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    Posted by Sean at 01:23, April 25th, 2005

    Kelvin is guest-posting at Simon World and wrote yesterday about how Chinese news sources are discussing Prime Minister Koizumi’s remarks the other day. Kelvin doesn’t want to get into a lengthy discussion about what constitutes a sufficient apology, so I’ll just pause to clarify a single point: Koizumi did not, unlike many past Japanese politicians, use the formulation 遺憾に思う (ikan ni omou: “I regard it as regrettable”), which is a way of saying that something is unfortunate without taking responsibility. The word お詫び refers to an acceptance of responsibility, though it can be debated whether the level of abjectness is fitting.

    As for the whether actions and words are in harmony, this is translated with my customary awkwardness from the Yasukuni Shrine’s official website. There is an English page, too:

    Among the spirits enshrined here are these: Men who fell while standing on the front lines fighting fires ignited by bombings of Japanese cities by enemy planes. Military nurses, who stoutly wore the Red Cross insignia and were adored like mothers and sisters on the battlefields. Sailors who sank to the bottom of the sea on their supply ships while heading toward the battle zones to the south. Reporters and cameramen in the press corps accompanying the armed forces who were felled by enemy fire while gathering information on the battlefield. All these people offered up their lives for their ancestral land of Japan and, because of that, they are enshrined with great reverence as exalted spirits. Also, there are those who, after the Great East Asian War* ended, shouldered all responsibility for the war and gave up their lives. Furthermore, after the war, the Allied Powers that had fought Japan (the US, the UK, the Netherlands, China, and others) unilaterally declared 1068 persons “war criminals” in perfunctory trials and pitilessly executed them on false charges. At the Yasukuni Shrine, they are referred to as “Showa Martyrs” and are all enshrined as spirits. The Yasukuni Shrine is a shrine to which all citizens can make pilgrimages. We hope that you have come to understand here what kinds of spirits are enshrined at the Yasukuni Shrine. The spirits at the Yasukuni Shrine offered up their precious lives in battle, seeking for Japan’s independence and peace to continue forever and for Japan’s glorious traditions and history, left to us by our ancestors, to continue until the end of time. The peaceful and prosperous Japan we know today exists thanks to those enshrined at the Yasukuni Shrine and others like them.

    A commenter–another blogger who knows Japan well–put it to me several months ago that it really isn’t the business of the Chinese or Koreans who goes to what shrine in Japan. I agree in principle, but I hope it’s a little more clear from the above why any affiliation with this particular shrine could be seen as provocative.

    Westerners learn that shinto is Japan’s native religion, which is basically true but also kind of misleading. The purification rites and ancestor worship developed by early agrarian Japanese were largely displaced in official life after Buddhism arrived, though the two were practiced side-by-side. During the Meiji Restoration, there was a push for Japan to reclaim its Japaneseness, and a campaign began to dislodge Buddhism and replace it with shinto. Doing so required thinking of shinto as an actual system rather than just a hodge-podge of ancient rituals, and that was, in fact, a change. (This is true of many elements of Japanese culture that we’re taught to think of as parts of its history. The Japanese “warrior code” didn’t really exist in any coherent form until it was retrospectively given one during the Meiji Period, either.) In shinto, everyone who dies becomes a 神 (kami: “spirit”). There are good or bad kami, depending on how the person lived, so calling the kami in general “gods,” as people frequently do in English, fails to translate the idea very well.

    I don’t believe that Koizumi or most other high officials visit the Yasukuni Shrine in the spirit of full agreement with the shrine’s administrators. I can’t read minds, but I imagine that most politicians want an opportunity to honor those who really did sacrifice their lives in good faith and, perhaps, to pray that the bad spirits have been dealt with justly in the next world and have as little chance as possible to influence the affairs of this world from here on.


    Posted by Sean at 23:25, April 24th, 2005

    There was a train derailment in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture (where Kobe is), this morning. A commuter train slammed into an apartment building, and there have been 25 people killed and over 200 injured according to NHK. The driver and some other passengers are still trapped in one of the cars, so there’s a good chance there will be more fatalities. There’s been no information about the cause of the derailment yet.

    Added at 13:00: NHK is now reporting 37 fatalities. The worst train accident since the 60s caused 42 deaths, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that today’s could displace it. (I must have misheard NHK before–there was an accident in Yokohama in 1963 that killed almost 200 people.)

    Added at 17:15: Up to 50 fatalities. One thing that’s good is that the weather is clear and pretty warm today, and the derailment happened at about 9:30 in the morning. Up to just a week or two ago, or on a rainy day, or at night, the rescuers wouldn’t have had a seven-hour cushion of relatively good conditions in which to work. The footage is horrifying; the second car is flattened and wrapped around a corner of the apartment building like tin sheeting, and two of the other cars are on top of each other.

    Sit and spin

    Posted by Sean at 03:23, April 24th, 2005

    New rule! New rule! It’s improper for legislators to vote on any issue that wasn’t an explicit plank in their campaign platform. I don’t think many US congresscritters mentioned military responses to terrorism in the election cycle before 9/11, but you didn’t hear the right squawking when they voted to authorize them, even most of those who represented leftist urban enclaves. Yes, I know–that was an emergency, and it was at the national level. But that’s all the more reason to conclude that Connecticut voters have had ample time to register their opinions on civil unions with Hartford.


    Posted by Sean at 03:01, April 24th, 2005

    What Amritas says and links to in this post about interpreting squares with my understanding from those I know who do it. Coincidentally, I ran into a guy who was still in school learning to interpret when I last saw him five or six years ago. The training sounded absolutely hellish–in the sense of being repetitious, since your brain basically needs to be rewired to think in both languages at once, which is harder than it sounds. That’s especially true, as Amritas notes, of languages such as Japanese and English, in which both word order and the principles that govern expression of thought are often at loggerheads.

    I can only imagine what Amritas’s unfiltered reaction, as a linguist, was to this page on the history of Japanese. In 1500 BC, the only markings the Japanese were making were decorative rope imprints on pottery. The Japanese kana system is a syllabary, not an alphabet; and while there were some spelling simplifications around the end of the nineteenth century (we no longer write よう as やう), kana themselves have existed since the Heian Period. Really a startling display of ineptitude.

    No downsizing here

    Posted by Sean at 02:12, April 24th, 2005

    You have got to be kidding me (Japanese, English):

    Postal workers’ jobs are to be safeguarded in the privatization planned for 2007, with the new postal entities to keep the same employment levels, government sources said.

    After all, that is the point of privatizing an inefficient government organization–improve operations by not changing anything.

    Regarding the establishment of a fund to maintain universal postal savings and postal services in remote areas, the postal services holding company will save a portion of its revenues each fiscal year, as stipulated by an ordinance, until the sum reaches 1 trillion yen.

    The bills state that the fund cannot be tapped, with the exception of a situation in which the revenues alone cannot support the holding company’s universal service obligation, the sources said.

    The six bills are designed to privatize postal services, establish a postal services holding company, a mail delivery company, an over-the-counter service network firm, and an independent administrative organization for postal savings and kampo life insurance, and to pass laws related to the privatization.

    Increasing the number of organizations involved sounds like a great move toward streamlining, too, though that structure’s been part of the proposal forever. Good grief.

    Assume a pyramid with an altitude of x million dollars….

    Posted by Sean at 01:38, April 23rd, 2005

    And that new food pyramid? The USDA has seriously outdone itself in purposeless bureaucratic condescension. Ann Althouse is justifiably irritated at the cutesy site title, but it’s the graphic that does it for me:


    I had to laugh out loud at the irony. The rainbow is so dear to the hearts of I’m-okay-you’re-okay types as a way to say we’re all equally adorable, so it’s no surprise that it recommended itself to the tofu-worshippers at the USDA. But, of course, the whole point of this particular project is to push the value of whole grains while banishing trans-fats to outer darkness, so equal ROYGBIV bands would not have worked.

    The site is pretty snazzy and easy to navigate, but it illustrates the problems with having federal programs for this sort of thing. Read the information and tips and you start to wonder very quickly just who the target audience is. Some samples:

    • To eat more whole grains, substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product – such as eating whole-wheat bread instead of white bread or brown rice instead of white rice. It’s important to substitute the whole-grain product for the refined one, rather than adding the whole-grain product. (link)

    • Freeze leftover cooked brown rice, bulgur, or barley. Heat and serve it later as a quick side dish. (link)
    • Try different textures of fruits. For example, apples are crunchy, bananas are smooth and creamy, and oranges are juicy. (link)

    • Cut-up fruit makes a great snack. Either cut them yourself, or buy pre-cut packages of fruit pieces like pineapples or melons. Or, try whole fresh berries or grapes. (link)

    Most of the advice is like this, so I initially figured MyPyramid was the site geared toward children and that there was another, stuffier one elsewhere. But each page about the food groups (or food EMS bands or whatever they’re to be called now) also has a section at the bottom that’s explicitly directed at kids, and you can get calorie intake recommendations based on your age, so we grown-ups are clearly the main audience.

    In other words, the USDA is looking at adults who don’t know what instead of means, don’t know that their freezer can be used to store leftover rice as well as Lean Cuisine dinners, don’t know that apples and bananas have different textures, and don’t know a whole lot of other perkily-explained things I’d drive myself into the madhouse by quoting. At least we’re still trusted to handle sharp knives.

    None of this stuff is untrue, of course, and those of us who were taught to cook when we were little can fall into thinking that much of it is intuitive when it really isn’t. Why can’t you freeze a lot of vegetables without blanching them? Why should you add the salt at the beginning some times and at the end others? The thing is, despite all the blaring about the latest scientific information and the effort our trusty USDA folks have expended on compiling it, most of what’s on MyPyramid.gov isn’t anything you couldn’t learn from a collection of a half-dozen basic cookbooks and some Julia Child reruns. I do think the standardized nutrition label is a good idea; the Japanese have essentially adopted it, and it makes it easier to avoid foods that are half additives. But all of this huffing and puffing and throwing tax money around like confetti–just to tell us that fresh plant-based foods are healthy, in case we didn’t already hear it from Mom and the home ec teacher–is asinine.

    Gay marriage on the way in Spain

    Posted by Sean at 09:34, April 22nd, 2005

    I can’t read Spanish and haven’t seen the text of the bill, so I can’t determine whether the hilarious spelling mistake in the second paragraph of this Reuters report is accurate:

    Spain’s parliament gave initial approval to a law legalizing gay marriage on Thursday in a move likely to rekindle conflict with a Catholic Church that has just elected a new conservative pope.

    A packed public gallery erupted in cheers and applause as the speaker announced approval of the Socialist government’s proposal, making Spain the third European country to legalese gay marriage.

    “It’s unfair to be a second-class citizen because of love,” Socialist legislator Carmen Monton said. “Spain joins the vanguard of those defending full equality for gays and lesbians.”

    I can’t say I’m entirely impressed by the reasoning used by one quoted activist: “I’m going to get married for the sake of activism, for love, and for a question of dignity.” Getting married to make a point? Lovely. But then, activists of any stripe often do have a serious case of single-issue-itis.

    In any case, the bill has another round or two of approval to go through, but it’s apparently expected to pass. It also appears to have good public support.


    Posted by Sean at 08:42, April 22nd, 2005

    PM Koizumi spoke today in Jakarta:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi spoke at the Asia-Africa Summit that began in Jakarta 22 April. He cited the talk given in 1995 by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama to commemorate the end of World War II, in which he apologized for past actions such as the way occupied territories were governed. “We must humbly absorb all the facts of history, and keep always etched on our souls a sense of keen self-reflection and regret.”

    There’s an English translation of some of Murayama’s remarks here, and there’s a further discussion here. I do think it’s important to bear in mind that mutual hostilties in this region are as old as the hills. From that perspective, every Japanese government worker down to the Diet Building janitors could apologize for the atrocities of World War II, and the Chinese might very well still be complaining. At some point, it’s unreasonable to expect Japan to keep asking to be forgiven.

    At the same time, it’s not hard to understand where the ire comes from. Simon linked to this terrifically-done list of Japanese politicians’ apologies to Korea, and the one of apologies to China is now up, too. I have rarely heard any of these politicians accused of being insincere, though some of them are on the vague side. The point that’s usually made is that, given things like the treatment of Iris Chang’s work, the pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine, and the repeated controversy over history textbooks, it’s pretty clear that there are other people in positions of power over how the War is semi-officially depicted who are very frequently successful in making sure that no wrongdoing is ascribed to the Japanese. That raises questions over the extent to which those issuing the apologies are speaking on behalf of the Japanese government.

    Whichever side you come down on, the PRC has transparently taken a have-it-both-ways-at-once approach to the protests: it condoned them while people’s rage was directed at Japan and deflected away from the CCP–and the minute they got enough out of hand that there was a danger the protestors might start remembering how much they dislike about their own government, too, the serious warnings started. Not surprisingly, the Japanese ambassador to Beijing is still warning Japanese citizens that China may not be safe, despite officially stating that there is no information to indicate that demonstrations will continue within the jurisdictions of large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Being an ambassador, he’s chosen the most tactful possible wording: “In such a large country as China, it is impossible to guarantee that nothing will happen.” Gotta love that litotes.

    Added at 22:38: Oh, yeah, almost left this out: 80 Diet members decided to visit the Yasukuni Shrine today.

    End of civilization continues in CT

    Posted by Sean at 08:08, April 21st, 2005

    Civil unions have been signed into law by the Connecticut governor. No court case. Very cool. Even the marriage-or-bust types are reeling it in enough to recognize that there’s much to celebrate:

    Love Makes a Family, a gay rights organization that wanted legislators pass a gay marriage bill, called civil unions an important step toward protecting the rights of same-sex couples. But Anne Stanback, the group’s executive director, said the fight is not over. [“Love Makes a Family” sounds like the kind of entity that should have a headmistress, not an executive director–SRK]

    “As important as the rights are, this is not yet equality,” she said.

    Naturally, it’s that last quotation that 365Gay has seen fit to use as its quote of the day. Whatever. On the opposite side of the country, the Montana domestic partnership bills were voted down by its House of Representatives this week; that it passed the Senate was apparently big news. Things go in fits and starts.

    Universal mother

    Posted by Sean at 07:18, April 21st, 2005

    The LDP will ask the government to provide 2 trillion yen to ensure that universal service is maintained. This is double the previous recommended amount:

    The government will accept a request from the Liberal Democratic Party to increase a fund to maintain universal banking and insurance services by at least 1 trillion yen in negotiations on postal privatization bills, government sources said Wednesday.

    The government also is expected to study the need to raise the amount to be stated in the bills from 1 trillion yen to up to 2 trillion yen.

    The government also will not ensure capital ties among postal saving, kampo insurance and other new companies in the bills.