Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On Prisons, Can the US learn from Japan?

Somewhere along the meandering career path that led James Webb to the U.S. Senate, he found himself in the frigid interior of a Japanese prison. A journalist at the time, he was working on an article...

...Webb said the United States could learn from the Japanese prison system. In his book, A Time to Fight, he wrote that the Japanese focused less on retribution. Sentences were short, and inmates often left prison with marketable job skills. Webb said the system was modeled on philosophies pioneered by Americans, who he says have since lost their way. From the Houston Chronical.

OK. If Sen. Webb says so.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I have a Japanese wife, and she says...

I've often noticed that phrase in various places on the Internet. I may have even heard someone say it. God forbid, I may have used it myself in the dim, distant past.

It is usually used when there is some sort of debate about something Japanese and someone decides to end the debate with a definitive, unchallengeable statement. After all, how could anyone argue with a Japanese spouse?

There are some folks, both Japanese and non-Japanese, who find it hard to accept that the LDP is in deep enough kimchi to actually lose the next election, if one is ever held. No matter how bad things look for the party, many believe that it will always find a way to escape defeat. After all, it has had a pretty darned good record of doing just that since 1955. Times may have changed, but the ol' LDP can't be counted out to these folks.*

I admit to having had some sympathy for that view, rational or not, so I decided to put an end to all doubt and get a definitive answer.

On the shinkansen last week, when the thrill of watching out the window as we passed through tunnel after tunnel was somehow lessening, I decided to have a chat with the lady sitting next to me. I asked her "Do you think that the DPJ will beat the LDP in the next election?" She replied, "They'd better. This is their last chance, if they can't do it now, they never will. The LDP has been dead for 20 years."

Aha! Got it. I have a Japanese wife and she says that it looks like this is the DPJ's big chance to put away the already dead LDP. End of debate...... almost.....

Just as I thought I had my answer, she continued (half-jokingly?), "There is a rumor that Princess Masako is connected with the Sokagakkai. She used to be in the foreign ministry and that group controls the ministry. The head of the Sokagakkai is really powerful, probably more powerful than any prime minister...."

By the time she had finished, she left the impression that the whole country was being run by the head of the Sokagakkai.

Now I am all confused again. Does this mean that the winner of the next election---should one ever be held---will be determined by the Sokagakkai? Wouldn't that winner likely be the New Komeito Party? And doesn't that mean....

Nah. Never mind. She's been know to vote JCP and I ain't listenin' to no commie pinko.

*This, however, may convince some otherwise.

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Every day I am looking at the market developments with a sense of alarm and urgency," the paper quoted Nakagawa as saying in reference to yen volatility in an interview. Reuters.

Me too, though not about the yen volatility that Nakagawa was talking about. So for the last week, I have been trying to avoid newspapers, the Internet and anything else that could cause current events to ruin my day.

This seems to work as I am able to take a more relaxed view of life. A few days ago when I saw some fine students from a nearby private girls school force a little old lady using a cane to come to a stop and squeeze herself up against the wall so that she would not interfere with their hogging of the entire sidewalk, I was barely bothered. I resisted the thought of grabbing granny's stick and using it on the young queens, but instead looked at the bright side---since they do the same thing to me, it meant that I was getting no special foreigner treatment. I was so pleased with that thought, that I entirely forgot about them and was unable to stop and squeeze myself up against the wall. This resulted in collisions and confusion. The confusion being mostly mine as they barely broke pace but continued chatting and giggling and looking for someone else to trample.*

This know-nothing state is so nice that I believe I'll continue it until 2009. I actually know a few folks who always seem to be in such a state. Perhaps they have learned something over the years.

*I now understand why some older folks are so pushy and aggressive in crowded places. Sixty years of being pushed and shoved tends to make one a bit tired of enduring it passively.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Paul Krugman writing in a NYT Op-ed, Life Without Bubbles, discussed what he sees as the future of the US economy after the recession and how it cannot return to the recent past. On the chances of the US reducing its trade deficit in the short term, he is no enthusiastic:

...Anyway, the rest of the world may not be ready to handle a drastically smaller U.S. trade deficit. As my colleague Tom Friedman recently pointed out, much of China’s economy in particular is built around exporting to America, and will have a hard time switching to other occupations...

What was this about decoupling? The Economist explained why it is (was?) not a myth back on 6 March 2008.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Not our fault. The devil made us do it.

I missed this somehow, but it is still a shock.

It should not be, as I remember that it took the police an extraordinarily long time decide whether to make an arrest. I recall that they even had a tough time determining that the teenage victim of the beating had suffered anything other than the normal bruises and injuries of ordinary sumo practice. In fact, his death was initially ruled as due to heart failure.

The three sumo wrestlers who beat the boy to death were given "suspended sentences" and they weren't even company executives.. They were, in effect, let off.

Early last year when the police finally made the arrests---after the family questioned how the bruised battered body of their son did not raise any suspicions of foul play---the father was quoted as saying:

"I do understand that the master's orders are absolute, so maybe they couldn't help it, but if they had reconsidered, this would not have happened."

The judge in this case only half agreed.

Despite the fears of the old boys running sumo, it is not the foreign wrestlers who are ruining the sport.

Monday, December 22, 2008

As I walked around the neighborhood yesterday in 18 plus centigrade weather trying to convince myself that it was not the 2nd month of what always seems to me to be a 5-month long March in Tokyo, I came to a plot of land now for sale. I was saddened to see this, for the house which had once stood there was a house that I had fantasized buying.

The house had been vacant since we moved into the area 2 1/2 years ago. I had heard that the land was probably worth more than 2 million US dollars, which put an end to any thoughts of living there but not the desire.

It was a huge house by Tokyo standards. In the rear was an overgrown garden with a small porch on which I could imagine myself sitting on frigid winter day enjoying a nearly equally imaginary heavy Tokyo snowfall.

Then, about a month ago, a real estate company set up a sales table in front of the house. I knew then that even the fantasy was gone, but I was surprised when the real estate company did not return the following week. Had the house sold so quickly? Perhaps the price had been reduced for a quick sale. The fantasy returned. Should I have checked how much it really was, just in case?

A few days later, workmen arrived. They immediately went to the overgrown garden and cut down every single tree and shrub. Then they cut down the tree on the corner that had blocked the view of the nearby intersection for both pedestrians and drivers, but which when gone was immediately missed. What kind of people would do that, I wondered. I feared that the new residents might do what another neighbor did when he bought his house---he paved the large garden in front and made it into a rent-by-the-month parking lot.

But no, this was worse. By the end of the week, backhoes had been brought in. They tore down the wall near the garden and began to dig it up. Scaffolding went up as they began to dismantle the house. They were tearing the whole thing down.

It progressed more slowly than a lot of house demolitions. I can walk down a street in some areas and see a house one day and by the next week there will be no trace left. This one took about 3 weeks to entirely demolish and remove, leaving nothing but a plot of soil. It is nice looking soil though, and it seems that one could raise a good vegetable garden there.

Then came another shock. The real estate company came back and again set up a sales table. It seems that nobody had bought the house after all. The owner or real estate company had for some reason torn it down.

I don't know if the house was old and had serious flaws---though I had noticed that there was absolutely no insulation in the walls ---but it looked fine from the outside. I did know, however, that houses and land are viewed differently in Japan (or at least Tokyo) as compared to where I come from.

This morning I saw that Philip Brasor has written an timely article about The Japanese art of useless houses and the government's "200-year housing plan" meant to encourage the building of longer lasting homes:

[Former PM] Fukuda explained something everybody knew at least intuitively: Japanese homes were not made to last... ...With the price of land so high, people couldn't afford better quality homes, and cheap, poor quality structures became the norm. What Fukuda didn't mention is that the housing industry was addicted to this cycle, which is referred to as "scrap and build." The average new house loses its value completely 15 years after it's occupied...From the Japan Times

That's a shame for the "old" house that was just torn down. Had I the money, I might have given 2 million US dollars for it. But now, if I could disregard the resale value, I could not imagine giving much more the 100,000 for it. One hundred thousand yen. The fantasy is gone and it is just a big vegetable garden to me. I find the older houses much, much more attractive than the shiny newer ones which look as if they were mass-produced in a house factory.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Just back from a much delayed and shortened trip out of Tokyo and found this:

The Japanese government has acknowledged for the first time that Allied prisoners during World War II were made to work at a coal mine owned by the family of Prime Minister Taro Aso, contradicting his longstanding denials. NYT

Poor Mr. Aso gets kicked yet again when he's down. After this stunning news flash, one wonders what will be next. Will Rush Limbaugh admit that there might possibly be some connection to human activities and global warming? I'll miss that however, unless it also makes the "news."

Then, after reading the above NYT article, I was pleased to learn at another site that although the US is up to its neck in debt to China, that debt gives China no political influence in Washington. You see, any sudden sell-off of that debt would hurt China as much or more than the US. Thank goodness, for that seems to be what the US, and a large part of the global economy is based on. Sorta of a 21st century Mutual Assured Destruction among the US, China, and Japan only this time based on mutual destruction of economies instead of destruction by nuclear war.

We certainly have no reason to ever consider that a country might see a need to do something considered illogical and suicidal. There could never be a situation in which that country may feel that the supposedly illogical and suicidal choice is its best or only alternative. Such a thing has never, ever happened in history. Besides, those folks watching over the financial system in the US and throughout the world know what they are doing.

Although that little tidbit was from an anonymous comment on an interesting post at Observing Japan, I doubt that it is a rarely held opinion. I have used such thoughts to reassure myself about the huge debt the US owes to China and Japan, but somehow, I still feel just a little worried.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ya' gotta admire a society

in which there are so few lawyers. So said a co-worker this evening when talking about a Japanese company's legal department that he visited in the past. Seems there was only one attorney working there. Now this is one sharp dude---a US guy from a Rocky Mountain state who admires Japan's "unique" four seasons---so I curious as to why he thought so. Well, it turns out that he has never worked in law enforcement, never sued or been sued, and apparently never been in a position where he felt that he personally needed to hire a lawyer. Therefore, lawyer=bad. He even said so. Lawyers are "scum." Lawsuits and all. Hmmm.

He was blessedly unaware of the little situation in Yokohama in 2002 where a defective Mitsubishi-made wheel came off of a large truck, rolled on the sidewalk striking and killing a young mother. Others had been killed or injured by this type of defective wheel and Mitsubishi, bless their hearts, lied about it and tried to cover it up. Only when the facts became public did the company give a sincere and heartfelt apology to the families of those whom they had helped kill.

After being acquitted once, in the summer of 2008 the three top executives were found guilty of falsifying the report in that fatal accident and were given the harsh penalty of ¥200,000 (apx $2000) each. A few others connected with the case received the usual suspended jail sentences. (I like that. I think I'd become some sort of criminal if I could be assured of a suspended sentence. Yea, embarrassing, but low-risk and potentially very profitable.)

Damage suits are relatively rare, and companies are rarely required to pay more than a token amount. Even when convicted of criminal wrongdoing, executives of companies are generally handed lenient sentences with no prison terms. IHT here.

Oh, the 29 year old mother who was killed by Mitsubishi's negligence? Her family received 5.5 million yen (about $55000. I recall reading earlier that it was only ¥250,000):

The court was ruling on a 165 million yen damages suit -- 65 million yen in compensation and 100 yen in punitive damages -- against Mitsubishi Motors and the government. It ordered the truck maker to only pay 5.5 million yen to the mother of 29-year-old Shiho Okamoto, who was killed when she was struck by a wheel that flew off an MMC truck. Okamoto's two children were also hurt.

The government was not ordered to pay any damages.

"Imposition of punitive damages, aimed at punishing an offender, is not congruous to our country's legal system," the three-judge panel said in the ruling. Judge Hiroyuki Shibata read out the decision on behalf of presiding Judge Hiroshi Yamamoto, who had been transferred to another court. Japan Times here.

It's fine to admire that. Probably good to admire how the Minamata/Chisso industries mercury poisoning case was handled too. After all, although lawyers and victims finally won some compensation nearly 40 years after the fact, at least they weren't able to win huge amounts like they could have elsewhere. What's a little pain, suffering, and mercury poisoning when you have industries to build?

Given the track record of success above, one wonders why the Japanese are so reluctant to sue? A mysterious cultural trait?

...there is no direct statistical data showing that such a stigma prevents claimants to sue. An empirical research made by the Justice System Reform Council in 2000 showed that 46.2% of parties felt reluctance to use civil procedure. However, among the top reasons for this reluctance were the time (72.0%) and the cost (67.2%) required to go through a case. By contrast, cultural reasons, such as negative influences on one’s social appearance (19.9%) and fear of exposure to the public (18.0%), ranked low. This result may not suggest that most Japanese citizens are indifferent to the stigma in suing because the respondents were limited to those who had used civil procedure in the past, but it does suggest that the time and cost of litigation may have substantial influence on litigants' behavior. Japanese Law Resources here.

Huh? Time and money? Ohhhhh. How inscrutable! And how hard it is to imagine such a reason, especially when the results---if you are fortunate enough to succeed---would be something in the order of $55,000 for a young mother's life.

Yep. Lawyers and the ability to sue are bad. It's a real shame that the government has been making an effort to increase lawyer numbers (while hoping to avoid company-damaging suits I'd guess.) Imagine that. Citizens could conceivably get more power. Cursed Western influence.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We're all Keynesians now

I no longer expect any good news when I read about the economy in Japan, in the US, in Britain, or anywhere. In fact, the only good day is when there is no new disaster.

On the weekend when Lehman collapsed and Merill Lynch was sold, I knew that the world had changed. (I also had the rather weird thought that there would be some really interesting books written about what went on during that weekend that I could read in about 6 months.) Since then so many things that I mostly took for granted have been proven to have been nothing but a sort of poorly made virtual reality. For example, I knew free markets were not exactly "free," but I did not expect that so many proponents of the unrealized paradise of mythical free markets would become sudden converts to open, aggressive government "intrusion" into the market.

There has been one bright spot though. Paul Krugman has returned to his day job doing what he does best, Keynesian economics, instead of using his NYT column to connect every single problem on earth to Boy George.

D.C. What did Japan do wrong in the 90's and how can we avoid the same fate?

Paul Krugman: To be honest, I think US economists are feeling a bit more respect for the Japanese, or at least sympathy for their plight. Avoiding a Japan-type experience is proving harder than most economists thought -- even economists like Ben Bernanke, who'd worked hard on analyzing Japan.

But the big message I take from Japan's experience is the folly of excessive caution. If you're half-hearted about taking on the slump -- if you wait to cut interest rates, nickel-and-dime your fiscal stimulus, penny-pinch on your bank bailouts -- then by the time you realize more is needed, deflation has set in, and it's really hard to get out of the trap.

So you want to be really, really aggressive on policy early on. Transcript of Washington Post interview/discussion here.

I think we are all a little more sympathetic---certainly less condescending---to what Japan went through in the 90s. And a little more Keynesian.

Link to the Keynes essay that Krugman mentioned: The Great Slump of 1930

Monday, December 15, 2008

A word of thanks

A quick note of thanks to those who left messages concerning my recent illness and to MTC for mentioning that on his blog Shisaku. I appreciate the thoughts and kind words.

It was also brought to my attention that there is no way to contact me via this blog. I had apparently turned my profile off some time ago and had forgotten and leaving no other way to get in touch. I have turned the profile back on, but it's nowhere to be seen. I am working on that to see what the problem is, but it may take a while to resolve it as I'll probably have to troubleshoot with Google "support." (10:11pm That was simple, profile added below.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I know I should feel bad

After all, I just spent a week with meningitis which I somehow managed to catch even though it is said to be very difficult to catch. I should feel bad because my head is still throbbing after 7 solid days of it. I should feel bad because if my brain is damaged it will affect my job....oh wait, maybe not because it would make no difference there and could even be beneficial.

I should feel bad for those who believed that (in spite of all common sense and evidence) that the Japanese economy would not be affected much by the global financial crisis and who must now face reality. And I should feel even worse for those who still don't see any real problems. "Huh? They rescued the financial companies but won't help those that really make something (the car companies)! They have their priorities wrong! BAHAHA!" Unfortunately, my friend from down under was actually serious when he said that, but I don't feel bad for him.

I don't really feel bad for any of the above reasons. So I guess that I should not beat myself over actually feeling a bit of pleasure as the US Big Three auto companies head toward the reward that they have deserved for at least 25-30 years. A "bit of pleasure"? Actually, I am feeling sort of a sadistic joy in seeing it, and I have this strange urge to dance a little jig at the news and I don't think it's due to the virus on the brain.

It is really partially my fault that those companies have not been able to produce quality cars that enough people would want to buy in order to keep the firms in the red and the management and union members well in the black (and the CEOs in private jets). For I confess that I stopped buying American cars after I graduated high school. Although I had spent my childhood as an apprentice grease monkey to my father whose "hobby" was working on the clunkers, I hated every single second of wallowing in mud and grease trying to fix the P.O.S. that just broke down in the middle-of-the-night in a blizzard out in the-middle-of-the-sticks. I was determined not to continue that wonderful family tradition any longer than necessary and began buying Japanese cars. They, with one exception, allowed me to avoid reliving those wonderful childhood experiences. [I am embarrassed to add that even my father later switched to Japanese-made cars and has refused to "buy American" since.]

Hence the dire straights of the poor Big Three Stooges. Who could have seen this coming? Who could have imagined that folks would switch to Toyota and Honda, despite earlier efforts by The Three Stooges to have the US government protect them from competition? Who could have imagined that oil prices might go up and cause SUV sales to drop? Who could have imagined that after decades of criticism that the Stooges were not exactly prime examples of forward-thinking, fully-competitive companies selling top quality products that would dominate their market forever, that the criticism could actually be accurate! Who could have imagined that after decades of whining and making better excuses than cars, that people would stop listening?

And finally, who could have imagined that after the companies could not make cars that Americans wanted to buy, that we stupid ingrates would object when Three Stooges demanded that the government take away the money that we refused to spend on US cars and give it to them anyway?

I should feel bad. At this time, the well-deserved bankruptcies of one or more of those companies could be an especially risky thing. I am still undecided on whether or not they should be extended a (very temporary) hand until the economy improves, or just allowed to reap what they've sown. I have listened to both/all sides for the last month. I would not want to see people lose their jobs and careers---well, I would not weep if some of the management and union leaders did---but I do not feel bad about the situation that those companies put themselves in.

Why do I not feel bad? Well, because this time the car companies have a plan to succeed!!!!! They just came up with it over the last few weeks! And although I believed the car salesmen, the U.S. Senate seemed to have doubts. Thus, they have scuttled the initial handout---sorry bailout---proposal.

Scuttled the bailout! I do not feel bad.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Discrimination validated

by some fellow who wrote an article for the Japan Times last week. I read it and considered replying, but I honestly did not know where to begin. It was like reading Fujiwacko Masahiko's book of two years ago. One has to wonder if he is actually as silly as he seems.

Our explainer basically justified bigotry by claiming it was all made fine and wonderful by his view of "group accountability." Apparently, he thought that it was just dandy that public bath operators in Hokkaido could ban anyone who did not "look Japanese" as this was just a way of making a whole group (those who did not look Japanese) accountable for the actions of a smaller part of that group (Russian sailors).

Naturally the problem is also somehow related to the US because the US is/has been racist and this fact magnifies the feelings of injustice to Westerners. So, I guess we gotta assume that the non-western, non-Japanese who reside in Japan (as well as many Japanese) don't see a problem with it. Anyway, we can't hold it against Japan for discriminating based on "group" because 'merika and the west in general is racist whilst Japan's racial and other discrimination isn't racist.

In Japan, you see, group discrimination---bigotry---is evenhanded. If you ain't a "pure" Japanese, that's sufficient. Since the bath claimed that the reason that no non-Japanese looking person could enter was because some Russian sailors caused problems somewhere, and since Russian sailors are not Japanese then they could---at least until a Japanese court said they couldn't---discriminate against all who are not.

(This brings up the problem of which group must be held accountable for the actions of the mass-murdering Japanese in Akihabara last summer, or the guy who a few weeks ago stabbed 3 people, killing two, because he was supposedly angry that the government had killed his doggy when he was a child. All Japanese? All men? All Japanese men? All young pet owners?)

Our writer then equates the discrimination with the rules for female-only train cars during peak hours and finally makes the utterly bizarre, absurd claim that since this group accountability is a major reason that Japan is safe (prove that) if Japan abandons it, then Japan will become like the mythical US or other countries---unsafe, full of selfish criminals where one cannot walk the streets without being a crime victim. Japan will, in effect, become a foreign country.
"Japan will become one more nation in which the individual is to be feared. That is an outrageously high price to pay for the occasional racial, national, generational or gender-driven slight."
I am not the first to write this, but if that is the case, then the US can become a safer country by openly (or secretly) and intentionally discriminating against groups of people whom those with power may assume (or simply claim) may be troublemakers. We should repeal the Civil Rights laws and go back 150 years to become "safe" again.

The case the apologist-for-bigotry-and-discrimination wrote about was the Otaro onsen case brought by naturalized Japanese citizen, Arudo Debito. Debito has posted the original article and a short response on his blog along with other responses.

The author of the article is putting the finishing touches on a book that is bound to become a classic on what the world can learn from Japan. Although topic sounds like a rehash of the 1980s books of this genre, there are things which folks elsewhere could learn from Japan. Whether or not those things could be adopted is another question. Let's hope, however, that excusing racism, bigotry, and other discrimination based on group membership is not one of them.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

As a board member of The Academy of Outrageous Books, Shunichi Karasawa sees parallels between the controversial essay written by sacked Air Self-Defense Force chief Toshio Tamogami, an apologist for Japan's wartime aggression, and classic "outrageous" conspiracy theories...

Regarding the vocal support for Tamogami's views that is rampant on the Internet, Karasawa pointed to a generation that he claims harbors resentment*....Article at the Japan Times.

I would guess that this resentment will increase rather than decrease. I only hope that those who predict the downfall of the LDP are right, not because Ozawa and the DJP are any great improvement, but because if the DPJ can win and govern well enough to gain support, perhaps it will begin a real 2-party system with choices in the future. But then again, who says that a second party would not turn more rightward and more revisionist and more isolationist than certain factions of the LDP. After all, some DPJ members signed the ad in the Washington Post last year claiming Japanese government innocence in the sex slave business in WW2.

As long as certain extremists keep denying Japan's wrongdoings in the war, criticism will continue. Were they simply to shut up some of the controversies might actually die down. They won't though.

*The younger generation resents criticism of Japan? Damn, what would they do if Japan got half the criticism that the US receives and has received for decades?

(For your mental health, avoid 2ch (2 Channel) and similar places. It can be depressing, alarming, and certainly impacts any impression one has of Japan. Tamogami seems soft compared to some of those folks.)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Let 100 flowers bloom

"I don't think my opinions are particularly militaristic or of a rightwing nature," Tamogami said during a news conference in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, adding many of his supporters are merely keeping their views to themselves.

Ousted Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami stuck to his revisionist historical views Monday, saying his justification of Japan's wartime acts is shared by many lawmakers and Self-Defense Forces personnel. Full article at the Japan Times.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Fingerprintin' them thar furriners

Over the last few days, the government and media have been reporting that last year's law requiring all non-Japanese (including permanent residents) to be fingerprinted when entering or re-entering Japan, has been a success as it has kept 800-odd "undesirables" out of Japan.

The law was controversial when passed, as many---permanent residents in particular---were angered and offended. Too bad, said the government (and most others, including many non-Japanese) it's for safety and security and it stays.

So where did all this fingerprinting of non-Japanese begin? We all know that it was done to ethnic Koreans for decades until the law was rescinded mainly due to their protests in the 80s. While reading Mark E. Caprio's article in Japan Focus I found this interesting little tidbit: May 1947, just months prior to SCAP’s January 1948 announcement that Koreans would be treated as “Japanese nationals,” SCAP reversed course by subjecting Japan-based Koreans and Taiwanese to its Alien Registration Ordinance. Mirrored after the U.S. Alien Registration Act of 1940, it required all non-Japanese over the age of 14 to register their alien status and carry with them at all times their alien registration passbook. It further stipulated that violators would face deportation. This legislation served as the forerunner for the more comprehensive Alien Registration Act of 1952 that introduced mandatory fingerprinting of foreign residents. See Japan Focus: The Cold War explodes in Kobe---the 1948 Korean Ethnic School "Riots" and the US Occupation Authorities.

I suppose the Japanese government of the time could have objected to Dugout Doug, SCAP, and Uncle Sam, but they didn't. Just like today, when the US passes tougher laws controlling foreign visitors or residents, Japan rarely declines adopting a similar law because of moral reasons as long as it citizens (or industries) are not affected. .

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Perhaps it is understandable that folks in Japan (and elsewhere) think that the US has gone insane:

In a sign of consumer desperation amid a bleak economy, the annual rite of retailing known as Black Friday turned chaotic and deadly, as shoppers scrambled for holiday bargains.

A Wal-Mart worker on Long Island, N.Y., died after being trampled by customers who broke through the doors early Friday, and other workers were trampled as they tried to rescue the man. Story at the Seattle Times here.

I do remember an incident in Tama Plaza, Kanagawa a few years ago where a group of female shoppers burst through the doors at a big sale which resulted in several going to the hospital. Fortunately, nobody died then.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The invasion of evil (baka) gaijin

Some 51.8 percent of Japanese said a rise in foreign tourists visiting Japan made them "concerned about safety" and thought "some steps should be taken" to address such concerns, according to a government survey released Thursday. Japan Times.

Remember back in the 80s and early 90s when things were simpler and folks only had to worry about sneaky, dangerous, drug-using, quasi-criminal non-Japanese spreading AIDS? Now da' gubbermint is actually tryin' to git more of them to visit the Land of Purity.

What else could be expected when people are exposed to government officials promoting xenophobia; when the media often dwells on crimes committed by non-Japanese in a way that is all out of proportion to similar crimes committed by Japanese; when nearly everything people are exposed to from childhood on claim a unique Japanese "race" which is different from all other human beings? When the government wants to take attention off of its (and society's) own failings by exaggerating problems elsewhere so as to make those of Japan seem minor in comparison, why would fear of others even be newsworthy?

Since neither the poll results nor the questions are described in any detail, It's hard to know what to make of it. There is nothing at all surprising unless one considers the 51.8% low. In fact, 48.2% not feeling concerned
(I'll generously assume this) about non-Japanese visitors could be considered progress, little or no thanks to the media and government.

However, I agree that "steps should be taken". It could be called education, perhaps. We could start with the elite then move down the ladder to the folks who think Japan is the only country that has four seasons and drinkable water.

Remember the minister (
Nariaki Nakayama) who was fired because he said (among other things) that Japanese do not like foreigners?

It's not worth worrying about. I just had to do something as I postponed my trip to the mountains for a week and had some free time for ranting.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Beware of cod sperm and enchanted backpackers

Another backpacking journalist on a quick jaunt through Japan (to cover cycling) has discovered the total weirdness of the land. Part one is here, and we are threatened with---I mean promised---more to come.

Japan on the other hand is far from business as usual, and I have been experiencing all sorts of new things here, from food to transportation to toilet technology, it has been an eye opening experience for sure. Next time though, I am going to make sure I get an adequate description of each food item before chowing down, so I can avoid eating things like Shirako, which, it turn out, is boiled cod sperm and is considered delicacy in Japan.

Although this delicacy is one I have not heard of, I will try to avoid cod sperm in the future, as it must be so common here. Sorta like the sea urchin rectums that TIME (comedy) magazine wrote about in the 80s. The article is from Velonews.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


After all the time that I have wasted worrying about the global economy, I was reassured today by my buddy, the Thunderbird MBA, who explained the rationale behind his theory of why Japan will not be seriously affected by the downturn and will possibly once again (?) take over from the US the position of the world's top economic power.

It goes like this: Since Japan's financial system has not (!?) been affected by the global financial crisis, the fact that the other major economies of the world are having serious problems will provide Japanese companies with an opportunity to increase their market share in those countries. It will also cause foreign investment to increasingly flow into Japan (where we are to assume that it will be welcomed with open arms?) I am a bit confused as how companies will be able to increase market share of shrinking markets when nobody is buying anything unless Thunderbird guy is counting on a lot of bankruptcies. Of course, there would be no moves by any of those countries to protect their weakened industries either. Unfortunately, I never pursued those points any further.

However, just for fun I mentioned the indebtedness of US consumers and government and the dependence of the US on borrowing from foreign countries like Japan and China* (why did I so enjoy emphasizing Japan as a foreign country? How could Japan be foreign?) and wondered how he thought it could be sustainable. He seemingly had no knowledge of this and could not say much about it. Well, he is working in HR...

It has been said that you can judge the size of a man by the size of the things which irritate him. I am shrinking. Rapidly.

*I linked to this below, but Japan Focus has an article explaining in very easy to understand terms the risks and dangers of this system and why this system must be reformed or replaced. Debt Man Walking, by John B. Judis---very much worth reading.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Speaking of a depression

Just after Japan's real estate bubble burst in 1989, I came to Japan for 2 years (1991-1993). At that time, Japan's economy was starting its long recession, but few average people seemed to realize it. Instead, folks were more convinced that the US was going all to hell. A lot of this was due to the 1992 US election between Daddy Bush, Willy Clinton, and crazy-man Ross Pea-rot.

Clinton was running around screaming about "the worst economy since the Great Depression" and others about the "end of the American Dream" whatever that is. The problem was that it was all believed here by many. I heard time and time again, on TV, on the train, and from people whom I knew about the end of that dream. Few had much to say about Japan's economic problems, although it would be mentioned in the press. It seems that it was not yet real to many.

It seems similar today, (at least among people I speak to*, most of whom should know better) only this time the problems of the US are very, very, real and very, very, serious. The problems have just begun for Japan too, and I suspect they will be very, very real and very, very, serious soon enough---no matter what the government, the banks, and others were claiming just a month ago. I have even had one Thunderbird MBA explain how the US problems meant that Japan would surpass the US in his imaginary world of a US/Japan who's-on-top cycle. He sorta forgot China and the fact that we may all be on a downward cycle.

John B. Judis has an extremely interesting and important article on Japan Focus in which he takes a look at the house of cards that the US/Japan/China economies are operating on:

The international monetary system is in big trouble.

For decades, the United States has relied on a tortuous financial arrangement that knits together its economy with those of China and Japan. This informal system has allowed Asian countries to run huge export surpluses with the United States, while allowing the United States to run huge budget deficits without having to raise interest rates or taxes, and to run huge trade deficits without abruptly depreciating its currency. I couldn't find a single instance of Obama discussing this issue, but it has been an obsession of bankers, international economists, and high officials like Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. They think this informal system contributed to today's financial crisis. Worse, they fear that its breakdown could turn the looming downturn into something resembling the global depression of the 1930s...

...economists Brad Setser and Nouriel Roubini argue that even the implicit threat of dumping dollars--or of ceasing to purchase them--could limit U.S. maneuverability abroad.

We are all just waiting for the other (truckloads of huge) shoes to drop. See Japan Focus here for the full article.

Also see a translated essay at Japan Focus (here) by Tahara Soichiro The Tamogami Essay: The Danger of Indignation is the Heart of the Problem.”

*Polls and surveys are showing that a majority are worried about the economy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Of Dirty tap water, Autumn leaves, Nature, Trash, and Depression

Saturday morning, as I sat in Kawasaki talking to some guy who saw me studying kanji and decided to invite himself over to chat (you know, a supposedly "shy" Japanese), he began to question me about all the usual---Is Japanese difficult? Is kanji hard?; Where are you from?; Are there any Japanese there?; Can you drink water from the tap in the US?*; and so on, my mind began to wander to the subject of bovine feces (i.e. BS) and naturally on to nihonjinron.

In his book, Dogs and Demons**, Alex Kerr wrote about how folks in modern Japan were somewhat less conscious and respectful of nature (among other things) than they were in the past. One of the smaller examples he wrote of was how people were so quick to trashcan fallen leaves in the autumn.

When I was a kid, folks back home got rid of fallen leaves too, but there was no great hurry to sweep them away as soon as they fell. We never went into the woods or parks to sweep leaves off of dirt trails as we do in Tokyo, for here one must keep nature naturally natural for the convenience of humans. And, perhaps, to give the older gents something to do for their pay.

While in a nearby park a few weeks ago when the leaves had just began to change colors and fall, I was surprised at how hard it was to find any on the floor of the park. Then I discovered the reason. The park trails had been swept clean of the ugly yellow and red fallen leaves to reveal the beautiful mud-brown dirt below. (One could assume that this was done so that nobody would fall on wet leaves until one recalls that if a rare snow falls, the same trails would be snow and ice-covered until it melted.)

Then, last Friday as I was walking down a local street specifically to look at the autumn leaves, I was pleased to see that those leaves were also being swept up as soon as they fell.

Ahh, Japan. Where we humans make nature more natural than nature itself.

When the world economy seems ready to collapse into the biggest disaster since the Great Depression (and for some reason, few whom I meet seem to be concerned) perhaps I should worry about other things.

*Alas, another fine example of nihonjinron. I have run across a number of people who seem to think that Japan is the only country on earth which has safe, drinkable tap water.

**A very controversial book to some---mostly non-Japanese---as Kerr was critical of modern Japan.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Another sign of autumn in Tokyo

As I was purchasing the December issue of Mountain and Valley (Yama-to-keikoku) I was just a bit worried to see that the young lady at the register was busy wiping her runny nose. I suppose that I should have been somewhat pleased that at least she was using a tissue, but her bright red nose and face made me wonder if I should just forget the purchase and leave. Why should I pay for a virus when I am usually given them for free?

As I got to the register, I was relieved when another clerk appeared and accepted the magazine. Whew! Close call, I thought---until I found that she was only going to put it in a bag and ol' Rudolph was going to ring it up, take my money and give me change and snot.

As she told me the total in a fully blocked nasal passage voice that seemed to shout "Severely infectious! Danger! Stay away!", I searched in vain for the correct change. I could not find it. I would have to accept it from her freshly mucous-coated hands.

Damn. Should I just tell her to keep the change, grab the magazine and run? No, this is Japan and that would be unheard of and probably rude on my part. I had to bear the unbearable and accept both the change and the germs from her. Couldn't be helped. Wouldn't want her to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed or anything.

After avoiding touching much of anything on the walk home, I took out my keys (must sterilize keys) and opened the door. (Bleach the handle later.) I immediately turned on the hot water, waited the 1-2 minutes for hot water to actually reach the faucet, and scalded, soaped and scrubbed my hands for at least a minute. Now I have to wonder if I will catch her little gift. Sure glad she came to work today. Thank you Kumazawa book store for having her there too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christopher Hill has done it now...

I think if we do find a solution to the problem of Darfur, it will be because we worked with China. If we find a solution to the problem of Iran, it will be because we worked well with China. Similarly, if we close this deal with North Korea, it will be because of our efforts with China. So I think China has emerged as a country with whom we have to work globally on security challenges. There are increasing signs that we can do that. China suffers at times to an extent, I think, from a caricature of what it is. It’s a really complex society. I don’t think it should be defined by one dimension, its economics, or security, or human rights. We need to look at all the issues. CHRISTOPHER HILL Full article in the NYT Magazine

Note which country is not mentioned as being the key player in talks with North Korea or anywhere else by the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and US representative at the six-party talks with North Korea.

Wonder why? A sneaky US plot to sideline a self-sidelining unnamed country? Oh, the rightists of said---or unsaid---country will soil themselves over Hill's comments.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Babbling fools

A video posted by Ken Worsley on Japan Economy & News Blog shows why those talking-head cheerleaders who appear on U.S. TV shows giving their "expert" opinions on the stock market and what you should invest in should generally be ignored. Except for Peter Schiff, most appear to have been somewhat off on their predictions. Were it not so depressing, it would be funny.

Of course many will now begin to worship Peter Schiff as the new guru of gurus.

Japan worried about Obama?

Ayako Doi writes of the Japanese response to Obama's election:

Surfing Japanese news Web sites for commentaries on the Obama victory from a key U.S. ally, I was taken aback by the skeptical, even negative, tone that prevailed...

...The most astounding article appeared in Sentaku, a monthly magazine with a reputation for objectivity and solid analysis. Writing in anticipation of an Obama victory, the magazine raised most of the same charges the Republicans had leveled against the Democratic candidate, including Obama's associations with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former Weather Underground leader William Ayers and "communist and socialist professors." It called him "the most dubious character in history to occupy the White House." Criticizing Obama's foreign policy statements as "abstract" and "strings of empty words such as 'consultation' and 'cooperation,' " the article concluded that under Obama, the United States would lose its position of global leadership and drag the world into "enormous chaos."

Although she says Japan has now begun to warm up to Obama, she discusses some reasons for the initial skepticism:

...Then there's the issue of anti-Americanism...the main cause of the current round of America-bashing is no doubt the Bush administration's opening to North Korea... is disturbing that no senior politician, journalist or scholar in Japan has had the courage to say that it is in the country's interest to go along with the U.S.-backed six-party talks to put a halt to Pyongyang's nuclear program and integrate North Korea into the community of nations -- or that a "solution" to the abduction problem is likely to be found only in that context.From the Washington Post here.

Perhaps Japan should just leave the six-party talks and solve the abduction issue on its own. The rest of the world will continue, though Uncle Sam may be slightly discomforted because it could not suck funds for any agreement from Japan.

Oh, wait! Japan knew---at least unofficially---about the kidnappings 25 or more years ago. At least Japanese citizens did. The government did nothing then, but now wants to play hardball with someone else's balls. As always.

Japan will not have any choice in the matter of dealing with the next U.S. president. One hopes Obama takes a fresh look at the relationship and does not simply accept the standard "The Japan/US relationship is the most important in the world" nonsense.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rules? What rules?

Why is it that I hear and read that Japanese always obey rules? Which rules? When? Where?

Its members adhered to the sacred rules of living in a Japanese neighborhood by handing out small moving-in gifts, exchanging greetings with the neighbors and, needless to say, properly sorting out their trash.

I have had a few neighbors give gifts when moving in---about once in a blue moon. Exchanging greetings? Maybe, but quite often it is sorta like Sgt Shultz and "I see nothing, nothing." OK, generally most people mostly sort out their trash most of the time except when they don't.

Anyway, the NYT has its typical article, this time on people suing to get rid of the yakuza in the neighborhood. The police, you ask? Are you insane?

The lawsuit was the first of its kind in Japan, where the yakuza’s offices tend to be out in the open. It shined a spotlight on how the yakuza — long considered a necessary evil, tolerated by, and sometimes politically allied with, the authorities — occupy a place much closer to society’s mainstream than its American counterparts do.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Aso does an Abe

"No facts have been confirmed," the prime minister told the Upper House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense when asked whether Aso Mining used Allied POWs as forced labor during the war....

...Although Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Yukihisa Fujita stressed that records at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration show that forced labor did take place, Aso repeatedly told the Diet that no factual details have been confirmed. Japan Times.

I knew MangaMan Aso was a rightist/revisionist, but up until now, I had thought he was a sharper politician than "I-quit-'cause-I-gotta-s*@t" Abe. Oops. Wrong again.

As I said, I love it when these fossils let us know exactly what they believe and where they stand. Let's hope the rest of the world is watching and listening.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Keep talkin'

I love it when the loony-birds of the right speak openly and unapologetically of their true beliefs. This will insure that the rest of the world gets the message that some of the kooks who have never accepted that Japan did anything wrong in World War 2 are still around, still in power, and still accepted by many.

Pugnaciously defending his version of Japan's role in a war that killed millions across Asia, Toshio Tamogami, 60, told parliament Tuesday that he does not see "anything wrong with what I wrote." Washington Post.

At least he has the guts to continue to defend what he truly believes, unlike Abe who expressed what he believes then claimed he didn't really say what he meant, or mean what he said, or that what he said didn't mean what it meant. Or whatever he mumbled before he retired because of bowel trouble.

Of course Tamogomi is able to stay in the news and publicize his beliefs and perhaps gain a few new believers or put some doubt about WW2 in the minds of others. Others may have a less kind reaction and take it out on Aso.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Is there something missing here?

Reiji Yoshida and Jun Hongo of the Japan Times take on Gen. Tamogami's view of Japan in Asia during WW2 and interview a few historians to get a more informed, accurate version of what Japan did during the war.

Interestingly, they wrote the following:

Japan's colonial policy, however, was largely aimed to help the economy at home, and Japan later further exploited the colonies' economies to help it continue the fight in China and against the Allies.

In Korea, Japan forced locals to adopt Japanese family names and worship Shinto, while limiting Korean-language education, which all gave rise to strong anti-Japanese sentiment.

Japan in addition inflicted devastating economic damage on China and other parts of Asia in the 1930s and '40s.

Economic damage?
Didn't the damage inflicted---especially on China---include a bit more than economic damage? Wasn't there a huge cost in human lives?

Perhaps I'm being too picky by noticing this omission.

General Tamogomi continued

Herbert Bix, the author of Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (among other things) has posted an article at Japan F0cus concerning the essay that got Tamogomi relieved:

...essay contest sponsored by a large scandal-marred construction and real estate conglomerate, the APA Group, which required contestants to write on “The True Outlook for Modern and Contemporary History.” APA's President is Motoya Toshio, the author of historical works and a key figure in political organizations supporting the Komatsu Air Base in Ishikawa Prefecture (fronting the Sea of Japan). He has strong ties to former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and other rightist politicians, including Tamogami. [2] As far as is known, superiors in the Defense Ministry's chain of command did not carefully scrutinize Tamogami’s essay. A notorious Nanjing atrocity denier, Professor Watanabe Shoichi, headed the panel of judges that awarded the prize. And the essays were apparently “solicited for the purpose of ‘steering Japan toward a correct understanding of history as an independent nation.’”

Bix then analyzes Tamogami's essay and rightist beliefs (as did Tobias Harris earlier at Observing Japan here here, and here). Bix discusses some of the Western Allies' hypocrisy during the Tokyo Tribunal which gives the right-wing some of their rational for dismissing the war crimes convictions as victor's justice. He also discusses US/Japan alliance and why it may not be so good for Japan's future by its pressuring Japan to rearm (thus playing into the right-wing's hands.):

...But the real problem with the US-Japan security relationship is that it is a poison injected into the arteries of Japan’s political system, continually weakening Japan’s commitment to its constitutional ideals.

A link is provided tin Bix's article for the text of Tamogami's essay in both English and Japanese.

See Japan Focus for the full article.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


Until recently, I laughed when I would hear some politician in Japan (or to a lessor extent, a business leader) lecture the US or other countries about "free trade"---whatever that is.

I cannot do so anymore, as I can no longer consider such lectures hypocritical:

Democratic leaders in Congress urged the Bush administration on Saturday to consider using the $700 billion bailout for the financial system to aid distressed American automakers, in a prelude to what may become urgent negotiations over additional economic stimulus measures. New York Times

What is next? Over the last year, Starbucks has been having lower sales in the US; certainly, its stock has gone down. Perhaps it too is too big to fail. Walmart? Why wait? Why not send them several billion before they get into trouble. McDonalds? Why not? Dairy Queen, if it still exists, ought to get at least a billion or so as we don't wanna discriminate against smaller companies.

I may go back to the US and start up some sort of company, hire a few folks, and then wait for problems so that Uncle Sam can transfer tax dollars (or loans/investments of foreign origin) to me. Can I do that in Japan too? Why not? Get some US investors, start Happy Boy's English Fun Palace and Baked Beans and wait for failure---although in the eikaiwa racket it might just succeed. I won't even need a billion. A few million is enough for me.

From a near religious belief in "free trade" to---I don't know what else to call it---near socialism. There is a change coming and I don't think it has a lot to do with what President-elect Obama does or doesn't do. Of course, it could all just pass like the gasoline crisis did along with the sudden and short-lived embracing of greener energy sources.

Being as volatile as the markets have been recently, I am now wondering if Japan is actually closer to reality in the way it has set up its economy/markets? If only the US could get another country/region to depend on for exports while restricting/regulating access to its markets more than it does now...

Friday, November 07, 2008

I think maybe we were a little bit more dispassionate and have a little bit more perspective. I sometimes had the feeling that those who were here in the Occupation and perhaps the missionary generation felt a kind of need to almost defend Japan, explain Japan, in a sympathetic way. That's not to say that we're not sympathetic, but, coming with our academic perspective, perhaps we were a little bit more dispassionate. Japan Times

Historian Kenneth Pyle discussing his generation of Japan historians from the US who came compared to those such as Edwin O. Reischauer---one of the, if not the most influential. Ol' Eddie's books were still being using in universities at least as late as the late 80s/early 90s event though it was obvious that his view of Japan was "sympathetic" to the point of being slanted and misleading.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

There are times that I miss being in the US---in the autumn when the seasons change, in the winter when I miss a real winter, during some holidays---but I really feel like I am missing out on something big after the election yesterday. I rarely listen to post election victory speeches, but Obama's was worth hearing yesterday.

Like Mark Shields said on the Jim Lehrer Newshour this afternoon on BS NHK, I feel hope more than expectations, but still I wish I were there to get a full sense of what is happening. (It always amazes me that people who have never been to the US for more than a quick are able to confidently feel that they know so much about the country from reading the NYT or watching Michael Moore/Oliver Stone movies.*)

There are many reasons that Obama's election should be good for the US, but one of my favorites is that the right-wing in Japan apparently did not like Obama. Although this was not the main reason I voted for him, it gave me a special sense of pleasure knowing that in some small way I could piss them. In some small way other than being a non-Japanese living in Japan who does not fall for the pure, Innocent Japan nonsense that many of the more extreme espouse.

*Love that fact that some of these folks, Japanese and not, who explained to me such things as the US would "never elect a black man" have been proven, yet again, wrong. Hmmm. Perhaps things aren't as simple as one could be led to believe on a diet of newspaper editorials & opinion pieces. D'ya think, J? Well, try this one:

There is another paradox about the world’s view of the election of Mr. Obama: many who are quick to condemn the United States for its racist past and now congratulate it for a milestone fail to acknowledge the same problem in their own societies, and so do not see how this election could offer them any lessons about themselves.

(Of course the quote above would not in any way apply to Japan.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

MangaMan' curious reading habits

Although Aso is well-known for his overly publicized comic book reading habits, it appears he reads other books too. This is somewhat reassuring for a man who is leading the current second largest economy in the world.

Unfortunately, his other choices of reading material might be a bit controversial. It seems that he may like to read books by folks with similar beliefs to the SDF general who he just fired for writing an essay on those beliefs. Tobias Harris has some observations about MangaMan's more serious reading at Observing Japan.

Beautiful country continued

Fired Japan Air Force Chief Gen. Toshio Tamogami (sorry, I meant Air Self-Defense Force. Air Force sounds like a military branch) defended his and his fellow traveler's interesting beliefs:

In his first public appearance since being sacked over the essay Friday, Tamogami reiterated that Japan was not an aggressor nation and that the people have been misled by erroneous education...

"It is necessary to revise the view that Japan did wrong during the war, if it wishes to prosper as a nation in the 21st century"

Tamogami also touched on the 1995 war apology issued by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, saying the statement, now the government's official line on Japan's wartime responsibility, "needs verification."
(means withdrawn?) Full article at Japan Times.

The same old thing over and over.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Rambling holiday nonsense

November, the middle month of autumn. Cool, crisp nights with frost. Brilliant blue skies above what remains of colorful autumn leaves. The smell of woodsmoke in the air as folks light up the woodstoves or fireplaces. Occasionally, even the smell of burning coal as a few still use it for fuel. Hikes into the woods where is is easier to see wildlife as the foliage decreases and some bigger game becomes more active for breeding season. The bugle of a bull elk. The chance of seeing one of the most impressive animals in the woods---a bull moose.

Oh wait. I am having a nostalgic daydream. I am in Tokyo, Japan, which although it is the only country on earth with 4 distinct seasons (make me barf) I occasionally have trouble figuring out which clearly distinct season it is without the help of a calendar. I still very much miss being able to just walk out the backdoor and be in a forest within 5 minutes like I could as a child. I miss the ability to drive to the woods like I could as an adult in Washington state, Washington DC, or that most beautiful state of Montana without a major undertaking like it is in Tokyo.

The more I live here the more I live to get out of town and at least find some fresh air, hills, and forests. A big bonus is to see wildlife, although nothing interests me less than seeing a damned monkey. Perhaps disinterest that may change someday. But the biggest bonus is to be able to get out in the woods and not see nor hear another human for the whole day. I suppose my wife is OK, but as a city girl she has no such interests. Not in Japan anyway, but she did while in Washington and Montana to some degree. (Usually it involved her getting to eat---picking wild blueberries, or me hunting. Occasionally she enjoyed seeing a bear cub, or some other baby animal.)

Since I can't get out of Tokyo as often as I would like---which would ideally be every damned day---I have to make do with what passes for "nature" here. In order to do that, I look for nature on a much, much smaller scale. I have to ignore all the unnatural surroundings, all of the human activity, all of the noise, and all of the obviously man-made (or arranged for man's pleasure) parts of nature. For example, flood lights on at night so that we can "enjoy" cherry blossoms.

I spend a lot of time near the Tamagawa (river) as it is about the closest thing there is to natural in my part of Tokyo. I can spend hours and hours there on top of what I spend riding my rode bike along the river. There is some wildlife, mainly waterfowl which although very, very wary of humans can provide opportunities to watch, learn, and relax. (There are various species of ducks around as well as egrets, herons, cormorants and other large waterfowl.)

Quite often if someone sees me photographing in the area, they'll come up and start talking. This is not something that is all that common in Tokyo, but it seems to happen a lot there. Most of the time people will be speaking in Japanese instead of assuming that I cannot speak a word of the language. Although this can be a bit of a nuisance if I've been trying to get close to a heron to take a photo and Watanabe-san chooses that time to noisily walk up to me and start asking about the lens I am using, generally I find such encounters very enjoyable as folks speak to me as a fellow human being and don't give me the full (baka)gaijin treatment. I have learned a lot of interesting things about the birds there and the river from older guys who get all excited about the chance to tell me what they know. (Did you know that some of the lava flows still visible at times in the river were formed during volcanic activity 300,000 years ago? Me neither, until earlier this year.)

Anyway, I have spent the last 2 weekends trying to find some signs of autumn. They are here, of course, but on a different scale. It's cooler. A few leaves have started to change. I have become so desperate for fall that I have gather some of the fallen sakura leaves and have a pile on my desk. In about another month, most will have finished and be falling. Fall subtly (and officially) began in September. In small ways. I began to notice the difference in the type of winds while riding my bike by late September. Naturally, the length of the day had shortened and light angles---and thus color---had begun to change. These changes are very subtle compared to what I have been used to for most of my life before coming to Tokyo. Thus, I have found myself becoming more sensitive to them by necessity, because the seasons, the weather, and the outdoors (nature, wild areas, mountains, wildlife---not golf or other games) have always been extremely important to me.

But still, I have to get into the mountains occasionally or I will become completely insane. And within this month, I plan on at least two trips to the mountains. I won't wanna come back...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Buyer's remorse? Maybe later.

Earlier this year when Obama and McCain were ahead in the primaries, I thought that this would be the best choice of presidential candidates that the US had had in well over a decade. Well over. Once the two were officially nominated and the campaign had begun the quality of the debate sank to the usual cesspool level. Obama appeared to come out on top mainly because he played calmer and steadier by mostly keeping his mouth shut. McCain seemed to set out to destroy his own reputation and image by resorting to the petty, irrelevant nonsense that Bush had used in his campaigns. (So did the Obama campaign to some extent, but they were less aggressive about it.)

Washington state finally got around to sending my absentee ballot 2 weeks ago (I hope the effort did not strain anyone there) and I finally was able to vote. I voted for Obama even though I have never voted for a Democrat for president (I take zero responsibility for Boy George as I did not vote for him either. I did not vote for a presidential candidate when the choice was between him and AlGore--good god!---and John Kerry.) There were a lot of reasons to support Obama, many of which require more of a faith that he will do what he vaguely says he will do and a hope and prayer that he is not as left-wing as his record and as some of his colleagues in congress.

I lost any belief that he was much different as a politician than any other when he decided to opt out of accepting federal campaign finance (he broke his word, i.e. he lied) and then gave his sorry excuse for doing so. Still, I have some hope that he may live up to the promise that he showed early in the campaign. Perhaps he will do well if he can avoid the extremes of some in his party.

Obama is not, any more than other politicians, a paragon. He reneged on his promise to use public funds for his general election campaign, driving a stake into the heart of the post-Watergate effort to reform the campaign finance system. He rejected McCain's invitation to hold joint town hall meetings -- opening the door to the kind of tawdry exchange of charges that we have seen. In both instances, he put his personal goals ahead of the public good -- a worrisome precedent.

But he has engendered widespread enthusiasm in a jaded and cynical public, especially among young people. And if he does not disillusion them in the years ahead, that would be a real gift to the nation. David Broder, Washington Post.

We shall see. Let's hope he does not turn out to be another Jimmy Carter, the previous worst president in the history of the universe before Bush. Perhaps he will do well. He could hardly do worse, could he?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

We were victims I tell ya, innocent victims!

“Even now, there are many people who think that our country’s aggression caused unbearable suffering to the countries of Asia during the Greater East Asia War,” he wrote, using the term favored by Japan’s right to refer to World War II. “But we need to realize that many Asian countries take a positive view of the Greater East Asia War. It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation.” Comments courtesy of now fired Japan Air Force (which is, of course, not to be mistaken for a military branch) Chief of Staff Gen. Toshio Tamogami and the NYT. recent years, nationalist politicians belonging to the right wing of the long-governing Liberal Democratic Party have waged a campaign to revise Japan’s wartime history... Full article at the New York Times.

Our rightwinger claimed that innocent Japan was tricked into entering attacking the US at Pearl Harbor and denied that Japan had invaded China and Korea and that Roosevelt, in addition to victimizing Japan was a Comintern puppet. I always knew that lefty Roosevelt was a Commie! (Guardian UK)

Although the above essay already won him $30,000 from a contest sponsored by the real estate developer Apa Group, General Tamogami also deserves the Shinzo Abe Foot-in-the Mouth Award for fearless public denial of history and furthering the cause of WW2 revisionists and apologists. He has stated that he will explain his views to the public next week. Can't wait.

Also articles here and here in case the NYT/Guardian links die suddenly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Charge now and pay (much) later

if ever. Business Week has opinion on the financial crisis which, like R. Taggart Murphy below, suggests the past (?) idea of the US being able to drive the world economy by borrowing money from other countries to purchase those countries' goods and services may be gone for good:

...there's good reason to believe that the current crisis reflects a growing realization: Long accepted patterns of cross-border technological transfer, foreign trade, and global finance are simply not sustainable...

...This [system] worked as long as everyone believed that American consumers could finance their debt. But here's the problem: At the same time Americans were borrowing, their real wages were falling—and not just for the least educated. By BusinessWeek's calculations, real weekly earnings for college grads without an advanced degree have dropped every year since 2002.

You can't pay back rising debt with falling wages; something had to give....the entire global edifice was built on an impossibility. Full article here.

The house of cards has fallen and people are starting to take notice. What will Japan do if it cannot base its economy on exports to the US (or manufacturing goods exports to China so that they may export to the US) to the same degree that it has been doing for decades? And what will the US do if we have to stop relying on borrowing and have to raise taxes or cut spending (and rely less on individual credit as an income supplement/substitute) to make up some of the difference.

I am not holding my breath waiting for Aso, Obama, or maybe McCain to explain exactly how they plan to deal with this new reality.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Asia as enabler of an alcoholic US

R. Taggart Murphy has posted another article on Japan Focus concerning US indebtedness to foreign countries, most especially those in Asia with export-led economies (Japan and China are the top two):

...Like an alcoholic’s wife who furtively keeps her husband plied with booze while managing to avoid thinking about exactly what she is doing, Asia has long facilitated the U.S. addiction to drowning its problems in endless dollar cocktails. But the current crisis suggests that the days of cirrhosis of the American liver and delirium tremens are upon us. Without a clear grasp of the ways in which Asia’s economic methods have facilitated American political pathologies, without a plan to replace Asia’s reflexive reliance on exports to the United States with another economic driver, Asia too will be drawn into the economic and political maelstrom that now engulfs Washington...

Murphy predicts an end to the US being the world's engine for demand and the export-led growth (and dollar-reserve accumulation) of countries such as Japan.

Of all the huge changes which seem likely to come, there are few politicians (U.S. presidential candidates in particular) publicly speaking of them, nor is the media pressing anyone about it. In the US, the media has recently been more concerned with such serious issues as Palin's wardrobe costs. In Japan, Aso's choice of bars and restaurants is a similar priority.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thank god

For a while there, I was beginning to think I was all alone:

Over a summer dinner, a Japanese colleague shook his head at the yet unsolved gunshot murders of three supermarket clerks in Hachioji in 1995.

"It had to be a foreigner that did it. No Japanese would commit a crime like that."

"Hello?" I knocked on the table. "Look at me, please." Was not his dinner mate a foreigner too? And might not foreigners be offended by such an indictment?

The man squirmed and said he meant to emphasize the "gun." Japanese crooks would never be so cruel as to shoot people in the back of the head with a gun.

Right. They might ram a car into a crowd and then knife everyone in sight, a la the killing spree in Akihabara this year. Or like child-abductor Tsutomu Miyazaki, they might drink their victims' blood*...Thomas Dillon in the Japan Times.

Live in Japan? Don't you know exactly how Thomas felt? Have you not been in the exact same conversation yourself?

Just as I have been trying ignore this kind of "thinking" and live in a fantasy world Japan where it doesn't exist... Some do, why not me too?

*There was also the fellow who used a shotgun to commit mass murder earlier this year, but perhaps that doesn't count since he did not simply shoot his victims in the back of the head.