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    The Commish

    Posted by Sean at 12:00, April 13th, 2004

    Well, the Iraqi insurgents who have been offering to demonstrate the superiority of their way of life to ours by burning to death the three Japanese hostages they snagged six days ago have taken four Italians (assuming all the culprits are in the same or related groups). I hope they’re all safe (the hostages, I mean). Koizumi and his Foreign Ministry appointees have been accused up down and sideways of kissing American ass, but when they talk about how we can’t back down in the face of threats, they sure say it with conviction.

    I’m not sure why I’m watching Louis Freeh testify before the 9/11 Commission. Probably mostly because he’s cute. With the sound off, you can just read the two-line caption that summarizes what he’s saying. Let’s see: need for restructuring, limitations on preventive measures imposed by lack of resources, and a call for better staff guidelines. There’s a shocker: anyone who’s been in a supervisory position in an organization larger than Mabel’s Corner Bakery has used that routine to explain why Things Didn’t Get Done. I include myself. And a lot of times it’s even true. But these hearings aren’t about getting at truth. They’re about demonstrating to America that things are being taken seriously by Washington in the best way it knows how, namely by coopting several hours of live television so that higher-ups in the government can look worried and ask grave questions. You can’t really complain–they’re only filling a psychological need that the public clearly has. But as a citizen who takes at least eight long-haul flights into and out of major US cities per year, I’d rather see someone explain why security at airports right now is still so flipping farcical. I’d even watch with the sound on.

    The all-night DJ serenade’s the only company that I keep

    Posted by Sean at 12:36, April 12th, 2004

    I love most things about living in Japan, but here’s one that I don’t: if you work for one of the stodgier companies, you can be informed in March or September that you’re being transferred to another office, effective in a week or two. It’s kind of an extension of the practice of having new management track hires do rotations through sales and operations in their first few years; you belong to the company as if it were your clan, and it gets to tell you what to do. Depending on your organization, you can be moving every two to four years until you’re middle aged.

    And so it is that Atsushi was told on 10 March that he was leaving Tokyo for the far end of Kyushu on 24 March. He’d worked at the same office for four years; he’s still single in his mid-30’s; he’s already done a two-year stint abroad. We knew he was an obvious target for relocation somewhere outside commuting distance from Tokyo. Like a lot of people who’ve been stationed here for several years, he owns an apartment. There was no question what had to happen: I moved into his place from my pied à terre three stations away so we’ve got a household for him to return to on monthly visits. That we couldn’t live together while he was here because his parents and colleagues would have started to wonder what was going on, but it’s perfectly fine for me to live here now, in the guise of a helpful friend who’s sparing him the necessity of letting his house to strangers, precisely because he’s not here, is not one of life’s little ironies I’m inclined to find humor in right now.

    But trust me–lots of others have it worse. There are married couples with children in this very situation twice a year. The opportunities for education in Tokyo (the power center in politics, economics, and culture for Japan–imagine DC + New York + Cambridge in one megalopolis) are superior to those in the provinces. Also, it’s hard to unload an apartment in an existing building–partially, I think, since the construction industry is still building as if the bubble hadn’t burst 15 years ago, but that’s a topic for another day. All of which means that a number of couples have husbands who are off working in Sendai, or Sapporo, or wherever, while the wife and children hold down the fort in Tokyo and see him once every six weeks or so when he flies back. It’s such an unremarkable thing that there’s a word for it: 単身赴任 (tanshin funin), or “going unaccompanied to one’s assignment.” Perhaps it’s not as difficult as we’d imagine as Americans: a lot of childrearing here is done by the educational system, and the friend/closest companion model of marriage isn’t traditional. But for couples who think of themselves as a team, even if romance isn’t part of the psychological support they rely on, it has to bite. It sure sucks plenty for me, and I have a flexible enough job that I’ll be able to see him twice a month or so.

    This kind of thing happens all the time. I don’t mean my boyfriend’s moving away to Ultima Thule; I mean simultaneously admiring the way the Japanese subordinate themselves to collective goals and thinking they’re crazy for doing it. What I’ve described is certainly not as hard to bear as what military families go through when the enlisted parent is deployed somewhere, or what poor families go through when Dad has to spend months out of the year up in mining country to keep everyone clothed and fed. The thing that makes it so…weird…both in the conversational sense of “strange” and in the original sense of “spooky”…is that this is what graduates of elite universities, the people with the most mobility and choices in the power center of the second-largest economy in the world, think perfectly normal to sign onto at the end of college, knowing exactly what they’re getting into. Yes, things are changing somewhat–switching jobs is much more common here than it used to be. And people who feel stuck are far from unknown in America. But the distribution of such attitudes among people with the resources to choose is very different. If I were a sociologist, maybe I could write the millionth book trying to explain Japan to a Western audience.


    Flamin’ Norah. Interrupted by the nightly call from the man himself: he left the office at 11:45 for the fourth day in a row. That’s another thing about being transferred: you get to spend quality time getting to know your new clients during the first few weeks. What that poor darling goes through to keep me in the style to which I’ve become accustomed. Time for me to get back to devising saucy new color combinations in decorative fabrics so he has a beautiful apartment to come home to.

    For three days in May.

    What A Wonderful Day To Start A Weblog

    Posted by Sean at 23:55, March 31st, 2004

    Is this thing on?

    Looks like it is!