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    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.


    Posted by Sean at 03:21, November 20th, 2005

    So I got this e-mail from my buddy Alan yesterday, asking whether I had any advice on improving reading comprehension in Japanese. It seemed odd. For one thing, his characteristic “Hiya darlin'” salutation was missing, and for another, he essentially works as a translator. If my reading comprehension is better than his–big if–it’s not by much. It’s certainly not by enough for him to be asking my advice about improving it.

    But, having been asked, I wrote a paragraph of very earthy bitch-snark about the gross guy who’d been hitting on him when we were out a few nights ago and then a paragraph about reading fluently. Then I did what everyone who sends a lot of work-related e-mail does out of force of habit before clicking on “Send”: I checked the address line. Whoops! The message had come from a different Alan, a reader with whom I’ve corresponded a few times who’s studying Japanese in the States and who most assuredly was not sitting on the stool next to me being come on to by a falling-down-drunk guy in his 50s on Friday night. So I carefully excised the paragraph of bitch-snark and sent the rest along, thus sparing a fortunate reader a serious surprise in his inbox.

    The surprise Atsushi got in his mailbox yesterday, on the other hand, was intentional. He’s been worked to death lately, but he still makes time to come home at least once every third weekend, so I thought I’d get him a new business card case. You know, so even if he’s meeting with trying clients, he can have a little reminder that I’m thinking about him. While I was at Seibu, it occurred to me that I forget to bring my own business cards places all the time–that constitutes a real problem in Japan, where exchanging them can be a multiple-times-a-day event–so I may as well pick one up for myself, too. The idea of his-and-his matching card cases struck me as a bit on the cute side, but…well, this is Japan. Cute rules. I absent-mindedly told the saleswoman to wrap them both as presents, and she looked at me askance. Probably thought they were Christmas presents for two girlfriends who don’t know about each other.

    Atsushi’s officemates, on the other hand, will doubtless assume that the sudden appearance of an expensive new business card case is yet more evidence that he has a secret lady friend. A few years ago, when he brought Mozart chocolates back as his souvenir gift from our trip to Prague and Vienna, his colleagues joked that he must have gone with a chick because, as a man, he wouldn’t have known about them. (Too precious, I guess? But the travel guides all tell you what the proper face-maintaining souvenirs to bring back to Japan are, and I would assume most single men just kind of get whatever’s at the top of the list. I can’t imagine Mozart chocolates aren’t at the top of the Austria list, even if you don’t do Salzburg, though I didn’t really look. My own office got the Empress Elisabeth chocolates–I like the apricot and marzipan together–but they’ve known all about me from day one, so no eyebrows were raised. Need I mention that if we’d brought back anything but Mozart or Sissi for our gay friends, our status would never have recovered?)

    I wonder whether the Dominican Republic–I’ve mentioned that I have a meeting there next month, yeah?–has any Japan-ready souvenir candy things. A sugar cane theme, maybe? If it’s been a resort center long enough, getting them shipped back ahead of me so I don’t have to carry them might be easy, but I don’t think it has. Since I’m going home to the States, too, I’ll probably bring back Jelly Bellys. They went over big when Atsushi and I brought them back two years ago. I have no idea why; they’re just jelly beans, for crying out loud, even if you can mix them together to taste like pears poached in port with crème chantilly and slivered almonds, or whatever.

    Speaking of desserts based on fall fruits, I have to think of something to make for Thanksgiving this weekend. Atsushi can’t be home on Thursday, of course, but he’s coming on Saturday. Our first Thanksgiving together was in 2001, so it’s been obvious from the get-go that I’m not blasé about it the way I am other holidays. Maybe I’ll even look into getting a turkey, though convincing Atsushi to take out a second mortgage might take some doing. And I’d have to dismember it to get it into the oven. But considering what the Pilgrims went through, the trial of shoehorning a farmed turkey into a little portable oven is hardly worth fussing over.

    I hope no one has read this far expecting me to make a point. I’ve been a bit nettled lately by people praising Atsushi and me for maintaining a long-distance relationship and vaguely thought that might come up organically here, but we seem to have ended up on Plimouth Plantation exchanging business cards and faking Indian cornmeal pudding from three flavors of Jelly Bellys, so maybe I should save that for another post. (Yes, by the way, this is exactly what living with me is like.)


    Posted by Sean at 07:27, November 19th, 2005

    Wow. The revelations in this case just keep sounding worse and worse:

    An architect falsified reports on the structural strength of 20 apartment complexes and a hotel, putting hundreds of residents at risk of injury or death in the event of a large earthquake, officials said.

    The buildings are located in Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.

    Two of the completed apartment complexes could collapse in an earthquake with an intensity of upper 5 on the Japanese scale of 7, ministry officials said.

    In the past five years, Aneha worked on the strength reports for about 90 buildings, but he said he faked the reports for only the 21 buildings.

    The land ministry will file a complaint against Aneha with the Metropolitan Police Department.

    “We will adopt a stern manner in dealing with the architect and others who were involved in the illegal acts,” said National Public Safety Commission Chairman Tetsuo Kutsukake, who has temporarily taken over as land minister for Kazuo Kitagawa, who is visiting Laos and China.

    When asked about compensation for the residents living at buildings that need reconstruction or reinforcements, Kutsukake said: “Because this is a private matter, we will not be obliged to provide public funds. If the residents should wish to move out, we’d like to take measures, including helping them find accommodation at public housing or other facilities.”

    The numbers there are a little more specific than what we heard at the end of last week, particular the strength of a quake in which the buildings could fail. Upper 5 is not a minor little quake, but it’s well within the realm of possibility for a seismically active region such as Kanto. Perhaps in practical terms this isn’t as bad as it sounds; there are plenty of flimsy old wood-frame-and-corrugated-tin apartment buildings around Tokyo and environs. It’s not as if these falsified inspection reports made possible the only unsafe buildings in the area. Still, they should open a serious can of Hammurabi on this guy’s ass. Even if he wasn’t the actual builder, he was the one whose job it was to deem buildings up to or not up to code, and people make their emergency plans based on the quake-resistance of the building they live in.


    Posted by Sean at 01:47, November 19th, 2005

    Somehow, it’s easier to read about this stuff in Japanese. Drains some of the sting away:

    On the night of 18 November, the lower house of the United States Congress voted down a resolution proclaiming that “it is necessary to end the stationing of US troops in Iraq immediately.” The vote proved to be wind in the sails for President Bush, who opposes immediate withdrawal, but both the Republican and Democratic parties are thinking ahead to next year’s midterm elections, and the haggling continued up to the final [vote].

    You know, if congressmen want to be arguing over the WOT, instead of taking potshots at each other over who’s a good Marine, how about looking into air security? Port security? Border security? Many of these characters have points of vulnerability right in the middle of their districts that their constituents–and by extension they–should be hopping mad about. On the other hand, I sincerely doubt that most of them are any better able to assess whether Iraq has stabilized enough to govern itself than the rest of us can.