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    Fuh heaven’s saake

    Posted by Sean at 16:34, February 3rd, 2005

    This, via Amritas, is great. There are few things more annoying than the view among many Westerners that spraying kanji all over something immediately lifts it from its actual mass-production banality into a realm of cosmic spiritual Significance.

    The potential mistakes can be every bit as hilarious as the more-famous fractured English one sees here in Asia. One of the guys in my department, who started out in China studies, notes that the implicit message of the T-shirt in this post is “I have a rack.”

    A slightly different example, in that it dealt with concepts and not kanji, was on this week’s episode of CSI. (I mean, they showed it this week on AXN here in Japan–it was probably filmed in 2000 or so.) Sara, the tough chick, was working overtime on some case that had struck a nerve, and Grissom, the handsome department head, leaned forward and said to her, with a comical air of profundity, “You know, Sara, if you chase two rabbits, you won’t even get one.” Maybe those weren’t the exact words, but (as the subtitle writers knew) he was definitely citing the Japanese proverb ニ兎を追うものは一兎も得ず (nito wo ou mono ha itto mo ezu: “the man who chases two rabbits fails to catch either,” or, if you insist on attaching a tone of Charlie Chan/Mr. Moto/Suzie Wong wisdom to all things East Asian, “he who pahsue two bahnny not obtain even won”). I half-expected a gong to sound during the ensuing pregnant pause, though I myself was rolling around on the sofa laughing.

    Actually, before Friends declined into a self-referential snore, there was an episode that beautifully satirized this tendency. Ross talked about taking a self-defense class and learning to achieve “a state of total awareness” that he grandly announced was called “unagi.” Rachel (“Isn’t that a kind of sushi?”) and Phoebe (“Yeah, it’s…it’s freshwater eel!”) knew better, though.


    Posted by Sean at 15:18, February 2nd, 2005

    Japan changed the design and composition of its ¥500 (about US $4.50) coins a few years ago, and a few months ago, it released new bills, too. The Japanese economy being huge and having a fair number of disgruntled unemployed people, it’s a target for counterfeiters, and they’ve sunk to the challenge:

    After a large number of counterfeit ¥500 coins were discovered in Postal Savings ATMs, Japan Post announced on 3 January that [its machines] would stop handling all coins at post offices in Tokyo Metro and in Fukuoka and Kumamoto Prefectures.

    The fakes they’re finding correctly use an alloy of nickel and zinc (the Sinitic compound for which is 亜鉛 [aen: “sub-lead”], which I’ve always found kind of cute), but the composition is different from that in real coins. They also have misaligned stamping and leave off some marks, but according to the authorities, you do have to look closely to see the problems.

    There’s also been a rash of fraudulent withdrawals of cash using faked cash cards. I believe it’s the iC system (comfortingly, the one my JAL card is allied with) that’s had the most problems, though I haven’t paid close enough attention to understand where the chink is that makes it easy to trick. Anyway, they’re still trying to determine whether the legal fault lies with banks or depositors. Koizumi says his financial team is working on it.

    As far as the bills go, this is as good an explanation as I’ve seen of the new technology and the reasoning behind it–mostly, as I say, that Japan has a huge consumer economy and is a target for counterfeiters. Of course, counterfeiters have already started making funny-money versions of the new bills–as industrious and clever as these people are, couldn’t they find a way to make their fortunes honestly?–and the fact that the old notes are still in circulation means that the tricky holograms aren’t yet having much effect. After the New Year, it was discovered that large numbers of false bills had been used to buy fortunes and souvenirs at temples.

    Well, bye-bye, sugar–and not a minute too soon

    Posted by Sean at 13:03, February 2nd, 2005

    If Andrew Sullivan is so over and no one reads him anymore, how is it that everyone knew about his hiatus the moment it was posted and is now speculating who’s going to become the new Daily Dish for non-leftist gays? People are very odd.

    Added at 21:11: Wow. This commenter at Tim Blair’s appears to have read my mind. The comment is so good I wish I’d written it myself, though my version would have had five paragraphs and way more em-dashes, as we all know. Anyway, here it is:

    The problem was not that Sullivan wrote too often about gay issues, it’s that as soon as Bush came out in (mild) support of the FMA, Sully shifted in about a day from defending Bush to excorciating him on every aspect of his presidency. Since then (and his unacknowledged shift from pro-war in Iraq to anti has also highlighted this), Sullivan comes across as driven by emotional urges, rather than analytic thought. I have no use for that in a writer.

    Civilization reaches a new peak

    Posted by Sean at 21:31, February 1st, 2005

    Many’s the time I’ve sat on our toilet, patted its little control arm, and sighed, “O faithful ultramodern Washlet, you spray and dry and warm me faithfully at my command, and yet I feel among the world’s poor because you never play me soothing music.” Apparently, all that could change. This is one of the Mainichi‘s photo essay thingies, so I’m not sure whether the link will last, but clicking on the following graphic should get you to the original:


    I think kitsch devotees have pretty much told the world about Japanese electronic toilet seats, but if you’ve not heard: a lot of private houses and more upscale office buildings have them. There’s a seat heater (most Japanese bathrooms are unheated, so this is very useful in winter), a bidet, a butt-cleaning spray (warmed to your specifications), and a warmed-air drier. Many of the newer ones also have an air freshener. Toto is, to my knowledge, the market leader, if it does not, in fact, have a monopoly.

    One of the ironies of our apartment–from my American perspective–is that you can set the toilet seat’s jets to expel water at your tenderer membranes that’s hot enough to seriously scald them…but the sink at which you’re supposed to wash your hands afterward gives you only cold water. On the other hand, as a lover of baths (the English genes, maybe?), I am completely smitten by the bathroom. The control panel for the tub looks like something you’d find in a cockpit. To run a bath, you put the drain plug in and push the “On” button; if you keep the plug in out of habit, and you have the water level and temperature settings to your liking, you can turn it on from the kitchen. Either way, it fills and beeps when it’s done.

    This kind of system is designed, of course, to go with the traditional Japanese practice of taking baths at night, family member by family member from grandfather on down to the baby, using the same water. Everyone showers and lathers and rinses clean, then just uses the (wonderfully hot) bathwater to soak in for a while. Except in the middle of summer, when the slightest bit of standing water turns scummy practically overnight, the water is kept for a few days and reheated. Accordingly, there’s another setting you use for 追い焚き (oidaki: “lighting the subsequent fire [under the cauldron]”).

    It’s funny how you get used to these things, to the point that going back to the way you grew up is a shock. Whenever I’m at my parents’ place, I have to remind myself that I can’t just walk away from the whooshing taps and expect them to shut off when the tub is full. And that if I leave the water in when I’m done, my little brother will ask me just what I think I’m doing. (Well, I think his actual comment was, “What, are you thinking of buying a turtle, or something?” Everybody’s a comedian.)

    Returning to Toto’s new technological gift to civilization, I suppose I don’t mind that it can expel scents at you–by this point, one is all too accustomed to using bathrooms that have been contrived to smell like scratch-and-sniff stickers. That “soothing music” worries me, though, given Japan’s track record. It’s very common here to, for example, call a major corporation, be put on hold, and have a toy-synth version of “The Entertainer” or “Hungarian Dance No. 5″ played at you. I can only hope that the “Off” button for the music is easily recognizable for those of us who prefer to commune with ourselves silently.

    Added on 3 February: Eric also has tubs on the brain, largely because he no longer has one on his deck. In his case, of course, the subject is a hot tub, which strict Mid-Atlantic parents like mine regarded, in the Love Boat era, as a frothing symbol of hedonistic California excess.

    I didn’t mention in the original post here, of course, anything about Japan’s famed devotion to hot springs, which aren’t hot tubs but serve the same sort of purpose (assuming you just want to bathe). I like hot-spring bathing in the winter, with the cold air and stars above while most of your body is submerged in sulfurating heat. Mostly, though, I prefer the bath at home, which has a glass of white wine and Dusty Springfield playing. You can’t really get away with sinking in languidly and sighing, “Oh, Mary Catherine, it’s true–the others have no idea what you and I suffer” in public, even if you have a folded towel on your head.


    Posted by Sean at 02:30, February 1st, 2005

    Faced with one of the highest suicide rates even in Japan, Aomori Prefecture has at least one town that isn’t just going to roll over and play dead. The government of Rokunohemachi is introducing a new “Save our reputation–stay alive!” program. Well, no, because they weren’t savvy enough to hire me as their PR director, that’s not their tag line. They decided to go with the old give-away ploy:

    Alarmed, Rokunohemachi town office decided to provide each household within its jurisdiction with a “mental health card” appealing to anyone in emotional distress to visit one of five counseling offices.

    Cardholders can seek help free of charge at any of the centers, located at three hospitals, a dental clinic and a home-care support center.

    A dental clinic? Considering what a lot of dentists here dispense as care, you’d think visiting one would be likely, if anything, to send the unstable right over the edge. But here it is again:

    Town officials hope that the project, which will begin Tuesday, will help detect the early signs of depression.

    If depression is suspected, staff at the centers can refer the victim to a psychiatrist.

    The five centers are staffed with a total of 16 nurses and dental hygienists.

    They were registered as “mental care nurses” in November after completing a training seminar.

    A training seminar is all you need to be certified as a mental care nurse? I have no professional knowledge of this, and the translation may not say the same thing as the original, but isn’t dealing with depressed people who are thinking of offing themselves kind of…tricky? I suppose the “training seminar” could have covered a lot of material, and it’s got to be better than the preparation the nurses had before. (As you might imagine, seeking professional help for mental and emotional problems is frowned on in Japan, and stimulus for the development of psychotherapy is correspondingly low.) If the idea is simply to prepare nurses to assess who needs referring to a psychiatrist who can make a real diagnosis, it might be a good investment.


    Posted by Sean at 12:12, January 31st, 2005

    All right, already. I’m not going to start writing to other people’s specifications, but if the post titles are looking self-consciously cryptic, I’ll knock it off. It’s not as if I were aiming to drive people crazy. : )

    I wish I were able to come up with succinct and germane headings the way everyone else is, but…see, I’ve only got, like, three subjects, and I can’t very well start calling things “Japan Post privatization, Part the 1045th,” right? The problem is, whenever I try to squeeze in a little distinguishing information, I end up with something unwieldy: “Koizumi says Japan Post privatization must proceed despite old-guard ninnyism he’s been up against since taking office.” Yes, we learned to write snappy headlines in journalism class in high school. No, the lessons clearly didn’t take. Besides, what I’m doing here isn’t journalism. I also toyed with the idea of using random but faux-profound Japanophile stuff (“A lone crane cries in silhouette against a midnight sky”) to see whether people would get the joke, but there’s no point in getting a joke that’s not very funny, anyway.

    So if I feel stuck, I go with whatever comes into my head that I’ll be able to recognize when I’m looking at an MT list later; usually, what comes into my head is some line from a pop song, contrived as they are to stick in the memory.

    Oh, yeah, on a different but related issue: I do understand that not everyone reads Japanese. I have a few readers who are studying it, though. When I put a post title in Japanese (always an uninteresting reference to the main topic), it’s usually in the hope that they’ll look up the meaning and reading and then be able to associate it with the post content in their memory. When you’re studying Japanese, every little bit of memory aid helps, trust you me. Anyway, no one has written to say that that‘s getting on his nerves, but if it’s helpful, I can…I don’t know, put the English in a roll-over link, or something. I’m not going out of my way to be obscurantist.

    Added in the early hours of 2 February: It seems I can’t even leave the title off a post in a way that makes people happy. (Just kidding, Amritas. Glad you’ve got your energy back.)

    Your hairdo is full of diamonds and lice

    Posted by Sean at 16:39, January 30th, 2005

    This just in: Irreverence seen in costuming at Hallowe’en party:

    Despite a public outcry from gay, Jewish and African American civil rights groups, Virginia Military Institute will allow its own students to investigate a party at which some cadets dressed in drag while others wore Nazi uniforms and still others were in black face.

    Pictures of the Halloween party only came to light on weekend when it was learned they had been posted on the Internet.

    One picture shows three cadets in VMI uniform shirts giving the Nazi salute to the camera. Two of the students are wearing swastika armbands and one had a Hitler-style mustache.

    Another photo shows a cadet was dressed as “a starving African”. Other pictures show two men in tiaras, wigs and eye shadow. Both are wearing underpants and tank tops that read, “I [heart] a man in uniform.”

    There is also a picture of a man in a loincloth wearing dark makeup, and one of a man with a bull’s-eye drawn on the rear of his pants.

    Ooh, tell me more about that one! Was he hot? Did he have a bubble butt to do it justice?

    Unfortunately, the article takes off in a different direction:

    Advocacy groups called the pictures disturbing.

    “There’s nothing funny about gay men and lesbians in uniform right now risking their lives in Iraq,” Dyana Mason, executive director of Equality Virginia told the Roanoke Times.

    “As future leaders in the military, they [cadets] have to understand you can’t make of fun of people at their expense.”

    I agree. It’s too bad the rest of America doesn’t take a cue from us gays, who wouldn’t think of showing up at a Hallowe’en party ironically dressed as a nun (bonus points for studded leather underwear that can be flashed with a lift of the habit), a priest (bp’s for bringing a friend dressed as a corruptible altar boy), a naval officer (Tom of Finland-style, with too-tight and too-unbuttoned uniform), or a rich Reagan-era Republican (who entertains all with cheery banalities about trickle-down economics).

    Is it too much to ask that our flacks remember that there are straight folks out there who have actually…um…met homosexuals? A queer activist who lectures at people about being more poker-faced and pious is asking to be laughed off-stage.

    Added on 1 February: Thanks to Chris and Michael for the links. Since they mean that someone I don’t know might read this, I suppose I should clarify something. (I cut this out of the original post in a doubtless short-lived nod to conciseness):

    I don’t think that it’s possible, even in photographs, to read people’s thinking very well. Those wearing swastikas could have been viciously parodying the Nazis, after the fashion of Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes. Those who gave the Sieg heil! salute could have been taking a rare opportunity to chafe at the hyperdisciplined atmosphere imposed by their instructors by satirizing it. It’s possible that the “starving African” and drag queens are polite and easygoing around individuals of all kinds but are sick to death of PC coercive compassion (to use Camille Paglia’s term) and identity politicking.

    The point that people who enroll at a military academy are signing on to more rigorous standards of behavior, and that they’re going to represent America in official ways that most of us don’t have to worry about, is a good one. But, for pity’s sake, it’s a bleedin’ Hallowe’en party for a bunch of guys in their late teens and early 20s, off the chain for some well-earned carousing. Do we expect them to come as their favorite Mother Goose characters? I could certainly see their superiors’ advising them to err in the direction of avoiding the appearance of evil…by having the kind of party they like off-time and being sure not to–hello?!–post pictures of it on the Internet.

    Ooh, who’s been teachin’ you?

    Posted by Sean at 12:17, January 30th, 2005

    Weird week. Atsushi was here for a belated anniversary celebration, which was the highlight; of course, it meant I was keyed up before that. Friend’s birthday last Sunday…Monday? Anyway, uncharacteristic work-night carousing. Made for some odd communing between self and current project. Probably odd posts, too.

    Somewhere in there, a friend–not a birthday boy–asked me what he was doing wrong. You know, to find a boyfriend worth making a life with. It’s not the sort of question you can respond to with, “Just about everything,” even if that’s pretty much the answer. This is one of those guys who…his way of showing a man he’s interested is to be all effusive and touchy. Not touchy in a caddish way, where you have to glare at him and be like, “Sorry, bro, that’s my knee”–just with the flirtatious-hand-on-shoulder thing. And he giggles and blushes. A lot.

    Now, there’s nothing wrong with being jolly and boyish, but if you’re too jolly and boyish…and you go for big Australian guys…and you have a tendency to act shocked and affronted when they get the idea they’re going to score with you, you are asking for trouble. Talking to my friend about this stuff reminds me of those dead-end discussions we had in college about whether a woman is being “provocative” if she goes around in an eyelet camisole and micromini and can’t talk to a man without flipping her hair.

    [CNN-related aside: Speaking of clothing choices, who the hell told Dianne Feinstein that the pale-green jade beads were a good idea with the black jacket? She looks as if she were about to show Princess Aurora something in the way of a nice, new spinning wheel.]

    My friend fails, in the by-the-book way, to see where the problem might lie. I mean that he hasn’t made the basic connection between, on the one hand, behavior that attracts men and gives you the thrill of being admired and, on the other, behavior that signals you’re eager to provide a different kind of thrill in return later. You don’t have to subscribe to the revolting belief that you owe a guy sex if you let him buy you a drink in order to believe that it’s dishonest and manipulative to push his buttons to shore up your ego. My friend is well-intentioned and really doesn’t seem to see it that way, and (at least where I usually run into him) the guys behind the bar as well as his buddies know how to keep an eye on him. It’s just frustrating when someone asks you something important and doesn’t want to hear the answer.

    [Is Jane Harman the most annoying person in the world, or what? Sweetie, it’s okay to choke out a single sentence without taking a dig at the President, sometimes. No, really–we’ll be able to remember you hate him even if we go 30 seconds without hearing about it.]

    In better news, since Atsushi was home for the weekend, I was able to pass along my parents’ Christmas present to him, which arrived in the mail after he’d gone home from the New Year. He’d given them a figurine for the Year of the Rooster, so they gave him one back: a cat, probably because he played so easily with my parents’ two (real ones, not figurines) when I brought him home two years ago. They’re Siamese, so suffering themselves to be played with is not a habit.

    The weather is supposed to turn cold today in his part of Japan–actually, along the Sea of Japan coast overall, I think. It’s windier and colder than last week here in Tokyo, too, but it’s still clear. I probably ought to air the rugs while I can. Now that Aaron Brown is on television, I probably ought to change the channel, too. Criminy.

    Elections in Iraq

    Posted by Sean at 09:53, January 29th, 2005

    I only comment on the stories that move me to do so, but it would be madness to let today pass without mentioning the Iraqi elections, even though I usually leave general WOT commentary to people who are better qualified. Reuters understandably, being a news organization, is stressing the attention-grabbing element of conflict in its lead story:

    Insurgents threatened a bloodbath on Sunday when Iraqis go to the polls in an election intended to unite the country and quell violence but which could instead foment sectarian strife.

    Does anyone seriously intend today’s voting to unite the country in the tidy, cut-and-dried way that sentence makes it sound? I haven’t heard anyone talk as if the thrushes will warble with joy and crocuses will bloom tomorrow just because there’s been an election. Of course, the insurgents (you’re catching me intone that word the way I might refer to myself as a “confirmed bachelor,” yeah?) are going to go literally ballistic. Even if the new native Iraqi government is more symbolic than substantive at first, what it symbolizes is change in a direction reactionaries have to resist at all costs. It won’t turn into Malaysia overnight, but here’s hoping that the attacks today are contained and minimized as much as possible. Congratulations to the Iraqis.

    It’s hard to get good help these days

    Posted by Sean at 09:09, January 29th, 2005

    How very strange. Look at this Yomiuri story. The headline says, “Pakistan opposes UNSC seat for Japan,” which makes sense. This is a Japanese newspaper reporting things from the vantage point of local importance. The beginning is fine:

    Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said in an interview with The Daily Yomiuri and other English-language newspapers in Asia on Thursday night that his government would not support the envisioned permanent membership of Japan on the U.N. Security Council.

    [There are two reform proposals. Under Model A, more UNSC permanent memberships would be created for countries such as Japan. Under Model B, permanent membership would not be expanded.]

    “(With Model B), nobody gets on (the Security Council) permanently, but everybody has a chance to represent its own region,” he said. “It is very clear that the Security Council does need reform…but we oppose anything being done to create another permanent class of countries…It has to be done on the basis of equity, justice and in a democratic way.”

    That sounds nice. Who knows? Maybe Aziz even means it, even if Pakistan itself is not a world-class beacon of democratic transparency in government. It’s interesting, though, to note a word that the Yomiuri reporter fails to mention even once: India.