• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Sweet music

    Posted by Sean at 05:23, January 8th, 2006

    I’m not sure what Atsushi was looking for when he found the Mozart Liqueur page, but he thought some of the recipes sounded soothing to the throat, so we picked up a bottle on the way home last night.

    I’m being generous with the word “recipe” there, BTW. The recipe for Hot Mozart Milk is, essentially “Dump as much Mozart liqueur as you like into 30 ml of hot milk.” Tasty, to be sure, but more like what one would usually call a “serving suggestion.” If you want to make even less effort, you can make an Angel’s Kiss: “Dump 3 parts Mozart liqueur into a glass and float 1 part cream on top.” For dessert tonight, after an arduous day of shopping, we’re about to have Mozart Ice Cream, the recipe for which is–how’d you guess?–“Slap as much ice cream as you like in a bowl and pour 45 ml of Mozart liqueur on top.” Well, okay, that one’s a little more complex because step 3 in the instructions tells you to add a spoon (JIC you thought enjoying this treat the authentic Salzburg way required you to do the no-hands thing and stick your face in the bowl). Priceless.


    Posted by Sean at 00:47, January 8th, 2006

    I have a short work trip to a certain renegade Chinese province this coming weekend; I’ll be flying to Taipei with Japan Asia Airways (JAA), a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan Airlines (JAL) that exists exclusively as a relic of make-nice moves toward the PRC in the 1970s. (For the life of me, I cannot figure out where the IATA code EG came from, BTW. Just one of those weird things.)


    Unfortunately, make-nice moves toward the PRC are not all relics of the past, and not all of them simply involve ghettoization that’s barely noticeable to consumers. (I ordered my JAA ticket through my JAL Mileage Bank portal just as I’ve done with every other ticket I’ve bought.) I’m probably the last Asia-focused blogger to be linking Rebecca MacKinnon’s coverage of Microsoft’s repugnant go-along-to-get-along policy toward Chinese bloggers–this post isn’t the first chronologically, but it sets up the issues well and is probably a good starting point to scroll up and down from. Key passage:

    In my view, this issue goes far beyond China. The behavior of companies like Microsoft, Yahoo! and others – and their eager willingness to comply with Chinese government demands – shows a fundamental lack of respect for users and our fundamental human rights. Globally.

    Microsoft, Yahoo! and others are helping to institutionalize and legitimize the integration of censorship into the global IT business model.

    Do not count on these companies to protect your human rights, if those rights are threatened by the over-stretching hand of any government anywhere on the planet.

    These are not the usual garbage complaints about “censorship” in the West when one of many competing publications declines to disseminate the views of someone who can then look for other outlets, or when someone’s published views are scrutinized and argued against in a way that bruises his ego. It’s hard to read this as anything but Microsoft’s blithe agreement to be an executive arm for the CCP’s content managers. And as Mark Alger emphasizes–MacKinnon makes this point, too, but it’s easy to lose it in all the column inches of coverage–Microsoft is being anticipatory. It’s scrambling to avoid trouble rather than changing its policy after being warned by Beijing. Even more outrageous.

    Mouthy bitch roundup

    Posted by Sean at 01:21, January 7th, 2006

    Can I just tell you how much I totally enjoyed typing that title?

    Jeff flays gays whose idea of tolerance has gone from excessive to positively lunatic. It’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t have to be said again and again, but it does.

    Eric is reminded that some people think we’re uncritical vessels into which art pours messages. He also knew a gay Marlboro Man.

    Fred at Gay and Right says something else that has to be repeated over and over: Gays have no genetic predisposition toward leftism.

    Toby, the Bilious Young Fogey, linked something of mine (thanks!) as the point of departure for a post about settling post-war responsibility.

    Tom uncharacteristically misses the opportunity to joke abou the use of the word “seminal.”

    Mike at Ex-Gay Watch finds, though he doesn’t call it that, confirmation bias in an analysis of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

    Jeff at Alphecca has raised the linguist shortage issue again.

    Michael at Gay Orbit may be finding love. As North Dallas Thirty says, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

    Chris at Coming out at 48 reminds me that it’s been quite a while since I’ve thanked everyone for reading and writing. I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to avoid meeting new people, but in the nearly two years I’ve been posting, I’ve managed to make a few new friendships, deepen a few existing ones, and get sharp feedback from plenty of poeple I’ve never heard from again. Almost no incivility or hate mail, either. The constant reminder that the world is full of cool and interesting people is very welcome. Thanks.


    Posted by Sean at 23:47, January 6th, 2006

    The way I met my last boyfriend was this: A yenta-ish friend who runs one of the bars I go to showed me Ryuichi’s photograph and asked whether I’d be interested in meeting him. When I arrived, a space was cleared and Ryuichi’s friends–I swear, I’m not making this up–acted the part of his elders and protectors and interrogated me about my job, where I lived, and whether I was from an intact, respectable family! Good thing for him they were so adamant on that first point, too, since he quit his job soon after and decided to spend a year doing little but surfing.

    This post from the always-interesting Cathy Young a few days ago isn’t about Japan, or about gay life, but it illustrates the kinds of questions I was alluding to here–things Western journalists tend to neglect while cooking up Hamburger Helper articles about the evolution of Japanese household patterns:

    Is anyone going to seriously argue that a man’s resources–income, power, status–are generally irrelevant to women’s preferences in the mating game in modern-day American culture? That doesn’t mean most women are calculating golddigers (as some men’s rights folks like to depict them), but yes, women generally prefer not to “marry down,” and not just in terms of money but also in terms of prestige, education and intelligence, for which a college degree is considered a marker. To deny this fact is, shall we say, not very reality-based. Unlike many conservatives, I’m not saying that this is the way it should be or the way it always will be. But for now, such a trend is definitely there.

    Japan’s post-War constitution, interestingly enough, defines marriage as between a man and a woman not because of any prescience about the fight over gay marriage (there isn’t any here) but in order to outlaw forced arranged marriages. Family elders could no longer use marriageable young adults as instruments by which to carry out politicking or feuds, at least legally.

    But the practice of finding a spouse through お見合い (o-miai: lit., “looking at each other,” a meeting between two eligible people, usually arranged by their families through a matchmaker) lingered on, and though people date freely now, it’s still common. While marrying “for love” is much more the norm now than it used to be, a good job is still recognized up front as the major criterion when a man is under consideration as a potential husband. And that certainly would have been the case thirty-five years ago, when the women whose husbands are now retiring and driving them crazy around the house were sizing up the available men.

    You don’t get a sense of that or its implications as spouses aged together from the recent Reuters article:

    “Japanese men’s life expectancy falls by about 10 years if they divorce late in life,” said Nishida, who now runs regular discussion days to help couples overcome the hurdle of retirement. “That’s because they can’t do anything for themselves.”

    She did not divorce but insisted her own husband at least learned to cook for himself.

    “Couples need to rebuild their relationship,” Nishida said. “Retired men still tend to act like the lord and master.”

    Not all men see a need for change.

    “Mature Divorce” star Tetsuya Watari said in an interview on the program’s Web site that he never cooks and has not bothered to give his wife a birthday present in decades.

    “I don’t think Kotaro’s way of life is wrong,” he said of the workaholic character he played in the drama.

    Some viewers agreed with him.

    “I can’t agree with the wife’s point of view,” said one poster on the Web site.

    “She says Kotaro works all the time and doesn’t help around the house, but that’s normal for someone devoted to his job — I think it’s admirable. At least he’s not a talentless loser.”

    The above passage gives every appearance of an effort at scrupulous fair-mindedness. But even in giving both the he-said and the she-said, it leaves a lot out. Retired men may act like the lord and master, but it’s equally true that plenty of married women of that generation–and this is hardly a phenomenon unique to Japan–regarded the home as their turf alone and would hardly have encouraged their husbands to poke around in “my” kitchen cabinets or work less overtime if it meant a decrease in money and prestige for the household. True, one hears of wives who begged their husbands to trade down in employment so they had more time with their families, but that was not the norm in the era of post-War economic hypergrowth.

    The viewpoint ascribed to the men–and I should take the opportunity to point out now that how much of the superficiality of the final version is due to Isabel Reynolds’s reporting, as opposed to, possibly, an editor who was bent on giving the paying customers what they want out of their stories about the aging society in workaholic Japan–is just as reductive. The Japanese have been known for working long hours, but, especially before the end of the Bubble, the time spent away from home “for work” often involved a few hours of carousing with coworkers at the end of the day. Sure it was basically mandatory if you wanted to advance, but the reason it was possible to make it so was that men let the women take care of the household in its entirety. There were undoubtedly husbands who worked stone-cold sober at their desks right up until they had to dash for the last train and then collapsed wordlessly into bed and started snoring away when they got home; but most offices, at least, were not set up that way.

    Also, a funny thing happened on the way to the year 2000: Japan became super-rich. It remains rich despite the bursting of the Bubble. When today’s retirees were getting married, Japan was on its way to becoming a global economic power, but war and rice rations were still in living memory and made certain kinds of sacrifices seem fair enough, even necessary. Now that the Japanese are accustomed to the choices available to consumers in a First World country, those sacrifices are less palatable.

    All of which is to say, it takes two to do the dysfunctional marriage tango. The bargain struck in Japanese marriages after the War was that the men worked themselves to death (sometimes literally–the word is 過労死 [karoushi: “death from overwork”]) until retirement, thereby earning themselves the right to do nothing but play golf from then on. Women were supposed to satisfy their desire for work by rearing the children and keeping the house, but they also had money and time to spend on flower arranging classes, movies, and lunch at trendy restaurants with the girls.

    Of course their husbands never learned how to take care of themselves. Not only have they not been taught to, they’ve been taught not to. BY WOMEN. Mother did for them all through childhood; if they didn’t live at home after college, they lived in a corporate dorm with a dining hall; and once they were married…well, see the above. (As someone who’s dated three first-born sons of Japanese households, I could say a lot more about that, but it would be unseemly.) You can certainly point out plenty of ways that the system is unfair to women, but it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable for a sixty-year-old man whose wife decides she wants a divorce to say, essentially, “Just a minute here–I fulfilled my end of the deal, and now you want to welsh on it and still have me support you!”

    One final thing worthy of note: Reporters understandably cover conflicts and tensions and things because they’re interesting, and the resulting problems tend to drive developments in society and policy. Unfortunately, if the only Japanese people you ever read about are homicidal teenagers, consumers of manga porn, and geriatric couples who hate the sight of each other, you can start to get the sense that the entire archipelago is utterly bonkers. Those problems and others do exist, and they’re serious. I talk about them myself. But Japan is a great place that, in the main, does right by its people. Walk in Tokyo parks on weekends, and you’ll see plenty of old couples who have an easy, if amusingly bickersome, intimacy and are clearly devoted to each other. Not the sort of thing that gets media attention, perhaps, but an important part of the picture.

    I could give you a mirror

    Posted by Sean at 12:17, January 6th, 2006

    Atsushi comes back for the three-day weekend tomorrow, sounding much worse than when he took off for Kyushu a few days ago. I would have said that that’s what he gets for going somewhere where he’s without my loving arms to hold him, but he hardly contradicts me on that point, so there’s no point in being a punk about it. The day after our last social obligation, I used the leftovers from the holiday to make chicken soup with a pretty scandalous amount of ginger. And garlic. And pepper. Any self-respecing mucous membrane would have been positively euphoric. When I saw him off, he was much better than he had been, but he was going right back into the incubator. Anyway, the flu is pretty severe here, especially on the Sea of Japan coast; everyone stay healthy.

    One survivor of mine explosion

    Posted by Sean at 06:05, January 4th, 2006

    Wow. That’s horrible. Atsushi and I watched the initial reports on CNN yesterday. Certain physical-labor jobs can only be made so safe–my father’s gotten into a few scrapes at the steel plant over the years, and that’s not a few hundred feet underground–but modern detection and rescue equipment is very sophisticated. With that and the memory of the PA incident a few years ago, I wasn’t really all that worried (despite the regularity of reports of high-casualty disasters from the PRC). My thoughts are with the families.

    Added later: CNN’s thoughts are with the families, too, though for what appear to be slightly different reasons. I’m copying the link in the parenthetical even though it won’t work from here:

    It was about three hours after the first news — at roughly 3 a.m. — that Hatfield, the CEO of International Coal Group, announced that 12 of the 13 were dead. (Watch relatives weep over ‘a miracle taken away’ — 3:21)

    Egads. I’m all for candor, but there’s something to be said for keeping a decent cover on your exploitativeness, even if everyone recognizes that being pushy is part of your job.


    Posted by Sean at 05:51, January 4th, 2006

    There’s this new phenomenon that’s totally sweeping Japan. Read here at Reuters and be the first on your block to know.

    See, this new phenomenon involves…it’s like, Japanese society is aging, right? And husbands are retiring and then hanging around the house all day and being like, “Mama, where’s my beer? I TOLD YOU A HALF-HOUR AGO I WANT A BEER!” And the wives are like, “You don’t have the energy to shuffle into the kitchen yourself? It’s not like you’re working fourteen-hour days anymore, buddy. I’m practicing my calligraphy.” And sometimes things get all, like, escalate-y from there:

    With a new law set to come into force in 2007 allowing ex-wives to claim half their husband’s pension, domestic media are warning of a possible divorce boom.

    The number of Japanese couples parting ways has risen rapidly over the past 20 years to a 2002 peak of 290,000, while divorce among those married more than 20 years has increased even faster.

    Now figures are drifting downwards, but many commentators speculate that women — who initiate the majority of divorces — are holding out until 2007.

    Some Japanese women see their husbands as an obstacle to enjoying their sunset years.

    With few hobbies or friends to turn to, many Japanese retirees, often nicknamed “wet leaves” for their tendency to cling to their wives, spend their time at home.

    What’s more, they expect their spouses to wait on them as they did when they were bread-winners.

    “This was my problem. My husband reached retirement and didn’t know what to do with himself, so he was always in the house,” said Sayoko Nishida, author of a popular book called “Why are retired husbands such a nuisance?”

    Now, at this point, you may be thinking, Gee, Sean, I’m kinda feeling like I’ve heard that somewhere before. If so, it may have been here. No? What about here? Way back here? It’s hard to tell, since those are just the publications that are available on-line, and people have been talking about the divorcing-seniors problem in Japan FOREVER.

    I’m not saying these things should be covered once and never again; the new family laws certainly are going to have an effect, and that’s something reporters are justified in asking experts about. But phrases such as “set to retire in the next few years” and “speculate” give a sense that we’re at the leading edge of a development that we can only guess about, when in fact we were learning about the 粗大ゴミ (sodai gomi: lit., “bulky trash,” also used as a derogatory term for husbands who just sit there doing nothing around the house after retirement) issue in Japanese classes when I was in college more than ten years ago.

    In other words, there should be all kinds of information, both hard and anecdotal, to talk about: how the middle-aged children react, whether enterpreneurial types are devising services for baffled and newly-single men, what it is about the Japanese family dynamic that makes it impossible for so many couples to talk over their new situation and make the necessary adjustments without splitting up, and what the counseling industry has found is the best way for couples to prepare for and work through the problem.

    Instead, we get a desultory retread of the most rudimentary divorce rate and life expectancy stats, a few generic quotations from women moaning that their husbands can’t boil water, and a few more from men grousing back that they devoted their lives to working for the money their wives used to run the household. None of this does much to enlighten those who don’t know much about Japan, and it’s yawningly familiar to those who do. In this case, the reporter also took the assertion that men have “preferred” to devote their lives to their jobs at face value, hinting that she may have a poor understanding of the tremendous pressure on men to work long hours. And the one actually new twist–that women will be able get half their husband’s pensions if they divorce them once the 2007 law goes into effect–is only dealt with in a couple of passing sentences. Sheesh. Where do bloggers get the idea that anyone can be a journalist, huh?

    Prime Minister Koizumi gives New Year speech

    Posted by Sean at 02:56, January 4th, 2006

    Prime Minister Koizumi’s neighborliness was on display this morning, as was his diffidence:

    Regarding the PRC and ROK, the Prime Minister said that they have taken advantage of pilgrimages by Japanese government officials to chill relations with Japan: “Foreign governments are interfering in what is for us a matter of the heart. I cannot comprehend their posture that this is a diplomatic issue; there can be none of this closing off of avenues of discussion,” he said, criticizing the positions of both nations for using the Yasukuni Shrine pilgimages as a reason to cease head-of-state visits.

    He also revealed that “an understanding of the crucial importance of the Japan-US alliance and international cooperation” would be a condition for post-Koizumi [power within the LDP]. He indicated that his successor as prime minister would be expected to continue with not only his structural reforms but also his approach to diplomacy.

    At the same time, he pointed out that “it is extremely important for top leaders to gain the support of the citizenry. At the same time, they must gain the cooperation and trust of the members of the Diet. We have reached the era in which both are vital,” and revealed that he thinks the selection of a prime minister by leaders of an intra-party alliance undesirable.

    Party politics since the War has often meant that, while voters obviously selected members of the Diet, much real power even in that body lay with unelected LDP officers.

    The ROK foreign minister has weighed in already:

    South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ki-mun Ban addressed a press conference on 4 January, voicing opposition to Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s statement on the same day criticizing the PRC and ROK for refusing to conduct head-of-state visits with Japan because of the Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimage issue: “We want the leaders of the Japanese government to listen to the point of view of neighboring nations and come to a correct perception of history.”

    Foreign Minister Ban sought effort from the Japan side, citing the Yasukuni Shrine issue, the Takeshima (Kor.: Tokuto) Island territorial dispute, and the history textbook issue: “The most important thing from the standpoint of maintaining ROK-Japan relations and cooperation in the Northeast Asia region is for the Japanese government to exert itself to adopt an posture in which it has a correct perception of history and can gain the trust and respect of neighboring nations.”

    DPJ leader Seiji Maehara chimed in, at least as far as the Yasukuni Shrine issue goes, at a press conference in Mie Prefecture: “[The Prime Minister] is losing opportunities to improve relations with other countries. It’s irresponsible.”

    Added at 17:00: The Mainichi also has an English report of the Koizumi speech (including this line that wasn’t in the Nikkei: “The United States is the only nation in the world that sees an attack on Japan as an attack on itself”) and a report on the US government’s thoughts on Japan’s interactions with its neighbors:

    The United States has asked Japan to reconsider its policies on Asia because of concerns about deteriorating Sino-Japanese relationships after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, diplomatic sources have said.

    U.S. President George W. Bush also asked Chinese President Hu Jintao during their summit meeting in Beijing in November last year to discuss issues of history with Japan in connection with the Yasukuni problem, U.S. sources who accompanied the president on his Asian tour said. In reply, President Hu simply said the U.S. presence in Asia was important for China.

    Bush and other top U.S. politicians are apparently afraid that Japan will become isolated in Asia as Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan’s Class A war criminals are worshipped, continue to antagonize and infuriate China and South Korea.

    Why can’t we all just argue?

    Posted by Sean at 00:13, January 4th, 2006

    Here’s a question for people: Which of the following is the more important to you?

    1. living by your principles
    2. making other people like you

    Because the thing is, they’re both worthy goals, but you can’t prioritize them equally all the time. You can and should listen to others without assuming you already know what they’re going to say. You can and should resist the temptation to put words in their mouths just because you heard them from the last few proselytizing [conservatives/liberals/heteros/homos/Atkins dieters/Steely Dan fans] you got into a tussle with. You can and should avoid second-guessing people’s motivations and spinning out speculative narratives about their inner emotional lives (a pet peeve of mine, that). All of which is to say, you can and should be civil.

    But that doesn’t mean making nice at all costs. Something Camille Paglia wrote a decade ago in her “No Law in the Arena” essay impressed me greatly when I first read it, even though it clearly wasn’t intended as one of her trademark rampaging-diva climaxes. She was talking about rape activism specifically, but her point has wider applications:

    What I call Betty Crocker feminism–a naively optimistic Pollyannaish or Panglossian view of reality–is behind much of this. Even the most morbid of the rape ranters have a childlike faith in the perfectibility of the universe, which they see as blighted solely by nasty men. They simplistically project outward onto a mythical “patriarchy” their own inner conflicts and moral ambiguities.

    It’s hard to have a discussion with people whose view of reality starts with the fallacy that people naturally get along swimmingly, and that therefore whatever friction arises is only there because you–you evil [liberal/conservative/homo/hetero/carb consumer/only-owns-Gaucho-er]–artificially brought it in from an alien realm. Living, breathing people in a free society have deeply-held beliefs that are at loggerheads with other people’s deeply-held beliefs. People also have internal conflicts that are hard to resolve. That doesn’t make human empathy or the impulse toward kindness less real; it just means that it’s not the only force we need to factor in when discussing our interests.

    It also means that we have to deal with people on their own terms. No one’s personality comes with a line-item veto. I don’t see why LaShawn Barber should not write what she thinks about homosexuality in order to get a rep as the nice black female conservative any more than I plan to stop being a flaming homo in order to get more social conservatives to pay attention to what I’m saying about Japan-US relations. People who only like some aspects of a given blog are free to skip the posts they don’t feel edified by; if the stuff they object too carries sufficient weight with them, they can decide the rest of the blog isn’t worth it and skip the whole thing. People who freak the hell out at the possibility that they might applaud 80% of what a blogger writes and be outraged at the other 20% should probably skip reading blogs altogether and take up PlayStation. Those who are secure in their identities and convictions don’t shrink from criticizing that which they believe reprehensible (or plain inaccurate), but they don’t have a nervous breakdown over its very existence.

    Open conflict is a part of life in democratic societies, and it has the advantage of sifting out and sharpening the best among competing ideas as well as the disadvantage of making life less harmonious. (See also Eric and Grand Stander) The alternative is rule by the collective, in which you the individual are peremptorily informed which tradeoffs will make you happy and then expected to live with them. The tendency of people from such societies to scramble aboard the nearest boat to America the minute they get the chance should indicate how attractive that option really is. In a classical-liberal society, we can’t stop people from trying to impose their estimation of our dignity and worth on us–sometimes loudly and publicly–but we’re not obliged to go along with it. Are there really people who don’t think that’s worth the compromise?

    Don’t answer that.


    Posted by Sean at 07:31, January 3rd, 2006

    So am I the only one who’s totally champing at the bit for the three final episodes of 古畑任三郎 ? I can see why they’re ending it–Tamura Masakazu must be 102 by now, and Imaizumi-kun must be a total chrome-dome. (Actually, apparently no, on that latter point.)

    This is so exciting.

    Added at 21:36: Okay, actually, I’m going to record them so Atsushi and I can watch them together over the three-day weekend; the first DVD is being toasted now.

    This is way cool.

    Will Norito Yashima play a waiter this week? Or a taxi driver? Tomorrow’s guest star murderer is Ichiro. Maybe Yashima will be a batboy? In this economy, you never know. That’s how he ended up at the Japanese embassy in Spain, if I remember correctly.

    And how will Ichiro kill his victim tomorrow? You know, when I say he’s totally not my type, I don’t really mean that in any sort of sententious way. What I really mean is that if, say, Fuji TV decides to show him in a steam room wearing only a towel and strangling someone with his bare hands, powerful forearms straining, I might possibly be persuaded to be a little less dismissive after all.

    I’m just saying.

    Added at 22:00: For anyone who’s not Japan-based and is thinking, Huh? the show I’m referring to is a Japanese show modeled on Columbo. I wrote a little about it a while back, too.

    Added on 5 January: WTF? A glam twin who murders her dowdier but more talented twin and then muddies up the time of death by impersonating her? Well, that’s original. Never seen a mystery like that before.

    Man, the hiding-in-plain-sight mistake she made that Furuhata catches her on had better be agonizingly good. PFFT!

    Added later on 5 January: And the final double-cross didn’t make up for it. Enjoyable, though.