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    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.

    You can’t go home again

    Posted by Sean at 03:06, June 4th, 2006

    I’m not sure what to make of the lead on this Reuters item:

    Angry New Orleans public-housing residents on Saturday took charge of the recovery and cleanup of homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina and vandals, blaming the government for failing to act.

    Acting without the approval of housing authorities, some residents took their first look at their homes since fleeing Katrina nine months ago. Many found criminals had done as much damage as the storm.

    I’m hoping that what the residents are angry about is that bureaucratic ineptitude has kept them from their houses for so long that thieves have had ample time to make off with furniture and fittings…and not because they’re actually having to clean things up for themselves. I’m all for decreasing the scope of government, but it doesn’t strike me that indignation is misplaced when existing bureaucracies pull their paternalistic don’t-touch-that-you’ll-hurt-yourself routine and end up making things worse. On the other hand, this might be a nice lesson for those who’ve made life decisions in such a way as to keep themselves wards of the state: There are strings attached to government handouts, namely that you tend to be bossed around about how you can use them.


    Posted by Sean at 02:52, June 4th, 2006

    Japan Defense Agency head Fukushiro Nukaga has met with US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Singapore:

    [A]bout the Ground Self Defense Force’s activities in Samawa in southern Iraq, Nukaga made clear his desire for close coordination in setting the date for withdrawal: “We want to coordinate any moves from here on with the US, the UK, and Australia.”

    There’s no more specific information from the Nikkei, and not all of Japan’s international relations moves have proceeded all chummy-like this weekend:

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Saturday morning in TV shows that he would not say whether he would visit Yasukuni Shrine in his campaign pledge during the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election campaign in September.

    In programs broadcast by TBS and YTV, Abe said: “I don’t plan to say I will or won’t go. If my saying anything about it becomes a diplomatic issue, I shouldn’t say anything, considering the political situation and the party presidential election. It’s best not to clearly state [whether I will visit the shrine].”

    Abe also said China has criticized Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visiting the shrine partly due to its “anti-Japan education.”

    “As China offers anti-Japan education, an anti-Japan tide is rolling among its people. If the country backs off on the [Yasukuni Shrine] issue, the Chinese government will face difficulties [at home],” he said.

    The PRC usually responds to every peep from the Koizumi administration about the Yasukuni visits; I haven’t read of anything extracted from Xinhua this weekend, though.

    There’s been something of a gesture of goodwill toward Korea–not by the government directly, but by Japan’s hoity-toitiest public university:

    A set of voluminous documents that constitutes one of only four known definitive records of the era of Korean kings–and which vanished when Japan controlled the Korean Peninsula–will be returned to its rightful owner, the University of Tokyo announced Wednesday.

    Koreans say “The Annals of the Choson Dynasty” were stolen during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

    The set of handwritten books is registered as a national treasure in South Korea. The volumes ended up at the university’s library.

    Some of the volumes were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

    Home remedies

    Posted by Sean at 06:51, May 31st, 2006

    Busy as hell here. I’m keeping up with the news as usual but don’t feel as I had the mind space to write about it. One thing I noticed a few weeks ago that’s become more relevant since this weekend’s earthquake in Indonesia:

    A simple and inexpensive method of minimizing earthquake damage by using plastic packing tape is being promoted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency through public demonstrations in quake-prone Pakistan.

    The method was developed by Prof. Kimiro Meguro of Tokyo University’s Institute of Industrial Science.

    The polypropylene, which has good tensile strength, is applied in a protective grid on the walls of buildings. The tape is then coated with plaster for protection against ultraviolet rays.

    The method costs only a few thousand yen per house and does not significantly mar the appearance of the buildings.

    In March, JICA demonstrated the packing tape engineering in an area of Pakistan devastated by an earthquake last year that left 70,000 people dead.

    Local engineers and administrators were impressed, as reinforced miniature structures stood unharmed while other buildings collapsed after receiving an intensity-6 jolt in the demonstration.

    “The engineering is suited to many countries since polypropylene tape is available around the world and is consistent in quality,” said a spokesman for the Global Environment Department of JICA.

    The tape and plaster don’t magically turn stacks of brick or mud brick into shear walls, obviously. I’m assuming that in a lot of cases, tape-reinforced walls would survive a strong quake just long enough for residents to leave a house before it crumbled, but even that’s a major innovation when you’re dealing with simple materials and inadequate framing. It also means that less manpower and other resources needs to be expended on rescue operations. Assuming the method performs as well in reality as it does in the lab, it’s the kind of practical idea–realistic about what locals can get their hands on and simple enough not to require a whole lot of tech knowledge–that could turn into genuinely useful foreign assistance.

    It’s unfortunate that there’s no packing-tape bandage for inadequate transportation infrastructure and distribution management systems, which always prove to be the major problems after the immediate exigency of rescue fades. Along with other countries providing aid, Japan has an advance medical relief team and SDF unit in Java now to assess how best to deliver relief.