Friday, April 30, 2010

DPJ's Maehara shows himself to be an intellectual dupe; surges in polls

Japan Bashing, the term created by an American lackey and lobbyist for the Japanese government, Robert C. Angel in the 80s has made a comeback in the DPJ with Transport Minister Seiji Maeha:

"Should there be any Japan-bashing, that would not be positive for the American economy either," he said, referring to a possible extreme backlash against Japanese manufacturers, which he said had been avoided so far. Japan Times


I [Robert C. Angel]hoped to be able to discredit those most effective critics by lumping them together with the people who weren't informed and who as critics were an embarrassment to everybody else."...

...Angel, who says he is now embarrassed by his triumph, commented, "I view that modest public relations success with some shame and disappointment." And added, "Those people who use (the term) have the distinction of being my intellectual dupes." Wikipedia

In other unrelated news, PM Hatoyama's support has dropped to 20.7%, according to the JT.

Edited to add, knowing fully well this has nothing to do with the intellectual dupe's "Japan Bashing" theory:

Seiji Maehara, minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, surged into second with 10.6 percent. Maehara, who is in an anti-Ozawa group within the DPJ, had just 4.9 percent support in the previous poll. Same JT article as directly above.

I sincerely apologize for being unfair to the dupe.

Why must I edit html to get blogger to format, to use the correct font, and to do about anything else? And even when I do, it ignores what I enter?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Somebody slap me

I did not read this letter in the Japan Times Hotline to Nagatacho. I rarely bother with that section. Just like the folks in Nagatacho, I am sure.

It is not wise to mix local politics with diplomacy. Diplomacy is like a poker game played by sovereign states. You cannot play it with your cards exposed. And to read the cards of others, you need the advice of career diplomats... ...Futenma is a case in point..

And Hatoyama, who was lucky enough to be born into a wealthy family (which always seems to make one suspect) ought to be more considerate to bureaucrats. Hasn''t the advice of career diplomats (from the old days, both in the US and Japan) been part of the problem? And ain't it about time someone did listen to Okinawans even though it smacks of democracy?

It is a shock when you vote for someone for change, and the person makes some attempt to actually change something.

OK, no more reading of that part of the JT. Ruins my lunch, for I will be thinking of responding there. I once read or heard that one of the first signs of insanity is writing letters to the editor. Blogging may be one of the latter stages.

OK, the video has nothing to do with this except for the title, but I did search in vain for a girl like that before getting hitched.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

So what's changed?

The rest of the world regarded Americans as a mob of barbarians who happened to live on top of a mother lode of precious minerals, fertile land, inexhaustible woodlands and waterways galore ... but were as uncouth as they were rich ... and spoke in barbaric yawps... Faking West, Going East: NYT (Tom Wolfe)

The article is about Mark Twain who died just over 100 years ago, 21 April 1910.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Speaking of incompetents and language study, nobody could ever make the claim that those big eikaiwa chain schools were managed by a bunch of nitwits:

In its attempt to catch Nova, Geos expanded rapidly only to be caught high and dry by the plunge in student enrollment after Nova imploded, and was probably unable to trim unprofitable branches fast enough, Sakurabayashi said. Japan Times

I once worked for an eikaiwa chain whose name I shall never utter, but they run a sideshow side business of very poor travel guides and quicky language books. They often had problems with remembering that most folks expected to be paid as per contract for services rendered. Also had trouble understanding that the contract applied to them as well as the employees.

I worked at a newly
opened branch in a business district in Yokohama. Great idea, except that a major target was children. Everyone, including the students, kept wondering why anyone would open a school aimed at children in the middle of a business district. I was assured by the manager that he had personally "seen the numbers" and they looked great!!* The branch closed within 1.5 years. I ended my career with the big B shortly thereafter.

I had to spend the next 2 years shoveling horse manure just to get my dignity back.

*Anyone who has worked at B%&$ or studied there since about 2003 knows that the word "great" is the most important and most frequently used word in the English language. The in-house written comic books texts managed to work it into about every dialog when they weren't insisting that students had to learn some long, weird, out-of-the-blue phrase that no sober native speaker would ever use.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Non-communicative communication

Glad to see that the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) written by anal retentive types who understand neither testing nor language acquisition has been redesigned. Supposedly, according to a recent article in Metropolis magazine---which is well worth the price---the unimaginative, 1950s-types have made the test "more communicative." Obviously, they are not aware of the meaning of the word "communicative" when it comes to language. As far as I have been able to learn, they are once again testing passive/receptive skills and require no language production. Not a single word.

Frankly the test designers are incompetent. Do these same doofuses run the English language "education" system in Japan? Isn't there sorta like a basic rule to "test what is being tested"? If so, how can you test for communicative ability without testing communication?

The only reason to take such a test is for motivation (which will soon disappear after wasting chunks of your life with dry, arcane crap, much of which you will soon notice few Japanese actually use---and you won't remember) or because you need it for an equally unenlightened company for employment.

Isn't there a field known as linguistics with a sub-field known as Second Language Acquisition? Are the test writers so ignorant that they are unaware of it? Are they trying to perpetuate a for profit-first-and-foremost scam? Or is it different for the Japanese language? What century is it here?

Oh, and another eikaiwa chain, GEOS, bites the dust.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bicultural cross-dressing and the intellektual

One of the good things about living in Japan is that just by living here, one can become an expert on all things Japanese. After a while, this biculturalism, along with ones own intellectual superiority sets oneself apart from the crowd.

I know it has me.

It was a nice trip up to Yugawara for a stay at Sansuirou ryokan: the train was lightly occupied, there were no drunks sucking down beer and chu-hi at 11am, and we even arrived at the station a few minutes early instead of the normal 1 minute all-out run through the station to catch the train. The curry rice that I had at Coffee West (not the small one by the station, but the big one just down the block) was especially delicious. We had time for a short hike to the sea, but since access was closed off apparently due to some sort of construction/economic stimulus, we substituted a climb to the top of a small but slightly steep hill nearby. Then, after managing to get lost in that small town, we made it back to the station and caught a cab to the ryokan. Unlike the last time, the driver was not a frustrated F-1 wannabe whose only driving skill was acceleration.

That evening in the ryokan, I got to put my stunning language skills, my education, experience, and impressive intellect to work in dealing with the nakai-san (much more than a maid, but that seems to be the English translation). I managed the delicious 11 course kaiseki with no problem. "Does Japanese cuisine match your taste?" nakaisan asked. Well, for an old hand like me, naturally it does. And the meal was delicious though I still am not sure exactly what some dishes were although she explained each. I did not divulge the latter though, as I did not want to cheapen my sophisticated image.

After dinner and the ryokan's wine-like specialty sake (and after nakai-san dropped about every other dish when cleaning up) t'was time for the traditional bath. Would have loved to have gone to the rooftop rotenburo, but only ladies could go after 9. Men could only go to the indoor bath. I did not appreciate that at all, for I wanted to see the stars and the naked ladies*.

I reached for the yukata in the closet that I had sworn nakai-san had pointed out. The wife saw that and said "違う、違う!”** "Huh? Wrong?" I asked. "These are for men" she said, grabbing one out of the other closet.

Well, something seemed strange about it as the sleeves were short and designed differently. It seemed rather short too, but I am not a yukata expert so who I was to question a Japanese? Despite that, I decided not to wear the yukata to the bath, but just wear what I had on. (A purist's nightmare, I suppose.)

During the bath with men old enough to be my father (and older) I reconsidered my disappointment with not being able to bathe while looking at the stars and naked elderly ladies. I returned to our room and there enjoyed the exotic, sensual experience of donning a real Japanese yukata. Lafcadio Hearn himself would have envied me. We soon turned in.

One of the great pleasures about sleeping in a yukata is that you don't really sleep in it very much. You get to enjoy waking up several times with it half off, or over your head, or the sash wrapped around your throat strangling you.

Soon enough---or not soon enough---it was morning and the boss woke up and suggested that she take a photo of me in my fine traditional Japanese wear. I was a bit befuddled, since it was not exactly the first time I had worn a yukata. However, an order is an order and I posed for a few. Then she went out for a pre-breakfast soak.

I chose not to go, but instead made a cup of green tea and turned on CNN which was broadcast in Japanese and English simultaneously*** making trying to understand it a great fun. I then heard nakaisan at the door announcing that she was ready to put away the futons. Come on in, I said.

She busied herself with the futons while I coolly sipped the tea and exhibited my skills at understanding two languages at once.**** "That's a woman's yukata," she informed me. Picking up the one that my wife had said was for women, she said "These are for men."

"Is that so," said I, being secure enough in my masculinity as to not mind being caught crossdressing by the maid. Besides, I was too busy imaging what I was going to do to my wife. The woman still does not understand who wears the pants in the family. I will need to shave a bit closer though, as whiskers tend to clash with my outfits.

Breakfast made up for it.

*I shouldn't need to mention this, but in 2010, men and women have segregated baths, or bath times in the vast majority of places. Should I be incorrect, I'd like to know...where...when...age groups etc...(I found that I may not have been completely correct here. Search down to the comment by the photographer.)

**Japanese and kanji used solely to impress the easily impressed. Chigau, Chigau: Wrong! Wrong!

***If the TV had a bilingual function, we could not find it. Especially not on the 34,453.6 function remote.

****Actually, I can barely understand one language, let alone two at once.

I can imagine the number of hits I'll get from Google from people searching for Japanese cross-dressers.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Out of town for a few days and with luck, it may even stopping raining for a minute or two...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Crazy Karl

I have to admit that no major writer on things Japanese attracts my interest more than Karl van Wolferen. Since I first read his book, The Enigma of Japanese Power, in about 1992/93, I have always thought that what he writes just fits since it matches what I have seen and experienced here. I suppose that means he is all wrong.

His latest Japan Focus article was tremendously interesting. I was especially intrigued by his opinions about the US and its vision of Japan. I would say that there should be nothing radical about his thoughts as everything has been out in the open at least since the Futenma mess began. Did it not seem absurd that such a thing would cause a "crisis" in "the most important bilateral relationship in the world--bar none"? Did it not seem even more absurd since the US had a new, more internationally aware president than the old with us or agin' us fellow? Karl has certainly put the parts together so very well, as he always does.

The only thing that I would emphasize is that we do have to remember that Japan made the choice to submit its sovereignty in international affairs and defense back in the 60s.** And it benefited mightily from it---at least economically---in the short-term. There are other possible, but unprovable benefits too. Had Japan needed to provide fully for its own defense and foreign policy, would it have been a nuclear weapons free "peace country" today? What if some of the more extreme fringes had gotten into power? Would they have tempered their loud-mouths knowing that there weren't foreign watchdogs to provide cover for them? Or would they have acted on their words? If so, how would things have turned out?

On the other hand, had this perverted arrangement not been in place, would Japanese citizens have been more involved in politics knowing that the country would have to face the full consequences of military or diplomatic missteps? Could it have been a much more democratic country earlier? Then again, was any of this directly the business of the US?

Times have changed and the fact that Japan sold its soul for short-term benefit is no longer seen as so beneficial by many. Unfortunately, that does not seem to include those running the show in the US.

Previously, I had believed that if Japan really wanted to have an "equal relationship," or at least get out of the submissive role it placed itself in, it would do it. However, as we have seen since the DPJ came into power, and as mentioned in the article, things aren't that simple. The US can intimidate Japan (again, Japan is not blameless for putting itself in a position to be intimidated) and influence politicians through citizens and seems very willing to do it where security is concerned (less so where economic/trade issues are concerned. Wonder why?). Why else would the polls show so many Japanese concerned about Hatoyama's handling of Futenma? And we know that the US expected citizens to pressure the government---at least that was what I felt earlier this year when reading some of the US statements. Many seemed confident that Hatoyama would back down because of public reaction.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety: Attributed to Ben Franklin. Perhaps Prime Minister Yoshida should have considered that before committing to his "doctrine."

*I read some of the reviews of his book several years ago and discovered he actually knows nothing. A Japanese professor has refuted all of his claims. So has a fellow I once knew personally, although he was never exactly specific about anything, except that only fools believed van Wolferen. Cool. The fool's view of Japan seems more accurate than any of the others.

**Apologies for the Wikipedia link. The Yoshida Doctrine (PM Shigeru Yoshida) should be easy to confirm elsewhere on the web, or, god-forbid, in a book or something.

Edited for corrections at 2030 and again later.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I can see clearly now

The rain had gone over the weekend. Having nothing useful to do, I walked up celebrity hill behind Denenchofu station, to see the now rapidly falling blossoms.

Oh look, folks on bikes. The guy is even on a road bike. Great, I have always loved road bikes, riding several thousand miles every year for about the last fifteen.

Last year, just after a couple of Japanese riders placed well in the Tour de France, I worried that the sport would become a popular fad and that people would bring their mama-chari "skills" to road bikes at higher speeds. I was right.

But that is a story to be continued later. For now I will just say that one cannot count on any realistic attempts to deal with the root of this problem---negligence, ignoring traffic devices, rules and laws (even the koban sitters ignore them when out of the koban on their police-charis), lack of awareness of surroundings, and lack of concern for others, lack of anticipation, lack of cycling skills, and a general incompetence on a bicycle. I have recently developed an actual dread before a ride.

Most "serious" cyclists, native and not, know to avoid the Tamagawa cycling path, at least until about 20 miles out from Futako-tamagawa. It has become deadly dangerous (some would say it always has been). So dangerous---including fatal accidents---that the authorities have decided to take action. Simple-minded, mostly ineffective action, but action nonetheless.

By the way, what would happen if a speeding car came around the curve ahead of these cyclists? Are they prepared? What side of the road are the helmet-less, glove-less riders on? (They should both be to the left---toward the camera here since we drive on the left in Japan.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

A "Stumbling Revolution"

The next couple of years will be crucial for the realization of genuine Japanese democracy. More than that. If the Minshuto leaders succeed in carrying out their aim of creating a cabinet-centered government this will be a grand example for others – one of the very few positive turns of fate in the political life of our planet. But the obstacles to achieving this are formidable. Not only domestic forces but also Washington will seek to torpedo the plans for a truly independent Japan that can stand on its own feet in the world. Understanding those obstacles well could help Japanese citizens contribute to the chances for a good outcome. Japan Focus

The article, Japan's Stumbling Revolution, by Karl van Wolferen, originally published in Chou Koron in Japanese last March is now at Japan Focus in English.

The last time I posted van Wolferen's comments

One must be wary of using the label ‘revolutionary’, but if they [DPJ] succeed this would be appropriate in the context of Japan's controlling political institutions.

it irked one of the commenters who thought DPJ being revolutionary was absurd. I think he missed the key word "if." Today "revolutionary" is still in "if" form and that "if" may seem a little less likely every day. Karl van Wolferen writes that "to call the task that the Minshuto has taken upon itself a heavy one is very, very understated." No doubt about that.

I think his take on the Japanese system is always worth reading. And rereading.

Edited to add: His take on the big newspapers and their "creating political reality as it exists in people's minds" seems especially accurate. I wish I could paste the whole article here, it's very good.

Speaking of health care and nutjobs

Michele Bachmann, who is running for some office in the US---I haven't bothered to check or care which:

"said she had it on good authority that in Japan the government puts people who criticize the health care system “on a list” and denies them treatment." Gail Collins, NYT

Perhaps that explains some of the problems we've had. No, not in Japan, where I must now assume that I am on a list, but in the US. We allow crazy people to run for office.

While unsuccessfully searching for the exact quote by Ms. Bakamann, I found Frank Rich's column, No One is to Blame for Anything, which is mainly about Greenspan and Rubin et al not accepting responsibility for the financial crisis [edited to add that I should add that it goes beyond that to the Pope, Tiger Woods and more]. Then I did something stupid. Something I almost never do on newspaper articles. I read the comments. I discovered:
#58 It is not in the American character to say I take responsibility because I did something wrong. In Britain, the cabinet ministers take responsibility and resign pretty routinely. In Japan, the senior officials apologize and sometimes commit suicide because they brought so much shame.
Not sure about Britain, but I am wondering in which Japan the latter occurs. Must happen a lot in that Japan for everyone talks about it. In this one, it seems senior officials deny, lie, stall, bluff, duck, and do anything but apologize until there is no other possible alternative and then maybe give some sort of murky, stylized formal apology. (Of course, some folk never get an apology. Ask the former sex slaves of WW2.) Not sure Americans would be satisfied with these apologies once they got used to them. Especially the whiny-teary-insincerey part. Suicide? Quick, name the last three senior officials who did. The last two? OK, one?
#55 As to the Catholic Church, I can't help but wonder what would have happened if the Pope was Japanese rather than German. Reminds me of...[edited for relevancy]...I don't suppose the world could expect a Japanese Pope to commit seppuku (presumably, it would be a sin) but I think we would get a sincere personal apology and a resignation.
A sincere personal apology from someone in that type of position? Oh, I'll just bet. That is about as likely as having a Japanese Pope to begin with. Should it have been a scandal at a well-respected, traditional, and conservative Japanese institution, I wonder how we'd find out about it? What domestic newspaper or or media would report such a thing?

Re: Personal Note

A few weeks ago, I reluctantly posted a note that I may suspend this blog. A the time I posted it, I expected to be spending the next X months of my life trying to rebuild it yet again with little time for scribbling. Fortunately, although nothing has really changed, I have somehow been able to trick myself into believing that I am once again in control. Nonsense, of course, but a reassuring lie that helps us all deal with the fact that we aren't in control of a damned thing.

I once tried to keep everything personal out of this except for occasional rants or goof-offs, and I hope this is the last "personal note" I ever write.

I have learned a few things, which I am sure that most other people over 15 learned years ago.
Living in Japan as non-citizen makes you very vulnerable, no matter how much you think you have adapted or how much you think you know. Oh wait, Japanese is the key. You passed JLPT 1? Cool, never mind, just show the certificate and this won't apply to you. Ditto if you have permanent residency.
One should never, ever, ever, ever---shall I repeat that?---allow oneself to become to dependent in any way on any single person. I'd guess that this is something that men tend to do more than women. I'd guess. Anyway, one should make sure that he has a whole network of folks of varied relationships and of all nationalities even if it occasionally pisses off said person he has become in any way dependent on. Always be prepared. Have your capsule hotel or a spot along the Tamagawa ready to move to on a day's notice.
The medical system in Japan may be all wonderful for those with a sore throat who need lots of pills, but for something serious, your hindquarters may be in trouble.
Been to another hospital about the same problem? Then get out of ours for we will have nothing to do with you.
Did you call the ambulance yourself or did another person have to do it for you? Oh, you did it yourself? Well, then your illness isn't really that serious.

I am a doctor. Why the hell should I listen to you, a patient? What do you know about what you are suffering from? Let's just run yet another CATSCAN because I am too f***ing lazy and unimaginative to try anything else. Oh, it is negative so you cannot have the symptoms that you have. Like, what are you going to do about it if I am wrong or am merely a quack? Sue me? Bahahahahahaha!
The good thing is that health insurance covers such incompetence and, in my opinion, unprofessional behavior. When T.R. Reid did his little piece on health care in Japan for PBS Frontline a year ago, he didn't mention anything like this. He seemed to me to be more interested in showing the world that he could speak basic Japanese than investigating the health care system here. Good for you, Tim. (I was not the patient in this mess but a family member was/is. This was my third major experience with the medical system here and I am not impressed.)

Now with this vague, incoherent post, I hope to gradually and erratically resume more regular writing unless my fantasy of being a bit more in control turns out to be nothing more than a fantasy. At least I won't be doing it from under a blue tarp along a less than pristine river.

Thanks to those who commented, e-mailed, or otherwise contacted me. I do very much appreciate it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Weekend shot all to hell

The first Saturday in months that I have been able to relax without the help of shochu and I am dumb enough to turn on the TV and watch the news. What do I see?

I see documentary evidence that Neanderthals are still among us, for the new Tachiagare Nippon (Stand Up Japan!) Party was launched today (link in Japanese. Mistakenly [or not. See update at the bottom.] referred to as the Sunrise Party of Japan in English here). And there at the press conference among the other old, old, men---not necessarily in age, but in beliefs and ideas (?)---was Ol' Blinky Shintaro Ishihara himself. The fact that the fossilized bigot Ishihara is a part of the "new" party is all anyone needs to know about it. I understand that he may have even come up with the ingenuous name for the retrogrouches. Perhaps he came up with the idea because it reflects his infamous salute (he stood up and saluted like a Nazi) on top* of a SDF APC---or perhaps a tank---a number of years ago when he held a disaster exercise, part of which was to prepare Tokyo to defend against crazed, rioting foreigners.

This was a real news show, not a spoof, and these geezers apparently take themselves seriously. As I watched, I wondered who among my friends and acquaintances would support such a silly looking (and thinking) bunch. Then again, those who would snuggle up to these OGsans would not be friends with me.

Gonna need the shochu after all.

*Have not located an image yet. It was widely circulated at the time.

**Handsome likeness of Ol' Blinky from here.
I hope that any female readers will be able to control themselves after seeing such a studly fellow.

Of course, I am not implying that the old goof is a Nazi.

Kyodo/Japan Times is also calling the new party the Sunrise Party of Japan. According to that article this will be the official name in English. As usual, we make something sweet and innocent
sounding for the foreigners and keep the real meaning for internal use.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Arudou's speech to UN Special Rapportuer on Human Rights

I hope to have a new post once a week for the time being, and occasionally finish and post a few still relevant drafts:

...we are not officially registered — or even counted sometimes — as genuine residents. We are not treated as taxpayers, not protected as consumers, not seen as ethnicities even in the national census....According to government polls and surveys, we do not even deserve the same human rights as Japanese...
.Debito Arudou Japan Times.

A well-written speech, at least from my point of view. Will it make any difference? I will wager no and pray* (without faith) that I am wrong. Doubt I will be though since we've been reading and saying the same things for years and years and years. The fact is that the whole issue is not important enough to most citizens to care much about except for the occasional sympathizing with affected gaijin.** I think Debito's final paragraph says it all, especially the plea for help outside of Japan. Don't expect much inside.

*Are an agnostic's prayers answered?

**An innocent, neutral term that simply means gaikokujin. We know it is innocent and neutral because many people use it all of the time mostly, but no longer exclusively, for those of certain non-Eastern ethnic origin.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Deep thinking

I can't just let well enough alone. Anyway, during my break I have been pondering the question: Why do people have eyes in front of their heads? I live in a city where having eyes placed in such a location seems to be an inconvenience since nobody ever actually looks forward, whether walking, riding on a bicycle, or whatever. Will evolution in time move people's eyes in a position---say on the chin---so that they may look at their feet or their keitai (cell phone) while in motion? Perhaps on the side of their head so that they may look to the side, or on the top so that they may observe the clouds---anything but watch where the hell they are going.

On an unrelated topic:

Now back to the loony bin.

*A wink across the Potomac for (inadvertently) introducing this video to me a few months ago.