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    Working for the man

    Posted by Sean at 07:47, April 14th, 2005

    This Yomiuri article doesn’t seem to know how funny it is–unless the reporter who wrote it has the driest sense of humor in all of Japan. It’s about former employees of private companies who move to government work:

    Those who successfully make the leap from the private sector to the public sector are often troubled by a lack of coordination between ministries and agencies in implementing government policies. But they find their new jobs rewarding because of their public nature and the contributions to local communities.

    He was appointed section chief before the city had clearly determined what the responsibility of the new section would be. He decided to work on something that had interested him since his student days–involving the public in the creation of a town. He invited younger employees and residents to a meeting to discuss the future of the town. Discussions at the meeting bore fruit and resulted in the improvement of cable television network services and the launch of a local bus service that passengers can use for just 100 yen. [after they pay for the rest of the running cost with their taxes–SRK]

    Tanaka earns less than he did in the private sector and at times has felt at odds with the local government’s bureaucratic ways. For example, the workload of every section is strictly predetermined and no one wants to take on extra work.

    The article isn’t what you’d call a revelation, but it does raise the hope that people with experience working in more results-oriented environment can (slowly) influence things when they move to government work.


    Posted by Sean at 23:52, April 13th, 2005

    You should be reading Eric even when he’s not gallantly quoting me, but the follow-up to his original post on Bill Clinton’s ridiculous comments about campaign strategist Arthur Finkelstein’s opposition to Hillary’s political ascendancy makes a point that deserves to be raised more often:

    The fascinating thing about self-loathing is that if we assume that there is such a thing (and obviously there is) why would it be restricted to gay conservatives? Is it not possible that gay leftists might also suffer from self loathing?

    And how about heterosexuals? Liberal, conservative, moderate, libertarian… What’s to stop any of these individuals from hating themselves?

    You would think that if these jokers (as in, the sorts of gay activists Clinton is likely to have picked up the wording from) were serious about combating self-loathing among gays, they’d devote their energy to outreach programs for gay youths who are terrified out of their minds at what they’ve just discovered about themselves. Or for drug and sex addicts, whose behavior is flat-out self-destructive. It seems to me that the last place a reasonable person would go looking for self-loathing is among centered, ordinary people going un-hysterically about their daily lives; but, then, for some people, the opportunity to take potshots at political opponents is a good that trumps all others.

    Just a girl

    Posted by Sean at 07:02, April 13th, 2005

    Okay, I know that complaining about Salon‘s culture criticism is pointless, so this is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. Dead fish. But still, there’s something unusually dunderheaded about this whine about how Gwen Stefani and others don’t understand the Asian iconography they’re appropriating:

    They shadow her wherever she goes. They’re on the cover of the album, they appear behind her on the red carpet, she even dedicates a track, “Harajuku Girls,” to them. In interviews, they silently vogue in the background like living props; she, meanwhile, likes to pretend that they’re not real but only a figment of her imagination. They’re ever present in her videos and performances — swabbing the deck aboard the pirate ship, squatting gangsta style in a high school gym while pumping their butts up and down, simpering behind fluttering hands or bowing to Stefani. That’s right, bowing. Not even from the waist, but on the ground in a “we’re not worthy, we’re not worthy” pose. She’s taken Tokyo hipsters, sucked them dry of all their street cred, and turned them into China dolls. [Am I the only one who wants to blow groceries when people use words like hipsters and street cred with no irony?–SRK]

    Stefani fawns over harajuku style in her lyrics, but her appropriation of this subculture makes about as much sense as the Gap selling Anarchy T-shirts; she’s swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women. While aping a style that’s suppose to be about individuality and personal expression, Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out.

    Sweetie? How ’bout you try this? Go to Harajuku. Watch the way Harajuku girls actually behave. You will see them acting just as giggly, catty, and coy around cute boys as teenaged girls anywhere else. They use the same helium voices as other good Japanese girls, too. In fact, you can think of it this way. Which of the following do you think Harajuku girls more aspire to be like?

    1. Gwen Stefani, who has millions of fans, makes millions of dollars, is fawned over by stylists and journalists, designs her own line of clothes, and used to screw Gavin Rossdale

    2. A leftish SF journalist who sulks that Asians aren’t being presented soulfully enough in pop culture and seems not to have been sassy enough to put a bigot in his place when he condescended to her

    Remember, Japan is a culture that really, seriously values surfaces. That’s not to say that Harajuku girls’ sense of style isn’t fun and invigorating, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s mostly a fashion thing and really isn’t about the sort of full-on punkish rebellion that it might be among teenagers in the West. (The really disaffected Japanese kids are either locking themselves in their rooms or attacking classmates with knives.) And there’s just as much insider conformity visible among Harajuku girls as there is in any other Japanese group; that some of them have rejected the larger exam-hell scheme their parents might like them to stick with doesn’t change that.

    Personally, I find Stefani’s new music and videos annoying. I think her use of her entourage is a rather witty way of making the same oddly-humble point Madonna made 15 years ago in the “Vogue” video, though: a star is a star because she’s surrounded by people whom she depends on, utterly, to help make her one. Of course Stefani ends up being the only one who stands out. Pop music thrives on groups of anonymous backing singers and dancers whose sole duty is to magnify the charisma of the headliner. I’m sure her four back-ups are at least being paid pretty well for the job they do, and it probably beats temping or meat packing.

    Making them speak only Japanese is a bit on the cute side (it’s not geisha-like, either, since geiko were trained in multiple art forms and expected to make intelligent conversation on whatever topics their clients raised). Then again, I can see how the effect might be ruined if Love and Angel were seen slouching around and saying things like, “Oh, wow. That guy over there? With the press pass and the hair in his eyes? I think I know him? Uh, from sophomore year at Oberlin? Before I became, you know, a performance artist?”

    Foreign Minister’s latest on Japan-China relations

    Posted by Sean at 00:04, April 13th, 2005

    Japan is set to begin the process of exploratory drilling in the contested East China Sea natural gas fields. Sort of:

    The government officially resolved on 13 April immediately to begin proceedings to grant permits to private enterprises for exploratory drilling to open the natural gas fields in the East China Sea that have become an issue in Japan-China relations. The government’s assessment is that, since China has proceeded with its own opening of gas fields close to the China-Japan boundary line (midline), Japan is in danger of losing access to critical natural resources if it delays the process any further. Resistance is expected from China, and the government is carefully weighing whether drilling should actually be permitted to go ahead [presumably even if permits are formally issued].

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura is to travel to Beijing for a meeting with Chinese officials and plans to raise the issue there.

    He has also been quoted, for what it’s worth, on the textbook issue:

    If our Chinese counterparts agree, an effective way to go would be to establish a place for joint Japan-PRC historical research.

    Japan and the ROK already have such a joint program. It doesn’t seem to have had much effect on Japanese textbooks, political speeches, or pilgrimages to shrines, unless I’m missing something.

    Added perilously close to the end of lunch: Okay, just one more thing. Here’s CNN’s latest article on the contretemps, including this quotation from PRC Premier Wen Jiabao:

    In the latest flare-up between the two former rivals, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday that Japan must “face up to history squarely” and that the protests should give Tokyo reason to rethink its bid for a permanent council seat.

    “The strong responses from the Asian people should make the Japanese government have deep and profound reflections,” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

    “Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for past history and wins over the trust of the people in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibility in the international community,” he added.

    That’s fine, but I’m not entirely sure China wants to be raising doubts about who’s qualified for permanent membership on the UNSC, since the obvious flip-side question is, what does China do to justify its existing membership except sit there and, you know, be huge? You may not always like what the US, UK, France, and Russia do with their global influence, but you can’t deny that they’re involved in world affairs. China has a booming economy and sends a lot of people abroad, but you don’t see it playing a key role in incidents of major international dispute or cooperation. I’m not, obviously, suggesting that it would be a good idea to kick the PRC off the UN Security Council, but respect for history and respect from the neighbors are hardly the only criteria worth considering here.

    Bow down to me

    Posted by Sean at 10:41, April 12th, 2005

    Speaking of enjoying the city, I think I’ll take the new Garbage album and listen to it for the first time while walking up Meiji Avenue, with the machines being used to build the redundant new subway line hulking alongside. and a lot of very large, garish billboards on strategic corners. Shirley in her natural habitat.

    There’s no place like home

    Posted by Sean at 09:59, April 12th, 2005

    Via eve ry one, comes this website. My trust-no one instincts say it could be a well-intentioned fake (the guy is utterly adorable–Japan is like a chest-hair deprivation tank, lemme tell you–but it seems odd that he would use those pictures as part of a testament of how tradition-minded he is…not that I mind). Assuming it’s genuine, the guy has balls. It’s the easiest thing in the world for guys like me to be out at home; I fled my little hometown for college so fast there were skidmarks on Main Street, and since then, I’ve lived in Philadelphia, New York, and Tokyo–I go back to Emmaus because that’s where my family and a friend or two are. If they weren’t, I’d be perfectly happy to forget the place existed, though I don’t look down on others for choosing to stay or make their home there. Good on Daniel for not backing down and for being able to write with feeling without getting drippy. I’m moved.


    Posted by Sean at 09:28, April 12th, 2005

    You gotta love that Dean. He takes that book quiz that’s floating around and decides that one of the people he’s going to pass it on to is “Sean Kinsell because he’s fun to pick on.” (Word to youngsters in the audience: You know how your parents keep telling you that when you grow up, you’ll find like-minded people to hang around who will love and respect you for you you are? It’s a total crock. Trust me–the best policy is swift and unapologetic VENGEANCE.)

    I wasn’t going to do anything with this, but today happens to be exactly one year after my first post. I never really planned to start a blog; I liked commenting at other people’s places. But when Atsushi was transferred last March and I wanted something to help fill time while I felt sorry for myself, I asked Dean to set this up for me. As in, I got out my credit card and signed up for MT and hosting, and Dean presented me a week later with a blog ready for writing to (of course, I immediately set about changing the fonts and faggifying the color scheme, but I could have gone with his original template and had a respectable blue-and-white theme…sort of like on-line ticking). He’s also helped me out a lot with my dumb-ass tech problems and by linking to me frequently.

    And, as you can tell, I’ve warmed to it. The number of readers I get amazes me; I’m very grateful. And it’s been good, I think, for my relationship with Atsushi. His English is great, but we speak Japanese at home and watch Japanese television and have all Japanese friends. There’s nothing about that that’s a problem–it’s the life I’ve chosen–but it means that he rarely gets to see me be a full-bore American in my native tongue. With the blog, he does, and, while I know I don’t always show myself to best advantage here, I think it’s a good thing that he has a fuller idea what kind of man he’s with.

    Uh, so anyway, thanks again to Dean and to all of you. For more about the Real Me, here’s that book quiz:

    You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

    Don’t we all die, anyway? If I could be any book until either the firemen or the bomb got me, sheer arrogance would make me want to be the Bible (the KJV–none of that bowdlerized “accessible” crap), which is probably more important in Western history than any other single book.

    Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

    I really don’t think so.

    The last book you bought is:

    Singular? Like one at a time? This test was obviously not written by a book addict. Uh, say 破戒 (hakai: “broken commandment”) by Shimazaki Toson. That wasn’t actually it, I’m pretty sure, but it’s kind of first in line for me to read next.

    The last book you read is:

    To be brutally honest? There was a copy of The Rules lying around our office–heaven only knows why–and I drifted through it while waiting for a friend.

    What are you currently reading?

    The book I’m carrying around with me and officially trying to get through is The Golden Bowl by Henry James; this time I’m going to finish it.

    Five books you would take to a desert island.

    Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

    I beg your pardon! I don’t discuss my stick with anyone but my boyfriend.

    China in your hand

    Posted by Sean at 08:33, April 12th, 2005

    Simon has still more information on the anti-Japanese protests–well, in some places, they really are accurately called riots–so I won’t write much on what others have been covering so ably.

    One thing to bear in mind, though, is that not only aren’t all these protests really just about the textbooks and the UNSC, they’re also not really just about Japan. I’m not a China scholar, but back when Lu Xun was writing, he was ending stories with characters’ crying on the beach and wailing, “Oh, China–why don’t you prosper and strengthen?” China feels that it should, by rights, be the big cheese in Asia. That the country that trumps it economically is Japan is certainly a twist of the knife, and that Japan continues to take the maddening tack of skirting close to apologizing for its atrocities without ever actually doing so is a legitimate issue–but a lot of what’s erupting is frustration that China’s such a basket case in ways that, I think, are only indirectly related to Japan. I don’t want to deflect attention from Japan’s questionable conduct; much as I love this country and its people, it’s let-bygones-be-bygones attitude toward its own sins upsets me. But there are reasons specific to China itself that these things are unfolding as they are, and that’s important to remember, too.

    Added at 21:37: And trust that ace diplomat Shintaro Ishihara, our Metro Governor here in Tokyo, to pour oil on the waters:

    A fishing boat chartered by the Ogasawara Island Fishermen’s Cooperative using a Tokyo Metropolitan Government subsidy left on Tuesday for the disputed Okinotorishima Islands to show the area is part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

    At the urging of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, the metropolitan government allocated 500 million yen from its fiscal 2005 budget to subsidize fishing activities around Japan’s southernmost islands to counter surveys Chinese research ships have frequently conducted in the area.

    “We will prove that the area is Japan’s exclusive economic zone,” Ishihara said when the metropolitan government decided to subsidize fishing in the area.

    Even though it remains to be seen whether fishing operations around Okinotorishima Islands will be profitable, the metropolitan government has offered to cover any possible losses. “The metropolitan government is prepared to make up for any losses from such operations,” Ishihara said.

    So it’s not the fishing that’s important, it’s the f**k-you. Marvelous.

    Empty Garden

    Posted by Sean at 04:26, April 11th, 2005

    I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Man, what Tokyo could use more of is underpopulated hotels. And you are in luck. The latest wonder of pointless hypertrophied hostelry opened for business during this morning’s rain:

    Seibu Rail Group opened its new Tokyo Prince Hotel Park Tower (Minato Ward) on 11 April; the conglomerate has invested about 30 billion yen in the project. This is the 53rd Prince Hotel. The structure consists of 33 floors above ground, two floors below ground, and a total of 673 guest rooms.

    The hotel is supposed to be a symbol of the rebirth of the Seibu Group, which has suffered an extraordinary number of scandals lately even for a Japanese conglomerate.

    BTW, that little sentence about this being the 53rd Prince Hotel? Ha. That doesn’t tell you the half of it. Here in Tokyo, there’s a complex called Shinjuku Park Tower, home of the famous Park Hyatt Hotel. Of the Prince Hotels, possibly the best-known is the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, though there’s also a Shinjuku Prince Hotel. Neither of these is to be confused with the grandiloquent Park Hotel Tokyo, which has towered over Shinbashi for the last several years. And don’t forget the Hotel Century Southern Tower, officially in Shibuya Ward but considered part of the Shinjuku orbit. One begins to feel something like affection for the old Hotel Okura for at least having a name that you’ve got a fighting chance of remembering. The Seibu Group’s strategy of simply stringing all the common words together into one super-nomen might prove to be pretty clever.

    Actually, come to think of it, the same sort of rules govern the naming of apartment buildings here. I live in a building in the Park House chain; you commonly see things like Sun House, Sun Heights, Garden Heim…stuff like that. The strategy seems to be kind of like what happens in suburban housing developments in the States, where, after the meadow is ploughed under and paved over to build the neighborhood, the new street is un-ironically called Meadowview Terrace. All the Garden/Park/Sun buildings just serve as a constant, vicious reminder of how decidedly un-green and sun-deprived Tokyo actually is.

    Then again, it’s hard to imagine how the nomenclature could be made more honest without chasing people away. Who wants to live in a place called Rebar Villas or stay at the Hotel Phallic Boondoggle?

    A civil tongue

    Posted by Sean at 05:24, April 10th, 2005

    Can some of you people get it through your thick heads that civility is a value in its own right?

    Just a second…something a little off about the tone there…[takes restorative gulp of plum-wine spritzer]…there we go….

    There’s a thread running through several of the blog posts that have gotten me exercised this week. That Riding Sun post that kind of annoyed me the other day may have sprung from a comment he made on this spot-on post of Japundit’s, which I found through Plum Blossom. [Ooh, plum! Time for another sip!] Japundit says the following:

    Talking about the weather or chopsticks may be trivial, but they [Japanese people] figure it’s the easiest way to create and maintain a pleasant relationship without ruffling any feathers. Getting involved in a discussion about politics or any other subject that generates strong opinions could easily become unpleasant for both parties and nip the potential for a harmonious encounter in the bud.

    I find that once you get to know Japanese people, they will lay out their opinions on just about any issue in startlingly direct terms. But that’s once you get to know them. First, a relationship of trust has to be established–and you do that by demonstrating that you’re capable of having lively but scrupulously polite conversations about things that don’t really matter. Topics start with the weather or how hard it is to learn English–if you show yourself to be a gentleman there, things get more interesting. If you show yourself not to be a gentleman, your conversation partner can drop you without feeling embarrassed about having made some personal revelation that you can now hold over him. Polite society works this way in America, too, though it’s hard to find.

    Oh, yeah, speaking of which, Gay Orbit notes an exchange Another Gay Republican has had with a member of Sister Talk. The Sister says this:

    We should be kissing conservative ass and playin’ nice, according to the Republican homos; for them, it’s our best chance at accomplishing anything for our team. SINCE WHEN? Since when has diplomacy ever won an oppressed group of people any damn thing?

    AGR’s response, in part:

    I don’t see how confrontation gets us anywhere. Railing against hypocrisy may make us feel better, but the people that aren’t molesting their kids, beating their wives, divorcing, and running gay porn web sites, tend to get pissed off when they’re tagged with guilt by association. Just like liberals get all worked up when they’re accused of being the root of all evil. Once they’re mad, they tend to shut their minds to anything you have to say.

    How is it, I am frequently moved to wonder, that people have not figured this out? I’m talking about those who believe that every conversation must be seized on as an opportunity to Make a Point (“I actually am cool enough to know how to use chopsticks,” “I speak languages that are actually harder than Japanese,” “There are right-wingers who make a buck from behavior they condemn”) in the most literal political sense, without recognizing that the subtext can be equally important. We all have to live with each other. I love Japan, but I’m American through-and-through–I like plenty of good-natured rough-and-tumble argument mixed in with my harmony. It keeps all of us alert and makes life interesting.

    There are limits, though, and people who don’t stay within them when it comes to political debate raise the suspicion that they won’t in the actions of daily life, either. If all you ever do is criticize your political opposition while making excuses for your team, people start to wonder whether you’re capable of mature self-criticism in your work and sex lives, too. If you hog the floor all the time, you might be the sort of person who takes a ME-ME-ME! approach to other resources, too. There’s no law against being a pain in the ass, but there’s no reason people should encourage you to be one, either.

    You don’t have to be a pushover to be polite; I certainly don’t think I am. You just have to be willing to give people a chance unless they’ve put themselves outside the bounds of civility from the get-go. You can always distance yourself later if they prove to be jerks. It’s hard to undo the damage of dismissing them out of hand if you later realize you should have been more sympathetic, though.