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    I’ve packed my bags / I’ve cleaned the floor

    Posted by Sean at 05:05, October 20th, 2005

    Perhaps if I spent more time reading the WaPo‘s coverage of Japanese culture stuff, I would have known that Anthony Faiola, who was the irritant behind this flip-out of mine a few weeks ago, is a repeat offender. (Is Faiola supposed to be a Japan specialist? I got the impression that he was based in China.) This from Japundit about a more recent example:

    It’s sort of an interesting enough article – Faiola reports that many Japanese women suffer from a stress disorder called RHS due to the unwanted presence of their retired husbands – but it’s hardly news, especially from a reporter who specializes on Japan topics for the Washington Post. And the issue has been reported on in the English language media in Japan for years.

    As well, the entire “love letters and wooing words under pink cherry blossoms” stuff is a little suspect, too. The entire idea of marrying for romantic love is a recent affectation imported from the West. Arranged marriages were the norm for today’s 65-year-old cohort, as were strict ideas about the roles and responsibilities for each partner in the marriage.

    Kind of makes you wish the Post and all the other papers out there could find stringers who actually understand Japan and write stories that dig a little deeper, and go beyond stereotypes.

    That’s the thing that’s so annoying: a lot of these reporters probably have a healthy journalistic skepticism, but if they don’t know anything about Japan, their warning bells don’t go off when they should; they end up swallowing clichés the way a cormorant swallows fish.

    I just looked at one of the WaPo staff pages. Faiola is based in Tokyo. Sheesh. At least his reporting was just dull this time, as opposed to very likely inaccurate.

    The Soul selects her own Society–

    Posted by Sean at 00:33, October 20th, 2005

    This is why we love Eric. Notice, dear children, that it’s possible not to hold feeling comfortable as the very highest value in the universe:

    There weren’t too many role models for me, which is probably why I’m such a nut. I was a fan of the Grateful Dead, and in my Marxist days I tended towards misguided idolization of the Black Panther Party leadership. Years later I came to adore a certain crazed junkie writer. But these weren’t really role models. I thought of my own sexuality as crazy and uniquely non-conforming, and while I might not have always been comfortable with it, I always thought I had to be my own role model. I’ve never felt validated, and I never wanted to be validated. The conventional concepts of gay and straight annoyed me then, and annoy me now. Not only is the right to free choice in sexual matters being negated, it’s increasingly being seen as an oppressive concept.

    I wouldn’t take it quite that far myself, of course. Civilization has had millennia to build up knowledge about what does and does not tend to work for people for people who want to live happy, productive lives. There’s nothing cravenly conformist about heeding the wisdom of those who came before you (or those who are still around and have more experience than you do).

    But things are just a bit out of hand these days, with the assumption in the air that no one can figure out how to live his life unless there’s an available “role model” with the exact same characteristics. This is America; we’re supposed to be a nation of pioneers. But no. It’s considered unfair to expect someone to follow a path that hasn’t already been machete-cleared, leveled, and bricked over in a tasteful herringbone pattern by someone else.

    Eric’s talking more about private life than about public life, but the idea’s the same. Sure, we all need friends, and most of us like the feeling of belonging to a kind of “community” (even if the frequent, gruesomely cheery political use of that word gives us the heebs). But personal liberty means that you often have to make decisions that are specific to your own circumstances and don’t have much precedent, and I’m not quite sure how the Logo Network spells salvation.

    Unlike Eric, I’m pretty much a central-casting gay guy. But it was mostly my parents who were my role models for what kind of adult I wanted to be. When I came out, it was among my college friends, who were all straight. I certainly went through a lot of pain over acknowledging that I was a homosexual, but I don’t remember getting flibbertigibbety over my “role” as a gay man. I mean, hello? You find somewhere with eligible men and get started flirting.

    That the eligible men may be in a different city just means that you may have to make a tradeoff between staying in familiar surroundings and capitalizing on opportunities elsewhere. That happens to straight people all the time, too. Basic issues about persona are pretty universal, too: Am I good at initiating conversations, or do things work out better when I let someone come to me and break the ice? Does my demeanor seem friendly or unfriendly to people who don’t know me? Do I like being the center of attention or mixing quietly with people in the crowd? Most people figure out what their best fit is through trial and error, and the error part is occasionally painful or embarrassing. These things happen.

    Simply knowing that there are other gay people around is undoubtedly a comfort, and an important one, to gay youths. But figuring out you’re gay is the beginning of the journey, not the end. The rest of it–making your way as an adult–is basically the same for everyone, regardless of sexual identity. That some people make feeling “validated” their highest priority doesn’t mean the rest of us are always obliged to indulge them.

    Ever after

    Posted by Sean at 08:18, October 19th, 2005

    Jonathan Rauch’s column for National Journal is up at IGF. It’s about a gay wedding in Massachusetts. I still think there are important unaddressed questions about gay marriage as policy and as an institution. Rauch mostly leaves aside those questions this time out, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. His focus is on the reactions of family members. He delineates, with a few well-chosen strokes, how Beckland and Pope are starting out–both the resources they have and what they’re going to be contending with:

    Laura’s parents, Lee and Ludene, both in their early 70s, have shown up at their grandson’s wedding on the advice of their priest, who counseled support for their family even if they could not condone a same-sex marriage. They say they are open-minded Catholics, but today’s event has pushed them to their limit. “I feel that it’s wrong,” Lee volunteers. “I don’t think it’s real. I kind of wish it hadn’t happened.” He loves his grandson, no doubt about it. But “this is hard for me, to see it happen.” Ludene, who believes that marriage is for procreation, struggles to find a more conciliatory note. “We’re living in a different age,” she says.

    Jamie’s two younger brothers are enthusiastic about the marriage. It never occurs to them to regard a same-sex marriage as anything but real. His father, Kim, has been supportive all along. But his paternal grandparents, Jim and Carol, are guarded as they sit on a bench awaiting the ceremony’s start. “We love Jamie, and I’m not going to drive a wedge in the family,” Jim says. Carol mentions that both are Christians who are close to the Bible. “This will be interesting,” she says. “I’m not the judge.”

    Rauch has in the past written about the social pressure required to make marriage work and how it would make gay marriage a benefit to society; he’s done so in ways that push forward abstractions and skate over specifics, which I think weakens his arguments. It will be interesting to see how what he learns about people’s concrete experiences from here on will affect his views.

    I may not like the way gay marriage has been pursued politically, but of course it turns me to mush to see two of our men (or women)–who clearly had to go through some major crap to right themselves–find happiness with each other. Congratulations and best wishes to them.

    (Oh, and Jonathan? Sweetness? Honey, Jamie could be your son. There’s no “just about” about it. He was born when you were eighteen, and maybe most of your fellow rising Yale freshmen weren’t having kids then, but plenty of Americans were. It’s considered pretty early in most places, but not all that early. I was born when my father was twenty, and it never raises an eyebrow when I meet other people of working class extraction.)

    You’ve got a lot to learn if you think that I’m not waiting for you

    Posted by Sean at 22:35, October 18th, 2005

    If I have any readers who are fellow Pennsylvanians…well, first of all, hi! How’s the old commonwealth doing? Second, next time you run into PennDOT, could you please kick it REAL HARD for me?

    You wouldn’t think PennDOT could find a way to make your life miserable on the opposite side of the planet, huh? Ha! You forget–Pennsylvania used to have more paved roadway than any other state. At least, that’s what we learned in elementary school. It may still be true. Anyway, the point is, PennDOT functionaries have had a lot of practice getting their obstructionism down to a science. I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that their reach is now global. Save yourselves!

    My birthday was in March; like a good boy, I did my driver’s license renewal bureaucrap in February.

    You know what’s coming, right? I still don’t have my renewed license, despite regular e-mails, a few phone calls, and (futile) attempts to actually open PennDOT’s website to find out what the hell is going on. I thought about writing a letter of inquiry, as someone old enough to remember how paper correspondence works, but I got stuck in that mode…you know, when you’re like, dammit, this is 2005, the website is SUPPOSED to be accessible, and I’m going to keep at it until I get the homepage to come up.

    Yesterday, I gave up and went to the Lehigh County government site (with such exotic features as pages that open) and got the phone number again. After two or three unsuccessful loops through the phone tree (ACK!), I was connected with a flesh-and-blood operator who, to be fair, was very helpful. I’m confident, perhaps naively, that if I do what she told me to do, there is an unexpired driver’s license waiting for me at the end of the process. That way when I visit my family in a few months, I’ll be able to play obstacle course with PennDOT’S was-there-actually-a-pothole-there-or-did-they-just-decide-to-dig-a-hole-and-fill-it? projects like everyone else. I’ll feel that I’ve really gone home, you know?

    And while I’m on the subject of paperwork, that immigration processing center out in the wilds of the monorail line down from Shinagawa Station? Not as bad as I’d expected. This is the first time my visa’s come up for renewal since they closed the little office in Shibuya (a seven-minute walk from my old apartment–man, was that convenient). Having people line up and ask for the forms they need was probably a good idea; the way they used to set them out in plastic trays just invited a free-for-all and guaranteed that some people would grab the wrong ones. There were long waits, of course, but as someone who’s constantly complaining about the number of redundant mandarins in the Japanese government, I can’t exactly bitch when they decide to consolidate two or three offices. And maybe I was just lucky, but everyone I dealt with was downright solicitous, even (dare I say?) amiable.

    You’ve been around for such a long time now

    Posted by Sean at 12:18, October 18th, 2005

    My cell phone was doing some weird things lately, and Atsushi pointed out that the inside of the tea kettle was getting corroded-looking; so I decided to use some errand time yesterday to get new ones. When I described the afternoon to Atsushi later, he laughed. “You’ve been contending with both the ancient and the modern today, huh?”

    The kettle we had before was a regular aluminum job with a whistle–the sort of thing you buy when you’re just moving into your first apartment and prioritize speed of acquisition over aesthetics. But while I was getting a new one, I figured I’d go for a 鉄瓶 (tetsubin: lit., “iron vessel”, though the 瓶 part usually refers to bottles nowadays). A tetsubin is a traditional kettle for boiling water. I thought about looking through the catalogue at Seibu for one with an offbeat design, but when it’s something as elemental as boiling water, it’s kind of nice to go for the standard-warhorse model, so I did:


    The good thing about an iron kettle is that, used over an open flame, it establishes an uncanny connection with our prehistoric ancestors, who had direct contact with fire, water, and mineral in slowly advancing out of subsistence on the raw provisions of nature.

    The bad thing about an iron kettle is that it is a total pain in the ass to take care of–as I’d forgotten, not having used one for years, but quickly relearned yesterday. Those who care for their favorite old cast iron pans without a lot of huffing and puffing may wonder what I’m complaining about, but thing with a frying pan is, usually if you leave it sit for a while before cleaning it, all it has in it is grease. As long as you clean it before the contents go rancid, you’re pretty much fine. You can’t let water sit in a kettle, though, because it’ll start rusting almost immediately. It’ll also start rusting if you leave it wet, which is why you have to be sure to empty all the water and, while it’s still hot, wipe around the spout and lid, where condensation is especially likely. (The instruction packet says, “Be careful not to burn your hands in the process.” Yeah, no freakin’ joke!) That means that if you’re going to make a quick cup of tea before taking off in the morning, you need to factor in an extra 30 seconds or so.

    The other thing you have to do, of course, is season it. So yesterday, while I was sitting hunched over my frighteningly competent new cell phone, I was also boiling kettlefuls of water and then dumping them. When they ran clear, it was ready to use. It took about an hour all told (for Tokyo, we have a very satisfyingly gusty set of gas jets).

    Not so the cell phone, and it wasn’t just because I was an overgrown boy playing with a new mechanical toy, though that was mostly it. The resolution power for both camera and display screen is unreal; I cropped one of my favorite pictures of Atsushi and set it as his…uh, what would we call it in English? 着信画面. Incoming call screen? I’m used to phones with good displays–this is Japan. But I haven’t bought a new model for three years or so, and I’m still not quite used to it.

    The ring tones are a trip, too, since phones now have their miniature version of surround sound. I went to one of the sites with Western pop music and looked at a few of the offerings. Eclectic doesn’t begin to describe it; I made a beeline for the Tracey Ullman version of “They Don’t Know.” (Was that a hit in Japan? Do people remember it? I wonder. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a karaoke book, but I wasn’t looking, either.) It doesn’t really apply to Atsushi and me very well–our friends kept trying to push us together and were frankly exasperated at the stately pace at which we courted each other, actually–but it’s a very sweet tune to use to signal that your love is calling, so I programmed it in.

    What isn’t sweet is the fact that all the functions–the diacritical marks for kana, the delete button–are in different places. I asked at the shop whether going with the same manufacturer as my old model would help, but the saleswoman said National-Panasonic’s moved everything around. It took me twenty minutes to type a four-line e-mail to Atsushi today. At least I haven’t hung up on anyone, or anything.


    Posted by Sean at 11:00, October 18th, 2005

    The LDP’s constitutional revision committee confirmed today that its proposals will, in fact, include an item that redesignates the Self-Defense Force (自衛隊) as the Self-Defense Army (自衛軍). Of course, the English there doesn’t match up exactly, but the new title makes the SDF sound more like a substantial standing army and less like a modest squad that can be called in if there happens to be a need:

    When the committee leaders met with the Prime Minister and former Prime Minister [Yoshiro] Mori on 14 October, they concurred on guidelines: (1) the philosophical underpinnings of Article 9, which decrees that Japan “renounces war,” would be strictly maintained, (2) it would be stipulated in Article 9 Item ii that Japan maintains a self-defense army with the goals of defense of the homeland and of international cooperative efforts, and (3) in the revised text of Article 9, laws for “basic security,” “international cooperation,” and “emergency circumstances” would be established without explicit mention of a right to participate in collective self-defense operations.

    It will be interesting to see what Japan’s neighbors make of that, though the Bush administration will doubtless be happy.

    Monday morning you sure look fine

    Posted by Sean at 13:01, October 17th, 2005

    Presumably for National Coming Out Day, the Washington Blade ran two editorials last week (at least on-line) about coming out–one by Log Cabin Republicans’ Patrick Guerriero, and one by the National Black Justice Coalition’s Keith Boykin.

    Boykin’s criticisms, especially, are aimed at people who remain closeted in order to play both ends against the middle:

    If you don’t come out, then you can’t complain. You can’t complain about homophobic politicians who want to take away your rights. You can’t complain about bigoted ministers in church. And you absolutely cannot complain about the direction of the gay and lesbian movement.

    Too many of us are good at offering critiques without offering help. “Why are there so many ‘queens’ in the movement? Why aren’t there any people of color? Why are they talking about marriage, the military, hate crimes, AIDS, or fill-in-the-blank issue that ‘real people’ think activists shouldn’t be talking about?”

    Well here’s another question: Why aren’t you doing something about it? Posting an anonymous comment on someone’s blog is not enough.

    I’m not saying the activists shouldn’t be criticized when they do something wrong. But I am saying we need to be participants instead of observers in our own liberation. If you don’t like the way things are going, then come out and be visible so you can be the change you hope to see in the world.

    Yes, yes, yes–with a side of sauteed morning glory greens. (One qualification: I don’t see anything wrong with commenting anonymously on blogs. A person who’s out in real life could still have legitimate fears about identity theft, for example, or be interested in protecting her relatives’ privacy rather than her own.) But I can think of few more annoying gay personality types than the ones who piss and moan about how poorly our public advocates are handling things…and then expect sympathy because they “can’t” come out at work or to the ‘rents or to their friends from college. I think Boykin strikes exactly the right balance. Honorable people who are really willing to make the trade-offs that going along to get along requires recognize that they’ve disqualified themselves from bitching that our activists aren’t doing enough to make the world safe for them. Honorable people who want to bitch that our activists aren’t doing enough recognize that the way they live shouldn’t offer cravenness as an alternative course of action.


    Posted by Sean at 10:29, October 17th, 2005

    Autumn is prime moon-viewing time in Japan. The yearning summoned up by the combination of chill, moaning winds and a cloud-wreathed moon is one of the major clichés of Japanese aesthetics, known by now throughout the world. But like most clichés, it still seems stark and real in its original formulations. The following are from the Shin-Kokin Waka Shu:



    aki kaze no/itari itaranu/sode ha araji/tada ware kara no/tuyu no yuugure

    kamo no chōmei

    Though the autumn wind
    does not leave as it passes
    sleeves here touched, there untouched,
    on my sleeve alone settles
    the dew of this eventide

    Kamo no Chōmei




    tanometaru/hito ha nakeredo/aki no yo ha/tsuki mite nebeki/kokochi koso sene

    izumi shikibu

    I am not waiting
    for a suitor to arrive,
    but this autumn night
    I sit gazing at the moon
    without any thought of sleep

    Izumi Shikibu

    Kamo no Chōmei is most famous as the writer of the Houjouki, but quite a bit of his poetry shows up in the third of the great court anthologies. Dew in classical poetry usually represents tears of longing. Though Chōmei knows that the autumn wind blows equitably–it literally and symbolically scatters dew everywhere–he feels isolated in his yearning, as if he were the only one weeping into his sleeve with stirred memories.

    Izumi Shikibu is the daughter of Murasaki Shikibu, the writer of the famous (and massive) Tale of Genji . She’s no Princess Shokushi, but she often turns images very well. In this poem, she slyly underscores her melancholy by pointing out that not only is the beauty of the moon keeping her from getting any rest, but she also has no lover to refocus her attention.

    The Japanese have a worldwide reputation for loving nature, and that’s not unjustifiable; they’ve written about it for over a millennium. However, one of the reasons that many Western attempts at waka or haiku fail is that they just describe beautiful scenes…and that’s it. They sound merely quaint. Japanese poetry–the good stuff–doesn’t just document the existence of a stand of pine trees that were sitting there being pretty. It describes nature to convey a moment of keen feeling on the part of the writer, when inner thought and external environment had a spark of connection.

    Yasukuni visit gets usual reaction

    Posted by Sean at 08:50, October 17th, 2005

    This morning I apparently posted in the single nanosecond between Prime Minister Koizumi’s paying of respects at the Yasukuni Shrine and the resulting Asiawide condemnation (both links are to the Mainichi):

    Critics, especially in China and the Koreas, say that the shrine glorifies Japanese militarism, but Koizumi says that he is only mourning the country’s war dead.

    China in particular has taken a hard line with regard to Koizumi’s Yasukuni visits, halting all meetings between the heads of government in both countries since he began attending the shrine.

    Koizumi had said he would visit the shrine to attend its autumn festival, which runs from Monday to Friday.

    What Koizumi is thinking when at the shrine is an open question. Whether the shrine glorifies Japanese militarism is somewhat easier to assess. The Asahi has a quotation from a PRC official I hadn’t seen elsewhere:

    “The Chinese government will staunchly oppose Prime Minister Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine where the Class-A war criminals are enshrined–regardless of how the visits are made,” said Wang Yi, the Chinese ambassador to Japan. “The fact that the prime minister has done such a thing on the day when the Shenzhou 6 made a successful return to Earth is a challenge to all Chinese people. The prime minister should accept historical responsibility for destroying China-Japan relations.”

    South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Ban Ki Moon summoned Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Shotaro Oshima in Seoul. Ban said the South Korean government felt “deep regret and disappointment” over Koizumi’s actions.The leaders of China and South Korea have repeatedly called on Koizumi to refrain from visiting Yasukuni this year, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

    I’m not entirely sure what the Shenzhou 6 has to do with anything. Japan has a history of botched rocket launches, but the ambassador doesn’t seem to be getting in even a veiled dig about that.

    What’s likely to happen is that Korea will do its grit-its-teeth-and-bear-it thing, and China will do its still-no-official-head-of-state-visits thing while continuing to try to use Japan as a target for domestic restlessness that’s actually at least partially directed at the CCP. Today’s visit didn’t happen at a moment that was any more strategic than any other of late–there’s no specific tricky development in the dispute over oil and gas deposits in the East China Sea, say, or trade relations. But as always, today’s visit will be a convenient thing to bring out later as an indication that Japan cannot be trusted to have dealt with its misdeeds during the occupation of Asia.

    Risky business

    Posted by Sean at 22:06, October 16th, 2005

    I’ve discovered something worse than being told you look like Tom Cruise.

    I don’t mind that a lot of guys think some celebs are cute whom I find unappetizing–different strokes and all that. Also, as a white guy in Japan, you get a lot of hyperbolic comments comparing you to celebrities you only resemble in the most rudimentary terms of coloring. If you’re dark, you look like Tom Cruise. If you’re fair, you look like Brad Pitt. Now that I think of it, I haven’t happened to be involved in this discussion when one of my black acquaintances was present, but I’m going to bet they get told they look like Denzel Washington. Maybe Will Smith, but my money’s on Denzel.

    Anyway, the point is, I have dark hair, so the script calls for Tom. If someone deviates from it, that generally means that the comparison is heartfelt rather than formulaic. Which is why this line nearly gave me a coronary: “You look just like Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love.”

    “Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love“?


    Blech. Ew, ew, ew. Just, ew. That is not a way to get in well with me. Not.