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    DPRK agrees to abandon nukes

    Posted by Sean at 07:36, September 19th, 2005

    Okay, we’ll have to see what actually comes of this, but strictly as a gesture, it’s good news:

    In a dramatic turn to six-nation negotiations that have been held since 2003, Pyongyang agreed to abandon the weapons and rejoin international arms treaties in exchange for energy assistance from neighboring nations and sovereignty guarantees from the United States.

    Japan’s envoy to the talks in Beijing, Kenichiro Sasae, said North Korea’s nuclear program poses a serious threat to peace in Asia and welcomed Monday’s outcome for finally settling on common goals. Most of Japan, the world’s second biggest economy and host to about 50,000 U.S. military personnel, lies within range of North Korean missiles.

    Japan’s national broadcaster NHK quoted Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda as calling the agreement a positive step but also saying the nations need to “keep a close eye” on North Korea as negotiations proceed. Hosoda also pressed for a resolution to a dispute about the kidnappings of Japanese nationals by North Korea, calling it a key to improved relations between the countries.

    Having to recognize the DPRK’s “sovereignty” in any formal way is galling, but it’s hardly a change from what we’ve been doing in practice. Of course, the DPRK is famous for reneging on agreements, so I’m with Hosoda on this one. We’ll see.

    You look at me with those brown eyes

    Posted by Sean at 02:57, September 19th, 2005

    I was in kind of a funk last night. I worked yesterday, and it was a satisfying but draining day. And even though it’s officially a three-day weekend, Atsushi’s bank has his department in today, so he couldn’t come up to Tokyo. He’s been working late all the time and not getting enough sleep, and I’m powerless to do anything about it except sound devoted during our ten-minute phone conversation each night. So I went out to one of my hangouts, where the guys behind the bar have all known me for years, to mellow out a little.

    They started drawing my vodka as soon as I stepped in the door, and I reached into my bag for my coin purse. It wasn’t there. So I rummaged around a little. Then I took my Discman and CD case and handkerchief and water purifying straw and space blanket out, and it still wasn’t there. My coin purse is frequently a topic of conversation, because the big joke among the bar guys is that I always pay with exact change. (Don’t ask me why, but in this math-skill-obsessed country, paying with exact change is uncommon. Given that the smallest paper bill denomination is ¥1000, the equivalent of US $9 or so, you’d think people would do whatever possible to minimize the number of coins they carry, but they don’t.) So they were standing there expecting me to give my usual exact ¥600, and then the bar master started chortling, “Sean-chan, that’s the coin purse your honey gave you for your birthday two years ago. The one you never let out of your sight. You don’t mean to say you forgot it. We’re going to have to tell your boyfriend. We’re going to have to report you to Hermès for this one–it’s accessory abuse!” Objectively speaking, I guess it was kind of funny–when you walk into a gay bar, naturally, everyone glances over at you, and I’m sure I looked pretty weird yanking things out of my little camera bag and getting increasingly frustrated. All I had to do was get out my wallet for a ¥1000 bill and be done with it, after all.

    The thing was, the master was right: it’s hokey to say, but having my coin purse with me makes me feel as if Atsushi were close by. It was as if I’d been neglectful and forgotten to bring him along; I was even more unsociable than usual the whole night.

    I feel better now, though–not just because I’ve gotten a grip on myself, but because Atsushi and I will have ready-made in-joke material for tonight’s phone call: Instapundit was not only kind enough to give me another link but also kind enough to use it to the end of giving CNN’s Aaron Brown a good cuffing. It makes me so happy.

    I don’t think it’s possible to convey just HOW MUCH Aaron Brown annoys me. It’s possible that in private life, he’s generous and humble and easy-going; but he has to be the most oozingly self-righteous journo on the planet in his professional life. (Once he and Jane Arraf were on a split screen together, and it was like the irresistible smug force meeting the immovable smirky object. I thought they might merge into some vortex of condescension and suck in the whole universe or something.) CNN is the only English-language news source on our cable subscription–not that I miss BBC World, or anything–so I usually grit my teeth and watch to keep from feeling entirely cut off from televised news. I have my limits, though, and Atsushi knows from long experience that when Brown comes on the air, I can be expected to mutter curses at the TV until I just can’t take anymore and have to switch back to NHK. It’s part of our domestic routine by this point. Suffice it to say, I am delighted to be of modest assistance in deflating that gasbag.

    DPJ casts its lot with Maehara

    Posted by Sean at 07:35, September 18th, 2005

    The Democratic Party of Japan has selected its new top four post-Okada leaders:

    The DPJ’s leader Seiji Maehara decided on 18 September to tap Yukio Hatoyama as Secretary General, Takeaki Matsumoto as chair of the Policy Research Committee, and Yoshihiko Noda as chair of the Diet Affairs Committee. He gathered his new top three men in the evening, planning to confer about responses to the special Diet session called for 21 September.

    Maehara is interesting. It appears that he may do the Clinton-in-1992 thing:

    Seiji Maehara, a young conservative, began reshaping the main opposition bloc on Sunday by appointing new officers and outlining plans for a stronger military and smaller spending in a vision that drew comparisons to British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “third-way” government.

    Maehara, a 43-year-old defense expert who wants a more assertive role for Japan’s military overseas, was narrowly elected a day earlier to head the DPJ, edging aside staid party veteran and co-founder Naoto Kan.

    The new leader said Sunday he would re-examine his party’s close ties to labor unions, trim wasteful tax spending and push to amend Japan’s Constitution so the country’s Self Defense Forces would have greater freedom to fight overseas and support its allies. Maehara also wants spending cuts balanced by strong funding for education and other social welfare programs.

    Maehara is strong on defense and says Japan’s Constitution must clearly give the SDF the right to fight back if attacked and include a new article stipulating its role in aiding allies.

    Of course, Clinton wasn’t a defense expert. What I’m referring to is more the idea that Maehara is adopting some positions usually associated with those to his party’s right while sweetening them with talk about spending on social programs dear to those on his left. Maehara’s website has linked, among his writings, this magazine article from November 2001 about Japan’s close defense ties with the US, against the backdrop of 9/11. It’s lengthy, but one thing that stands out is that Maehara doesn’t–or didn’t then–see the Japan-US alliance as arising naturally from our similar societies as Koizumi does:

    [T]he value of offering visible aid, recognized by the American people, when our ally the US is suffering, does not stop at the psychological; rather, it is also necessary from the viewpoint of risk management regarding the allegiance itself.

    It is fine, I believe, for there to be thinking to the effect that we may want to dissolve our relationship as allies, when we take the long-term view. However, at this moment in time, for our allegiance with the US to change character suddenly would most assuredly not work in Japan’s national interest.

    That seems fair enough. Of course, maybe I’m biased in Maehara’s favor because–can I have failed to mention this?–the dude is hot. (He looks better talking than he does in the posed picture on his homepage, but the photo gives you the general idea.) In objective terms, he’s probably not too seriously dreamy, but given the milieu in which he operates, he is very easy on the eyes. The rule seems to be that you’re not allowed to be a middle-aged Japanese politician until you’ve survived a near-fatal whupping with the ugly stick. Right after the election, Gaijin Biker was all crowing about how the LDP had hot women and its opponents were guys who needed paper bags over their heads. Understandably, being hetero, he doesn’t seem to have noticed that all the guys on the LDP side were no better.

    Yes, I can shift in a paragraph from talking about the Japan-US defense partnership to making lustful comments about men. It’s a talent. If you’d like to see me do it in a single clause, I’m sure I can arrange that, too.

    Anyway, politics, blah, blah…Japundit thought, before the DPJ vote, that Maehara looks as if he needs more seasoning before he’s ready to be a serious competitor for Prime Minister:

    Maehara appears at first glance as if he will become a viable leader—in five or 10 years. He is obviously intelligent and talented, but still lacks the gravitas people expect from a prime minister. I got the impression that his candidacy was not for this particular election, but for the next one down the road. With his party in desperate straits, however, he might wind up getting chosen prematurely. Let’s hope he doesn’t have to go on the political version of life support.

    Reasonable enough. On the other hand, we’re all just guessing. Politics in this media age frequently thrusts people into situations that turn out to be trial by fire. We may find out relatively quickly whether Maehara can make his combination of hawkishness, support for increased social welfare spending, talk about small government, and near-unprecedented level of cuteness potentially media-friendly image connect with Japanese voters.


    Posted by Sean at 03:29, September 17th, 2005

    You have to read the latest at Go Fug Yourself [strong language alert]. The girls are surpassing themselves, especially on the Renée Zellweger entry. My sides! Personally, I think the real fraud is that which was perpetrated on the American public by all those fashion writers proclaiming that Zellweger is the new Grace Kelly. (Given which way soon-to-be-annulled hubby allegedly swings, you’d think he’d care about having Grace’s legacy abused that way–but whatever.) Too funny! I would say the Britney one is funny, too, but it would be mean to acknowledge laughing at it, so I won’t.

    Added at 21:30: I like Tom’s take, too.

    It’s so me

    Posted by Sean at 22:41, September 16th, 2005

    May I ask a favor of the people who are doing stuff that makes Japan trendy again? Could you knock it off? ‘Cause, see, if it becomes too fashionable, I’m going to get all grossed out and have to leave.

    I was talking to this guy the other night, and he said something to the effect of, “Well, you certainly chose your specialization well. Japan is hot right now.” I didn’t quite know how to answer. The dude was a stylist from LA, around my age. He probably wouldn’t have found anything odd, bless him, about the idea of choosing a college major in your late teens with the express hope that it would put you at the cutting edge of hip when you were 33.

    But I’m more the preserver/custodian type. I was born and brought up in Pennsylvania (long and noble history of contributing to American liberty, but currently declining in relative population and influence). The heaviest cultural influence on our family was my grandfather, who was from England (glorious imperial past now several steps removed from the shabby-genteel present). In college I studied modern Japanese poetry (nothing more recent than the 1930s). After the bubble burst, Japan’s HAPPENING! HERE! NOW! cachet was lost to South Korea and China, with Japan taking a forceful but unassuming place as an established economic power. I moved here and felt very at home.

    Got it? I like things that are grand and beautiful, but also kind of past-it and mouldering and a bit scuffed up. If other people want to live in thriving boomtowns like…I don’t know…Las Vegas, I think that’s great. I’m a libertarian; innovation makes it easier for a wide variety of people to have richer, better lives and stuff. I really believe that.

    But all this crap about how Gwen Stefani and anime and Beat Takeshi and Koizumi and blah-blah-blah are making Japan cool again is annoying. It is RUINING MY PARTY.

    So remember: Japan is tired. Try Vietnamese food. Or Korean soap stars. Or Chinese liquor. Or Thai martial arts movies. You know, Asia’s a big continent. Lots to choose from. Just stop telling me how fashionable it is to be a Japanophile before I throw up all over you.


    Added on 18 September: Atsushi–who had the rare opportunity not to work until midnight today–pointed out during our phone call tonight that, given Japan’s aging society, excessive hipness is not something I’m likely to have to worry about for long. Point taken.

    That’s just love sneakin’ up on you

    Posted by Sean at 10:26, September 16th, 2005

    Since Michael plugged this guy again, it’s a good time to link this post of his, in which he recounts how seeing the trailer for Brokeback Mountain brought back to him his own ambivalence when coming out:

    Why can’t I quit you. Why can’t I quit these feelings for my teenage friends. Why are my dreams of this. Why can’t I make jokes why can’t I talk dirty why can’t I feel comfortable when the girls walk by us. Why does this feel forced. Why am I apart. Why am I hiding why am I out here looking for secret encounters why am I a cheating lying fool. Why can’t I be more intimate with her. Why can’t I change. Why can’t I figure my way out of this box.

    I think Chris is right when he says that you probably have to have come out in middle age for what he’s talking about to resonate in the specific way it did with him. But one of his commenters is also right when he says that most of us went through the same enraged self-flagellation in whatever way was suited to the age and other circumstances in which we found ourselves coming out.

    The last woman I ever dated was smart, attractive, funny, sarcastic; she and I had similar spiritual views and arty tastes. I worked so hard at trying to make myself fall in love with her you would have thought I was studying for the bar exam. In fact, I felt as if I were studying for the bar exam–without having gone through law school. Nothing was intuitive, it was all complicated, my friends acted as if it made perfect sense but it was all arbitrary to me, and I tried to work it into my brain but nothing would take hold. Getting a summa cum laude degree in Japanese literature? Ha. Cakewalk, compared to trying to make yourself into another person. I hated myself for it and, to my everlasting discredit, took it out on her.

    I treated my first boyfriend like hell, too. No, you’re not imagining things if you see a pattern forming here; and yes, I did grow up eventually. He helped quite a bit with that, actually. He told me once, soon after we’d started tentatively dating, that he’d come out to his mother when he was 13.

    I think I physically dropped my drink. 13, as in, junior high school 13? At this point, he explained quietly that, considering what the generation of gays before us had given up to make it easier for us to be true to what we were, he thought the least he owed them was to be up-front about being gay once he was sure he was. I can’t say I’d recommend that course of action to 13-year-olds, but as a way of thinking, it stuck with me. It’s one of the reasons that, when I started reading blogs, I decided to comment about gay issues using my full name.

    Another helpful conversation I had early on was with a friend. This was in my “I’m probably not even really bisexual; this is just an experimental-type stage I’m going through on the way to finding the right girl” phase. (Believe it or not, that made sense to me at the time.) At one point, he’d had enough of my self-pity routine and snapped. I then got a version of the speech I now find myself having to give to younger guys when called upon to play big brother (though I use less testy tones):

    “The first time you were with a man, did it feel as if the whole world suddenly clicked? As if you were a whole person? As if you could breathe normally for the first time, even though you hadn’t realized you weren’t before? As if the fact that you were alive made sense? Okay, now, having done that, having figured out who you are, you seriously think you’re going to rein it all back in? Go back to being 1000-Repressions Charlie–“

    “My grandfather’s English and I grew up in Pennsylvania; the straight men in my family are repressed, too.”

    “Shut up. It’s like, you have the talent and the natural inclination to be a great statistician, and you’re sitting around bitching because you can’t be a concert pianist. Just knock it off.”

    “Why is everyone so goddamned eager for me to be gay?”

    “No one wants you to be anything, man. We just don’t want you to be a liar who ruins his life.”

    I’m glad I was ready to listen–which is not to be taken as a criticism of men or women who take longer to figure things out for themselves. I just was past the stage in which I felt vaguely unlike my friends and figured that I was kind of an introvert, and pretending otherwise was foolish.

    All of which is a long way of saying, I second Michael’s endorsement. Chris writes beautifully, whether he’s talking about joy or pain. Or both at once.

    Koizumi’s post-election China policy?

    Posted by Sean at 08:32, September 16th, 2005

    Simon links to an interesting article by Yoichi Funabashi, an Asahi senior correspondent who’s now a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution. It asks the question about how the LDP’s landslide relates to China from the opposite direction I’ve been asking it–namely, how will Koizumi’s victory play out in Japan’s China policy, and what will that mean as the two countries evolve economically?

    Curiously enough, foreign policy was almost totally absent from the pre-election debate. Some may perceive this as a sign that Japan is growing increasingly inward-looking, as Koizumi simply wanted to limit the agenda to the single domestic issue of postal privatization. However, this reading would be wrong. Although very difficult to detect since it was discreetly under the radar, I would nevertheless contend that the China factor was actually one of the largest issues in this election, as more than any other factor, a rising China and its direct challenge to Japan set the context for the debate.

    I’m not 100% sure I’m convinced by every jot and tittle that follows, but Funabashi is right in the main. Foreign policy was brought up only by relatively minor opposition parties, and then almost exclusively with reference to the SDF deployment in Iraq and the proposed revisions to the Japanese constitution. Not even specific policy issues that were the subjects of recent flare-ups–such as the disputed fossil fuel fields in the East China Sea–were given attention, let alone the larger question of how Japan intends to maintain its strategic role in a shifting Asia.

    One part I’m not sure about–not that I disagree, mark you; I just think it could go either way–is this:

    Koizumi’s landslide victory may in time prove to be the last gasp of the LDP, as the public likely holds unrealistic expectations of how much Koizumi will be able to accomplish before he steps down next September.

    Given their shocked reactions to their own party’s staggering victory, that was on minds of quite a few LDP members themselves right after the election, too. I wonder, though. Japan is a conformist society, but the Japanese have personal idiosyncrasies like everyone else. Just about everyone here has had multiple experiences with, say, projects at work that failed because protocol and consensus-building were prioritized over practical decision-making. I think it very possible that Koizumi is clever enough to find a way to blame any further stalling of reforms over the next year on, if not hold-outs in the House of Councillors, then federal bureaucrats. In that case, it could be his successor who’s in big trouble and will need to get used to doing a Margaret Thatcher impression.

    Funabashi doesn’t put it this way, but he does by extension raise another very disturbing question: Is it even possible for Japan to fashion a really workable comprehensive China policy, or have conditions gotten to the point that protecting Japan’s interests will mean constantly shifting in response to this week’s constellation of trade and cultural conflicts? Remember that you have to factor in (something else Funabashi doesn’t weigh) that the US and Japan have become even closer military allies over the last several years. The possibilities are endless. It will be very interesting to see what Koizumi does with his momentum over these next few weeks when the sugar high is over.

    UN Security Council reform again

    Posted by Sean at 22:19, September 15th, 2005

    Another reason to wonder what the PRC thinks about the Koizumi administration’s landslide last week is UN Security Council reform, which has been in the news less frequently than before but is still a current issue:

    Koizumi, fresh off a landslide victory for his Liberal Democratic Party in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, urged U.N. member nations to work toward a quick decision on an expanded council during the upcoming session of the General Assembly.

    “Asia and Africa, once under the shackles of colonialism, are now significant players in our global economy. For the last 60 years, Japan has determinedly pursued a course of development as a peace-loving nation,” Koizumi said Thursday. “The composition of the Security Council must reflect these fundamental changes.”

    The Security Council currently has 15 members. Ten are elected for two-year terms and five permanent members–the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France–have veto power.

    Japan has argued that, as the second-largest U.N. contributor after the United States, it deserves a U.N. role more commensurate with its status as the world’s second-largest economy.

    Japan is contributing US$346.4 million (€281.31 million) this year, nearly 20 percent of the U.N. general budget.

    Japanese officials said Thursday they want to open talks next year on paying less–a move that could spur a drawn-out battle with fellow member states.

    I’m sure there are people with sincere, high-minded ideas about the “global community” who will find such thinking crass and utterly abominable. Personally, I find it crass and utterly understandable. Whatever you believe its role should ideally be, the UN of reality serves as an influence-peddling bureaucratic machine of globe-buggering dimensions. If Japan is disgorging enough money to cover 20% (20%!) of its general budget, why would it not expect to be in the choicest possible positions to take advantage of the action?


    Speaking of wastes of money, if you’re sick of the grandiloquent, undersubscribed industrial park you currently own, Osaka Prefecture may be in a position to help:

    A 65 billion-yen high-rise is being sold in the bargain basement-at a 93 percent discount.

    The 56-story Rinku Gate Town Building opened as a semi-public project in 1996 in southern Osaka Prefecture.

    After nine years of losses, it will be sold for a mere 4.5 billion yen, under a plan to rehabilitate its debt-laden operator, partly owned by Osaka Prefecture.

    The building was constructed in a waterfront development project that is directly connected by rail and roadway to Kansai International Airport on a manmade island in Osaka Bay.

    The office and hotel complex in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, will be sold to a consortium led by Shinsei Bank for 7 percent of its construction cost.

    That will leave a multibillion yen debt with the Osaka prefectural government and local corporate investors-shareholders of the building operator-as well as creditor banks.

    According to the rehabilitation plan, the failed Rinku Gate Tower Building Co. will ask creditor banks to forgive 39 billion yen in debt from construction costs.

    Osaka Prefecture will be asked to give up 2.2 billion yen it loaned for operating costs.

    When other costs are included, the bill for the prefectural government will likely total about 6 billion yen in the next decade.

    Oh, too bad. Shinsei Bank beat you to it. Well, at least you’re not the Osaka Prefectural Government. Or its taxpayers.

    Added: I guess I should point out, before someone does it for me, that that last line is a nice parting shot but is somewhat misleading. The government money that financed the building probably came partially from the Ministry of Construction (which doesn’t exist as an individual entity anymore) and may also have come partially from FILP, which was funded by postal savings and insurance deposits. In other words, not only didn’t it all come from Osaka, it probably didn’t all come from taxes–though, of course, the citizenry ended up paying for it somehow.

    I feel…happy!

    Posted by Sean at 22:03, September 15th, 2005

    These are the sorts of things that take on importance when you live in a society that (1) is aging rapidly and (2) is obsessed with bean counting:

    A 110-year-old woman who is ranked 19th on the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s list of oldest people in the country, which was released Tuesday, may not be alive, although she is still registered with the Arakawa Ward Office in Tokyo.

    The ward office has not confirmed she is alive since at least 2002. A ward official admitted, “We automatically put her on the list submitted to the ministry.”

    The latest finding shocked the ministry because “the incident could shake the credibility of the list of the nation’s oldest people.” [Stop it! You’re killing me!–SRK]

    The ministry said it would consider asking the ward authorities to conduct a survey on the elderly in the ward in person.

    Soon, you won’t count as an elderly citizen without your official “Certified: Not Dead Yet!” badge from the MHLW.

    Now, there is a substantive issue lurking here: the possibility that someone is still drawing pension money for a family member who died and thus, obviously, no longer qualifies for it. What’s revealing–in addition to hilarious–is that the ministry seems more worried about whether its list of rankings is accurate than about the possibility of fraud, at least as quotations were selected by the Yomiuri. (I wonder, will there be a party in Number 20’s honor if she finds out she gets to move up?)


    Posted by Sean at 21:31, September 15th, 2005

    Some of the opponents of Japan Post privatization are forming their own faction in the Diet, or at least proposing doing so:

    Legislators who were dropped by the LDP after voting against Japan Post privatization in the ordinary Diet session but managed to win reelection as unaffiliated candidates have begun working toward the formation of a new faction. Takeo Hiranuma stated to the press on 15 September, “If unaffiliated people of the same way of thinking get together, they can form a single new faction.” There are, however, those among the unaffiliated legislators who are making moves toward uniting forming a united faction with the People’s New Party, so responses may be divided.

    Hiranuma is a former Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, BTW. Not a man of mean power and influence.