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    Insert joke about $1000 hammers here

    Posted by Sean at 00:12, February 1st, 2006

    The corruption scandal at the JDA (the Japan Defense Agency this time, not the Japan Dental Association–keep those scandals straight!) is coming to a head:

    Japan Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga announced on a TBS television program the morning of 1 February that he was planning to dissolve the Defense Facilities Administration Agency because of collusion scandals revolving around its procurement and construction practices. The new approach will be to review the DFAA’s organizational structure with an eye for its integration with the [rest of] the JDA.

    Nukaga stated, “The plan is to dissolve the body and make suitable adjustments. Given the extent of the goings-on, it has become clear that collusion is embedded in the structure of the organization. A dissolution is what the public expects, furthermore, it’s the decision I want to make, too.”

    The JDA stuff has ranged from inflated aircraft repair/parts procurement costs to cagily jiggering payments for use of facilities in Okinawa to illegal tracking of personal information, but the most recent flap is over bid rigging for climate control installation and construction projects. At this late date, no one pretends to be too shocked at revelations of collusion. Actually getting rid of an entity that’s not doing it’s job, however, is a pretty novel proposition. It didn’t help much in the Great Ministerial Chinese Fire Drill of 2001, but if Nukaga–who can be wonderfully stubborn when he wants to be–is serious, the administrative structure for Japan’s defense could really see meaningful streamlining. Not a moment too soon, either.


    Con carne

    Posted by Sean at 21:47, January 30th, 2006

    It came out yesterday that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries had not held to a cabinet-level resolution to do site inspections of US meat-processing facilities before reopening Japan to beef imports. Naturally, the revelation constituted a signal for everyone who’s ever walked past a government facility to deliver an opinion on the safety concerns thus raised. The one of most interest came, of course, from the opposition leader:

    Around noon on 30 January, Democratic Party of Japan leader Seiji Maehara responded to questions from the press corp in the Diet Building about Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa’s failure to conduct site inspections before deciding whether to reopen Japan to imports of US-produced beef. About Nakagawa’s statement that “I did not act in accordance with the diet resolution, so I take responsibility,” Maehara stated, “It’s only fitting for him to resign. And it shouldn’t stop there–responsibility must be extended to the entire cabinet.”

    Shinzo Abe weighed in also:

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe spoke at a lower house budget committee meeting on 30 January, delivering the government’s official (unified) position revolving around the issue of the failure to conduct site inspections that were to have been carried out before the reopening of Japan to imports of US-produced beef: “The decision to resume imports has not conflicted with the government’s original response.”

    In the afternoon, he emended his statement to “(After the issuing of the government’s response paper), we judged that the efficacy of [procedures to] preserve safety had been secured through cooperation between Japan and the US. There has been no deviation from the response paper’s main point that we need to secure the safety of the food supply.” That evening, he retreated from his statement that morning, stating, “I have not said that [Nakagawa’s actions] violated the cabinet resolution.” He did not respond to calls for Nakagawa’s resignation from the opposition parties.

    Leaving aside whether the original cabinet resolution was excessively finicking and paranoid, it’s pretty clear that Nakagawa and his team failed to follow it by not performing site inspections. It’s not clear yet whether enough people will get worked up to force him to resign.


    Search me

    Posted by Sean at 04:27, January 30th, 2006

    I’d been thinking that I’m about due for a weird-search-term post, but when I looked back, I realized that there hasn’t been all that much variety after all. There’s just a lot of variation on a few themes, some of which are kind of disturbing:

    japanese forget the year party grope
    groping chik@n videos

    That first one is actually from almost a month ago; I started a post and saved it and then didn’t get around to finishing it. Despite the fact that the New Year is long gone, the topic is a perennial.

    You would not believe the number of searches I get looking for things about chik@n: “videos” and “instructions” especially. I can only assume it’s the same for any other Japan-focused blogger who’s been unwise enough to mention the phenomenon. I’m trying to believe that the overwhelming majority of Googles are from social scientists doing research. (Please don’t show up to disillusion me.) But whatever the motivation–and I don’t want to be encouraging any sickos here–I have to say: instructions??!! Who needs instructions to figure out how to grope?

    JAL close shave

    Which one, pray tell? There’s been a new report issued about the turbulence-induced shake-up of a Tokyo-Fukuoka flight a few years ago that caused a bunch of injuries. But perhaps you mean the near collision a few years ago that would have been one of the highest-fatality disasters in civil aviation history if it hadn’t been averted.

    gay culture kyushu

    HANDS OFF MY MAN, BITCH!

    Oh, uh, sorry.

    What I mean to say is, I think it’s most active in Fukuoka, which would make sense since that’s the largest city and a major transportation hub. Japanese friends are always going on and on about how hot Kyushu guys are; I’ve never really seen it. Now, Okinawan guys….

    do all white men have defined chests

    If only! Actually, there was another, almost identical search a few days ago, so either someone is investigating this with the assiduousness it deserves or there are two people out there who might do better in their quest if they pooled their resources.

    BTW, do I really use the word chest that often? I don’t rightly remember doing so, but I can’t think of any other reason I’d be showing up in so many “chest” searches.

    smooth chest guys

    [smirk] Wrong blog, honey.

    Japanese ripening woman mature sex picture

    Also wrong blog, honey. Or buddy, or whoever you are. Though take my word for it: if that’s your thing, I think it’s great.

    You know, over there somewhere.


    Ne me quitte pas

    Posted by Sean at 02:22, January 30th, 2006

    Interesting, if not entirely unexpected:

    Oscar favourite Brokeback Mountain has been effectively banned from cinemas in China, it has been reported.

    Censors ruled the gay cowboy romance too controversial to be shown in the country where homosexuality is a taboo, industry paper Daily Variety said.

    Brokeback Mountain – by Taiwanese director Ang Lee – is a firm favourite to be among the Oscar nominations when they are revealed in the US on Tuesday.

    One wonders what Lee would have to say about that (via Gay Orbit):

    Director Ang Lee says Asian audiences are more accepting of gay subject matter than Americans.

    A Utah movie theatre, owned by a Mormon, pulled his new film, the gay cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain.

    “I think Asian society is more open,” said Ang. “I think there’s pressure to condemn [homosexuality] in their [Americans’] religion which causes their homophobia.”

    In a way, of course, it’s not fair to make such a comparison–theoretically, Lee could be right about Asia, and the PRC’s censors could be abnormally uptight and lack understanding of what people are willing to see.

    I wouldn’t buy it, though. One doesn’t hear a lot of open condemnation of homosexuality in Asia because people pretend it doesn’t exist. You still get people telling you, “Homosexuality is a Western thing–we don’t have it in Korea.” That doesn’t mean people are accepting, though (at least in Japan) I do think it means that as long as you’re willing to be ultra-discreet, your likely to be able to live without really encountering open hostility.

    It’s important to note, though, that that tradeoff is forced here in ways it isn’t in the States. In America, your choices are limited if you want to live somewhere where you can be a complete, 24/7 flamer and have lots of gay people and institutions at your disposal; but such places do exist, and finding out where they are is very easy. Everyone in America has heard of New York. You can choose to stay in a more socially conservative environment and be closeted to a greater or lesser degree if you like, but you don’t have to.

    In Japan, by contrast, my area of Tokyo is as good as it gets. There are no gay neighborhoods to speak of. There are quite a few areas with bars, of which Shinjuku 2-chome is the largest. Gay guys live in concentrations there and in certain parts of Nakano and perhaps elsewhere. But the social stigma attached to not marrying and having children is very pronounced, and it comes at you from all sides if you’re Japanese. I’ve never lived in Taiwan or Korea, but friends from there tell me it’s basically the same. People we know in Malaysia and Indonesia do have their bars raided; and for the Muslims, their religion is no more hot on homosexuality than Christianity is. (Ang Lee does remember that Asia doesn’t stop at Tokyo, Taipei, and Hong Kong, doesn’t he?)

    So while Lee is Asian and I am not, I don’t think he has any idea what he’s talking about. One final note: Asian viewers, like foreign viewers in many other places, are often entertained by sexual and other behavior in pop-culture artifacts that they think shows what a crazy, disorderly, hedonistic place the West (especially the US) is. That says nothing about how they would react to similar behavior by their children, neighbors, or coworkers.


    Japan notes

    Posted by Sean at 01:58, January 30th, 2006

    There’s been more news about the Yamaha Motor flap:

    Yamaha Motor Co. sold a top-of-the-line unmanned helicopter to a Chinese company that was established in 1993 by high-ranking officers of the People’s Liberation Army, sources said over the weekend.

    Yamaha is also suspected of having received several tens of millions of yen in rebates from another Chinese company that bought the helicopters, said the sources close to the police investigation into the alleged illegal exports.

    Investigators now expect Yamaha will face charges of violating the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law for the unapproved exports.

    The PLA-linked company to which Yamaha sold the unmanned helicopter is Poly Technologies Inc., based in Beijing.

    The vice chairman and president of China Poly Group is He Ping, the husband of Deng Rong, the youngest daughter of the late paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

    It’s not what you know….

    *******

    Though the new Japan Post holding company has just started operations, Nippon Express (Nittsu) is already planning its strategic response to the privatization (or “privatization”):

    As a defensive move against the operations of the new Japan Post public corporation, Nippon Express will become the first private provider to deliver personal correspondence on a nationwide scale. The new service will target documents with a delivery cost of ¥1000 or higher; parcels will be picked up from the user’s address and delivered by the next day. Nationwide delivery of personal correspondence is now monopolized by the Japan Post registered mail service, but Nittsu will provide delivery at lower cost in certain regions.

    *******

    Japan is modifying its approach to angling for a permanent UN Security Council membership:

    Japan’s new proposal has taken into account the United States’ position that Security Council membership should not be expanded by more than six seats, to a maximum 21 from the current 15, including the five permanent members–Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

    The proposal calls for a country seeking permanent membership on the council to receive a seat if it can win the backing of two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly in a vote, the officials said.

    Under the plan, such permanent members, however, would not be given veto power, the ministry said.

    The government is considering presenting the proposal at the United Nations this spring. Whether other countries concerned will support the plan is not known, they said.

    The new draft seeks to have the present Security Council framework comprising the five permanent members and 10 nonpermanent ones increased by six to make the council a 21-member body.

    According to the plan, a maximum of six countries–two each from Asia and Africa, and one each from Latin America and Europe–should be allowed to join the existing five permanent members.

    Japan contributes almost a fifth of the UN’s general budget.


    The prodigy

    Posted by Sean at 08:37, January 29th, 2006

    Atsushi flew home this afternoon. This month was not only our fifth anniversary but also the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Because I don’t believe in asking questions I don’t want to know the answer to, I didn’t ask Atsushi which milestone was more significant to him.

    Have I mentioned that my man is really into Mozart? And the Strausses. And pretty much every other Austrian who ever wrote music. They were running a series of Mozart performances on NHK this week; he brought a tape of The Magic Flute (2003 in Covent Garden) along. We didn’t go to the orchestra when I was growing up, but we listened to classical music at home quite a bit. Mozart’s 40th is probably about my favorite piece–yes, before you say it, it goes with my high-strung personality.

    Opera? Not really my thing, but sometimes entertaining. Atsushi and I watched The Magic Flute while eating our brunch (contrived using the cast-iron frying pan and potato ricer my parents sent me for Christmas). Ichs and Neins were sung. Daggers were handed to psychologically vulnerable maidens with creamy bosoms. Heroes were aided by trios of altar boys sent by (I think) the Sun King. Magic flutes were played. Well, I guess one magic flute and one organ-grinder kind of thing with chimy bells inside. I kind of liked it. Atsushi, however, beamed the whole way through like a four-year-old boy whose dad had just given him his first toy train.

    Since it’s not a bank holiday tomorrow, he’s back in Kyushu already, and I’m doing the laundry and clean-up thing. Great weekend, though, even if I am ending it sitting alone in the apartment eating smushed-together leftovers: mashed potatoes and a grilled peach (yes, obviously in heavy syrup–if God hadn’t meant peaches to come in heavy syrup, he wouldn’t have made cans) and some steamed vegetables. Hope everyone else enjoys the remaining time…about a half-day at home in the States, right?


    One hand clapping

    Posted by Sean at 00:46, January 28th, 2006

    John has posted again on one of my favorite (if that’s the word) subjects, spurred by this at It Comes in Pints? (strong language alert, though it’s in no wise gratuitous) and this at Ilyka Damen’s. This is from a comment he also left at It Comes in Pints? about three-fifths of the way down the page:

    [T]he expats who think they are something special because of the experience are even worse in Asia [than in Europe]. A lot of them have the “spiritual quest” thing going on, too, which makes them even more annoying (if you can imagine that).

    Yes. If I ever start prancing around and getting lecture-y about how living in Asia has made me more Harmonious with Nature (because the post-War steel/glass/concrete/blacktop blanket over Japan is punctuated by the occasional decorative carp pond, don’t you know), you are to punch me. Hard. The idea that Westeners are spiritually empty consumerist vessels, into which mystical Oriental wisdom must be poured to help them achieve cosmic wholeness, is a real menace. (However, it should be pointed out that most expats and travelers don’t think that way; it’s just that those who do are pushy about it.)


    安全啓発

    Posted by Sean at 21:30, January 27th, 2006

    For once, a domestic JAL flight took off on time, so I’d just barely gotten out of the shower when Atsushi arrived; I ended up answering the door in a towel instead of my new Happy Anniversary sweater. “Just in time,” he smirked as he stepped into the entryway in his overcoat and scarf.

    I feel so objectified.

    JAL itself, of course, has also been under scrutiny lately; it’s decided–about time, too–to establish a Safety Awareness Center. One would like to think that safety awareness is so well integrated into the operations of any First World airline that having such a special division would be redundant, but JAL has been pretty mishap-prone lately, so

    Japan Airlines revealed on 27 January that it will set up a Safety Awareness Center at Haneda Airport near the end of April; among other things, the remains of the fuselage of the jumbo jet that crashed in 1985 will be exhibited. The aim is to use the center for the safety training of employees in the JAL group, but JAL says that it will make it possible for others to come in and observe.

    Of course, reprimands from the transport authority have as much to do with this move as the desire to serve customers better out of good business sense or saintliness. It’s probably a wise one, though, given the multiple little incidents it’s had over the last few years.


    Help

    Posted by Sean at 12:57, January 27th, 2006

    Mentee is the sort of coinage that sours my stomach, but the program described here at Penn is doing a good thing (via Gay News). I especially like that the interviewees (shut it) forgo the opportunity to make the campus out to be some sort of anti-gay minefield:

    “I think it’s great that [the program] is helping people figure out things for themselves,” Thalmann said. “They are much more involved in activities and feel more comfortable at Penn.”

    Generally, gay or questioning students seem to find an accepting climate at Penn, Thalmann said.

    “I had no qualms or concerns about the Penn community,” Mangam said. For him, how to come out to his close friends and family presented a larger issue.

    That squares with my experience a little over a decade ago, though it wasn’t until after graduation that I came out conclusively. My college friends were the least of my worries–it often seemed that they were positively champing at the bit for me to be gay, though I know they really just wanted me to accept myself. In academic terms, well, I was in the comparative literature program–not exactly a hotbed of in-your-face anti-gay activity–but I doubt there were many places where being gay presented a problem besides (maybe) some of the sports teams or Greek organizations and, like, Campus Crusade for Christ.

    And I’m not even sure about there. Nevertheless, some time around my junior or senior year, a bunch of people with too little to do decided that the LGBA wasn’t militant enough or something and decided to form a loud(er)-mouthed group called QuIP: Queers Invading Penn. Like most postures of unregenerate in-your-face rebelliousness attempted by the milk-fed children of Bergen County, NJ, and Greenwich, CT, I went to school with, it was pretty damned pathetic. Wholly unnecessary, too, since by 1995 Penn was already deep into its current PC-sensitivo phase.

    However, knowing that other people on campus are going to accept you only helps so much when you’re wondering whether your parents are going to disown you. Level-headed, practical mentoring is a useful thing, and it’s good to see that the program the gay center’s program is being taken advantage of.


    I’ll be the one to take you through the night

    Posted by Sean at 11:25, January 27th, 2006

    Today’s sheesh-not-this-again story in Japan revolves around a business hotel chain and its enterprising approach to building codes:

    It was revealed on 27 January that major business hotel chain Toyoko Inn (headquartered in Tokyo) had committed legal infractions involving renovations. After its Idzumo City, Shimane Prefecture, facility opened, the company converted a guest room designed for disabled guests into a meeting room; at four Osaka hotels, the company converted parking spaces for disabled users into storage and lobby space, in violation of the Building Standards Law.

    There are now at least eight prefectures in which such cases of legal infractions by Toyoko Inn are suspected, and company president Norimasa Nishida [whose given name, 憲正, hilariously uses the characters for “codified law” (now referring to “constitution”) and “rectitude”–SRK] revealed tonight that he intends to have inspections carried out on all 120 hotels owned by the conglomerate throughout Japan and to make the results public next week. The renovations at the Idzumo City hotel are said to have been conducted at the instruction of the company.

    The Asahi English edition has a much lengthier article detailing the various conversions of facilities for the handicapped for other uses.

    Violations of the Building Standards Law aren’t exactly a novelty, now that the Aneha scandal has been going for several months; and in this case, of course, the stakes aren’t as high as they are when buildings don’t meet earthquake resistance codes. I’m not dismissing the need for handicapped people to have facilities that they can use, but the fraud involved in not providing them in order to have more space for smokers is not the same as the fraud involved in lying to people about how likely their house is to collapse on their heads in an earthquake.

    Speaking of earthquake resistance, the Asahi also had an interesting report about retrofitting:

    Many say that fixing up these old wooden homes remains the single most effective way to reduce the number of people dying in the next big earthquake.

    They point to the so-called Imiya memo, a kind of “survey of the dead” compiled by practicing doctor Masahiro Imiya after the Kobe quake.

    The document clearly reveals that most of the people who died in the quake were not killed by the temblor, or by fire.

    They were killed by their houses.

    And yet, comments Imiya, “If some minor measures had been taken, they wouldn’t have died.”

    Enacting those “minor measures,” however, is proving to be more difficult than it sounds.

    In fact, in the 10 years since the government passed legislation in December 1995 to promote quakeproofing upgrades, as few as 10,000 houses across the country have actually had those upgrades.

    Kimiro Meguro, a professor of urban safety engineering at the University of Tokyo, points to what he calls a “lack of disaster imagination”–the idea that people simply can’t conceive of what could happen when disaster strikes.

    Social psychologists also refer to the “normality bias,” the habit of people to assume that they alone will survive. This kind of mentality impedes disaster preparation.

    Both of those are probably part of it. Another part of it, for the old people who live in traditional wooden houses, is probably that they’re just used to the idea that they could be toast when the big one comes. There’s also–you hear this from a really shocking number of people–the conventional wisdom that says that the flexibility of old-fashioned wooden buildings makes them more likely to survive in an earthquake. That not only flies in the face of empirical evidence from Kobe and elsewhere, it flies in the face of common sense. Old houses have heavy clay roof tiles, flimsy walls, and inflammable materials all over the place. While there’s a nice life-lesson sort of feeling to imagining that the lack of rigidity in their framing makes them more likely to survive–you know, you gotta roll with the punches and be adaptable and stuff–in real life, shear is not a good learning opportunity.

    But I think another part of it is that unless you plan to barricade yourself into your house, you’re going to be spending a lot of time on subway platforms, driving on overpasses, working in office buildings with lots of shelves above eye-level, and drinking in little basement bars. An earthquake can strike at any time. While we all want to be prepared, a comprehensive earthquake kit in a properly braced bedroom is of no use if the ground decides to convulse while you’re in line at the video store. I still think it’s irresponsible not to be prepared–you don’t want to add post-disaster stress to fire and rescue services or to leave your family and coworkers in the lurch–but I can see how a lot of people figure a lot of fussing isn’t worth it.