Saturday, September 30, 2006

Taunting Death

Cars don't often stop in Tokyo just because there is a person in the crosswalk. As long as they miss you by .000001mm, they'll blow right through them. Often the "police" will watch and do nothing, although I did actually see one stop a guy for that once. A few days ago, a guy on a motorscooter was going to blow through a crosswalk while I was in it, but then he saw the cop who was parked right beside the crosswalk watching and he slammed on his brakes. So it must be illegal, but it's just like many Japanese laws---only occasionally enforced against select people.

Look at this poor guy trying to cross here without being killed. Notice the walk signal is green. So is the traffic light! This is in an extremely dangerous crosswalk at Tameikesanno in Tokyo. These are all different cabs too. In the closest lane to the camera, three very polite taxi drivers sped through the crosswalk. Today was actually pretty safe at this location. Oh, the silver car in the foreground? Don't worry about him, he was merely parked in the crosswalk. No problem.

Note the adverb sales shop next to the cheapo eateries on the other side.

Friday, September 29, 2006

LA Times on Abe

It seems they have noticed that some believe that there could possibly be a "virulent form of nationalism" in the lovely, wonderful, uniquely peace-loving Japan. This would be at odds with the" Japan is wonderful" Japan explainers. I am sure it is all a mistake.

If this article is accurate, then the questions about whether or not Abe would continue Koizumi's economic reforms seem to have an answer---no. Apparently, the focus of the LDP is going to be to revive "national pride" in Japan. So I suppose the foreign policy will emphasize Japan's self-interests over international interests. That is normal, but seeing how Japan managed to offend all of its neighbors in northeast Asia over visits to the Yasukuni shrine for no reason except to revive pride in Japan's past (WWII), I believe we can get an idea on what issues are important to Japan, and where it will head. (Notice that the LDP supporters of Abe claim that the older generation was brainwashed in school about Japan's past. The older generation were the people who lived through the war, fought the war, and have first-hand experience with it and the events leading up to it. They didn't learn about it in school, like Abe did. They lived it. Who do you think is more likely to be correct on Japan's actions/errors in that period?)

Maybe he can pull it off, and Japan will finally become a "normal country." It will do so without really examining its actions in WWII, but let's face the facts---examining its actions ain't gonna happen. Maybe he can pull it off without continuing to anger Japan's neighbors. Maybe he can do it without instilling the wareware nihonjin spirit which seems to set Japan both above and apart from the rest of humanity. May he can do it while allied with the U.S. while not becoming more and more isolated and hated like the U.S. and not getting involved in U.S. mistakes. Shall we take bets?

It is certainly an interesting time to be living in Japan and watching this.

See the article HERE.

Is Japan a bad place to live?

One of the tough things when writing about Japan---or anywhere--is to provide some sort of balance. I do not. When I read back through my posts, it seems most are critical. Since one of the points of writing this is to counter the tourists and Japanophiles who believe the propaganda---that Japan is a uniquely unique country where all the people are always kind, thoughtful, and polite, where there is some zen-like respect for nature, and how everything is just all wonderful here. Also, when I went through undergrad school, I majored in East Asian Studies (minored in business---a mistake I made from believing the then current Japan is the future nonsense) and one of the most popular Japan "experts" was Edwin O. Reischauer, whose version of Japan was all sugar-coated half truths. Not fully false, but very obviously misleading. He has been pretty much discredited now, but I would like to continue to contribute to his discreditation (if that is a word.)

So is Japan a horrible place to live? It would seem so from simply reading my posts. But, frankly it is not. In fact, for a foreigner---we are talking a white foreigner of American/British/Australian/European origins---the ones for whom the somewhat derogatory term gaijin really applies, it can be a relatively good life. That is one reason many tend to turn a blind eye to anything less than perfect about Japan.

People are generally very "polite" to you, at least to your face. Of course, politeness is politeness by Japanese standards, which on the surface are agreeable to most. Racial discrimination is rarely in one's face. It is more subtle and institutionalized.

You will receive special treatment almost any and everywhere. That this in itself is discrimination doesn't bother most, in fact many enjoy it. Unfortunately, some seem to believe it and assume they are kinda special.

You can get a job for which your only qualification is that you are a native speaker. It is easier to get this job if you are white. Things have improved, but if you are say, African-American, it can be more difficult because some will worry about getting a "black" accent from studying a language under you. If you are Asian, well who wants to study a language from someone who does not look like their stereotype of an Australian, American, etc? One small problem is that this is about the only job you are gonna get. (Oh wait, you're different. You are gonna learn Japanese and Japanese culture and fit into Japan---become more Japanese than the Japanese---and then you'll work as a salaryman. Of course you will.) You'll be happy to know that the most important thing about you is your race, followed by national origin.

Besides, the country itself is interesting. You do have to live on a smaller scale. One day vacations can actually seem enjoyable here. By that I mean a one-day or overnight trip that costs $5-600 and would seem rushed by other standards can be somewhat relaxing. The food is great. Don't like Japanese food? No problem (are you nuts?) you can eat almost any type of food it you have the money to eat out. And most of it will be very good. You can enjoy tradition Japanese things, old temples etc., and if you know, or learn Japanese history, this will become even more enjoyable.

In fact, if you don't think too much; if you don't read much; if you don't learn Japanese well enough to know what is being said or written about Japan by the Japanese; and if you only care that people smile and are "polite" and treat you like you are special (either a genius or an idiot who cannot possibly understand the simplest thing about Japan), then you can live a very pleasant life here. Of course the fact that you are not taken seriously, that you are not expected to really participate in society and can live a simple life with few adult-level responsibilities beyond your job (and if you are in eikaiwa, you needn't even do it there) might be less than wonderful. Not many can continue this self-deception for more than a few years, though. Occasional visitors/tourists can maintain this forever.

Japan is not a horrible place to live. In fact, I would much rather live here than any other country in Northeast Asia, and probably any other in Asia. But I have a family and a reason for living here. It would not be a choice I would make, nor recommend over the long-term otherwise.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Is Japan Really Racist?

While looking for information on Tokyo part-time governor "Blinky" Ishihara, I came across a discussion on racism in Japan. I found the following post, which very clearly explains what goes on on Japan. It only scratches the surface, but it is a pretty good distilled summary:

As a black man from LA who has lived in the ghetto (the first one a dangerous place with Cripping going on down my street which is why we moved), got himself educated and took his ass out of the US to experience life somewhere else, I aint gonna say that my home country aint racist. But just cause white supremacists or rednecks aint jumping me in Japan doesn`t mean that I can ignore the racialist/racist structures here in Japan that are fixed. Really fixed. Aint no movement towards the rest of the world here.

I`ve been called a `kuronbo` which is the Japanese equivalent of the `nga` word in the USA (and I have to point out that though I`m a hiphop head and into rap, my black brothers in music have perpetuated a word that was coming close to being unspeakable so it`s a case of black folks publicising a word that should be unknown to young folks in the USA now). The fact that I`ve been called a kuronbo openly and unashamedly by racist old assholes who also spat at the ground around me isn`t why I say Japan is a deeply racist society. A country`s laws tell you about how racist it is.

As other posters have pointed out better than I can and in detail there are so many racialist/racist laws and rules in Japan that perpetuate the myth of racial purity - without a thought. That`s real racism for me - aint no debate in the media, aint no movements against this nasty `Japanese blood` mindset, aint nobody willing to take a stand or even take much time out to think about it apart from a very few. For me, Japan is what the Deep South was before the 1970s in some ways. Just because Japanese people smile and bow and are polite doesn`t make their society`s way of viewing other folks any less unapologetically racist and backwards.

Japan is going to pay for its deep racism when it sinks further into the economic decline. Japan`s whack obsessions with `racial purity`, `the Japanese race` etc over having a population that creates demand and results in supply and economic growth is gonna come back at these folks. Racist societies throughout history have dug their own graves. Japan is doing the same.

Aesthetically Superior Japan

As I read the best seller The Dignity of a State, I too am getting all excited about how beauty is so uniquely instinctively understood by the average Japanese in ways that less sensitive baka foreigners can never come close to comprehending.

Why, a quick walk around any neighborhood will reveal this. Just a stone's throw from Denenchofu---curiously referred to by some as Tokyo's Beverly Hills---reveal this subtle, natural beauty which most foreigners miss. And, of course, the electric wires hanging willynilly all over the place just add the final touch of perfection.

I suppose there are some who would question the aesthetics, which would just prove the point that Masahiko Fujiwara, the author of the aforementioned tome was making: Simpleminded non-Japanese just cannot understand... wareware nihonjin!

Shocking News

To me anyway. A few years ago, the Tokyo government decided that children would have to sing Kimigayo, the Japanese anthem. Teachers were also required to stand, face the flag, and sing. Many were disciplined when they refused to do so. The song itself has links to the war, so a lot of teachers strongly opposed it. (Japanese teachers were used to indoctrinate children before WWII, and many of today's teachers are very aware of the dangers of anything that smacks of militarism.)

The Tokyo government was sued by a group of teachers---and amazingly, they won. Teachers now have "no obligation" to stand, sing, and face the flag. The story is here.

I'll bet Tokyo's part-time governor, Shintaro "Blinky" Ishihara, is furious. Probably blinking at warp speed and blaming it on the U.S., China, Korea, and foreigners in general. I hope he doesn't soil his panties over it.

This is a rare pause in the march to increasing nationalism we've seen recently. I doubt it will last. (Tokyo can appeal the decision.)

30 September 2006 update: The Tokyo government has filed an appeal to force teachers to stand and sing this thing. I knew ol' Blinky would defecate in his drawers when he heard that.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Teachers needed!!

Remember a few weeks ago when the nutjob in Thailand falsely confessed to being he killer of the young Colorado girl? We were able to read articles that poor little schools and companies just didn't have the time or money to do background checks or hire proper teachers. How are they to know of someone is qualified or not?

Here is what is really important:

established American-owned English school with locations in Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto seeks aggressive salespersons, promoters and teachers in one. Prefer background in sales or marketing. No teaching experience OK. Any nationality with proper visa, business attire, energy, nice smile apply to: us.

Now I am no defender of any eikaiwa chain scam---oops, school, but what this place claims is somewhat less than true---at least for Berlitz, which is the only eikaiwa chain I have had any first-hand experience (nightmares?) with. They compare here. Reader beware!!! Applicant beware even more!!! (It is still the same old chain-school "McJob" set up as far as I can see from their site, except they are asking the "teachers" to sell too. That has always been a warning sign.)

Students get additional benefits. After they have become fluent from studying under their promoter/salesperson non-teachers, they can become a "Desciple"

Bet that place is a fine place to work! Come, teach English in Japan.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Future Under Abe

It is an interesting time to be living in Japan---perhaps even more interesting than to be here during the "bubble economy" years as Japan began to believe the popular US myth that it really was destined to become the top economic power in the world and started to act with the arrogance than goes with that position. (Arrogance increased even more by the fact that Japan is a hierarchical society in which those of lower status must bow to their superiors. Or at least grovel a little.)

As we can see, nationalist sentiment is increasing and has been for years. The difference is that it is no longer hidden beneath the surface. It's pretty obvious to anyone living here and paying attention to what is really going on (not believing the sugarcoated version of Japan).

Shinzo Abe, probably the most nationalistic PM that Japan has had for years---possibly since WWII is poised to become prime minister. Abe plans to rewrite the Japanese constitution to allow a more assertive use of military force, has supported Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni shrine, suggested a pre-emptive strike against North Korea was legal, has supported schools texts which play down Japanese atrocities during WWII, denies that Japanese troops forced women into sexual slavery during the war, and seems to follow the rightwingers down the line.

Obviously, Japan has to join the real world and admit to having a military and give its military the legal authority to act as a military. It has to become involved in diplomacy in ways other than simply "buying" its way through every crisis. It has to quit leeching off of the US for its own good and certainly for the good of the USA. (Why are we keeping so many troops here again? If there were a war and Americans were dying in battle to defend Japan, the Japanese military is very restricted in any assistance it could give American troops. US ship sinking in combat? The Japanese Navy cannot come to its aid legally.)

The real question is, after seeing Japan's great diplomatic success of the last few years of angering all of its neighbors over Yasukuni for no obvious reason other than self-centered self-righteousness, where will Abe lead this aging society? And how? Where is the money for the military going to come from as social programs become more stressed, and the work force ages? Will Japan continue to anger and alienate simply to pretend it did no wrong in WWII (while claiming it has sincerely apologized) and to insist that its prime minister's visits to a Swhinto shrine which houses convicted war criminals is an internal issue? (Abe doesn't seem to accept verdicts of the Tokyo war crimes trial anyway. In fact, he seems to believe Japans actions in WWII benefited Asia.)

Peaceful Japan, its military defense provided by Uncle Sam, (which allowed it to be "peaceful" and keep a pacifist constitution) its diplomacy handled by the US, or at least cover given to it by the US, is quickly disappearing. We have heard for decades on how the war years were just a diversion from Japan's march to democracy, how Japan suddenly, completely changed into a different country with different peaceful, passive beliefs (well, all the "good" traditions remained") and now we will get to see how true this stuff was.

NPR audio here.

Monday, September 18, 2006

But perhaps a tax increase is needed...

something is. Hopefully it will not damage the economy which would than defeat the purpose of an increase (to get increased revenues).

However, there have already been numerous cuts in many programs as Japan tried to revive its economy. Why, perhaps there have even been some cuts in road building programs. Perhaps.

But one thing which is being cut---and taxes increased for---is the apparently collapsing healthcare system. Japan has had reasonably good health care with excellent accessibility to most for years. As the population ages, something has to give and it seems it already has started. Japan Focus has a good article on the by Yabuki Toshihito here.

It's very worrying for anyone with long-term plans to live in Japan. You might want to reconsider for this reason alone. It may become as expensive and difficult to access for lower income people as that of the US.

Friday, September 15, 2006

January 2007 another LDP tax increase

Just as the Japanese economy is back on its feet, once again the folks who destroyed several previous recoveries are looking to try it again. In January, the income tax break will end. It has been in place for several years. This is understandable. However, the marginal rate will shoot up from 37% to 40% AND the local tax, usually a fairly hefty tax, will also increase. Plus, we is gonna raise the 5% consumption tax soon. 10% is being kicked around.

From today, I am making sure that I keep ALL business-related receipts. No more being less than strict with that. You can bet that salaries won't increase with the tax increases. I already here people talk about working less to avoid higher taxes (those who can---often one has no choice, but if you are getting business income, you need to consider if that extra 1000 yen puts you into a higher tax bracket. If so, you won't see much of that 1000 yen.)

And the central bank is worrying about when to increase the interest rate. Put that on top of the tax increases, and business might lower borrowing (but remember, in Japan banks and lending and borrowing don't work that same as in the US or Britain etc) and then consumers will reduce spending and as borrowing decreases, business will suffer. Then we'll be back where we were.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Return of the Imperial Rescript

We all know that Japan has completely changed since WW2. Why that era just a slight diversion from the path to democracy. WW2 was really just something foreign powers either tricked Japan into entering, or forced them to as they had no other options.

Before Hirohito died, we were told that the modern Japanese no longer thought much about him. He was just a funny old man. None other than Edwin Reishauer himself pushed this laugher. Then Hirohito died and the response of many in Japan made us wonder if Japan really had just completely changed overnight when the war ended.

But now, despite the opposition of the rightwing loonytunes like Fuijiwara Masahiko, Japan is said to have a democracy (debatable). One has to wonder for how much longer as we keep hearing of a desire to return to the past. In Fujiwara's top selling book, he renounces democracy (and even claims that the Japan that started the Pacific War was a democracy) and suggests Japan be ruled by an elite unelected group. He suggests that Japan should return to bushido---in fact, he wants to export it. This all worked so well in the past.

The Imperial Rescript on Education has was used by such elites from the late 1800s to indoctrinate young Japanese children with the idea that the emperor was the head of the state in Japan and they owed him allegiance. It was one of the strongest symbols of nationalism in that era.

The 1890 decree, issued on behalf of Emperor Meiji, was criticized on the grounds that it was "based on the belief that sovereign power resides with the emperor, upholding a mythological view of the fundamental character of the nation." The Diet ruled that it "clearly infringed on basic human rights." (From below)

It is coming back in some areas, and is fully supported by many parents---the average Japanese mom and dad. Children are again being forced to recite it---elementary school children!

So what does this mean? Is Japan becoming a militarist Japan again? No, but Japan does not hold the same values, world views, and visions as the US or other western countries. The beliefs, traditions, and tendencies that existed in Japan prior to World War II did not suddenly disappear. They still exist at some level in Japan. US citizens should in particular be aware of this. Japan is not becoming more like us. Japan is an American ally only as long as the US remains strong and as long as it is to Japan's benefit. No shock there.

The story, from Asahi Shimbum is here: Potent Words.

Sunny Rain

Just sitting here watching the rain pour when all the forecasts have guessed at a sunny morning. It has been that way since about 7AM. A look outside and you know it will rain, but a look at the various forecasts and you can see it will be cloud or sunny.

It is reassuring to know that weather forecasting ability has not improved since I was a kid. I remember back home watching it pour while the weather-guesser predicted clear skies and 0% chance. Even funnier was when they would predict massive amounts of snow and the temperature was in the 50s by 8AM and skies were perfectly clear. I remember the radio disk jockeys being so embarrassed at having to read such idiocy that they apologized.

The only place I have seen somewhat accurate weather guessing was in Texas. It was pretty simple. Sunny and hot, high of 95 and low of 75. It rarely changed in the summer. Washington state wasn't bad. As long as the skies were clear when the guess was made and they could predict continued clear weather, they were pretty accurate. But if there was a change coming, a storm, cool or hotter weather, you could forget it.

The best way to tell the weather is to look outside. Even if you are wrong 50% of the time, you will still be better than a professional guesser.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Princess Kiko has a new baby boy.

or, is he a god like some of the old rightwing retroーgrouches like to claim the emperor is. At any rate, any possibility of considering a woman as emperor is now gone forever---or at least a really long time. The media has started to go nuts---like the US media did when Princess Diana died.

This will be good for the emperor worshipers which are still more numerous in Japan than we were led to believe by folks like ol' Eddy O. Reischauer. One of the big concerns the bigoted fools who run the country have, is that if a woman became emperor, she could marry an evil, disgusting "blue-eyed foreigner" and their child ---with the polluted "mixed" blood could become emperor as former trade minister Takeo Hinamura stated:

Former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma said at a rally in February that ``if Aiko becomes the reigning empress, and gets involved with a blue-eyed foreigner while studying abroad and marries him, their child may be emperor,'' according to the Associated Press. ``We should never let that happen

Imagine what would happen if she married someone from another Asian country or someone with darker skin, say of African descent. Eeew, the pure Japanese blood would be polluted! (Oh, don't ever mention that Japanese blood is not pure anyway, since Ainu, Chinese, and Korean are in the Japanese gene pool.)

Ah, but there is no bigotry or racism in Japan.

Be aware that Hinamura is not really a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He is just a typical Japanese leader who like Fujiwara, is protecting the Dignity of a State. Banzai!!!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Autumn is Coming

Cooling somewhat. Soon the typhoons will start. I at least have a better view from my window thn most people. Not just a bunch of ugly gulag type apartment buildings or parking lots.