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    Posted by Sean at 03:21, November 20th, 2005

    So I got this e-mail from my buddy Alan yesterday, asking whether I had any advice on improving reading comprehension in Japanese. It seemed odd. For one thing, his characteristic “Hiya darlin'” salutation was missing, and for another, he essentially works as a translator. If my reading comprehension is better than his–big if–it’s not by much. It’s certainly not by enough for him to be asking my advice about improving it.

    But, having been asked, I wrote a paragraph of very earthy bitch-snark about the gross guy who’d been hitting on him when we were out a few nights ago and then a paragraph about reading fluently. Then I did what everyone who sends a lot of work-related e-mail does out of force of habit before clicking on “Send”: I checked the address line. Whoops! The message had come from a different Alan, a reader with whom I’ve corresponded a few times who’s studying Japanese in the States and who most assuredly was not sitting on the stool next to me being come on to by a falling-down-drunk guy in his 50s on Friday night. So I carefully excised the paragraph of bitch-snark and sent the rest along, thus sparing a fortunate reader a serious surprise in his inbox.

    The surprise Atsushi got in his mailbox yesterday, on the other hand, was intentional. He’s been worked to death lately, but he still makes time to come home at least once every third weekend, so I thought I’d get him a new business card case. You know, so even if he’s meeting with trying clients, he can have a little reminder that I’m thinking about him. While I was at Seibu, it occurred to me that I forget to bring my own business cards places all the time–that constitutes a real problem in Japan, where exchanging them can be a multiple-times-a-day event–so I may as well pick one up for myself, too. The idea of his-and-his matching card cases struck me as a bit on the cute side, but…well, this is Japan. Cute rules. I absent-mindedly told the saleswoman to wrap them both as presents, and she looked at me askance. Probably thought they were Christmas presents for two girlfriends who don’t know about each other.

    Atsushi’s officemates, on the other hand, will doubtless assume that the sudden appearance of an expensive new business card case is yet more evidence that he has a secret lady friend. A few years ago, when he brought Mozart chocolates back as his souvenir gift from our trip to Prague and Vienna, his colleagues joked that he must have gone with a chick because, as a man, he wouldn’t have known about them. (Too precious, I guess? But the travel guides all tell you what the proper face-maintaining souvenirs to bring back to Japan are, and I would assume most single men just kind of get whatever’s at the top of the list. I can’t imagine Mozart chocolates aren’t at the top of the Austria list, even if you don’t do Salzburg, though I didn’t really look. My own office got the Empress Elisabeth chocolates–I like the apricot and marzipan together–but they’ve known all about me from day one, so no eyebrows were raised. Need I mention that if we’d brought back anything but Mozart or Sissi for our gay friends, our status would never have recovered?)

    I wonder whether the Dominican Republic–I’ve mentioned that I have a meeting there next month, yeah?–has any Japan-ready souvenir candy things. A sugar cane theme, maybe? If it’s been a resort center long enough, getting them shipped back ahead of me so I don’t have to carry them might be easy, but I don’t think it has. Since I’m going home to the States, too, I’ll probably bring back Jelly Bellys. They went over big when Atsushi and I brought them back two years ago. I have no idea why; they’re just jelly beans, for crying out loud, even if you can mix them together to taste like pears poached in port with crème chantilly and slivered almonds, or whatever.

    Speaking of desserts based on fall fruits, I have to think of something to make for Thanksgiving this weekend. Atsushi can’t be home on Thursday, of course, but he’s coming on Saturday. Our first Thanksgiving together was in 2001, so it’s been obvious from the get-go that I’m not blasé about it the way I am other holidays. Maybe I’ll even look into getting a turkey, though convincing Atsushi to take out a second mortgage might take some doing. And I’d have to dismember it to get it into the oven. But considering what the Pilgrims went through, the trial of shoehorning a farmed turkey into a little portable oven is hardly worth fussing over.

    I hope no one has read this far expecting me to make a point. I’ve been a bit nettled lately by people praising Atsushi and me for maintaining a long-distance relationship and vaguely thought that might come up organically here, but we seem to have ended up on Plimouth Plantation exchanging business cards and faking Indian cornmeal pudding from three flavors of Jelly Bellys, so maybe I should save that for another post. (Yes, by the way, this is exactly what living with me is like.)


    Posted by Sean at 07:27, November 19th, 2005

    Wow. The revelations in this case just keep sounding worse and worse:

    An architect falsified reports on the structural strength of 20 apartment complexes and a hotel, putting hundreds of residents at risk of injury or death in the event of a large earthquake, officials said.

    The buildings are located in Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

    Two of the completed apartment complexes could collapse in an earthquake with an intensity of upper 5 on the Japanese scale of 7, ministry officials said.

    In the past five years, Aneha worked on the strength reports for about 90 buildings, but he said he faked the reports for only the 21 buildings.

    The land ministry will file a complaint against Aneha with the Metropolitan Police Department.

    “We will adopt a stern manner in dealing with the architect and others who were involved in the illegal acts,” said National Public Safety Commission Chairman Tetsuo Kutsukake, who has temporarily taken over as land minister for Kazuo Kitagawa, who is visiting Laos and China.

    When asked about compensation for the residents living at buildings that need reconstruction or reinforcements, Kutsukake said: “Because this is a private matter, we will not be obliged to provide public funds. If the residents should wish to move out, we’d like to take measures, including helping them find accommodation at public housing or other facilities.”

    The numbers there are a little more specific than what we heard at the end of last week, particular the strength of a quake in which the buildings could fail. Upper 5 is not a minor little quake, but it’s well within the realm of possibility for a seismically active region such as Kanto. Perhaps in practical terms this isn’t as bad as it sounds; there are plenty of flimsy old wood-frame-and-corrugated-tin apartment buildings around Tokyo and environs. It’s not as if these falsified inspection reports made possible the only unsafe buildings in the area. Still, they should open a serious can of Hammurabi on this guy’s ass. Even if he wasn’t the actual builder, he was the one whose job it was to deem buildings up to or not up to code, and people make their emergency plans based on the quake-resistance of the building they live in.


    Posted by Sean at 01:47, November 19th, 2005

    Somehow, it’s easier to read about this stuff in Japanese. Drains some of the sting away:

    On the night of 18 November, the lower house of the United States Congress voted down a resolution proclaiming that “it is necessary to end the stationing of US troops in Iraq immediately.” The vote proved to be wind in the sails for President Bush, who opposes immediate withdrawal, but both the Republican and Democratic parties are thinking ahead to next year’s midterm elections, and the haggling continued up to the final [vote].

    You know, if congressmen want to be arguing over the WOT, instead of taking potshots at each other over who’s a good Marine, how about looking into air security? Port security? Border security? Many of these characters have points of vulnerability right in the middle of their districts that their constituents–and by extension they–should be hopping mad about. On the other hand, I sincerely doubt that most of them are any better able to assess whether Iraq has stabilized enough to govern itself than the rest of us can.

    Heard around the neighborhood

    Posted by Sean at 09:06, November 18th, 2005

    Today the meeting was between Koizumi and the ROK’s President Roh:

    On the evening of 18 November, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi met with South Korean President Mu-Hyon Roh in Pusan for approximately 30 minutes. The President expressed strong opposition to “the pilgrimages by the Prime Minister and multiple other politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine,” which are “a provocation to Korea.” The Prime Minister once again explained, “Those pilgrimages represent both a self-examination with respect to [Japanese conduct during] the war and a gesture of respect to those who died.” However, the argument established no common ground; the planned visit by President Roh to Japan within the year could not be agreed upon.

    For this region, that’s relatively mellow, though most of the serious animosity usually isn’t vented in face-to-face meetings. Of course, heads of state in this part of the world have a habit of refusing to visit each other…well, to visit Japan. (Balloon-Juice had a post the other day that made a few not-bad points about the dynamic between us and the PRC but struck me as a little bit flibbertigibbety and too-touchy about what constitutes a serious diplomatic insult in these parts.)

    So Japan has managed to alarm both of its closest neighbors with which it has strong economic ties. Of course, there doesn’t seem to have been anything from North Korea, but just you wait: the UN, presumably anxious to quell rumors that it thinks it was rather charming of the DPRK to kidnap fifteen Japanese nationals from their native beaches, condemned the late-70s abductions yesterday. Or maybe it was the day before–you know, all those UN announcements that we should play nice tend to run together. Kim’s bound to have a reaction to that.

    SDF Iraq deployment [practically] extended

    Posted by Sean at 21:41, November 16th, 2005

    The extension of the SDF deployment in Iraq looks like a done deal–this Nikkei report is a little firmer than the last one I saw yesterday:

    At the Japan-US meeting between heads of state on 16 November, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi revealed, for all intents and purposes, that the deployment of SDF personnel in Iraq, which comes up against its existing end date in December, will be extended. The extension is based on a judgement that, since other countries contributing to the multi-national force will keep their troops stationed there, the US will not be understanding if Japan alone withdraws. However, the UK and Australian forces that serve as escorts for the SDF are set to be withdrawn in May of next year. The [US] president expressed appreciation for Japan’s support; the prime minister, in the meantime, is already looking to set a withdrawal date.

    “Japan, as a member of international society, must continue to support Iraq towards its goal of standing on its own.”

    With that roundabout utterance, the prime minister conveyed to the president that the troop deployment would be extended.

    Golden Pavillion

    Posted by Sean at 07:41, November 16th, 2005

    President Bush is in Kyoto and met with Prime Minister Koizumi today. The Nikkei reports on Xinhua’s reaction:

    On 16 November, the PRC state news agency Xinhua reported of Prime Minister Koizumi and US President Bush’s meeting that “they emphasized the importance of the Japan-US alliance” and displayed alarm as it related such items as Koizumi’s mention of the importance of US military personnel stationed in Japan.

    The Asahi has a more wide-ranging rundown, including this related point:

    The Japanese prime minister also brushed aside criticism that he has focused too heavily on U.S. relations while ignoring ties with Japan’s Asian neighbors.

    “There are some people who believe that Japan should not pursue its relations with the United States too far, and if that creates some negative elements, then Japan should strengthen friendly ties with other countries.

    “But that is not my thinking.”

    Bush also had a message for China, saying leaders should not be afraid to give freedom to their society.

    The U.S. president went on to say that the Liberal Democratic Party’s landslide victory in the Sept. 11 Lower House election underscores the strength of democracy in Japan.

    Koizumi and Bush confirmed that their countries will work in close cooperation so that China becomes a constructive partner.

    The evening edition of the Nikkei has a picture of the two at Kinkakuji, which unfortunately doesn’t appear to be on-line. This is the only one I can find posted.

    I feel love

    Posted by Sean at 01:16, November 16th, 2005

    A friend says he thought I might enjoy this bit of a Houston Chronicle editorial (which is fileted by James Taranto in the 15 November Best of the Web). I assume he means “enjoy” approximately in the sense of “be driven to punch through the monitor by.” This is the operative paragraph from the editorial:

    Inner city black voters in Harris County, many of whom have long experience with the denial of civil rights, favored the marriage amendment by an even higher majority than the general Harris County voting population. Black discomfort with homosexual marriage is rooted less in conscious discrimination than in religious belief, but support for the amendment brought blacks into incongruous accord with members of the Ku Klux Klan, whose members rallied in Austin in support of Proposition 2.

    I don’t agree that the civil rights and gay rights movements are comparable all the way down–and what civil rights have black people been denied for the last three or so decades, one wonders?–but I do think that gays and other minorities are very similar in the ceaseless way our soi-disant allies manage to patronize us. As Taranto says, “If you’re a person of pallor and you oppose same-sex marriage, you’re guilty of ‘conscious discrimination,’ whereas if you’re black, you’re following ‘religious belief’ and presumably discriminating unconsciously. Oh, and does this mean people who favor same-sex marriage are religious unbelievers? Seems to us the Houston Chronicle has just managed to insult pretty much everybody.”

    As a homosexual unbeliever who doesn’t favor same-sex marriage, I think the most insulting part is unmentioned by Taranto: the attribution of any opposition to that boneless PC animating force, “discomfort.” People can’t believe things are right or wrong, or constructive or destructive, anymore, apparently–the only opposition sympathetic characters are to be permitted is decorously vague unease.

    Sign of the times

    Posted by Sean at 23:47, November 15th, 2005

    I was hoping someone would get around to saying this so I didn’t have to (it’s Dale Franks posting):

    So we’re starting to see articles like this one from Khaled Duzdar, the Palestinian co-director of the strategic affairs unit at the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem. Now, I don’t know anything about Mr. Duzdar. For all I know, he’s been a beacon of sanity and peace in the Arab Muslim world for all his adult life. But there’s something about his article that strikes me as…odd.

    Last week’s suicide attacks against innocent civilians in Amman shocked us all. It is unclear what message the suicide bombers were conveying and there is no logical cause justifying such insane acts. What could the aim of such attacks be, and what were the mad executioners aiming to achieve? For some time, they have claimed they are defenders and combatants of Islam and the Muslim world. However, Islam has no use for such people and their acts and ideologies – if we believe they have any ideology at all. They promote nothing more than killing and aim only to bring about a state of lawlessness and instability in the Middle East.

    Yeah. All of the sudden, terrorist acts have gone from the acts of frustrated national aspirations on the part of a helpless people to wondering, “What could the aim of such attacks be?” Yep. All of the sudden, terrorism is just incomprehensible.

    No kidding. For years, many–if not most–of the Arab and Muslim condemnations of terrorism have come with qualifications on the order of “But let’s remember the sense of rage and powerlessness such people feel” or “But their bodies are the only weapons they have to fight with.” (To be fair, Palestinian-sympathizing Westerners have taken the same tack, too.)

    It’s all very strange. There are certain things that generally good-hearted, disciplined, civilized people simply do not do when they’re cracking under pressure. Chilly premeditated murder of dozens of random people peaceably going about their business is one of them–even, I would submit, if the killing conveys a clear “message.” I was saddened and outraged by the bombings in Jordan this weekend, but like Dale, I’m having a little trouble getting myself worked up into extra-special shock, grief, and epistemic crisis just because it was Amman and not Tel Aviv that was hit.

    He’s the warmest chord I ever heard

    Posted by Sean at 09:00, November 15th, 2005

    At Romeo Mike’s Gumption, Ross notes an example of psycho-PC-ism via the Telegraph:

    “Paintings of traditional wedding scenes have been removed from a register office in case they offend gay couples, it has emerged.

    The pictures at Liverpool Register Office are being replaced with landscapes ahead of the introduction of “gay weddings” later this year.”

    Two problems with this. If homos are supposed to be genuinely equal then we should be able to meld in with the mainstream. Ditching traditions to humour us defeats the purpose, so the removal of the pictures is actually the offensive part.

    Secondly, it’s also offensive that the Telegraph has to include a pic of a couple of queens kissing to illustrate gay marriage. Ordinarily, news photos of newlyweds have them smiling proudly at the camera. That photo only serves to reinforce the stereotype of minorities’ ‘differences’ requiring ‘special’ treatment.

    Question 1: Did the guy on the right burst into tears immediately after the photo was snapped and yell, “It’s our wedding, darling–couldn’t you have worn something more dignified than a turtleneck?!”

    Question 2: Given the Telegraph‘s generally approving spin, what’s up with the scare quotes around “weddings”? Does it (editorially) agree that gay ceremonies aren’t genuine weddings? I’m just wondering.

    Question 3: Why is the word gay so listless and dull, ending in that irresolute diphthong, while the insulting words for homosexuals can be written and spoken with such flair? Ross is presumably being sardonic in using homos and queens, but stripped of meaning associations and possible playground resonances, aren’t they just cooler words? Personally, I’m very partial to faggot–I just can’t help it. It’s one of those words you can eject from the mouth with a little explosion, whether of playfulness or of anger. It is impossible to utter the word gay in an aesthetically pleasing manner. A real pity.

    BTW, not quite on the same topic, but along those lines, an acquaintance asked me–very earnestly, which was what made it funny–a little while ago, “So, Sean, you call everyone ‘honey.’ And [my close friend, who’s English] Alan calls everyone ‘darling.’ Is that, like, some kind of American-vs.-British thing?”


    Posted by Sean at 08:38, November 15th, 2005

    Ghost of a Flea has clearly not met my boyfriend, who would not only not be fleeing for his life but would be furrowing his brow and saying, “Hmmmm. Fire truck’s out of the way. Hon, how about standing a little bit off to the left there?”

    (Of course I’m just kidding, dearest.)