Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bah, Humbug! Tokyo

Off to the mountains until after Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Futenma, an unnecessary fuss?

It seems to be about impossible to understand what is really going on with the Futenma mess. An article challenging some of the Japanese government claims at Japan Focus (Japanese Bureaucrats Hide Decision to Move All US Marines out of Okinawa to Guam, by Gavan McCormac and Sakai Tanaka) does not help:

...according to the investigations of Mayor Iha and members of the Ginowan City Assembly, American forces have already been implementing a plan to relocate to Guam not only the command unit but also, by 2014, the majority of combat forces and even logistic sections including supply units.

Tanaka makes the obvious conclusion that if true:

"This means that the great fuss over the removal to Henoko that has been festering over the past few years may have been completely unnecessary from the beginning."

McCormac believes that Hatoyama's decision not to make a decision on Futenma until after the New Year has a huge symbolic importance and may signal "a possible changing of tide of history in East Asia, and especially the US Japan relationship."

Some polls have shown that a majority of the public thinks Hatoyama has mishandled the issue (Observing Japan has details of various poll results) and I have neither seen nor heard anything that gives any hint that the public would like to see the US military out (folks in Okinawa may have a different view). I wonder just how huge any change would really be?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bye bye keitai

The other day I was trying to figure out how to turn the voice message recorder back on in my NTT DoCoMo cell phone. I had turned it off 6 months ago or so and turned on voice mail, which is a different thing. What should have taken about 5 seconds, required me to grab the manual---the convenient English manual (416 pages) which is just barely more comprehensible to someone with English as a first language than the Japanese one---and search the index while going back and forth to find the correct section. Then I had to try to figure out what the rather puzzlingly written instructions meant.

After about 10 minutes I was finally able to get it almost set. "Almost" because I kept getting an error message that read "Ring time cannot be set." Another search in the manual explained that this happened when messages were full. Nice to know, but there were no messages stored. Finally, I gave up.

Not being an Apple-fanatic despite (or because of) owning a Mac, I have never had any special interest in most Apple products. I do now for a user-friendly phone and so, perhaps, do many others in Japan:

[The 350% increase in "unique users" in 2009]...may surprise many who expected the iPhone to not perform so well in a country well known for its keitai culture, but the smartphone concept as embodied by the iPhone has certainly begun to take hold in Japan. ....the iPhone is the number one smartphone in Japan by a huge margin...46% of the smartphone market.ars technica

Gee, I wonder why? Perhaps one can do something like read and send an e-mail in less than 20 keystrokes?

A more Stimulating Economy

There was a minor splash of news about Japan's cash-for-clunkers program a week or so ago which went away as soon as it came. However, there remain some skeptics about the effectiveness of such a thing, especially when it is targeted at a small percentage of an already declining number of car owners in Japan. Almost any stimulus could have some benefits somewhere,* but is this the most effective?

Over on Japan Economy News & Blog, Ken Worsley has come up with an idea which would be much more effective in stimulating the entire economy over a much longer period of time. Why nobody in the government has thought of this is beyond me.

*Another ¥12,000 would stimulate me.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Imagine: The D-Y relationship

Instead of John McCain nominating Sarah Palin to run with him last year, what if he had nominated me? Why not? I've plenty of foreign experience, and although I have never seen Russia (well, maybe a glimpse or two from an airplane) I have been stationed in South Korea and have actually set foot in North Korea. I haven't hunted moose, but I have hunted deer and elk. And squirrel. A ticket like that would have sent the skinny fellow with big ears back to Chicago.

Assume that since the financial/economic crisis is still going on, John would have suspended his presidency to work on solving it. That would leave me as president, and I would be the one whom PM Hatoyama would have to call about Futenma:

Good Morning, Mr. President. I'm calling to discuss the Futenma crisis.

Ohio Gazimass, Mr. Prime Minister. Sorry to hear that there is a crisis. I was never much of a fan of bathing with large groups of naked men, but I am sorry to hear about your onsen problem. Is a Futenba the indoor or outdoor type?

It's Futenma, not Futenba, Mr. President. By the way, may I call you D? You may call me Y. Anyway, you are thinking of a rotenburo. I guess the "ten" threw you off. I am talking about the US Marine air station in Okinawa. We would like you to move it to Guam.

A U.S. Marine base in Okinawa? My god, Y, what are they doing there? Were they left behind after the war?

In a way, they were D. We also have much more U.S. military here, including the Air Force.

The Air Force? How did they get there? We didn't even have a U.S.A.F. until 1947. Y, I sincerely apologize. We'll pull them all out immediately. You needn't worry about them being as close as Guam, either. That's a U.S. territory, but we don't need such a large force to protect it.

Oh my god, D! I didn't mean to pull them all out! What about the security treaty? You can't just back out of something that you've already agreed to.

Isn't that from, like, 1960 or something, Y? It's still in force? What year is this? Why are we talking about these things as if it were still the last century? Well, we can renegotiate it later, but right now I wanna help you with the problem of foreign troops on your soil doing what, I am sure you know, Japan should be doing for itself.

I'm sorry D, perhaps you don't understand. You see, Gen. MacArthur helped us write a new constitution after the war which prohibits us from having a military unless we call it "self-defense forces." We also have a policy against possessing nukes for self-defense, so we must get our nuclear deterrence capability from a nuclear-armed foreign country. Plus, I am sure that you know that our countries have had a more or less unofficial agreement that the US would provide security for Japan if we did not establish a military, unless we call it a self-defense force, and that in return you would provide a market for our products. This sort of arrangement has worked out well for both of us for 65 years and we'd pretty much like to continue it as is, except we'd like it to be a more equal relationship. I'll explain exactly what that means at some other time, though.

That's crazy-talk, Y! By the way, how's the missus?

She's on a little trip right now, but she's fine, thank you for asking.

Glad to hear that, Y. But back to the crazy-talk. None of that stuff makes any sense to me. The world has changed. I mean, WW2 is like totally over.

Well, D, it may be in some places, but we have a few here who are still fighting it, even in my own party. I believe the word for them in English is ナッツ*。

Oh yea, I remember the Washington Post ad from a few years ago. We have several varieties of ナッツ here too. But listen, Y. We gotta do something about foreign troops from a country halfway around the world being stationed on your soil. It's not like you're a poor country or something, and besides, we all know how some folks over there feel about foreigners.

D, I've been talking about maybe thinking about possibly at some time perhaps doing some sort of thing about kinda improving some things for foreigners here maybe, but that doesn't really apply in this case. There's no danger of your troops trying to assimilate into society, so we can use them and hopefully give them good memories before they return back to where they belong. Return individually, of course, not the whole military. As far as doing something, I can't make any decisions right now, perhaps maybe next year. Gotta figure out how to get rid of the things we don't like about having a foreign country provide our defense while making sure they they continue to provide one for us. It's much cheaper and more politically feasible for us to rent a military than to build one of comparable capabilities ourselves, you know.

But Y, you called me about the problem. Let's make a decision. How about you just do it my way, like y'all did in the past. We'll pull out all the troops and renegotiate the whole security treaty thing. I'll fax a new version for you to sign this afternoon.

Sorry D, but things don't work that way anymore. I gotta listen to what the people want, not just Mitsubishi. I also have some obstinate folk in the Diet whose asses I have to either kiss or kick to get anything done. Otherwise, they'll just oppose everything I try to do.

Good Lord, Y, don't tell me that we have Republicans stationed over there too! Anyway, I gotta go. Let's get this worked out soon. Say hello to the missus for me.

Sure thing D. I was just about to call her...could I get the number for NASA from you so they can transfer me to her? I could call her directly with my super-advanced Japanese keitai, but I'd have to go 3,576,987,201 items deep in the menu just to turn it on.

Oh, that's simple. I know the short cut. Just press "menu", then enter #678a999.072zg781-b and it will take you right to it. You really ought to memorize those shortcuts, Y. You can find them on pages 983-1014 of the quick-start manual for your phone.

Thanks a ton, D. Bye, bye.


Tweaked at 12:53

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Futenma goes pandemic

It started like a niggling itch in the throat, one initially ignored as just a minor irritant. Then it became a bit sore---nothing to worry about, but enough to make one suspect that something was not quite right. Later it got to the point where it was obvious that there was a problem. Then came the diagnosis---H1futeNma1---which would either result in a period of light discomfort or would end it all.

It seems that the subject of Futenma has become something that cannot be avoided.

It is easy for many of us with personal interests in Japan (and the success of the DPJ) to cast the US as the bullying heavy in this little spat. However, I am fortunate enough to have gotten my hands on a copy of the Nelson Report. Contained within were the key points of a paper, US Should Stand Firm on Implementation of Okinawa Force Realignment, by Bruce Klingner, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Mr Klingner wrote of the strategic concerns of the US government.

My (too) brief summary of those key points:

The major provisions agreed to are 1) the redeployment of USMC air units from Futenma to a less populated area near Camp Schwab; 2) A reduction of a total of 17000 Marines and their dependents to Guam and Japan paying 60% of the $10 billion price tag for the move; 3) The consolidation of the remaining Marine units into less-populated areas of Okinawa and the return of a number of US bases to Okinawan control.

The provisions of the 13-years-in-the-making-agreement are interconnected and one part cannot be changed without threatening the whole agreement.

Since the Marines (unlike the other services) operate in combined-arms units, the removal of any of these units from Okinawa would have a very negative effect on its (Marines) rapid response capabilities. In short, one cannot willy-nilly move a highly integrated component without affecting the whole.

Relocating the Futenma unit to Guam would also mean that the plan to build two new runways at Camp Schwab to replace the one lost at Futenma would be scrapped, eliminating a "strategic [Japanese] national security asset" negatively affecting the augmentation of US or Japanese security forces during a crisis. The distance form Guam to Okinawa would cause a further in force capabilities. "The DPJ advocacy for removing Marine helicopter units from Okinawa...but still expecting the same level of protection, which is impossible given the tyranny of the distance."

A point which is often forgotten in this debate is that the US is obligated under the security treaty not only to defend Japan, but that it also gives the US broader regional responsibilities. In bilateral agreements from 2005 other objectives beyond the defense of Japan were "affirmed."

He ends with the concern that further delays will be more likely to turn public opinion against the US presence and by leaving the Futenma Marines in their current location during the delay risks another military-related incident.

One can argue that whether or not the US should even have forces in Japan (or in nearly every other corner of the world), but that is not what this dispute is about. There is, however, a fear that a delay will "inflame" the left to "expand the debate to a more comprehensive reassessment of the US-Japan alliance." That is perhaps long overdue, but it's doubtful that either government wants that now or in the near future---if ever.

And that is the main problem in my opinion. The government and the populace want to continue to have the US provide a military for Japan sixty-five years after the end of WW2. The whole set-up is one that cannot last forever.

1606: Edited because neither I nor Blogger spellcheck can spell.

Fox' Mike Huckabee to interview Toshio Tamogami

It is way, way too late at night to be up reading this sort of nonsense, so the whole thing could possibly be just a weird dream.

We remember Huckabee as one of the Republican candidates of the last primary season and Tamogami as the fellow who was fired as Japan's Air Force chief of staff for saying what many others---including some of those who had him fired, one suspects---believe: that Japan was not an aggressor during WW2 and that FDR tricked* the apparently naive Japanese government and military of the time into attacking Pearl Harbor.

Tamogami, who will be in New York for a lecture tour, is reportedly going to be interviewed by Huckabee on his TV show at Fox:

Are you just sitting around waiting for the opportunity to hear a lecture and take a booze cruise with a disgraced Japanese general who is notorious for defending Japan's WWII atrocities? Mike Huckabee apparently is...

...The Tamogami scandal and his lecture tour has been extensively covered by the blog Armchair Asia, which points out that while Tamogami's "strident, revisionist views were brushed aside as an aberration in Japan's armed forces ... he remains vocal and a hero to many." From Foreign Policy's The Cable.

Has he written a manga yet? It'd sure help in the US. Bet if ya check some overseas Japan-forums, you'll find some likely candidates for fanhood.

*The FDR trick belief is something not only held by a number of people in Japan. Some in the US hold it too, and there have been a few books written that support that claim. Tamogomi won't have to sell that part to some. Err, I meant Tamogami.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

And even more important news

Hideki Matsui is reportedly moving to the Angels with a pay cut. There may be little other news over the next day or two. Reuters (Japanese)

edited 12:50 English article here.

The DPJ's biggest enemy

The economy:

Nowhere are yields as low as in Japan’s debt market and nowhere are returns higher as Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government fails to stop deflation
. Bloomberg.

And it (deflation) is back and here to stay for a while, according to the article. If you can buy some bonds, though, you may be less concerned.

More good news:

Japan is running the gauntlet of a sovereign ratings cut after Fitch Ratings said it might downgrade the country if it significantly exceeded its new issuance target [44 billion yen for the next fiscal year]...

...the government will likely face the daunting task of either scaling back some of its policies or seeking additional sources of funding. Reuters.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Problems publishing comments

I have been having problems publishing comments with Firefox again. I don't think I have lost any, but have had to copy one and republish it. If anyone has written one recently that has not appeared it is not because I did not want it published.

1635: Problem solved, I hope.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Back from the past

The Japan side of the cash-for-clunkers complaint:

Satoshi Miura, of the Japanese Embassy in DC, stated that Detroit could participate in the program if it followed the same import rules as "many others." The US companies, according to Miura, are using different rules which don't require the same emissions testing. He also noted that the program is not only for stimulus, but for the environment. The Detroit News.

I shall now return to 2009 and never again enter the now near moot Detroit/Japan auto debate.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Deja vu all over again

Detroit's three automakers criticized Japan on Thursday for keeping foreign automakers out of its cash-for-clunkers program while noting how Japanese automakers claimed nearly half the vehicles sold under the U.S. clunkers program...

...The Obama administration said Thursday that Japan should open its version of a cash-for-clunkers program to foreign

Would anyone expect anything else? As noted in the article, it would be little more than symbolism even if Japan did include foreign automakers since Detroit sells so few cars in Japan. However that symbolism would be a symbol of fair play while not threatening Japanese auto companies in the slightest. The reason given by the Japanese government is that since so few Detroit autos are sold in Japan, they are exempt from fuel economy certification, and only cars with that certification qualify. It's just something that can't be helped. No discrimination against foreign things intended.

Besides, Japanese intestines are longer.

Michael Moore, the millionaire capitalist who admits to being embarrassed at his own wealth*, was in Japan recently to promote his latest movie (profits from which will cause more embarrassment to flow into his bank account) and while here lectured Japan to stop becoming like the US. He needn't worry about that.

Another perspective on Obama's bow

I am behind the times as usual, but Armchair Asia has a very interesting perspective on Obama's bow to the emperor as being an unintended (Obama likely following what he considered good manners and being culturally sensitive) slight to Hatoyama and the DPJ and a possible nod to the right. The author notes (roughly paraphrasing) that although many mainstream US conservatives objected to the bow, the neoconservative Japan experts did not.

A different line of thought from someone who has a more inside view of US-Japan relations. Hmmmm. Couldn't possibly be right....????

Thursday, December 10, 2009

There isn't much to say to introduce this, except to note that R. Taggart Murphy has written another extremely interesting article for Japan Focus: In the Eye of the Storm: Updating the Economics of Global Turbulence, an Introduction to Robert Brenner's Update*---so interesting that I don't know where to begin. After seeing and living the results of the financial crisis and the resulting economic fallout for the last year, it seems obvious that there are much bigger, more serious problems facing the DPJ and Japan (and the US) than the current Futenma issue. And I'll bet the latest "stimulus" won't change that.

Murphy discusses and expands on Brenner's ideas especially as pertains to Japan, China, and the US.

Just a few excerpts from the article:

...Brenner fully grasps the significance to global capitalism of what has happened in East Asia since the appearance of the export-led, state-directed Japanese growth model...

...“the premature entry of high-competitive lower cost producers, especially in the newly developing regions of East Asia” would have led to serious crisis were it not for the ability of advanced capitalist governments to make available “titanic volumes of credit.”

...the continuation of capital accumulation has come
literally to depend upon historic waves of speculation...

Japan had, from the mid 1950s on, deliberately staked its prosperity on the construction of excess global capacity in a series of key industries... ...Japan did not launch industries. Rather, it targeted markets that were already served by existing capacity... ...result was to destroy profitability...

He goes on to examine the current seemingly "bright spot" of China, and notes the country is heading toward the same "Mutual Assured Destruction" financial relationship that Japan and US have due to its up-to-now focus on an export-led economy and the reinvestment of profits into excess capacity and financing of US debt so that the US can continue purchasing those exports.

Now what was it that Obama has been running around the world saying about the world having to put an end to this sort of warped produce and loan/borrow and spend system?

*A link is also provided for Brenner's What's good for Goldman Sachs is Good for America: The Origins of the Current Crisis. At 73-pages, it is a bit long for reading on a computer, but is time better spent than reading about Tiger Woods' non-longer private affairs.

Lies, all lies!

Life in Tokyo, as everywhere else in the world, is annoying and unfair. The good men are all married. Co-workers clip their fingernails at their desks. Laundry comes back from the cleaners still dirty...NYT Music

No, no. This can't be right! This is not the Japan one usually reads about in a US newspaper. Besides, everyone knows that folks here don't complain*, so the whole idea of a "Complaint Choir" is ridiculous.

*Except for non-Japanese who always complain

Monday, December 07, 2009

A solution for Futenma etc?

...the American public is turning more isolationist and unilateralist than it has at any time in decades, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The survey by the Pew Research Center found a plurality of Americans -- 49 percent -- think that the U.S. should "mind its own business internationally'' and leave it to other countries to fend for themselves.

It was the first time in more than 40 years of polling that the ranks of Americans with isolationist sentiment outnumbered those with a more international outlook...MiamiHerald

No, we don't wanna go as far as having the US, like, totally leave Japan (and South Korea and...) as its presence is vital to regional stability. Besides, even though PM Hatoyama has said that he wants Japan to have an equal relationship with the US, we don't mean so equal that Japan would have to provide for its own security to the extent that the US has to provide for its own.

Anyway, we know the US presence in Japan is vital 'cause everybody who is anybody has said so for decades and decades. Who would counterbalance the Soviet Union, oops! I mean North Korea, no, wait, it's Rising China this week...err, no, it's North Korea 'cause of the nukes, no, it's Rising China and the DPRK and also the bogeyman. Anyone who questions the US obligation to save the world from itself has to be some sort of naive leftwing loony, a minivan driving soccer mom or dad, a disillusioned vet, or a rightwing-wacko America firster. They might even be one of those rare few in today's US who might actually have to go fight in an overseas adventure.

Those darned stupid Americans.

18 Dec 09 James Fallows takes this poll as proof that 44% of Americans are crazy.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Nose still intact

Mizuho Fukushima, who threatened to pull the SDP out of the ruling coalition, apparently succeeded (so far) in delaying any acceptance of the Futenma deal. Hataoyama has certainly resisted the US demand to move "expeditiously" to resolve the dispute (i.e. do what the US government wants).

The threat left Hatoyama squeezed between domestic political imperatives and U.S. expectations -- a spectacle U.S. officials are not accustomed to seeing in Japan.

Daniel Sneider, a Japan expert at Stanford University, said the United States has yet to really take into account the significance of the political changes wrought by the August election. "Domestic politics matter in Japan now in a way that they didn't... "Do elections and domestic politics influence foreign policy in the United States? ... Now they do in Japan, too." Washington Post.

It's a bit baffling why this should be so confusing to the US, but obviously it is. It's probably only the first of many disagreements between the two countries if the DPJ can hang on to power. Sometime in the future we'll get to see just how much of a world view Japan and the US share. Decades of both the US and Japan living in some sort of dream world that the Japanese swap of security responsibility for market access won't likely result in another 60 year affair after it ends.

Perhaps William Overholt* said it best:

As the 21st century began, the United States decided to bet its entire position in Asia on the alliance with Japan... all of American history, the United States has never before made such a bet anywhere in the world, with the arguable exception of the bet on Britain in WWII...

...Rarely in world history has such a power made such a consequential bet.

What I left out of the above was that the US was placing it's bet on the "...increasingly right-wing leadership that wants to rebuild national morale by reengineering a failed vision of the first half of the 20th century rather than through an inspiring view of the future."

That bunch is gone and now the US has to be worried that it bet wrong and seems to have come up with no other alternative other than to try to push Japan back to the old ways---to hell with what the Japanese people think. Why should it care, it never really had to before.**

*Asia, America, and the Transformation of Geopolitics, page 103 of the Cambridge University Press Ed.

**11 December: Of course it is not the job of the US government to worry about what the Japanese public thinks unless it becomes a threat to policy.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Tokyo Vice

The author of Tokyo Vice has a website at which he is now regularly updating. Like the book, an antidote to those who believe that Japan is all purity and light.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Let me cut my nose off to spite my face

I saw this briefly mentioned on NHK news earlier today, and now it's at Reuters:

The leader of Japan's tiny Social Democratic Party [Mizuho Fukushima] threatened on Thursday to leave the ruling coalition if her views on a U.S. military base were ignored...

Surely this is just a bluff; just a negotiating ploy, for the SDP would not take a chance on damaging the coalition and perhaps reviving the snake.

Or, could it be explained by Chie Nakane's view of groups in her book Japanese Society?* Sometimes when these sort of things happen, I am tempted to turn to those sort of cultural explanations to rationalize the seemingly irrational. But sometimes, the irrational is simply irrational.

*This is a short book that I think is still worth reading even though it is now decades old. It was recommended to me by one of my university professors who told me that in order understand Japan I should read that book. He was a Japanese fellow who did not subscribe to the theory that non-Japanese could never understand Japan. In fact, he had a reputation for insisting that students in his class did their damnedest to do so. And he was a grammar-nazi too.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The world is ending. Martin Fackler makes sense.

in his latest NYT article:

...fundamentally, the recent strains [between the US and Japanese governments] have revealed how little the two allies are used to the give and take commonly found in America’s relations with other allies, like Britain or Australia. Japan’s new government has disrupted the old rhythms of the alliance by thrusting its problems out into the open for the first time in years...

He even quotes Tobias Harris of Observing Japan, whom we have to assume was not disguised as a vending machine when interviewed.

Is it too much to hope that a NYT article would be enough to reassure certain experts in the US government and academia that Hatoyama and the DPJ are not the anti-Christ and may be a much better ally than the nonLunDP ever was---even if it doesn't pretend to agree with nearly everything the US says or does concerning security? A more open democratic government certainly can't be bad for the relationship. If it were then it wasn't much of a relationship to begin with.

It must be about time for Fackler to be transferred so we can start all over again. Perhaps a new reporter with a long overdue article about the funny English used in ads and on clothing?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Beware the winter wind

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

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

We'd all kill each other.

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bird Day Tokyo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For tomorrow might be a problem:

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

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

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

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

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

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

* It was actually yesterday, the 26th

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009


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

I have found that I can no longer abstain:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**I use press/media interchangeably.

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

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

Friday, October 09, 2009


In a stunning surprise, the Nobel Committee announced Friday that it had awarded its annual peace prize to President Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” NYT

I repeat, "Huh?" Obama is a big improvement over his predecessor in many ways---even though he has tended to continue very similar or the same policies---but the Noble Peace Prize?

As to whether the prize was given too early in Mr. Obama’s presidency, Mr. Jagland [Noble Committee chairman], a former prime minister of Norway, replied: “We are not awarding the prize for what may happen in the future but for what he has done in the previous year. We would hope this will enhance what he is trying to do.

Gobsmacking. Perhaps it was his Afghanistan policy. Or the withdrawal from Iraq.

I no longer understand anything. Going to buy videos games and sit in the closet and play them all day and night.

9PM: After rereading the article, I get the impression that Obama got the prize in part because he isn't Bush. Had he not followed Boy George---who managed to get nearly the whole planet to revile him---Obama would have had to wait a few years...

Thursday, October 08, 2009 reports: Japan Threatens to Kick Out US Troops

and whoever wrote that headline for Julian Ryall's article at is just a bit truth challenged.

A quick check of Google Japan news at 6AM revealed no mention in the Japanese press of such important news. The major US-Japan related news there concerned Obama's visit to Japan on November 12 and 13 and those articles contained no mention of kicking out US troops or:

...Work to review the agreement [Futemba Air Station] began in the Japanese cabinet on Friday, with no deadline set for a decision, according to Mr Okada.

The urgency of the situation
is underlined by the arrival in Japan in November of President Barack Obama, who will arrive with hopes of settling the contentious issue once and for

as reported by Mr Ryall. (If the situation is so urgent, why has no deadline been set for a decision? Bet it won't be settled once and for all before Obama leaves.)

Oddly enough, there is no mention in the body of the above article of any threat to "kick out US troops." Mr. Ryall and the have been kind enough to keep us informed of the impending US-Japan split beginning with the post-election article: Incoming Tokyo Government Threatens Split with US .

The good news is that reading this sort of thing may make one more intelligent*. In fact, if that theory is correct, reading nearly anything about Japan will make a person a genius---or a conspiracy theorist.

*NYT article: How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Shoichi Nakagawa dies

Apparently found dead at home by his wife just after 8 this morning. I don't know why, but I have always felt somewhat sorry for him. Asahi article (Japanese) here.

Not a good way to return to blogging...

1240: Article in English here. Apparently the whole world already knows about it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

FEER shutting down.

At one time one of the better magazines concerning Asia. We'll now be stuck with The Financial Times, or god forbid, TIME magazine?

The Far Eastern Economic Review, an English-language news magazine in print since 1946, will close in December after losing readership and advertising revenue, its publisher, Dow Jones & Company, said. NYT

Friday, September 18, 2009

Weightless Japan Orbits the Earth

A Friday okurimono:

For a westerner, Japan might look familiar, since what is held up for us looks like a futuristic spectacle somehow grounded in a western imagination...

...There is no authenticity here
[Harajuku], no western “essence” or “reality”; instead, the virtual conquers the carnal body in a purified play of surface, image and the hyperreal. This is exotic... this sense Japan has always been “post-modern”...You need to read this part to figure out what he is talking about. Ten large bottles of shochu would help put you in the right frame of mind to do so.

Japan becomes weightless, shot into orbit outside the material of earth itself. Lens

The description of Japan somehow seems to be much more intriguing and exotic than the photos, "Okurimono," being introduced. (Also viewable in a high resolution slideshow here.) Except for the giant rabbit, which apparently is part of the hyperreal that is Japan (Tokyo?), the photos fail to communicate this outer-space Japan (Tokyo?).

I have been here too long and am too much of a teetotaler to realize that this place is so bizarre. Wonder why Miyuki Hatoyama had to take a UFO to Venus when she already lives in Japan?

Rules to live by: Once someone brings up Zen in describing Japan, it's time to politely leave before you get covered with male bovine droppings. Zen is brought up in the full article at Lens Culture.

Beat Takeshi once said that when he was interviewed by the foreign press about his movies, they would predictably try to connect the movie with Zen in some way. He would just play along and pretend---or make up---some Zen influence even though none existed. Of course, the proper Japan-explainer would likely point out that Takeshi was influenced by Zen whether he knew it or not.
Zen is key to Japan.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

If Japan is the future, when is now?

While waiting for the rain-interrupted signal to return to my futuristic Japanese satellite TV dish so that I could watch Columbo on WOWOW, I was able to waste time on the Internut and made a pleasant discovery:

It seems that there's a fellow named Tyler Brule who is the editor of the magazine Monocle (only 75 pounds per year) and who also writes occasional funny pieces for the British version of the Onion known as the Financial Times.

The Future Dawns with the Rising Sun

My monthly jaunts to Japan are a good way to catch a glimpse of how things might unfold elsewhere in the near (or very distant) future. A year ago, I could sense a return to the land...

As is usual for Mr. Brule---sorry, I am not sure how to get them thar accent marks properly above his last name---he got orgasmic over the service at the expensive Japanese hotels he stays in during his monthly visits to the future. This time, he also exposed the secret back-to-the-farm-movement that has taken hold of the youth in Japan. Perhaps you have somehow missed that mass exodus from the city. If so, you need to spend less time living in reality and more time staying in absurdly expensive Japanese hotels and ryokans* in order to better understand the country. Or maybe you are just stuck in the past which is the present in other countries.

...Though there hasn’t yet been an all-out flight to toil in the fields of Europe and America – let alone the perfect lifestyle packaging that’s helped drive the trend in Japan – it is a socio-economic trend that is likely to take hold...

Git yer clod-hoppers ready! Tater hoein' is the way of the future!

I've stayed in a few Japanese hotels and ryokans. I have stayed in a number of business hotels. The service at business hotels was neither good or bad: it was near non-existent. Wait, allow me to take that back. In the 90s some of them refused to allow me to stay at all because I was not (and am not) Japanese. I am sure Tyler would not know about that as he appears to be somewhat ignorant of the past of the 90s, let alone the present of the future.

I have stayed in some very expensive hotels including an executive suite in Kyoto. The service was good---the hotel restaurant was somewhat better than Denny's and the view of Kyoto was nice. It was so nice that I wanted to go out on the veranda to take a panoramic of the city,** but unfortunately, the doors were locked. I suppose we could have made arrangements with the polite staff, but why was it necessary at a place with mythical out-of-this-world service? The room was nice, but might not meet most folks expectations of an executive suite.

We stayed in the same Kyoto hotel a number of times in regular rooms. Those rooms were not special, but they were at least as good as some Best Western rooms I have stayed in back in the US. We had a nice view of the empty tennis court. No match for a La Quinta room at half the price, but hey, it's Kyoto. The difference in service for the executive suite and the regular room seemed to be that the check in was faster as was the check out and both were done in a special room on the same floor as our suite. For either class of room you'll get a bellhop to carry your bags up and show you how to turn on the lights, heat, and TV---no tip expected. (A woman half a man's size and weight offering to carry his bag which weighs as nearly much as she does, could cause some discomfort for some less modern guys. Unfortunately though, he might have to resort to fisticuffs to keep her from taking it. Could this be the super-service?)

We once stayed in a suite at Chuzenjiko Kanaya Hotel near Nikko. It was a nice suite and we got a good deal on the price. Naturally, being up in the mountains I liked it, but I would have been happy under a tarp. The wife liked it too, but she was more interested in the food and the onsen. The service? The same as their standard rooms. Good but nothing special. For dinner you have a choice of driving or walking a few miles down to the town of Chuzenjiko, or you could eat at the over-priced French restaurant in the hotel. I had venison for the first time since coming to Japan at that restaurant a few years ago. I liked it, although it was not properly prepared and probably had not been properly cared for, so it had a strong wild taste. The wife likes venison and other game, but not if it has a wild taste. The grape sauce did cover it up somewhat though.

We spent a night in a famous ryokan near Hakone and enjoyed what we, being two ignorant hicks, thought was the best sake we had ever tasted. The next morning, the maid took a look at the remaining sake and apologized because we had obviously been served sake that had gone bad. To make up for it, we got a fruit dish at no extra charge. Thank goodness we were ignorant or we might have been po'd.

A few of the rooms we have stayed in have cost us ¥30,000 each person or more per night. Most normal folks who don't have more money than brains would call that expensive; even stupidly expensive. Curiously, I have never seen the type of incomparable service that Tyler apparently gets, so I can only imagine how much his rooms cost.

Several years ago when the movie Lost in Translation came out, my then Japanese tutor hated it. One thing that she especially hated was the portrayal of the service at the hotel where the main characters stayed. "I can't get that kind of service," she sniffed. She appeared to be a sharp woman (she is now in Silicon Valley), but obviously she was neither as knowledgeable as Mr. Brule nor a jet-setting, easily infatuated, in-and-out tourist staying at extraordinarily expensive hotels.

I recall glancing through Monocle when it first came out a few years ago (or at least when it first appeared in Maruzen at Ark Hills) and I read one of the esteemed editor's articles about Tokyo. I don't remember much about it, but I do remember that he had written about how wonderful it was to be able to attend a meeting in Tokyo in a blazer and short pants. Now that must be what is meant by Cool Biz. If only all the ignorant fools who live and work here understood that, then it would make summers much more bearable. Wonder what the folks he met with thought---or said after he left the room?

*Of course a ryokan is not a hotel so it is kinda silly to compare the service of the two.

**The panorama at the top of this blog was shot through the windows. Unfortunately, I could not get the sunset version I wanted due to reflections on the glass of the solidly locked doors. A dawn panorama would have been even tougher to arrange. "Excuse me, but could you send someone up at dawn to unlock the veranda doors so that I may take some pictures?" Maybe it would have worked though as I was in the executive suite and thus obviously a very important fellow.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

News Flash from Telegraph UK: US-Japan split threatened (???)

Incoming Tokyo Governments Threatens Split with US,
By Julian Ryall in Tokyo

A split is emerging between the United States and Japan over the new Tokyo government's anti-globalisation rhetoric and its threats to end a refueling agreement for US ships in support of the war in Afghanistan.

Mr. Ryall must know something that has been missed over the last 3 weeks since this story first came out. Unfortunately, that something is not mentioned in the story as the only thing new reported was that Hatoyama "repeated his intention to defy the US" on refueling and the contents fail to support the idiotically sensationalist headline.

Perhaps the threatened split is derived from what Makato Watanabe of Hokkaido Bunkyo University said in the article: "The US has been critical of new trends in Japan, but we are not a colony of Washington and we should be able to say what we want....[after reaffirming that the US-Japan relationship will remain most important, but that Japan will no longer be a yes man] ...this suggests to me that healthy change is taking place."

Oh my god! No longer a "yes-man". If this sort of thinking is a threat to the US-Japan relationship, then there was not much of one to begin with.

12 Sept: Joseph Nye's comments on the refueling and more are at the Japan Times.

Friday, September 11, 2009

How to become depressed.

After a year of living in what seems to be an unreal world---or at least one entirely different than I thought existed for the first 4.5 decades of my life---I thought it was becoming hard to become more cynical. I was wrong. It is not.

Read this at Armchair Asia.

As stereotypically resistant to change as the Japan is said to be, I am beginning to think that the US is just as much so*. And the "change"---LDP to DPJ---that certain folks in the US are resisting, does not really appear to be a huge, 180 degree change. Anyone paying any attention to Japan should have expected most of what the DPJ (vaguely) says it would like to do.

Over the last few weeks I have received much information about the US "alliance managers" fears of the DPJ victory and am grateful for all of it. One PDF which I can link to (and well worth reading) at NBR explains the DPJ's foreign policy visions and addresses some of the fears of the timid: Electing a New Japanese Security Policy? Examining Foreign Policy Visions within the Democratic Party of Japan.

Of course there are numerous blogs in addition to the above mentioned which have covered this much better than I could ever pretend or want to do including the ones here, here, and here**.

I am already dreaming of being lost in the sticks for several days in mid-September during which time I hope not to read, hear, nor think of anything related to the last year. I'll do fine not to meet another human being, I think. But for now, I shall try to go back to being a week behind the news...

*The US seems to be extremely resistant to changes in foreign policy, especially in NE Asia.

**Not being cynical enough has its penalties. When I first read at Shisaku that Hatoyama's CSM/NYT shortened and condensed article might mean problems with the US, I thought that it was very unlikely. Surely, nobody would either be surprised at what Hatoyama had written, or gotten their undies in a twist about such a vaguely written nuttin'.

6:39pm: I may need to clarify some points. The depressing thing at the Armchair Asia post is Jim Hoagland and his inane article. Also, when I wrote of not being cynical enough and referred to the Shisaku post, I meant that I was not cynical enough about what some in the US would stoop to regarding Hatoyama's article.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Oh, ye of little faith

After being completely gobsmacked* by the near hysterical reaction of some in the US to Yukio Hatayama's article in the CSM and the NYT (translated from Voice magazine), I was reassured to learn from a reliable source that the folks who translated it have vast experience in translating bibles and other Christian materials. I am sure that this sort of expertise would fit right in with translating a political philosophy.

I did not read the original Voice article partly because it was much longer than my self-imposed limit of 3-4 pages for this type of Japanese language article. I try to avoid self-torture and confusion if at all possible outside of paid work. Had I read it, I am sure both things would have occurred.

I had assumed---the old ass-out-of-u-and-me error---that the translation, although condensed, was generally accurate to the original. I have since heard otherwise. Regardless of the accuracy of the translation, as a friend said the reaction of some Japan experts in the US---or should we say LDP experts?--- seems to have more to do with "power politics."

*Not sure what that word means, but I like the sound of it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Japan Times with an idea

Well, it may not be much and it may not be anything special in 2009, but someone at the Japan Times has come up with the idea of using YouTube along with some of its articles. See the interview with Donald Keene from the weekend if you ain't already.

After experiencing some of the unbelievably idea-less, unimaginative, risk adverse management here, this small little step is earth-shattering to me. They went beyond redesigning forms!!!!

Usually we just do the same thing that worked generally adequately at some distant period in the past and do it over and over and over and over. If it doesn't continue to work, we just keep trying those same things over and over, but try harder. Not all companies reach the level of a Toyota or a Sony. Wonder what the difference is?

3:30pm: Meanwhile, Mizuho’s dream of becoming an Asian equities powerhouse gathers dust, held back by caution and a slow-moving corporate culture. NYT "We" ain't alone.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


I missed seeing the Monday night statement, but I am not even the slightest bit surprised.

Stung by the reaction, [to his New York Times article] Mr. Hatoyama appears to be back-pedaling and engaging in damage control. On Monday night, he said he had not intended for the article to appear abroad, and said it was being misinterpreted. “If you read the entire essay, you will understand that it is definitely not expressing anti-American ideas,” he said. NYT

Anything that a Japanese politician says that causes embarrassment or "confusion" is always due to misinterpretation and misunderstanding overseas. Besides, it was meant to be for internal use only like all such overly honest opinions expressed by a politician, government official, or other person with power or influence in Japan.

But none of that is a shock. The shock is the fact that any of what he wrote would have been news to any person knowledgeable about Japan. Surely folks involved with Japan/US relations are more aware of what is going on in Japan than that. Surely they would not need to rely on a NYT article.

For once, I am not being sarcastic. I find it impossible to believe that anyone paying attention would have been surprised. Impossible.

Oops. Another Japanese word pointlessly used in the title.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Karel van Wolferen (The Enigma of Japanese Power) on the election

...To say that the task that Hatoyama Yukio and his fellow leaders of the Minshuto have set themselves is daunting would be putting it very, very mildly. One must be wary of using the label ‘revolutionary’, but if they succeed this would be appropriate in the context of Japan's controlling political institutions. Considering their manifesto there can hardly be any doubt that correcting the severe imbalance in the relationship between Japan's elected politicians and career bureaucrats is their priority. What they want is nothing out of the ordinary for most other countries...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Excellent TV: Bahahahahaha. They lost.

Watching a number of TV stations report the election has been quite interesting for reasons other than seeing the LDP get completely stomped. Channel 6 had Beat Takeshi on as a non-commenting commentator. He barely said anything but was seated with the reporters through out the evening. I was informed that since it was a live broadcast, that they were afraid to let him on open mic because of his tendency to say things not supposed to be said on TV. The theory must have been that his mere appearance would attract viewers.

The stations had wildly different results at times, with NHK being one of the most conservative. Channel 11 on satellite was the quickest with its predictions often having the DPJ up to 20 seats more than some other stations.

What interested me for about 5 minutes---after which I became cross-eyed---were the messages from viewers that were streamed on the upper part of the screen. They were nothing special for the most part and one could hear the same sort of thing in most democracies during an election, especially one as historic mind-boggling as this one.

Below are just a random sample with no real logic for selecting them except that they are shorter messages which I could get quickly. Should be read with the caveat that these are not only are these my "inelegant" translations, but I had to read them and try to translate and write them down as fast as I could.

This country has changed. (A 20-something person.)

Can the DPJ really do it?

I'm worried the DPJ will raise insurance fees.

I don't want the DPJ to turn into the LDP.

I want the number of kids and students to increase.

From here it will be terrible.

I worry about Japan from now. (50 year old man.)

I want Japan to become a country that is easy to live in. (A person in his/her 20s.)

To Mr. Hatoyama: Is the DPJ the same as, or different from, the LDP?

Japan can also change.

I want politics to change 180 degrees from what it has been.

I am against the elimination of highway tolls.

Toward a new Japan. (50-something man)

Because we want Japan to change, this will be the election it begins.

One I could not really be sure of was from a woman who wrote something roughly like: "Everyone says the same thing, we saw America change and now we will too."

I wonder if this will be the election in which a bit of optimism begins in Japan. If so, now it's up to the DPJ to preserve and develop it. They cannot blow this opportunity.*

* As noted in the comments, they certainly can blow the opportunity.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I don't care. I don't care. I really don't

I've been trying to avoid it. I don't really wanna watch what is likely the certainty of a DPJ victory over the LDP. I mean nothing will please me more than to see the LDP slapped silly unless it would be to see it happen several times over the next decade. I figure with the election pretty much locked up---my commie wife even voted non-commie---that I would just wait and see what the DPJ actually is able to do when in power before getting all excited. I even tried watching Chibimariko-chan and Sazae-san to keep my finger off the remote that would lead me to any news about the election results which should start in an hour or so.

I have failed, mainly because of the damned blogs I have checked when not watching cartoons. Observing Japan has an Election Day Open Thread , and Our Man in Abiko has promised live coverage from 9PM which I am sure won't be replicated elsewhere. There may be others I haven't found yet. But I don't care. Means nothing to me.

8:33pm And it's just terrible. Results so far are 207 for the opposition and 51 for the LDP and its lone ally Komeito.

Duh! Trans-Pacific Radio is also covering the election live,as is Observing Japan.

Friday, August 28, 2009

We can help

(Revised and reposted.)

Apologies to Billy Swan. (Oh well...soundtrack has been removed....)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Recovery is on the way sooner than expected!!

On the evening that we foreign fools at my part-time job were informed (as I had expected) that we would be losing our annual guaranteed contracts and be converted to hourly contract workers if we chose to stay and if they can find any new business using the same old ideas and tactics, it is nice to know that the DPJ victory will boost consumer optimism. On 50% less salary, it will mine.

The opposition DPJ has been running on a platform to support households by giving cash to child-rearing families and eliminating highway tolls...

“With a strong DPJ victory, households will expect a boost in income,” said Adachi, a senior economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Tokyo. “That expectation may increase confidence in the economy.” Bloomberg

All I gotta do to get that income boost is to have a kid and buy a car.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Possible shady character busted

....American tourist asked a police officer for directions to the Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

The Californian, 74, could never have imagined the officer would reply to his question with: "Do you have a knife?"...Japan Times

And then, Tokyo's finest threw the fellow in the pokey for 10 days, informing his son (who is living in Japan) only the next day. Then, the upholders of all that is right and just; the protectors of society insisted that the son speak to his father in Japanese since they had no interpreter available.

Being a foreigner may have led police to ask the question because Shinjuku is also home to the Kabukicho red light district, which attracts a plethora of shady characters, including foreigners, the two lawyers said.

Nice to see that the Japan Times followed up on the original article with more details. The koban-sitters did not answer any questions about the case, as they don't discuss individual cases if there is any possibility that they would look like what they are.

To paraphrase---and take some license with---what was written about this incident earlier: Japan, where tourists have more to fear from the police or government than from criminals*.

Wonder if they run around asking yakuza such questions? (No, probably not.)

I shan't be bringing my parents here, even if I could convince them to endure the near 24 hours of travel that it would take.

*One should not feel that criminals are not a danger here. I had to add that for fear someone might think that criminals are nice in Japan.

Forget the flu, will vaccine work on the unique Japanese?

There are folks who are worried about the potential danger of swine flu this autumn. The US is predicting a 30-50% infection rate. With the crowded subways in Japan and the likelihood of many to go to work ill regardless of the consequences, the condemned might reasonably expect more. Achuuuu...AAAACCCCCHUUUUU!!!!!

I was concerned until my Colleague from Down Under explained how it was all bull and that we should believe it only "when a movie star, politician, or other famous person dies from it." I was relieved to hear that, especially since any already delayed vaccine would be further delayed until it tested safe for the supra-human Japanese body.

The Japanese government might not be able to import vaccine to combat the new type of influenza the H1N1 virus, or swine flu -- before autumn, when an epidemic of the disease is feared will intensify, as experts want pre-import confirmation that the vaccine is safe for Japanese patients, sources familiar with the matter said. The Hour

Years ago I received an e-mail asking if I was interested in participating in a testing program to determine the effects of certain medicines in the bakagaijin body as opposed to the Japanese. I somewhat unkindly turned down that thoughtful invitation to be a guinea pig in nihonjinron studies.

I know there can be some differences between certain groups of people as far as tendencies for some illnesses. I have heard a number of times---even from a pharmacist in Japan---that the gaijin body, always being bigger and apparently less-evolved, is less sensitive to medicine than a Japanese. (How do you determine a Japanese body? Is there a special Japanese DNA?)

So I find it a bit strange that when we were in the US and my wife would visit a doctor, dentist, or pharmacist, that they did not have a special Japanese-only medicine. As far as I know they used the same medicine as they did for normal humans. Must have been the change in diet.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Benefits of a real 2-party system

and it ain't even officially here yet:

With the election-favorite Democratic Party of Japan promising an investigation into a secret Japan-U.S. nuclear weapons deal, the Foreign Ministry is somewhat easing its decades-long stance that the agreement never existed....

... Vice Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka repeated the ministry's denial of the existence of the agreement.

But he told reporters that Japanese and U.S. officials occasionally discussed the definition of "bringing nuclear weapons into Japan," for which the United States needed to consult Japan in advance. Asahi English edition(soon to vanish)

The pressure of a DPJ victory has got some folks so nervous that they are coming close to admitting what everyone already knows. Imagine the possibilities when the DPJ does come into power.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Sunday stroll through the neighborhood

On Sundays the wife goes off to play tennis and with her friend, The Firefighter's Wife, and probably afterward to badmouth both The Firefighter and me at some izakaya. This leaves me plenty of time to do other things. One which I enjoy is picking some nearby area in Tokyo/Yokohama and walking around aimlessly. Reminds me of one of my jobs.

Today I decided to avoid anything to do with train/subway travel and stayed close to home. Although I have lived in the area for about 3 years now, I still haven't seen it all.

I had barely walked 10 minutes when I met a very kind man in "downtown" Denenchofu. I knew that he was a kind man because he stopped for me as I waited at a crosswalk. At first I didn't trust him, having had much experience in crossing streets in the area, and thought he was tricking me and would suddenly accelerate and run me down as soon as I stepped off of the curb. However, since he was not driving a city bus, or a silver Mercedes, or a dark blue BMW coupe with Shinagawa tags, I decided to risk my life. Amazingly, he waited patiently while I crossed and did not enter the crosswalk until I was out of it. Hmmm. Must not have been from around here.

As I walked toward the Tama River via a route that I had not traveled before, I began to sense from the near monopoly of JCP campaign posters that I was in a heavily Communist-occupied area.
One might assume that such an area would force even more folk to obey the rules---this being Japan and all too---and I found this to be true. Folks here obey the rules as much as or more than everywhere else in Tokyo/Kanagawa.

I waddled in true Tokyo style on down to the river and observed a lovely Sunday afternoon scene that one could see only in Japan. Folks were relaxing and having fun while being concerned with others and naturally observing all the rules and laws as this sort of thing is in Japanese DNA.

I wouldn't know since Japanese is too Japanese to be understood by non-Japanese, but I think that sign reads: Please barbecue here. It could not say that barbecuing is prohibited.

I continued my walk, enjoying the unique and well maintained nature of the river side and soon passed under Maruko Bridge. I suddenly came upon a large number of parked cars in the area near the bridge where I noticed some men changing clothes. Had I not been in Japan I would have sworn a few of these fellows were about to do a Kusanagi except for small, somewhat strategically placed towels. Now I once heard from a Japanese gal who had never been to the US, but had visited Canada, that people could walk down the street nearly naked in the States, but I could not believe that the traditionally conservative and modest Japanese would be sitting around naked in an open, crowded, public area. I was tempted to hang around in the interest of research to see if any women would join the display, but had to move on. Unfortunately, I didn't have the courage to snap a few nudie pix, but since this sort of thing doesn't happen here, I could not have taken them anyway.

Resuming my stroll I went down a newly opened walkway, dodging mamachari and their morons. Fortunately, there are rules about riding these high-tech machines where I was walking.

The signs apparently say: Please feel free to ride your clunker like some sort of drunken idiot along this path and see how many people you can run down.

Then I began to head home. I took my time as I walked through Tamagawadai Park, pausing often to listen to the cicadas. Of course I was unable to do so, because as the great intellektual, Masahiko Fujiwacko, informed us, only Japanese enjoy insect sounds or some horsepooky like that. Frustrated at my racial/ethnic/national origin inferiority, I gave up and left.

Not long afterward, I reached Denenchofu eki. (That's a real Japanese word. No need for it here, but I threw it in just to show that I am a member of an in-group. Watch this: 駅. Oooohhhh, kanji!) Denenchofu has been referred to as the Beverly Hills of Tokyo, apparently by folks who have never been to Beverly Hills. Most folks here are successful in some way, or else descendants of people who owned land in the area years ago. People do not become successful in Japan unless they obey the rules. Which rules, I don't know, but I guess they do.
I had mixed emotions as I returned to my mansion. Why can't the rest of the world be as polite, law-abiding, and rule-obeying as we are in Japan? You'd have to try really hard to find anyone other than a non-Japanese breaking rules or laws here. It's all part of the unique uniqueness of the country. I aspire to be able to do as the folks I saw today, but I haven't the guts, for I don't think the koban-sitters would understand.

WTF does blogger preview have no resemblance to the actual post? Why do I have to play around in HTML? OK, back to the old editor. It wasn't perfect, but it's better than the new and improved version.