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    Posted by Sean at 08:06, July 8th, 2007

    It’s been a pretty rainless rainy season so far. The weather’s lovely–not always sunny, but mild and warm. I’ve been trying to force myself not to be outdoors too much too soon, without much success. (I burn very easily.) Since it’s officially early summer, and I haven’t posted about poetry for, like, ever, here’s yet another from the Princess Shokushi:



    koe ha shite / kumodji ni musebu / hototogisu / namida ya sosoku / yoi no murasame

    Your voice, I can hear–
    as you cut a sobbing path
    through clouds, O cuckoo,
    are your tears pouring down, too?
    A burst of rain at twilight
    –The Princess Shokushi

    Imagining that the fleeting rainshower is caused by the equally fleeting flight of the cuckoo overhead, the princess wonders whether its crying voice (which she can hear) is accompanied by falling tears (which she can’t see).


    Posted by Sean at 00:18, July 8th, 2007

    Jane Galt wants to spread the word about Sony VAIO customer service, which is apparently as bad in the States as it is in Japan. Actually, I don’t know that Sony customer service is considered all that bad here; it’s just that everyone knows Sony products break down quickly. Hence the expression ソニー時間 (soni jikan: “Sony time”), which is…well, the (unusually low) amount of time it takes your Sony gizmo to conk out. A friend told me the expression started with an urban legend saying that Sony actually rigged its products to break down after a certain period of time, though I don’t know that there’s any way to verify that.

    Of course, reputation doesn’t tell you everything. Toshiba in Japan is known for having surly and unhelpful customer service, but when the CD-ROM drive on my laptop started having seizures, everyone I talked to was great. (And by “everyone,” I’m referring to a half-dozen people. The drive would seem to be fixed at the end of each call and then start going on the blink a few days later. The last guy I talked to finally told me I’d just have to send my machine in.) I hope Jane finally gets some satisfaction out of Sony.

    Tattoo you

    Posted by Sean at 21:04, July 6th, 2007

    A close buddy, an Englishman, just sent me this article, with a note zeroing in, gay-ly, on the best one-liner:

    He once asked Mick Jagger why his face was so wrinkled. “Laughter lines,” the old rocker replied with a grin. Melly quipped: “Nothing’s that funny.”


    Means to an end

    Posted by Sean at 22:56, July 3rd, 2007

    At Pajamas Media, Jules Crittenden reacts to Minister of Defense Kyuma’s resignation:

    Japanese Defense Minister forced to resign for pointing out that Japan was asking for it.

    Quick back story. Fumio Kyuma, native of Nagasaki, was in Chiba the other day addressing university students when he pointed out that the A-bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima “couldn’t be helped” and was “inevitable.” He noted it had the desireable efffect of preventing Japan from suffering the kind of decades-long Soviet nightmare suffered by Germany, Eastern Europe and Korea.

    In my experience, rank-and-file Japanese people acknowledge that, too, when the topic comes up in one-on-one conversation. They don’t affect gratitude at having their countrymen incinerated, no, but they acknowledge that a swift end to the war was probably preferable to a protracted one and that the Allied occupation helped set the stage for Japan’s economic hypergrowth, with its drastic improvements in quality of life for Japanese citizens.

    Several of my Japanese friends do maintain that we Westerners are hypocritical to moralize about the Japanese occupation of Korea and China. The democracies of Western Europe built their economic and geopolitical might through colonization; the United States and Australia, among other Allies, owe their existence to colonization. But when Japan decided that colonization was the way to become a world-class power (my friends argue), the West flipped out and said, “No, you’re not supposed to do that anymore. No more resources for you until you learn to behave!” (Atsushi and Jun’ichiro, if you think I’m misrepresenting you, feel free to let me know here.)

    I don’t think that’s an invalid point. But Japan’s high-minded talk about an “Asian Co-prosperity Sphere” was malarkey–every bit as disingenuous as any Westerner’s contention that colonization was no longer something a nice, civilized people did.

    BTW, along those lines, it may interest readers to know that Prime Minister Tojo’s granddaughter is running for a Diet seat:

    The granddaughter of wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo said Tuesday if she wins election later this month for a seat in the Diet she will push to strengthen the military, rewrite the history of the Rape of Nanking and move to censure the United States for dropping atomic bombs on Japan.

    On Japan’s mobilization of tens to hundreds of thousands of “comfort women” to serve in front-line brothels, Tojo said the government was not directly involved, a commonly held belief among Japanese conservatives despite evidence to the contrary.

    Tojo said the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki went “beyond all the savage acts that occurred in history up until that time,” and accused the United States of being racially motivated. She claimed the U.S. would not have dropped such bombs on other “white” nations.

    Japan, meanwhile, went to war to “liberate people of color from the white nations in the world” who were colonizing Asia at the time, she said.

    Now, before anyone starts bloviating about how this shows what “the Japanese” think of World War II, let me just point out that Ms. Tojo is regarded as a far-right nutcase, albeit one who appears to have learned well the PC locutions that can be used to guilt-trip Westerners. (About that: One must acknowledge that there was plenty of racism abroad in the world back then, though my opinion is that the bombing of Dresden, say, casts considerable doubt on her specific contention about what violence the Allies would have been willing to commit against whom in order to win.) Most Japanese think of World War II what they think of all thorny subjects: they wish it would go away. Why, they wonder, do the Chinese and Koreans and Japan’s own ultra-nationalists have to keep bringing it up when it’s over and done with? I don’t condone that attitude, understand, but it is the prevailing one.

    In any case, Japan went to war to compete for resources. It lost. It had the great good fortune to lose to honorable enemies, ruthlessly committed to victory in wartime but willing to set it on the path to renewed sovereignty and unprecedented economic recovery within a decade after peace had been achieved.

    Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans.


    Posted by Sean at 01:19, July 3rd, 2007

    …and Minister of Defense Fumio Kyuma has had to step down. Not surprising. His remarks the other day about the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were not the first that made people wonder whether he remembered which ministry he was leading, and there’s an election coming up in which the LDP cannot afford to have the Abe administration look more vulnerable than it does.

    Odds and ends

    Posted by Sean at 01:26, July 2nd, 2007

    A friend who read the post below about licensing fortunetellers reminded me that the classic protectionist-licensing story remains that of African braiders. For those who haven’t seen it discussed on a news program or in Virginia Postrel’s The Future and Its Enemies , the Institute for Justice website has a rundown.


    I’m still making my way through Brink Lindsey’s most recent book, but he’s revived his blog and has a bunch of terrific posts about advertisements. For me the standouts are the pre-PC Jello commercial, apparently narrated by Charlie Chan, and the compilation of TV cigarette commercials. I was born in ’72; I don’t remember cigarette advertising on television. But I do remember being a child when lots of people smoked–there were ashtrays everywhere to accommodate them, and it wasn’t regarded as a big deal. Lindsey says, “Also, isn’t there a powerful illicit thrill–in our current age when smoking is the new leprosy–in watching these folks happily taking in big lungfuls of carcinogens?” Yes, there is. From our perspective now, the ads practically feel pornographic.


    Not surprisingly, Minister of Defense Fumio Kyuma has been brought sharply back into line by Prime Minister Abe:

    During a meeting of about ten minutes, the prime minister told Kyuma, “Japan is the only country to suffer a nuclear strike, and we must think of the feelings of the bombing victims in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, who suffered horribly. We mustn’t hurt their feelings.”

    Especially with an election coming up.


    Posted by Sean at 00:36, July 1st, 2007

    You don’t see this very frequently: Minister of Defense Fumio Kyuma gave a talk yesterday:

    Opposition parties unanimously criticized Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma for remarks he made in a lecture on 30 June. Kyuma had stated that the dropping of the atom bomb by the United States during World War II was “unavoidable.”

    Kyuma is the only sitting cabinet member from Nagasaki Prefecture. Reaction to his dissent from orthodoxy has been swift and furious:

    Kyuma said later that his comments had been misinterpreted, telling reporters he meant to say the bombing “could not be helped from the American point of view.”

    “It’s too bad that my comments were interpreted as approving the U.S. bombing,” he said.

    Bombing survivors have developed various illnesses from radiation exposure, including cancer and liver diseases.

    “The U.S. justifies the bombings saying they saved American lives,” said Nobuo Miyake, 78, director-general of a group of victims living in Tokyo. “It’s outrageous for a Japanese politician to voice such thinking. Japan is a victim.”

    Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue was quoted as saying by Kyodo, “The use of nuclear weapons constitutes the indiscriminate massacre of ordinary citizens, and it cannot be justified for any reason.”

    In America, the bombings are widely seen as a weapon of last resort against an enemy that was determined to fight to the death but instead surrendered unconditionally, six days after Nagasaki was attacked.

    There are many things to admire, even love, about Japan; but surely one of its more unpalatable cultural traits is its tendency to look for reasons to feel put-upon and victimized. The way people talk about the A-bomb, one would never know that Japan had tried to take over all of East Asia. (Its invading forces were not known for their scrupulously upright treatment of ordinary citizens.) One would also never know that the Allies had spent the last year enduring the battles on Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa.

    I don’t mean to make a coarse tu quoque argument here. I’m perfectly willing to acknowledge that America had geopolitical reasons for using the atom bomb that went beyond the saintly desire to prevent more blood from being spilled in the immediate future. Japan had inserted itself into World War II as our enemy, and we needed to defeat it, and we needed to win. It would be nice if war didn’t work that way, but it does. It’s easy for me to say this as an American, I guess, but I don’t think Kyuma’s acknowledgment that it wasn’t our job to play nice with Japan in 1945 can be construed as “approval.” It’s certainly going to be interesting to see where this goes politically, though.

    A learning experience

    Posted by Sean at 00:49, June 29th, 2007

    Life certainly can pour on the dark comedy sometimes. Meat Hope recently received a group of trainees from…China. One is left with the droll question of why, given the PRC’s recent explosion of export-related scandals, they felt the need to come to Japan to learn about fraudulent use of ingredients and product labeling, given how advanced such practices are at home:

    Eighteen Chinese scheduled to work as trainees at the scandal-tainted meat processing company Meat Hope Co. in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, might be forced to return to China if they cannot find alternative companies to sponsor them, it was learned Thursday.

    After irregularities were discovered, the company told all its employees they were to be dismissed because the company was facing bankruptcy.

    A few of the workers are forming a union to fight the dismissals.

    The small town writ large

    Posted by Sean at 00:14, June 29th, 2007

    Bruce Bawer posts (27 June entry) about what looks like the Norwegian version of the Japanese proverb 出る釘は打たれる (deru kugi ha utareru: “The nail that sticks out gets pounded down”):

    Norwegians are brought up on the so-called “Jante Law” — the belief that there’s something morally suspect about excellence, achievement, superior knowledge or skills.

    The response? Sheer outrage. Parents and students walked out in protest at this appalling display of forskjellsbehandling (“differential treatment”). “It was unfair,” one mother thundered. Yes, she admitted, the students with good grades had worked hard — but many of the others had “also worked hard without achieving such good results.”

    Of course, it’s handled a little differently in Japan. Excellent grades in school are generally achieved through rigorous adherence to expectations, so being at the top of one’s class is itself a badge of conformity. Mediocrity in Japan is attained through lots of stressing out and exertion.

    The law of the spirit

    Posted by Sean at 06:27, June 27th, 2007

    There’s apparently nothing that can’t be bureaucratized.

    Crabby libertarians like me are always complaining about how licensing and certification procedures are frequently used by those already in a given business as a smokescreen–a way to keep out new competitors in the guise of assessing competence or quality (e.g., the teachers’ unions).

    James Randi’s latest newsletter has an example that’s almost too absurd to be funny. It seems that soothsayers in Salem, Massachusetts, are worried that the current licensing process needs to be tightened because it doesn’t screen out those who can’t actually predict the future.


    City councilors, hoping to crack down on fraudulent fortunetellers, are trying to define exactly how a psychic can become licensed to set up shop in the Witch City. They want candidates to undergo a criminal background check and to either live or run a business in Salem for at least a year.

    But many psychics want the city to go a step further – make sure they’re actually qualified to predict the future.

    The city took up the issue almost a year ago, mainly to prevent fortunetellers from blatantly ripping off consumers by demanding lucrative payments in return for lifting a curse or removing a “black cloud.”

    One woman paid more than $2,000 for readings at a Salem shop, where she was told she had a black aura around her, according to [psychic Barbara] Szafranski.

    “Then one day she came into my shop crying,” Szafranski told city councilors. “I said, ‘You don’t have a black aura. Sit down and I’ll show you your aura on my machine.’ And it was blue and wonderful.”

    FOX News also reported on the story and quoted Szafranski as being a bit more candid about her likely motivations:

    “Anytime you have a fair put up across the street from your business, it’s going to take business from you, Halloween time does not make up for that by bringing more people in,” Szafranski said. “We had a decline in business last year with the psychic fair.”

    Okay, but that doesn’t demonstrate that her aura readings are any more accurate than anyone else’s, does it?

    Szafranski and Martinez last weekend found dead raccoons when they went to open their shops.

    “People are scared,” Szafranski said. “Having a raccoon put in front of your store with blood all over the place is completely Satanic. It was done as a blood ritual. There is a stain in front of my door where it happened.”

    “It’s cruel, it’s disgusting, and it’s negative for the city and for the raccoon,” Day said. “I believe that the same people that did the cars did the raccoon, too. It’s not someone on one side. It’s just someone that wants to cause trouble.”

    “Negative for the raccoon”–I am in love with that locution.

    There does seem to me to be a legitimate legal issue here. One of the main jobs of the government is defending citizens against others who might do them harm, and those who claim to be able to contact the dead or lift evil mumbo-jumbo clouds in exchange for several thousand dollars are, from any rational perspective, committing fraud. If practitioners are going to be licensed, it seems to me that the certification should go the opposite direction from what Salem has in mind, though: You shouldn’t be allowed to set up shop without displaying a placard that explicitly states that no psychic has ever passed a scientifically sound test and that the reading is reliably useful only for entertainment. (Don’t the ones who advertise on television have to post that somewhere?) Determined ninnies would continue to believe what they wish–adults who think they can get a medium to communicate with the spirit of their dead cat are probably unreachable by science anyway–but at least they couldn’t claim not to have been warned.