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    独立記念日

    Posted by Sean at 09:16, July 4th, 2008

    Happy Independence Day. For the first time in a dozen years, I actually get to celebrate the Fourth of July here in America. Very exciting. I’ll sort of miss the way we did the festivities in Japan–including a congratulatory drink from my British friends, which was always very touching–but overall I far prefer being home.


    Why I’m glad I returned to the States

    Posted by Sean at 20:35, June 29th, 2008

    At last–the creamy taste of Cool Whip is now in a can!”


    納得できない

    Posted by Sean at 12:03, June 26th, 2008

    The families of Japanese abductees are, not surprisingly, unhappy with the Bush administration’s decision to remove the DPRK from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states:

    “Even though they tell us they won’t forget…we can’t accept this.” On 26 June, when the United States government announced that it would drop North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorism, voices of despair and hopelessness were raised by the families of [Japanese] abductees, which had expected cooperation and effort from the US toward resolving the issue. The move also fomented mistrust toward the Japanese government, which approved of the removal: “Why didn’t they take a harder line?”

    The families are questioning whether the US should have changed its position based on the documents submitted. Their bitterness is understandable–those who were abducted disappeared in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and several are still almost entirely unaccounted for. It’s hard to say what the best approach is, though. Slowly coaxing the DPRK to open up–assuming such a thing is possible–may ultimately be the only way to get access to such records of the abductees as remain.


    ナイフ持った男ともみ合う

    Posted by Sean at 10:55, June 26th, 2008

    Surprise! Possible copycat-criminal-in-the-making in Japan. He was (fortunately) thwarted by the police before he could slice anyone up in Akihabara:

    One of the officers suffered slight injuries when he arrested the man for obstructing officers from performing their official duties. The man, who is about 170 centimeters tall and was wearing a black jacket and navy blue jeans, remained silent during questioning.

    The scene is located about 60 meters north of an intersection where a deadly stabbing rampage occurred on June 8.

    At around 1:25 p.m. on Thursday, the two officers spoke to the man who was walking on a sidewalk on the Chuo Dori street in Chiyoda-ku in a bid to question him when they found a knife in his rucksack, local police said. A 31-year-old senior officer immediately took away the knife from him.

    The officers put him into a police car for questioning when he suddenly grabbed his knife back from the senior officer and escaped from the vehicle. The officer chased him for about three meters and overpowered him.

    A black jacket in Tokyo at 1 p.m. this time of year? Guy must be nuts.


    Abductee issue still on the table

    Posted by Sean at 14:40, June 25th, 2008

    The Yomiuri prints an AP story relating that President Bush has promised not to forget the importance of the abductee issue to the Japanese:

    U.S. President George W. Bush told Japan’s premier Wednesday he understands Tokyo’s concern about Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea.

    Bush telephoned Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and told him that he “would not forget the abduction issue,” said a statement from Japan’s Foreign Ministry.

    The 20-minute phone conversation came a day before North Korea is expected to provide a list of its nuclear activities, a process that could lead to taking Pyongyang off Washington’s terrorism and sanctions blacklists in exchange for the regime giving up its nuclear weapons program.

    North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 80s is a high-profile issue here, and Tokyo has long pushed for the resolution of the abductions as a condition for providing aid and improved relations to the communist nation.

    Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura on Tuesday suggested that Tokyo would not want Pyongyang taken off the U.S. terrorism blacklist until the abductions were resolved.

    Komura is expected to voice Tokyo’s concern during talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is to visit Japan Thursday for a Group of Eight foreign ministers’ meeting.

    Japan has been frustrated with the DPRK denuclearization talks because the abductee issue is consistently back-burnered. The Bush administration has regularly expressed sympathy with the families of abductees, and, of course, kidnapping of civilians is an act of aggression. But it’s not surprising that the DPRK hasn’t given Japan any real satisfaction on most of them. Their records may just have disappeared or not been kept systematically in the first place, and who knows how methodically the corpses of those now dead were processed.


    Slippery ones

    Posted by Sean at 13:44, June 25th, 2008

    Like crossword puzzle writers, the Japanese love their eels. They are, I believe, easy to breed, and Japan came to import a lot of them from the PRC. Of course, the product scandals of the last year have lowered the value of imports from China; the latest food labeling scandal involves trying to pass them off as more prestigious domestic products:

    The fisheries ministry Wednesday issued business improvement orders to two companies that mislabeled tons of eels imported from China and pretended they came from a Japanese region famed for its eel products.

    Osaka-based trader Uohide and Kobe-based seafood wholesaler Shinko Gyorui Ltd. even used the name of a fictitious manufacturer under the scheme to win higher prices for domestic eels, especially those from Isshiki, Aichi Prefecture, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

    According to the ministry’s investigation, the two companies sold at least 390,000 eels, or 49 tons, imported from China as domestic products.

    The ministry also suspended shipment of 540 tons of mislabeled eels stored at Uohide facilities and 207 tons at warehouses of Shinko Gyorui, a wholly owned subsidiary of seafood industry leader Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc.

    “A case of food mislabeling, which even uses a dummy company to sell products, is unprecedented and should be viewed as extremely malicious,” a ministry official said.

    *******

    The average market price for a kilogram of imported kabayaki eels, or about eight eels, is between 1,800 and 1,900 yen ($17 and $18). Domestic products sell for between 4,000 yen and 5,000 yen per kg.

    Setting up a shell company to disguise mislabeling may be unprecedented in Japan, but the maliciousness isn’t; see the linked post below.


    Go into the light

    Posted by Sean at 10:04, June 25th, 2008

    It’s amazing what you can learn from American television.

    The Discovery Channel has a show called A Haunting. At first when I was flipping through the on-screen cable guide, I thought it was The Haunting, the wonderful ’60s horror movie based on the Shirley Jackson novel The Haunting of Hill House.

    It was not. Instead, it’s a running program in which couples relate how they were nearly driven from their dream houses by weird (in the original sense of the word) noises, apparitions, movements, and feelings of dread.

    This show makes me feel very inadequate. At the end, the victims always bring in some medium/paranormal investigator type who goes into the attic bedroom and senses the presence of souls trapped there, usually after some grisly death long ago. Imagine! I’m so dense I can’t even sense a mood of tension when I walk into a crowded room after an argument, and these people can pick up on the presence of invisible restless spirits.

    They also use sage a lot. They tie it in bunches and burn it and walk through the house because, apparently, sage has spiritual cleansing properties. Or maybe hostile spirits are calmer after some nice aromatherapy–I’m not sure. It makes me wonder, though: Suppose you don’t have sage on hand? Can you just substitute thyme and rosemary the way you do when you’re making chicken, or do the ghosts get all angry at being faked out?


    副都心線

    Posted by Sean at 20:58, June 17th, 2008

    It would be very unkind to laugh at the difficulties the new subway line in Tokyo is experiencing:

    Services on the newly opened Fukutoshin (Subcenter) Subway Line in downtown Tokyo have been disrupted for four consecutive days since its inauguration on Saturday due to technical problems and errors, its operator said.

    “A series of problems were caused by workers’ inexperience. We’ll assign experienced workers to help out in an effort to ensure punctual operations,” said a spokesman for the line’s operator, Tokyo Metro Co.

    At around 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, circuit breakers at Wako and Asaka power substations in Saitama Prefecture were tripped, forcing trains to stop for 30 seconds, according to Tokyo Metro officials.

    The trouble delayed trains on the Fukutoshin Line as well as the Yurakucho Line and Tobu Railway Tojo Line, which operate through trains with the trouble-plagued new line, by up to 30 minutes.

    The Fukutoshin Line is of special meaning to me, since I walked between Shibuya and Shinjuku Stations via Meiji Avenue several nights a week for years. It was my constitutional. I loved looking at the cranes and earth-moving equipment in the street. I didn’t always love the zig-zag temporary sidewalks necessitated by the tunnel construction, but progress requires inconvenience. Much of the hard thinking I did while deciding whether I wanted to stay in Japan took place during these walks.

    The new train line probably will help to relieve congestion on the Yamanote Line. I’m not sure I agree (on this as on many other things) with Tokyo Metro Governor Shintaro Ishihara, though:

    Prior to its inauguration, an opening ceremony was held at Shinjuku-Sanchome Station in Shinjuku-ku on Friday morning, attended by Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara and other officials.

    “Whether an urban area can mature depends on efficient means of transportation. The new line will lead to the vitalization of Tokyo,” Ishihara said in his speech.

    Yes, of course, he had to say something upbeat. Still, the idea that western Tokyo, along the major artery of Meiji Avenue, needs a new train line to help it “mature,” is pretty inane. People already grit their teeth and take the Yamanote Line despite its cattle-car-ish crowds or just use cabs to get from Shibuya to Shinjuku and (if they must) Ikebukuro. The new line won’t be useless, but it won’t solve the demographic and economic policy problems that have held back the “vitalization” of Tokyo since the Bubble burst. Makes it faster for gay guys to get from Shibuya to Shinjuku 2-chome, though!


    死刑

    Posted by Sean at 20:44, June 17th, 2008

    Japan–have I posted about this before? [rummaging] yes, actually–has a habit of executing people on death row with no warning. Even the families customarily don’t find out until afterwards. Yesterday, one of the country’s most infamous serial killers was executed after a decade on death row. This is from the English version:

    [Tsutomu] Miyazaki kidnapped a 4-year-old girl in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, in August 1988, murdered her in a mountain forest in Akiruno, western Tokyo, and burned her body, according to the ruling.

    He also abducted a 7-year-old girl in Hanno, Saitama Prefecture, in October 1988, and murdered her in Akiruno, the court found.

    He was convicted of abducting another 4-year-old girl in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, in December of the same year, strangling her and abandoning her body in a forest.

    He was also found guilty to abducting a 5-year-old girl in Koto-ku, Tokyo, in June the next year, murdering her and dumping her corpse. Moreover, he molested an elementary school girl in Hachioji, western Tokyo, in July of the same year, according to the ruling.

    On Tuesday, Yoshio Yamasaki, 73, and Shinji Mutsuda, 37, were also executed at the Osaka Detention Center and the Tokyo Detention Center, respectively.

    Part of Miyazaki’s MO was to send brutally succinct notes to the families of his victims describing how they’d suffered before dying. Whether sane or insane (which is still, I believe, disputed), the man was a fiend.

    I hadn’t heard of the other two convicts who were executed; according to The Japan Times:

    The two others hanged Tuesday were Yoshio Yamasaki, 73, and Shinji Mutsuda, 37.

    Yamasaki was convicted of murdering two people in a life insurance fraud in Kagawa Prefecture in 1985.

    Mutsuda was convicted of killing two people to take over a sex service shop owned by one of the victims in Tokyo in 1995.

    *******

    If that’s not depressing enough, it’s emerged that the man who rammed a crowd and then stabbed seven people fatally in Akihabara (a section of Tokyo) attacked people who had been helping his previous victims:

    Among the 12 victims are at least three people who were caring for those he had earlier attacked, according to investigators. The three include a 53-year-old assistant police inspector and a 54-year-old taxi driver.

    The three were attacked from behind and suffered serious stab wounds, local police said.

    I haven’t written much about Japan (or anything else) lately here, but the whole story is, of course, a big deal there. Images of Tomohiro Kato’s cell phone website postings, which warned that he planned to kill people in Akihabara, were all over the news. With the proliferation of point systems at and competition among electronics stores, Akihabara has lost some of its allure for shoppers, but the place still crowds up on weekends. Kato perpetrated his attacks in the early afternoon of Sunday, 8 June.


    Flavors of entanglement

    Posted by Sean at 14:10, June 7th, 2008

    Watching Hillary’s camapaign suspension speech. I will always find her worldview and policies repellant, and she and Bill have run one of the tackiest public households in American politics. But she’s grown a lot as a speaker. She sounds sincere. Her smile seems real. She seems confident and forthright and relaxed and very American in the best way.* (I’m kind of a sucker for that Gaboon viper combination of brown and teal for some reason, too.) I don’t like feeling contempt for people, and I feel much less contempt for her now than I did even just a few months ago.

    * Again, I’m talking about her demeanor. That part about how we have individual liberties, but what’s REALLY COOL is when we gather into collectives, made my flesh crawl.

    *******

    Faye Wattleton looks great! (She’s on the post mortem thing on CNN.) However, it’s a sign of the times that the first thing I thought when I saw her was, She has a terrific surgeon! She can’t have gotten that referral through Planned Parenthood…. But who knows? Maybe she’s had no work done and those long bangs are just a style.

    *******

    Mmmm…Bavarian Creme.

    *******

    I wish people would read more carefully. It would eliminate so very much unnecessary unpleasantness from life. A few days ago, Megan McArdle wrote:

    Even if you don’t like Barack Obama, I think you should be happy that the country has, with really very little fuss, nominated a black man with a very good shot at the presidency. (I didn’t support Clinton, but I would have been glad to know that we could nominate a woman–not that I’m saying this is the reason we didn’t nominate her.)

    Bill Quick at Daily Pundit replied waspishly:

    Megan is simply being racist here – it doesn’t matter what Obama espouses, we should be happy because we nominated a black man. Should we be happy if the black man was Al Sharpton? Reverend Wright? Just because they are black?

    I understand what Megan is trying to get at – that nominating any black man without rioting in the streets or the media is a sign of some kind of national maturity, or the true state of racism in the US – not very strong – but happiness is not a word I’d use to describe my feelings about an Obama nomination.

    “We should be happy because we nominated a black man” is at least within spitting distance of what McArdle wrote, and IIRC, she is, in fact, an Obama supporter. But she wasn’t talking about being happy with Obama as an individual candidate. She was talking about being happy that, in the blink of a historical eye after the Civil Rights Act, we actually have a black presumptive presidential nominee in one of the two major parties.

    What’s the problem with that? I say this as a libertarian who supported and still supports the Iraq occupation and who lived in East Asia for twelve years. The prospect of an Obama presidency scares the bejeezus out of me. And even if his greenness didn’t scare me, I’d be opposed to his political principles, such that one can divine them. I think lots of his supporters have been cutting him slack that they would not cut for another candidate because they’re eager to participate in the healing gesture of nominating a black candidate. Yes, I do.

    However, he’s the pioneer, and the progress made by pioneers tends to be rough. Presidential politics is not a forum in which we’re yet become accustomed to seeing black people (or, to a lesser extent, women). Because we’ve just watched Obama and Clinton duke it out for the Democratic nomination, it’s going to be easier for the first small-government, classical-liberal minority or woman candidate to be considered on policy merits rather than demographic “history-making.” I don’t think that pointing that out makes anyone racist.

    So, good on Obama. Now let’s make sure–please–that he doesn’t become president.

    *******

    I want to hug my air conditioner. I want to give it a foot massage and a scalp massage and feed it peeled grapes from a silver salver and clasp its head to my chest and whisper that it’s the only thing in this world that I can rely on to have my true happiness at heart.

    And it’s only the beginning of June.

    *******

    I didn’t post on the D-Day anniversary, but Eric did.