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    拝啓

    Posted by Sean at 19:09, December 24th, 2005

    How rattled are people about the Aneha scandal? This is posted in the mail/package alcove in the lobby of our apartment building. It opened in 2000, and there has never been any suggestion whatever that its structural strength calculations were questionable. Translated, the substantive parts sandwiched between the ritual greetings say:

    Recently, the “scandal in which the Aneha Design office falsified structural calculations” has been reported in newspapers and the like. Please be secure in the knowledge that none of the structural calculations for this building were contracted out to the design office at Aneha.

    Furthermore, we have obtained confirmation that “this building was erected based on properly executed structural calculations.”

    Additionally, the structural calculations have been checked through independent inspection by XXXX Estate’s structural technicians, with no reliance on the design firm or body of inspectors [that originally certified the building]; and the strength and distribution of rebar concrete in actual construction has been checked by quality control experts.

    I’m sure that cost a pretty penny, especially if the company’s dozens of apartment buildings in metropolitan Tokyo are all being re-inspected. But it’s understandable that such measures were deemed necessary, considering the multiple levels of negligence that have been shown to have allowed Aneha to get away with his deceptions. At this point, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport is considering providing assistance to owners of hotels and condominiums that have up to 50% of the mandated earthquake resistance level. The money would cover up to 15.2% of inspection and retrofitting costs.


    If I had one wish / Love would feel like this

    Posted by Sean at 17:38, December 22nd, 2005

    Hi! Is it obvious that I’m jet-lagged and wide awake at 6 a.m.? I tried lying sleepless in bed for a few hours to get my body used to the idea that this part of the day is rest time, but I can only do that for so long before I go nuts. Then I tried reading, but my brain is too fried to concentrate. Ditto with sudoku. And I had enough TV, after two weeks in the States, to do me just fine for a while.

    I could unpack my stuff, but I’m afraid I’m so hazy that I’d start putting the navy T-shirts away in the designated grey/black T-shirt drawer, and we would not want that.

    So one more post, and then I’m going to try to sleep a bit before Atsushi gets here at 11:00 or so.

    I was going to let this point drop–largely because the fights I’ve had about it have been with non-blog people–but it’s something that apparently has to be said repeatedly, so here it is one more time.

    I could have seen…yes, here it comes again…Brokeback Mountain while I was in the States. I decided not to. I’ll probably get the DVD, or if it plays in some arty theater here in Tokyo, I may see it there. How that can be construed as meaning that I think people who have eagerly lined up to see it–and, subsequently, been very affected by it–are suckers, I cannot imagine. Do I really strike anyone as the kind of man to sneer at people for sincere, deep-seated responses to art? Chris has a post up about it that, as his often do, moved me to tears. One of the major functions of art is to remind us that we all labor, in our individual ways, within the human condition, and I’m glad this movie’s been made so that people who see pieces of their own story in it can take comfort in that.

    But those of us who don’t see our story in it have to be allowed to appreciate it on our own terms and to our own degree, and that’s where I find the implication that it’s our homosexual duty to rally around Brokeback Mountain, the pop culture phenomenon, annoying. Gays deserve as much liberty to decide whom to identify with as anyone else does. Sometimes we’ll sympathize with people without necessarily seeing them as reflections of ourselves, even if gay advocates deem it politically expedient to do so. We have to be as free to choose for ourselves as we are to speak for ourselves.

    Personally, my highest hope for Brokeback Mountain is that it’s kind of like Romeo and Juliet, making a generalizable point about the raw resilience of love in the face of social pressure by taking the circumstances to an unusual extreme. Given the frantic “It’s not a gay movie!” PR fusillade, that appears to be the way its makers are also hoping it will be regarded. But that may not make it a metaphor for gay life in any kind of direct and overarching way.

    In 2006, there are plenty of us who have been out our entire adult lives, with more experienced friends who showed us the ropes and became like family. I’d have to dig back in my memory over a decade to recall agonizedly burying a yearning for an electric connection to someone and tamping the dirt down over it just because he was a man. I haven’t forgotten what that was like, obviously, and if it’s depicted skillfully on screen, I’m sure I’ll find it devastating and difficult to watch. I’m not saying every gay-themed movie has to be Beautiful Thing or The Sum of Us. It’s just that self-loathing and the necessity of keeping things hidden don’t govern adult reality for many of us, and it’s not clear to me why we should push the line that Brokeback Mountain says more than it actually does about the gay experience just to get more exposure for gay love stories.


    Have a nice day!

    Posted by Sean at 15:56, December 22nd, 2005

    Christopher Hitchens does his James Thomson act on Christmas cheer (via Ann Althouse). OMG, that man is funny. I grew up in one of those literalist Christian sects that considered Christmas and Easter corrupt, the illegitimate grafting of pagan ritual onto Christianity as a cheap, expedient bid by nasty Papists to get converts. Passover, representing Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, was the most important day of the year; and we believed that his autumn birthday was not meant for human observance.

    Therefore, I have no problem celebrating Christmas as the Japanese do. Here, it’s a couples’ holiday. You spend the seven weeks after Hallowe’en listening to so much piped caroling, seeing so much tinsel and blinky lighting, and being exhorted to buy so many red-frosted cakes that by the solstice you’re ready to shoot yourself. Christmas Eve finally arrives, and you and your honey go to a nice dinner and exchange presents. Then you forget all about it and go back to getting ready for the New Year.

    In the States, where genuine religious conviction is part of the equation for many people, I can see why things get more contentious. I still think it would be nice, though, if people remembered to distinguish between censorship (the government kind) and the policies of private organizations. I think bans on crèches on public property and things like that are misguided; as long as other religions aren’t barred from making displays of their religious symbols and, conversely, no one is penalized for not playing along with this or that celebration, I don’t see what the big deal is.

    When it comes to casual greetings, that goes quadruple. If I’m Merry Christmased, I Merry Christmas back. If I’m Happy Holidaysed, I Happy Holidays back. If I’m nothinged, I say, “Thank you. Goodbye!” Is this really difficult? I know all about the argument that Chanukah and Kwanzaa and the rest have been inflated in significance as a response to Christmas and that, therefore, it’s only honest to treat Christmas outright as the Real Holiday of the season. But at the same time, for all the talk about how Easter is the most important day of the Christian calendar, it’s the Christmas season in which public-sphere chatter (not to mention commercialization) reaches its frenzied peak and in which non-Christians are constantly being roped into merry-making…and are regarded as dried up cynics if they don’t oblige. I find it hard to blame people for trying to find a way to endorse their Christian friends’ general state of benevolence without seeming to endorse religious convictions they do not share.

    Ah, you say, but the people pushing for denatured holiday greetings aren’t the friendly Zoorastrians down the street but rather the PC-niks trying to erase any trace of spirituality from public life. Okay. Who cares? Even crabbed, obnoxious people can have a point sometimes. If someone’s trying to get her first-grader’s teacher fired for so much as mentioning Christmas, she should be opposed. But fulminating about blandly worded commercials or about store policies that instruct employees to say “Happy holidays” when they’d rather say “Merry Christmas”? Please. If we’re going for plainspokenness in advertising, then “Christmas is the excuse for this particular sale, but really, we want your money even if you’re Anton LaVey” should fill the bill. If we’re going to let cashiers say what’s in their hearts, how about replacing “We look forward to serving you again” with “Don’t let the door hit your fat ass on the way out, bitch–assuming you can make it through with those three helpings of potato skins”?

    Except at matey establishments with a lot of regulars, part of the art of working with the public is learning to be impersonally polite while giving the illusion of just-for-you friendliness. In a society as diverse as America’s, yes, that often means using the most ideology-free greetings possible. Considering the general state of customer service today, you’d think people wouldn’t be so eager to make a war out of efforts to be soothingly accommodating.

    Added at 6:00: Oh, almost forgot:

    Merry Christmas to you all!

    If you don’t find that sufficiently offensive, here, have a picture of three flagrant homosexuals:

    phillybois05.JPG

    Would have posted that here, but I forgot to bring my cable to the States with my digicam. Eric is on the left. Tom is on the right. If you know how the process of elimination works, you can find me.


    My city was gone

    Posted by Sean at 13:51, December 22nd, 2005

    The flight today was a real throwback. Narita was–surprise!–congested, so we circled a good twenty minutes before getting clearance to land. They’d warned us it was going to be turbulent, and it was. There weren’t any scary drops or bone-jarring shakes; the plane just kind of swayed and swished its way down. It was like a water slide. A nauseating water slide. I could feel myself turning green (which at least coordinated with my light-purple sweater). The girl next to me threw up. I think it had been a good decade or so since I’d seen someone use a barf bag or been on a plane that had to circle before landing. Whether that’s because I’m lucky or because technology and know-how have improved steadily, I don’t know.

    Our landing was not like the one described in the introduction to Robert Bruegmann’s Sprawl, which I picked up to read on the flight (Virginia Postrel’s been posting about it) and enjoyed immensely. Well, actually, I’m not the whole way through yet: the book isn’t what you’d call dense, but if you’re interested in the ways individual decision-making adds up to create society, there’s a fact or stat in just about every paragraph that sends your imagination shooting off in several suggestive directions. Bruegmann had me by approximately paragraph two:

    When the plane banks sharply to the left about an hour and a half into the flight from Chicago, I know that we are starting our long descent into New York’s LaGuardia airport. Looking down, I can see long, wooded ridges running diagnoaly from the southwest to the northeast, alternating with wide stream valleys between them. This part of Western New Jersey is beautiful from the air. In summer the deep green of the oaks and maples on the ridge tops forms a striking contrast with the lighter greens that make up the patchwork quilt of fields in the valleys. At first glance, this landscape of cropland, farmhouses, roads, and streams seems timeless, little changed over the centuries.

    It is difficult, at least at first glance, to imagine what all the people living in these houses do, where they work, shop, and play since there are not office buildings, shopping centers, or movie theaters in sight. It is possible that some of them work from their home, relying heavily on the phone, Internet, and express delivery services to keep them connected to the urban world, and it is possible that others drive to jobs in small towns nearby. The substantial number of houses, however, suggests that the majority must commute some distance to work, perhaps to nearby corporate centers tucked discreetly into the rolling hills or, further afield, to large business centers along highways like the Route 1 strip near Princeton. Others probably make their way daily into downtown Trenton or Center City Philadelphia, twenty and forty miles to the southwest, respectively, or into downtown New Brunswick, Newark, or even Manhattan, thirty, forty, and sixty miles, respectively, to the northeast. In virtually every case, however, no matter how rural the view from the living room window, these residents are more closely tied economically and socially to the urban world than they are to the apparently rural one they can see out their windows.

    And, Bruegmann implies, that’s okay. People make the trade-offs they need to maximize what’s most important to them, and often that means they have to spend some non-negligible time commuting, and they have to do it by car. You would think that such a non-judgmental point of view wouldn’t be so jarring, but after years of reading about how people need to be pistol-whipped by zoning boards and transport authorities into living on top of each other and not driving, it’s nice to see. Bruegmann’s historical overview of urban development, which indicates that “sprawl” is far from a new phenomenon, was fascinating, too.

    Of course, this was all amusing to think about as the Narita Express barreled along toward central Tokyo; within a few minutes, I was moving through shoals of evening rush-hour commuters at Shibuya Station, then waiting in a long taxi line, then finally collapsing with a sigh on the bed in my third floor apartment. I love this life, but I recognize that most other people are not bookish, childless city types. Bruegmann seems to be doing a good job of arguing that the main reasons so many commentators want them to live as if they were are cultural rather than conservationist. I’m looking forward to finishing the book, assuming I ever get back to a normal sleep schedule. I’ll be damned if I can tell you what time my body thinks it is right now.

    Added on 24 December: Darn–I used to know a Peter Bergmann, so without thinking I changed the author of the book’s name. It’s fixed now.


    搭乗口にて

    Posted by Sean at 11:20, December 21st, 2005

    Given the strike, it seemed prudent to ask the car service to leave extra time to get to JFK from Murray Hill–not that it needed extra prodding–and, naturally, traffic ended up being none too bad. It was rather touching to have taxis slide up to the curb (I waited outside with my stuff to make sure the drive didn’t waste time buzzing for me) and be asked by the passenger riding shotgun whether I needed to carpool to the airport. Just try getting a cab in Manhattan if you look as if you’re going to the airport at any other time! No glitches getting here and through emigration, though my thoughts as always ran along the lines of Why is it so easy for airport authorities in Asia to figure out how to set up enough tables for you to put your stuff back together after being scanned, while US airports make you take off your jackets and shoes and belt and take out your laptop…and then expect five people to reassemble themselves with a single 3’*3′ slab of formica to lean on at the end of the line? Sheesh.

    The problems I’m worried about, actually, are at the other end: Japan is expecting to be hammered by snow in Hokkaido and along the Pacific coast, so Atsushi’s flight out of Kyushu on Friday could be delayed or canceled. We’ll just have to wait and see. In other Japan news, the Building Contractors’ Society of Japan is writing a manual to help people spot falsified structural strength calculations. That’s nice, but I thought the whole scary point was the that falsifications were transparent and that it was a surprise no one had caught them. (BTW, here‘s yet more evidence that one of the construction companies, Huser, was warned ahead of time of Aneha’s bogus figures. Residents of condominiums it built are asking to have the company declared bankrupt.) And there’s more information about Kosuke Ito, the LDP Diet member who went to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport and asked for Huser to be treated gently:

    Ito, who once served as director general of the National Land Agency, visited the director of the ministry’s construction supervision division with Huser Management Ltd. President Susumu Kojima on Nov. 15, two days before the ministry disclosed the scandal.

    “It’d be a problem if the company had to dismantle buildings (constructed based on falsified quake-resistance data),” the bureaucrat quoted President Kojima as telling him.

    “Would you please consider his request?” Ito then told the division director.

    The director said he rejected the request. “The safety of the residents is the top priority.”

    Ito denied having asked the bureaucrat for leniency for the Tokyo-based Huser. “People were already living in the condominiums, so the top priority was to ensure safety of the residents as soon as possible. I thought we had no time to lose, so I took him to the ministry on the same day.”

    In September last year, Kojima bought 50 tickets, each priced at 20,000 yen, to a fund-raising party for Ito’s political fund-raising organization. Kojima has paid a 160,000 yen membership fee annually to the organization over the past four years.

    Speaking of tense relations between government bodies, the Japan and PRC foreign ministers may meet. Or, if precedent is any indication, not.

    Can’t wait to get back home.


    I’m breakin’ it down / I’m not the same

    Posted by Sean at 18:56, December 20th, 2005

    One sign of an advanced society is the TLC with which it treats artifacts of profound cultural significance.


    人口密度

    Posted by Sean at 09:24, December 20th, 2005

    Virginia Postrel has one of her interesting posts about sprawl up. Fun fact from my part of the world: New York is more densely populated than Tokyo. Of course, that’s from official measurements, but it’s really not so hard to believe. Simply dividing the total population by the total land area gives a nice, rough point of departure, but as Virginia points out about New York and LA, it doesn’t tell the whole story by half.

    If you visit Tokyo, as opposed to living in it, you may never really see much outside the major interchange stations on the Yamanote Line; but just a few stops beyond that inner ring, the landscape is completely different. When I lived in Shibuya, my apartment building was the only residential structure within a good five or six contiguous blocks. Where we live now, just four stations outside Shibuya in Setagaya Ward, just about everything is residential. The storefronts, even along major thoroughfares such as Komazawa Avenue, mostly have apartments above them. Zoning in Japan is kind of weird to many Westerners–there really is a lot of mixed construction–but as an overall pattern, Tokyo is one of those cities in which nighttime and daytime populations cluster in visibly different places, which means that the crushing density tends to follow people around–or, more accurately, that they create it by all moving together.

    And like just about any other city, Tokyo doesn’t stop at Tokyo. Urban-level average population density continues southwest through Kawasaki (1.3 million), Yokohama (3.5 million), and the smaller cities in Kanagawa Prefecture, including Atsushi’s hometown of Kamakura (a comparative hamlet at 170,000). It also goes east through Chiba Prefecture, north through Saitama Prefecture, and west through the municipalities that have been annexed by the Tokyo Metropolitan District but aren’t part of the original twenty-three wards. None of these places is in the mindspace that you’d think of as Tokyo, but they’re definitely part of the metro area. By contrast, some land (such as hiking places deep in the mountains in Ome City, to which you have to take an old single-track train) is so unpopulated that even calling it rural seems a stretch, but it lies inside Tokyo Metro, so it’s counted for a lot of statistics.


    Speaking of malfeasance related to public transport….

    Posted by Sean at 08:24, December 20th, 2005

    I’m trying hard not to shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s what you get, scumbag” in reacting to this little story:

    A middle-aged man died after being overpowered by train passengers at a station here for molesting a woman on a train on Tuesday morning, police said.

    Local police are questioning the passengers who captured the man over details about the incident, and are trying to identify the man believed to be a 40-year-old company employee from Nishi-ku, Osaka.

    After the man began to run away, four male passengers, including two police officers who were on their way to work, chased him for some 50 meters before tackling him on the platform. He fell unconscious shortly afterwards, and later died.

    Assuming the accusation of chikan wasn’t mistaken, and assuming the four guys who ran him down didn’t keep whaling the hell out of him long after he’d capitulated–Aside: Why don’t I ever get chased down train platforms by off-duty police officers who want to wrestle? Probably because I’d have to start grabbing boobies to get ’em heated up–I’m thinking we should chalk this one up to the occupational hazards of groping strange women on trains. If you’re going to assault people, you’re implicitly taking on the risk that they (or others) will come to the decisive defense of their persons. Same deal with breaking into someone’s house or car.


    I can’t drive [beyond] 55

    Posted by Sean at 07:59, December 20th, 2005

    Great. MTA strike. Luckily, I’m in Midtown and don’t have business at far-flung points in the city before I leave tomorrow; the strike may interfere with my lunch plans, but that’s about it. For people with little income and a lot of odd jobs to do to support themselves, however, this really sucks.

    My father’s a steelworker–unionized, started in the early 70s just before competition from the Japanese and Big Steel’s own slow reflexes made life hell for a lot of the plant workers. I’m sure MTA workers are “underappreciated and disrespected.” Isn’t everyone? But the benefits (and retirement age) MTA is asking for exist practically nowhere on land or sea anymore:

    “It’s a pain in the neck,” [a foreign currency analyst] said. “I’m very anti-union, especially this time of year. It’s ridiculous. If you look what they’re asking for, that’s 50 years ago. Pensions don’t work like that anymore. I’d kill for what they’re asking for.”


    小泉派?

    Posted by Sean at 07:40, December 20th, 2005

    The patronage system in Japan is such that this is basically the first we’re hearing of this:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizum held an end-of-year party on 20 December, inviting all Diet members newly elected to the lower house in September to the Prime Minister’s residence. However, those legislators who are already members of factions that are opposed to the administration’s policies were not invited. Within the LDP, some took this as the “flag hoisting for the Koizumi faction”; it is not inconceivable that in the movements of these “Koizumi Kids” will determine where September’s general election goes.

    Koizumi was originally a member of the Mori faction, then its de facto head, but he withdrew from it in 2001 when he was gearing up for real to run for Prime Minister. His former mentor has frequently expressed shock in public at Koizumi’s political tactics–but then, given Mori’s record of non-achievement as PM, I don’t know that his opinions carry much substantive weight. However, he did, despite his general lack of popularity, play the connections game. Koizumi famously has not (except on certain occasions when his opportunism was blatant), and his ability to form a viable faction of his own has been dubitable. As always with early moves like this, we’ll have to wait and see what happens.