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...

...in 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 Culture.com

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... FT.com(edy)

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... karelvanwolferen.com