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    Posted by Sean at 13:15, July 21st, 2008

    Eels are a summer delicacy in Japan that’s especially been in the news because one of the recent food-fraud scandals has involved the labeling of imported eels from China as domestic. The latest eel-related crime (no cracks about “giving the authorities the slip,” please) is somewhat more straightforward theft:

    Thieves are believed to have stolen 160 live eels from an outdoor water tank behind an eel restaurant in Kani, Gifu Prefecture, late Saturday or early Sunday, according to police.

    The eels had been delivered from Isshikicho, Aichi Prefecture. They reportedly had a value after preparation and cooking of about 300,000 yen.


    Well, this is interesting. How could I not have noticed? When you click through to the English edition of the Mainichi, the first page you get starts like this:

    The Mainichi Newspapers Co., Ltd. continued to post extremely inappropriate articles in the WaiWai column of the Mainichi Daily News (MDN), its English Web site. We have reported the results of an in-house investigation into the case on Pages 22 and 23 of the July 20 morning edition of the Mainichi Shimbun.

    We continued to post articles that contained incorrect information about Japan and indecent sexual content. These articles, many of which were not checked, should not have been dispatched to Japan or the world. We apologize deeply for causing many people trouble and for betraying the public’s trust in the Mainichi Shimbun.

    The WaiWai column, for those who haven’t had the (guilty–and, really, not always pleasurable) pleasure, culled pieces from some of Japan’s (ahem) livelier popular rags and translated them into English.

    Like many other companies in Japan, Mainichi Newspapers apparently had few senior managers or editors who paid attention to what was going on in the English department, and it took a Japanese reader who actually knows English to write in complaining that WaiWai was making the Japanese look like wackos. The direct supervisor of the column editor had apparently warned him to ease up on the blue content but then failed to check whether he was actually doing so:

    Among the stories carried in the column was one titled “The Cook, the Beast, the Vice and its Lover” describing abnormal sexual preferences (September 2007) and another headlined “Ancient rice festival has reputation smeared by ‘therapeutic’ facial cream claims” linking a traditional festival to sexual practices (December 2005). The column also reported on Japanese tourists participating in tours involving illegal activity in some countries, including Ecuador and Belarus (July 2003). These stories were translated without confirming any of these claims.

    Other stories inappropriately took up issues of underage sex; did not explain how figures cited in the Japanese original were calculated, inviting misunderstanding; and portrayed the comments of several women in a magazine article as indicating a general trend. [If that last were a criterion, the entire New York Times Style section would have to be junked.–SRK]

    The lead paragraph of a story about a manga introducing the Defense Ministry’s policies, which features a young girl character, adds a description of the ministry not found in the original article, claiming it is “the successor of the government ministry that gave the world Pearl Harbor and the Rape of Nanking.” The explanation given by the column editor for this addition was that it served to accentuate the gap between the ministry and the manga character.

    It should be noted that the material on the Mainichi Daily News homepage leaned heavily toward reports of crimes and bizarre behavior, often with half-jokey headlines. That doesn’t excuse publishing misinformation, if that is indeed what happened. I’m only pointing out that the WaiWai column didn’t stick out the way it would have at, say, the English Asahi. Plenty of WaiWai stories were pretty plainly kernels of truth whirled into an entertaining froth with plenty of National Enquirer-ish flavoring of dubitable accuracy. Critical readers who already knew something about Japan were, I think, generally able to figure out which parts were likely to be dodgy. That doesn’t excuse staff writers for translating stories with little regard for accuracy; it also doesn’t excuse the editors who didn’t institute more systematic fact-checking even after they knew something was screwy. But I think it does make it unlikely that WaiWai stories convinced huge numbers of foreign readers that the majority of Japanese men were choosing blow-up dolls over live brides.

    You think you’re loving / But you don’t love me

    Posted by Sean at 19:31, July 14th, 2008

    The ROK’s ambassador to Japan has returned home in protest:

    In response to the Japanese government’s decision to include Takeshima explicitly in a new guidebook for educators at the junior-high level, President Myung-bak Li expressed his “deep despair and regret” on 14 July and instructed the appropriate federal entities to “respond decisively.” On 15 July, Seoul will temporarily recall Ambassador Chul-hyun Kwon to Korea.

    Both Japan and South Korea claim sovereignty over Takeshima (Dokto in Korean), though I think only Korea actually has any kind of presence on them. Wikipedia diplomatically uses a French name for them and avoids entering the fray. There may be undersea fossil fuel deposits near the islands, but they don’t seem to explain the vehemence of the Korean reaction when Japan refers to them as part of its own territory. The Japanese ambassador to the ROK will also be temporarily recalled.


    Posted by Sean at 12:17, July 14th, 2008

    The picture is from a few weeks ago and thus (major sin in Japan) is no longer really seasonal, but Atsushi and I used to see the irises in bloom every June at the Meiji Shrine, and he was sweet enough to send me a few shots from when he went. Note the woman holding photographic equipment in the background, which is a component of just about every natural scene nowadays:


    I always forget my camera when I go to the park or gardens, so I don’t have any snaps of my own from New York to post; however, it occurs to me that I haven’t posted any poems in a good, long while.

    The one that first came to mind, it turns out, I’d written about a few summers ago. Darn.

    Luckily, there are more where that came from. It’s been something of a hot summer, so even though this isn’t one of Saigyo’s most arresting poems, it seems appropriate:



    yoraretsuru / nomosenokusano / kagerohite / suzushikukumoru / yuudachinosora

    Saigyō Hōshi

    Enervated grass
    over the expanse of field
    is receiving shade
    as clouds slide coolly over
    the sky while dusk approaches

    The Priest Saigyo

    Saigyo seems to sense the grass’s own relief as the glaring sun begins to set and clouds roll in to block its light.


    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!”


    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.


    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?