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    Posted by Sean at 03:49, December 14th, 2004

    To whoever it was who nominated me for Best Japan Blog: Thank you! What a sweet gesture. Please don’t feel slighted because I’ve asked Simon to remove me from the list. I’m very, very to myself in some ways, and that’s one of them; but it doesn’t change the fact that I feel very fortunate that people read what I post here.

    I do think the Asia Blog Awards do a good service by giving people a chance to look at clusters of sites they may not otherwise have been able to look into at once, and Simon’s being generous with his time by taking charge of overseeing the nominating and voting. So if you haven’t, please go see the variety of blogs in the region that are represented, and remember that when you visit them, they’ll have other worthy sites blogrolled that you may not have seen in the lists of nominees.

    CNN tells all ((座禅の挿話))

    Posted by Sean at 21:39, December 13th, 2004

    I cannot make this scene. I turned on CNN while putting my jacket and bag away, naturally figuring American Morning would be featuring Bill Hemmer here in Tokyo. I mean, what better place to broadcast in the morning than from the Land of the Rising Sun itself!

    And what’s the first thing out of his mouth? “Zen Buddhism is synonymous with Asia and its traditional beliefs.” Sufferin’ Soseki. If no one minds terribly, I’m going to break my bottle of Perrier here off at the neck and slit my throat with it. Message to Bill’s TelePrompTer writer-people: One hates to be a one-note sourpuss, but Asia is a large continent. It contains multitudes. No really–it keeps going west (no, the other…left, people, left! the hand that looks like an L when you hold it out in front of you!) after China for a while. There’s India, there’s Pakistan…gosh, all kinds of places in which Zen is useless for understanding the fabled Traditional Beliefs. Of course, they don’t make Toyotas and Sony equipment or have Harajuku street erks in those places, so really, why should we care?

    Besides, Bill Hemmer, stereotype-shattering man that he is (HOLY F**KING SH*T, they DID NOT just lead back in from the commercial break with synthesized koto music followed by a gong. They COULD NOT have. What is this, the commercial for SPAM Oriental from 1978?), apparently spent 20 minutes this morning going to a REAL JAPANESE TEMPLE and learning meditation! That’ll teach me to be all making like a know-it-all.

    It’s the interview of Ambassador Howard Baker right now. He’s just resigned, BTW–nothing embarrassing happened, mind you, he’s just old and ready to retire. Naturally, he’s talking like a diplomat, meaning he’s saying nothing much but saying it very personably. Nice performance. Is it my imagination, though, or is he wearing a rust-colored tie and a pale lilac shirt? Never saw that seasonal combination for late autumn before. Maybe they’re resignation colors. Or maybe they’re a protest against that theme music.

    Of course, it could be worse. They could have no one in an Exotic Locale, which would free up more time to interview various combinations of Peterson jurors in somber tones about why, exactly, they thought he should fry. (And I don’t mean Amber, baby!)

    How much do you want to bet that, even though it’s December, cherry blossoms will make their way into this pageant before it’s over?

    Okay, enough of this.

    Added at 23:19: Everyone giving those frantic “Hi, Mom!” waves from behind Bill’s affably blocky frat-boyish head while he demonstrates the AMAZING TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT of Japanese cell phones? You look just as idiotic as you would back home.

    I told you there’d be bile.

    Feed the world tripe

    Posted by Sean at 03:15, December 13th, 2004

    So I’m at one of my hang-outs, and the manager goes, “Sean-chan! There’s a new version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ out–Band Aid 20. Want us to put it on?” He means on the DVD player that feeds the three televisions around the bar. Band Aid 20? Well, jeez, why not?

    It’s even more awful than I could have imagined. I mean, okay, I was a pre-teen when Bob Geldof was birthing the first version, and it wasn’t much later that “We Are the World” and “That’s What Friends Are For” were saturating the airwaves with showy benevolence. So maybe they were more horrible than I remember–not that I think of them all that fondly.

    But, man, this was…was…you had Dido singing in that placid, contented “I-ayyyyyyeeee wanna thank yew” Ebba Forsberg half-yodel, seemingly unaware that the lyrics were about starving people who have not managed to sell several million albums. You had Robbie Williams (wearing a shirt, unfortunately, but no matter–I can play back the “Rock DJ” video in my head at will) grimacing through a couplet or two. Naturally, you had Bono rasping away for a bit–that man can smell an opportunity for notice-me professional compassion the way a vulture zeroes in on the closest pick-cleanable carcass.

    But the most amazing part was when a close-up of the shrunken face of a suffering child was faded into the head of some plump, pampered pop singer–I don’t think it was Des’ree, or Heather Smalls, or Caron Wheeler, because I probably would have recognized them, even if I haven’t clapped eyes on them since college. Anyway, as my mother would say, Boy, I’ll tell you–no shame! And naturally, we had to climax with wide-angle shots of the contributors assembled, choir-style, to show how sincere they were. After all, if all those cool people were willing to coordinate their booking schedules to be filmed in the same studio at the same time, well, it must be something important they’re on about, right? It was a full-force reminder of why it’s so outrageous to hear celebrities grouse about how callous and crass the general public is. Give me the Human League cluelessly pomposing about the Lebanon any day.

    Added in the morning: I see through Amritas that others have had the displeasure already, too. Like some of the commenters, I found David Carr’s last paragraph a little misdirected–poor Africans are deserving of more, not less, sympathy because they’ve been seized on by self-righteous Western celebs, in my view. But the contempt the song itself deserves can hardly be overstated. Did I mention the rap in the middle?

    Added on 17 December: Okay, I’ve now seen the video again, and it looks as if the dissolve from the child’s face may not have been to one of the Band Aid singers but rather to an African woman blooming with health thanks to the transformative powers of rock-star self-promotion. A small but significant ethical improvement.

    I’m sorry, but I’m just thinking of the right words to say

    Posted by Sean at 19:09, December 12th, 2004

    Michael J. Totten is having a discussion with various commenters about this post about this story, in which he draws parallels between being a resident foreigner and being an immigrant and then calls on everyone to remember to a good “guest.” I agree that that wasn’t the greatest choice of words–in fact, it gave me a double-take–but I also think his point is obvious enough that it doesn’t warrant going ballistic over.

    I wouldn’t renounce my American citizenship for all the gold in the world, but even if I wanted to, I probably wouldn’t be able to become a Japanese citizen without supernatural help. Very much like many Muslim cultures, I suspect, Japan is the kind of place with very hospitable individuals and a very insular government. And I am, essentially, a guest, so I do most of the adapting.

    What would I do if I did, in fact, immigrate? I would still do most of the adapting, only in that case we would usually call it “assimilating.” Immigrating into a pre-existing country with its own traditions is not like founding a new one where you can stack the deck in favor of your own worldview. When you join a society whose tolerance for different ways of life is one of the very principles that allowed your entrance in the first place, you have to get used to being exposed to points of view that are opposed to your own. That doesn’t mean you have to change your beliefs, necessarily, only that you have to accept that you won’t be insulated from others’. Either that, or stay home where the surrounding culture is the same as your own but you have no job.

    I didn’t see any evidence in the Yahoo! article that the Christmas play, nativity scene contest, or Christmas songs were mandatory. And if they’re not mandatory, well…suck it up. When I was little, I was part of a church that didn’t believe Christmas was a true Christian celebration. When the rest of the class had a Christmas party, I was allowed to eat a treat or two and then went to the library. When we sang Christmas songs in music class, I was unshowily silent. Same at Hallowe’en, Easter, and Valentine’s Day. None of this seduced me into believing in mainstream Christianity, or traumatized me, or what have you. Since Muslims have become such a large minority in Italy, it strikes me as a perfectly reasonable idea to incorporate their celebrations into fun-time activities in public schools where they’d be appreciated, and it’s hard to believe there’s nowhere the children of religious Muslims can go if their parents wish them to absent themselves from the sliver of the day devoted to Catholic activities.

    But that requires appreciating a diversity of viewpoints, without trying to wipe out everyone’s identity the minute it could cause friction. It’s disturbing to see Italy, a country whose contributions to the development of Western civilization are older and vaster than those of almost any other, slowly let itself be cowed into becoming part of the ummah.

    Kung-fu girls

    Posted by Sean at 13:38, December 12th, 2004

    Oh, my. How very unfortunate. You know how, despite different cultures, languages, and aesthetic and spiritual traditions going back thousands of years, all East Asians are basically the same and can communicate with each other intuitively, using their yin-yang-mystical Oriental powers and stuff? Well, somehow, that’s not the way it’s working on the set of Memoirs of a Geisha. I can’t say I’m sad. Why that book was hyped so much is beyond me. I do think it’s funny, though, that the fact that a bunch of people with different native languages can’t communicate is considered remarkable.

    Added on 14 December: Laughter is, apparently, the universal language. Either that, or the chatroom is the great global equalizer. Maybe both.

    Sleeping in beauty

    Posted by Sean at 12:45, December 12th, 2004

    This is what the quilt looks like in its new habitat:


    As you can see, the apartment is outfitted in resale-value beige, so even a hint of color is welcome. Of course, this is more than a hint, but what I liked about this particular quilt was that it didn’t scream, “Look how tricky it was to make me!” The design isn’t ostentatiously complicated, but when you look closely, you see that the whole thing is made of rectangles of fabric that aren’t more than 2″ * 2″ each, and many of them are smaller.


    You can also get a sense in that exposure that I was able to avoid having a bedspread covered in girlie-ass flowers. (Not that I have a problem with real flowers. I just don’t need them printed all over the place.) The border, as you can see, is made of flowered cloth, but the flowers all look dark and tangled and menacing rather than prettied up. Like the brambles a medieval knight might have hacked through to rescue the hot stable hand at a neighboring castle from a life of certain drudgery.

    The only drawback is that now I’m going to have to stop eating and drinking, slovenly-bachelor style, in bed. Or I guess I could try to stop spilling stuff all over the place, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

    Japan expands scope of “defense”

    Posted by Sean at 12:02, December 12th, 2004

    The Japanese government publicized a new defense outline, including a rejiggering of the mission of the SDF, Friday. The Yomiuri‘s English article is ineptly translated but gives good background; the Asahi‘s English article gives more information about the outline itself. The new outline stresses that flexibility and resilience (not to mention missiles, which the LDP’s coalition partner the New Komeito has not been keen on) will be key elements in the portfolio of possible responses to terrorist and military threats from here on. It also breaks new ground by naming names: China and North Korea are referred to as potential threats, and the Middle East is deemed a key strategic region with respect to Japan’s defense. The old assumption that SDF activity would be limited to reactions to threats in or very close to Japanese territory is gone. And a good thing, too. The last time the government updated its SDF mission statement was to deal with the end of the Cold War, nine years ago. The world is a different place–or rather, we now recognize how different it is.

    On the other hand, the head of the SDF announced this weekend that if the situation in Iraq becomes too dangerous, the non-combat SDF personnel, whose deployment there has been extended for a year, will be pulled out anyway. That’s fair enough. They are not, after all, on a combat mission.

    CNN tells all (ニコニコ!)

    Posted by Sean at 13:55, December 11th, 2004

    Atsushi told me about this last week, but I forgot until I just saw the ads for it: CNN has sent Bill Hemmer here to Tokyo, from which he’ll be broadcasting for the first half of the week, giving a rare inside view of this most enigmatic of East Asian cultures! Are you excited? I’m excited. We’ll learn about the latest controversies within the royal family, we’ll talk with US Ambassador Howard Baker, and we’ll see all those futuristic gizmos with which Japan has touched off a worldwide youth craze! This is great. I’ve always wanted to know more about Japan.

    Pfft! Look, I know that not everyone lives here and that, given limited time, even a resource-rich network such as CNN is going to have to focus on familiar themes of interest to a broad audience. But do we really have to come here and say the exact same damned things for the home-folks every dad-blamed time? I suppose the Baker interview might be somewhat illuminating, but I’ll probably need to take my Dramamine before I can confront the rest. Expect more bile than usual; Atsushi is already chuckling in anticipation.

    Of course, CNN doesn’t have to dispatch one of its Ken dolls here to be annoying; the Atlanta-based Barbie contingent isn’t exactly acquitting itself admirably, either. I don’t want to pick on Colleen McEdwards personally, since her sins are the same as those of just about every other news network anchor, but can we please remember that it’s okay not to show off our telegenic smile occasionally? She interviewed some toxicologist about an hour ago about the poisoning of Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yuschenko, and I swear, it went something like this, “So, [twinkle, twinkle] how could such a large amount of dioxin get into Yuschenko’s body? Would it really [beam] be possible to put that much in a serving of soup?…Now, he has these acute symptoms [moue, twinkle]–how long will it take, you know, until it’s out of his system?” When I was little, newscasters were notorious for pasting on a look of inauthentic gravity all the time, but at least that showed some awareness of the nature of the topic at hand. I guess it’s possible that Colleen et al‘s frown muscles aren’t working anymore, but they seem too young for Botox.

    And while I’m wound up, can all those with-it hair stylists please find some fad to replace the fake-split ends thing? I know they needed something to do after the Friends shag got old, and the sleek crown + egg-beatered ends routine was it. But that was years ago. Time for something new. If we’re supposed to be looking at these people for minutes at a time while they tell us what’s going on [twinkle, twinkle] in the world of politics and artificial Christmas trees, they could summon enough effort to be distinguishable by something more than the colors of their Escada suits. Christiane Amanpour’s hair may look like a fright wig, but at least it’s her idiosyncratic fright wig.

    Added on 16 December: Too funny! Rachel Lucas, in her new guise, has noticed this abominable hair abuse, too. Only she actually had it perpetrated on her, the poor thing.


    Posted by Sean at 01:15, December 10th, 2004

    The search string gods are favoring me early this month.

    Someone wants to know the “duration of 2004 niigata quake.” To which one can only respond, “Which one?”

    Someone’s inner Whitney Houston needs soothing: “how can you know boys if had a feeling with you.” Do I know where you’re coming from, or what, honey! But, you know, there is one way to tell. You could get a broken nose rather than an answer to your prayers, but what is this life without some risk?

    I’m hoping “koda shosei kill sean” is a product of unfortunate syntax and not a minded use of the imperative mood.

    Some poor soul just can’t quite remember what song goes like this: “i like the way you cross the street cause you’re…precious.” It’s the first song on Pretenders , and trust me, you need to buy the album, and don’t just skip through to “Brass in Pocket.” The whole damned thing will rock your world.

    I know I’ve got at least one would-be comedian of a reader who tries obnoxious search terms to see whether he can get me going. If “homosexual inferior trash” is not from him, I will have you know, whoever you are, that my garbage is always put out on the right day–properly separated and in city-approved bags. Well, except the newspapers, which are stacked at exact right angles (I check with a T-square) and tied off, gift-style, with whimsical blue twine. I defy Shintaro Ishihara himself to find a reason to kvetch about it.

    Finally, we have “alex kerr homosexual.” Hmmm. Wouldn’t surprise me. Art collector, lives in Bangkok with partner of unidentified gender. Cute and well-preserved, too. Even if he’s a het, we’ll make him an honorary. The guy hangs around kabuki actors; I doubt he’ll mind.

    All right, little more cleaning to do so the place is ready for tomorrow morning. I was a bit casual about my unpacking this time.

    Doesn’t this strike you as an extraordinarily stupid idea?

    Posted by Sean at 23:03, December 9th, 2004

    From the Mainichi:

    Schoolboy attacks gun shop employee with golf club in failed robbery bid

    * I know, I know. Since only hunting guns are sold in Japan, I guess they weren’t likely to be loaded, and the shop clerk probably would’ve gotten into big trouble for brandishing one, anyway.