• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Posted by Sean at 07:32, January 17th, 2006

    We let straight folk believe the Global Homosexual Conspiracy is organized around recruiting new members because…well, they seem to get a spy-novel sort of thrill out of thinking so, and why rob people of a source of excitement? Especially when all they’d have left to console themselves with if disillusioned is Rolling Rock and Lean Cuisine.

    Anyway, the real purpose of the gay network was illustrated last night when I was out with a few people from our Taipei office at the night market. The Chinese New Year is coming up, so I figured that, since Atsushi has taken an interest in feng shui lately–don’t ask me, I don’t know either–I’d get him something lucky and Taiwanese. So we looked. There were dog statuettes whose contribution toward our household prosperity and longevity would, unfortunately, have been offset by the degree to which they would have fuglified our decor. Not a bargain, as far as I’m concerned. There were red and gold scrolls and things, but most of the nice ones were too big to fit in my carry-on.

    We were getting desperate, so one of the girls from the office made an exaggerated leave-it-to-me-darling flourish with one hand and clapped her cell phone to her ear with the other. As we walked, you could hear her addressing whoever was at the other end as “sweetie.” You got snatches of sentences like “No, he wants something AUSPICIOUS…for the Year of the DOG, you know?…yeah, it’s for his BOYFRIEND.” Minutes later, she hung up. She’d been talking to one of her gay friends. She had to cut out right then–family dinner, or something–but we were left with directions to a shop that furnished very cute bibelots and instructions to call his partner if we got lost. (Amazing the way no gay couple in any country I know of is rationed more than one partner who can give reliable directions.) I remain unconvinced they’ll ensure Atsushi’s good luck for the year–I’m not really superstitious, though it’s nice to think you can guarantee that sort of thing by buying the same kind of useless wood/clay/mineral objets you would have lusted after anyway. But I have something suitably cool to present to him as my お土産 from Taiwan, thanks to two of our unseen boys who, on a work night, let themselves get roped into a twenty-minute discussion about helping a stranger shop. Membership has its privileges.


    Posted by Sean at 06:27, January 17th, 2006

    It’s probably bad taste to think this way, but I can’t decide whether Huser president Susumu Kojima was extraordinarily unlucky or extraordinarily lucky today.

    He was delivering testimony before the Diet, though hardly of his own volition:

    In [a further development of the] earthquake resistance falsification scandal, Susumu Kojima, president of Huser Corporation (Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo) gave testimony before the diet during a meeting of the lower house Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Committee on 17 January. Of suspicions that he was essentially aware of the falsifications and applied pressure to keep them from being made public, he repeated his refusal to testify: “It may tend to incriminate me.” [Literally, he said that “there is the possibility of investigation and prosecution,” but I assume that’s the equivalent.–SRK]

    Kojima has, it would appear, plenty to clam up about:

    An executive of Tokyo-based developer Huser Ltd. repeatedly directed a contracting design firm to let disgraced architect Hidetsugu Aneha calculate the structural integrity of condominiums, citing Aneha’s ability to work out “economical designs,” The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Monday.

    The design firm initially planned to use another structural design firm to conduct earthquake-resistance calculations on a condominium in 2002, but the Huser executive protested, saying: “That firm’s designs use excessive materials. Use Aneha because he can do it economically,” sources said.

    The action highlights the close relationship between the developer and the 48-year-old former architect.

    According to the sources, the design firm made a contract with Huser to design a condominium in Tokyo in 2002. It intended to entrust the condominium’s structural calculations to the structural design firm with which it had business ties.

    The Huser executive, however, criticized the structural design firm for designing buildings with excessive materials. He named Aneha, saying, “We should use the architect who knows how to economize.”

    Of course, that “Huser executive” didn’t tell the Yomiuri that Kojima gave his blessing to this maneuver.

    What’s especially unlucky for Kojima is that it’s 17 January. That is, it’s the eleventh anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake–the one in Kobe–and as always, it’s getting a lot of media play. As I write, NHK is running a special called 活断層列島 (katsudansou rettou: “An Archipelago of Active Fault Lines”), complete with spooky, foreboding music like a wind tunnel in hell. It began with several shots of buildings that had not been expected to collapse in an earthquake. Naturally, they were rubble. The Kobe Earthquake is in living memory for everyone above high school age in Japan. This week more than any other in the year, Japan can be depended on to be keenly aware of how fragile buildings that aren’t built properly to withstand earthquakes can be. Watching Kojima on television, as he’s tearing up and proclaiming that he never meant anything bad for his firm’s customers, one is hard pressed to be moved.

    On the other hand, today also brought the news that the death sentence for Tsutomu Miyazaki–surely Japan’s most famous serial killer–had been upheld by the Supreme Court. Considered against Miyazaki’s blood-chilling example of sociopathy, mere insufficient girding of buildings doesn’t seem quite such a horror. If there’s anyone whose face all over the news can make a dirty contractor look unsullied by comparison, he’s it:

    Miyazaki’s lawyers had argued that it was “obvious that (the defendant) is suffering from some kind of chronic mental disorder such as schizophrenia.” They cited his use of psychotropic agents at the Tokyo Detention House and his auditory hallucinations that came into light during the high court sessions.

    According to the lower court rulings, Miyazaki abducted and killed four girls ranging in age from 4 to 7 in Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture from August 1988 to June 1989. He was also held responsible for stripping a 6-year-old girl in Tokyo’s Hachioji.

    The cases were described as “theatrical crimes” because Miyazaki sent a letter and parts of the remains of one of his victims to her family.

    He also claimed responsibility for the crime to the media using a female pseudonym, Yuko Imada.

    He also incinerated one of the victims, and claimed he ate the body parts of one of the girls.

    When Miyazaki was arrested in July 1989, investigators found about 6,000 videotapes in his room, many filled with sadistic and grisly scenes.

    They also discovered many pornographic comic books dealing with young girls and pedophilia.

    When Miyazaki is executed, it will probably be carried out without warning. The practice in Japan is not to give families a few days for final visits, and even in the cases of infamous criminals, the announcement of the execution is only made public on the same day.


    Posted by Sean at 04:16, January 17th, 2006

    If you want a good sense of why many of us Japanophile types need to fetch a cool compress for our foreheads when people start yanking out the Japan references, check this out: Erstwhile “manufacturing member of management” and current dumb-ass Jim Phipps writes to Mark Steyn:

    The comment about Kerry and sending business overseas at the expense of American (and Canadian) workers was badly misunderstood by you. The large corporations and the U.S. Govt. have worked hard moving industry offshore. The result is increased unemployment, more need for social services, fewer opportunities for better jobs, taxation, crime, and similar problems. I am a former manufacturing member of management and have seen this happen in city after city. The only winner is the larger corporation, not the taxpayer or consumer. The rationale is to borrow a lesson from Japan and reject imports for any viable reason possible and retain American and Canadian industry. The Japanese use tariffs, restrictive trade laws, and similar reg’s to protect their workers. MITI controls production and works hard to maintain some equality among the major firms. You are wrong about not understanding or caring about the loss of jobs. We will eventually fail from within without an industrial base. This is supported by history, not by Columnists Mark.

    First, I will give everyone time to recover from the gales of laughter that result from the idea of using Japan as a model for how to fix the problem of enriching “the larger corporation” at the expense of the taxpayer or consumer.

    Next, let’s gently remind Mr. Phipps that MITI (the Ministry of International Trade and Industry) no longer exists, having been superseded half a decade ago by METI (the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry). A small point, perhaps, but not a mistake that anyone who’s consistently been following developments in Japan, even casually, would be likely to make at this late date.

    Additionally, WTF?

    Sorry, I know that’s not very specific, but what’s so amazing about the above passage is that it’s not just wrong in a few places. It’s 100% cold-filtered wrong. The Japanese stock market collapsed fifteen years ago–you’d think people would, you know, remember that. Japanese manufacturing jobs are moving to China and Southeast Asia, and imports from those areas make up a large proportion of the economy. Major Japanese companies downsized, painfully. Our consumer prices in Tokyo are inflated to Goodyear Blimp levels.

    And instead of proportional reduction (designed to assure, through government rigging, that established firms with the favor of the federal ministries didn’t lose market share when they lost sales), what kinds of policies have been discussed lately? Why, privatization of the Postal Service (with its insurance and savings arms) and other financial institutions, liberalization of the National Pension and Social Insurance programs, reductions in the amount of local social welfare spending funded by federal subsidies, and cuts in the number of civil servants. Not all these are happening as fast as one might like, but the only people who don’t seem to agree that they’re necessary are those beneficiaries of the existing system whose careers are in their twilight years and who thus will find it difficult to switch gears.

    So when I read letters like the above, I have to wonder, How is such refulgent ignorance possible, and how does it keep getting a serious, even if critical, hearing?

    (Via Beautiful Atrocities, who was preening about something else but still provided the link)

    Back in Japan

    Posted by Sean at 01:57, January 17th, 2006

    Man, three-hour flights are short. You take off, they give you crap for breakfast, you doze a little, and all of a sudden Kunimoto, Your Chief Cabin Attendant, is all blaring, “ご案内いたします。Seatbelts FASTENED, seats and trays UP, bags STOWED, and don’t even be THINKING about getting up to pee!” I’m hardly complaining, but it was all bewilderingly abrupt.

    I haven’t gotten a chance to really catch up on news–they had yesterday morning’s Nikkei on the plane, but for those who can’t stand missing a single volley in the diplomatic wars around here:

    At noon on 17 January, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi attacked a statement by South Korean Foreign Minister Ki-Mun Ban. Ban had expressed the point of view that the conducting of head-of-state visits [between the two countries] will be thorny as long as the Japanese Prime Minister makes pilgrimages to the Yasukuni Shrine. Koizumi said, “We can meet at any time. Even if there are one or two differences of opinion and standoffs, communication and dialogue are necessary. I cannot understand the policy of refusing meetings because of a difference over a single issue.” He was responding to a question from the press corps at the Prime Minister’s residence.

    Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, addressing a press conference after a cabinet meeting the same day, stated, “Our position as the nation of Japan is that we are always ready to talk.”

    So no change.

    Completely vanquished

    Posted by Sean at 03:43, January 16th, 2006

    The Minister of Finance has an announcement to make:

    Minister of Finance Sadakazu Tanigaki stated emphatically, in a lecture delivered in Tokyo on the afternoon of 16 January, that the current Japanese economy “has, I think, finally repeated the [recovery] process fifteen years after the Bubble burst and rebounded powerfully.” As factors, he cited “the complete victory over the non-performing bond problem. Also, there’s the fact that from the enterprise side, businesses have brought excesses in personnel, debt, and facilities under control. The resulting process has also been finished by which the robustness of performance in enterprise has come around to [improve] household finance and individual consumption.”

    Whether all those “completely”s deserve to be there could be questioned, and obviously this segment tactfully omits any mention of government spending. And, of course, the new thing to spaz about is that the Japanese population has started, in recorded terms, decreasing faster than was expected. But Tanigaki is right that street-level confidence does seem to be up. One anecdotal and qualitative but interesting measure that I trust I’m not the only one to notice over the last few weeks: end-of-year partying by companies was noticeably more lavish than it had been since 1997 or so. For the first time in years, there was trouble getting a cab in Shinjuku at 2:30 a.m. during the last week and a half of December, and the crowds pouring out of restaurants and bars were much later and livelier.


    Posted by Sean at 22:06, January 15th, 2006

    I normally think it a little unnecessary when bloggers post stuff like “Appointment with podiatrist and then probably stopping to pick up vacuum cleaner bags–posting will be light until about noon or maybe 12:15.” It occurs to me, however, that it might have been a kindness to let everyone know that I was flying to Taiwan on Saturday afternoon and will return to Tokyo tomorrow. I may post a bit later today–Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage gave an interview in the Nikkei the other day that had a few things worth mentioning (such as, IIRC, “We don’t want Japan to be a passenger [in the WOT]; we want it in the cockpit with us”). Otherwise, I’ve mostly been away from the computer, not least because the weather here is unseasonably warm and clear. Back later today or tomorrow.

    You say you hunger / For something you can’t name at all

    Posted by Sean at 05:55, January 13th, 2006

    You could subtitle this one “How to Break up with a Friend of Sean’s.”

    I should start by saying that if you’re lucky enough to be with one of my friends, I don’t recommend breaking up with him. My friends are stand-up, interesting, fun guys, and (while this obviously isn’t a characteristic I screen for in establishing friendhood) they’re pretty cute, too.

    Next I should probably say that I have no interest in passing judgment on whether your reasons for breaking up are valid. Most, or at least a lot, of us go through a kind of compressed adolescence after coming out, because we didn’t spend our teenage years gradually growing into our sexuality and the all the possibilities for give-and-take with guys. My friends in their mid-20s tend to have boyfriends of around the same age, and while it’s great to see someone find the love of his life right then, it’s also perfectly natural to be restless. Not a phenomenon I’m unacquainted with.

    So, if I might kind of secretly agree with you that giving my friend the heave is ultimately all for the best, what am I about to get crabby about? Just this: That too many men seem to be looking for a relationship-ender that they don’t have to feel guilty about. They don’t want to be the bad guy. Kind of understandable, maybe, but the thing is, if you’re bent on recapturing the freedom to see what happens with that hottie across the bar who’s giving you The Look by breaking it off with someone who’s been happy with you (and to whom you gave every indication that you were happy with him), I’ve got news for you, honey: YOU. ARE. THE. BAD. GUY. Even if you can’t see any other way and you feel you’re going to lose your mind if you have to spend one more claustrophobic second in this relationship. Deal with it, and act like it.

    I’m not saying you should, like, really sink your teeth into the bad-guy role and steal all of my friend’s CDs and deface his coffee table books. Wrecking property isn’t gentlemanly, and besides, I may have been planning to borrow it later. But you have to leave out all the backing and filling that you perversely think softens the blow, particularly such knife-twists as: “I still love you” and “I never meant for this to happen” and “I can’t tell you how bad this makes me feel” and “It’s your happiness I’m interested in; you deserve someone who can give you 100%.”

    Because you know what happens then? Friend of Sean comes to Sean to unload and says, “Of course, he still loves me” and “He’s got to recognize, soon, that this is all a mistake” and “It’s so obvious how guilty he feels” and “I think he just needs time apart to figure out what I really mean to him,” and spends an hour talking about the pathetic little shards of (utterly baseless) hope he’s managed to pick out of the rubble.

    And then Sean has THE WORST time explaining why no, the relationship actually is clearly kaput, and yes, sweetie, you need to take some down time and then soldier on and look for a new boyfriend. In fact, sometimes it has to be explained every Friday night for several weeks in a row. This is inefficient. If, when breaking up with a friend of mine, you just stopped at “I’m sorry, but I need to do this, and I’ll clear out as soon as I can,” and then matched deed to word, then I would be able to proceed straight to “God, what a perfidious little bitch. Better to be rid of him sooner rather than later. You’ll do much better next time.” Not that that fixes everything, but as Miss Manners (and presumably Dad?) has been trying to tell you for eons, the faster the dumpee realizes the dumping is permanent and non-negotiable, the faster he can move on to the hottie across the bar who’s giving him The Look.

    And after all, it’s his happiness you’re interested in, right?

    Aso on Yasukuni Shrine (again)

    Posted by Sean at 04:44, January 13th, 2006

    I try not to get all neurotic about linking to every article that refers to one of my pet issues, so usually I don’t do anything with the short blurbs of which the Nikkei posts a lot. Sometimes little stories are telling, though:

    Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Aso addressed a press conference after a 13 January cabinet meeting, stating clearly that “There hasn’t been a single moment when I’ve thought that the Yasukuni Shrine pilgrimage issue should be a point of contention” in relation to the LDP party presidential election in September.

    In response to Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s declaration that it “will be a major element in whether [a candidate] can win (the presidential election),” Aso stated, “I don’t think there’s anyone who has quite that much confidence (in the election). What will be a major factor (in the election) is whether [a candidate] has the kind of language that can speak directly to the citizenry.”

    Of course, they could both be right: Yasukuni may not be brought up explicitly often, but its presence as an issue could be felt in the background of debates over how Japan should deal with the friction that arises with its neighbors. Of course, Aso has a few reasons to downplay the Yasukuni issue. For one thing, he’s on record as having dismissed Chinese and Korean protests over the pilgrimages as, essentially, their own odd little hangups. To be fair, as comes out in the interview linked in that last sentence, his reasoning isn’t quite as cavalier as it might seem–his point, that Japan’s offering reasons for continued pilgrimages by politicians only helps keep the discussion going around in circles, is not without basis. At the same time, it also seems reasonable to conjecture that the shrine might not be such a bone of contention were the textbook issue not there to amplify it. For another thing, he himself is one of the top contenders for LDP presidency post-Koizumi. Making a big deal out of the issue on which his pronouncements as foreign minister have been most controversial is hardly in his best interest.


    Posted by Sean at 08:46, January 11th, 2006

    File under: Tell Us Something We Don’t Know:

    Crowded commuter trains would likely be a major contributor to the rapid spread of influenza in the event of an outbreak of a new strain in Japan, researchers have found.

    A simulation performed by researchers from the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science and the National Institute of Infectious Diseases found that crowded commuter trains increased the number of infections, and suggested that halting them could decrease the number of infected people by as much as 30 percent.

    Numerous simulations on the spread of new strains of influenza have been conducted, but the latest one is reportedly the first to take commuter trains into account.

    The study found that without taking commuter trains into consideration, it would take about 50 days for the number of infected patients to peak, and more than 400,000 people would be infected.

    However, when commuter trains were added into the equation, at a rate of 5 infections per 100,000 people per day, researchers found that it would take a dozen or so days for the number of infections to peak, with the number of patients increasing to 500,000.

    I’m not an epidemiologist, but WTF? How is it possible to model the spread of a potential epidemic in contemporary Japan and just kind of NEGLECT to take the trains into account? Did they forget? Did they not feel they could map train travel effectively? That doesn’t make sense–presumably civil engineers and railway schedulers have to do that kind of thing all the time. Very strange.

    Added on 17 January: WTF? Where the hell are all these Australians coming from? Not that there’s anything wrong with being Australian. Some of my best friends are Australian. My favorite band is Australian.

    Kylie‘s Australian.

    But normally, I have about five Australian visitors a week, and I know them all by name. Is there a sudden fashion there for American poofs living in Japan?

    Oh, that’s it. Thanks to Tim Blair for the link. Not to take anything away from Gaijin Biker, who has a very good blog, but I do feel compelled to point out that if it’s Greenpeace’s tomfoolery we’re talking about, Ross at Romeo Mike’s posted about this several days earlier.

    The Good Book

    Posted by Sean at 08:27, January 11th, 2006

    One of Virginia Postrel’s latest posts is a great potential discussion starter:

    Some years ago, an editor asked me how he could give his children an appreciation for the English language. He wanted them to write well. Since he’s an evangelical Christian, I told him he should teach them Psalms from the King James translation of the Bible. My mother did that with me as a child, and it gave me an early sense of metaphor and rhythm. It taught me to appreciate, and understand, complex, beautiful English.

    My friend didn’t like my suggestion. After all, nobody reads the KJV anymore. Forget poetry (not to mention sensitivity to the underlying Hebrew), today’s suburban Christianity is all about accessibility. It’s been dumbed down.

    Megachurch Christianity may hone organizational and business skills, but it isn’t teaching believers to think about abstractions or communicate in higher than “everyday” language. No wonder megachurches combine their up-to-date media with fundamentalist doctrine. It fits well on PowerPoint–no paragraphs required. Leaving aside the validity of what they preach, today’s most successful evangelicals are spreading pap.

    When I was growing up, every Bible I ever had was KJV. The sermons–our services were two hours long, and you were expected to take notes after you were around twelve–generally quoted scripture from the KJV, often with explanations about how obscure passages had been rendered. My mother once, on the recommendation of a friend, bought a New KJV Bible. She found it annoying and went back to the old one the next go-round.

    To my knowledge, Virginia converted to Judaism (like 80% of my women friends from college) when she married but, unlike me, isn’t an atheist. I will occasionally run into people who ask how my beliefs have evolved and mistakenly assume that the way to get me back to church is by playing the “But you know, lots of churches now are very user-friendly and focus on making the Word of God relevant to life today.” Yech. I have my life, and what’s relevant to it in the quotidian sense, running pretty well as it is. If I were convinced to go back to worshipping God, it would be because I believed Christianity was accurate about the nature of transcendence.

    The KJV has a sense of the sublime. It’s mostly understandable, but the language is also obviously old, and there are passages that you can’t make your way through without your concordance. It gives a comforting sense of being navigable but containing mysteries. You’re constantly reminded that not everything is explicable, even to theologians with expert knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic. And, if you care about literary history, the KJV is the one that inspired countless writers and speakers over the past few centuries, as Virginia points out. It’s culturally allusive as well as having the feel of a book that’s expansive and meant to take you outside yourself.

    Once or twice I looked at a friend’s New Revised Standard Version (is that what it’s called?) when I was a teenager, and it was dead on the page. Like Dick and Jane Are Fruitful and Multiply and Fill the Earth. No intensity.

    And Power Point presentations in services? Rock music instead of hymns? I know those aren’t really new developments, but sheesh.