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    Foreign Minister’s latest on Japan-China relations

    Posted by Sean at 00:04, April 13th, 2005

    Japan is set to begin the process of exploratory drilling in the contested East China Sea natural gas fields. Sort of:

    The government officially resolved on 13 April immediately to begin proceedings to grant permits to private enterprises for exploratory drilling to open the natural gas fields in the East China Sea that have become an issue in Japan-China relations. The government’s assessment is that, since China has proceeded with its own opening of gas fields close to the China-Japan boundary line (midline), Japan is in danger of losing access to critical natural resources if it delays the process any further. Resistance is expected from China, and the government is carefully weighing whether drilling should actually be permitted to go ahead [presumably even if permits are formally issued].

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura is to travel to Beijing for a meeting with Chinese officials and plans to raise the issue there.

    He has also been quoted, for what it’s worth, on the textbook issue:

    If our Chinese counterparts agree, an effective way to go would be to establish a place for joint Japan-PRC historical research.

    Japan and the ROK already have such a joint program. It doesn’t seem to have had much effect on Japanese textbooks, political speeches, or pilgrimages to shrines, unless I’m missing something.

    Added perilously close to the end of lunch: Okay, just one more thing. Here’s CNN’s latest article on the contretemps, including this quotation from PRC Premier Wen Jiabao:

    In the latest flare-up between the two former rivals, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told reporters in New Delhi on Tuesday that Japan must “face up to history squarely” and that the protests should give Tokyo reason to rethink its bid for a permanent council seat.

    “The strong responses from the Asian people should make the Japanese government have deep and profound reflections,” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

    “Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for past history and wins over the trust of the people in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibility in the international community,” he added.

    That’s fine, but I’m not entirely sure China wants to be raising doubts about who’s qualified for permanent membership on the UNSC, since the obvious flip-side question is, what does China do to justify its existing membership except sit there and, you know, be huge? You may not always like what the US, UK, France, and Russia do with their global influence, but you can’t deny that they’re involved in world affairs. China has a booming economy and sends a lot of people abroad, but you don’t see it playing a key role in incidents of major international dispute or cooperation. I’m not, obviously, suggesting that it would be a good idea to kick the PRC off the UN Security Council, but respect for history and respect from the neighbors are hardly the only criteria worth considering here.

    Bow down to me

    Posted by Sean at 10:41, April 12th, 2005

    Speaking of enjoying the city, I think I’ll take the new Garbage album and listen to it for the first time while walking up Meiji Avenue, with the machines being used to build the redundant new subway line hulking alongside. and a lot of very large, garish billboards on strategic corners. Shirley in her natural habitat.

    There’s no place like home

    Posted by Sean at 09:59, April 12th, 2005

    Via eve ry one, comes this website. My trust-no one instincts say it could be a well-intentioned fake (the guy is utterly adorable–Japan is like a chest-hair deprivation tank, lemme tell you–but it seems odd that he would use those pictures as part of a testament of how tradition-minded he is…not that I mind). Assuming it’s genuine, the guy has balls. It’s the easiest thing in the world for guys like me to be out at home; I fled my little hometown for college so fast there were skidmarks on Main Street, and since then, I’ve lived in Philadelphia, New York, and Tokyo–I go back to Emmaus because that’s where my family and a friend or two are. If they weren’t, I’d be perfectly happy to forget the place existed, though I don’t look down on others for choosing to stay or make their home there. Good on Daniel for not backing down and for being able to write with feeling without getting drippy. I’m moved.


    Posted by Sean at 09:28, April 12th, 2005

    You gotta love that Dean. He takes that book quiz that’s floating around and decides that one of the people he’s going to pass it on to is “Sean Kinsell because he’s fun to pick on.” (Word to youngsters in the audience: You know how your parents keep telling you that when you grow up, you’ll find like-minded people to hang around who will love and respect you for you you are? It’s a total crock. Trust me–the best policy is swift and unapologetic VENGEANCE.)

    I wasn’t going to do anything with this, but today happens to be exactly one year after my first post. I never really planned to start a blog; I liked commenting at other people’s places. But when Atsushi was transferred last March and I wanted something to help fill time while I felt sorry for myself, I asked Dean to set this up for me. As in, I got out my credit card and signed up for MT and hosting, and Dean presented me a week later with a blog ready for writing to (of course, I immediately set about changing the fonts and faggifying the color scheme, but I could have gone with his original template and had a respectable blue-and-white theme…sort of like on-line ticking). He’s also helped me out a lot with my dumb-ass tech problems and by linking to me frequently.

    And, as you can tell, I’ve warmed to it. The number of readers I get amazes me; I’m very grateful. And it’s been good, I think, for my relationship with Atsushi. His English is great, but we speak Japanese at home and watch Japanese television and have all Japanese friends. There’s nothing about that that’s a problem–it’s the life I’ve chosen–but it means that he rarely gets to see me be a full-bore American in my native tongue. With the blog, he does, and, while I know I don’t always show myself to best advantage here, I think it’s a good thing that he has a fuller idea what kind of man he’s with.

    Uh, so anyway, thanks again to Dean and to all of you. For more about the Real Me, here’s that book quiz:

    You’re stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

    Don’t we all die, anyway? If I could be any book until either the firemen or the bomb got me, sheer arrogance would make me want to be the Bible (the KJV–none of that bowdlerized “accessible” crap), which is probably more important in Western history than any other single book.

    Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

    I really don’t think so.

    The last book you bought is:

    Singular? Like one at a time? This test was obviously not written by a book addict. Uh, say 破戒 (hakai: “broken commandment”) by Shimazaki Toson. That wasn’t actually it, I’m pretty sure, but it’s kind of first in line for me to read next.

    The last book you read is:

    To be brutally honest? There was a copy of The Rules lying around our office–heaven only knows why–and I drifted through it while waiting for a friend.

    What are you currently reading?

    The book I’m carrying around with me and officially trying to get through is The Golden Bowl by Henry James; this time I’m going to finish it.

    Five books you would take to a desert island.

    Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

    I beg your pardon! I don’t discuss my stick with anyone but my boyfriend.

    China in your hand

    Posted by Sean at 08:33, April 12th, 2005

    Simon has still more information on the anti-Japanese protests–well, in some places, they really are accurately called riots–so I won’t write much on what others have been covering so ably.

    One thing to bear in mind, though, is that not only aren’t all these protests really just about the textbooks and the UNSC, they’re also not really just about Japan. I’m not a China scholar, but back when Lu Xun was writing, he was ending stories with characters’ crying on the beach and wailing, “Oh, China–why don’t you prosper and strengthen?” China feels that it should, by rights, be the big cheese in Asia. That the country that trumps it economically is Japan is certainly a twist of the knife, and that Japan continues to take the maddening tack of skirting close to apologizing for its atrocities without ever actually doing so is a legitimate issue–but a lot of what’s erupting is frustration that China’s such a basket case in ways that, I think, are only indirectly related to Japan. I don’t want to deflect attention from Japan’s questionable conduct; much as I love this country and its people, it’s let-bygones-be-bygones attitude toward its own sins upsets me. But there are reasons specific to China itself that these things are unfolding as they are, and that’s important to remember, too.

    Added at 21:37: And trust that ace diplomat Shintaro Ishihara, our Metro Governor here in Tokyo, to pour oil on the waters:

    A fishing boat chartered by the Ogasawara Island Fishermen’s Cooperative using a Tokyo Metropolitan Government subsidy left on Tuesday for the disputed Okinotorishima Islands to show the area is part of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

    At the urging of Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, the metropolitan government allocated 500 million yen from its fiscal 2005 budget to subsidize fishing activities around Japan’s southernmost islands to counter surveys Chinese research ships have frequently conducted in the area.

    “We will prove that the area is Japan’s exclusive economic zone,” Ishihara said when the metropolitan government decided to subsidize fishing in the area.

    Even though it remains to be seen whether fishing operations around Okinotorishima Islands will be profitable, the metropolitan government has offered to cover any possible losses. “The metropolitan government is prepared to make up for any losses from such operations,” Ishihara said.

    So it’s not the fishing that’s important, it’s the f**k-you. Marvelous.

    Empty Garden

    Posted by Sean at 04:26, April 11th, 2005

    I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Man, what Tokyo could use more of is underpopulated hotels. And you are in luck. The latest wonder of pointless hypertrophied hostelry opened for business during this morning’s rain:

    Seibu Rail Group opened its new Tokyo Prince Hotel Park Tower (Minato Ward) on 11 April; the conglomerate has invested about 30 billion yen in the project. This is the 53rd Prince Hotel. The structure consists of 33 floors above ground, two floors below ground, and a total of 673 guest rooms.

    The hotel is supposed to be a symbol of the rebirth of the Seibu Group, which has suffered an extraordinary number of scandals lately even for a Japanese conglomerate.

    BTW, that little sentence about this being the 53rd Prince Hotel? Ha. That doesn’t tell you the half of it. Here in Tokyo, there’s a complex called Shinjuku Park Tower, home of the famous Park Hyatt Hotel. Of the Prince Hotels, possibly the best-known is the Shinagawa Prince Hotel, though there’s also a Shinjuku Prince Hotel. Neither of these is to be confused with the grandiloquent Park Hotel Tokyo, which has towered over Shinbashi for the last several years. And don’t forget the Hotel Century Southern Tower, officially in Shibuya Ward but considered part of the Shinjuku orbit. One begins to feel something like affection for the old Hotel Okura for at least having a name that you’ve got a fighting chance of remembering. The Seibu Group’s strategy of simply stringing all the common words together into one super-nomen might prove to be pretty clever.

    Actually, come to think of it, the same sort of rules govern the naming of apartment buildings here. I live in a building in the Park House chain; you commonly see things like Sun House, Sun Heights, Garden Heim…stuff like that. The strategy seems to be kind of like what happens in suburban housing developments in the States, where, after the meadow is ploughed under and paved over to build the neighborhood, the new street is un-ironically called Meadowview Terrace. All the Garden/Park/Sun buildings just serve as a constant, vicious reminder of how decidedly un-green and sun-deprived Tokyo actually is.

    Then again, it’s hard to imagine how the nomenclature could be made more honest without chasing people away. Who wants to live in a place called Rebar Villas or stay at the Hotel Phallic Boondoggle?

    A civil tongue

    Posted by Sean at 05:24, April 10th, 2005

    Can some of you people get it through your thick heads that civility is a value in its own right?

    Just a second…something a little off about the tone there…[takes restorative gulp of plum-wine spritzer]…there we go….

    There’s a thread running through several of the blog posts that have gotten me exercised this week. That Riding Sun post that kind of annoyed me the other day may have sprung from a comment he made on this spot-on post of Japundit’s, which I found through Plum Blossom. [Ooh, plum! Time for another sip!] Japundit says the following:

    Talking about the weather or chopsticks may be trivial, but they [Japanese people] figure it’s the easiest way to create and maintain a pleasant relationship without ruffling any feathers. Getting involved in a discussion about politics or any other subject that generates strong opinions could easily become unpleasant for both parties and nip the potential for a harmonious encounter in the bud.

    I find that once you get to know Japanese people, they will lay out their opinions on just about any issue in startlingly direct terms. But that’s once you get to know them. First, a relationship of trust has to be established–and you do that by demonstrating that you’re capable of having lively but scrupulously polite conversations about things that don’t really matter. Topics start with the weather or how hard it is to learn English–if you show yourself to be a gentleman there, things get more interesting. If you show yourself not to be a gentleman, your conversation partner can drop you without feeling embarrassed about having made some personal revelation that you can now hold over him. Polite society works this way in America, too, though it’s hard to find.

    Oh, yeah, speaking of which, Gay Orbit notes an exchange Another Gay Republican has had with a member of Sister Talk. The Sister says this:

    We should be kissing conservative ass and playin’ nice, according to the Republican homos; for them, it’s our best chance at accomplishing anything for our team. SINCE WHEN? Since when has diplomacy ever won an oppressed group of people any damn thing?

    AGR’s response, in part:

    I don’t see how confrontation gets us anywhere. Railing against hypocrisy may make us feel better, but the people that aren’t molesting their kids, beating their wives, divorcing, and running gay porn web sites, tend to get pissed off when they’re tagged with guilt by association. Just like liberals get all worked up when they’re accused of being the root of all evil. Once they’re mad, they tend to shut their minds to anything you have to say.

    How is it, I am frequently moved to wonder, that people have not figured this out? I’m talking about those who believe that every conversation must be seized on as an opportunity to Make a Point (“I actually am cool enough to know how to use chopsticks,” “I speak languages that are actually harder than Japanese,” “There are right-wingers who make a buck from behavior they condemn”) in the most literal political sense, without recognizing that the subtext can be equally important. We all have to live with each other. I love Japan, but I’m American through-and-through–I like plenty of good-natured rough-and-tumble argument mixed in with my harmony. It keeps all of us alert and makes life interesting.

    There are limits, though, and people who don’t stay within them when it comes to political debate raise the suspicion that they won’t in the actions of daily life, either. If all you ever do is criticize your political opposition while making excuses for your team, people start to wonder whether you’re capable of mature self-criticism in your work and sex lives, too. If you hog the floor all the time, you might be the sort of person who takes a ME-ME-ME! approach to other resources, too. There’s no law against being a pain in the ass, but there’s no reason people should encourage you to be one, either.

    You don’t have to be a pushover to be polite; I certainly don’t think I am. You just have to be willing to give people a chance unless they’ve put themselves outside the bounds of civility from the get-go. You can always distance yourself later if they prove to be jerks. It’s hard to undo the damage of dismissing them out of hand if you later realize you should have been more sympathetic, though.


    Posted by Sean at 01:21, April 9th, 2005

    Demonstration going on in Beijing, says the Nikkei:

    A demonstration was being held on the morning of 9 April in the western part of Beijing to call for boycotts of Japanese goods. The reasons given were opposition to Japan’s possible permanent membership in the UN Security Council and dissatisfaction with Japan’s history textbook approval system. Participants numbered in the several thousands, many of whom were shouting their criticisms. The organizers, who had called for participants over the Internet, had predicted that between 10,000 and 20,000 people would gather.

    Protesters have also named a disputed island chain–there are a lot of them in Asia–as an irritant. The area in which the demonstration is being conducted has a lot of places that deal in Japanese electronics.

    It’s up on Reuters, also.

    Added on 11 April: Simon, naturally, has a whole lot of links about the demonstrations, which were held across China. I was going to update this post, but he and his folks have pretty much got it covered.

    Japanese health-care issues still building

    Posted by Sean at 23:49, April 8th, 2005

    Ah, socialized medicine. No one gets extravagant care, no one gets inadequate care–we all get good, solid, top-of-the-line care delivered as cost-effectively as possible.

    Except when we don’t:

    The deaths of four patients at Tokyo Medical University Hospital as a result of coronary artery bypass operations performed by one of its surgeons has highlighted the fact that the hospital failed to properly operate a system under which the surgeon’s skills could improve.

    An external committee investigating the hospital on suspicion of malpractice pointed this out at a press conference on March 30 in Tokyo following its probe of the hospital’s second surgery department, to which the 45-year-old surgeon belonged.

    The independent committee was established in December and comprises five heart surgeons from outside the hospital.

    One of the committee members said at the press conference: “The surgeon was unskilled. He hadn’t acquired the basic knowledge required for heart surgery.”

    Do be sure to click on the link and keep reading–it gets worse from there. Bear in mind that Tokyo Medical University Hospital is not some little backwater institution, either. And heart surgery, in a first-world population that is rapidly aging, is not an obscure little specialty. And screw-ups in the health-care system have been news for at least the near-decade I’ve been here.

    Of course, Japan’s nationwide certification systems–not just those of the hospital–may need review:

    Japan has about 260,000 doctors, but there are about 300,000 specialists as some doctors hold more than one specialization, an indication of how easy they are to get.

    I don’t really know what to make of this–maybe the US is as bad. I’d have no trouble believing that it isn’t, though. The Japanese, in all fields, love certifying boards, but that doesn’t necessarily mean high standards are consistently maintained.


    In related news, a committee of the Japan Society of Intensive Care Medicine has proposed guidelines for treatment cessation–again, a very sticky issue in an aging society (English version, which differs in small points from my translation, here):

    The committee proposed strict conditions as grounds for cessation of treatment: (1) multiple doctors have administered the highest-level of treatments currently available [for the patient’s illness], (2) the medical facility has informed the family that it has the option to seek a second medical opinion from a different hospital, (3) doctors with the fullest available experience and specialized knowledge have confirmed repeatedly that it is impossible to save the patient.

    In addition, the proposal establishes four options that a medical facility must offer to the family [of a patient whose case meets the above conditions]: (1) intensifying of treatment, (2) maintenance of the current course of treatments, (3) decrease in amount of medication or treatment, or (4) cessation of treatment. However, in the case that cessation of treatment is chosen, it is forbidden to detach the patient from an artificial respirator, oxygen supply, or minimal supply of water and nutrients.

    Mercy-killing is an issue that’s started to bubble through the Japanese medical system, erupting most recently in the conviction of a Kawasaki doctor for murder:

    Suda has insisted that she removed the tube and instructed the nurse to give him muscle relaxant without attaching a respirator in a bid to help him die in a natural way at the request of his family in November 1998.

    Presiding Judge Kenji Hirose denied her claims.

    “There was a possibility of recovery. The court doesn’t find that she provided the best treatment,” the judge said.

    As for Suda’s claims that the patent’s family approved of her actions to help him die naturally, Hirose said that the doctor misunderstood the family’s mindset.

    As reasons for suspending the sentence, Hirose said that Suda tried to help the patient die naturally for the sake of his family although she misunderstood his family’s sentiment at that time.

    In this case, the tragedy was pretty clearly a misunderstanding. The patient was comatose; the prosecution acknowledged that he was expected to live only a few weeks. The doctor claimed that she had given him not a lethal dose of muscle relaxant but just enough to try to keep his airway open after the tube was removed. I’ve seen no medical evidence to prove or disprove that; if it existed, I think it would have come out in the two or three years the case has been around.

    However, health care costs are skyrocketing in Japan, for obvious reasons. For now, Social Insurance still makes it possible for the four options enumerated above to be equally feasible, I think, for most people. It’s not hard to imagine that triage-minded doctors, constrained by funding and resource shortages, will in the not-too-distant future gradually begin more frequently urging family members to approve cessation of drug and surgical treatments, with only nourishment provided.


    I know that American readers will be reminded of a recent, similar (thought not entirely parallel) case in our own country. I haven’t said a public word about that case in two years, and I’m not going to make it a topic here, because I’ve found that no one on either side of the debate has been able to do so without speculation about who really loves and understands whom, within a family most of us don’t know at all. So if anyone is inclined to comment, be it known that any comment mentioning that case explicitly will be deleted. I don’t care whom it’s from.

    Have we got contact?

    Posted by Sean at 08:56, April 8th, 2005

    Two announcements:

    1. My old e-mail address doesn’t work anymore, but you can e-mail me at skinsell[at]gmail[dot]com. I have not been trying to keep my contact information a secret; if you use the contact page at left, it sends a message to my gmail account with the address you enter as the reply-to, so I just figured people would figure it out. I guess it’s not as obvious as I thought. Sorry about that. You don’t have to look for a comment by me somewhere and lift the address from there.

    2. Some of you could stand to learn how easy it is not to read a website. You just kind of…don’t click on it, you know? If you want a website that’s more gay, less gay, more Japan-focused, less Japan-focused, gay but without the jokey pop-culture stuff, nicer, nastier, more concise, lefter, righter, libertarianer, or not as pink and purple, by all means (1) find it and (2) read it instead of me. See? Easy.

      I’m not trying to avoid criticism or counter-arguments, and I’ve been known to respond favorably to requests that I comment on something I hadn’t myself thought to address, if the subject interested me. I’ve received only two messages ever that I’d call hate mail, and only a handful more that I’d consider obnoxious about making an actual point; my mail volume is relatively small, but most of it is above-average in level of civility.

      I’m grateful for that, just as I’m grateful for those who read this site without commenting. Nevertheless, even if the tone is friendly, I don’t see the purpose of messages that are the on-line equivalent of “You know, you’d be really cute if you were blond.” Okay, so…no hard feelings, and good luck scamming on Brad Pitt over there. You can’t please everybody, and I’m not interested in learning how I could if I were a different person.