Monday, March 22, 2010

Personal Note

It has been a long run, but due to a personal situation, I will be suspending this blog for an undetermined period.

Thanks to everyone who has read it, who has followed me, who has contacted me, those whom I have met, and to all for enduring some of my more nonsensical and contradictory posts.

I hope to resume sometime in the future---the sooner the better, since I cannot keep my mouth shut---but until this situation is resolved, I will have to occupy my time with it. Hopefully it will only be a short time.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Japan is "not a coffee table book"...

A quote from a blog, 1000 Things about Japan, that I just belatedly discovered via an article in the Japan Times. Seems the author has lived in Japan for 20 years, but for some reason does not view it with rose colored glasses (or blinders) and sees both good and bad points about it. One could assume that there is nothing surprising about that, but in some quarters it could be seen as a radical view.

For example: Won't Miss #93: "Japanese People Don't Steal."


Won't Miss #78: Having my Japanese Mocked.


Won't Miss #75: Apologists

Of course she posts about things she will miss (if/when she leaves) too and it's all very much worth reading. This woman knows of what she writes.

China 3

For more on the Krugman (and C. Fred. Bergsten) stand on China and its undervalued currency see The Political Economy of Pressuring China, plenty of links there to Krugman's argument and follow ups and rebuttals by others.

And the un-shut-upable Peter Schiff has posted his YouTube response to Krugman. (Again, I'd advise avoiding the comments.) I never thought Paul could create such entertainment.

We all know C. Fred Bergsten, don't we? For about a gadzillion years he pushed a theory that the Japan-US trade imbalance was a result of an undervalued yen. I once had to transcribe one of his speeches for translators, leaving in all the hmm, huh, eh, and everything else. I lost any urge to read/hear any thing more by C. after that. Krugman/Bergsten video here.

Oops. I found a 1991 C. Fred B./James Fallows spat over his yen theory and more:

Virtually every speech on economics by a Japanese government official or Keidanren (big-business alliance) representative quoted Bergsten or Cline. The purpose of the quotation was to show that the strong dollar was the real cause of US-Japan economic problems, so Americans shouldn't waste their breath talking about other issues, such as trade barriers or deep structural differences between the US and Japanese versions of capitalism. Anyone who has met Japanese economic officials in the last five years has heard Bergsten's work referred to in this way... (Note that Fallows was not questioning Bergsten's integrity. You have to read the full article to understand the argument.)


Friday, March 19, 2010

A walk through the Beverly Hills of Tokyo*

Took a quick walk down to the Denenchofu Precce at lunch. It is the closest grocery store, so I chose to pay the absurd 20-30-40% premium for the same food I could get elsewhere at a regular Tokyu. (Except that Precce does have fresh skim milk with a use-by date over a week away. When I lived in Kanagawa near Kajigaya station, their same-brand skim milk arrived with a maximum 3-4 day use-by date. Methinks that it was old unsold milk from places like Denenchofu. Here ours disappears after it has been on the shelf for 2 days.)

The walk was pretty much uneventful. I tried to cross the crosswalk in front of the Family Mart behind the illegally parked truck and so I waited in the middle of the crosswalk for the line of cars to blow right through it. Again, illegally, but it's not like the local koban-sitters are going to give a rats arse. It's better that way anyhow, otherwise, I would have been confused like I was yesterday while walking home from Okusawa, when I had absentmindedly stepped into a crosswalk without stopping and waiting for all traffic within killing range to clear. Damn if a guy on a motorbike didn't suddenly appear. AND STOP!!! Good god, I wondered, what is going on? Why is he stopping? I had just barely entered the crosswalk and wasn't even on his side.

I waited. He waited. If I went ahead and tried to cross, would he then decide to go and run me down? He was still waiting. Cautiously, I crossed while bowing a thank-you-for-obeying-the-law bow to him. I see that kind of bow often and I fully understand why it is done.

I arrived safely at Precce and began shopping. Suddenly, as I began the usual dance with a someone who would jump to my right when I moved right and to my left when I moved left, I looked the person in the eye and she smiled. Panic!!!! Someone whom I don't know looked me directly in the eye and smiled. What do I do in situations like this? I grabbed for my wallet. Still there. I thought of saying, "No, this is not an opportunity to practice your English on me," but then I recalled that darned near everyone in Denenchofu seems to speak English well already.**

Just as I was about to flee out the door screaming, I noticed that she appeared to be one of the Germans who populate the local area. "Excuse me," says I. "Excuse me," said she. Crisis defused.

Then I got up to the register. The clerk was busy reading aloud every price of every item in the basket of the lady ahead and then wrapping nearly everything individually in small clear plastic bags. (Despite the stupid TV ads, you cannot get out of having everything wrapped at the Denenchofu Precce. Tried it. Failed. Thinking there must be some special grocery store keigo, I later had my wife try. She failed too. You would have to tell the clerk not to wrap every single item every single time she touched one. Forget, and she'll wrap it.)

After her total was rung up, the lady in front decided it might be about time to dig her wallet out of her bag. Ten minutes later she found it and, apparently having nothing bigger than one-yen coins, proceeded to take the next 3-hours counting them out. She could not count very well.

Finally, after more bows and thank yous, it was my turn. The clerk*** bowed, welcomed me, and rang up my order. She was less thorough with me, as she did not try to wrap every single item individually. Wow, this is a change, I thought. She dropped my hot tempura lunch into the bag, followed by a few other small items (they never, ever bag a purchase for a customer unless he/she has only a few items and they are feeling rather energetic.) Then came the ice cream sandwich. She wanted to know if it was alright to put it in the same bag as the hot tempura. Been through that before. How do I respond in Japanese with such extreme sarcasm that her ears melt and she never, ever, asks such a thing again?

At last, I got out of there---serves me right for giving that overpriced ripoff chain my money---and began the walk back home. Oh goody, the Denenchofu Private Girls School apparently was out early today and huge throngs of the fine young ladies were hogging the entire sidewalk. I knew that it would be almost impossible to get by them without being banged, shoved, and trampled, so I headed the other direction. I crossed the street and waited at the intersection for the light to change. (Nobody actually does that in Denenchofu, the preferred method is to just blindly cross the street without a glance.) As I entered the crosswalk, an imbecile in a Benz turned left into my path, kindly stopping just before the bumper impacted my leg.

I went directly to local over-priced liquor store and picked up a bottle of Old Crow to go with the soba tea Ms. O had given me last week. Strangely enough, I rarely drank until last fall. How did I ever avoid it?

*Yes, I have heard Denenchofu referred to as the "Beverly Hills of Tokyo." It's a nice area, but I gotta say that, except for the celebrities, I doubt it has much in common with Beverly Hills. That might not be a bad thing.

**Somewhat exaggerated.

***They are exclusively women at the Denenchofu Precce unless you get there on a special day when they are training/breaking in young males. I would guess they are future managers and not cashiers.

Edited for semi-clarity at 19:42

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Weird" US

It's nothing new that many folk in the US, and many in Japan, view one anothers country as exotic, weird, and so different as to be incomprehensible. Perhaps a little less so from the Japanese side, but that's just a personal observation.

Try this: Ask a Japanese friend if he/she thinks that a non-Japanese (or a Westerner) can ever understand Japan. Then ask him/her if a Japanese can understand the US (or any other Western country). Bet the answer to the first is "no" and the second is "yes."

It's been over a decade since I returned to Japan. I have rarely visited the US in that decade and it is becoming harder and harder for me to understand what is going on there. No amount of reading newspapers, watching TV news, reading books, or whatever really gives me the same feeling of grasping the "sense" of the culture and why things are happening and what people really feel and believe. Most Americans I know have been here for years too, so I don't gain much insight from talking to them.

I have not really understood the feelings in the US since Sept 11 occurred. I could read about it, I could get angry, and feel the emotions that most Americans felt that day, but I have never really grasped why we seem to have made the "un-American" choice to trade a little freedom for a little security (and theoretically lose both). I can't figure out the Tea Party; the Texas Board of Education; the extreme partisanship that seems to prevent anything from being attempted, let alone accomplished; the apparent surrender of any privacy; the suicide of the Republican Party which may be followed by their resurrection made possible by the Democrat Party (and citizens themselves who can't seem to compromise on anything).

I am much more comfortable with things Japanese---except for the exclusionist fantasy of nihonjinron---than I am with the US and I feel (right or wrong) that I have a better grasp of what is going on here than I do of the US.

I wonder just how people who have never been to the US; who have never had more than the standard media presentation of America; and have had no more than the K-12 education system view of it can assume that they know diddly-sh*t about it. But I still meet people who think that they do and are willing to debate the point. It is like---to steal former Sen. Phil Graham's words---"dueling with an unarmed man."

I really like Ms. O, my long-time friend and tutor, but like many, she seems to believe some of the Fujiwara Masahiko crap. I do enjoy pointing out the fallacies of Ol' Barcode though.

China 2

...The challenge now is how to persuade China to at least moderate its strategy without unleashing something even more destructive. As the decibel level has risen in Washington, Chinese officials have implicitly warned that they could retaliate by dumping Treasury bills from their central bank’s $2.4 trillion cache.

This would be risky for both countries. The move would weaken the dollar and lessen the value of China’s holdings. The United States might weather a sell-off or even benefit from the drop in the dollar’s value, but any precipitous move could further disrupt the skittish financial markets. And Beijing has other potential weapons, like tariffs and quotas. There is no guarantee of rationality in these showdowns. NYT editorial: Will China Listen?

No, there isn't a guarantee of rationality*. There is much more certainty of irrationality in varied doses on both sides. The real question is how the US allowed itself to get into this sort of position to begin with.

Ol' Blinky Ishihara once suggested that Japan dump its US holdings.** According to Blinky, although it would severely damage the US and global economy, in the end Japan and Asia would emerge from the crisis first because that's where all the quality products come from. Apparently nobody took/takes him seriously and relegated him to being a loonytune local-yokel populist (or as the US media tends to refer to the bigot: a controversial nationalist) whose ideas were good enough to get him elected and re-elected. Whatever the reason, we paid no attention.

We still don't. Paul Krugman argues that even if China did dump its US dollar holdings, it would not really have a serious effect. If he is wrong then he personally has a lot to lose....uhhh...well maybe not. Plenty of other economists disagree, but Paul has a Noble Prize. So did Milton Friedman, and I still futilely run outside hoping for money to be dropped every time a helicopter passes overhead.

Anyway, I'll take another wild guess and assume that China, after some displays of irrationality, will ultimately "listen" to some degree. If I am right, I can write a book with a blurb on the rear that reads: "One of the visionary few who predicted that China would avoid a trade war with the US." If I am wrong, I'll claim I work for ABC News and it was simply an unfortunate slip.

Note to self: Must get a life soon.

Note to Google. Google spell check is not aware of the existence of the word "futilely" or "futily".
As an American for the US who cannot spell because I had no spelling classes except that I did, I chose the former spelling and then misspelled it. Worse than Google spell check.

*Wait, isn't rationality---according to M. Fujiwara-kun---a Western thing anyway?

**I am not able to find a link. The version I read several years ago was translated to English by a Japanese guy. It should be at least as reliable as an ABC report.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Back to the 80s

Only it's a different country and a different dispute, but very similar to the type of rhetoric that we heard back then. This time, it is China and the US, instead of Japan and the US:

....we’ve been reasoning with China [insert 1980s Japan] for years, as its surplus ballooned, and gotten nowhere: on Sunday Wen Jiabao [insert, oh say Nakasone or later PM Miyazawa], the Chinese prime minister, declared — absurdly — that his nation’s currency is not undervalued [insert "Japan's PM declared---absurdly---that the country does not have a closed market and does not discriminate against US/foreign goods. It's because foreigners don't understand Japan and don't try hard enough. Besides, Japan cannot let some foreign products in because its consumers won't buy them and their intestines are not long enough or whatever.]... ....And Mr. Wen accused other nations of doing what China [insert Japan] actually does, seeking to weaken their currenciesjust for the purposes of increasing their own exports.” Italicized portion from Paul Krugman NYT

Despite all the hot air of the time, and several attempts to right a trade imbalance with a country that did not adhere to the free market religion that the US rather absurdly seemed/seems to take as gospel, in the end it never succeeded. Nobody can deny that Japanese markets are more open than they were back then, but "free" they ain't. Japan and Japanese companies come first. Then again, name a market that is free using a definition of free that means free.

The US is now (finally) making a little more noise about China's currency manipulation and hypocrisy, but in the end, I kind of suspect it will be a lot of nudging from the US with some gradual, grudging changes by China. To me, the most interesting part about Krugman's column is his explanation on why the US need not fear China suddenly unloading all its dollar reserves:

...It’s true that if China dumped its U.S. assets the value of the dollar would fall against other major currencies, such as the euro. But that would be a good thing for the United States, since it would make our goods more competitive and reduce our trade deficit. On the other hand, it would be a bad thing for China...Paul Krugman, NYT

It's not the usual economic version of M.A.D.---Whoever shoots first, dies second---in which both countries are damaged, but seems to indicate that it would do little real harm to the US. Krugman has hinted at this in the past, but it's the first time I have seen his rational.

1600: An opposing view---(well, it is economics so no two economists agree on anything anyway)---Krugman's Reminbi Fantasy. Thanks to soma for the link.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I don't watch much baseball (or other sports) on TV anymore, but this is the type of guy I find impressive:

....he [Hisanori Takahashi] announced that he was leaving to pitch in the United States before he knew if any teams wanted him.

On Jan. 31, when his former teammates with the Giants reported to their spring training, Takahashi packed his suitcases and flew to Arizona, without a team to report to and with little hope of getting a guaranteed major league contract.

“Just find me a park where I can throw,” he told his agent, Anthony Na. “It doesn’t matter what color I will be wearing, I will be ready.” NYT

Sunday, March 14, 2010


It ain't exactly a common thing for me to visit the home of a Tokyo native, for to do so in Japan seems to require all sorts of complex formalities which tend to overwhelm the purpose of the visit. To me that purpose would be to relax and perhaps see if we can get to know one another better.

I don't have folks over so much anymore either---much less than I did in the US---because it seems everything becomes so stiff and formal. It ain't really, but folks seems on edge or something even if I have known them and worked with them for a long time. No wonder everyone goes to izakayas. It hasn't much to do with the "small, dirty" apartments that this sort of thing used to be ascribed to back in the late 80s and earlier. It's just that all the formalities and so on are such a pain in the a** that nobody wants to mess with it.

But occasionally, I get invited to someones home and equally occasionally, I accept. At the risk of being called some sort of ~~~phobe (which I am not as far as I know), I have a word of advice for my Tokyo native friends and acquaintances:
If you are a single guy, and you invite another guy to your mansion alone for a home-cooked dinner on a Saturday evening it might be best to refrain from humming and singing show tunes* while you are preparing the meal. Especially after you have offered wine, for your guest may become confused as to whether he should go ahead and guzzle the whole bottle to numb what is left of his mind or to refrain from drinking at all.
You should also refrain from asking---during a pause in your vocals---if your guest is good at singing, for he might reply "No, are you?"

I confess to having purchased an album of "show tunes" 10 years ago or so, because I liked the song "They Call the Wind Mariah" and the theme song (vocals) from M*A*S*H*. However, I have been able to resist the urge to sing either to guys whom I have over for dinner.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Oops. Someone (or everyone?) is nuts

I missed it, but then again, I miss everything anymore, in part because I am trying to type Japanese on a computer. Great fun. I somehow end up with weird kanji all over the place (forgot to hit return every after nearly every word), or forgetting a double consonant or a long vowel and since the computer is not nearly as smart as my stupid Canon Wordtank G90 electronic dictionary, it is not smart enough to guess or give me reasonable choices. No, it will give me every rarely used kanji in the dictionary, while the simple very commonly used kanji that I am looking for is at the bottom of a gadzillion character list. (#$%& It cannot even list the effing kanji for tsuishin---P.S. How effing rare is that?*) On second thought, it is just like my Wordtank.**

Anyway, the Washington Post in a Monday Idiotorial discovered that Yukihisa Fujita is a September 11 conspiracy theorist and decided this somehow meant that the DPJ was anti-'merican or sumtin' like that there.

Well, (to use an overused and long out-of-date expression, "Duh!") Good god man, (Lee Hockstader) even I knew that Fujita was a bit whacked on the September 11 conspiracy a year ago. What kind of "reporter/editorialist" does that make Lee? And how does that make the whole gubberment anti-US? Damned Reds.

Better discussed at the usual suspects here, here, and also here. (I very strongly recommend avoiding the first comment on the latter if you have eaten recently. My opinion on that is irrefutable, so STFU.)

*No wait, it found it on the fourth or fifth try of entering the same word. No wonder Fujita believes in nutty conspiracy theories---anyone forced to type much in Japanese will soon be nuttier than a fruitcake. And I have being doing it a lot recently...)

**Great piece of 1990s-level technology. I understand, from the Internut, that it does not have all the kanji (huh?), but only the ones that Japanese aren't likely to know. To test that theory I once entered 一. To my amazement it was in the dictionary! Apparently, most Japanese do not know that most basic character. What has the education system come to?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Consumer (non)protection

From March 6 NYT article:

Her car surged forward nearly 3,000 feet before slamming into a Mercedes Benz and a taxi, injuring drivers in both those vehicles...

As shaken as she was by the accident, Mrs. Sakai says she was even more surprised by what happened after. She says that Toyota — from her dealer to headquarters — has not responded to her inquiries, and Japanese authorities have been indifferent to her concerns as a consumer.

Mrs. Sakai says the Tokyo Metropolitan Police urged her to sign a statement saying that she pressed the accelerator by mistake...

...and the Koban sitters would not return her car unless she did. They are now claiming it was all a misunderstanding and that they needed the car for their "investigation." All auto accidents are investigated in a "fair and transparent way," they said.

Transparent? The Tokyo Metropolitan Police? If they say so, it must be true 'cause they wouldn't lie about anything.

Later in the article a Toyota spokesfool said that the accidents related to sudden accelerations in Toyotas in Japan were not a problem with the cars.

Oh, yes. It's the stupid drivers. Apparently, Toyota has only been selling cars with this defect overseas.

The article concerns the present lack of consumer protection/rights in Japan and the until recent lack of a government consumer protection agency. Were Ralph Nader in Japan, he might been cooling his heels in the hoosegow.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Sony Timer and POS that don't work

After sending my Cateye heart rate monitor back to Osaka for the 3rd time since I bought it in hopes of getting it repaired long enough for the warranty to expire, I was about to lose confidence in the natural, undeniable superiority of all things made in Japan. I mean, it was just last Sunday when I nearly had to wrestle my normally calm wife to the floor to keep her from destroying our fine JVC big screen panel TV with the built-in spam delivery system and our now 1.5 year old falling apart Toshiba DVD/HD player which requires 2 separate remote controls, a re-reading of the incomprehensible owners manual, and the indignity of being ordered to "wait" by an effing electronic device just to play a DVD. Fortunately, I am bigger than she is.

But there's still good ol' Sony. I remember my father telling me when I was about 5 or 6, never to buy Sony products because they were junk. I didn't listen and later proceeded to buy a TV from the BX at Kunsan AB, Korea which spent much of the next 5-6 years in the shop until I finally decided that it fit the garbage can better. I am sure things have improved for Sony since then---and since a company that I worked for in the States did some research that included Sony products and found that people liked the features and considered Sony a good company, but strangely rated reliability and customer service rather poorly.

The good news is that Sony is back: (Warning---from Onion. Don't play this if you have either standards or a sensitivity to "adult language.")

Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work

Hey, the really good news is that our software is so advanced. Gotta run. Gotta see if I can get my Nikon Capture NX to work on a cloudy day.

The "Sony Timer" refers to the joke among many here that Sony products have a built in "timer" that causes them to fail just as the warranty expires. I believe this to be false, as I rarely get Sony products to last that long. Of course, this post has nothing to do with Toyota.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Got Get lots of spam? Thank Google...

...the fellows who claim, rather unconvincingly, to do no evil*. Seems Google crawls some site called that pulls the e-mail address from blogger profiles and posts them on the web.

Even better, should anyone be so incurably stupid as to post suggestions or ask for help on Google Groups, that fool will find his/her e-mail address published on the web by Goody-2-Shoes Google.

(One can test by entering the e-mail address associated with his/her blog and see what Google comes up with. Yes, you have to know the address to find it easily that way, but the fact that it is openly available all over the Internet would not be appreciated by anyone except spammers. And Google.)

*When someone tells you, "I never lie," what do you immediately think? Would Google be different?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

One demonstration of extreme idiocy deserves another

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb: "Until the Japanese government can assure us that all of the defects are out of these vehicles, we're just not going to accept any vehicles from Japan." Referring to restrictions on U.S. beef, he said, "That's what they did with one of our industries."

Later during the hearing, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the issue "needs to be raised" and promised to bring it up with the Japanese ambassador and in a trip to Japan.* USA Today

Quite funny, but I am sure that Sen. Mike is not suggesting that because there are a number of idiots in in high places Japan that the US should emulate them any more than necessary.

This sort of thing will get the Japan as innocent-victim-of-evil-foreigners crowd all excited and provide more "evidence" for conspiracy theories. (We'll leave out the part about Japan and US beef though.)

*Gotta admit, as childish and spiteful as it is, I do get a bit of a kick out of LaHood bringing it up to the Japanese ambassador. Would love to be there.

Visual Kei

I don't get out as much as I should, but even I have heard of Visual Kei often enough recently to become curious about it. Then I found a link here to an article which has made me even more so.

Researching this new-found interest certainly helps pass the time during semi-unemployment and the depressing prospect of having to return to full-time EFL "teaching" at one of the related let-us-be-the-middle-guy-that-parasites-off-of-you-and-the-student-while-adding-absolutely-nothing-of-value-but-instead-pushing-some-ridiculous-based-on-fantasy-method-and-grossly-overcharging-the-student kaisha. Actually, being a doped-up androgynous musician who doesn't necessarily understand music while being a sort of slave to a somewhat less-than-wonderful record label sounds attractive in comparison. Now where's my lipstick...

Glad to see that the economy is recovering.