• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post


    Posted by Sean at 16:46, June 27th, 2004

    A lawyer in Yokohama has had his license (is that the way to refer to what the bar association gives you?) suspended for three months because of a sexual harassment charge:


    According to the [Yokohama] Bar Association, on 3 July 2002 Aoki invited a female client involved in a debt collection case to dinner, then in the course of a drive made sexual conversation and caused the client to fear that he was planning to take her to a hotel.

    Sexual harassment in Japan is a big issue, of course. With more and more women putting off marriage until their early thirties, many offices have a bevy of pert, fresh-faced girls in their twenties…and a senior layer of men in their 50’s who came of age when women only worked until they married. To complicate things, today’s women often meet their future husbands at the office (as opposed to the old method of getting introductions to approved men through parents or other elders), so there is a sense in which many are on the lookout for a man.

    Throw in Japan’s idiosyncratic brand of sexual uninhibitedness, the tension of living in a 30-million-person megalopolis, and an educational system that hammers at people not to make waves, and you get some grossly fascinating varieties of sexual offenses. Example: some of the more crushingly-crowded commuter lines here, though the difference between the worst and the best is minimal in that regard, have instituted women-only train cars during rush hour. The reason is epidemic 痴漢 (chikan): in this case, groping of breasts and buttocks when people are so smashed up against each other that one can be confident of being unobserved or passing it off as unintentional.

    I once spent a horrified 40-minute cab ride back to my old apartment in Yokohama during which the driver casually explained his theory of how to get away with chikan when the train was not quite crowded enough to keep people from lowering their chins and thus seeing what you were doing: You choose a woman in the more crowded section of the car and keep your hand flat. If you cup it, she’ll know what you’re up to and may protest. I swear, he had it all worked out and talked about it as blithely as if he were recommending his favorite ramen place. And he wasn’t particularly at the extreme. While rapes of the knife-wielding-stranger variety are uncommon here, a lot of Japanese women I know admit pretty freely that there’s pressure to feel flattered and respond favorably if a management-level man at the office issues an invitation. Conversely, there’s little pressure to stand up for yourself, since it inevitably involves ruffling feathers higher up the hierarchy.

    Yes, I know: These things are as old as the integrated workplace, and they exist in the States, too. But the attitude toward men’s thinking of women as mindless sex objects is so blasé here that…well, when I read the article above, I wondered what on Earth had caused this particular lawyer to be singled out. Not that he doesn’t deserve it if he took advantage of a client’s trust to get her into an enclosed space and come on to her. But if everyone in his 50’s or 60’s who pulled something similar since July 2002 were punished for it, it’s hard to imagine who’d be left to run the Japanese economy. Maybe the client was one of the few women brave enough to file a formal complaint, or maybe someone has it in for Aoki and decided to make a play.

    Aren’t we the cutest?

    Posted by Sean at 17:10, June 26th, 2004

    Ass kissers.

    The towers

    Posted by Sean at 14:57, June 23rd, 2004

    Most of the time since 9-11, I’ve had to remind myself that we’re up against atavists who will stop at nothing to destroy us all. I don’t take the casualties or questions about mismanagement lightly, but it’s a war, after all. Things are proceeding in fits and starts, but they do seem to be humming along.

    The last few days, my feelings have been more in the vein of, Exactly why are we wasting our citizens trying to fix these people’s problems again? Yes, that’s unfair, and no, I don’t really mean it. But I have been sorely in need of a reminder that the era when Islam and civilization could be mentioned in the same sentence isn’t past.

    So I’ve been thinking about the twin towers. Not the twin towers that were lost three years (!!!!) ago, but these:


    (The photograph is from the official Kuala Lumpur Center City website.)

    Atsushi and I went to KL the December after 9-11. When we landed at the airport, I steeled myself to enter a Civic Development theme park, with shiny public transportation and a few showy skyscrapers awkwardly jabbed into the city center. The Petronas Twin Towers, then the world’s tallest buildings, I expected to be impressed but left cold by.

    But our taxi rounded the last bend before you could see the city, and I got that jolt you get when something is so beautiful it hurts. And then I laughed. The photographs I’d seen had been no preparation at all for what the towers actually looked like in nighttime Kuala Lumpur. They were…adorable. They reminded me of the Martians on Sesame Street. They reminded me more literally of Liberty Place in Philadelphia. Their surfaces were craggy and interesting to look at, like draped cloth. They looked as if they’d risen from the ground, like ice columns through clay, rather than having been dropped on KL from on high. From the observation deck of the older KL Tower, they looked like soft-serve ice cream cones.

    I know I’m getting kind of silly here, but living in Tokyo…I love this place, but outdoor Tokyo has to be one of the most aggressively ugly cities on Earth, and the fact that so much money and crack engineering goes into all the ugliness only makes it worse. It’s as if someone had sprinkled Albert Speer spores over the bay shore. Seeing skyscrapers that looked as if they wanted humans to use them, that alluded to something besides the architect’s own ego and the commissioning company’s expense account, was an experience I hadn’t had for ages. And people in KL really did seem to love the twin towers; they positively beamed with pride when we complimented them, or the city in general. And the ground-level shopping arcade and surrounding park were always jammed with people of all kinds.

    There actually is a point to this. The Petronas towers were designed by an American firm; they’re concrete-framed to minimize vibration, and their shape in cross-section is drawn from Islamic patterns. The construction contract for one tower was awarded to a consortium led by Hazama Construction here in Japan, the other to one led by Samsung Engineering and Construction in Korea. It’s not as if old rivalries were invisible; the Samsung tower went up with far fewer hassles than the Hazama tower, and we heard about it.

    But still, at the end of a century that began with colonization and occupation and world wars, you had Americans, Japanese, and Koreans doing a massive development project for an Islamic country with prominent Buddhist and Hindu minorities. It’s important to feel the proper revulsion toward people who offer to hack off heads and blow things up because they’re still stewing over Andalusia this and Ottoman that, but we also need to remember what it is we do and what’s so great about it. Westernization is not a tradeoff-free proposition, but at its best, it gives you both monumental achievement and human-scale improvements to daily life. And they keep happening.

    Times change II

    Posted by Sean at 11:32, June 22nd, 2004

    So this is what it’s going to be like looking at the morning headlines now: One of the Olsen sisters has an eating disorder, Clinton said something or other about the Lewinsky affair, and another hostage has been beheaded in the Middle East. The South Korean guy was an Evangelical Christian of some kind. I’m no longer a believer myself, obviously, but–I hope this doesn’t sound hypocritical–I hope his last moments were at least made less traumatic by thoughts of meeting his creator.

    Times change

    Posted by Sean at 11:24, June 22nd, 2004

    Holy sh*t! The neighborhood I just moved out of had a shooting this morning:


    At 8:45 on 23 June, in the underground pedestrian walkway near Exit 9 for the Hanzomon-Den’en Toshi lines at Shibuya Station (Dogenzaka 2-1), an employee of the Tokyo Metro subway lines was shot in the right side of the abdomen and seriously injured.

    It’s not that shootings and murders never, ever happen in Japan, of course. But Shibuya Station is the fourth-busiest in the world. That particular arm of the station is less busy than the giant intersection of JR and Tokyu lines at the center, but this couldn’t exactly have taken place without anyone around. That‘s unusual–the broad-daylight aspect, I mean. Hope the guy’s all right; the report doesn’t say anything about what led up to the shooting.

    No word on Korean

    Posted by Sean at 17:08, June 21st, 2004

    Happily, still no word that the organisms that kidnapped Sun-il Kim in Iraq have beheaded him, at least on any of the sites I read. I’m not much more hopeful than others that he’ll be released. Still, in the last few months, some hostages have been, including two Japanese and all but one of the Italians. CNN’s newest posting on the abduction features a picture of protesters agitating for South Korea to pull its soldiers out and says,

    Overnight, hundreds of South Koreans gathered in central Seoul on to condemn the dispatch of South Korean troops to Iraq, but the government is so far not backing away from its decision.

    Hundreds? In a city of 12 million that’s the capital of a country of almost 50 million? That isn’t very many. I think I’ve shared a single Seoul subway car with hundreds of people at one time or another. It’s hard to tell what the mood of the public is, of course, especially since I don’t live there. On the other hand, unlike the Japanese, the Koreans do not hesitate to pour into the streets when they’re angered by the latest corruption scandal or evidence of fiscal mismanagement. (This is Asia, so there’s always some such thing to get het up over.)

    The real shame–besides, that is, the outrageousness of having thugs from willfully backward loser societies strike poses of superiority over a country that used grit and industry to become the twelfth-largest economy in the world (and a free, safe democracy, despite the proximity of the most hostile neighbor imaginable) a mere half-century after it was humiliated by occupation and then ravaged by civil war…[deep breath]…besides that, the shame is that South Korea is one of the best sources of exactly the sort of engineering that a rebuilding country needs, and the government’s pulling its citizens out (while I sure as hell don’t blame it for doing so) means seeking other providers.

    Added at 1:38 a.m.: The Nikkei is reporting that the deadline for Korea to pull out its troops has been extended and that the same intermediary who helped secure the release of the Japanese hostages in April is working with the Korean embassy in Iraq and has had a face-to-face meeting with Kim. Maybe there’s hope after all.

    It’s your honesty

    Posted by Sean at 14:33, June 21st, 2004

    I would like to take this opportunity to announce that, under the guidance of my spiritual mentor, Madge the Fully-Realized Being and Pillar of Modesty, I have decided to adopt the name Vashti. This is not a gesture of disrespect toward the Beatles rhythm section, for whom my parents named me. Rather, I feel a higher-plane identification with Vashti because (1) I’m an insolent queen and (2) my lord is constantly having to say things like, “We were supposed to leave twenty minutes ago, darling. If you don’t get out here this minute, I swear I’m going to kill you!” My hope is that the energy of this new name will help me make people forget that I only became a Jew after I made a pile and tried to take over the world.

    Ever since I seen your face / This life of mine has gone to waste

    Posted by Sean at 13:09, June 19th, 2004

    I would like to interrupt my recent streak of asexual commentary to make two pressing faggotry-related announcements:

    (1) I normally don’t go for Korean guys particularly, but the actor who just strolled into the subtitled drama I’m watching on TV totally needs to have my love child. If that’s not going to happen, I’ll settle for a plot development that has him taking off his shirt.

    (2) Eric Scheie economically makes a point I’ve been gassing verbosely about ever since I began posting here:

    If that’s the case, I must disagree. Homosexuality is not heterosexuality. There are many differences between gay and straight relationships. The laws and social mores designed for the heterosexual scheme of things reflect these differences. I see no reason why homosexuals should feel the need to ape heterosexuals, and even less reason why they should be forced to do so. This is my biggest objection to same sex marriage. It would place undue pressure on what were once private relationships outside the sweep of society’s radar. It would allow gay palimony, gay divorce, and bring the heavy hand of the state where it does not belong. Same sex marriage would not be limited to a “right” chosen voluntarily, because it would create new duties and causes of action which could be used even against homosexuals not wishing to marry. I realize that many do not share my concerns, but I think that to call people who neither need or want the state to enter their lives in such a manner lacking in self respect is a bit of a stretch.

    However, the FMA is another issue, because it would, by making incidents of marriage a suspect category, bring the state into private relationships in another, horrendous, way. I vehemently oppose the FMA, and I disagree wholeheartedly with Bush’s support of that ill-written amendment. Why, though, would Bush’s support for the FMA make homosexuals who vote for Bush lacking in self respect? What about the many heterosexuals who don’t support the FMA? Are they too lacking in self-respect if they vote for Bush? Or must “self respect” touch on important, personal, hot-button issues?

    My only quibble is with the “outside society’s radar” part, since the wording sounds as if it collapses together government and culture. I think having our relationships recognized by the circles we move in socially, with the attendant pressure to behave ourselves, is a good thing. But the more Sullivan and Jonathan Rauch and others use that reasoning to promote the legalization of same-sex marriage, the more they reinforce the idea that we just resent being different and want to force people to like us. Speak of lacking self-respect!

    And your sex-life complications are not my fascinations

    Posted by Sean at 20:08, June 18th, 2004

    Wow. Lookit this:

    Bill Clinton says in his new autobiography that his wife looked as if he had punched her in the gut when he finally confessed to his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and he slept on the couch for at least two months after that.

    In “My Life,” a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, the former president wrote that the affair with the White House intern revealed “the darkest part of my inner life.”

    Fascinating. You know, you think super-cool people like Presidents are on this, like, totally high pedestal, but it turns out Hillary made Bill sleep on the couch, just the way dear old Mom would have if Dad had gotten blow jobs from a fresh-faced intern at the office! Guess they really are just folks, like the rest of us.

    Gag me with a spoon. Though I have no high regard for the man, I’m not a Clinton basher. But is it too much to ask that someone in the great publicity chain exercise a willingness to let all the soap-opera details of the Lewinsky affair recede into the mists of time? He was President, not Peter in Chief. Surely he said something, somewhere, about welfare reform, the balanced budget, or the economic boom that’s worth leading with.


    Posted by Sean at 11:09, June 18th, 2004

    I’m unable to get as foulmouthed here as I can be in intimate conversation because I post under my own name. Good thing Rosemary Esmay doesn’t have the same constraints. I heartily concur.

    May I also say that if just one more person talks uncritically about how Muslims of whatever stripe are driven to film themselves hacking the heads off American civilians, blow up Israeli cafés with nail-filled bombs, or hang bodies from bridges by their “sense of honor,” I will not be responsible for my behavior? Certainly, given the cooperation of Western governments with morally cloudy regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere, the degree to which we’re reaping what we’ve sown is a legitimate topic for debate and self-reflection. But I’m sorry, honor is an English word being used among Westerners; it loses all meaning if you define it as something others do to you but you don’t have to do back. That simply is not what it means.

    And I’m doubly revolted as someone who lives in Japan. It’s not that the Japanese are innocent of atrocities against civilians, of course. But I’m reminded in these cases of the story of the 47 ronin. The story is world-famous, but people often forget that the man the 47 samurai killed had not actually killed their lord. They held Kira responsible for Lord Asano’s death because his merciless goading provoked Asano to commit the breach of protocol that got him executed, but Kira wasn’t technically a murderer. They stormed his house and offered him the chance to commit seppuku to preserve his honor; he froze, and they beheaded him. After laying Kira’s head on Asano’s grave, they went to Sengaku Temple and waited for the inevitable: an order from the shogun to commit seppuku themselves. Bear in mind that seppuku involves slicing your own intestines open and is about as painful a way to die by dagger as can be imagined. In other words, the 47 ronin avenged their lord’s honor with a willingness to die more painfully than the man they killed.

    No one is ever going to convince me that civilians are properly thought of as equal to combatants, but to the extent that I can even imagine such a thing, I can only do so under such circumstances: If those who attacked the unarmed pledged to sacrifice themselves in a fashion that involved suffering equal to their victims’, and then did it. That’s why I think the dead-in-a-flash suicide bombers in Israel look like milquetoasts, and those who off civilians and just move on to the next task shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence as the word honor.

    (Of course, I didn’t realize until after posting this that that was Dean’s post on Rosemary’s site. Whoops.)