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    Posted by Sean at 04:33, November 23rd, 2005

    Repercussions from the Aneha scandal are still being felt. Just about the only bright side here so far is that it’s given rise to one of those super-long kanji compound strings that can be such fun: 耐震強度偽造問題 (taishin kyoudo gizou mondai: lit., “earthquake-resistance strength falsification scandal”). It’s not a whole lot of comfort:

    The Mie Transport (Sanco) Corporation (Tsu City) announced on 23 November that it was halting operation of two hotels managed by its Sanco Real Estate subsidiary, the Sanco Inn Kuwana Station (Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture) and the Sanco Inn Shizuoka (Shizuoka City), until their safety and earthquake resistance could be confirmed. The design office at Aneha had participated in planning the structures.

    Additionally, the Nagoya Rail (Meitetsu) Group’s Meitetsu Real Estate (Nagoya City) similarly halted operations of its Meitetsu Inn Kariya (Kariya City, Aichi Prefecture) because Aneha had handled calculations for its construction.

    When Atsushi called from Kyushu yesterday, he related that one of the construction firms for whose buildings Aneha had produced the inspection reports known to be falsified, Kimura Construction (Yashiro City, Kumamoto Prefecture) has already essentially gone bankrupt. Yesterday morning, the shutters were closed over the windows and a note was posted in one of them stating that it was unable to pay its bills and was consulting with attorneys.

    It’s hard to explain just how chilling this is. It’s not just that the Kanto Plain is an earthquake zone. In Tokyo, we’re also right next to the ocean. Parts of the city are below sea level or built on filled-in creekbeds and such. Our houses are shoehorned in close together. We also have perceptible little tremors here every few weeks or so–constant reminders that the ground is unstable.

    People don’t sit around having morbid discussions about earthquakes all the time. At least, the people I know don’t. But you do think about it when you’re deciding how close you want that new bookcase to be to your sleeping head at night, or whether it’s okay to have your emergency supplies several steps from the bed and the sofa where you spend the most time. Things like that. Word is that some of the buildings Aneha certified might collapse in earthquakes at a strong 5 on the JMA scale of surface vibration. That’s strong, but a quake at that level isn’t exactly unlikely to occur at some point soon, and the instruction that you get about earthquake preparation usually explicitly tells you to factor in the age and certified earthquake resistance of your building, for obvious reasons.

    LDP at 50

    Posted by Sean at 22:48, November 22nd, 2005

    The Liberal Democratic Party celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its founding yesterday:

    The Liberal Democratic Party marked the 50th anniversary of its founding Tuesday and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told a celebratory convention the party’s mission now is to implement structural reforms on a par with the Meiji Restoration and the postwar economic miracle to cope with a changing world.

    “In Japan’s modern political history, two big reforms can be called ‘miracles.’ One was the Meiji Restoration of 1867-68, and the other is the reform that came 60 years ago after the defeat in World War II,” said Koizumi, who is also LDP president, at the convention in Tokyo.

    The Meiji Restoration marked the transfer of power from the feudalistic Tokugawa shogunate to a new central government, ushering in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and forcing the country out of three centuries of isolation.

    Koizumi noted that the two reforms were achieved after many people were killed.

    “How can we, in a peaceful way, implement reforms to deal with ongoing change around the globe?” he asked. “That is the duty of this governing party as it marks the 50th anniversary of its founding.”

    The party also publicized some of its new platform, including one that’s been both controversial and anticipated:

    Secretary General Takebe officially unveiled the new party platform, the goals of which are a new ideology that embraces “contributing to the realization of world peace,” “passage of constitutional revisions,” “revision of fundamental education law,” and “achieving small government.”

    Former Prime Minister Mori, chair of the party’s drafting committee for constitutional revisions, announced proposed revisions that stipulate that Japan maintains a “self-defense army” and add new rights related to privacy and the environment.

    I haven’t seen anything about phrasing that would give Japan the right to participate in “collective defense” missions, which was the other big military matter under discussion in the drafting committee.

    Chosen time

    Posted by Sean at 09:25, November 22nd, 2005

    What I love most about Madonna as a lyricist is her inventiveness with language, the way she’s constantly stretching her idiolect to accommodate new contours in her idiosyncratic inner world.

    For example, this is the chorus to “I Love New York” from the new album:

    Other cities always make me mad
    Other places always make me sad
    No other city ever made me glad
    Except New York
    I love New York

    It’s like you’re privy to her most private thoughts, huh?

    Okay, enough with the deadpanning. WTF? I could have written that. In fact, I think I did write it–in first grade when Miss Cramer gave us an assignment that was, like, “Write a poem describing where you’ll live after you grow up and decide you’re too fabulous for the Lehigh Valley.” Maybe Lourdes was helping Mommy at work that day?

    Madonna’s intelligence is generally, uh, of the non-verbal variety, and that’s okay–she’s a musician and dancer primarily. Her lyrics are almost never graceful–she likes clunky metaphors and lines that scan dicily–but when she’s at her best, they’re punchy and immediate. Frequently (as above), she’s at both her best and her worst in the space of the same song. Of course, maddeningly enough, I love “I Love New York” to death. It’s just, I swear I can feel that chorus making me dumber every time I hear it.


    Posted by Sean at 09:15, November 22nd, 2005

    To complete the set of contentious meetings this weekend, Prime Minister Koizumi met with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin:

    In summit talks Monday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to expand their economic ties but broke no new ground on the Northern Territories dispute.

    Japanese officials described the Tokyo talks as frank and thorough. Both sides seemed happier skirting the contentious territorial issue–apparently for fear of having to make drastic concessions that would not win public approval at home.

    The two sides signed 12 agreements ranging from energy development and telecommunications to fighting terrorism and promoting tourism.

    Analysts suggested that Moscow feels it has the upper hand right now because the Russian economy stands to benefit from high oil prices. In addition, a swell in nationalistic sentiment in Russia may make it more difficult for Putin to give ground on the dispute.

    After nine years here, I have to wonder: When and where is nationalist sentiment ever not swelling in Asia and its environs?

    The Nikkei editorial on the meeting this morning added uncharacteristically little. Besides the dispute over islands, the negotiations for a Siberian pipeline didn’t produce an agreement as firm as Japan would have liked.

    Letter from home

    Posted by Sean at 08:23, November 21st, 2005

    Joe e-mailed me a week or so ago to say that the local paper where I grew up, The Morning Call , was getting a new publisher. It didn’t mean anything much to me–I no longer live in Emmaus, and it’s doubtful that the publisher cast a Katherine Graham-like cultural shadow, in any case. I did go back to the Call‘s website, though. Among its blogs is one by a guy from the Poconos who’s stationed in Iraq. As you may imagine, he doesn’t get to post much, and he seems to be in a hurry when he does, but it’s interesting:

    Yes, there are women here and after talking only with guys it is nice sometimes to talk to a woman. Female soldiers are mainly at the brigade level and the medical field. Recently we actually requested one for a mission. It met with great resistance. See, bringing women along on the mission actually helps a lot. We, male soldier, don’t interact with the women in Iraq because of their culture but often come across them when we go into homes. Having a female soldier there to do searches on the Iraqi women if necessary and to hlep out with information gathering. The women of Iraq are very shy, but when there are female soldiers around they seem very eager to talk. One incident the other day a 8 year old boy was crying when we went into the home and our female soldier put her arm around him at what seemed to be the perfect time and he instantly stopped crying and felt comforted. We believe that this helps extremely with getting to know the Iraqi people and help them see us not as an invading force but as real people trying to help.

    That was posted on 11 September, BTW.

    The Harrisburg correspondent runs one of the paper’s other blogs. I’m not sure he’s quite the wit he appears to think he is, but lamentably few of us are. In his favor, he comments on federal as well as state legislators, meaning that he keeps an eye on how Specter and Santorum are voting.

    How it works

    Posted by Sean at 07:38, November 21st, 2005

    There’s a post I’ve kind of been meaning to make for the last few months, and given the fraternal love electrifying the atmosphere in the US Congress and blogosphere, this seems like a good time to make it.

    I’ve been getting an increasing number of hits from people looking for information about Japanese defense. Quite a few of them are from university and US military ISPs, but I assume even they are mostly from people who are just kind of curious about what’s going on here.

    There’s always the possibility that someone doing Real Research is blundering into me, though. If so, I hope this is obvious, but just in case: I’m not a moron, but I’m also not a political scientist. Still less am I a military strategist. I tend to choose each story I post about for one of a couple of reasons.

    One is that Prime Minister Koizumi, while hardly perfect, has taken real political risks in so firmly and ringingly allying himself with the Bush administration in the WOT. A lot of Americans–educated general readers like me–seem not to pay much attention to Japan now that its period of dizzying economic hypergrowth has been over for fifteen years, but the Pacific Rim is a region of extreme importance to US interests. Japan’s loyalty to us as an ally and the evolution of its own military policy matter a great deal, and I think they deserve more notice.

    Another factor I consider when posting is that the usual media line about studious, slave-to-tradition, unfailingly safe, enlightened-social-democratic, mysteries-of-Zen Japan is grossly reductive. I’m sure most foreign correspondents make a good-faith effort to report things accurately, but you don’t have to live here long to realize that some of them simply don’t know what they don’t know and can’t formulate the right questions. When a story shows a side of Japan that doesn’t fit the usual pattern, I often find it worth calling attention to.

    Finally, there’s a ridiculous idea abroad in the world that Americans are provincial while everyone else is cosmopolitan and intellectual. That kind of crap is bad enough when it comes from Everyone Else; when I hear other Americans buying into it, it drives me crazy. Japan, despite an educational system that’s the envy of much of the world, displays plenty of what we now call cultural insensitivity…and sometimes plain ignorance. I think it’s helpful to remind people that that kind of thing is a human, not an American, problem.

    I might also say a word or two about my sources. Japan’s tabloidish news magazines are frequently the first to report major scandals and such. I don’t cite them because it’s generally necessary to wait to see whether the major dailies pick up on a story, anyway, to find out whether it has any substance or was just a sensational rumor. The dailies are a little slower, but if there’s meat in there somewhere, it’s in their interest to get to it eventually. And they’re usually far ahead of Reuters or CNN. If a link goes to a Japanese story, the translation that appears here is my own. That means you have to trust me; but I have several readers, at least one of whom comments regularly, who also read Japanese fluently. If I’m parsing anything incorrectly, I have no doubt that it will be pointed out to me immediately and triumphantly. (Don’t make that face at me, boys. You know it’s true.)

    One more thing for those reading from the military: We support you. There’s a lot of jabber lately about polls and yanking people out of Iraq by next Friday and stuff, but the Americans (and a handful of English and Japanese people) I know believe what you’re doing, whatever your individual assignments happen to be, is worthwhile and meaningful. If the President says you’re not done, you’re not done. Thanks for staying on the job. We all owe you. I don’t say that nearly often enough.

    Added on 22 November: From the Grandstand kindly links this post and adds a Thanksgiving-specific message for our military folks to my general one.

    Added on 23 November: Thanks to the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler for the link also. He adds his own thanks to our soldiers.

    Falcon doesn’t perch

    Posted by Sean at 23:53, November 20th, 2005

    Darn. Too bad:

    A Japanese research probe failed to touch down on an asteroid Sunday after maneuvering within meters to collect surface samples, JAXA, Japan’s space agency said.

    The Hayabusa probe, which botched a rehearsal earlier this month, was on a mission to briefly land on the asteroid, collect material, then bring it back to Earth.

    When Hayabusa was 40 meters above the asteroid Itokawa, it dropped a small object as a touchdown target, then descended to 17 meters, said officials from Japan’s space agency, JAXA.

    At that point, ground control lost contact with the probe for about three hours, the officials said.

    “Hayabusa reached extremely close, but could not make the landing,” said JAXA spokesman Toshihisa Horiguchi, adding that the reason for the failure was unknown.

    At least this project was launched successfully. Not all of them have been over the last few years, though normally I think it was satellites that were involved. This wasn’t a military mission, of course, but Japan is justifiably keeping an eye on China’s increased military spending, and visible tech screw-ups like this don’t look good, either internally or externally.

    The genie is out of the bottle

    Posted by Sean at 08:11, November 20th, 2005

    I know this question is going to sound redundant coming from a homosexual, but what sort of man wants his children to enter the world through Christina Aguilera‘s baby chute? Sheesh.

    DPJ’s Maehara on President Roh

    Posted by Sean at 07:58, November 20th, 2005

    DPJ leader Seiji Maehara spoke about ROK President Roh on Asahi Television this weekend:

    On an Asahi television program on 20 November, DPJ party chief Seiji Maehara expressed the following judgment about the pursuit of a resolution sought by South Korean President Mu-Hyon Roh to the issues of Takeshima (Korean: Dokuto) and history textbooks: “I’m not sure what Mr. Roh is thinking–telling us to find a resolution to the Takeshima problem when they (Korea) are already actually governing it. On the textbook problem also, hasn’t he [displayed] a shallow understanding of Japan’s approval system?”

    I think all the chumminess probably comes from their shared genetic heritage.

    Blame game

    Posted by Sean at 06:46, November 20th, 2005

    Some of the buildings with faked earthquake code certifications have been identified. You can guess the result:

    Bureaucrats were busy taking calls from anxious residents Saturday following news reports of falsified structural strength data for 21 buildings in Tokyo and in Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures.

    In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, structural strength reports of five apartment buildings–including two that have residents–were falsified, it was revealed by the Construction and Transport Ministry on Friday.

    Seven officials of the Funabashi municipal government’s building guidance division came to work Saturday to respond to residents’ inquiries. They were kept busy answering a spate of phone calls from residents from about 8 a.m.

    However, a ward official said: “We’ve also been waiting for the result of a reassessment of the building’s structural strength from the ministry. We can’t say whether the building is safe or dangerous at the moment.”

    Officials dealing with the issue in other municipalities also were having a hard time. One of them asked, “How can we explain to residents when we don’t have any data?” Another asked, “Should I just tell the residents to evacuate their apartments?”

    Oy. Another big, if (slightly) less urgent question: Who’s going to be stuck with the blame when the dust settles? (Kind of a ghoulish figure of speech in this case, but I couldn’t resist):

    “Basically, the first-class architect, who holds a government certified qualification and acted dishonestly, bears heavy responsibility,” Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said at a press conference Friday in reference to 48-year-old Aneha, of Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, who owns Aneha Architect Design Office.

    But Ishihara went on to say the government also was to blame because it failed to properly oversee eHomes, the Tokyo private organization that checked documents filed by Aneha on behalf of the government.

    “I think it [eHomes] didn’t read the documents properly and was slack about issuing approvals,” Ishihara said.

    “As the government commissioned the task to the private sector, the government should have properly guided the private sector,” he said.

    “The government should be blamed for the scandal,” he added.

    But the government is reluctant to consider providing assistance to the condominium residents.

    “Basically, it is an issue that occurred as a result of private economic activities,” a senior Construction and Transport Ministry official said. “As it is clear that the cause of the scandal was a deliberate falsification of documents, it is difficult for the government to help them.”

    The government has asked local governments to provide public housing for the residents, but moving costs and rent likely will have to be paid by the residents themselves.

    Aneha, who provided the falsified reports, said the falsification is easy to detect if one does a simple calculation, but eHomes failed to spot it.

    Apparently, so did the government agencies.