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    Posted by Sean at 20:24, March 24th, 2005

    The PRC is once again set to send warships on a diplomatic visit to Japan. That “once again” describes “set” and not “send,” since the last view plans for maritime military visits were scotched because of the pilgrimages of high Japanese politicians to the Yasukuni Shrine. The pilgrimages are also the reason that visits between heads of state have been suspended over the last few months, so this new development could mean either that the PRC is softening its stance (possibly because Koizumi did not go to the Yasukuni Shrine over New Year’s) or that it recognizes that cold-shouldering Japan is bad policy.

    The meeting at which this was decided, by the way, took place between Takemasa Moriya, the Administrative Vice-Minister at the Japanese Defence Agency, and the Vice-General Chief of Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. He has a name, too: “bear + light + what I’m guessing is some kind of tree.” I can’t seem to find a Japanese source that has the pronunciation given (Yu Kou-kai?), or a Chinese source that Romanizes it.

    By the way, I know what 次官 means just fine, but I wasn’t sure how it was usually rendered in English. The JDA is an agency, not a ministry, but of course the Prime Minister is considered ultimately in charge. For those who are interested, this is the JDA organizational chart in Japanese, and here it is in English. Moriya is about the fifth level down.

    Island life

    Posted by Sean at 19:31, March 24th, 2005

    Japanese politicians are looking into the possibility of suing for sovereignty over Takeshima in international court:

    Former Ministry of Foreign Affairs Masahiko Takamura indicated that he believes that Japan should investigate the possibility of taking its case for the ownership of Takeshima to the international courts, saying in a joint meeting of the LDP on diplomacy, “At this point, finding and coming to a resolution of this issue between the two countries [Japan and Korea] will be difficult. We need to seek a way to communicate through a third party.”

    Most of the attendees approved of Takamura’s plan, and it seems to be set to solidify as the party’s stance.


    Debate over SDF role continues

    Posted by Sean at 07:26, March 24th, 2005

    A Diet panel (lower house) on the constitution has recommended that the SDF be permitted to participate in collective self-defense (with Japan’s allies). How that can be permitted given the constitution remains the subject of debate:

    With regard to the exercise of the right to collective self-defense, however, the panel’s opinions were mixed, with some saying the legal basis for such use should be provided in the Constitution, while others argued such use could be permitted by changing the interpretation of the current Constitution.

    In any case, the LDP’s coalition partner, the Shin-Komeito, is blocking the introduction of a bill that would change legislation governing the SDF. The bill, if passed, would have made deployments abroad regular duties (as opposed to just extraordinary measures in exigencies) for the SDF.

    What is going ahead is the plan to make SDF equipment production and management better:

    The Defense Agency has decided to establish multifunctional teams to ensure uniform control of some Self-Defense Forces equipment, such as next-generation, short-range surface-to-air missiles, from the research and development stage right through to disposal, agency officials said.

    Following private sector examples, the agency aims to streamline operations by organizing multifunctional teams for each type of equipment, bringing together needed personnel for each team from different divisions in the agency and the SDF as well as from the private sector.

    That part about lack of horizontal communication is typical of Japanese organizations. People often forget that the inefficient 70% of the economy that serves the domestic market is carried by the 30% that has to compete on international terms. If the SDF actually succeeds in restructuring to put the highest priority on getting results (which is not a given), it can only be a good thing.

    What the SDF is and is not allowed to do is of increasing importance not just because of the WOT but also because of Japan’s petition to become a permanent member of the UNSC. Kofi Annan has said that if the reforms that are put through involve expanding the number of permanent seats, two of the six new memberships will be reserved for Asia, of which “one would naturally go to Japan.” How natural it would be to have a permanent UNSC member that may not be permitted, under normal circumstances, to participate in collective defense is still a matter for discussion.

    Added on 25 March: The Yomiuri has a story this morning that itemizes the limitations on the SDF better than it did yesterday, for those who haven’t read them. When it calls these the recommendations of “the government,” though, I don’t know that that conveys what’s actually going on. This is an internal panel of LDP lower house Diet members. As the Asahi reported yesterday, the Shin-Komeito doesn’t seem to want to go quite this far right now, and that means that these recommendations may be held in abeyance for some time.

    Plates and probability

    Posted by Sean at 12:56, March 23rd, 2005

    The government has some important information for us Japan-dwellers:

    The government’s Earthquake Research Committee has compiled a nationwide “map of earthquake risk,” which indicates through different colors the probability that different regions will be visited by a severe earthquake. The map was released on 23 March. Areas in which it is believed there is at least a 26% chance that an earthquake of a weak 6 JMA or above will occur in the next 30 years (equivalent to once in every hundred years) extend across 24 prefectures from Tokai to the Kii Peninsula, centered around the Pacific coast of Shikoku.

    These things are probably useful to seismologists and insurance companies, but they don’t seem to be much more than dark entertainment to us laypeople. After all, what’s most meaningful to people in Fukuoka is that there’s a 100% chance there was an earthquake of a weak 6 JMA or above this weekend. That no one expected it to happen there rather than, say, here in Tokyo doesn’t count for a whole lot.

    Indeed, if you prefer to bet on precedent and let your math be a little dodgy if need be, the last ten or so years would seem to indicate that the next major earthquake is likely to hit somewhere outside a hot zone. Hokkaido and Miyagi Prefecture have had their expected high-magnitude quakes recently; Japan’s other severe ones have been in places such as Fukuoka on Sunday, Niigata last autumn, and (of course) Kobe ten years ago.

    What all this indicates is something that should be fairly obvious: Japan is a row of volcanic islands along a major plate boundary. Some of the volcanoes are still active. (Ooh, speaking of which: Atsushi and I went up to the crater of one on Kyushu over the weekend. I’d upload a picture or two, but I’m apparently not posting my graphics files properly to avoid chewing up bandwidth. Once I figure out what to do, I’ll post them. I tell you, sometimes nature is almost as cool as a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.) That means that, pretty much wherever you are in Japan, you’re somewhere that’s at risk of a serious earthquake, and you need to plan accordingly.

    Japan news leftovers

    Posted by Sean at 20:37, March 22nd, 2005

    I thought going to Kyushu to visit Atsushi would be a break from the news cycle. It was not. Saturday and Sunday, especially, were big days, so for anyone who hasn’t gotten the rundown:

    There aren’t many serious earthquakes in northern Kyushu, but there was one when I was there (go figure). We felt it at level 4 in Atsushi’s city–quite a lot of shaking, but nothing disturbed. The quake was centered just off Fukuoka, a city of about 2 million, where it registered a weak 6. There was an island with about 700 inhabitants, I think, that had bad damage. The houses were built into a hillside, so they slid on top of each other. The greater part of the population has had to be evacuated. There were also a few Fukuoka downtown buildings that had windows that broke and dropped out onto the street. A few water mains burst–things like that. Of course several hundred people were injured, though there was only one death. All things considered, the damage was minimal. There are still, however, lots of evacuees who can’t return to their houses.


    20 March was exactly ten years after the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system. Last year, NHK (I think it was NHK) ran a documentary that dramatized the network of rescue workers, civil engineers, police investigators, and chemical analysts that springs into action when something like this happens. This year being the tenth, the coverage largely consisted of short interviews with the wives of a few of the commuters who died. (There were 12 deaths out of thousands injured.) In most Japanese Buddhist sects, the tenth year after a death isn’t considered significant. Most have special rites on the seventh anniversary, and the focus on Sunday was on Western-style laying of wreaths. There was also a statement of apology from Aum Shinrikyo, which has renamed itself Aleph and changed leadership since conducting the attacks.


    Talks during Condoleezza Rice’s visit were focused mostly on the ban on US beef imports, the tiresome back-and-forth over which is going to turn all our brains to mush even if we never eat a morsel of the stuff again. The ban may be lifted…it may not be lifted…our two great nations cherish their close allegience but that’s not contingent on it’s being lifted…we’re considering lifting it…you said that before but you still haven’t lifted it. Et c., et c. Condoleezza Rice and Jun’ichiro Koizumi have the exact same hair, which made them look comically symmetrical in their poses together for the press. That’s about the most interesting thing that seems to have come out of her being here. It was certainly more interesting than the beef and rice jokes.

    If you want to find out what Rice said about non-cow issues, you’ll have to see the reports of her visit to Seoul after she left Tokyo. (She and President Roh agreed that the DPRK should return to the suspended six-party talks, for instance. Of course, South Korea has also imposed a ban on US beef imports, so it was a topic there, too.)


    Three crewmembers of a Japanese tugboat were released by their pirate captors yesterday. (Okay, that didn’t happen on Saturday or Sunday, but it’s a story I’ve been following.) The Asahi article has pretty much all the details that were being reported yesterday. Well, it leaves out the fact that the chief-engineer guy is gorgeous, but I assume that was a question of column-inch restrictions.


    There’s also been more about Japan Post reform and shifts in the SDF structure, but I’ve been busy since arriving back and haven’t really had a chance to look closely at what’s going on.

    Added at 22:20:

    Joel at Far Outliers posted about the anniversary of the subway attacks here, with fascinating information about the angles the media used when covering them at the time and, further, about whether Aum Shinrikyo’s nature and motives were adequately understood.

    Thank you for flying KM Air

    Posted by Sean at 03:13, March 18th, 2005

    I got my hair cut today, and just in time, too. It had grown to the point that I could feel it touching my ears. Hate that! I feel much better, though it’s still chilly enough that I felt kind of mentholated up there when I walked outside. It surprised me, since my hair guy had, as always, put styling wax into it. I would have thought that would be nice and heat-retaining. What is it that makes people who work in hair places, BTW, think that they’re doing a disservice if they send you back out into the great wide world without glopping something onto your head? I’ve been getting my hair cut by the same man for eight years; as he is well aware, there isn’t a strand longer than an inch or so when he’s finished. It’s not going to flop anywhere, for pity’s sake.

    It’s a three-day weekend, so I’m flying down to see Atushi tomorrow. I was all ready to gloat about what a risk-taking adventure type I am, since JAL was just warned by the Ministry of Land, Transportation, and Infrastructure that the only reason none of its string of mishaps has resulted in serious embarrassment or tragedy is that it’s been darned lucky. But check out Ghost of a Flea: he may be about to take a trip in an Airbus 310 (with EZ-Detach rudder and tailfin) on the same airline that had the frightening incident a few Sundays ago. I feel much less butch now.

    On the upside, in 12 hours, I will be in Kyushu with Atsushi, and in 24 hours, I will go to sleep smelling his hair. (I’m working on sort of a hair theme for the weekend.) I probably won’t post much, unless the Diet passes a resolution to have Japan Post privatized and the SDF deployed for combat abroad starting Sunday.

    Oh, yeah–almost forgot the reason I’m posting this (you may have noticed it’s not exactly heavy on content). The URL www.seorookie.net will start showing my new site this weekend; I will retain iwamatodjishi.com, but it will still take you to this MT page for another week or so before switching over to the new place. The design won’t change a whole lot; though, thanks to Chris as PowerBlogs, the subtle differences are improvements. This is probably also a good opportunity to thank publicly Christine and her crew at Verve Hosting, who will not have my inane questions to deal with after the end of this month but who have been unremittingly helpful over the past year. (Trust me–the flue is open, but I can be kind of slow on the uptake when it comes to tech stuff.)

    Talking the walk

    Posted by Sean at 15:30, March 17th, 2005

    Patterico pontificates that the FEC’s noises about political expression on the Internet mean a significant new stage in the erosion of personal liberties:

    Yesterday I said that, if the FEC regulates blogs, I will continue to blog the same way I always have. Some have warned me of the dangers inherent in such a position.

    This led to me wonder how unusual my position really is. I suspect that my attitude is widely shared by bloggers, including those who have signed the open letter to the FEC.

    I think it�s time to put the question to you directly. Who out there will make this pledge:

    If the FEC makes rules that limit my First Amendment right to express my opinion on core political issues, I will not obey those rules.

    Since I write from Japan but my blog lives back home in the States, I don’t know how things would play out for people such as me in practice, but as an American citizen, yeah, I pledge.

    I’ve never refrained from posting about something because of its political content–and that’s as someone who’s a guest in this country and frequently says critical things about its government and society. The reason I don’t feel the need to watch my step is that 60 years ago, we began the process of turning Japan from an empire into a democracy, complete with constitutionally-mandated freedom of speech. The following is from Chapter III of the constitution Japan has had since after the war:


    1 集会、結社及び言論、出版その他一切の表現の自由は、これを保障する。

    Article 21:

    1) Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed.

    Because America was concerning itself with extending the gift of liberty to its former enemies, Japan today has the same free-speech protections we have. It’s a beautiful thing to live around.

    Our government’s current enthusiasm for curtailing the constitutionally protected speech of its own people is not beautiful. It’s immoral, unethical, illegal, and outrageous. It’s also not new. McCain-Feingold, with its little numbered permissions and categories, is already law, after all.

    By the way, as someone who lives abroad, I think there’s something else we might consider. I don’t believe it’s our right or duty to install democracy throughout the world, but there is nothing wrong with seeing ourselves as a symbol of what to aspire to. We’d be selfish and mean if we didn’t want to give people hope; we all have ancestors who were once in their position, after all. And there are governments all over the place that would be overjoyed beyond measure to see the US start clamping down on political speech on the Internet–as in, “See? Even America doesn’t consider it a civil right to speak out about the candidate of your choice without permission. Now, stop bitching, citizens.” Happily, the proper response to this particular threat is something Americans are already good at: keep talking, and loudly. Best not lose that ability by indulging in another American habit: taking our good fortune for granted.

    Us and them

    Posted by Sean at 23:07, March 16th, 2005

    Simon World’s Asia By Blog feature is up for this round. One (among many) of the interesting links is to this discussion by Riding Sun of an Australian professor who appears to do that horrid the-only-reason-Japanese-customs-seem-unethical-to-us-is-that-we-can’t-understand-their-nuanced-underpinnings thing:

    In general, Japan is very welcoming to foreigners. Nevertheless, people who are not ethnically Japanese are regularly shut out of certain bars and restaurants here. Some are shady nightclubs connected to the Yakuza

    But, Steed, those baddies can be so adversarial!

    Posted by Sean at 22:19, March 15th, 2005

    People frequently compliment me for not filtering everything through my homosexuality, so I would like to take this opportunity to cash in some of that goodwill to finance a short blast of unadulterated faggotry:

    I know a lot of people enjoy taking their frustrations out on Maureen Dowd, with her prominent position and steady stream of ridiculous pronouncements. She doesn’t usually do much to get me going, but I almost had a coronary when I clicked through a link of Michelle Malkin’s and saw this opening paragraph on Dowd’s most recent emission:

    When I need to work up my nerve to write a tough column, I try to think of myself as Emma Peel in a black leather catsuit, giving a kung fu kick to any diabolical mastermind who merits it.

    Okay…Maureen? Hi! Here’s some advice you might profit from:





    Got that? Off. Your paws. Diana Rigg. Off. You no compare self to Emma Peel. To Emma Peel, you self compare, no. No, no, no. Not you compare self Emma Peel. To. No.


    I mean, WTF? I cannot think of a more un-Emma Peel-like person on Earth than Maureen Dowd, unless I missed the episode in which she plunked herself down opposite Steed and tried this maneuver:

    In 1996, after six months on the job, I went to Howell Raines, the editorial page editor, to try to get out of the column. I was a bundle of frayed nerves. I felt as though I were in a “Godfather” movie, shooting and getting shot at. Men enjoy verbal dueling. As a woman, I told Howell, I wanted to be liked – not attacked. He said I could go back to The Metro Section; I decided to give it another try. Bill Safire told me I needed Punzac, Prozac for pundits.

    Words fail me.

    So let’s try images. Now, lookit this. The Dowd photo is from her column, and the Rigg photo is from her biography here:


    He‘ll never kill again.”


    “I am so going to win that tiara this year.”

    I mean, seriously. Unlike Dowd, I’m not very photogenic, so I’m sensitive to the fact that you can’t judge someone’s whole personality from one exposure. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that the NYT sends some guy with an Instamatic around the office to take one-click-and-that’s-it of its high-profile columnists. Someone–maybe not Dowd herself, but someone–thought she was best presented with that smug expression. It’s unfortunate, actually, because she’s a very attractive woman. (That’s an impressive head of hair.)

    But to move on…uh, the grey shell and pearls? The only way I can see that get-up on Emma Peel is if she has to infiltrate some embroidery club that’s actually a front for an assassination squad…say, whose weapons are the Petits-Fours of Death. Otherwise, no go.


    Okay, this is pretty high snark for me, and I assume it’s clear that the Diana Rigg thing, important as that is to those of us who want to preserve the torch of aesthetics in this benighted age, is not all of it.

    The thing is, Dowd is touching on a real issue. I don’t just mean the issue of how women’s impulses differ from men’s. In broad-brush terms, it’s probably true to say that, when using instinct to navigate through a scary and unfamiliar situation, more women are likely to fall back on trying to make nice and more men are likely to fall back on emotionally-detached readiness to spring into action. The thing is, both those instincts can be wrong at different moments, and no matter what your sex, it’s your job as an adult to discipline yourself into figure out what’s best and do it. The word for someone who wants “to be liked–not attacked” at all costs is not woman. Or man. It’s ninny.

    But as I say, that’s not even the big issue. The big issue is the old problem of whether equality of opportunity means equal access or equal outcomes. I could take a job I’m not suited for and then go whining to my boss that I was on edge because it wasn’t serving my strengths. Would that be the fault of the job? Dowd, defining the desire to be liked as an unalloyed womanly good, seems to figure that it is. In some cases, it might be. Some workplaces really are structured in ways that confound both employees and clients. But it’s hard to figure out how an op-ed page or its readers would benefit from telling columnists it’s okay not to be opinionated. Maybe Dowd–not women in general, but Dowd–really should have gone back to the metro section.

    In the meantime, women journalists whose nerves are not frayed are articulating opinions quite nic…uh, well. Joanne Jacobs‘s deadpan is even more refreshing than usual after Dowd’s wet-noodle prose. And she links to Anne Applebaum and Kay Hymowitz on the matter (well, Applebaum is responding to Susan Estrich). You can imagine what they have to say.


    Posted by Sean at 23:26, March 14th, 2005

    Virginia Postrel has a post and column today about consumer choice–as in, does the existence of too many options throw people into states of high anxiety over whether they’ve selected the one perfect flavor of Wilkin & Sons’ jam? By extension, the question becomes whether research indicates that privatizing social security and providing a profusion of investment options would decrease people’s satisfaction with the results they get. An interesting left turn.

    A story in today’s Asahi English version is also interesting, though it follows a more conventional consumer-advocacy script: providing choices to Japanese consumers in the produce aisle wastes resources, drives prices up by deluding them that lettuce is better from X Prefecture than from Y Prefecture, and sucks up fresh water to produce feed for beef cattle. And, really, next to smoking–which the Japanese do plenty of, anyway–what better evidence could there be that the Japanese have gone over the cliff of capitalist sin than they they eat beef?

    The weird thing is the measure that’s touted in the article:

    Takashi Shinohara, a Lower House member of Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), has expressed concerns about the future of Japan’s agriculture. At a Feb. 22 Lower House Budget Committee meeting, he asked Yoshinobu Shimamura, the agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister, about the current situation concerning Japan’s food mileage.

    Food mileage is calculated by multiplying the transportation distance with the volume of food transported. The higher the food mileage the larger the load placed on the global environment for the sake of a more varied diet for a nation’s population.

    The agriculture ministry’s calculations in response to Shimamura’s query confirmed the worst: Japan’s food mileage for 2001 was about 900 billion ton-kilometers, the largest figure in the world.

    Since Japan is an island nation, transportation distances are expected to be high. But still, Japan’s food mileage is about 2.8 times that of neighboring South Korea. Compared to the United States, which has about twice the population and is the most affluent nation in the world, Japan’s food mileage is about three times as large.

    Of course, this doesn’t follow the usual line that it’s okay for Japan to be obscenely rich because its nature-worshipping culture makes it an inspiration to niggling conservationists everywhere. But the yardstick used strikes me as strange. Multiplying food volume by transportation distance seems to me to be a good rough number that could tell you…erm…some things that you already know, such as that Japan consumes a lot of food that’s transported long distances and doesn’t grow a whole lot itself (comparatively). I have no trouble believing it was devised by a consumer advocate rather than a research economist–or, more precisely, that it’s a consumer advocate who’s pushing it as an indicator that policy Must Change. The same volume of different foods can deliver different levels of nutritional value and can have different unit costs; transportation can be efficient or inefficient.

    That the Japanese agricultural distribution system is full of inanities is well-known. There are a few major federal ministries and dozens of agencies and public corporations involved–always a way to guarantee that decision-making will be distorted like a fun-house mirror and the amount of huffing and puffing involved in getting broccoli from field to supermarket will be maximized. At the same time, this is disturbing:

    Four years ago, when Shinohara was director-general of the Policy Research Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, he said he was stunned by what he saw at a supermarket in Kagoshima Prefecture at the southern end of Kyushu. Among the vegetables sold was lettuce grown in the highlands of Honshu.

    “I thought it was such a waste to bring lettuce from so far away when it can easily be grown nearby,” Shinohara said.

    But that’s how things are in Japan. Many vegetables that have never been associated with one particular locale are now displayed at supermarkets with ads boasting their place of growth, often a prefecture hundreds of kilometers away.

    The availability of food from around the country could be one reason why there is so much waste.

    It’s one thing to question whether lettuce from Honshu is better than lettuce from Kyushu–but hearing that it’s a “waste” to ship vegetables from one place to another to see whether consumers go for them is a little unsettling coming from a government official. What solution does he have in mind? you kind of have to wonder.

    Since any moves by the government would be likely to create more regulations and hoops for producers and distributors to jump through, we can take small comfort in the knowledge that officials seem to be sufficiently baffled that they’re not sure how to proceed:

    One agriculture ministry official couldn’t find a specific explanation for the leftovers.

    “It may be because they were busy, or maybe they were on special diets,” the official said.

    Uh, what? People waste food because Japan is rich and the generation of grandparents who lived through wartime and post-war deprivation, complete with rice rations, has faded into lack of influence on most of today’s workers. Most people can afford to leave behind some miso soup or rice or even high-quality fish without feeling prodigal. It’s also not clear from the wording of the article whether the part of the food that’s pared away before serving was counted.

    Anyway, there’s more about the beef ban and about agricultural subsidies for those who are interested. The reporter doesn’t seem very critical, but the descriptions of how policy plays out, while abbreviated, give you a sense of how things work.