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    Posted by Sean at 08:41, February 3rd, 2006

    One of the best things about having the blog has been knowing that Atsushi will read every post. I don’t put in secret little messages to him or anything–if I were reading someone else’s blog where that was going on, I think it would creep me out–but I know that it’s one of the ways he finds out which news stories I’m paying attention to and what kinds of ups and downs friends are having, so when I press “Submit” on this or that entry, I always wonder whether it will turn out to be one that he has a sly comment on.

    We talk every night, almost always between 11:15 and 11:45, but sometimes a little later if one of us is working overtime or out with friends or colleagues. I know people in long-distance relationships who only talk every few days, and I figure it must work for them, but I don’t really sleep well if we haven’t talked a little about our days and said our I-love-yous.

    Circumstances do interfere sometimes, though. Atsushi’s office is having its company trip this weekend. Those who’ve been forced to go on corporate retreats will be thinking, Oh, no, not one of those…, and they’ll be half-right. There are no weird games where you try to identify whether your leadership style is better represented by a fig or an artichoke or any of that crap. But there’s a great deal of enforced togetherness and drinking and singing karaoke. Employee awards and things are often given–things like that. Atsushi was one of the people in charge of planning this year’s shindig, so tonight he probably won’t be able to call me even though today is exactly the kind of stressful day each of us relies on the other to talk him down from. I’ll e-mail his cell phone; he’ll at least be able to sneak a few minutes away from his room (shared with coworkers) to read that. But I figure I can post this, too, so that when he gets back home Sunday he can see I was thinking about him.


    Posted by Sean at 02:26, February 3rd, 2006

    The Diplomacy and Defense Committee of the House of Councillors is moving on JDA chief Fukujiro Nukaga’s recommendation that the DFAA be disbanded:

    On the morning of 3 February, the upper house Diplomacy and Defense Committee opened an intensive discussion related to the scandal over bid-rigging by the Defense Facilities Administration Agency.

    By way of apology, Nukaga stated, “The form this conduct has taken is a betrayal of the citizenry; we are all truly and utterly ashamed.” Concerning his own responsibility, he said, “The mission I have been given as the one with policy jurisdiction is to create a new system that the public can trust,” emphasizing that while he accepts responsibility he has no thought of resigning.

    The idea is to fold DFAA operations back into the JDA in the budget proposal for 2007 to be submitted this summer.

    The implications of its covenant

    Posted by Sean at 03:39, February 2nd, 2006

    Jews are cool. I don’t think I mention that often enough. Sure, they (and their institutions, such as the Israeli government) are fallible like the rest of us, but overall, they set quite a cultural example of resourceful and enterprising approaches to problems.

    It’s not that I have a problem with non-Jews, mind. Why, some of my best friends aren’t Jewish. Hell, I‘m not Jewish. It’s just that, given that the Palestinians have just voted a party into power that has wiping Israel off the map as part of its platform, saying that Jews are cool seems somewhat more important than it might have last week.

    I know, I know–Fatah was corrupt and disingenuous anyway. I also know that bitching about something Jimmy Carter said about the Middle East will have no practical result, though it brings back fond memories of the harangues Mom and Dad used to deliver at the TV news when I was little and might lower my blood pressure somewhat. Here he is. (BTW, Mr. Carter? If you turned up the heat, you wouldn’t need that vest on indoors to be toasty warm. Just a thought.)

    Hamas deserves to be recognized by the international community, and despite the group’s militant history, there is a chance the soon-to-be Palestinian leaders could turn away from violence, former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday.

    Carter, who monitored last week’s Palestinian elections in which Hamas handily toppled the ruling Fatah, added that the United States should not cut off aid to the Palestinian people, but rather funnel it through third parties like the U.N.

    I’m bringing this up because I’ve heard the issue framed that way by a few people since the weekend, and I think it’s predicated on a misunderstanding. Has anyone–Bush, Rice, Rove, anyone?–talked about not recognizing the Hamas government the way, say, the ROC was considered the real “China” at the UN until thirty-odd years ago? Perhaps so and I’ve missed it. What I read from the Secretary of State, though, was this:

    “We’re going to review all of our assistance programs, but the bedrock principle here is we can’t have funding for an organization that holds those views just because it is in government,” Rice said.

    The U.S., Europe and Israel list Hamas as a terrorist organization; various Arab governments have contact with the group.

    “It is important that Hamas now will have to confront the implications of its covenant if it wishes to govern,” Rice said. “That becomes a primary consideration in anything that we do.”

    It is not clear that all European nations or the United Nations would cut off aid, let alone Arab governments that do not recognize Israel.

    That sure sounds like a recognition of Hamas’s legitimacy as the democratically elected majority party to me. That it simultaneously declares that Hamas needs to stop acting like scum if it expects our help in governing is a different consideration. (The “if it wishes to govern” part reads like a warning of practical consequences rather than a threat.)

    Seriously, I’d like to be able to say I think Palestinians are cool, too. I don’t hold it against them, in any fundamental way, that they don’t like the Jews. Long-standing ethnic enmity is a fact of life all over the Earth, and while democratization has turned it into mostly good-natured mischief in some places, it still plays a major role in the love-your-goods-but-hate-you way that, say, Japan, China, and Korea interact (just to pull a region out of the air, you know).

    But besides all that, when they’re not getting misty-eyed over suicide bombers, the Palestinians have a reputation for being unusually hard-working and inventive. I was brought up in the sort of environment in which those qualities are valued and would just kind of like to know when–when on Earth–we’re going to see them bear fruit there. The Palestinians have infrastructure and universities. They have internal and external markets to exploit. Yes, the Israelis have access to cooler guns, but that alone doesn’t explain why it’s Israel that has the First World standard of living and the breakthroughs in medical research that get global publicity. I’ve seen–I wish I remembered where–the results of the recent election as a signal that the Palestinian people are starting to look at how they themselves, though their government, are causing some of their own problems instead of blaming everyone else. It’s nice to think so.

    In the meantime, though, the less-corrupt party with the official position that Israel must be destroyed is still taking an official position that Israel must be destroyed. Recognizing it without rewarding it strikes me as good policy.


    Posted by Sean at 22:56, February 1st, 2006

    To me, the Livedoor scandal isn’t all that sexy (and no, it’s not just because of the notable lack of physical comeliness of the chief villain of the piece), but this adds a kind of racy-spy-novel element:

    Takafumi Horie (33), former president of the Livedoor Group and a suspect in its violation of the Securities and Exchange Law, and multiple other senior managers were revealed on 1 January by another party in the scandal to have put money into and maintained accounts under assumed names in Hong Kong. Nagaya Nakamura (38), former president of the group’s investment subsidiary Livedoor Finance, apparently gave instructions to the financial institutions’ account managers. Thus the identity of one part of Livedoor’s money laundering operation has come to the surface.

    Okay, fine, a Swiss bank account would have been sexier. Maybe if we could have brought in a Swedish air hostess of icy demeanor under police interrogation, that would have been nice, too. Given the sheer appalling arrogance that’s coming to light and the egregious hot-guy deficit involved, though, the Hong Kong connection at least adds some savory intrigue.

    Insert joke about $1000 hammers here

    Posted by Sean at 00:12, February 1st, 2006

    The corruption scandal at the JDA (the Japan Defense Agency this time, not the Japan Dental Association–keep those scandals straight!) is coming to a head:

    Japan Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga announced on a TBS television program the morning of 1 February that he was planning to dissolve the Defense Facilities Administration Agency because of collusion scandals revolving around its procurement and construction practices. The new approach will be to review the DFAA’s organizational structure with an eye for its integration with the [rest of] the JDA.

    Nukaga stated, “The plan is to dissolve the body and make suitable adjustments. Given the extent of the goings-on, it has become clear that collusion is embedded in the structure of the organization. A dissolution is what the public expects, furthermore, it’s the decision I want to make, too.”

    The JDA stuff has ranged from inflated aircraft repair/parts procurement costs to cagily jiggering payments for use of facilities in Okinawa to illegal tracking of personal information, but the most recent flap is over bid rigging for climate control installation and construction projects. At this late date, no one pretends to be too shocked at revelations of collusion. Actually getting rid of an entity that’s not doing it’s job, however, is a pretty novel proposition. It didn’t help much in the Great Ministerial Chinese Fire Drill of 2001, but if Nukaga–who can be wonderfully stubborn when he wants to be–is serious, the administrative structure for Japan’s defense could really see meaningful streamlining. Not a moment too soon, either.

    Con carne

    Posted by Sean at 21:47, January 30th, 2006

    It came out yesterday that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries had not held to a cabinet-level resolution to do site inspections of US meat-processing facilities before reopening Japan to beef imports. Naturally, the revelation constituted a signal for everyone who’s ever walked past a government facility to deliver an opinion on the safety concerns thus raised. The one of most interest came, of course, from the opposition leader:

    Around noon on 30 January, Democratic Party of Japan leader Seiji Maehara responded to questions from the press corp in the Diet Building about Agriculture Minister Shoichi Nakagawa’s failure to conduct site inspections before deciding whether to reopen Japan to imports of US-produced beef. About Nakagawa’s statement that “I did not act in accordance with the diet resolution, so I take responsibility,” Maehara stated, “It’s only fitting for him to resign. And it shouldn’t stop there–responsibility must be extended to the entire cabinet.”

    Shinzo Abe weighed in also:

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe spoke at a lower house budget committee meeting on 30 January, delivering the government’s official (unified) position revolving around the issue of the failure to conduct site inspections that were to have been carried out before the reopening of Japan to imports of US-produced beef: “The decision to resume imports has not conflicted with the government’s original response.”

    In the afternoon, he emended his statement to “(After the issuing of the government’s response paper), we judged that the efficacy of [procedures to] preserve safety had been secured through cooperation between Japan and the US. There has been no deviation from the response paper’s main point that we need to secure the safety of the food supply.” That evening, he retreated from his statement that morning, stating, “I have not said that [Nakagawa’s actions] violated the cabinet resolution.” He did not respond to calls for Nakagawa’s resignation from the opposition parties.

    Leaving aside whether the original cabinet resolution was excessively finicking and paranoid, it’s pretty clear that Nakagawa and his team failed to follow it by not performing site inspections. It’s not clear yet whether enough people will get worked up to force him to resign.

    Search me

    Posted by Sean at 04:27, January 30th, 2006

    I’d been thinking that I’m about due for a weird-search-term post, but when I looked back, I realized that there hasn’t been all that much variety after all. There’s just a lot of variation on a few themes, some of which are kind of disturbing:

    japanese forget the year party grope
    groping chik@n videos

    That first one is actually from almost a month ago; I started a post and saved it and then didn’t get around to finishing it. Despite the fact that the New Year is long gone, the topic is a perennial.

    You would not believe the number of searches I get looking for things about chik@n : “videos” and “instructions” especially. I can only assume it’s the same for any other Japan-focused blogger who’s been unwise enough to mention the phenomenon. I’m trying to believe that the overwhelming majority of Googles are from social scientists doing research. (Please don’t show up to disillusion me.) But whatever the motivation–and I don’t want to be encouraging any sickos here–I have to say: instructions??!! Who needs instructions to figure out how to grope?

    JAL close shave

    Which one, pray tell? There’s been a new report issued about the turbulence-induced shake-up of a Tokyo-Fukuoka flight a few years ago that caused a bunch of injuries. But perhaps you mean the near collision a few years ago that would have been one of the highest-fatality disasters in civil aviation history if it hadn’t been averted.

    gay culture kyushu


    Oh, uh, sorry.

    What I mean to say is, I think it’s most active in Fukuoka, which would make sense since that’s the largest city and a major transportation hub. Japanese friends are always going on and on about how hot Kyushu guys are; I’ve never really seen it. Now, Okinawan guys….

    do all white men have defined chests

    If only! Actually, there was another, almost identical search a few days ago, so either someone is investigating this with the assiduousness it deserves or there are two people out there who might do better in their quest if they pooled their resources.

    BTW, do I really use the word chest that often? I don’t rightly remember doing so, but I can’t think of any other reason I’d be showing up in so many “chest” searches.

    smooth chest guys

    [smirk] Wrong blog, honey.

    Japanese ripening woman mature sex picture

    Also wrong blog, honey. Or buddy, or whoever you are. Though take my word for it: if that’s your thing, I think it’s great.

    You know, over there somewhere.

    Ne me quitte pas

    Posted by Sean at 02:22, January 30th, 2006

    Interesting, if not entirely unexpected:

    Oscar favourite Brokeback Mountain has been effectively banned from cinemas in China, it has been reported.

    Censors ruled the gay cowboy romance too controversial to be shown in the country where homosexuality is a taboo, industry paper Daily Variety said.

    Brokeback Mountain – by Taiwanese director Ang Lee – is a firm favourite to be among the Oscar nominations when they are revealed in the US on Tuesday.

    One wonders what Lee would have to say about that (via Gay Orbit):

    Director Ang Lee says Asian audiences are more accepting of gay subject matter than Americans.

    A Utah movie theatre, owned by a Mormon, pulled his new film, the gay cowboy romance Brokeback Mountain.

    “I think Asian society is more open,” said Ang. “I think there’s pressure to condemn [homosexuality] in their [Americans’] religion which causes their homophobia.”

    In a way, of course, it’s not fair to make such a comparison–theoretically, Lee could be right about Asia, and the PRC’s censors could be abnormally uptight and lack understanding of what people are willing to see.

    I wouldn’t buy it, though. One doesn’t hear a lot of open condemnation of homosexuality in Asia because people pretend it doesn’t exist. You still get people telling you, “Homosexuality is a Western thing–we don’t have it in Korea.” That doesn’t mean people are accepting, though (at least in Japan) I do think it means that as long as you’re willing to be ultra-discreet, your likely to be able to live without really encountering open hostility.

    It’s important to note, though, that that tradeoff is forced here in ways it isn’t in the States. In America, your choices are limited if you want to live somewhere where you can be a complete, 24/7 flamer and have lots of gay people and institutions at your disposal; but such places do exist, and finding out where they are is very easy. Everyone in America has heard of New York. You can choose to stay in a more socially conservative environment and be closeted to a greater or lesser degree if you like, but you don’t have to.

    In Japan, by contrast, my area of Tokyo is as good as it gets. There are no gay neighborhoods to speak of. There are quite a few areas with bars, of which Shinjuku 2-chome is the largest. Gay guys live in concentrations there and in certain parts of Nakano and perhaps elsewhere. But the social stigma attached to not marrying and having children is very pronounced, and it comes at you from all sides if you’re Japanese. I’ve never lived in Taiwan or Korea, but friends from there tell me it’s basically the same. People we know in Malaysia and Indonesia do have their bars raided; and for the Muslims, their religion is no more hot on homosexuality than Christianity is. (Ang Lee does remember that Asia doesn’t stop at Tokyo, Taipei, and Hong Kong, doesn’t he?)

    So while Lee is Asian and I am not, I don’t think he has any idea what he’s talking about. One final note: Asian viewers, like foreign viewers in many other places, are often entertained by sexual and other behavior in pop-culture artifacts that they think shows what a crazy, disorderly, hedonistic place the West (especially the US) is. That says nothing about how they would react to similar behavior by their children, neighbors, or coworkers.

    Japan notes

    Posted by Sean at 01:58, January 30th, 2006

    There’s been more news about the Yamaha Motor flap:

    Yamaha Motor Co. sold a top-of-the-line unmanned helicopter to a Chinese company that was established in 1993 by high-ranking officers of the People’s Liberation Army, sources said over the weekend.

    Yamaha is also suspected of having received several tens of millions of yen in rebates from another Chinese company that bought the helicopters, said the sources close to the police investigation into the alleged illegal exports.

    Investigators now expect Yamaha will face charges of violating the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law for the unapproved exports.

    The PLA-linked company to which Yamaha sold the unmanned helicopter is Poly Technologies Inc., based in Beijing.

    The vice chairman and president of China Poly Group is He Ping, the husband of Deng Rong, the youngest daughter of the late paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.

    It’s not what you know….


    Though the new Japan Post holding company has just started operations, Nippon Express (Nittsu) is already planning its strategic response to the privatization (or “privatization”):

    As a defensive move against the operations of the new Japan Post public corporation, Nippon Express will become the first private provider to deliver personal correspondence on a nationwide scale. The new service will target documents with a delivery cost of ¥1000 or higher; parcels will be picked up from the user’s address and delivered by the next day. Nationwide delivery of personal correspondence is now monopolized by the Japan Post registered mail service, but Nittsu will provide delivery at lower cost in certain regions.


    Japan is modifying its approach to angling for a permanent UN Security Council membership:

    Japan’s new proposal has taken into account the United States’ position that Security Council membership should not be expanded by more than six seats, to a maximum 21 from the current 15, including the five permanent members–Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

    The proposal calls for a country seeking permanent membership on the council to receive a seat if it can win the backing of two-thirds of the U.N. General Assembly in a vote, the officials said.

    Under the plan, such permanent members, however, would not be given veto power, the ministry said.

    The government is considering presenting the proposal at the United Nations this spring. Whether other countries concerned will support the plan is not known, they said.

    The new draft seeks to have the present Security Council framework comprising the five permanent members and 10 nonpermanent ones increased by six to make the council a 21-member body.

    According to the plan, a maximum of six countries–two each from Asia and Africa, and one each from Latin America and Europe–should be allowed to join the existing five permanent members.

    Japan contributes almost a fifth of the UN’s general budget.

    The prodigy

    Posted by Sean at 08:37, January 29th, 2006

    Atsushi flew home this afternoon. This month was not only our fifth anniversary but also the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Because I don’t believe in asking questions I don’t want to know the answer to, I didn’t ask Atsushi which milestone was more significant to him.

    Have I mentioned that my man is really into Mozart? And the Strausses. And pretty much every other Austrian who ever wrote music. They were running a series of Mozart performances on NHK this week; he brought a tape of The Magic Flute (2003 in Covent Garden) along. We didn’t go to the orchestra when I was growing up, but we listened to classical music at home quite a bit. Mozart’s 40th is probably about my favorite piece–yes, before you say it, it goes with my high-strung personality.

    Opera? Not really my thing, but sometimes entertaining. Atsushi and I watched The Magic Flute while eating our brunch (contrived using the cast-iron frying pan and potato ricer my parents sent me for Christmas). Ichs and Neins were sung. Daggers were handed to psychologically vulnerable maidens with creamy bosoms. Heroes were aided by trios of altar boys sent by (I think) the Sun King. Magic flutes were played. Well, I guess one magic flute and one organ-grinder kind of thing with chimy bells inside. I kind of liked it. Atsushi, however, beamed the whole way through like a four-year-old boy whose dad had just given him his first toy train.

    Since it’s not a bank holiday tomorrow, he’s back in Kyushu already, and I’m doing the laundry and clean-up thing. Great weekend, though, even if I am ending it sitting alone in the apartment eating smushed-together leftovers: mashed potatoes and a grilled peach (yes, obviously in heavy syrup–if God hadn’t meant peaches to come in heavy syrup, he wouldn’t have made cans) and some steamed vegetables. Hope everyone else enjoys the remaining time…about a half-day at home in the States, right?