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    Aneha to see day in court

    Posted by Sean at 09:14, July 10th, 2006

    The first court date for architect and fraudster Hidetsugu Aneha will be 6 September. The Nikkei story doesn’t give much more detail–Tokyo District Court, Judge Masaaki Kawaguchi presiding. Given that what’s been revealed so far has included complicity up and down lines of authority in construction companies, ineptitude and negligence on the part of government agencies responsible for enforcing safety standards, and the implications of an official or two in delaying proceedings against the companies involved…well, let’s just hope nothing even more, you know, interesting comes out at the trial. We may not be able to stand it. What will be interesting is to see whether it has any political effect: that first day in court will be right around the Diet election that will decide who succeeds Koizumi as Prime Minister. So far, the public appears–correctly, I think–to see the problem as lying with bureaucrats rather than elected officials.

    More about missiles

    Posted by Sean at 09:05, July 10th, 2006

    So is everyone else on the edge of his seat like us in Japan…you know, waiting to see whether the chair of the UN Security Council will set the DPRK on its ear by deeming its missile tests “not all that neighborly” or “very naughty”? In between errands, I’ve been watching NHK’s reporting. Today we were very pointedly informed the cool and not-so-cool people are (as in this Yomiuri article):

    Japan, Britain, France and the United States on Friday jointly submitted to an informal U.N. Security Council meeting a resolution condemning North Korea’s missile launches.

    Clauses referring to sanctions in an original draft crafted by Japan had been modified.

    “All options are on the table,” he said, suggesting China has not ruled out the possibility of vetoing the resolution.

    According to sources, Russia, which has called for the issuance of a U.N. Security Council presidential statement, did not speak out during the meeting. Some U.N. diplomats have interpreted this silence as an indication it will abstain from voting.

    China and Russia can veto the resolution, abstain from voting, or demand that it be modified.

    I didn’t catch all the numbers, but NHK also reported the results of its latest poll. Unfortunately, the interesting parts don’t seem to be posted: IIRC, 69% of respondents thought Japan should pursue economic sanctions against the DPRK. (Remember that the Japanese are thinking not only about missile testing but also about the still-unresolved issue of the Japanese abductees.) A plurality, if not a majority, believed that Japan’s best avenue for pushing its North Korea policy was the UNSC; somewhat fewer thought it was the G7.

    The Koizumi administration appears to have other ideas:

    Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga said the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) should have the capability to attack foreign countries’ missile bases following North Korea’s test-launch last week of seven missiles.

    “As an independent state, Japan should have the minimum capability (to attack foreign countries’ missile bases) within the framework of the Constitution to protect its people,” Nukaga told reporters on Sunday.

    “We shouldn’t jump to conclusions even though such a situation (the test firing of missiles) occurred. I’d like the ruling coalition partners to thoroughly discuss the issue,” Nukaga said.

    He made the remarks in response to North Korea’s test-firing of seven missiles, including Taepodong 2 long-range ballistic missiles, last week.

    His view was shared by Foreign Minister Taro Aso. “It’s absolutely right (to attack missile bases within the framework of Japan’s right to self-defense) to protect the safety of the people,” he told an NHK program on Sunday.

    The original Japanese story has Nukaga continuing: “As things are now, we have the Japan-US alliance, and we’ve been sharing [defense] roles. Strikes against enemy territory would be carried out by the US.”

    Instapundit’s newest podcast, featured Austin Bay and Jim Dunnigan and was mostly about the North Korea situation. It provides a good primer on the diplomatic power plays involved. If you live in East Asia, it’s also a good reminder that a lot about your everyday reality is news to people elsewhere (for example, the commonalities between Great Britain and Japan that are based on their both being island countries).

    There was one moment that made me say, “WHAT?!” Jim Dunnigan said something on the order of “I’ve asked South Koreans I know whether being prickly and taking offense easily is a Korean characteristic, and they said, ‘Not really,'” which he appeared to take at face value.

    Please. The Koreans are in fact notoriously touchy about their position in East Asia…and do you wonder? Like Poland (just to spread the comparisons to Europe around), Korea has spent much of its history being overrun by its larger, hungrier neighbors. And look what’s happened in the last half-century: Japan went from the humiliated pariah of the industrialized world to an economic titan that, for a decade or so, had academics and managers from the West looking to it reverently for secrets of success. China and Japan have had a massive tastemaking influence on global popular culture. Korea’s coolness factor in Asia has increased noticeably over the last several years, and the ROK’s economic growth since democratization has won much admiration from business analysts; still, nternational consciousness about Korea remains relatively low. I doubt many people sit around in Seoul seething about this in any focused way, but the feeling that Korea is misunderstood and put-upon is hard to miss.

    Of course, the North has the additional problem of a non-functioning economy. It’s hemorrhaging refugees. Have I mentioned the word 脱北 (dappoku: “escape to the north”) lately? Oh, yeah–I haven’t mentioned anything lately because I haven’t posted. Well, it’s a compound that, whatever its origins and at least in Japan, is used exclusively to refer to defecting from the DPRK over its border with the PRC. That is, the phenomenon has its own word. Jim Dunnigan, I think, mentioned that word about what a hellhole North Korea is has arrived in the South. It’s arrived in Japan, also, largely through Japanese nationals who’ve returned from the DPRK. All of which is to say, the DPRK knows that, aside from the occasional puff piece by gullible lefty sympathizers from the West, how bad things have gotten there is no longer a secret.

    One last stray thing: The NHK report I watched last night struck me as odd for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on. Then, while a later segment about the opening of a border checkpoint between India and the PRC–you can bet the Japanese are watching how trade relations are going to develop between those two!–it hit me. The experts interviewed had all talked about how Japan’s options for responding to the missile tests would be limited by whether the US was willing to back it up. What was strange was that they seemed to be regarding the tests as a regional problem, as if the US had no reason to get involved except to do right by its primary East Asian ally. Of course, that’s part of it. We’ve known since 1998 that the DPRK can get missiles to Japan. (That was a fun day to watch NHK, too, IIRC.) But North Korea not only likes to get antsy about perceived US threats to its sovereignty and develop ICBMs but also likes to drag big-guns backers such as the PRC and Russia into things. The Koizumi administration appears to understand the import of that; it was strange that the commentators didn’t.

    More projectiles

    Posted by Sean at 10:10, July 7th, 2006

    Today’s lead editorial in the Nikkei sensibly wonders whether reactions to the DPRK’s missile shenanigans from the PRC and Russia will do more harm than good:

    The countries on which North Korea, which has launched several successive ballistic [test] missiles over the Sea of Japan, most relies are surely China and Russia. One can see this in the way they responded to the joint proposal by the US and Japan that the United Nations Security Council issue a condemnation of North Korea with a push for the statement issued by the chairman to express criticism [but] have no real restraining power. North Korea has announced that it will continue to launch missiles; the result of China and Russia’s position is that the DPRK is emboldened, and the security of both countries themselves is threatened.

    On 6 July, a spokesman for the DPRK Minister of Foreign Affairs officially acknowledged the launching of the ballistic missile and stated that the DPRK will have no choice but to take even more unwavering, physically active measures in other forms if (1) it continues missile experiments from here on as one component of its strengthening of its defensive strike capability and (2) anyone attempts to pressure it [into not doing so, presumably]. The second stage will apparently involve keeping a close watch on the movements of the UNSC.

    Something worth noting that informs but isn’t explicit anywhere in the Nikkei editorial: Japan’s deep and long-standing distrust of its two giant continental neighbors. It’s hardly misplaced in this situation. Russia’s ambassador to the UN has warned against getting too emotional over the attempted Taepodong 2 launch, and I think so-and-so party leader in the PRC urged everyone toward “calm.”

    Well, all right. But it’s also worth noting that DPRK leaders seem to find a slight froth of righteous indignation on the part of its adversaries perversely affirming. Makes them feel like important geopolitical players or something, I guess. Given the humiliating failure of the Taepodong 2–which wasn’t exactly predictable but is hardly a surprise–the DPRK may receive censure with somewhat more rawness than usual. But still, one might have expected China and Russia to allow for a bit more sternness with their friends in North Korea, if only out of long-term self-interest.

    He’ll be dead in a minute

    Posted by Sean at 23:44, July 5th, 2006

    You know how I said things were settling down a few weeks ago? Well, they weren’t really. However, they are now. I’ve hired a few new people at work (including an assistant), and everyone seems to be starting off fine–as measured by the amount of decrease I can feel in my own workload. I’m still a little shellshocked, though, and may take a few days to get back into posting regularly–it’s kind of too bad that my busy-ness coincided with such trivial Japan-US news as the Bush-Koizumi karaoke party, the DPRK missile test, and the new effusions about the beef ban. I mean, I guess it’s too bad if you think of me as a fount of wisdom about Japan news. Luckily, no wars seem to be starting, either over missile tests or over amateur desecrations of Elvis songs.

    Anyway, thanks again to those who are still checking back, and to those who’ve kept writing occasionally to make sure I hadn’t disappeared.


    Posted by Sean at 04:17, June 19th, 2006

    Steve Miller at IGF reports that the NGTLF has launched a new study of “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Americans.” Miller calls BS:

    Well, the gay Asian-Americans I know don’t feel particularly under-served in relation to the rest of us, and neither do they lament that they’re “under-researched and under-studied.”

    I actually think there’s something to that last bit. “Asian” seems to include everyone whose ancestors came from the arc from Pakistan to Hokkaido. Not exactly a paucity of variables to deal with. Nevertheless, who knows? There are some very broad similarities among immigrants from Asia when you look at them from 35000 feet up. Perhaps useful information about how to develop coping skills when you’re growing up gay could emerge from studying a population with a disproportionate percentage of members who were reared by parents who brought traditionalist family structures from the old country, who were sticklers about education, and who weren’t native speakers of English. All new truth is meaningful somehow, and different methods of acculturation do produce different results. Maybe strong extended-family ties make coming out initially more difficult but help to insulate people from feeling anchorless when make their own way in the world, for instance?

    But as Miller implies, you just know that that’s not the kind of information we’re going to get. For one thing, you can take the NGTLF’s LGBT API survey on-line. Hello, SLOPs problems! For another, besides the personal information questions to establish various identity-politics categories, everything is framed in terms of what’s been done to you. You know…Have you ever experienced harassment? What issues do you think are facing the API community? What does your religion think of homosexuality? I didn’t see an item that asked, “Has the pressure of being a member of a model minority ever made you cry?” I may just not have looked hard enough, though.

    In searching for evidence of discrimination with the resoluteness of truffle-hunting pigs in an oak forest, the NGTLF is missing the chance to discover whether there are elements of the broad Asian-American experience that affect how individuals take charge of their sexuality. That’s a disappointment, if not a surprise.

    DPRK may (or may not) test Taepodong 2 missile

    Posted by Sean at 22:48, June 18th, 2006

    As of this morning, it’s still considered possible that the DPRK will test-fire its long-range Taepodong 2 missile:

    On 18 June, US White House press secretary [Tony] Snow warned North Korea about apparent signs that it will test-fire its Taepodong 2 long-range ballistic missile: “If a test-fire is conducted, we will have to make a correct and appropriate response.” He avoided mentioning any concrete [measures], but seems to have been thinking of filing a report with the United Nations Security Council or cooperating with other interested nations to impose sanctions.

    The Nikkei is citing a CNN interview that I’ve managed not to see. Whether I’ve back-translated Snow’s diplomat-o-lect accurately, I don’t know. Over here, Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso is taking a less-bland stance:

    Japan will immediately ask the United Nations for an emergency Security Council meeting if Pyongyang launches the Taepodong 2 missile now on a launch pad in North Korea, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Sunday.

    Japan will also consider imposing economic sanctions against North Korea if the country fires the missile, Aso said.

    The ballistic missile is believed capable of hitting the west coast of the United States.

    “We will discuss which measure we will take, as we have several alternatives including (putting an embargo on) the North Korean cargo ferry Man Gyong Bong-92 and several other means,” Aso told reporters.

    Whether Japan would consider it a pre-emptive strike if a missile is fired and hits Japanese soil would depend on the circumstances, Aso added.

    The Yomiuri has a somewhat different interpretation (and it does sound as if both articles were talking about the same appearance by Aso):

    Aso also mentioned the possibility of the missile reaching Japan. “I don’t think the missile would fly correctly even if North Korea intends to fire the missile to land in the sea. We have to consider the possibility that the missile will mistakenly fall on Japanese territory,” the foreign minister said.

    Japan isn’t really in the position of late to be getting all smirky over the ability of other countries to launch projectiles accurately, but of course the issue is a real one. Yesterday, the word was that spy images were showing little new activity, so the excitement died down a little. The DPRK doesn’t seem to have issued any kind of public statement, either of the “nothing to worry about” or of the “how dare you interfere in our private military affairs!” variety. Assuming the test-firing is carried out and doesn’t go awry in a way that provokes a serious incident–say, the missile ends up falling on an apartment building in Sapporo–the usual condemnations are likely to be as far as things are taken.

    Don’t worry ’bout my recovery

    Posted by Sean at 03:26, June 16th, 2006

    Atsushi is coming for the weekend and will be greeted by an apartment with no food in the refrigerator and piles of unopened mail on the breakfast counter and half its usual pieces of clothes missing because I took them to the dry cleaner a while back and haven’t picked them up. The place isn’t dirty–we do not allow the accumulation of organic matter–but it looks paradoxically more lived-in than when I’m actually spending time there.

    Don’t mind me while I mainline my coffee-break orange juice, mango doughnut, and triple-shot latte as I write. I don’t think there’s an injunction against typing with your mouth full, is there?

    Speaking of oranges, a good buddy of mine–bartender who’s worked at various Family places I go to over the years–had a birthday the other day. I figured he’d be getting enough objects decorated with pictures of half-naked men, so I went to Dean & Deluca–I swear, I provide half that place’s revenue (cf. the above reference to all the non-cooking happening at my apartment)–and bought him a little orange-liqueur-y cake in a cute passes-gay-muster box. Anyway, when I gave it to him, he was on-duty at the bar, so he just took it discreetly and said thanks. But I had to laugh a little bit later when he sidled up to me and said, kind of sheepishly, “Uh, Sean-chan, your present? Very nice. Uh, do you think it’s okay if I take it home and eat it there?” See, what he was supposed to do in order to be polite was to open it there at the bar and offer everyone a slice.

    I think the way Asia often requires you to be good to your guests when celebrating a milestone (your wedding or birthday or what have you) rather than expecting the princess treatment from them is a good thing. Generally. But if there’s anywhere that it’d be nice to see people take one day out of the year and forget about harmonizing and people-pleasing, it’s Japan. So my reaction was on the order of “Honey, you spend every working hour smiling and giving people drinks, or cleaning up after the people you just gave drinks, or asking them whether they need another drink. It’s your birthday. Take the cake home. Get into bed with the boyfriend, feed it to each other in handfuls, and then eat the crumbs out of each other’s chest hair. THAT is what you’re supposed to do with a birthday present. You are NOT supposed to divide it up among this crew of wasted fags–orange cake doesn’t go with beer, anyway.”

    The new Pet Shop Boys is better than a sharp stick in the eye and, more importantly, better than the last new Pet Shop Boys. I’m still not smitten, though. The version with the bonus disc has absolutely gorgeous packaging–one magenta and one orange disc–orange seems to be an emerging theme here–in a lacquer-black jewel box. I just sort of wish I didn’t prefer looking at it to listening to it. (It also has that copy protection that makes it a royal pain in the ass to get onto your iPod.)

    What I have been listening to is Shalamar–I’m not nearly the devotee that this character is, but it’s been good to have something in the way of a steady, human pulse to move to through the last few weeks of hecticness. Olivia, too…you know, to complete the sort of black-and-white milkshake effect. (Once, Q Magazine referred to her “Sex-Livvy” period, which I thought was an absolutely adorable back formation from “Sex-Kylie.” Though maybe that’s actually what they called it in the late ’70s and early ’80s. I doubt it, though. I think I’d remember that from my Auntie June in England.)

    There was no orange in that paragraph, for those keeping track.

    The rainy season has arrived in Tokyo, and (luckily!) it hasn’t been too torturously hot yet. I hope the last week of spring is being kind to everyone else’s part of the world. I promise to be back more regularly when I can…uh…concentrate.


    Posted by Sean at 00:17, June 16th, 2006

    The Diet has decided to get tough on suicide through the only mechanism it knows how to operate: government programs and lists of new rules.

    The “basic law to deal with suicides” was approved at the Lower House plenary session with the support of both the ruling and opposition parties. The Upper House passed the bill last week.

    The law calls for research into the causes of suicides, efforts to ensure mental stability among workers and support for those who have attempted suicide.

    The legislation says suicides should not be dealt with as an individual’s problem because such deaths have been partly brought on by social factors.

    “Suicides have various and complicated causes and backgrounds,” the law says. “Measures should be taken not only from the viewpoint of mental health but also based on the actual conditions of each case.”

    The law says it is the central government’s duty to work out and implement comprehensive measures to deal with suicides.

    That part about suicide not being “an individual’s problem”–the Japanese version of the article doesn’t have the original from which that phrase was translated–resonates slightly differently here, I think, from the way it would to a Westerner. The Japanese tend to think that if you’re unhappy, it’s you’re fault for being so weak-minded. The proper attitude toward life is to work hard and set your jaw as you push through difficulties. The idea that some people might be living with little emotional support under circumstances that push them to their limits is not a common one here. In that sense, taking account of “the actual conditions of each case” could be a more innovative approach than that bland wording makes it sound.

    Japan’s high suicide rate is a heartbreaking problem, and it is indeed one that requires society-wide action. But I’m not sure that any federal government program could effect the change in attitudes that would be required to address it. The specific measures include more than just useless public service announcements of the “Citizens, let’s not be offing ourselves, okay?” variety, but they still seem to assume that “maintain[ing] mental health” and “support” can be legislated into effect:

    Under the law, company owners are required to implement measures to maintain the mental health of their employees. The central government must offer more support to those who have attempted suicide and to families of those who have killed themselves.

    The law also says the central government will set up an anti-suicide task force in the Cabinet Office chaired by the chief Cabinet secretary. The task force must submit progress reports on the government’s measures to the Diet every year.

    Whether any of this will succeed in convincing people that their individual lives have purpose and meaning, that their troubles are obstacles that can be dealt with and overcome, that it’s worth soldiering through for those around them who care about and depend on them, and that seeking help doesn’t mean they’re crazy–all of that remains to be seen.


    Posted by Sean at 08:25, June 13th, 2006

    Thanks to those who have mailed to ask whether I’m dead. NB*: It is not charming to append “Oh, and, uh, on the off chance that you are, can I totally have the Riedel glasses? I mean, Atsushi doesn’t drink, anyway.” Yes, I’m fine. No, I’m not abandoning the blog. Like a lot of people whose blogging drops off, I’ve been busy. When I get home and pour a Scotch, the thought that comes to mind isn’t exactly, Hmm…now how can I spend some more time today (1) communicating with people and (2) parked in front of a computer. You know what I mean? I’ve been keeping up with the news, but the few tentative posts I’ve started have diffused on me midway, so I’ve iced them and figured I’ll come back to writing regularly when there are more interesting things happening and more interesting things to say about them.

    Part of the problem is that the Murakami Fund scandal has become the News Story that Ate Japan, and while it’s obviously important (latest development in English here), the script being followed in covering it is so predictable, it’s kind of hard to stay awake through. The guy probably is as arrogant a jerk as he’s made out to be. Note the social-democrat nightmare headline–really sets the tone:

    After becoming a bureaucrat at the former International Trade and Industry Ministry (now the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry), he became known as an argumentative type who was not afraid to speak frankly with his superiors, presaging his subsequent persona as an outspoken shareholder.

    In July 1999–shortly before his 40th birthday–he quit the ministry saying he wanted to set up his own business. Around that time, he started MAC Asset Management, which became the core of other funds that went on to be called the Murakami Fund. Executives of MAC, which ceased operation in May, included high school or university classmates who had worked at major securities firms or the National Police Agency.

    In 2002, Murakami became the top shareholder of major clothing company Tokyo Style Co. and demanded it increase dividends and bring in outside board members. His proposals were all rejected at a shareholders meeting, but he did not change his aggressive ways, saying, “As a major shareholder, I intend to continue to push [for improved business performance by the company].”

    Murakami has made various demands of firms in which he has invested. The demands included the disposal of bad loans.

    However, he has been the subject of criticism that what he was doing was only making profit for himself and not benefiting the companies in which he invested.

    Getting a plum job at MITI…and then repaying his benefactors by sassing back to them rather than discreetly riding the escalator right up to the revolving door! Forsaking government service for the private sector! Demanding profitability for investors! It all sounds so…foreign. I’m not familiar enough with the specific takeovers Murakami has been involved in to know whether he was making tough but necessary decisions to increase efficiency at bloated organizations or just trying to pump up profits long enough for him and his friends to get a good take. Either is certainly a possibility.

    At the same time, it’s necessary to bear in mind that the leftover Japan Inc. system makes it as easy for parasites as capitalism does. They just happen to be different parasites. Mouthy individual fund managers such as Murakami attract attention in ways that scores of quiet bureaucrats engaged in cronyism and bid-rigging don’t, but who’s causing more harm or being more selfish strikes me as an open question.

    * “Nota, bitch,” for those who have forgotten their Latin.

    He took my heart / It was a landslide

    Posted by Sean at 07:39, June 13th, 2006

    The obvious problem with “Koizumi’s Kids,” the freshmen Diet members who were elected as part of the groundswell of voter support for the prime minister in last year’s snap election, is that being non-traditional politicians, they’re likely to have trouble politicking. A solution being offered by the LDP is a seminar series:

    The Liberal Democratic Party will offer a seminar within the month to teach knowhow in three fields–Diet activities, election activities, and the planning of policy–to new Diet members elected to the lower house last year.

    The knowhow as described in the article is less a remedial version of a high school civics class than the sort of nuts-and-bolts knowledge people who found themselves elected officials more or less by accident need if they’re going to be able to maneuver. It’s probably good that the LDP is providing it. (And I daresay it seems less of a warning sign here that members of the Diet would need it than it might in a different country. Even in adulthood, the Japanese are very comfortable with lists and diagrams and things to help them navigate.) On the other hand, one wonders whether any of this clutch of chicks has a fraction of Koizumi’s conviction. Koizumi may not have succeeded in most of his reform agenda, but it was all built around a core of shared principles, and he knew how to plug away at it in PR terms. Whether he could have won on more points if he’d fought harder is an open question, but he was not, as is occasionally said, running on nothing but raw charisma (wonder whether Koizumi’s Kids will manage to display any of that, either, for that matter).

    The jockeying for the prime minister’s position in September continues; Abe is still the frontrunner. Various higher-ups in factions are appearing regularly to state that divisiveness is bad…or that putting factional unity above principle is bad…or that what’s really bad is China’s repeated attempts to interfere in Japan’s internal affairs. I haven’t seen anything particularly noteworthy in the last few weekends of political yak shows.