Friday, May 29, 2009

International marriage analyzed by TV star

An exciting new TV drama is scheduled to begin on NHK called Plastic (Vinyl?)Sheets Blowing in the Wind. In it, a Japanese woman marries her American boss at the Tokyo Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (an ironic location for such an office). Naturally problems ensue. Staring i a TV show and going to eikaiwa lessons gave the star, Kasue Fukisii, special insight into the mysterious world of international marriage

"I take English conversation classes, and when I say to my American or English or Canadian teacher that I'm making this or that drama, they say 'Who is in it?' And when I tell them they are like, 'Hmmm.' They have no idea who I am talking about," Fukiishi explained.... "If that sort of gap becomes apparent in just a 40-minute conversation lesson, imagine what would happen during a whole life together!"...

and to show that she does not work for a bunch of manipulative goofballs with next to no morals: "my management office recommends I date a foreigner — to improve my English language skills." Japan Times

I can't wait to watch. I am sure that it won't be the typical program of its type full of simple-minded stereotypes.

Judge a book by its cover and

learn the same old lesson.

Was talking with a fellow who seemed somewhat bright. Doesn't work for one of the big Japanese companies, but for a Tokyo branch of another company headquartered in northeast Asia. Things were going well for the first 5 minutes we spoke, then he mentioned the recession and the record drop in Japan's GDP. This was because folks had stopped spending money and were saving it instead, he informed me. He then told me how he had heard that Westerners behave differently than Japanese in a recession---don't reduce spending and such. He asked for my thoughts on this puzzling issue.

Honored as I was to be asked to speak for all Westerners, I didn't really have much of a clue about what New Zealanders or the Spanish, or even Canadians do. Maybe they spend more in a recession, but I expect they are humans too, so maybe they don't. How could anyone enjoy a recession if they keep on buying and making and selling things?

Although I wanted to ask him if he were naturally stupid or if it were something that he worked at, I could think of nothing clever or polite to say. In the end, I simply let the poor fellow know that, no the Japanese were nothing special, most folks reduce spending in a recession. I then found a reason to excuse myself.

The odds were, of course, very strong that he was a university graduate. A university graduate, and a "professional" who not only lacked even the slightest understanding of economics, but of the human race. Should I ever meet this fellow again---and I might---I will see the word baka written on his forehead.

Nihonjinron/nihonron: Deny that natural, widespread human tendencies, emotions, customs, and so on could possibly be shared with non-Japanese. Instead claim those things as especially or uniquely Japanese. This will advance the much blabbered about "mutual understanding."

1236AM: I am certain that I could go back to the US or nearly any other country and have an equally idiotic conversation with someone about Japan.

*He stayed in Florida.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Relax, the DPRK is not governed by suicidal nuts

I used to listen to Radio Pyongyang on shortwave, and it was always somewhat amusing as it sounded like some bad propaganda film from the 50s. So in a way, it's hard to take the loud threats from North Korea too seriously.

Then again, one has to remember the South Koreans, Japanese, French, Americans and others that the regime has kidnapped or killed over the years. And Ragoon, Burma* where in 1983 North Korean agents blew up and killed a number of ROK government officials in an attempt on the president's life. Or its bombing of a civilian aircraft (CAUTION:Wikipedia link). The USS Pueblo. The attacks on the US Army on the "DMZ" during the Vietnam War which left at least 75 members of the US military and 299 ROK soldiers dead; its ax murder of a US Army major in the mid 1970s, again in the "DMZ;" its attempt to murder the then president of South Korea, Park Chung-hi.

Those things are generally considered purty close to being acts of war. So it's hard to be reassured by those "in the know" that Kim Jung Il and the North Korean leadership are not nuts and wouldn't really risk a suicidal war.

Now the leadership of North Korea has decided to say the Korean War truce is no longer valid and threatened to attack South Korea if its ships are searched as a result of the little nuclear detonation and missile launch games they are playing.

Analysts in Seoul said they regarded North Korea's warnings as serious but doubted the willingness of Kim to provoke a large-scale confrontation.

"The problem is that both sides cannot afford to make a concession," said Dong Yong-seung, a senior fellow at the North Korean division of Samsung Economic Research Institute. "It is like a game of chicken." NYT, non-Onion version (?).

And that's probably true. Trouble is, one of those playing chicken has shown numerous signs in the past of being just a bit unstable in the noggin' by most standards, regardless of its real goals and intentions.

If Japan had the bomb, none of this would be happening of course. There's magic in them thar bombs.

*Some prefer the military dictatorship's "Myanmar."

Nothing has changed in decades

“People who tell you they know what’s going on there don’t know,” said one official, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly. “What’s undeniable is that there are substantial challenges to all the previous approaches to North Korea.” NYT

Monday, May 25, 2009

Flu Panic Spreads as North Korea sets off nuke


Unmasked residents, eyes pixelated in fear,
flee across the street after an uncovered sneeze
was reported in a local eyeglass shop.

TOKYO--Panic spread out of control in Japan today as it was announced that the unpredictable leader of North Korea had set off a nuke just days after Iran got in the headlines by testing a new missile. To add to the nuke fears, a shortage of masks in Tokyo and as far away as Nagano prefecture has caused many to flee in hysteria at the slightest hint of a cough or sneeze. Government officials have been in meetings since the detonation to determine if these combined panics are necessary or not. Reports that the WHO is considering revising its pandemic alert levels to eliminate Level 6 "Pandemic" and go straight to a Level 7 "Kiss your ass goodbye" are adding to the chaos.

Many Monday commuters were seen holding their breath to avoid being infected by either Swine flu virus or radioactive fallout from the North Korean blast. Due to the shortage of anti-Swine flu masks, only one person in Tokyo was spotted wearing the life-saving item.

Millions flee a station exit
gasping for air in a blind panic
after holding their breath for the
duration of their commute.

By noon Monday, the outspoken but harmless nationalist, Governor Shintaro Ishihara was seen mounting a tank in preparation to lead a preemptive strike against dangerous, criminally-inclined, rioting non-Japanese and little old ladies.

UPDATE: Tokyo--Prime Minister Aso announced that the elections scheduled for later this summer were to be postponed indefinitely. "We cannot afford to play politics as long as there are nuclear weapons and viruses on the planet," Mr. Aso reluctantly stated.

In a separate and entirely unrelated development, the Tokyo prosecutor's office announced an investigation into the DPJ's new leader Yukio Hatoyama over past claims that Hatoyama had contacts in terrorist organizations. Prosecutors vigorously denied any political motives when it was pointed out that it was the LDP's Kunio Hatoyama who had made those claims about himself while Justice Minister, not Yukio Hatoyama. A spokesman said that the charges were very serious and that Yukio Hatoyama had to be impartially, but thoroughly investigated to make sure that he was not Kunio Hatoyama.

Visiting Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman said that the Bush administration was responsible for all these problems.

Ima Loony, head of the NPO "Ethics in Eikaiwa Chain Schools" and Oi Bakero of "Reporters with No Standards" contributed to this article from under a blue tarp along the Tama River.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Glimpses of Japan

New to me, despite subscribing to magu-magu mail magazine, is a site of weekly posts by a 39-year resident ---since 11 April 1970---of Japan at Glimpses of Japan. Short observations of life in Japan. His latest post is an observation on the Japanese media frenzy over Swine flu. I agree, but it ain't any worse than the media anywhere else as far as I have seen. (I'm stayin' inside today myself in order to avoid the panicked, screaming hordes of mask-wearing folks in crisis mode that I've been hearing about.)

He also had a 2004 post about "American coffee" which you can find in a lot of restaurants and cheapo coffee shops. In the past the choice was "blend" or American which was akin to choosing between be executed by hanging or firing squad. I'll take a wild guess and say it may have come from coffee served in U.S. Army mess halls and sold black market during the occupation. I often have people---maybe just after telling me about Japan's unique four seasons and the fact that non-Japanese have wet ear wax while Japanese have dry---that American coffee is very weak. You mean Starbucks I ask? Confusion results.

3:48PM: It's unbelievable, but after reading through most of 5-years worth of his posts, I have not discovered the mysterious, uniquely-unique Japan of the media and myth. Why, it seems like a normal country with some good points and some problems. Imagine that.

Thanks Uncle Sam

Nissan Motor Co. is likely to receive more than ¥100 billion in low-interest loans set up by the U.S. government to promote the development of and transition to electric vehicles and other fuel-efficient cars, sources said Friday.

Nissan is the first foreign automaker that is close to winning approval for the direct loans... Full story at the Japan Times.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The original, the classic

and Hatoyama to the rescue:

The one below is still much better.

Who is John Roos?

While trying to catch up on some news after a week of trying not to catch up on some news, I discovered at GlobalTalk 21 that some fellow named John Roos will (might?) be the next U.S. Ambassador to Japan. Surprising as that was to me and about everyone else, at Armchair Asia I discovered that the White House appears to be in the dark on its choice of Roos too.

The cynical would suspect that Roos' main qualification for the job---if being a U.S. Ambassador requires any qualifications---is that he got folks to fork over big globs of cash to the Obama campaign as a fundraiser.

Roos is little known among U.S. and Japanese officials, raising some doubt about his qualifications.

On second thought however, one of the main duties of the U.S. Ambassador to Japan seems to be to find a way to get Japan to fork over big globs of cash for various U.S. adventures which makes him a perfectly logical, nearly ideal choice. That plus the fact that he was a Silicon Valley lawyer. If he knows next to nothing about the country, it would strengthen his qualifications even more.

Glad to see yet more "change" from the (no-longer) new administration.

John Roos '80: Lawyering to Silicon Valley's Elite

NYT goes Onion on Japan

Over the last few weeks, the New York Times has published a number of bizarre, half-nonsense articles on Japan. This week they've been on a roll, publishing two in a row.

First thing this morning they came up with an article of "hygiene-obsessed" Japan going into crisis mode over Swine flu complete with an obviously cropped-to-mislead photo of folks wearing masks on a Tokyo train meant to give the blatantly false impression that everyone---or at least a majority of people are wearing masks.

The story, despite the title (With flu fears rising Japan goes into crisis mode) and photo was mainly about Kobe which I think is in Japan, but is not Japan.

The crisis mode seems to be mostly in the media as most people I know are aware and concerned, but not in a crisis mode. One friend told me about not being able to find masks---probably because of all the imaginary mask-wearers on the Tokyo subway---but did not seem to be overly concerned.

The subway lines I use may be special, but there seemed to be no more than 4-5 mask-wearing-folks-in-crisis-mode per car yesterday morning or last night. The photo with the Hiroko Tabuchi NYT article shows that there were at least three mask-wearers hygiene-obsessed Tokyo train.

Wait, didn't Hiroko have the half-witted, half-the-story, back to the 80s piece about secure jobs and lifetime employment in Japan a few days ago in the NYT too? I wonder: After all the increasingly large percentage of the work-force who are temporary workers are laid off, what happens to employees at smaller companies when "suppliers are squeezed"? (Except for the small company, Shinano Kogyo, mentioned in the article where everything is wonderful.) And after all of these folks are fired, how can a reporter write an article about Japan's obsession with keeping its workers employed? Easy, count only "regular workers" and to hell with the rest. Just like the companies.

1540: Perhaps I was a bit early in the criticism of the Onion NYT article as none other than the authoritative Japan Times is reporting a panic near the wife's hometown after Swine flu was detected in some high school girls who had visited an unhygienic, disease-filled foreign country. Looking at the photo of Mizonokuchi station there---again conveniently cropped/framed for (misleading?) editorial purposes---it seems that a huge number of folks are donning masks. I missed that as I didn't work today and as usual avoid crowds and trains whenever I can. Panicked calls concerning the virus have increased from 150 per day to 250 since last evening. Seems a lot of folks have suddenly begun to feel that they have a fever. (Isn't this easy to determine?) Oh my god, we're all gonna die after all!!!!!! Do not panic.

And whatever you do, do not visit the real Onion and do a search for Japan.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I want to visit Japan

I've obviously never been there:

"...a national obsession with cleanliness that makes even Switzerland look messy. Masks are common on subways because it is considered rude* to lack one if you are sneezing..."

..."Kobe residents rushed to hospitals, where doctors in biohazard suits checked people for fever in tents set up in parking lots"...NYT

As the masks of very, very questionable effectiveness are now out of stock in nearby drug and convenience stores, I'd like to get ahold of one of those biohazard suits. Actually, I'd like a number of them for the whole family. Fortunately(?), we stockpiled several boxes of masks earlier because we want to try to avoid a flu of any type, especially for older family members. Seems like a lot of others forgot.

Take a look at those masks. Ever notice that few people wear them correctly? Notice the large gaps between the mask and skin. Notice how when someone coughs or sneezes the mask moves away from the face. Then you have to wonder how you take them off without touching the outside where the virus from the saliva of those who cannot keep from coughing all over everyone** collects. If you do manage that, where do you put the contaminated mask? In your pocket? A difficult to find trash bin? What do you do, carry a dozen around with you?

Several weeks ago I heard one official in the US claim that masks were next being to a fraud for preventing the spread of a virus and only a very few brands were effective even under the best of circumstances. Perhaps it's different here (whatever country this is), but I think the masks are just about as useful as gargling or placebos. I suppose though, when you have to ride crowded subways where a number of rude people seem to cough and sneeze without masks or handkerchiefs or tissues, it's better than nothing.

*I wonder, could it be that even if it is considered rude (which coughing and sneezing openly is) that rude people can easily---very easily---get away with doing unbelievably rude things in public places because very few will ever complain? That's how it seems to be in the country I live in.

**I have heard that this sort of thing does not happen in Japan either. What a perfect country that place must be.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What you say?!!

Published in the NYT and it is not some sort of idiotic fantasy-world pap like some of the recent stuff has been. I'll have to read and reread this to make sure that I am not dreaming as it seems to make some sense. Not that it will make any difference... view of the deepening quagmire in Japan’s domestic politics, U.S. policymakers may need to scale down their ambitions for the role they wish to assign Japan. More than 60 years after World War II, Japan is still generally isolated in the Asian region. It remains heavily dependent on the United States for its defense and the health of the U.S. economy for its growth — not a positive state of affairs for U.S. policymakers trying to cope with rising regional powers and economic difficulties of their own...

...mounting voter frustration in Japan with an unresponsive political system leaves the door ajar for nationalist politicians and policies...A must read at NYT

The authors go on to state that the 60-year old contingency scenario for Korea is no longer adequate and that perhaps the security relationship with Japan should be "multilaterized." Someone shut these guys up before they influence US policy to move past the 1950s. Fortunately though, US foreign policy does not change until change is forced.

Maybe I am just a bit too sensitive to the rants of the nationalists, but methinks the door is a little more than ajar already.

(Speaking of NYT nonsense, I have never been to Norway and know nothing about it, but I'll just bet that this is oversimplified goofiness.)

Man Overboard!

Although it's been days since the fearless Captain Ozawa woke up and decided that perhaps it was maybe possibly time for him to step aside, I have not been able to come up with a single thing to say. Perhaps that will change tomorrow as the "new" DPJ leader is scheduled to burst upon the scene and save us* from another 60 years of LDP leadership, but Ichiro's announcement left me just about as underwhelmed as I was to hear reports that some members of the US Congress may have known about waterboarding and such techniques, raised no objections until it became politically popular to do so, and then lied and lied about knowing.

Anyway, as a (yet again) final tribute to the good captain:

(I tried to find the original CM, but could not on YouTube. You'd be surprised---or not--- how many anti Ozawa/DPJ videos you can find there posted by shall we kindly say "right-leaning folk" including some overseas folks (in Canada and elsewhere) who love the LDP and Aso. This is probably better than the original anyway.)

*I realize that some folks would be offended by my use of the term "us" as I am not a Japanese citizen, but frankly I don't give a (censored) what those types "think".

Friday, May 08, 2009

Oh Sh*t!

Spotted lurking around in Yokohama Bay...

He's back!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hospitals take action to avoid (foreign) flu germs

Some patients were rejected by hospitals after reporting that they worked at Narita International Airport or have a foreign friend. Japan Times.

As usual, some hospitals are refusing to treat patients for some rather curious reasons. That's not a problem though, for they can do that here even if someone dies (a number of such cases have appeared in the news over the last few years).

Now some are refusing to treat people with a fever, instead telling them to go to the special flu clinics set up earlier. This doesn't always work, for some who have visited a flu clinic have still been rejected by hospitals after being directed to go to one by a clinic.

The Tokyo government might investigate these incidents as violations of the medical practitioner's law. Thank goodness! Expect immediate and decisive action to end this sort of practice forever!

Wonder what happens when someone with a foreign friend who happens to be non-Japanese herself asks for treatment at one of these sleazy places? I wondered how long it would take before the "dangerous foreigner" angle appeared. It is never a question of if, but of when and to what degree.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Google prejudiced

Google included some historical maps of Japan in its online collection which showed the boundaries of burakumin "lower-caste" areas. These folks were and are still discriminated against.

...still face prejudice, based almost entirely on where they live or their ancestors lived.

An employee at a large, well-known Japanese company, who works in personnel and has direct knowledge of its hiring practices, said the company actively screens out burakumin-linked job seekers.

(The same thing can still happen to those of Korean descent, illegal or not.)

"If there is an incident because of these maps, and Google is just going to say 'It's not our fault' or 'It's down to the user,' then we have no choice but to conclude that Google's system itself is a form of prejudice," said Toru Matsuoka, an Upper House Diet member. (He is also a member of the Burakumin Liberation League.)

When complaints reached Google, they removed any reference to burakumin on the maps.

The result?

"This is like saying those people didn't exist. There are people for whom this is their hometown, who are still living there now," said Takashi Uchino from the Buraku Liberation League headquarters in Tokyo.

The Justice Ministry is investigating. Not sure, but it seems that the discrimination against these folks is not Google's problem but Japan's and hiding the fact of continuing discrimination is not going to resolve anything. But then again, "This is Japan." One of E.O Reischauer's sugary books (The Japanese Today, I believe) mentioned the eta/burakumin and those references were removed from the Japanese edition. Reischauer must have been a bigot too.

All quotes from the May 5 Japan Times article.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Oops. Swine flu may actually be no worse than a mild cold

Or something like that. After every news station, Internet site, and newspaper in Japan, the US, Britain, France, Germany, and probably elsewhere (Overseas TV news programs are broadcast every morning via NHK BS. BS being the satellite station, not a comment on their news content.) Now, after they and the WHO said we were all going to die but not to panic, it seems that there was a slight miscalculation on the number of folks who actually had it in Mexico and thus the severity may have been exaggerated. Don't worry though, there is still a chance that it will mutate to a really deadly flu and spread worldwide eliminating both humans and pigs.* Imagine the ratings!

It's too late for me though, as I read in the Japan Times that when people sneeze, cough, or even talk, they spray saliva 2 to 3 meters. I now find myself calculating the distance between myself and anyone who coughs or sneezes to see if I am outside the spit zone. I have not been yet. Ever wondered how wide a train is? I have a pretty accurate estimate now.

I try and try to be like my buddy from Down Under whose main concerns are along the lines of the CIA/Area 51/UFO/JFK assassination link and when the next party is, but I have not been able to reach that "Happy Boy" nirvana.

*5:18 PM The latest reports are now saying that perhaps it is too early not to panic as a global pandemic of total death could still occur:

The World Health Organization cautioned that the swine flu outbreak could gain momentum in the months ahead, despite claims by the health secretary of Mexico -- the epicenter of the outbreak -- that the virus "is in its declining phase."

"I ... would like to remind people that in 1918 the Spanish flu showed a surge in the spring, and then disappeared in the summer months, only to return in the autumn of 1918 with a vengeance," [WHO spokesman] Hartl said. "And we know that that eventually killed 40 million to 50 million people." CNN International

Everything may still go horribly wrong and kill almost everyone. Please do not panic. Stay tuned to CNN for the latest.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Ex-Thug writes book, gets rich, has interview,

becomes confused:

...he raises social, political and media facts...[Emphasis mine]

Asked why Japan allows the yakuza, he gives the old "the US does it too" whine as part of his answer:

The (U.S.) government is in fact the biggest gangster group. That's why they are engaged in acts of torture at Abu Ghraib prison (in Iraq) and confinement (at the Guatanamo Bay detention center in Cuba). Compared to the level of atrocities committed in these places, acts committed by Japanese gangs probably rate only about one 100-millionth.

... I think the yakuza show the maturity of a country's democracy. I think a society with the yakuza is a sound society...

He then warns us about countries/governments that have eliminated their organized thugs---Nazi Germany, Pol Pot, North Korea. Therefore, if we eliminate organized child porn producing, drug dealing, extortionist, murdering gangs, we'll become like Nazis. "Where the yakuza aren't involved, nations are."

Although he earlier gave us the fact that the US is the world's biggest gangster group because of Abu Ghraib, he doesn't hesitate to show us that Japan is actually a worse gangster:

...Japanese prisons are said to be worse than Abu Ghraib in the treatment of inmates...From where else but the Japan Times

He (Manabu Miyazaki) also opposes the new lay judge system because a democracy is run by "specialist bureaucrats" who "can often make efficient and fair decisions" and that citizen participation might not always be good*. On the other hand, he is not happy about the charges against Ozawa's secretary and believes that the prosecution has political motives.

The ex-loan shark then gives a very shrewd, shallow analysis of Obama's election: People didn't like Bush, so they elected Obama who is like former PM Koizumi because both are populists.

Of course one should read the full article to get the full impact and meaning.

*Edited to more accurately reflect his actual (translated) words.