Sunday, December 31, 2006

Last day of the year

It wasn't so long ago that New Year in Tokyo was a very quiet, pleasant time. It still is, people are much more relaxed and most places are less crowded. However, more people seem to be staying in town instead of leaving Tokyo to visit family.

This morning, we tried to go to the basement food section of Takashimaya in FUtakotamaga. It opened at 10, but by the time we got there at 10:20 was packed like a can of sardines. Could barely get through. Even my wife, who has much more patience with those things than I do gave up after just buying some mochi. Since grocery stores in Denenchofu will be open tomorrow, we can get more food then if needed. We did later get plenty for today.

One thing about New Year holidays in Japan is that the New Year food available. I love all of it. It makes of for no real Christmas in Japan.

Now, if enough people really have left Tokyo, the air will be cleaner and we'll be able to see such things as mountains and even Fujisan from Tokyo. Not a common sight.

In fact, it was visible on Thursday evening from the Tama River.

Tonight, just before midnight, they'll be ringing the bells in temples to mark the end of the year and begining of the next. Usually, we watch on TV, but since we now live near a temple, we might just go there and watch...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Another Appointee of "Beautiful Country" Abe has

resigned. Seems he was involved in fund-raising irregularities. Being a bit less than honest and moral perhaps. Now we can see why Abe has pushed the education reform law which emphasized nationalism, and group over the individual. He just has another appointee resign because he was living in government housing with his mistress. Definitely un-bushidoistic. Old hilarious comb-over
Masahiko "Dignity" Fujiwara must be pulling his hair out. No, wait, it's already gone!

...the recent scandals, including the use of government "plants" at town hall meetings to speak in favor of government policies, point to a larger problem. "Prime Minister Abe has exposed his incompetence and lack of leadership, and is increasing public distrust in politics day by day"...from the Japan Times HERE.

Uniquely Japanese

An article from the New York Times (HERE) and the problem with inbreeding (pets) in Japan. It seems that some breeders are so crooked that the set up puppy mills and sell overly inbred dogs to make a quick profit. Inbred to the extent that some are born without eye noses, or bones that dissolve in their bodies.

From the article:

The breeder told Mr. Sasaki that he had bred a dog with three generations of offspring — in human terms, first with its daughter, then a granddaughter and then a great-granddaughter — until Keika was born. The other four puppies in the litter were so hideously deformed that they were killed right after birth.

Perhaps this is bushido. Or perhaps it is the result of foreign interference. Or, as is explained in this article, it could be connected to the declining birth rate in Japan which has caused the demand for dogs as sort of substitutes for children for some.

And they must be pure. No mixed breeds wanted.

Of course we can excuse this in Japan by pointing out that other countries have some sort of problem with puppy mills too. Therefore, It's OK.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Right-wing Nutjob watch

One of the goals of the right-wing emperor worshiping crowd in Japan is to bring back the Japanese military. The military that, according to the nut crowd, freed Asia (ungrateful China included. Maybe not Korea since it was already under Japanese imperialism), did no wrong in China, and was falsely accused of atrocities in Nanjing. Of course Japan suddenly and completely changed after WW2. Did a 110% flip flop into the world's most peaceful nation which didn't even have a military except for the self-defense forces (which is a non-military military). So there could never be a repeat of the imperialism or the atrocities which never happened anyway.

Over the last year in particular, it has been very interesting to watch how the new rightist-nationalist drive is being conducted. One thing that I have personally noticed in talking with people is that the idea that Japan must rethink its American written article 9 of the constitution which prohibits Japanese land, air, and sea forces (well except for the Self-defense forces for which during the Korean war it was decided that this prohibition did not apply to), is that the idea that American cannot be trusted to adhere to the security treaty with Japan. The latest I heard was, that the U.S. would not defend Japan if Japan were attacked, it would only defend its own forces in Japan You could ask how that would even be possible since many bases are near Tokyo. (We would just defend the skies above Yokota air base and ignore everywhere else?)

Notice that it isn't in this case being argued that Japan needs a military for its own reasons, but because the dirty foreigners can't be trusted to keep their word. No evidence was given, except for a claim that when North Korea launched the missiles last summer, the U.S. did not have satellites watching Japan, but only from North Korea to the US. Japan apparently had to get its own satellite because of this. (It is amazing how close this comes to being the exact opposite of a similar argument I heard. In that case, the reason Japan needed its own satellite was because the U.S. might lie and say that North Korea was doing something when it wasn't.)

The fact is, that under the security treaty that Uncle Sucker has signed with Japan, it is JAPAN who has NO duty to assist any U.S. force which is fighting in defense of Japan. The American side would not suddenly assume Japan's passive role during combat.

The right-wingers of Japan cannot seem to make a case for a stronger Japan or a more engaged Japan without attacking other countries or peoples as untrustworthy, sneaky, liars. And the U.S. is much in favor of, and supporting the new role Japan wants to play. I am sure that the government knows what these hard-line Tojo wannabes are up to, but it has made no public responses to any of them. Perhaps they view them like they do Shitaro "Blinky" Ishiara, more of an amusing, harmless, loony-bird than a threat. Or perhaps they believe that it's just necessary rhetoric in order to get the public to accept a strong military which will ultimately be good for the U.S. and the region. Given the U.S. recent record of misunderstandings and misjudgments in this type of thing, I am not reassured.

(This was from a discussion I had today with a guy---Japanese---who had read the article.)

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The New Education Reforms

Although I hesitate to link anything to Japan Focus for fear that they will remove the article as soon as they post it, there are a couple of good ones in this week's posts.

Both concern the new education reforms and explain how they continue the quickening trend away from democracy as it has been for better or worse since the end of WW2, and toward a more tradition right-wing militaristic top-down governed nation. (My words there.) The first also includes a short discussion on the 2 million seller book of Masahiko Fujiwara and how, in one of the Japanese panelist's words:

he urges the necessity of feeling over reason, the national language over English, and the bushido psychology over democracy because through these Japan will regain its national dignity. My initial impression after reading it is how it foregrounds the nation over all else, and a pretty inflexible vision it is of that.....From looking at the Reforms, I would say that the government’s aim is to place patriotism on a level with religion as a means of restoring “dignity.”

It also explains how the government has now changed the focus from the individual to the nation, and educational authority from parents to the Education Ministry among other slights of hand Abe and his ilk pulled with this bill. The article, #2299, is here, at least for now.

The second article, translated from Japanese like the first, entitled Becoming an Ugly and Dangerous Nation!
The Deterioration of Japan’s Fundamental Law of Education
One of the most contentious changes is the addition of a phrase saying that schools should take an active part in “… cultivating an attitude which respects tradition and culture and love of the nation and homeland …” The problem is that the Japanese word for nation can also be interpreted as “governing system,” and hearkens back to phrasings of pre-war nationalist slogans. It is HERE at present, article #2293.

Both are very interesting reading, and a good counterbalance to the assertions by the Japanese government and its foreign apologists that Japan's intentions are pure and innocent; that Japan simply wants to become a "normal nation" and has no desire to return to the past. That would explain the popularity of Fujiwara's book which is anti-democracy and pro-state.

Edwin Reischauer was certain that Japan's move away from a budding democracy in the Taisho era to militarism in the 30s and 40s were just a blip on the march to a free state. A bad diversion to be sure, but set back on the path to democracy after the US Occupation. Could it be that the opposite is true? The Taisho era's short-lived partial democracy was the blip, followed by the more natural militarism of a slightly different version than others (Tokogawa etc) Japan's long history of military government, and another (short-lived) diversion into democracy imposed by MacArthur? Maybe Japan is just getting back on its traditional, natural path. Undemocratic top-down nationalistic government. So far, they are still lacking in the military part, but they are working on that. Am I reading too much into this? Perhaps. Maybe it is pure innocence. We'll see.

Speaking of leaving teaching...'s part of an ad from a guy who is hedging his bets on

Experienced English teacher / shiatsu masseur available for short-term work

Good idea. What else could be combined with English teaching? Garbage collector, toilet cleaner,, not clown, many equate English teacher with a clown or entertainer already.

How Do You Get Out of Teaching?

That is a question most people who are in Japan for more than a year or so want to know. I have been here for over 7, so all of my previous work experience/training/education except for teaching English as a foreign language, has little value. (Insurance industry, law enforcement). In fact, the reason most do this job is because that is about all you can get. (Even a veteran Berlitz instructor admitted this to me when I worked there, "Who would want this job (in the States), nobody would take it." Now apparently he forgot that there are people who are interested in TESOL and do it even in the States and elsewhere, but naturally that is a different beast that what we generally do in Japan.

As far as educational opportunities, there are several foreign universities which offer course here. Unfortunately, the majority of those course are TESOL related. No thanks, no more education in that field.

I think, as I have for a few years, that one will have to have his/her own business (non-English-teaching related) or get lucky and be hired as a local hire by a foreign company. Tough, but not entirely impossible if you are in the right place at the right time, know the right people, and have the right skills. I'd settle for Starbucks, as unlike most teaching jobs, it has a future. The basic job is simple and you probably lean most of what you need to learn after a month or two. Just like teaching English here. But at least I like coffee.

I started studying Chinese, even though I know to become at all proficient in a thrid language will require tons of effort, time, and MONEY. Private Chinese teachers aren't easy to find in Tokyo. I guess I could go to say, Berlitz and pay triple for something I don't want. Especially if they were forced to use the old direct method. (You know, train ya like a dog with B.F. Skinner behaviorism.) Even if I can gain intermediate level, there are plenty of Chinese who are fluent in Japanese and English. So perhaps I'll just be wasting time and money.

There are plenty of certificate one could study to test for in Japan, but even if you were to pass, how many companies would hire a westerner? You could likely rule out any government job. I couldn't try these as my Japanese ability is not high enough.

McDonald occasionally looks attractive. I have never worked there, but I was in an eikaiwa (Ber something) chain school for 2 years.....

Merry Christmas from Justice Minister Nagase

Japan is not a Christian country but occasionally the government gets into the spirit of things. On Christmas Day, Justice Minister Jinen Nagase had four people---aged 77, 74, 65 and 44--- hung by the neck until they were dead.

Some lawmakers were Scrooges though, and did not approve:

"I am very disappointed that executions took place," Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima told a Tokyo news conference, adding she had just met with Nagase on Dec. 19 and had urged him not to approve any executions.

"The death sentences were carried out in a rush and no prior announcements were made," she said, criticizing the usual procedure.

Nobuto Hosaka of the SDP denounced the hangings, claiming Fujinami and Akiyama were in the process of appealing for a retrial.

"It's Christmas, a special day even for those who are not Christians. I can't understand why they chose to carry out the executions," he said.

What has he in store for New Years Day?

From The Japan Times HERE

A related story is HERE. Everyone knows that people on death row in Japan are not informed of their execution date until the morning that they are to be killed.

The reason death row inmates are not given advance warning that their time to hang is approaching is to prevent them from suffering a psychological impact, the criminal department official said.

"If they know, they will think things like 'it's my turn next' and suffer, and so will their families," he said.

(Well, America has the death penalty too, so it's ok. Just had to give a standard "rebuttal" that one would hear in Japan.)

27 December update: It was revealed that the hangings took place on Monday because they did not want to hang them on the emperor's birthday which was Saturday. Naturally, Japan is not Christian so it wouldn't worship Christ. Many worship the emperor though so that explains in part, the choice of days.

The important overseas events of 2006 and handwashing

This mornings news had the results of a survey of 1,000 Japanese---not 1,000 people who live in Japan, not 1,000 residents, but 1,000 Japanese---on the top 10 foreign news stories of 2006. Number one was the poisoning of the Russian spy. Other top events included the Indonesian earthquake and the results, and other big stories. Not mentioned was North Korea. I wonder why? Maybe since it directly involves Japan, it is not foreign news.

However, the number 2 story surpassing all those disaster, global warming, and such, was the soccer player Zidane's headbutt of another player. Now that is important stuff. This is why Americans are said to be so stupid. They aren't sophisticated enough to give this type of events the proper importance. If only Americans had this intelligence, why they would have the answer to all the world's problem like everyone else.

There is also a virus which caused hundreds of illnesses recently called the norovirus. It is easily spread by dirty hands etc. Many of the victims were guests at a hotel where someone had vomited on the floor and it was not properly cleaned up and disinfected.

Last night one station devoted a large news segment on how to wash one's hands. That's odd, I could see this happening overseas, but why in Japan where people are cleaner than non-Japanese? Aren't the Japanese the cleanest people in the universe? How could this be? I am so shocked.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Those Sneaky Foreigners again!

On the news tonight NHK and channel 10---whatever it is, both focused on a murder suspect of Japanese ancestry who fled Japan last week after his girlfriend and her sons were murdered. He is the main suspect.

The big focus, however, was naturally on the fact that evil foreigners sometimes leave Japan after a crime and cannot be extradited back. (Japan has extradition treaties only with the US and South Korea.) They also covered a story from last year when another Brazilian was involved in a car accident which killed a baby and who then fled back to Brazil(rather than face the extraordinary color/ethnicity/national origin-blindness of the Japanese court system?)

What they fail to mention is the fact that Japan allows the Japanese parent with children from international marriages to violate laws and court orders from their ex-spouse's country concerning child custody and kidnap the child and bring them to live in Japan with NO fear of extradition or prosecution (PDF). Japan has refused to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the only industrialized country which has REFUSED to do so and has said it does not expect to in the near future.

Once again, pure Japan is a victim of those evil foreigners---in these cases evil foreigners of Japanese ancestry. I guess their blood was not pure enough.

Here is an example of Japanese court system's endorsement of kidnapping. There are many other, just do a Google search and you'll see that the pure, wonder, kind, polite law-aiding folks we always here about in Japan, aren't in fact always so kind and law-abiding.

Think this will ever be on Japanese TV?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve?

Does not seem like it at all. This evening, I walked around Denenchofu to look at the lights. I expected more up on the hill where all the movies stars and athletes and other famous or rich folks live. Hardly any. Shouldn't be surprised, but I thought there would be more in this area. Christmas here is ALL in the shopping areas. It is completely commercial. Beats anything in the US as far as commercialization goes. Again, no surprise as the main religion in Japan is not Christianity, but nihonron (nihonjinron).

Naturally, there was a long line in front of the Kentucky Fried Chicken near Denenchofu station. Why? Because Christmas in Japan means KFC chicken dinners, Christmas cakes, and romantic hotel stays for lovers. And shopping.

However, if you want to listen to Christmas music, you either have to have your own or listen to Japanese radio. Forget the military station, FEN. I remember when I was in the Air Force, AFKN in Korea was pretty decent. Most of the programs were from the States. Some still are, but it seems there is a lot more local stuff. Whatever it is, I rarely listen to it when I can do much better on the internet.

On September 11, 2001, I got the first word of the attack on Japanese TV. Live. We actually watched the second plane hit on live TV. I tried to listen in English on FEN, but they had no clue for quite a while. I just listened to NHK on the English sub-channel.

Usually, I say "Bah! Humbug!" when wished a Merry Christmas in the US by friends. Not really into the gift exchange hysteria. But I am often wished that by Japanese, so naturally I return a "Merry Christmas." Several years ago, I was walking to the station at Kajigaya (Kawasaki) when an old guy whom I had never met wished me a merry Christmas. I was a bit surprised at first---it is very rare for most Japanese to greet a non-Japanese whom they don't know. I was happy he did. In the US, I'd just as soon not hear it unless it is from friends or family. I guess from someone who is not saying it because I am shopping or in some commercial transaction makes it seem like a real greeting.

Oh yes, I am having a nice Christmas Eve. Rambling about nothing...Anyway, Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


There are many regional dialects in Japan. Most are easily understood by anyone who speaks Japanese, but according to this Japan Times column, Aomori-ben is not so universally understood. This column is what passes for a humor column in the Japan Times, so you need to take it with a grain of salt.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Pervy Teachers

A rather disturbing article from the Japan Times (derived from Weekly Playboy) about some perverted teachers. I would be a bit skeptical about some of the stuff in Weekly Playboy, but the part about the school teacher who had been placing photos of dead children on his website has been in the news recently. He is now under criminal investigation.

Well, there's all kinds of stuff on the Web, and this may be no more outlandish than a lot of what's out there -- except that this blogger is a Tokyo elementary school teacher, 33 years old, currently on leave pending a criminal investigation into his extracurricular activities. His site, known as "Club Kids," reportedly specialized in photos of dead children, some unclothed, accompanied by captions such as the one quoted above.

That's not the worst of it, says Weekly Playboy. You can read the rest HERE.

Christmas already?

Monday will make another Christmas in Japan for me. I make it a rule to take it off, even though it is not a holiday.

Usually, I spend it listening to Christmas carols after a relatively short 20 mile bike ride in the morning. I don't miss Christmas shopping or the nuttiness that goes with it in the US. I don't miss anything about Christmas in any city there, nor in any place where there is not a cold winter---like Wichita Falls Texas where I and my wife spent 2 years.

I do miss Christmas at home though, where there is at least a chance of snow (though it seems to be becoming less frequent). I especially miss the quiet, the clear skies at night when if it is not cloudy, one can see millions of stars. I remember I could even see M31 (the galaxy) with the naked eye on clear nights. I miss seeing cardinals and other birds, miss the wildlife--deer, grouse, turkey.I miss being able to walk 5 minutes and entering a forest. I miss all the things I grew up taking for granted.

I guess I'll have to trade all of that for Christmas in the only country in the known universe with four distinct seasons. Now what season is it? Let's see, about 50 degrees, cloudy, rain, no chance of snow or frost or a freeze. Oh! How clearly distinct!!!!It must be winter? (Same warmish weather in New York City this year---they think it is global warming. New Yorkers don't unnderstan' four seasons...)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Drink that old milk

This is Japan, so it must be safe. I assume. I have noticed something a bit interesting at the Denenchofu Precce (over-priced Tokyu) grocery store. When I get non-fat milk (relatively rare in Japan) the expiration date is usually around 10 days from purchase. But when I lived in Kanagawa at Kajigaya, the Tokyu store there sold the same brand of non-fat milk with the expiration date usually 3-4 days from the time of purchase. Often, they would sell it up until the day before it expired.

Now I am just a stupid foreigner who doesn't understand pure Japan, but I suspect that they are taking the old milk (which is just a few days from going bad) from places like the Denenchofu Precce to less affluent areas like Kajigaya's Tokyu store, and selling it there until the freshness date finally expires. I have never seen milk sold in the Denenchofu store that was even close to being out of date. It always has at least a week of freshness remaining.

About 5-6 years ago there was a big scandal in Japan when Yuki (snow) brand milk repackaged and resold old milk which had gone beyond it's freshness date as new. A lot of children got sick and the company had to apologize and pretend to be sorry. Ultimately, it had to pretend to go out of business. You can still buy their milk products under the Yuki brand even though it was forced out of business.

Huh? You don't unnerstan'? Of course not. You are a foreigner, and foreigners can never understand Japan. Just accept what is said at face value and you will be closer to understanding. Make that pretend to accept.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Another View of the Rightward Rush in Japan

A story about a Japanese high school teacher, Ms. Miyako Masuda, who does not particularly agree with the rants of the right-wing nutjobs that Japan was a victim of WW2. She was upset by a statement a year or so ago by a Tokyo City councilman, Koga Toshiaki, that Japan had never invaded Korea, so she wrote a letter to the South Korean president. One of the loony-bird rightist groups which supports the shrine honoring some convicted war criminals (among the other dead), discovered that she and her class had written the letter and complained.

Masuda is now ordered to spend her days in a small room studying public servant regulations, a serious humiliation she says. She in turn is trying to fight in court.

Masuda's experience shows the growing power of Japanese nationalists, and their
grass-roots influence in Tokyo, analysts say. (From HERE)


"I explain and teach the past. But I am now suspended as a history teacher for doing that, even though they say it is for administrative discipline."

Masuda's case has been picked up as a case of simple slander by the Tokyo media. A Japanese journalist with extensive experience points out that the Tokyo Asahi ran an item saying that Masuda was suspended for slandering the government officials and the publisher of the textbook. (From the original Christian Science Monitor article.)

The first link's owner also describes a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine that Japanese LDP politicians love so much. It seems less than an innocent little place to honor war dead. I hope to visit myself sometime so I can see how poor Imperial Japan was victimized by the evil Chinese, the West, and others. They never did nuttin' wrong! (But of course, Japan "regrets" some of the bad things it may have caused in the past. Why don't the Chinese believe that?)

Koga Toshiaki's statement: "It is not proper to describe a war of aggression by Japan. Where and when in the world did Japan ever invade? I'd like to ask, once and for all, when where and which country....

Free speech in Japan? Only if you are a right-wing neo-facsist emperor worshiper. Ahhh saving the world through bushido just like in the 30s.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

DNA evidence, Megumi Yokota, and Japanese Gov't manipulation

I posted an article about this in June 2005, but the Japan Focus article I referred to seems to have been removed from Japan Focus. (Just like the Gregory Clark article of last month criticizing some of the right-wingers).

Japan has claimed that the North Koreans lied about the remains of Megumi Yokota. The cremated bones sent to Japan were analyzed by a Japanese scientist who agreed to check them after other experienced scientists declined as they did not think accurate DNA analysis was possible.

A summary of what happened, available on the web in several places including Time and Wikipedia follows (This has been barely, if at all reported in Japan.) :

The independent scientific journal "Nature" has published an article highly critical of the DNA testing performed by the Japanese. An article in the 3 February 2005 issue revealed that the DNA analysis on Megumi's remains had been performed by a member of the medical department of Teikyo University, Yoshii Tomio. Yoshii, it later transpired, was a relatively junior faculty member, of lecturer status, in a forensic department that had neither a professor nor even an assistant professor. Remarkably, he said that he had no previous experience in the analysis of cremated specimens, described his tests as inconclusive and remarked that such samples were very easily contaminated by anyone coming in contact with them, like "stiff sponges that can absorb anything." In other words, the man who had actually conducted the Japanese analysis pronounced it anything but definitive. The five tiny samples he had been given to work on (the largest of them 1.5 grams) had anyway been used up in his laboratory, so independent verification was thereafter impossible. It seemed likely as a result that nobody could ever know for sure what Pyongyang's package had contained.

When the Japanese government's chief cabinet secretary, Hosoda Hiroyuki, referred to this article as inadequate and a misrepresentation of the government-commissioned analysis, Nature responded, in a highly unusual editorial (17 March), saying that:

"Japan is right to doubt North Korea's every statement. But its interpretation of the DNA tests has crossed the boundary of science's freedom from political interference. Nature's interview with the scientist who carried out the tests raised the possibility that the remains were merely contaminated, making the DNA tests inconclusive. This suggestion is uncomfortable for a Japanese government that wants to have North Korea seen as unambiguously fraudulent. ... The inescapable fact is that the bones may have been contaminated. ... It is also entirely possible that North Korea is lying. But the DNA tests that Japan is counting on won't resolve the issue. The problem is not in the science but in the fact that the government is meddling in scientific matters at all. Science runs on the premise that experiments, and all the uncertainty involved in them, should be open for scrutiny. Arguments made by other Japanese scientists that the tests should have been carried out by a larger team are convincing. Why did Japan entrust them to one scientist working alone, one who no longer seems to be free to talk about them? Japan's policy seems a desperate effort to make up for what has been a diplomatic failure ... Part of the burden for Japan's political and diplomatic failure is being shifted to a scientist for doing his job -- deriving conclusions from experiments and presenting reasonable doubts about them. But the friction between North Korea and Japan will not be decided by a DNA test. Likewise, the interpretation of DNA test results cannot be decided by the government of either country. Dealing with North Korea is no fun, but it doesn't justify breaking the rules of separation between science and politics."

Foreign Press is Beginning to Notice

Japan's right-wing trend is finally beginning to be noticed even in the U.S. press.Belatedly, the New York Times has figured out a possible connection between Japan's hard line on North Korea and the right-wing here. The fact that the supposed DNA proof that the North Koreans were lying about the remains of one of the abductees was scientifically flawed was not enough for them. (The Washington Post and to a lesser extent, Time magazine picked that story up months ago after Nature magazine exposed it.)

Yesterday, there were rallies in Tokyo and Washington DC over the abductions. Whether or not North Korea still has abductees is not really known. What is known is that the Japanese government had to have been aware of the kidnappings for decade. I remember in the late 80s and early 90s when I was either visiting or living in Toyama City that everyone knew that it was risky to go to the beach because of possible kidnapping by North Korea. Everyone except for Tokyo, apparently.

Naturally, these kidnappings are serious and North Korea needs to fully answer for them. Should they apologize to Japan? Normally one would say yes, but since Japan cannot seem to give a believably sincere apology to anyone for its past actions, that ain't likely.

A Japanese NYT reporter covered yesterday's protests and draws the connection between the rightists and the anti-(North) Korea hard line and the effectiveness of the rightists on stifling accurate reporting on the issue:

Outside Japan, the abductions may have played out long ago, after North Korea’s leader,
Kim Jong-il, admitted four years ago that the crimes had occurred and returned five survivors. But here, they are still a burning issue, kept alive in the news media every day by nationalist politicians and groups that pound at the topic as firmly as their cherished goals, like jettisoning the pacifist Constitution and instilling patriotism and moral values in schools.

The highly emotional issue has contributed to silencing more moderate voices who expose themselves to physical harm or verbal threats from the right wing.
Read it HERE.

Notice that as is becoming more and more common, any dissent from the status quo is not tolerated. The threat is so real that even the media is cowed (although the media has always been afraid to take on the rightists.)

A South Korea point of view on Japan's manipulation of Megumi Yokota's kidnapping is here:

Saturday, December 16, 2006

You don't unnerstan' Japan

I know that many folks say that the Japanese are especially clean. Uniquely clean. The cleanest people in the whole universe. But then I often see guys go to the toilet and leave without washing their hands, or at best a quick 1 second splash of water (and no soap) over them. Today, I was at a rather snobbish area and entered the men's toilet. A guy was in there doing a rather smelly number two. When he left he splashed water over one hand for a half second and exited. Now you see why bowing is preferred to shaking hands here.

I have seen kitchen workers do this. In Sakuragicho's (Yokohama) Washington Hotel building, there is a restaurant named Tsuki. About 3 years ago when I was working at the Berlitz there (which had no toilet) we had to use one of their toilets. A guy dressed in chef's clothes came in, took a leak, did a quick two finger rinse and left. Mmmmmm. Extra flavor with the sushi. Saw the same thing near a unagi (eel) restaurant in Futako Tamagawa's Takashimaya Department store.

In Denenchofu, we have the filthiest McDonald's and Wendy's I have ever seen. Amazingly, the near universally dirty Kentucky Fried Chicken is very clean here. Anyway, I was in Wendy's the other night and decided I had better wash my hands before eating. I went to the men's restroom. No faucet, no basin. Outside the restrooms was a basin for hand-washing. I used it, but the soap dispenser wouldn't work. There was no other place in the building to wash one's hands unless there was a wash basin somehow hidden from view in the small kitchen. Gee, wonder where the staff washed their hands before handing food?

Maybe these things happen because Japan is different. It is so clean, there are no germs---except of course, those on filthy foreigners, but that is to be expected. And since Japan's sh*t doesn't stink, I supposed there is no bacteria to get on one's hands after a crap and a wipe.

Or, since everything in Japan happens as the direct result of tradition and for no other reason, perhaps there is one which is responsible for folks not washing their hands after using the toilet. It couldn't be the same as in other countries, that some folks are lazy, or don't think or care, or are just plain dirty. No! This is Japan! Well, in the not too distant past, farmers here still used nightsoil (human feces) on rice and other crops. (Still was going on post-WW2). Perhaps because of this Japanese tradition, having sh*t covered hands and and eating food contaminated with someone else's feces is no problem. It's uniquely Japan. (It's not uniquely Japanese, but don't worry, that statement is nearly never, ever true.)

Friday, December 15, 2006

A vote of no confidence in Abe

Seems his (and Fujiwara's) vision of an increasing nationalist--sorry patriotic Japan is no especially shared by the whole government. The main opposition parties have filed a no confidence vote against the cabinet of Abe-sama. The idea of forcing "patriotism" in schools is repulsive to some. Japan went done that road prior to its initiation its aggression in China and ultimately WW2.

Japan's opposition parties filed a no-confidence motion in the lower house of parliament against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet in an effort to block a bill calling for promoting patriotism in the nation's schools. The four groups, including the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, filed a motion protesting the rigging of town meetings held during the previous administration.
Bloomberg News.

I predict that the opposition will ultimately fail. It will be so nice if I am wrong, but I doubt I will be. I can't imagine the public at large getting much involved.

Abe, Saving Japan and the world with good old Japanese Bushido.

7:01PM update: The LDP, and the Diet has passed the new education law requiring more "patriotism" in education. It is the first revision in the education law since 1947. According to NHK evening news, the laws requires school principles to rate/grade children on patriotism (CORRECTION 17 Dec: It will not require grading, although many parents and teachers fear it ultimately will.) . One school principle said it would be difficult to determine a child's--especially grade school children's level of patriotism. BANAZAI!!!BANZAI!!! Perhaps, that is a bit harsh. We will see.

In addition, the Self Defense Forces (the military which is not a military because it would be unconstitutional if it were) will now officially achieve the status of a ministry. Its head will be referred to as the Defense Minister. Remember, this is different than say the US in which the Department of Defense includes the military. Again: Japan has no military, just guys with battleships, heavy weapons, small arms, combat aircraft, tanks etc. It's only for self-defense and hiding behind Dutch forces in Iraq and more or less being restricted to base except when digging holes in the sand for wells.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The racist bigot Shintaro "Blinky"Ishihara to run again

Ishihara has decided to run for a 3rd term as governor of Tokyo and is already the front runner.

"The hawkish governor, notorious for racist and sexist remarks, has been under fire recently for spending too much on an official visit overseas and for calling the victims of bullying weak. But he is already the front-runner in the race" Quoted from the Japan Times. Read the full article HERE.

Let's see. Who is it who supports a governor "notorious for racist and sexist remarks"? The citizens of Tokyo? But, there is no racism in Japan! How could he be a front runner again? How could Tokyo citizens support a racist for governor? Well, a lot of Japanese politicians make racist remarks and none has ever been forced out of office for it. Some will make some fake, half-assed "apology" in which they admit no wrong if enough pressure is applied, usually from outside of Japan. The average Japanese citizen doesn't seem to be too concerned. Could racism be a non-issue here?

Now if Japan is a democracy and its citizens keep electing racists, one has to soon or later assume that this indicates the will of the majority of the voting public. It might even hint that perhaps, just perhaps, racism DOES exist here, and could possibly even be widespread. Imagine that!!

Government tells Iranian family to get out of Japan

Japan is not a very friendly country for refugees. It actually has one of the worst records for admitting political refugees of any country. (For example, see the article by Yumi Isozaki of the Mainichi Shimbun here: "we may send money out, but we will not let people in" and "Over the twenty years from when Japan joined the International Convention on Refugees up until last year, I am aware of only one case in which the plaintiff won an appeal to reconsider a denial of refugee status." ) However, Japan wants a place on the UN Security Council.

At present, it, along with the US are being very hardcore on North Korea. In fact, a few people have told me that they are afraid that the US will back off on its pressure on North Korea over nukes because the Democrats won the election. Japan can bluff and run its big mouth with little risk, as it will hide behind the US. Should there be a war in Korea, Japan hasn't a lot to lose unless North Korea is able to attack it. Even then, its risks are limited. The US will have to do most of the fighting with (possible) support from South Korea. Japan will do as little as possible except maybe throw money at the problem.

Should North Korea collapse, China will have to deal with the refugees, as will South Korea, the US, likely Australia, and other countries in the region. EXCEPT for JAPAN. You can bet it will stick to its policy of denying refugees. (30 December: I have heard that Japan DOES have a plan in place to accept North Korean refugees should it collapse. 11 January: The fact on this is that Japan has a plan in the works---said to be poorly thought out---which would allow North Korean refugees to stay in Japan for a year or two at the most. Japan has no intention on allowing any large permanent influx of non-Japanese, be they refugees, starving children or whatever.)

Friday the Japanese government refused to allow an Iranian family to remain in Japan and ordered them to get out by January, despite a petition with 10,000 signatures asking that they be allowed to stay. The family has been here since the early 90s with 2 daughters, one born in Japan who can only speak Japanese. Admittedly, the father came here illegally, but applied for residency. The Japan Times has a short article from which the title of this post came HERE.

Keep out refugees. If some slip in, kick them out.

Japan, in the world, but not of it. This must be the bushido that old Dignity of a State, Masahiko Fujiwara, talks of. Yes, this is a perfect example of the dignity of the Japanese government. And remember (although Fujiwara himself dislikes democracy) it is still a democratic government and as such, represents the will of its citizens.

Friday, December 08, 2006


I took this last Sunday for level 2 after starting to seriously study for it in July. Naturally, it wasn't long enough since I only had a limited time to study. It didn't take long for focusing on grammar and Kanji to get old.

Since listening (to CDs and tapes) was my weak point before, I practiced that a lot. Believe me, listening to that kind of stuff will put you to sleep fast. The hard part is to develop the concentration to listen carefully enough to all the questions on the test. I think I did reasonably well on that part. The reading part was not so bad, especially since I like to read and finding interesting things to read and practice with is not as hard as finding something to listen to.

Grammar, vocabulary, and some of the kanji may have done me in. I doubt if i got the required 60% on all parts. My teacher told me that it is very rare for anyone to pass on the first try as a way of cheering me up. I don't really care if I pass the test, it's main purpose for me was motivation. Studying for, and passing that test still doesn't mean you can speak at the same level you can test-take at.

The only thing I got was the worst cold I have had in several years. Forty of the apx 50 in the room must have had one. Well, there is next year to look forward to. I ain't gonna start specifically studying for the test again for a few months. More interested in regular Japanese classes which I will start up again in January.

Thinking of starting Chinese too. Supposedly, learning a second foreign language is easier than learning the first. I doubt it, but why not try?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dignity of a State (which rigs town meetings)

This has been in the news for a few weeks, but it appears---in fact the government admits that it has been putting government plants in town meetings to push the governments point of view. One thing pushed is the new government emphasis of patriotism. Japan Times has an article of how the government did this in a September meeting in Aomori thus limiting real questions from real citizens to a total 0f 8 minutes in a 2 hour meeting:

The government has admitted planting school-board officials and other allies in five town meetings over a three-year period, having them pose government-drafted questions and make government-drafted comments that put a positive spin on patriotic education.

Citizens attending the Sept. 2 town meeting in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, for example, were greeted by slogans on a screen inviting "the voice of the people" to "a direct dialogue with the Cabinet," so that "your opinions will make Japan's future."

A question period followed nearly two hours of speeches by education ministry officials. Ten people rose -- six of whom, reports Sunday Mainichi, were plants. Each questioner was limited to two minutes. In short, "in a meeting lasting 120 minutes, 'the voice of the people' was allotted all of eight minutes." From The Japan Times here.

In nearly every area, Japan, writers like Fujiwara, movies, the news media, seem to be pushing strongly for the same thing: Patriotism, whatever that may mean here. You might look at Japan's past history to find out. Even 20 years ago during the "bubble." There was NO shortage of love of Japan, Japan as number 1, pride, patriotism, and arrogance during that period. Certainly wasn't during the early 90s when I was here before even though the bubble had already officially collapsed.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dignity of an Old Man with a Hilarious Comb-over

Masahiko Fujiwara, he of the retro-grouch anti-democracy, pro-elite bureaucrat directed government based on bushido, and author of the book espousing those views; The Dignity of a State showed up on TV the other day. The word dignity won some sort of award for one of the words of the year, and he appeared on screen. I had never actually seen him on TV before, so it was quite a surprise to see that he was a guy with one of those now unique Japanese comb-overs. Every time I see one of those things, I have to wonder how anyone could actually wear it? Most everyone laughs at those old-fashioned comb-overs because they make the wearer look like a vain fool denying reality. The reality is: You are going bald! Leave it alone, wear a hat, or just shave it all off.

How anyone could wear his hair like that and talk about dignity is beyond me. I guess he wasn't including his appearance in his books theme though. Hell, a samurai generally shaved his noggin' on top---why not ol' Bushi-wara? Perhaps it is because Japan is the only country with four seasons and he would get brain frost if he left it uncovered.

I just don't understand, not having the sensitivity of a Pure-blood Japanese, I guess. But one thing is for sure, he'll never be able to get a job as an English teacher in Japan because he would lose out competing with the cutsies below---but then again, he don't like that thar English larnin' for young 'uns nohow..

OK, this was a cheap shot, an ad hominin attack. I couldn't resist, though. And since Fujiwara more or less says that logic is not something one can trust, a few logical fallacies should be acceptable.

Cute professionals

Earlier, I wrote about what is required by most eikaiwa companies in Japan (even some of those who call themselves business English,communication/skills schools are just eikaiwa done on company premises) to "teach" in Japan.

Many teachers have their different opinions of what is needed. Perhaps they are right. While some folks think that the physical appearance of the student is very important in determining how to teach them, the cuteness of the teacher is apparently high on the list at some places too.

An ad placed by a cute guy looking for a teaching job in Tokyo:

31 Attractive male from Canada with 3 years teaching experience is looking to teach English part time or full time in Tokyo.

and another beauty:

Experienced, enthusiastic and good looking male teacher, 24 years old...

Let's not leave out the hot babes either:

Good looking, experienced, and enthusiastic female teacher, 24, available for work in mid-October or early November...

From a job site for people seeking work in Japan. Haven't seen any for well-hung teachers, or big-boobed ones yet, but I'll keep watching. Strangely, in most countries being cute is not something most folks would use to market themselves to employers---a least not in teaching.

There is no doubt that TEFL in Japan in most of these places is an intelligent career-advancing move for serious, professionally-minded achievers. Or perhaps the only real option for most English speaking foreigners in Japan.

You can place your ad there too.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Japan Focus and Gregory Clark's article

Interestingly, the article in last Monday's Japan Focus by Gregory Clark in which he discusses the attacks on him, and to his employer by right wing in Japan, has completely disappeared from the sight. None of his other articles have disappeared, even those in which he criticizes the rightists.

Did Clark withdraw it due to some error on his part or other reasons? Was he pressured to withdraw it? Was Japan Focus pressured? These are questions which have to be asked in Japan, but the likelihood of that type of pressure occurring is very high, as Clark discussed in the (removed) article.

In the US, "political correctness" usually refers to how minorities are addressed or how certain issues concerning minorities are discussed/addressed. generally the idea is that one should not use language which would offend people just by the language. In Japan, political correctness means not openly disagreeing with anyone, most especially the rightwing nationalists. To do so is very risky for a Japanese, and now it seems to be becoming risky for non-Japanese. I guess it always has been, if one looks at what happens to many foreign academics who are critical of Japan. As has long been known, money and access tend to dry up.

3 December update: The article was removed at Clark's request, according to an email that I received from Japan Focus.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The risks of open debate/criticism in Japan

Most people know that it is very risky to publicly criticism nearly anything in Japan. Even politician who do so are taking risks. This is most especially true when the rightwing nut crowd is touched. Often they will send their lower-level thugs in their sound trucks and park it in front of the critic's home and shout over the loudspeaker attacking him/her at nearly all hours. The police will do nothing at all such as to tell the nutters to perhaps find another way to respond other than making life unbearable for for the critic and all his neighbors, because to do so would interfere with the right-winger's free speech. The free speech of the rightwing is the most important in Japan.

Gregory Clark, who has been in Japan for years and is generally considered quite knowledgeable and sympathetic toward the country has apparently been targeted by one of the rightists. He is now getting anonymous messages sent to his employers from these groups. He tells about it and also discusses his criticism of Japan's response to North Korean kidnapping of Japanese 20 plus years ago. (Hint: Japan is heading further right, but Clark attributes part of this to pressure from Washington. I'd guess Japan doesn't really need a push from D.C. to go right, but it helps. If the U.S. were applying pressure to Japan to go left, there would be more government resistance.)

Anyway, the article is in today's Japan Focus, here. Hopefully the link will still be there, if you click it.

29 November update: Not surprisingly, the article has disappeared from the site. Not to start conspiracy theories, but doesn't it make you wonder if the rightwing had something to do with it?

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Why English teaching is considered a dead-end job in Japan

From a job site:

Language instructors generally need no skills other than being a native speaker of the language with a 4-year college degree. Working Holiday or Spouse visa eligibility can be substituted for the 4-year degree.

This is an unfortunate fact of life here. It isn't necessarily a loser's job, although many Japanese and foreigners consider it to be so, it is simply the best paying job open to the majority of native English speaking residents in Japan. Of course you could be a waiter or a bartender at less pay. Perhaps you can start your own non-teaching business. Forget the salaryman fantasy even if, like Tom Cruise, you become more-Japanese-than-the-Japanese. Best case---you get on with a foreign company as a local hire. Not easy and requires a lot of networking and a lot of luck.

The biggest waste of time and money in my life was the year that I returned to college to get a TESOL certification (one which could be used for teaching in the U.S.) before returning to Japan to what I knew was a ad career destroying move. I hardly use anything I learned, and if I actually tried, I would piss off many "students." A good CELTA certificate is more than one needs here. In fact, because it focuses on practical aspects more than SLA theory, it is probably more useful than what I got. As I have mentioned, even the simple rudimentary Berlitz basic instructor training is MORE than sufficient for the vast majority of jobs.

The skills you really need are:
  • customer service (ass-kissing or groveling in some cases),
  • entertaining skills (make it "fun"),
  • the ability to tolerate people who make foolish/racist/sexist statements without getting losing your cool or openly challenging them. If someone looks you straight in the eye and says, "Japan is the ONLY country in the world with 4 distinct seasons," you MAY NOT laugh and call them a "retard."
  • the ability to make people feel relaxed, to be nonthreatening,
  • patience
  • not take offense at subtle or not-so-subtle insults
  • enjoy debating trivia (the British say "in main street" but Americans say "on main street." Which is correct, "that" or "which." You cannot openly say "I don't really give a flying f**k." You are teaching "communicative" English. BAHAHAHAHAHAHA)
  • The ability to endure a dead-end job with no future and no real opportunities to advance or make more money. A job in which the standard salary has not increased since at least the 1980s.
  • endure being seen as a baka gaijin , who although entertaining, can't really be taken seriously.
  • teach attractive women without assuming that they want you to date them or have sex with them. They don't want that anymore than an American, British, Canadian woman would. You will have to check with a female instructor for any advice specific to teaching mostly Japanese men as a female.
  • Ideally, you should be able not to take a student's physical appearance into account when teaching them, however I knew many who did at Berlitz and still seemed to be successful. Let's pretend it is valuable skill here.
  • able to pretend that a lazy, time-wasting student who would fail or be thrown out of a class in your country is a good student. (Most places will not let you evaluate a student as less than average which is usually called "good" here.)
  • Understanding that just because someone is polite to you and laughs at your stupid jokes, or even says that they enjoyed your class, does not necessarily mean that they did enjoy it or like you.
  • As a few Berlitz Instructional Supervisors told me: " Just make sure they have fun and "think" they have learned something." This is the bottom line, although it is not what would be considered teaching in the West. (If you are doing a company course---especially for foreign companies, their HR may hold you to much higher standards than Berlitz et al. Still, good luck on getting people to seriously study. Some will. Most won't.)
  • Finally, for you own sanity and self-respect, the ability to find something outside of the job to provide meaning, challenge, and direction to your life. Find something to keep mentally and intellectually challenging. Stay physically active and fit. Otherwise you will become a fat idiot, although this will not in any way disqualify you from most teaching jobs. The idiot part may even help. So far, I have not become fat.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Shintaro "Blinky" Ishihara

The old bigoted woman-hating, Korea-hating, Chinese-hating, Caucasian-hating, non- "pure blood"-Japanese hating racist, fascist gummer whom the fine, open-mind non-bigoted non-racist citizens of Tokyo elected and reelected came out with another one of his memorable statements.

Reacting to the recent focus on rampant bullying in Japanese schools in which several young children have committed suicide and schools have been caught covering up, the old Emperor worshiping fellow has made another one of his deeply thoughtful remarks:

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has weighed in on the bullying issue, saying last week that the victims were "spoiled and weak" and that the recent spate of letters sent to the education ministry, most anonymous and all apparently written by children threatening suicide over bullying, were probably pranks. From the Japan Times.

Now of course, just because he has been elected and reelected by folks in Tokyo, and just because he continues to enjoy support and suffers no consequences for his crude remarks, we cannot assume that this in any way reflects poorly upon the citizens who elect him. Not at all. It's only Americans who are stupid. Japan is different---don't you know?

Bushido---saving Japan and the world!!!

Tokyo Thanksgiving

It isn't too difficult to find items to prepare an American-style Thanksgiving dinner there. You just have to be prepared to pay. And if you go to one of the grocery stores which cater to ex-pats, you have to be prepared to pay more than any sane person with the slightest knowledge of what is available in regular Japanese grocery stores would.

In Tokyo, a turkey will cost maybe $25 for a 7.5-8.5 lb bird. You can get whole cranberries for about $4 per 6 ounces or so, or canned cranberries for about $3.25 per can. You can get pie shells, fake gravy mix in the little envelopes ($4 for some), pumpkin pie mix, mashed potato mix, stuffing mix, whatever you want.

Naturally, you are better off to buy the ingredients and simply make most things yourself. We usually make as much as we can, but if we are pressed for time, we waste money on stuff like dried-out bread with spices (stuffing mix) and boxed-dried mash potato stuff. We haven't sunk to the point where we have to buy the fake chemical gravy mix yet.

On Thursday morning, I was short a few things, so I decided to make a quick run to the grocery store before we started cooking. What a mistake! I somehow thought the stores would be open in the early morning, but this is Japan so most never open before 10. (Other shops wait until 11 before they open). Thursday was a holiday in Japan too, but that was not the reason nothing was open. So I wasted time walking to the 3 nearest grocery stores until I gave up and finnaly went to Denenchofu National (there is another one in Hiroo.) This is an ex-pat store in which they sell 99% the same things available in bigger Japanese grocery stores (Tokyu etc) for an extra 10-30% in price. They are even more expensive than the Denenchofu Precce (A Tokyu-group grocery store with a 30% snob surcharge). The selection is poor, some of the meat looks old, and the prices are ridiculous. But a lot of ex-pats from the area go there. No problem as many are on company expense accounts. And besides, about 25% of the floor space is taken up with wine.

I spent about $40 on $15 worth of food. But I deserved it for being dumb enough to shop there.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cycling in Japan

I love riding a road bike. I actually get more than 5,000 miles per year riding. That's a little more than I did in the US in an average year.

I usually ride along the Tama River (Tamagawa) bike path. On week days before noon it is somewhat safe and if I time it right, I can get in decent hi-intensity training rides. It can also be one of the most extremely dangerous places to ride a bike. Rules, laws, and common sense are routinely (and intentionally) ignored. Frankly, it seems that some people there---on mama-chari (the old 30 pound steel clunkers that everyone has) do not care whether they kill themselves and you or not. Road biking has become a little more popular recently, but the skill level of many novices is directly transferred from their mama-chari skill set. In other words, they are dangerous idiots riding with their bike under semi-control (head up ass) and going a little faster. (mama-chari rider's average speed is 6-8 mph. Road bike novice during a "hi-speed" downhill sprint with a tailwind might achieve a wobbly 17 mph before he tires out after 30-40 meters.)

Anyway, Japan Cycling Navigator's site published a short piece on law and reality in Japan as far as cycling goes. It is a good site and this article gives you some bare-bones information of what cycling can be like.

I especially like this quote: "Japanese ordinary bikers have a notorious reputation for bad behavior." His summary of cycling roads (like that along the Tamagawa): "They are like kind of lawless area. Please don't assume cycling roads are safe." Written by a straightforward Japanese guy. And so true. So very true. Ignore that advice at the very serious risk of severe injury and/or your life.

Regular roads are actually safer as laws and rules are enforced and generally obeyed on them. Many riders refuse to ride on a bike path at any time due to the danger from careless, negligent pedestrians and "cyclists."

Bic(Biku) Camera

There are several of these big electronics shops in Tokyo (and Yokohama). What they seem to have in common other than merchandise is the long wait in long lines required to buy anything. This is especially true in the one near Ginza (Yurakucho). I stopped shopping at them because they seem to have a fetish for opening only enough cash registers to keep people waiting in line unnecessarily.

I guess it was even worse when the Sony PS3 went on sale last Saturday. Bic Camera outdid themselves this time. Miraculously, nobody was seriously injured. You can read about it from a blogger here and another story here.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Japan in a word or two

Back in the early 90s, after I had spent a year in Toyama City working for a small Japanese company---and pretending to teach English as a foreign language part-time at the YMCA there and in Takaoka City, I thought that if asked to describe Japan in a single word, I would have said xenophobic.

Now I realize it isn't that simple. I would still describe Japan as very xenophobic but would also add passive-aggressive (note how wikipedia's definition in most part describes Japanese society, in nearly the same way as as the Japan explainers/apologists/Edwin Reishcauer-types do) and racialist with some racist tendencies.

I am looking for an additional word which would mean something like unrepentant, unapologetic for past actions, assuming it has done no real wrong (unless forced to by evil, sneaky foreigners or foreign ideas), always in the right, pure at heart etc. I haven't found a single word or phrase for that.

Words I can't imagine using are: exceptionally or especially polite, especially kind, clean, open, straightforward, politically aware/active, educated---none of these come to mind.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Minato Mirai, Yokohama

One of my favorite places in the area right on Yokohama Bay. There is a lot to do there; a huge shopping mall, cruises on the bay to Tokyo and back (I recommend a cruise near sunset) smaller boats to Chinatown for about 500 yen, the tallest building in Japan if I am not mistaken, and much more. You can easily spend a full day there.

Japan Focus "Page not Found"

I have placed a lot of links to articles from the Japan Focus site over the past few years. There is a lot of very good information on that site, but unfortunately, since they reworked the site earliet this year there have been repeated problems with finding anything from their archive. About all I can consistently get is the latest articles on their front page.

I will most likely have to discontinue linking to that site. I would suggest that if you have any real interest in northeast Asia and Japan that you visit Japan focus and sign up for their free newsletter.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The U.S. to continue to play Uncle Sucker

To make sure we don't become isolationist (and to make sure we continue to provide highly discounted---nearly free---military protection for South Korea and the world's second largest economic power, Japan), and to ensure that we continue to work for free trade (open our markets while some others in the region, Japan in particular, do everything they can to keep theirs closed), George Bush warned that the U.S. must avoid any such isolationist tendency under the Democrat party's new congressional leadership. ( See the New York Times article.)

We must continue to fight wars in foreign countries and get more and more less financially well-off young Americans killed doing so. (You know, as in John Kerry's "joke," the ones who aren't wealthy enough to go to college without G.I. bill-type assistance.) And we must continue "free trade", even though such a thing does not really exist on this planet, while borrowing tons of money from those who export products but buy very few from us---Japan, China, and South Korea. Oh wait, we get real things and all they get are pieces of paper. Ask any free trade theorist. I remember when I used to believe in that stuff too. I used to be a religious believer too, until I figured out there was no real evidence that a god exists. When there is evidence that free trade actually exists, perhaps I'll believe in it again.

I wouldn't worry about the Democrats doing anything that will disturb "free trade" nor our military involvement in foreign countries. They never have before. It's just a lot of talk with at best; a little tweaking around the edges. Remember Bill Clinton' great victory over Japan and its refusal to allow U.S. auto makers equal access to the Japanese market in the mid-90s? Has to be the biggest joke ever in the name of free trade. No, the Democrats won't change anything except decreas the time needed to become corrupt from 5-10 years to a few days. ("Cleanest Congress in history" Nancy Pelosi and her support of "Abscam" John Murtha.)
FBI sting video of ABSCAM John.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Even to be charitable... is not hard to describe the past 60 years in Japan as an unbroken history of insincerity in telling the truth and in coming to terms with the past, particularly on the issue of forced labor.”

Indeed, as nationalist scholars and politicians in Japan, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have led efforts to minimize Japan’s militarist past in textbooks, the mood has hardened against reparations. In a suit brought three years ago by Mr. Tang and 44 other former laborers or their relatives, Mitsubishi Materials for the first time went so far as to deny that it had used forced labor.

In a defense that echoed comments made by Mr. Abe and other nationalist politicians, Mitsubishi’s lawyers questioned whether Japan had in fact invaded China and said they would leave the final judgment to posterity. From an article by Norimitsu Onishi in today's New York Times.

Does anything more need be said about where Japan is heading and the subject of its sincerity in expressions of regret for its WW2 actions?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Japan's view of immigrants

Most people know that Japan is not very accepting of people who want to immigrate here. There is still a strong prejudice against foreigners and those suspected of being descendants of "non-Japanese," 2nd or 3rd generation Koreans for example. Japan is still an insular, xenophobic society. This contributes to some of the huge problems some Japanese have with interacting with non-Japanese. I have seen full-grown adults shaking with fear in EFL classes because of myths and consciously promulgated falsehoods (by the government and media)about the dangers of foreign things/people.

Japan Focus has an article on the subject here. In the article, the author discusses the possible impact this ignorance will have on Japan's future future as it's population ages and dwindles. A few folks believe that Japan will have to truly open its doors to immigrants to address this. I am very skeptical that this will happen, but some believe it has to...

In London too?

Maybe I have been in Japan too long. Maybe I have forgotten how irritating thoughtless people anywhere can be to one another; how rude and inconsiderate. It's not only Japan, although I suppose that Japan is the only place about where any possibility of less than perfectly polite, considerate citizens is denied by most of the residents and a huge number of foreigners who have a "Japan is uniquely unique" fetish. Anna, in London noticed similar irritants about folks in that city too in a few posts on her blog Does that mean that we can all be irritated by the actions of strangers in big crowded places? Could it be that Japan is not so uniquely unique after all? Blasphemy!

Autumn, maybe

Yesterday morning was the "coldest" so far this year in Tokyo. There is a tradition (according to some here) that the first strongly windy day in November marks the beginning of winter. I'll settle for the beginning of autumn.

However, there was actually a strong smell of winter weather in the morning. I can't describe it, but you'd know it if you live in an area with a winter.

I don't mind the beginning of winter. My favorite seasons are fall and winter. Spring follows and summer is last. Even though I am in Japan, I still celebrate Thanksgiving with a big turkey meal. Well, big is relative. I guess our turkey will weigh maybe 7 lbs. And that will cost about $20-25. I take the day off every year. This year, it falls on a Japanese holiday.

I have not worked on Christmas for years---I believe the last time was when I was still in the Air Force nearly 20 years ago. It is not a holiday in Japan, but I take it off. Berlitz actually gave most Christmas off with pay. I have to take it off now and give up the pay for that day. We still get to enjoy it and the long Japanese New Year break. Unfortunately, since my wife works for an American financial firm, she won't get many days off this year because it is the end of the year closing for them. But she will get comp time.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Trick Question

I suppose. I was talking with manager of a foreign accounting firm who "happens to be a Japanese female." (Whatever happens to be means.) We were discussing the Clint Eastwood film Flags of Our Fathers. She found it boring because it was just about a flag and a Native American. There were too many stories in the film and she was confused and disappointed. She likes simple things. One good thing about being Japanese is that the Japanese "are simple." (Her words.) Most are of "one group"---meaning one race. She won't bother with the Japanese Letters from Iwo Jima because she believes it will be boring too. Probably be just about letters and writin' I suppose.

Anyway, this led to a short discussion about Native Americans in the US. She, of course, was concerned about discrimination as most Japanese are, unless it involves discrimination in Japan. People usually deny or excuse that away.

We were talking about the origins of Americans, and then I asked her a simple question. "Where did the Japanese come from?" She was completely shocked, as if she had never considered such a thing before. She probably hadn't. I thought for a moment that she was going to answer "From the Sun goddess." But she finally came up with "maybe Mongolia."

I didn't go further and mention that China, Korea, and parts of southeast Asia were involved too, as I was afraid that she would take offense at being told that she could have some Korean or Chinese blood. Then I said that most evidence points to Africa as the origin of the human race and she began to giggle. She thought I was joking. "But the skin color changed!!"A university-educated woman did not know that simple fact that most 3rd graders (outside of Japan?) know.

We baka gaijin are so stupid and troublesome

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Japan and Human Rights: Shameless Deception?

Some believe so. Most do not care. The Japan Times article is here.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Prime Minister Abe

according to a story in today's printed Japan Times, is planning ways to make "second chances" easier for people in Japan. A second chance means if you have started a business and it failed, or you were released from your your, you will have an opportunity to try again. At present, Japan's bankruptcy laws make it very difficult to recover from a failed business venture.

Hopefully there will be some real action taken on this. There was no real mention of exactly what Abe has in mind, but improved retraining opportunities, lower business license fees, and revised bankruptcy laws would be nice. A recognition of the fact that many permanent residents of Japan are in need of these opportunities too would be a good thing for most of us. Very few want to spend their lives teaching English---at least as it is done on Japan.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Blogger wants us to use the new beta

version when the old one is still full of bugs. Don't hold your breathe for that.

Nutty ol' Kim Jong Il

North Korea said that there was no need for Japan to attend the renewed six-party talks because Japan is just a state belonging to the US. Is it wrong? Other than leeching a military off the US and depending on the US for foreign policy (other than Japan's "money diplomacy"), what has Japan done independently since the end of WW2 other than anger and insult other countries with official visits to the Yasukuni shrine? Well, Abe has promised to change some of that.

Signs of Autumn

Autumn isn't a real autumn in the Tokyo area, certainly not like a New England, Mid-Atlantic, Northern Mid-West, or Northwestern autumn in the US. It actually reminds me of northwestern Texas where once it gets below about 75 degrees, people start wearing jackets and complaining of cold. So it can be confusing knowing that it is supposed to be autumn but with weather similar to May or early June.

The key sign that autumn is finally here though is snot. Yes, snot. Runny noses, colds, flus. And the repeated constant sniffling without ever using a tissue or handkerchief. Hands, fingers, or even sleeves are fine, but one must refrain from blowing ones nose. As it was explained to me, this is because you'd just have to do it blow it again if you did so. I wonder what people do when they have diarrhea here. Go to the toilet? Wipe? Why, you'd just have to do it again.

Of course with sniffling and colds come coughs and sneezes. Commonly, open, uncovered coughs and sneezes. Cough in peoples face, sneeze in their face. Covering your mouth is polite, but in a crowded train, restaurant, or other public place, it's not really a necessity. Why do you need to be polite to strangers whom you have no personal interaction with? This is Japan. And everyone knows that stifling a sneeze is unhealthy. It is better to let it all blow out full-blast all over everyone and everything in the area.

The constant sniffling can drive non-Japanese nuts. It really gets on ones nerves. I often see that people have done Google searches for things like "How to stop her from sniffling all day" and land here. Wish I knew how, but in Japan it is something that you have to endure. It is a constant sound. Not just once a second or so, but more likely 2-3 times a second all damned day without relief. Imagine a train or office full of people doing that. Offer a tissue? Doesn't work. Punch in the nose? Tempting, but would land you in jail and reinforce the stereotype of non-Japanese as dangerous violent criminal thugs.

Men sniffle like little girls too, but often there are very deep loud sorting, snot-sucking breaks in the sniffling. In the train, at lunch, anywhere and everywhere is fine. Hacking a big goober can be an added accompaniment. I even see actors on TV do this snot-sucking to reinforce their masculine coolness. (Kimtaku, for example, does it occasionally in roles.)

Was down at a nearby 7-11 yesterday. (Setagayaku, Higashi-tamagawa 1 chome 27). A young clerk wearing black-framed glasses was stocking food and openly sneezing right on the products. Showed no embarrassment nor signs that anything at all was unusual. A little spit and snot and virus to go with your vitamin c? Then this morning I went to the same store, the female clerk was doing her sniffling-without-pause performance. I hated to let her touch anything that I was buying, but since I was getting bleach, I figured I would take the risk. At least she didn't do like the Denenchofu Precce (Tokyu) grocery store clerk a few months ago who wiped her nose with her hand and then used the same still snotty hand to give me my change.

It's Shinto, you know. Cleanliness. Purity. Japan is the cleanest country on earth. Just ask nihonjinron fundalmentalists.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Back in the mid/late-eighties when I was in college and Japan's economy was peaking, there were all kinds of "the sky is falling" stories about how much better educated the Japanese were than nearly anyone else in the history of the universe. We knew this was true because they consistently had high scores on multiple-choice paper tests. We never noticed that Japanese education is heavily weighted towards memorizing huge quantities of "facts" for little other reason than passing tests. Few noticed that a Japanese university education is a joke---little to no studying takes place in a Japanese university for the majority of "students." Foolish non-Japanese professors who come to Japan to "teach" at a university have found out about this tradition of non-study when they were asked by the fine, polite, obedient Japanese, "Why do we have to study? This is a JAPANESE university." But the idea of a superior Japanese education fit in well with the unique Japan myth.

We get to see this superior education every day. We poorly-educated non-Japanese are often shocked by such facts as "Japan is the ONLY country with four seasons." One could wonder how anyone with any basic understanding of seasons, or climate, or the earth could think this, but that would be because one is too dumb and foreign to understand Japan.

I was talking to a guy (an engineer with an American company in Tokyo) the other day and brought up male colorblindness (the tendency of many males to have some degree of colorblindness to some greens/reds. Naturally, with his superior education and strong belief in nihonjinron, as well as the knowledge that all non-Asians have blue eyes and can see in the dark like a cat, informed me that this was because of our blue eyes. Strangely enough, I never said that this was a characteristic of only blue-eyed non-Japanese, but he figured it was. I was foolish enough to believe that Japanese males were members of the human race like everyone else, but I forgot that they were different, special, unique, and much better educated.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Took a quick trip to Kyoto, but unfortunately there was a big festival going on Sunday which met it was extremely crowded. Had to cut some of our plans. In a way it was like Tokyo, people pushing and shoving us, cutting in front, generally being rude But of course they were tourists, most likely from Tokyo. What else could we expect? An occasional "excuse me"? Not in Japan!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Americans will die for Japan...

should Japan be attacked. No problem. Don't sweat it. We've plenty of American troops to send to their deaths for you. This is basically what Condoleezza Rice told Foreign Minister Aso today. It is important that the US renew and reaffirm its promise (treaty obligations) to defend Japan to America's last drop of blood while asking no commitment from Japan in return. I guess that is what the US government assumes young American men and women are raised for---to be killed fighting another country's war. We never even got a clear promise this time that Japan would not go nuclear. Uncle Sucker rides again. Oh, where is the UN and all of the European critics and know-it-alls in the North Korean nuclear problem? (They agreed to go along with an embargo against North Korea, and did so quickly. What a shock. Perhaps they can give the US advice on how to proceed with this after the embargo starts and likely fails.)

Why doesn't the US just hand these problems to the UN (bah ha ha, what a joke), or say another country--China? Japan? (double ha, ha, ha ha)---and let those folks deal with it. Seems everyone else knows what the US is doing wrong all over the world and has all the answers and solutions, so where are they here? The Korean armistice, and the 38th parallel is under UN responsibility. Perhaps they should actually do something other than whine about the US, or that the "US won't let us do nuttin'."

One can bet that few Japanese think that defending the US would be worth even one Japanese life, but again and again I talk to people (Japanese and American) who believe that America has some moral obligation to send its men and women to die for Japan. That would be interesting to explain to a mother in Iowa why her son died fighting for a country (Japan) in which many don't even believe their own troops should die for.

Japan however, is a uniquely peaceful people and country (easy to say since the US has provided a military for Japan for 60 years). The Japanese are morally superior and must leave the fightin' and dyin' to the barbarians. Them gaijin (derogatory term) like war and killin' anyway. The NYT article about Rice's one-sided promise is here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

To Kyoto

Not much to write about as we are going to spend some time in Kyoto. the leaves haven't really turned there yet, but they have likely started. Kyoto is actually cooler (People from Tokyo often claim it is "cold") than Tokyo. And the thing I notice most is the clean air compared to Tokyo. And it seems much quieter---well, not seems, it is.

We have to get out of here at least a few times per year, or we'd go nuts. Even nuttier than now.

Monday, October 09, 2006

North Korea sets off its first nuke

I guess by now, nobody is surprised. It has been all over the news on Japanese TV since it occurred around 1130AM Japan time. Abe was in Seoul after leaving China and declaring with President Hu of China that they would strongly oppose North Korea's planned testing of a nuclear device. Kim Jung Il showed how much respect he had for their---and any other world leader's---opinion. None.

I guess Abe will have his leadership quickly tested. Let's hope he doesn't pull a Bush and invade say, Bangladesh. I was surprised that Abe was able to restart Japan's relationship with China so quickly. Perhaps it is because, as many have said, the bar was so low after Koizumi's part in damaging the relationship. In a press conference tonight, he mentioned going to the UN Security Council and insisting on more sanctions---for all the good they would do---and placing more restrictions on North Korean visitors to Japan. South Korea's president has even suggested that perhaps the South Korea emphasis on talking and talking and talking (Sunshine Policy) with Kim Jung Il is becoming a questionable policy.

The big question is: Will the US send Jimmy Carter to North Korea again to kiss Kim Jung Il?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Abe: War criminals are not war criminals

We are beginning to see how Abe et. al. plan to instill pride in Japan's past (WW2) and get a hint of what the future holds.

Yesterday, Abe said that the 14 class A war criminals enshrined in Yasukuni shrine are not war criminals under Japanese law. (The total number of war criminals is 1068) See the Japan Times. The Tokyo War Crimes tribunal certainly had some serious problems, but Abe seems to be saying that the folks directly guilty for such things as Nanjing and other atrocities are not really criminals as far as he and Japan is concerned.

He is being honest. Unlike its World War Two ally, Germany, Japan has NEVER pursued nor prosecuted a Japanese for war crimes which occurred in WW2. The trial is often viewed like Abe views it, victor's justice forced upon Japan. Additionally, there is a feeling---or even outright belief---that Japan was a victim of the war.

All this is to make Japan a "normal" country again. A normal country with a uniquely unique culture that non-Japanese can never understand---and certainly can not be a part of. A normal country even though it is the only country in the world with four seasons. ( One of the bizarre and arrogant nihonjinron beliefs in Japan.) A normal country where everything that happens has a cultural explanation. There are no economic reasons nor other reasons for anything in Japan.

Think about what Abe's statement means. It's long been taught---and accepted---that the Emperor Hirohito and his subjects were tricked and misled into WWII by the military and its leaders, as well as selfish politicians. Like Hirohito, the people were naive and innocent. They done had no idear! Now Abe is saying that the war criminals were not really criminals, so basically no Japanese did anything wrong in the war. At least no Japanese was responsible for any war crimes. Nanjing? Bygones. Forget it. Couldn't be helped. Exaggerated Chinese lies anyway.

This is the renewed pride we can look forward to. As far as the other part of cultural pride, why would the Japanese need more? All one hears about is the wonderful, uniquely unique Japanese culture, seasons, language, food, Unit 731---oops! Scratch the last. Nobody was responsible for it---at least no Japanese. Perhaps it was an evil foreigner.