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    Posted by Sean at 09:24, December 20th, 2005

    Virginia Postrel has one of her interesting posts about sprawl up. Fun fact from my part of the world: New York is more densely populated than Tokyo. Of course, that’s from official measurements, but it’s really not so hard to believe. Simply dividing the total population by the total land area gives a nice, rough point of departure, but as Virginia points out about New York and LA, it doesn’t tell the whole story by half.

    If you visit Tokyo, as opposed to living in it, you may never really see much outside the major interchange stations on the Yamanote Line; but just a few stops beyond that inner ring, the landscape is completely different. When I lived in Shibuya, my apartment building was the only residential structure within a good five or six contiguous blocks. Where we live now, just four stations outside Shibuya in Setagaya Ward, just about everything is residential. The storefronts, even along major thoroughfares such as Komazawa Avenue, mostly have apartments above them. Zoning in Japan is kind of weird to many Westerners–there really is a lot of mixed construction–but as an overall pattern, Tokyo is one of those cities in which nighttime and daytime populations cluster in visibly different places, which means that the crushing density tends to follow people around–or, more accurately, that they create it by all moving together.

    And like just about any other city, Tokyo doesn’t stop at Tokyo. Urban-level average population density continues southwest through Kawasaki (1.3 million), Yokohama (3.5 million), and the smaller cities in Kanagawa Prefecture, including Atsushi’s hometown of Kamakura (a comparative hamlet at 170,000). It also goes east through Chiba Prefecture, north through Saitama Prefecture, and west through the municipalities that have been annexed by the Tokyo Metropolitan District but aren’t part of the original twenty-three wards. None of these places is in the mindspace that you’d think of as Tokyo, but they’re definitely part of the metro area. By contrast, some land (such as hiking places deep in the mountains in Ome City, to which you have to take an old single-track train) is so unpopulated that even calling it rural seems a stretch, but it lies inside Tokyo Metro, so it’s counted for a lot of statistics.

    Speaking of malfeasance related to public transport….

    Posted by Sean at 08:24, December 20th, 2005

    I’m trying hard not to shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s what you get, scumbag” in reacting to this little story:

    A middle-aged man died after being overpowered by train passengers at a station here for molesting a woman on a train on Tuesday morning, police said.

    Local police are questioning the passengers who captured the man over details about the incident, and are trying to identify the man believed to be a 40-year-old company employee from Nishi-ku, Osaka.

    After the man began to run away, four male passengers, including two police officers who were on their way to work, chased him for some 50 meters before tackling him on the platform. He fell unconscious shortly afterwards, and later died.

    Assuming the accusation of chikan wasn’t mistaken, and assuming the four guys who ran him down didn’t keep whaling the hell out of him long after he’d capitulated–Aside: Why don’t I ever get chased down train platforms by off-duty police officers who want to wrestle? Probably because I’d have to start grabbing boobies to get ’em heated up–I’m thinking we should chalk this one up to the occupational hazards of groping strange women on trains. If you’re going to assault people, you’re implicitly taking on the risk that they (or others) will come to the decisive defense of their persons. Same deal with breaking into someone’s house or car.

    I can’t drive [beyond] 55

    Posted by Sean at 07:59, December 20th, 2005

    Great. MTA strike. Luckily, I’m in Midtown and don’t have business at far-flung points in the city before I leave tomorrow; the strike may interfere with my lunch plans, but that’s about it. For people with little income and a lot of odd jobs to do to support themselves, however, this really sucks.

    My father’s a steelworker–unionized, started in the early 70s just before competition from the Japanese and Big Steel’s own slow reflexes made life hell for a lot of the plant workers. I’m sure MTA workers are “underappreciated and disrespected.” Isn’t everyone? But the benefits (and retirement age) MTA is asking for exist practically nowhere on land or sea anymore:

    “It’s a pain in the neck,” [a foreign currency analyst] said. “I’m very anti-union, especially this time of year. It’s ridiculous. If you look what they’re asking for, that’s 50 years ago. Pensions don’t work like that anymore. I’d kill for what they’re asking for.”


    Posted by Sean at 07:40, December 20th, 2005

    The patronage system in Japan is such that this is basically the first we’re hearing of this:

    Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizum held an end-of-year party on 20 December, inviting all Diet members newly elected to the lower house in September to the Prime Minister’s residence. However, those legislators who are already members of factions that are opposed to the administration’s policies were not invited. Within the LDP, some took this as the “flag hoisting for the Koizumi faction”; it is not inconceivable that in the movements of these “Koizumi Kids” will determine where September’s general election goes.

    Koizumi was originally a member of the Mori faction, then its de facto head, but he withdrew from it in 2001 when he was gearing up for real to run for Prime Minister. His former mentor has frequently expressed shock in public at Koizumi’s political tactics–but then, given Mori’s record of non-achievement as PM, I don’t know that his opinions carry much substantive weight. However, he did, despite his general lack of popularity, play the connections game. Koizumi famously has not (except on certain occasions when his opportunism was blatant), and his ability to form a viable faction of his own has been dubitable. As always with early moves like this, we’ll have to wait and see what happens.

    I like fags

    Posted by Sean at 18:14, December 19th, 2005

    Okay, just one more Brokeback Mountain post.

    Actually, not even a Brokeback Mountain post, but a link to Tom being hilarious about it:

    It’s not fair of me to discount Cocksuck Canyon sight unseen, scent unsmelled, feel unfelt, ticket unbought, and cheap of me to not even respect its proper christian name. But really, why would any gay guy with any kind of sexual history need big screen affirmation of the varieties of homosexual experience, the cruelties of heterosexual ignorance, and the deep love and great thrills that can be found in that nexus? Or in that Lexus.

    I have pre-judged incorrectly before. Angels in America always seemed to hold out the promise to me of everything I hated about angels, prepositions and America. But when I saw the first half a few weeks ago, unhappy with my lot in entertainment and ready to bolt at every commercial break, I found myself remaining. I’m not sure yet if the play is good, but I know the performances were great. I don’t who that chick is who played the mormon’s wife, but she’s terrific. As is Mr. Pacino (“I’m sooooo ashamed”) and pretty much all the others. I will gladly watch the second half when mischance allows.

    Mickey Kaus has it exactly wrong when he insists that Brokeback M. is a gay movie and protests to the contrary only make it gayer. This really is a movie for straights, and Mickey K. has been viral marketed into a slavish delirium, “I’ll go see it, but I don’t want to go see it.” That kind of mid-brow, pop-cult robotics shames all free-thinking replicants everywhere.

    It gets better from there.


    Posted by Sean at 01:05, December 19th, 2005

    I’ve toyed for years with the idea of getting a Japanese driver’s license and maybe a junky car. For some reason, I’ve never gotten around to it. Part of it is that I can get everywhere on foot, by cab, or by train without really feeling inconvenienced; and part of it is that I think Atsushi likes doing the driving because it means I’m letting him do something for me. So we have a claim on a parking space in our building (probably worth more per square meter than our apartment) that’s empty while he has the Toyota in Kyushu.

    The result is that my need to be at the controls of a motor vehicle gets saved up for eleven months of the year and only has an outlet while I’m home. Luckily for me, eastern PA has a lot of variety in the driving, so I get a good workout here. Within fifteen minutes of my parents’ house–have I mentioned that they not only have giant creche out front but also one of those fan-inflated light-up snowmen just outside my bedroom window?–you can go from back roads to a tractor-trailer-heavy interstate to downtown. But the most fun to be had is around Philadelphia.

    For those who haven’t had the pleasure, four of the interstates through metro Philadelphia are 76 (the Schuylkill Expressway), 276 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike), 476 (the Northeast Extension of the Turnpike, which runs up by my hometown), and 676 (the Vine Street Expressway in Philly and then through to New Jersey). I assume that the number assignments were patriotic in origin, but figuring out which is which must drive non-locals insane.

    And that, of course, is before they actually start driving on them. Today, I hit the Schuylkill Expressway at the perfect time to experience all its electrifying glory: it was crowded enough that you were hemmed in on all sides but empty enough that it was possible for everyone to do 70. The sun was low enough to get in your eyes at inopportune moments. Also, the Schuylkill is one of those roads with on and off ramps on both left and right, so quite a few people find it necessary to cross three lanes of traffic at some point along the way from A to B. You just have to settle in and treat it like a real-life video game.

    I smiled a little as I shot past the University City exit. When I was in college and coming back from a few days home in Emmaus, my father and I would slow to get off there, and at that point my muscles would unclench and I’d think, I’m back–thank God! This was when I was still getting up at 7:30 to go to church every Saturday, so I meant that last part literally. It was also when Philadelphia seemed blissfully far away from the Lehigh Valley, though compared to Tokyo, of course, it’s right there. I think I might still have been entertaining the idea of becoming a writer then, before I realized that I’m perfectly content to play out my imagination inside my own little mental world and am much better, in the external sense, at explicating other people’s original writings than contriving my own.

    Things have changed for my college friends, too, which is why today I was headed not for Center City but for Haddonfield, NJ, where two of them–married, with two little girls–moved from Rittenhouse Square when their family started growing. We ate Old El Paso tacos and seedless grapes and ice cream. The girls are clearly going to be brainy like their parents, and in years past, I’ve brought them age-appropriate books and read them aloud. You know, Make Way for Ducklings and stuff. But some four- or five-year-olds suddenly pull way ahead of their age group in terms of reading level, so I figured I’d overshoot widely this time around and give them one Hardy Boys and one Nancy Drew mystery. That way, if they get bored with children’s books in a few years’ time, Mom and Dad have something longer and a little more complicated to read to them.

    It would have been nice to have time to see more people, but I’m feeling ready to go back to New York tomorrow and then Tokyo on Wednesday. Long ago in college, before I came out, I was afraid that a decade down the line all my friends would have settled into happiness and I’d still be terminally pissy and resentful without having figured out what I was resenting. That’s over, fortunately. I can enjoy spending time with my parents and visit my hometown without its feeling like a noose tightening around me. I can visit my friends and feel the familiar feeling of being back in the group kick in. But I’ll be pleasurably relieved to turn the key in the lock when I get home to Tokyo and start planning what to make for breakfast when Atsushi’s flight comes in the next morning.

    Can’t take me home

    Posted by Sean at 08:34, December 18th, 2005

    Eric, Tom, and I had our second (what looks to be) annual Philadelphia Phags blog meet-up last night. (Tom’s comment: “I like that the 4000 mile away guy always brings the 15 mile away guys together.” That’s always the way of it, huh?) I was probably fine to drive home, but I was nodding off somewhat, so I ended up staying in what can only be described as Eric’s guesthouse. After showing me where the bathroom light switch and stuff were, he pointed out that there was a computer in the bedroom “in case you feel like blogging.” At the suggestion that I might not want to let a single night go without posting something, I just smiled–Eric, honey, I think you’re just the tiniest bit more into blogging than I am.

    Of course, this morning, I woke up and realized I didn’t have a book with me, and I don’t want to go making noises in Eric’s living room in case he’s still asleep. So here I am logged on, though I can’t say I’m quite in the mood to be trawling the Japanese media for interesting stories.

    So then, just to keep the gay theme of the day going….

    We met Tom on-site at his new venture, the Philadelphia AIDS Thrift (PAT for short). Like many crossword puzzles, it has an aerie. Like many gay-friendly thrift stores, it has an entertaining selection of books, housewares, and fashion-victim clothes. Mindful of the weight of my luggage, I confined myself to picking up a few paperbacks; but if you’re in the area, it’s worth checking out. (Unless you’re around twenty-three, my advice is to walk resolutely past the leather pants, BTW.)

    Mary at Gay Orbit has a message for straight people: Gay people en masse don’t care whether you see, like, dislike, swoon for, or find major socio-politico portent in Brokeback Mountain. To coin a phrase, it’s only a movie.

    Uh, I can’t think of anything else gay to say except maybe that Atsushi sounds even sexier than usual when he’s half-asleep, and I’m almost sorry that when I get back to Tokyo, our nightly phone call will go back to taking place when he’s still up. Speaking of being awake, this might be a good time to see whether my host is ambulatory. Enjoy the rest of the weekend, everyone.

    Added at 11:50: Eric has posted about the visit, complete with way too many pictures of my un-photogenic self. It’s worth clicking through to see the great pic of Tom in front of the poster, though. Notice that he and the shark have the same untrustworthy smile.


    Posted by Sean at 15:55, December 16th, 2005

    Prime Minister Koizumi is putting the most kindly light on Democratic Party of Japan leader Maehara’s recent rejection of the idea of fuller cooperation with the ruling coalition:

    On 16 December, Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi spoke about DPJ leader Seiji Maehara’s denial of the possibility of a “broad alliance” with the LDP: “As the head of the opposition party, he had no choice but to say such a thing.” Koizumi went further and stated, “The world of politics is difficult to predict even in the short-term. In Germany, such cooperation had been said to be impossible, but it came to pass,” suggesting once again that a broad alliance [was feasible]. He was responding to questions from the press corps at the Prime Minister’s residence.

    Regarding the wave upon wave of criticisms leveled at Maehara at the [DPJ] party convention, Koizumi gave the DPJ leader a shout-out: “Being in a leadership position is tough. I hope Mr. Maehara will see things through and ride out his current difficulties.”

    That last reference to “Mr. Maehara” may be a noun of direct address, but that doesn’t really affect the basic meaning. Maehara has been relatively quiet. You see him quoted frequently, of course–he’s the opposition leader, after all–but his comments rarely have the irritability of Katsuya Okada’s. Of course, that could mean either that he’s shrewdly buying his time or that he realizes how green he is and is steering a middle course out of fear that he’ll make a misstep. Or some of both.

    BTW, Maehara, one of whose distinguishing characteristics is his higher level of hawkishness than previous DPJ leaders, intimated to the press on a visit to Okinawa that he could be prepared to agree to a special provision to shift land use rights from Naha to Tokyo in order to implement the transfer of US military facilities at Futenma. On the other hand, he’s criticized the government’s current treatment of the Okinawa government: “When restructuring specific [military] bases, close consultation with–and consent of–regional government entities, is indispensable; but [the approach] this time around was extremely crude. It demonstrated contempt [for Okinawa].” Tension between the capital and the provinces is a fact of life for every large, complex society I’m aware of, and in Japan, things are especially prickly between Tokyo and Okinawa.

    Okinawa has its own distinct language and history and sorely resents being treated, as it views things, like the mainland’s trash dump. The locals don’t like putting up with the off-hours behavior of military personnel and the foreign control of large swaths of land, but they’d be in an economic pickle if we left, and they know it. Regarding US military installations, of course, things aren’t black and white. Okinawa is the poorest prefecture in Japan. Having our bases there brings in money and creates jobs. The US could probably learn to cultivate a more friendly manner toward its sub-tropical hosts, but I’m not sure how much good that would do when the far more long-term problem is with the deep rift between Tokyo and Naha.

    US beef arrives on Japanese soil

    Posted by Sean at 11:33, December 16th, 2005

    The ban on US beef imports to Japan has been lifted, thus (one can only fervently hope) freeing our leaders to talk about more important things in meetings. Just for the record, the contents of the first shipment are nearly itemized by the Asahi:

    The first shipment of U.S. beef touched down at Narita International Airport early Friday morning, just four days after the government lifted its ban, officials said.

    The shipment, containing 4.3 tons of cut beef and 0.3 tons of internal organs, was imported by leading ham and sausage maker Marudai Food Co., based in Osaka. The meat passed through quarantine Friday.

    Iraq election

    Posted by Sean at 04:17, December 16th, 2005

    And I can’t go to bed without noting the elections in Iraq. Naturally, the Reuters headline is “After sweeping Iraq vote, power wrangles to start.”

    Turnout was at least 67 percent, Election Commission chief Hussein Hendawi told Reuters, much higher than the 58 percent seen in the January 30 vote for an interim assembly.

    “This is a day of freedom for us,” said Selima Khalif, an elderly woman voting in the poor southern province of Maysan.

    “We are so happy. The most important thing we need is security. We want our children to get a better life.”

    Good on them.