Monday, November 30, 2009

Beware the winter wind

"Although the temperature is lower in northern Japan, in Tokyo there is no moisture in the winter air..." Yoko Tawada, NYT.

Now I know why Japan is the only country with four seasons. It is the only one on earth with absolutely no moisture in the air in winter which would mean no other country has a winter like Japan. Perhaps it's only Tokyo as the moisture has been displaced by other things.

No moisture in the winter air in Tokyo and no discernible fact-checking going on at the NYT.

1255: I am nitpicking though, the short opinion piece isn't bad.

It ain't winter yet, but Tokyo is already drier than Sapporo. At 12:45AM, Sapporo had 86% humidity, and Tokyo had 81%. Great Falls, Montana is a bit humid yet at 66%

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Imagine if there were no window-dressing, no face-saving double-talk. Imagine if there were no tatemae. Imagine if everyone just called things as they are with no adornment.

We'd all kill each other.

(Just in case there is anyone on earth who has not seen that video yet...)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bird Day Tokyo

Thanksgiving Day*. The cold frosty nights of late autumn. The leaves long gone from the trees; their remains now carpeting the earth. The men (and some women) up way before dawn, most hoping for a few inches of snow before heading out to the woods, often a trip of a few hundred yards. The women (and some men) up early to start the multi-hour job of preparing dinner. Some men and women up only a little later due to the excitement of watching men in heavily padded gear---many multi-millionaires or destined to be multi-millionaires---chase a funny looking ball up and down a sometimes snow-covered field while knocking each other silly.

No matter which these fortunate folks choose to do, there's always the anticipation of dinner and talking with relatives who have come in just for the holidays to make the dinner a festive affair. Or, perhaps there are a certain few who eagerly anticipate eating the dinner then escaping some of the more annoying relatives who are making the dinner a noisy, uncomfortable affair. It is very cold in the woods at night in late November.

It's been years since I've been back for that holiday. I always dread the near 24 hour trip involving planes, but no trains, automobiles, Greyhound buses, and the kind folks at US Customs and Immigration who make citizens feel like criminals and terrorists just for stepping out of the country. And that was before 9/11. I can only imagine what it is like for "guests." Maybe next year Barack will finally get to his promise to end the excesses of the previous administration.

But in Tokyo, I always take Bird Day off. It's slightly different than back home, which, I suppose, is not surprising since I am in the world's most unique country---the only one with four seasons to boot.

The, umm, less warm nights of late autumn. The crisp? 18 degree centigrade, 64 Fahrenheit days. The last of the leaves beginning to turn and those which have fallen quickly swept up less they inconvenience the ultra-advanced nature loving Japan of the future. The men and women up before dawn to crowd themselves into subway cars ultra-packed to nearly 200% of capacity. (Is that possible? What does capacity mean?) Me not heading for "woods" any more distant than Tamagawadaikoen while finding it impossible to imagine a few inches of snow falling before late December, if it falls at all.

Instead, after having bought a 9-10 lb ¥3200 turkey and finally having secured some cranberries after a long search and at a price higher than the current price of gold (Japanese cranberries so I am sure they are of higher quality, tastier, less sweet, safer, and well-worth the gouge), pumpkin pie filling, instant mashed potatoes (I hate mashing potatoes) the fruits, the nuts, and all the other traditional Thanksgiving food I can find, I am the one preparing the dinner while my wife watches Beat Takeshi clips on youtube and keeps asking when dinner is going to be ready, a question that I am never able to answer. Those Internet turkey cookin' instructions are a bit vague about turkey cookin' times.

I suppose I should write some sort of touchy-feely stuff about what we have to be thankful for, but I ain't the type who can do that. Luck is here today, but it can be all gone by tomorrow. Maybe I should be thankful that it isn't that tomorrow yet.

For tomorrow might be a problem:

Hatoyama's fundraising scandal. I have to wonder about the quality of Japanese politicians. They pass campaign finance laws, but unlike US politicians, they don't seem to be smart enough to find legal loopholes that allow them to continue to freely inhale tons of money while avoiding violating the laws they passed.

Barack Obama: Bowed, rather clumsily, to the Emperor of Japan. While this may not seem to be a problem in 2009, it was and still is in the news in the US. Apparently, Obama has now forever ruined the US position in the world. Ask Dick Cheney. He has some expertise on damaging the US position in the world.

Sarah Palin: OK, she's suffered a lot of cheap shots from the media in the US.* (Just what is wrong with the fact that she has hunted moose? Why is that so funny to apparently morally-superior folks who pay others to kill and butcher captive, helpless, hormone-filled, artificially-fattened animals so that they can eat it without getting their dainty little fingers bloody or truly realizing that it was once a living, breathing animal?) The problem is that some in what used to be the Republican party consider her a serious contender for the next election.

Deflation is back, if it ever left which I don't really believe it did. It's hard to imagine the Japanese economy recovering for quite a while. I'll confidently guess it'll be years. Not only is this bad news for everyone in Japan trying to make a living, it is very worrying that a poor economy---combined with confidence-draining political scandals---makes it more possible that the LDP will be able to slime itself back into power before the DPJ gets a chance to make permanent, meaningful changes.

Japan and the signing of the Hague child abduction treaty. As Colin P. A. Jones recently wrote in the Japan Times (here and here) that due to cultural reasons---real reasons, not the standard "Japanese snow is different" type idiocy---the signing of the treaty will likely not resolve the problem of Japan being a haven for international child abductors. Of course there is the standard bigoted rational exposed by the standard bigots in power that innocent Japanese must be protected from evil foreigners, in this case "abusive" non-Japanese spouses, but this goes a little deeper. Methinks if Japan signs the treaty, that as Mr. Jones wrote, it will not do a lot for resolving the basic problem of Japanese parents---usually the mother---violating court orders and become a felon by fleeing to Japan with no recourse for the non-Japanese parent. It would not be a first for the government to sign a treaty and then violate the spirit of the treaty while being in technical compliance. One case that quickly comes to mind was just after BSE was discovered in Japanese beef and Japanese beef sales plummeted in comparison to imported beef, Japan used a clause in a trade agreement which allowed a country to take action to protect an industry threatened by a surge in imports. The problem was that most of the gap was due to the drop in sales of Japanese beef, rather than a surge in imported beef. Other governments complained about Japan violating the spirit of the law, but Japan accurately claimed that it was following the technicalities of the agreement.*** If this happens with the child abduction treaty, the fact that Japan signs it may do no more than to allow the government to show technical compliance while allowing the problem to continue.

Uh-oh. Seems more like a No Thanks Day post that has gone on too long, and I have only just begun.

* It was actually yesterday, the 26th

**Need I mention that I am not a Palin fan and don't think she is presidential material? Much of the criticism directed at her is deserved. Much isn't.

***This is from memory. I cannot recall any more than the general outline, nor have I been able to find the information on Google.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us worthy evidence of the fact. Attributed to George Eliot, who, like everything else in this world, was not really what one would think.

I have found that I can no longer abstain:

Perhaps it's a mid-life crisis, but the last 13 months since the September 2008 near collapse of the financial system have to have been the most startling, confusing, shocking, amazing, unbelievable---I can't find a word that really fits---that I have ever experienced. I sorta feel as shocked as Alan Greenspan admitted to being in that my view of the world was not right and not working. However, unlike Greenspan, I mean more than just the financial world. I mean what I previously knew as "reality."

Now I find that very little surprises me. I recently read Tokyo Vice and was not at all shocked by anything that was in it. It just seemed like something to be expected. I have been prone to cynicism for the last 10 years, but now I have taken that to an extreme.

Whenever I talk to anyone whom I don't know well*---native or not---I find myself trying to figure out what their angle is; what they really mean. Is anything I am being told truthful, or is it just window-dressing to make everyone feel good? It doesn't succeed in the latter since we both/all know that it is elk scat. I find myself wanting to say, "Knock off the BS---err elk sh*t---and just spit it out." I can't remember having that sort of feeling as default 2, 3, 10 years ago. What's worse, I am succumbing to doing that sort of sugar-coating.

There are certain things that I now have to re-educate myself about. I knew most of them before---some at an almost subconscious level---but now I have to try to make bring them to the forefront of any thoughts. Something not easily done in a consistent manner.

1. As much as I hate to admit it, and as much as I previously rejected it, I now think that it is necessary to read any article or statements attributed to a politician or other "controversial" figure in the original Japanese. I have no sympathy for the standard claim by certain people who get caught in making embarrassing/bigoted/racist/inconvenient statements and then blame it all on mistranslation (Nakasone, Abe, et al), but as we learned from the Yukio Hatayama article from a few months ago, sometimes this is at least part of the problem. This is often very difficult for me because although I studied Japanese in college and still study it, I have not been able to achieve the native-speaker ability that seems so common on the Internet. (Meaning the native English-speakers who come here for 2 or 3 years and somehow become fluent. I have met exactly 2 folks like that in my life. One had bipolar disorder. The other was on his 3rd language.) And believe me, when I read something longer than a Google ニュース linked article in Japanese, about the last thing I am interested in reading is something concerning politics.

2. "Do you not know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed?" - Axel Oxenstierna (Translation to English stolen from Observing Japan.)
OK, I should have known that. I think I did know that. I just did not realize to what extent it was true. How do we measure "how little"? Can we apply a negative? Look at the US reaction to the DPJ. I had foolishly assumed that people in high positions in the US government would perhaps be a bit more aware of what was going on in Japan. I mean, if we cannot gather such basic intelligence about a friendly country, what chance have we against an enemy? Next thing you know, we will be going to war in the Middle East to find weapons of mass-destruction that don't exist or something. I was once told by an economics professor in college to "Never trust an expert." He was right, and the warning is not limited to the field of economics.

3. Skepticism toward the media is good. Cynicism may be even better. Long ago I had a life. In that life, I occasionally dealt with the media. Usually it was more of a casual thing, but occasionally I was interviewed or was a part of an interview, or (more commonly) was present when others were interviewed. One thing we learned was to never trust the press**. My opinion of the press was so bad that I assumed that some members would do the most vile, disgusting, unspeakable things if they thought that they'd get a story. Since then I have becomes friends with a couple of folks in that profession and have toned down my beliefs, but have never completely rejected them. It didn't help when, a few years ago, US NBC TV came out with a program which came very close to confirming my earlier opinion. Simply reading articles on Japan*** shows how little faith one can have in the media. Or I could be wrong and there could be a lot of people running around Tokyo who disguise themselves as vending machines when they feel threatened. How would I know? I don't check every vending machine to see if it is real or if it is a costumed human. This makes my first point about reading sources in Japanese problematic as those sources are likely just as prone to, shall we charitably say, "boo-boos" which will never be retracted as any other.

I suppose I could continue the infinite list, but for what reason? Sooner or later a person has to realize that there is nothing he can do about any of it anyway, so why worry. I know people who live the don't worry, be happy life, and they get along just fine even if a they seem a bit daft. Which is better, being daft and happy, or being daft and worrying about something you can't do anything about anyway?

*This mainly applies in any business/work-related contact. Perhaps I had simply been naive before.

**I use press/media interchangeably.

***Rest assured that this sort of stuff is not limited to coverage of Japan.

****Thanks in advance for any advice on the use of boke, either as generally used in Japanese, or in the pixel peeping world. I know. Boke doesn't really fit the photo, but I used it and the title as boke fits a mental state and with imagination, the photo.