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    Autumn

    Posted by Sean at 10:29, October 17th, 2005

    Autumn is prime moon-viewing time in Japan. The yearning summoned up by the combination of chill, moaning winds and a cloud-wreathed moon is one of the major clichés of Japanese aesthetics, known by now throughout the world. But like most clichés, it still seems stark and real in its original formulations. The following are from the Shin-Kokin Waka Shu:

    秋風のいたりいたらぬ袖はあらじただわれからの露の夕暮

    鴨長明

    aki kaze no/itari itaranu/sode ha araji/tada ware kara no/tuyu no yuugure

    kamo no chōmei

    Though the autumn wind
    does not leave as it passes
    sleeves here touched, there untouched,
    on my sleeve alone settles
    the dew of this eventide

    Kamo no Chōmei

    *******

    たのめたる人はなけれど秋の夜は月見て寝べき心地こそせね

    和泉式部

    tanometaru/hito ha nakeredo/aki no yo ha/tsuki mite nebeki/kokochi koso sene

    izumi shikibu

    I am not waiting
    for a suitor to arrive,
    but this autumn night
    I sit gazing at the moon
    without any thought of sleep

    Izumi Shikibu

    Kamo no Chōmei is most famous as the writer of the Houjouki, but quite a bit of his poetry shows up in the third of the great court anthologies. Dew in classical poetry usually represents tears of longing. Though Chōmei knows that the autumn wind blows equitably–it literally and symbolically scatters dew everywhere–he feels isolated in his yearning, as if he were the only one weeping into his sleeve with stirred memories.

    Izumi Shikibu is the daughter of Murasaki Shikibu, the writer of the famous (and massive) Tale of Genji. She’s no Princess Shokushi, but she often turns images very well. In this poem, she slyly underscores her melancholy by pointing out that not only is the beauty of the moon keeping her from getting any rest, but she also has no lover to refocus her attention.

    The Japanese have a worldwide reputation for loving nature, and that’s not unjustifiable; they’ve written about it for over a millennium. However, one of the reasons that many Western attempts at waka or haiku fail is that they just describe beautiful scenes…and that’s it. They sound merely quaint. Japanese poetry–the good stuff–doesn’t just document the existence of a stand of pine trees that were sitting there being pretty. It describes nature to convey a moment of keen feeling on the part of the writer, when inner thought and external environment had a spark of connection.


    Yasukuni visit gets usual reaction

    Posted by Sean at 08:50, October 17th, 2005

    This morning I apparently posted in the single nanosecond between Prime Minister Koizumi’s paying of respects at the Yasukuni Shrine and the resulting Asiawide condemnation (both links are to the Mainichi):

    Critics, especially in China and the Koreas, say that the shrine glorifies Japanese militarism, but Koizumi says that he is only mourning the country’s war dead.

    China in particular has taken a hard line with regard to Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits, halting all meetings between the heads of government in both countries since he began attending the shrine.

    Koizumi had said he would visit the shrine to attend its autumn festival, which runs from Monday to Friday.

    What Koizumi is thinking when at the shrine is an open question. Whether the shrine glorifies Japanese militarism is somewhat easier to assess. The Asahi has a quotation from a PRC official I hadn’t seen elsewhere:

    “The Chinese government will staunchly oppose Prime Minister Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine where the Class-A war criminals are enshrined–regardless of how the visits are made,” said Wang Yi, the Chinese ambassador to Japan. “The fact that the prime minister has done such a thing on the day when the Shenzhou 6 made a successful return to Earth is a challenge to all Chinese people. The prime minister should accept historical responsibility for destroying China-Japan relations.”

    South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Ban Ki Moon summoned Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Shotaro Oshima in Seoul. Ban said the South Korean government felt “deep regret and disappointment” over Koizumi’s actions.The leaders of China and South Korea have repeatedly called on Koizumi to refrain from visiting Yasukuni this year, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

    I’m not entirely sure what the Shenzhou 6 has to do with anything. Japan has a history of botched rocket launches, but the ambassador doesn’t seem to be getting in even a veiled dig about that.

    What’s likely to happen is that Korea will do its grit-its-teeth-and-bear-it thing, and China will do its still-no-official-head-of-state-visits thing while continuing to try to use Japan as a target for domestic restlessness that’s actually at least partially directed at the CCP. Today’s visit didn’t happen at a moment that was any more strategic than any other of late–there’s no specific tricky development in the dispute over oil and gas deposits in the East China Sea, say, or trade relations. But as always, today’s visit will be a convenient thing to bring out later as an indication that Japan cannot be trusted to have dealt with its misdeeds during the occupation of Asia.


    Risky business

    Posted by Sean at 22:06, October 16th, 2005

    I’ve discovered something worse than being told you look like Tom Cruise.

    I don’t mind that a lot of guys think some celebs are cute whom I find unappetizing–different strokes and all that. Also, as a white guy in Japan, you get a lot of hyperbolic comments comparing you to celebrities you only resemble in the most rudimentary terms of coloring. If you’re dark, you look like Tom Cruise. If you’re fair, you look like Brad Pitt. Now that I think of it, I haven’t happened to be involved in this discussion when one of my black acquaintances was present, but I’m going to bet they get told they look like Denzel Washington. Maybe Will Smith, but my money’s on Denzel.

    Anyway, the point is, I have dark hair, so the script calls for Tom. If someone deviates from it, that generally means that the comparison is heartfelt rather than formulaic. Which is why this line nearly gave me a coronary: “You look just like Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love.”

    “Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love“?

    JOSEPH FIENNES IN SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE?

    Blech. Ew, ew, ew. Just, ew. That is not a way to get in well with me. Not.

    Ew.


    Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine again

    Posted by Sean at 21:30, October 16th, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine this morning for its autumn festival. It was the fifth visit for him since 2001. I don’t think there’s been enough time for the rest of Asia to flip out; even the Nikkei story is barely two lines long.


    About time

    Posted by Sean at 01:14, October 15th, 2005

    This is the first piece I’ve seen that defends the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court on the basis of how she’s going to do the job. “Why Harriet Miers is the sort of thinker who would make a good justice,” as opposed to “Why someone without a Harvard law degree, two decades of publications to her credit, and regular invitations to dine with the Kristols could make a good justice”:

    It is true that Harriet Miers, in everything she does, gives high attention to detail. And the trait came in handy with drafts of presidential speeches, in which she routinely exposed weak arguments, bogus statistics and claims inconsistent with previous remarks long forgotten by the rest of us. If one speech declared X “our most urgent domestic priority,” and another speech seven months earlier had said it was Y, it would be Harriet Miers alone who noted the contradiction.

    It may be, in fact, that a details person is just what the Supreme Court needs right now. If anyone can be counted on to pause in deliberations over abortion cases, for example, and politely draw attention to small details like the authority of Congress and of state legislatures, or the interests of the child waiting to be born, it will be the court’s newest member. As a justice, however, she will command the kind of respect that has nothing to do with being conservative, or liberal, or anything else but a person of wisdom and rectitude.

    Okay, so Miers takes texts at face value, has a memory like a steel trap that helps her spot inconsistencies, stays focused on the job at hand, and is more likely to fulfill her job description with self-effacing meticulousness than to try to make a name for herself. You could certainly take issue with Matthew Scully’s argument here–I’m not really convinced by it–but it is an argument, with evidence summoned to make a relevant point.


    鐡の女

    Posted by Sean at 07:20, October 14th, 2005

    A belated happy 80th birthday to the UK’s inimitable former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, which occasioned this week’s second gay-shiver-of-pleasure-inducing comment referring to her:

    Another guest, actress Joan Collins, said she adored Thatcher.

    “She is the ‘Iron Lady,’ and I want to be just like that when I grow up,” Collins said.

    [sighs] Oh, and this is a good place to point out that Susanna, a lady of considerable gravitas herself, has written a very thoughtful post about what general patterns in differences between the sexes mean to individuals trying to live as well and happily as they can.


    Japan Post privatization approved

    Posted by Sean at 03:51, October 14th, 2005

    Japan Post privatization was approved by the House of Councillors today:

    The Japan Post privatization bills were approved and enacted by a majority, mostly from the ruling coalition, in a session of the upper house on 14 October. The final vote was 134 in favor, 100 opposed. On 1 October 2007, the Japan Post Public Corporation will be privatized and spun off into four companies: one for postal service, one for postal savings, one for postal insurance, and one for window services.


    世の末だ

    Posted by Sean at 03:35, October 14th, 2005

    My, things have changed since I was nearing the end of my éphèbe years.

    The day after Maria Guevara turned 18, she packed her bags and moved out of her mother’s Floral Park home.

    She had a strained relationship with her father, who she said physically abused her when she was younger — a charge he denies — and she said her mother was too strict, setting an early curfew and denying her money for restaurants and fashionable clothes.

    But after she moved into a friend’s basement in Bellerose Terrace in March, Guevara did something her mother didn’t see coming: She sued her parents for child support in Nassau Family Court.

    But Maria, who just started her first year at Nassau Community College, argues that her parents should pay for school. She works part-time as a teacher’s aide at the John Lewis Childs School in Floral Park, but three hours a day at $12 an hour doesn’t pay for her living expenses and tuition, she said.

    “I’m 18, but I still need support,” she said. “I’m going to college. I don’t have time to be working full-time. It’s hard for me.”

    Telling an 18-year-old that she has to be home by 7 p.m. strikes me as a bit neurotic (though there may be part of the story we’re not hearing–does Guevara’s mother go to work at night and need her daughter to look after her little brother?), but the rest of her complaints? Sheesh. In my day, the standard speech was “Look, buddy, when you’re 18, you can move out of this house and make your own rules. But until then, you’re living under our roof and what we say goes. IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?” It was understood. I had parents indulgent enough to send me to a hoity-toity private college, but I took a year off after high school and worked full-time and saved, too. Starting college at 19 instead of 18 doesn’t seem to have blighted my life much.

    Oh, and the reasoning that goes “it’s hard; therefore, I shouldn’t have to do it”? What is that?

    (Via Joanne Jacobs)


    Hello, stranger

    Posted by Sean at 00:21, October 14th, 2005

    Occasionally, the Andrew Sullivan who inspired so many of us a decade ago reemerges to write a reflective, even-handed piece about gay issues. This is the latest. It’s a bit verbose, and the social-climby lens through which he views cultural life manifests itself frequently, but I’ll take a little A-list smugness over Bush-betrayed-me screechiness any day.

    Slowly but unmistakably, gay culture is ending. You see it beyond the poignant transformation of P-town: on the streets of the big cities, on university campuses, in the suburbs where gay couples have settled, and in the entrails of the Internet. In fact, it is beginning to dawn on many that the very concept of gay culture may one day disappear altogether. By that, I do not mean that homosexual men and lesbians will not exist–or that they won’t create a community of sorts and a culture that sets them in some ways apart. I mean simply that what encompasses gay culture itself will expand into such a diverse set of subcultures that “gayness” alone will cease to tell you very much about any individual. The distinction between gay and straight culture will become so blurred, so fractured, and so intermingled that it may become more helpful not to examine them separately at all.

    There’s much less psychological need now to define yourself against society when you figure out that you’re gay, and a lot of mainstream straight people would find it strange if you did. It was my half-dozen or so closest college friends, all straight, who convinced me to stop warring against my own identity and come out. The friends I feel most assertively gay around are a straight architect couple–I was delighted to learn earlier this week that they’re moving back to Tokyo from their home base in San Francisco–who are constantly joshing with me about my clothes and their friends in the Castro and the difficulty of getting the perfect piece of pottery for the entryway table. I don’t know that I’d take things as far as Sullivan does in that last sentence above, but the main point is a good one.


    Something that is substantive

    Posted by Sean at 23:20, October 13th, 2005

    The US and Japan are still in negotiations over the Futenma USMC base in Okinawa and (of course) the ban on beef imports. Thomas Schieffer, Howard Baker’s colorless successor as US ambassador to Japan, appears to be trying to apply pressure:

    Japan has proposed holding a “two plus two” top level security meeting on Oct. 29 over the issue and expects the two countries to compile an interim report on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan before U.S. President George W. Bush’s expected visit in November.

    Schieffer said the Futenma issue should be resolved before discussing these matters, while stressing that they should be left to the two countries’ negotiators.

    “I think the purpose of the interim agreement is to announce something that is substantive,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to have a meeting just for a meeting’s sake.”

    He called ongoing bilateral talks on the U.S. military’s realignment plans strategic negotiations.

    “What we have been continuing to try to stress throughout the negotiations…are strategic elements in the alliance,” Schieffer said. “What we also want to do is look at what those forces would be and what they will need to be capable of doing in the future in order to be effective.”

    Schieffer also expressed strong dissatisfaction with Japan’s ban on U.S. beef imports due to concerns over mad cow disease.

    “I’m afraid it has done real damage to the American-Japanese relationship, because it has reminded people of some of the trade frictions that existed between our two countries in the 1980s,” he said. “I hope that the issue resolves as soon as possible, because if this continues to go on, I think that the United States Congress is going to impose sanctions on Japan.”

    “I hope that the matter will be largely resolved, if not completely [by the time of Bush’s visit],” he said.

    Well, the beef import ban is excessive given what scientists know about BSE; I’m not sure that comparisons with Japan’s outright protectionist trade barriers of two decades ago really work. In any case, the Japanese government appears to be relenting on the issue of where to move Futenma’s helicopter operations, which to judge from reports will make restructuring easier for the armed forces.