficult after weeks of doing a job which requires a 2nd grade education and discourages---even punishes---thought, but I dimwittedly came up with something that everyone else already knew. The politicians who run this country are not going to be able to do anything to pull Japan out of its mess. The country decided decades ago to sell its soul** for access to the US market and to allow the US to provide it with a military. Nobody forced it, it was a conscious, calculated decision, and there has been no alternative seriously considered since. Despite how much the gummers who want to return to grandpa's days complain, they cannot do without foreign money or the US. And they know it.

I then realized why people are looking to a foreign country for inspiration, for there is truly no hope for the bunch running this country.

On the bright side, at least my close train buddies didn't have colds.

*He could not recall where he read it, but he thought it might have been Yomiuri.

**( 2 Feb 2009) It can be argued, as R. Taggart Murphy does (and others have) that Japan took this course because it was its best option for recovering from the devastation of WW2. That, however, does not explain or excuse continuing along the same path for 60 years.

***(5 Feb 2009)Yes, some private parties and events for VIPs are said to have cost to $2000 or more, but the speech was a public event. I specifically asked him and was told that according the article, the supposed fees were to attend the inaugural speech.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I'm special

I have a Mac. I love my Mac.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ouch, that hurts

...We already have a country that operates on the notion that it can mass-produce the poor and force young people to join the military and go off to fight on a battlefield somewhere. That would be the US...Minoru Morita in his interesting new book, Curing Japan's American Addiction.*

and it especially hurts because it is so close to true, except only certain young people go and many of them are either poor or not far from it.

Mr. Morita has some interesting things to say in the book, but unfortunately he seems to have an extreme form of the affliction that Paul Krugman had when he was in his NYT columnist blame-every-bad-thing-in-history-on-George Bush mode (before Paul won his Nobel Prize). Morita, however, blames everything wrong with Japan on Bush, Koizumi, and---naturally and most especially---the US.

Life in the shadows, the result of a vast US conspiracy by Bush, Koizumi, the LDP, and evil, evil, yes we do mean EVIL foreign money.

*Available in exchange for your evil foreign money at or for pure Japanese yen at Amazon Japan.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

MacP*ssed and more

Posts will continue to be very few (if any) for the next few weeks due to several unexpected and less than enjoyable events---including being MacScrewed by my brand new "It just works (occasionally)" Mac which cannot stay connected to the Internet. My MacFan MacBuddies have all become unavailable since I bought the fine piece of MacCrap and began to fight with it in what little free time I have had in the last week. After a very perceptive "It shouldn't be doing that," I get a quick wave goodbye and a departing "take it to the Apple store and let them deal with it." Carry a desktop to Ginza? Guess I'll have to carry my whole LAN setup too. Hope they know more than all the folks in a similar mess who are posting on the Apple Support Forums.

But before I return to the usual nasty, nasty workweek tomorrow, a quick (?) post.

First, from the New York Times:

...a group of former prostitutes in South Korea have accused some of their country’s former leaders of a different kind of abuse: encouraging them to have sex with the American soldiers who protected South Korea from North Korea. They also accuse past South Korean governments, and the United States military, of taking a direct hand in the sex trade from the 1960s through the 1980s, working together to build a testing and treatment system to ensure that prostitutes were disease-free for American troops...

That story rings very true. I was a military policeman---the USAF version, Security Police---in South Korea. I don't remember any "raids" to check the VD status of the so-called"hostesses" (I was not on "town patrol"), but I do know that they had to have a number to check so that they could be identified should they transmit an STD. They were supposed to have it on their bra. This was a well-known fact, and if I recall correctly, everyone was informed of it their first week in country during in-processing. The US military was very aware of all this, and it is impossible to believe that the ROK government was not actively involved in the whole process. South Korea was not even close to being a democracy at the time.

Next, on the blog, Observing Japan, Noah Smith has been guest blogging for Tobias Harris. Yesterday, Mr. Smith posted his views on productivity versus working hours in Japan.

We know about the long hours most full-time employees work in Japan, but that does not necessarily mean that everyone is actually working all those hours. In the early 90s, I lived in Toyama City and worked for a small factory that produced heavy machinery for cutting marble. I can't really say what my job was exactly other than being the token Caucasian, except that I was supposed to handle the rare English language telephone inquiry as well as proofread and rewrite various documents and pamphlets.

When I first started, I would get an assignment first thing in the morning that would take about two hours to complete. As soon as I was done and wanted something else to do, there was much confusion and the sound of air being sucked through teeth. That two or three hours of work was supposed to take me all day.

I soon learned the game, and began to make sure that I took all day to complete my assigned 2-3 hours of work. In the rare case that something else came up, I was able to finish quickly (after properly pretending that I was under pressure to do so) and go to the new task.

I was lucky enough to be able to help the guys on the shop floor too, especially when they went to another factory to repair machines there---something they often did, even though they may not have made the machines. When there was work to do, people got very serious and and didn't play around. However, when faced with 4 hours of work and 8 hours of time, they were exceptionally skilled actors. By that I mean that they could not fool anyone into believing they they were actually working hard, but they could act like they were working.

I remember once when I was working with them, we ran out of work to do about an hour or so before official quitting time. We had 4-5 guys and about 50 small screw heads to paint on one of the machines that we were building, so we all got small paintbrushes and some paint and proceeded to take the next hour to do what one man could have done by himself in half that time. I went home afterward, being the guy who was not really an employee, but just someone working there to "have good memories," while most of the others stayed. I have no idea how they faked working for the rest of the evening.

I think I could write a book about similar things that I have seen, or heard of, or been involved in since I returned to Japan nearly 10 years ago. I have a fairly well-paying part-time job from spring through fall that I got after watching a guy take one full week of 8 hour days to paint the stairs and walkways of a 3 story apartment building, even though it should have taken no more than 2 days. Some people do work very hard at real work for idiotically long hours. Others pretend to do so.

Japan's productivity has been behind that of the US in most areas in most years except for perhaps a short period during the bubble years. I am personally so used to working at what would have been considered a snail's pace at any job I had in the US, that it would be a huge adjustment to work at a US company again. That is not meant to imply that everyone is a hard or productive worker in the US.

I hope to be able to post a few more times over the next few weeks, but as mentioned there will be very few.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Embarrassing the government

Tetsushi Sakamoto, the vice minister for internal affairs and a lawmaker from Aso's Liberal Democratic Party, on Tuesday apologised for his comments about homeless people who spent the New Year's period in a Tokyo park.

...He had said Monday: "I wonder if those people really have the willingness to work."

He suggested that volunteers who offered the homeless tents and free meals during New Year's, Japan's most important holiday, had political intentions to embarrass the government...From AFP here.

Why would the volunteers need to embarrass the government? It seems to be doing an outstanding job of that on its own.

With that, this blog goes on hiatus. It should be back soon.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

"First, define democracy. Then, using your definition of democracy, explain whether Japan is or is not a democracy."

That was one of the essay questions on the final exam in a Politics of Japan course I took in university. I, and everyone else, was prepared for the latter part, but the first part was a shock. I assumed that I knew what a democracy was, but I quickly discovered that I did not. To this day, I am not sure I can define just what democracy means.

I did pass the test. Did very well on it, in fact, but that was due to my answer on the second part. Commenting my definition of democracy, the professor wrote, "Do you mean like China?"

Friday, January 02, 2009 we have 2 million registered foreigners, and one in every 30 babies born here has at least one foreign parent. We are in the midst of globalization whether we like it or not," Haku said. "We have to discuss very seriously how we should involve foreign residents in building our society."...Shinkun Haku, DPJ. Full article at The Japan Times.
Ten things Japan does best.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

April 1 comes early

President-elect Barack Obama can explode the fear among world leaders that he is a closet protectionist by making his flagship foray into international trade waters the U.S./Japan FTA...

...the recently negotiated agreement between the U.S. and South Korea sent a jolt throughout Japan similar to the shock they received over NAFTA. (Huh? I missed this "jolt" entirely. Was the NAFTA jolt as unnoticeable too?)

...if she [Japan] wants to compete with China for political and economic influence, she will encourage the creation of "Amerippon." Oh. My. God. This is why folks should just say "no" to drugs. will take political leadership in Washington for the Japanese to create the political will to overcome their obstacles. On second thought, maybe mind-altering substances could actually help university professors who were once diplomats and who now write Op-Ed pieces. Or at least do a little bit more research.

The Free Trade Agreement with Japan can serve our economic, military, diplomatic and core values in one fell swoop. Full article here at the Washington Times. (Originally written for The Onion?)

I must be missing something here. Need more time off.