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    China in your hand

    Posted by Sean at 08:33, April 12th, 2005

    Simon has still more information on the anti-Japanese protests–well, in some places, they really are accurately called riots–so I won’t write much on what others have been covering so ably.

    One thing to bear in mind, though, is that not only aren’t all these protests really just about the textbooks and the UNSC, they’re also not really just about Japan. I’m not a China scholar, but back when Lu Xun was writing, he was ending stories with characters’ crying on the beach and wailing, “Oh, China–why don’t you prosper and strengthen?” China feels that it should, by rights, be the big cheese in Asia. That the country that trumps it economically is Japan is certainly a twist of the knife, and that Japan continues to take the maddening tack of skirting close to apologizing for its atrocities without ever actually doing so is a legitimate issue–but a lot of what’s erupting is frustration that China’s such a basket case in ways that, I think, are only indirectly related to Japan. I don’t want to deflect attention from Japan’s questionable conduct; much as I love this country and its people, it’s let-bygones-be-bygones attitude toward its own sins upsets me. But there are reasons specific to China itself that these things are unfolding as they are, and that’s important to remember, too.

    Added at 21:37: And trust that ace diplomat Shintaro Ishihara, our Metro Governor here in Tokyo, to pour oil on the waters:

    A fishing boat chartered by the Ogasawara Island Fishermen’s Cooperative using a Tokyo Metropolitan Government subsidy left on Tuesday for the disputed Okinotorishima Islands to show the area is part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

    At the urging of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, the metropolitan government allocated 500 million yen from its fiscal 2005 budget to subsidize fishing activities around Japan’s southernmost islands to counter surveys Chinese research ships have frequently conducted in the area.

    “We will prove that the area is Japan’s exclusive economic zone,” Ishihara said when the metropolitan government decided to subsidize fishing in the area.

    Even though it remains to be seen whether fishing operations around Okinotorishima Islands will be profitable, the metropolitan government has offered to cover any possible losses. “The metropolitan government is prepared to make up for any losses from such operations,” Ishihara said.

    So it’s not the fishing that’s important, it’s the f**k-you. Marvelous.

    Empty Garden

    Posted by Sean at 04:26, April 11th, 2005

    I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Man, what Tokyo could use more of is underpopulated hotels. And you are in luck. The latest wonder of pointless hypertrophied hostelry opened for business during this morning’s rain:

    Seibu Rail Group opened its new Tokyo Prince Hotel Park Tower (Minato Ward) on 11 April; the conglomerate has invested about 30 billion yen in the project. This is the 53rd Prince Hotel. The structure consists of 33 floors above ground, two floors below ground, and a total of 673 guest rooms.

    The hotel is supposed to be a symbol of the rebirth of the Seibu Group, which has suffered an extraordinary number of scandals lately even for a Japanese conglomerate.

    BTW, that little sentence about this being the 53rd Prince Hotel? Ha. That doesn’t tell you the half of it. Here in Tokyo, there’s a complex called Shinjuku Park Tower, home of the famous Park Hyatt Hotel. Of the Prince Hotels, possibly the best-known is the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, though there’s also a Shinjuku Prince Hotel. Neither of these is to be confused with the grandiloquent Park Hotel Tokyo, which has towered over Shinbashi for the last several years. And don’t forget the Hotel Century Southern Tower, officially in Shibuya Ward but considered part of the Shinjuku orbit. One begins to feel something like affection for the old Hotel Okura for at least having a name that you’ve got a fighting chance of remembering. The Seibu Group’s strategy of simply stringing all the common words together into one super-nomen might prove to be pretty clever.

    Actually, come to think of it, the same sort of rules govern the naming of apartment buildings here. I live in a building in the Park House chain; you commonly see things like Sun House, Sun Heights, Garden Heim…stuff like that. The strategy seems to be kind of like what happens in suburban housing developments in the States, where, after the meadow is ploughed under and paved over to build the neighborhood, the new street is un-ironically called Meadowview Terrace. All the Garden/Park/Sun buildings just serve as a constant, vicious reminder of how decidedly un-green and sun-deprived Tokyo actually is.

    Then again, it’s hard to imagine how the nomenclature could be made more honest without chasing people away. Who wants to live in a place called Rebar Villas or stay at the Hotel Phallic Boondoggle?

    A civil tongue

    Posted by Sean at 05:24, April 10th, 2005

    Can some of you people get it through your thick heads that civility is a value in its own right?

    Just a second…something a little off about the tone there…[takes restorative gulp of plum-wine spritzer]…there we go….

    There’s a thread running through several of the blog posts that have gotten me exercised this week. That Riding Sun post that kind of annoyed me the other day may have sprung from a comment he made on this spot-on post of Japundit’s, which I found through Plum Blossom. [Ooh, plum! Time for another sip!] Japundit says the following:

    Talking about the weather or chopsticks may be trivial, but they [Japanese people] figure it’s the easiest way to create and maintain a pleasant relationship without ruffling any feathers. Getting involved in a discussion about politics or any other subject that generates strong opinions could easily become unpleasant for both parties and nip the potential for a harmonious encounter in the bud.

    I find that once you get to know Japanese people, they will lay out their opinions on just about any issue in startlingly direct terms. But that’s once you get to know them. First, a relationship of trust has to be established–and you do that by demonstrating that you’re capable of having lively but scrupulously polite conversations about things that don’t really matter. Topics start with the weather or how hard it is to learn English–if you show yourself to be a gentleman there, things get more interesting. If you show yourself not to be a gentleman, your conversation partner can drop you without feeling embarrassed about having made some personal revelation that you can now hold over him. Polite society works this way in America, too, though it’s hard to find.

    Oh, yeah, speaking of which, Gay Orbit notes an exchange Another Gay Republican has had with a member of Sister Talk. The Sister says this:

    We should be kissing conservative ass and playin’ nice, according to the Republican homos; for them, it’s our best chance at accomplishing anything for our team. SINCE WHEN? Since when has diplomacy ever won an oppressed group of people any damn thing?

    AGR’s response, in part:

    I don’t see how confrontation gets us anywhere. Railing against hypocrisy may make us feel better, but the people that aren’t molesting their kids, beating their wives, divorcing, and running gay porn web sites, tend to get pissed off when they’re tagged with guilt by association. Just like liberals get all worked up when they’re accused of being the root of all evil. Once they’re mad, they tend to shut their minds to anything you have to say.

    How is it, I am frequently moved to wonder, that people have not figured this out? I’m talking about those who believe that every conversation must be seized on as an opportunity to Make a Point (“I actually am cool enough to know how to use chopsticks,” “I speak languages that are actually harder than Japanese,” “There are right-wingers who make a buck from behavior they condemn”) in the most literal political sense, without recognizing that the subtext can be equally important. We all have to live with each other. I love Japan, but I’m American through-and-through–I like plenty of good-natured rough-and-tumble argument mixed in with my harmony. It keeps all of us alert and makes life interesting.

    There are limits, though, and people who don’t stay within them when it comes to political debate raise the suspicion that they won’t in the actions of daily life, either. If all you ever do is criticize your political opposition while making excuses for your team, people start to wonder whether you’re capable of mature self-criticism in your work and sex lives, too. If you hog the floor all the time, you might be the sort of person who takes a ME-ME-ME! approach to other resources, too. There’s no law against being a pain in the ass, but there’s no reason people should encourage you to be one, either.

    You don’t have to be a pushover to be polite; I certainly don’t think I am. You just have to be willing to give people a chance unless they’ve put themselves outside the bounds of civility from the get-go. You can always distance yourself later if they prove to be jerks. It’s hard to undo the damage of dismissing them out of hand if you later realize you should have been more sympathetic, though.


    Posted by Sean at 01:21, April 9th, 2005

    Demonstration going on in Beijing, says the Nikkei:

    A demonstration was being held on the morning of 9 April in the western part of Beijing to call for boycotts of Japanese goods. The reasons given were opposition to Japan’s possible permanent membership in the UN Security Council and dissatisfaction with Japan’s history textbook approval system. Participants numbered in the several thousands, many of whom were shouting their criticisms. The organizers, who had called for participants over the Internet, had predicted that between 10,000 and 20,000 people would gather.

    Protesters have also named a disputed island chain–there are a lot of them in Asia–as an irritant. The area in which the demonstration is being conducted has a lot of places that deal in Japanese electronics.

    It’s up on Reuters, also.

    Added on 11 April: Simon, naturally, has a whole lot of links about the demonstrations, which were held across China. I was going to update this post, but he and his folks have pretty much got it covered.

    Japanese health-care issues still building

    Posted by Sean at 23:49, April 8th, 2005

    Ah, socialized medicine. No one gets extravagant care, no one gets inadequate care–we all get good, solid, top-of-the-line care delivered as cost-effectively as possible.

    Except when we don’t:

    The deaths of four patients at Tokyo Medical University Hospital as a result of coronary artery bypass operations performed by one of its surgeons has highlighted the fact that the hospital failed to properly operate a system under which the surgeon’s skills could improve.

    An external committee investigating the hospital on suspicion of malpractice pointed this out at a press conference on March 30 in Tokyo following its probe of the hospital’s second surgery department, to which the 45-year-old surgeon belonged.

    The independent committee was established in December and comprises five heart surgeons from outside the hospital.

    One of the committee members said at the press conference: “The surgeon was unskilled. He hadn’t acquired the basic knowledge required for heart surgery.”

    Do be sure to click on the link and keep reading–it gets worse from there. Bear in mind that Tokyo Medical University Hospital is not some little backwater institution, either. And heart surgery, in a first-world population that is rapidly aging, is not an obscure little specialty. And screw-ups in the health-care system have been news for at least the near-decade I’ve been here.

    Of course, Japan’s nationwide certification systems–not just those of the hospital–may need review:

    Japan has about 260,000 doctors, but there are about 300,000 specialists as some doctors hold more than one specialization, an indication of how easy they are to get.

    I don’t really know what to make of this–maybe the US is as bad. I’d have no trouble believing that it isn’t, though. The Japanese, in all fields, love certifying boards, but that doesn’t necessarily mean high standards are consistently maintained.


    In related news, a committee of the Japan Society of Intensive Care Medicine has proposed guidelines for treatment cessation–again, a very sticky issue in an aging society (English version, which differs in small points from my translation, here):

    The committee proposed strict conditions as grounds for cessation of treatment: (1) multiple doctors have administered the highest-level of treatments currently available [for the patient’s illness], (2) the medical facility has informed the family that it has the option to seek a second medical opinion from a different hospital, (3) doctors with the fullest available experience and specialized knowledge have confirmed repeatedly that it is impossible to save the patient.

    In addition, the proposal establishes four options that a medical facility must offer to the family [of a patient whose case meets the above conditions]: (1) intensifying of treatment, (2) maintenance of the current course of treatments, (3) decrease in amount of medication or treatment, or (4) cessation of treatment. However, in the case that cessation of treatment is chosen, it is forbidden to detach the patient from an artificial respirator, oxygen supply, or minimal supply of water and nutrients.

    Mercy-killing is an issue that’s started to bubble through the Japanese medical system, erupting most recently in the conviction of a Kawasaki doctor for murder:

    Suda has insisted that she removed the tube and instructed the nurse to give him muscle relaxant without attaching a respirator in a bid to help him die in a natural way at the request of his family in November 1998.

    Presiding Judge Kenji Hirose denied her claims.

    “There was a possibility of recovery. The court doesn’t find that she provided the best treatment,” the judge said.

    As for Suda’s claims that the patent’s family approved of her actions to help him die naturally, Hirose said that the doctor misunderstood the family’s mindset.

    As reasons for suspending the sentence, Hirose said that Suda tried to help the patient die naturally for the sake of his family although she misunderstood his family’s sentiment at that time.

    In this case, the tragedy was pretty clearly a misunderstanding. The patient was comatose; the prosecution acknowledged that he was expected to live only a few weeks. The doctor claimed that she had given him not a lethal dose of muscle relaxant but just enough to try to keep his airway open after the tube was removed. I’ve seen no medical evidence to prove or disprove that; if it existed, I think it would have come out in the two or three years the case has been around.

    However, health care costs are skyrocketing in Japan, for obvious reasons. For now, Social Insurance still makes it possible for the four options enumerated above to be equally feasible, I think, for most people. It’s not hard to imagine that triage-minded doctors, constrained by funding and resource shortages, will in the not-too-distant future gradually begin more frequently urging family members to approve cessation of drug and surgical treatments, with only nourishment provided.


    I know that American readers will be reminded of a recent, similar (thought not entirely parallel) case in our own country. I haven’t said a public word about that case in two years, and I’m not going to make it a topic here, because I’ve found that no one on either side of the debate has been able to do so without speculation about who really loves and understands whom, within a family most of us don’t know at all. So if anyone is inclined to comment, be it known that any comment mentioning that case explicitly will be deleted. I don’t care whom it’s from.

    Have we got contact?

    Posted by Sean at 08:56, April 8th, 2005

    Two announcements:

    1. My old e-mail address doesn’t work anymore, but you can e-mail me at skinsell[at]gmail[dot]com. I have not been trying to keep my contact information a secret; if you use the contact page at left, it sends a message to my gmail account with the address you enter as the reply-to, so I just figured people would figure it out. I guess it’s not as obvious as I thought. Sorry about that. You don’t have to look for a comment by me somewhere and lift the address from there.

    2. Some of you could stand to learn how easy it is not to read a website. You just kind of…don’t click on it, you know? If you want a website that’s more gay, less gay, more Japan-focused, less Japan-focused, gay but without the jokey pop-culture stuff, nicer, nastier, more concise, lefter, righter, libertarianer, or not as pink and purple, by all means (1) find it and (2) read it instead of me. See? Easy.

      I’m not trying to avoid criticism or counter-arguments, and I’ve been known to respond favorably to requests that I comment on something I hadn’t myself thought to address, if the subject interested me. I’ve received only two messages ever that I’d call hate mail, and only a handful more that I’d consider obnoxious about making an actual point; my mail volume is relatively small, but most of it is above-average in level of civility.

      I’m grateful for that, just as I’m grateful for those who read this site without commenting. Nevertheless, even if the tone is friendly, I don’t see the purpose of messages that are the on-line equivalent of “You know, you’d be really cute if you were blond.” Okay, so…no hard feelings, and good luck scamming on Brad Pitt over there. You can’t please everybody, and I’m not interested in learning how I could if I were a different person.

    Armed and dangerous

    Posted by Sean at 02:56, April 8th, 2005

    This AP story about a gay soldier who would like to continue serving after recovering from his wounds is making the rounds; it was Gay News where I first saw it.

    Out of all the sticking points over gays, I have to say, this is one of those I understand the least. The Center for Military Readiness, whose president is quoted in the AP article, has a full page of links on gays in the military, including one to the exclusion law. But the actual nuts-and-bolts reasoning given for the exclusion is very thin. It’s self-evident that the armed forces should only train those elibigle for service, but eligible is one of those words like efficient or positive; it only means something if we all agree on the criteria by which it’s being applied to a given case.

    The CMR releases and the text of Public Law 103-160, Section 654, Title 10 refer to the fact that the armed forces are a special environment requiring unusual discipline, close quartering, little privacy, and unit cohesion. That having gays around would compromise these things is an assumption–it’s not even really asserted, much less justified. I understand the value of tradition, and I know it’s been found that military service is not a constitutional right.

    But you’d think that the reasons for declaring people unfit (that “ineligible” bit is a PC euphemism worthy of the English department at Duke, and it conveniently avoids the question of whether people such as the discharged linguists were more qualified for their jobs than others who might have been trained for them) would be less vague. Given that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has been in effect for a decade, if homosexuals were going to throw a wrench into the works, wouldn’t we know it by now? Not having two gay guys serving in the same unit makes sense–family members are separated, too, unless they’ve done away with that rule.

    But a lot of opposition, when you press people to be clear about what it is they’re so afraid of, comes down, in my experience, to the old shower-room argument. And try as I might, I can’t find it in me to take the whole “Well, see, I’m such a tough guy that I’m obliged to get spazzy if I think some gay guy just looked at me cross-eyed” routine seriously.

    In any case, Sgt. Stout was wounded while operating a gun, so whether or not he has any influence on policy, he did his job defending his unit and at least serves as an example that all gay guys don’t compulsively flee physical conflict. I’m grateful for his service, and here’s hoping he’s recovered fully. (I’m assuming so, but the article doesn’t say.)

    Added during a particularly overdone episode of Homicide : Apparently, Michael’s trackbacks are not, in fact, getting through. Here is where his response, in addition to his comments here, is.


    Posted by Sean at 01:35, April 8th, 2005

    Riding Sun seems like a good guy, but he and a few of his commenters have an all-too-common reaction to one of the irritations of living in Japan:

    So, over time, I’ve developed a standard response I use whenever someone comments favorably about my ability to use chopsticks:

    Why, thank you for noticing my chopstick technique! It didn’t come easy, let me tell you. I studied under a chopstick sensei every day for five years. My father took a second job to pay for the lessons. I even withdrew from school at one point to devote myself full-time to chopstick mastery. Long into the night, I would practice picking up dried peas until my fingers ached…

    I carry on in that vein until the other person realizes I’m being sarcastic. It usually takes longer than you’d think.

    Personally, I find that the reply “Well, you know, it’s like everything else–it just takes a little practice” works better than sarcasm. If you’re with people you know from work, you can deliver it with that cringey little bow you give when being complimented, to convey gratitude along with the gentle message “Japanese language and forms are learnable skills if you apply yourself; they’re not as hocus-pocusy as you may think.” If you’re with your new landlord, you can deliver it with an extra-respectful cringe to convey, “I’ll be sure to learn which garbage goes out which night so you’ll never see bags sitting there for days.” If you’re with a guy who’s flirting with you, you can deliver it with The Look to convey, “I’m an all-around quick study, baby.”

    The problem with sarcasm in these situations is twofold. For one thing, it’s a no-no in formal Japanese interaction with near-strangers, so using it kind of casts doubt on the idea that you understand the culture here more than your interlocutor thinks you do. (If Japanese people seem not to be picking up on it, it may be that they’re laboring to give you the benefit of the doubt rather than just leaping to the obvious conclusion that you’re being ungentlemanly.) For another, sarcasm deflects goodwill. Yes, it’s trying to be constantly informed how especially special Japan is. But when people compliment your ability to do Japanese things, they’re saying, “I’m proud of my heritage, and I’m honored that you’re learning to navigate it.” What’s the harm in acknowledging that and letting it drop?

    Unwavering support for constitutional reform in Yomiuri poll

    Posted by Sean at 22:05, April 7th, 2005

    The Yomiuri has taken a poll and found that 61% of respondents (all eligible voters) favor revision of the constitution–mostly centered around Article 9. (Thinner English version here.) More than half of those who agreed the constitution should be revised stated (or chose from a list–it doesn’t say), “New problems have arisen in the world that the existing constitution cannot address.” That included privacy and environmental issues as well as Japan’s role in world peace. The percent of DPJ supporters who endorsed constitutional revision (67%) was actually higher than that of LDP supporters (64%). Even when the issue of Article 9 was broken out, LDP (50%) and DPJ (49%) supporters were nearly even.

    Lingering questions about Japan Post

    Posted by Sean at 08:44, April 7th, 2005

    The editorial in this morning’s Nikkei was about Japan Post reform and addresses several sticking points:

    Prior [to the release of the plan] the LDP compiled a document called “Modes of Thinking for Japan Post Reform.” In it, there were several problems with the government’s proposal indicated, including (1) the corporation that will be financed by the government will be state-owned and privately-managed, and so there are fears that its projects will fall prey to corruption, (2) the division of Japan Post into four companies simply increases the number of positions available for 天下り (amakudari: lit., “descent from the heavens”), (3) it has not been proven that the four new companies (posts, savings accounts, insurance, and counter services) will really be independent.

    Amakudari is similar to what we’d call a revolving door: the system in which high government officials retire to semi-public management or “consulting” jobs in which they can use their accumulated connections and influence to manage resources. Civil servants make less than they could with equivalent credentials in the private sector because the assumption that they’ll retire in their mid-50s and take more-lucrative jobs related to their fields. Government officials have complained about attempts to reform the system because–and it’s hard not to sympathize with them to some degree–they’ve all gone through their entire careers with the understanding that things would work this way. On the other hand, the number of redundant positions boggles the imagination, and attempts at reform are seen as suspect by the Japanese people.