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    NHK–it’s the new BBC!

    Posted by Sean at 21:28, January 25th, 2006

    I fear that to some American readers, the Asahi‘s “NHK’s aim to become BBC of Japan, duck Takenaka’s control” headline will give the wrong impression. Here’s how the accompanying article starts:

    Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK), choked by scandals, a sharp drop in viewer fees and wariness of tighter government control, has unveiled a new management plan that tears pages from the BBC’s book of operating.

    The new three-year plan not only de-emphasizes NHK’s old policy of expansion, but also stresses independence and stronger corporate self-governance.

    That is apparently aimed at deflecting recent government moves to wield more control over the public broadcaster.

    In December last year, Heizo Takenaka, minister of internal affairs and communications, set up an advisory panel to review NHK’s operations.

    Before you snigger, “More like the BBC?!” let’s remember a few things. Like the BBC, NHK began as a government entity; unlike the BBC, it’s still a government entity. [Whoops–thanks, Toby. I was sure the BBC had undergone that neither-here-nor-there semi-public-corporation thing–a la Japan Post, whose new corporation just started operations, BTW–but no.] No, it still hasn’t been privatized; instead it’s stuck in Japan’s public-corporation limbo. That means there’s been nothing over the line about the Koizumi administration’s talk of reforming it. At the same time, it’s perfectly reasonable for the board of governors to want to be able to operate as it sees fit. From the above link to the NHK’s English website (corresponding Japanese here), this is its own wishful line about the way it functions:

    NHK is financed by the receiving fee paid by each household that owns a television set. This system enables the Corporation to maintain independence from any governmental and private organization, and ensures that the opinions of viewers and listeners are assigned top priority.

    Everyone in Japan knows that that’s a crock. Plenty of households manage not to pay NHK fees (mostly by simply bringing a television into the house without letting NHK know, rather than in the process of righteously opposing its misconduct), its news service plays along with the chummy press club game as much as that of any other major broadcaster or publication in Japan, and viewers and listeners have been making a beeline for other broadcasters that give them what they actually want to watch and hear.

    So in theory, it sounds like a great idea for NHK to undertake reform from within. Vice President Taeko Nagai, in an interview with the Asahi, “said NHK can learn a lot from the BBC, which puts priority on high-quality programs ranging from news to drama to comedy.” Fair enough. NHK’s historical dramas and documentary shows are frequently first-rate, but it certainly broadcasts plenty of junk. (Whether excising that junk would be in line with better serving consumer demand is an impolitic question that I will humbly receive the favor of not answering here.)

    Additionally, the resignation of its last board president exactly a year ago, mostly over embezzlement but also over the possibility that LDP higher-ups (including current star Shinzo Abe) pressed the producer of a mock trial program about Japan’s use of comfort women during the occupation of Asia to soften its contents. To be fair, that wasn’t the first time NHK reports and “documentaries” were shown to have been cagily edited or even outright staged, and in other cases, NHK acted on its own volition.

    In any case, the government views NHK as a public body with responsibility to Kasumigaseki, and NHK views itself as a government-funded semi-independent body striving toward (dare we say it?) BBC levels of objectivity and independence. Unfortunately, NHK wants to have its freedom of the press and eat citizens’ money, too:

    [Nagai] also indicated NHK’s system of mandatory viewer fees should be maintained, because there are many high-quality programs that can only be provided by public broadcasters like NHK or the BBC.

    Conveniently–and in this sense readers won’t be getting the wrong impression at all–the arguments that have been made about the BBC apply pretty much equally to NHK: if it plans to wow us with all that high-quality programming and is serious about serving the public’s needs, won’t it be able to survive even if it’s competing with other broadcasters? At least, wouldn’t that be the case for its news service (which is the division in most obvious danger of being corrupted by too-close ties with the government)? NHK doesn’t think so. I mean, it really doesn’t think so.

    Other elements of the new plan include offering services that play to NHK’s strengths as a public broadcaster: strengthening news reports and disaster bulletins, and creating broadcasts catering to specific regions.

    As for scrambling NHK programs for households that do not pay, a move recommended in some quarters, the plan insists it should be avoided.

    It said steps will be taken to urge people to pay, and, as a last resort, preparations would be made to sue anyone who does not sign a contract.

    I think that’s pretty much what they are, indeed, going to have to be prepared to do.

    I don’t wanna cry

    Posted by Sean at 07:30, January 23rd, 2006

    Dear Mariah:

    Because of you, I almost had the perfect weekend.

    I mean, it’s because of you that I had to add the “almost.” Of course, Atsushi would have had to be here for it to be really perfect, but we had an appropriately tender anniversary call, and he seems less stressed by work lately, which is as perfect as things get while he’s away. Yesterday, I got the most delicious little spring sweater at Zegna to wear when we have dinner this Saturday. My best friend appears to be cementing a new relationship with a man I approve of. On Saturday night, everyone was in a great mood–ran into guys I hadn’t seen for ages but always enjoy talking too–and there was none of that slightly-strained merrymaking you sometimes get into over the New Year.

    And then while I was talking to a cute, flirtatious Australian guy, I glanced up, and there was your hideous “Get Your Number” video. TOTALLY DESTROYED the combination of conviviality and aesthetic pleasure (did I mention that the boys at GB had managed to mix me a particularly yummy vodka tonic that go-round?).

    Seriously, Mariah, or Mimi, or whoever you are now, I’m glad for your comeback. It’s horrible to see people suffer in public, and with that suicidal website post and your career tanking and the nervous breakdown…well, I’m no more a fan of your music than I was before, but I’m glad you were able to come up with another album that sold in the gajillions because you clearly needed it to make you feel better.

    Now that you do feel better, can we make the next project not looking like a whore? As another cute, flirtatious guy (this one from New York) remarked when that horrid video played yet again, you’re working the “busted tramp” thing, and it’s so…bad…so very, very bad. It’s a lie that all (or most) gay men are misogynists, but it’s not a lie that some are, and I fear you’ve managed to fall in with a stylist or two who really don’t have your best interests at heart.

    Same with your video director. Next time he says, “Okay, now that you’ve gotten into the shiny dress with the micro-miniskirt and the plunging neckline that exposes your appallingly obvious new rack-inflation job, I want you to perch on the edge of this here sofa with your knees three feet apart,” here’s your response–and I want you to practice this, dear: “LIKE HELL I WILL, BUSTER.”

    You’ll be doing all of us a favor.

    Still kinda feeling icky,

    Sean K.

    Communists and Social Democrats may cooperate against Article 9 revision

    Posted by Sean at 07:00, January 23rd, 2006

    Considering what happens when communists take it into their heads to get bellicose, this is kind of nice to hear in a way. Unrealistic given the way the world has shaped up of late, but, you know, nice:

    Kazuo Shii, chief of the Japan Communist Party secretariat, submitted an invitation to Social Democratic Party head Mizuho Fukushima to join the JCP in a struggle to oppose the revision of Article 9 of the constitution. The party leaders will conduct a meeting in the near future and discuss what kind of joint struggle is feasible. Shii addressed a press conference, saying “If we can come to an agreement between our parties, which hold Diet seats, we can wield a great deal of power to block the revision of the constitution.” SDP chief party secretary Seiji Mataichi confined himself to telling the Diet press corps, “The Social Democratic and Communist parties are not in a position to make very great headway by ourselves. We’re just part of a more broad-ranging citizens’ battlefront for preventing constitutional revision.”

    How much citizen support the SDP and JCP can actually rally is very debatable. The public is ambivalent on the Koizumi administration’s unqualified support for Bush’s approach to the WOT; at the same time, China and North Korea have been emitting hostile noises with disturbing frequency, and Japan knows that it’s small and potentially vulnerable next to them. Its alliance with the US allows it to be part of a proven winning team, the US has made it clear that it wants the revision of Article 9 to go through, and while the Japanese are proud of the reputation for peaceableness the non-aggression clause has helped them maintain since the war, hard-core anti-war types haven’t succeeded in getting voters fired up against the LDP’s revision proposals.


    Posted by Sean at 06:25, January 23rd, 2006

    Well, it’s finally happened: they’ve arrested Takafumi Horie. I haven’t been writing about this latest Livedoor story because…oh, I don’t know. Atsushi is the business person in the family, and focusing on Japan’s diplomatic soap opera gives me enough to talk about. As of this morning, the questioning Horie was undergoing was voluntary; the Asahi‘s latest English installment outlines all the key points for those who are interested but haven’t really been following along:

    The Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office’s questioning is apparently focused on Horie’s involvement in a number of dubious transactions, including the 2004 purchase of publisher Money Life Co. by Livedoor Marketing Co., a Livedoor affiliate.

    Starting in autumn 2003, Livedoor took over six companies, five of them through stock swaps, and then manipulated their stock prices, sources close to the investigation said.

    The profits gained through the manipulations were passed on to Livedoor in the form of fictitious transactions with its subsidiaries, the sources said.

    Livedoor also listed gains through sales of its own shares as revenue, instead of assets, they said.

    These maneuvers enabled Livedoor and its affiliates to window-dress their accounts, the sources said.Some said Livedoor had padded its earnings by about 9 billion yen.

    New Nago mayor opposes current US military restructuring plan

    Posted by Sean at 06:18, January 23rd, 2006

    …but so did his opponents, so that part of the outcome wasn’t really under dispute.

    The Governor of Okinawa spoke today with the head of the JDA on the restructuring of US military installations in Okinawa, which is an ongoing issue on which there seems to be little movement lately:

    Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine visited Japan Defense Agency head Fukushiro Nukaga at the JDA offices on 23 January. Of the mayoral election in the city of Nago, he stated, “The new mayor will be someone who acts in good faith, but all three candidates stood opposed to the proposal to shift [US military] operations and facilities from the Futenma Base to the coastal areas of Camp Schwab. It will still be a difficult issue from here on.” He went on to say of the Futenma restructuring issue that “from the Okinawa side, we will continue to act in good faith.”

    The JDA has asked for concessions from the US aimed at minimizing the burdens placed on locals where our bases are located. The Yomiuri had a good English-edition rundown of the election referred to above:

    In fact, Shimabukuro [ who won, BTW –SRK] is opposed to the relocation plan to which the Japanese and the U.S. governments agreed (under the agreed plan, the Futenma Air Station in Ginowan will be relocated to the southern coast of Camp Schwab in Nago). However, Shimabukuro wants to leave room for compromise should the plan be revised.

    Henoko Ward Head Yasumasa Oshiro said: “Those who protest against the plan say, ‘The money will be gone as it’s spent, but the base will remain forever.’ But these pretty words don’t feed people. What’s important is compensation.”

    Quite a few restaurants in the central part of the ward seemed to have closed down, others seem to be struggling, the English letters on their signs fading away.

    An elderly taxi driver said, “This used to be a lively quarter, full of U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War, but now it’s deserted, with no young people coming in.”

    Oshiro is opposed to the current relocation plan, which suggests building the air station only 300 meters away from the closest civilian residence. He does not approve of the way the central government overruled the local governments when it agreed to the plan.

    Oshiro criticized the central government, saying: “We’re not interested in dugongs and seaweed beds. The government should have dealt effectively with the opponents and promoted the idea of building the airport on reclaimed land in shallow waters off Henoko. It was their delinquency that didn’t make it happen.”

    A few months ago, the US was the party pushing the original reclaimed-land proposal; local voters didn’t go for it, and it isn’t just a gambit by Okinawan politicians to shove the relocated facilities as far away from the locals as possible.


    Oh, and BTW, whoops!

    Several unmanned helicopters produced by Yamaha Motor Co. may have been passed on to China’s People’s Liberation Army, it has been learned.

    Suspicions have arisen that the helicopters, which are employed largely for industrial use but can be also used for military purposes, were illegally exported to China, investigators allege.

    Yamaha Motor has denied the allegations, but suspicions have arisen that the helicopters may have been passed on to the People’s Liberation Army. Police and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry are investigating the company over its actions.

    Investigators said Yamaha Motor was involved in trade with an aircraft firm in Beijing. The aircraft firm’s Web site says Yamaha Motor’s unmanned helicopters have prospects for “wide use in civilian and military fields.” An unmanned helicopter is pictured alongside a People’s Liberation Army jet.


    Posted by Sean at 08:30, January 21st, 2006

    The bar where Atsushi and I were first introduced is one of those places with lots of shelves and niches full of stuff. The owner has a thing for Chinese culture, so you’ve got your gongs and your dragons and your red and gold things. He also brought in some books. Guys frequently take down and page through the ones about your zodiac sign or gay places to go in Singapore and stuff. Being a big dork, I frequently took down the one called 水生無脊椎動物 (suisei musekitsui doubutsu: “aquatic invertebrates,” which title appears on the cover as Aquatic Invertebrates of the World) and looked at color drawings of the various varieties of starfish and cross sections of sea cucumbers. This drew such comments as “Sean, you’re the only gay man on the planet who would sit at a bar and read a book called Aquatic Invertebrates of the World” and…well, that was pretty much the comment everyone made, actually. Until Atsushi. His comment was “Hmmm…,” which with him frequently counts as a full sentence, as I would discover later.

    You’re thinking this is yet another post with no point, but you are WRONG. Knowing the Japanese word for invertebrate means you know the character for spinal cord, and that means you can understand why Japan decided to reinstate its ban on US beef again today, after spinal cord was found in a shipment. The usual statements have been made. No more gyudon from Yoshinoya (again) until things are sorted out.

    More bang for your health care buck

    Posted by Sean at 03:25, January 21st, 2006

    You have got to be kidding me (via Ace Pryhill at Gay Orbit):

    University of Florida employees have to pledge that they’re having sex with their domestic partners before qualifying for benefits under a new health care plan at the university.

    The partners of homosexual and heterosexual employees are eligible for coverage under UF’s plan, which will take effect in February. The enrollment process began this month, and some employees have expressed concern about an affidavit that requires a pledge of sexual activity.

    Kim Tanzer, chair of the Faculty Senate, said she could understand why some faculty might view the affidavit as invasive.

    “I can see (Behnke’s) point,” she said. “If you ask married folks if they’re in a platonic relationship, that’s a personal question.”

    “Some faculty might view the affidavit as invasive”?



    And the rest are perfectly sanguine about having a “must fuck” clause built into their health insurance policy? Even Ace herself (“Okay, so while that sounds great, and totally could be used as ammo when one partner doesn’t think the other is giving up the booty with enough frequency, it’s really a stupid stipulation”) and North Dallas Thirty (in the comments: “True, but I can see their point…..DPs really are not meant to cover, as they put it, long-term roommate relationships that don’t involve anything deeper than shared space and bills”), both of whom are usually reliably reasonable people, don’t seem to see what an OUTRAGE it is to have bean counters passing judgment on one’s sex life.

    Because, you know? I really can’t see their point. Not even kind of sort of in a way. In fact, it’s so ludicrous that I clicked around the parent site a little just to make sure we weren’t being suckered by an Onion-style parody played straight. No such luck. Normally, I would be chary of interpreting “non-platonic” as meaning “sexual” to the bureaucrats interpreting it, but that’s how the UF people quoted sure appear to mean it. (And my understanding from people who have dealt with having their marriages observed for green cards and things is that even the INS only tries to determine whether you live together in an intimate way. If there’s some kind of bald sex requirement, it’s the one complaint about bringing a spouse back to the States that I’ve somehow avoided hearing.)

    This kind of thing is the perfect illustration of how the campaigners for gay marriage, with their squalling emphasis on achieving “validation” and “respect” and “dignity” through paperpushing, have been shooting themselves in the foot. If two people of undisclosed sexuality decide they’re never going to marry and want to be responsible for each other, why shouldn’t a domestic partnership arrangement cover them?

    I love seeing romance bloom, but I cannot for the life of me imagine having the effrontery to demand it of people. And when it comes to my own household, the only person whose business it is whether Atsushi’s being adequately serviced is Atsushi. I don’t even discuss what happens in our bedroom with my best friend.

    UF’s VP of Human Resources is quoted as saying he “had no plans to personally enforce the sex pledge,” which is nice, because even if the idea weren’t COMPLETELY CRACKERS to begin with, what would you do? Would a used condom with DNA from both partners suffice (in the case of men)? Or would they have to go for it right in front of a certified university employee who would then sign a confirmation that they both got off? And, for that matter, even if they weren’t really in a “non-platonic” relationship, couldn’t the benefits be good enough that gritting their teeth through one bone-dance session a year (if that were the qualifying minimum) would be worth it for two unmarried roommates?

    Unreal. Just unreal.

    Tell the leaves not to turn / But don’t ever tell me I’ll learn

    Posted by Sean at 23:02, January 20th, 2006

    Happy fifth anniversary to my wonderful boyfriend, who deserves a much better man but, luckily for me, has shown no inclination to look for one. Five years and a month or so ago, I would have said that long-term commitment and stability and stuff were great ideals. You know, for other people. For Atsushi’s part, one of the first questions he asked me when we started tentatively dating was “Don’t you think it’s pretty much impossible to have a lasting relationship with someone whose cultural background is so different from yours?” Glad we were both wrong.

    You reduce me to cosmic tears

    Posted by Sean at 09:22, January 20th, 2006

    John at TP with Page Numbers says something that one wishes wouldn’t have to be repeated quite so often:

    What I came away with from those broadcasts [while studying in the then-Soviet Union] was the view that the American press wasn’t reporting on the European reaction (mostly negative – we should have given sanctions more time). I used to tell people about that “missing” perspective a lot when I got back here. God, what a little snot I was. I like to think I’ve grown a lot since then. I was still in my “Americans are so provincial” phase, which I can partially forgive myself for, since I was the only person, outside of my college friends, in my social circle that spoke a language that wasn’t high school French or Spanish. If you judge me more harshly, I don’t blame you, though. I doubt most Europeans would speak more than one language if another language wasn’t as close to them as the state line is to me. And really, even children with Down’s syndrome can be taught another language. It’s not a sign of intelligence, although it is a sign of diligence, especially if you are in a large monolingual country such as China, Russia, or the US. Most of the pretentious Western Euros I know don’t speak the hard languages (non-Indo European, or even Indo-European ones that require a non-Latin alphabet).

    I think most of us are kind of snotty when we’re in our early twenties, and the “hard languages,” as John flatteringly styles them, tend to attract competitive know-it-all types. (Yes, obviously, I’m including myself–I’m aware of my flaws. Or at least aware of that flaw.) So I’m not inclined to judge him harshly, because he was willing to look and learn as he grew up. It’s people who retain the “Ooh, FRANCE! How learnèd!” mentality well after they’ve been around the block enough times to know better that drive me nuts.

    Of course, not all change is progress:

    And my, how things have changed in 15 years, no? The press is full of the European reaction today. As if American interests should be subject to the judgment of a bunch of snot noses who tear their continent apart every fifty to hundred years or so. My guess is that 15 years ago the old guys with a grain or two of sense, who came of age in the late 40s and early 50s were still around in the newsrooms to keep the Boomers in check, but now the Narcissist Generation is running the show according to the score of ’68. For which a lot of Euros happily produce new refrains.

    I rag on the Boomers myself, but I think it’s useful to note that they developed as their post-War parents, anxious to make everything safe and comfortable and pain-free after the first half of the century, reared them to. Not that all the fatuous navel-gazing was an intended consequence, of course. And plenty of Boomers in the mass audience, if not behind editors’ desks, wish the more pompous European commentators would go take a flying leap and probably ignore most of the yak time CNN provides for them. It’s still annoying that they’re deferred to so much.


    Posted by Sean at 05:20, January 20th, 2006

    I was going to post this immediately after putting this up about my trip to Taiwan. Then I just kind of didn’t and figured it was expendable. Then I read a few things that kept reminding me of the topic and thought–this is one of the bad things blogging does to you–Hey, I’ve still got that post I didn’t put up, and there’s still time to GIVE IT TO THE WORLD! So this is the other thing that struck me, not for the first time, over the weekend.

    I ended up staying at the apartment of the woman who runs the office there–my trip had been arranged pretty hastily, and I guess there are a lot of people trying to get things done in Taipei before the Chinese New Year. My flight was delayed by rain and fog here in Tokyo; when we got in at her building, we had a midnight supper (tortellini and green salad and beer–quick and casual but, for me, like la Tour d’Ar-freakin’-gent after the stuff on the airplane) and talked animatedly for a while before turning in. We had several other meals together in the next few days–we’ve known each other for years and have become friends, and food in Taiwan is yummy–and I went out for lunches and stuff in various pick-up groups with other people from the office. Some of it was shop talk; I was there for shop, after all. But a lot of it was just the kind of stuff you find yourself talking about with other foreigners who live in Asia (and with Asians who’ve spent time living in the West; the groups tend to be mixed).

    And I kept finding myself thinking how much I like the people I’m surrounded by and, despite my need to spend loads of time alone and my spiel about being a loner, how easy it is to talk to them.

    The sheer relief of being able to say that catches up with me at odd moments. Growing up, I never really expected to be in my element. Not that I expected to be a full-on hermit. I was a pretty unpopular kid, but I was never really, seriously, scarily isolated. I always had a few close friends. And they were real, serious friends. I’m only in consistent contact with one of them now, but there’s enough writing back and forth with two or three of the others that if by some chance I do go to our twenty-year reunion, I won’t be in the dark about which marriages and children and career paths go with whom.

    But without really verbalizing it to myself, I essentially figured I’d turn into one of those elderly bachelors who dote on their books and stuff and don’t socialize much and (needless to say) never really have even one serious romance. I genuinely love books, so I wasn’t too bothered. The implied lack of romance also didn’t disturb me, since my best efforts to get worked up over girls came to naught, anyway. And as I say, I always had a very small but genuine set of friends, and you can’t complain about that.

    Like most people who only really grew into their personalities in college and afterward, though, I found it a new experience to be able to talk to people–just people in general–without having that constant low-level hum in my head that I had to stay reined in so I didn’t give myself away somehow. Most of it, yes, was that I’d lost the subconscious fear of inadvertently saying or doing something that might make me look like a fag. (You kind of have to get over that if you’re going to call men “honey” as often as I do.) And yet it was a lot of other little general-personality things, too: Being around people who know what it’s like to want to move far away from where you grew up even though you love your family and the upbringing they gave you–that’s a big one. And having it just assumed in the background, so that you don’t have to keep explaining it all the time.

    This is turning into one of those posts that dissolve into purposelessness. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve written so many querulous this-article-SUCKS posts this week that I seem to be projecting a rather crabby mood and wanted to write about something positive. Atsushi can’t get back for our anniversary tomorrow, but we’ll be celebrating next week. Several friends of mine whose relationships ended last year are finding love…or at least fun distractions. The 300th anniversary of Ben Franklin’s birth was a few days ago. A close college friend is getting married in May. Things are good, even if a lot of people are saying dumb things about Japan.