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    Posted by Sean at 19:58, November 24th, 2005

    Well, we didn’t end up doing Japanese last night. There was a hole-in-the-wall restaurant-bar in the neighborhood, whose decorative scheme involved a chair rail with back-lit Superballs, that we decided to cast our lot with. Vaguely Italian, with good salad and rather nice chicken. (The wine, unfortunately, was apparently a throwback to the mid-90s here, when the red in all but a handful of very expensive places was vinegary and served ice-cold. Having been chastened by years of bad experience, I opted for white.) Not exactly traditional, but companionable and moving for me, since the friends I went out with were the couple who hosted the Thanksgiving dinner we had during my first year in Japan, when we were in language school.

    The American element was supplied after dinner, when we decided to go to Starbucks. In 2005, it doesn’t get much more all-American than a triple-shot latte and cranberry bliss bar, huh? Of course, it’s not a holiday weekend here, so I’m back at the office today. (Later, I mean.) Hope everyone else had a great holiday.

    Taiwanese self-defense

    Posted by Sean at 00:20, November 24th, 2005

    When discussing the possibility of an attack by the PRC on Taiwan, people don’t seem to say a whole lot about Taiwan’s own army. Usually, the discussion is framed in terms of whether the US or Japan would have to enter the fray and what that would mean. This (via Simon) isn’t a blog I’m familiar with, but the writer seems to know what he’s talking about, and what he discusses is, precisely, how ready is Taiwan to defend itself against the PRC? His conclusions ring true based on the societies he’s describing. The PRC army is run the way you’d expect it to be: corruptly, nepotistically, back-scratchingly, and patronage-ly. The ROC army has morale problems because it’s conscription-based and, apparently, plagued by a sense that it would lose in a war with the mainland:

    The primary difference between the two forces is the quality of training. The training of the Chinese military has been described as ranging “from spotty to poor.” Taiwan’s forces, on the other hand, train to Western standards under a cadre of American educated and trained officers and NCOs. They are generally considered to be proficient at the application of military force with the exceptions noted above.

    I wonder whether Taiwan has ever asked Israel for guidance on these things. Israelis serve mandatory IDF stints, and they’re surrounded by enemies who think the land is rightfully theirs. Maybe commitment is better in Israel precisely because it is attacked regularly? In any case, MeiZhongTai (spelled 米中台, says the author, for obvious reasons) has provided an interesting read on the topic.

    Hayabusa may yet land on asteroid

    Posted by Sean at 23:36, November 23rd, 2005

    Ooh! This is cool:

    A Japanese space probe successfully landed and then departed from the surface of an asteroid 290 million kilometers (180 million miles) from Earth, despite an initial announcement that the attempt had failed, Japan’s space agency said.

    JAXA officials had said on Sunday that the Hayabusa probe, on a mission to briefly land on the asteroid Itokawa, collect material, and then bring it back to Earth, had failed to touch down after maneuvering within meters (yards) of the asteroid’s surface.

    However, on Wednesday JAXA said that data sent from Hayabusa confirmed that it had landed on the asteroid on Sunday for about half an hour. However, the probe failed to collect material, JAXA said.

    The Hayabusa is making a go-round and will attempt a second landing.


    Posted by Sean at 22:13, November 23rd, 2005

    Thanksgiving is one of those things I have a hard time explaining to Japanese people. Occasionally, someone here will very frankly say that he doesn’t see how the United States can think of itself as a unified culture and country–we’ve only existed for two hundred years and are of mixed ethnicities. Only once, to a particularly obnoxious interlocutor, have I ever mischievously replied, “Well, your ancestors arrived here on boats at some point in the past, even if it was quite a bit longer ago. They were from Korea, by the way, weren’t they? Ethnography is so fascinating, though I’m afraid I don’t have the head for it.”

    Mostly, I just try to explain that America was a set of ideas about individuals before it was a country. (Japan has a lot of ideas about what it means to be Japanese, too, of course; but the sense of uniqueness springs from the genetic heritage.) How you can read things from the Bible, things people were writing in ancient Greece and Rome, and things people were writing later in Western Europe–and you can see the formation of the United States as picking up these threads of the ideals of personal liberty throughout Western history and weaving them together. How we’re taught, from the time we’re very young, that people risked death to get to the Americas, risked death to stay there and establish hard-scrabble settlements, and later risked death to separate themselves from a motherland that was mistreating them. We actually have their written records, often thin but still there. Nowadays, it’s hard to drive around the East Coast and believe that anyone once thought it, of all things, impenetrable or uninhabitable. (If the first settlers could see New Jersey now, huh!) But that was before central air and GPS navigation.

    Today, by the unexpected favor of the elements, I’m going to be able to have Thanksgiving dinner not only with other Americans but with Americans who are dear, long-time friends. We were in language school together a decade ago, and they returned to San Francisco in 2001 or so. They’ve just come back to Tokyo now. We haven’t decided on a restaurant yet–this Thanksgiving may be light on turkey and cranberries and heavy on raw fish and shiso; but I plan to make something more conventional when Atsushi and I have our dinner on Saturday.

    So I get two Thanksgiving celebrations, which is good because we have so many riches to think about. I’m thankful for our forebears’ long-ago perseverance. I’m thankful for our soldiers’ current perseverance. I’m thankful that the new Madonna album didn’t suck. I’m thankful that my family’s in good health. I’m thankful that, of the thousands of available men in Tokyo, I was the one Atsushi asked out five years ago.

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


    Posted by Sean at 04:33, November 23rd, 2005

    Repercussions from the Aneha scandal are still being felt. Just about the only bright side here so far is that it’s given rise to one of those super-long kanji compound strings that can be such fun: 耐震強度偽造問題 (taishin kyoudo gizou mondai: lit., “earthquake-resistance strength falsification scandal”). It’s not a whole lot of comfort:

    The Mie Transport (Sanco) Corporation (Tsu City) announced on 23 November that it was halting operation of two hotels managed by its Sanco Real Estate subsidiary, the Sanco Inn Kuwana Station (Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture) and the Sanco Inn Shizuoka (Shizuoka City), until their safety and earthquake resistance could be confirmed. The design office at Aneha had participated in planning the structures.

    Additionally, the Nagoya Rail (Meitetsu) Group’s Meitetsu Real Estate (Nagoya City) similarly halted operations of its Meitetsu Inn Kariya (Kariya City, Aichi Prefecture) because Aneha had handled calculations for its construction.

    When Atsushi called from Kyushu yesterday, he related that one of the construction firms for whose buildings Aneha had produced the inspection reports known to be falsified, Kimura Construction (Yashiro City, Kumamoto Prefecture) has already essentially gone bankrupt. Yesterday morning, the shutters were closed over the windows and a note was posted in one of them stating that it was unable to pay its bills and was consulting with attorneys.

    It’s hard to explain just how chilling this is. It’s not just that the Kanto Plain is an earthquake zone. In Tokyo, we’re also right next to the ocean. Parts of the city are below sea level or built on filled-in creekbeds and such. Our houses are shoehorned in close together. We also have perceptible little tremors here every few weeks or so–constant reminders that the ground is unstable.

    People don’t sit around having morbid discussions about earthquakes all the time. At least, the people I know don’t. But you do think about it when you’re deciding how close you want that new bookcase to be to your sleeping head at night, or whether it’s okay to have your emergency supplies several steps from the bed and the sofa where you spend the most time. Things like that. Word is that some of the buildings Aneha certified might collapse in earthquakes at a strong 5 on the JMA scale of surface vibration. That’s strong, but a quake at that level isn’t exactly unlikely to occur at some point soon, and the instruction that you get about earthquake preparation usually explicitly tells you to factor in the age and certified earthquake resistance of your building, for obvious reasons.

    LDP at 50

    Posted by Sean at 22:48, November 22nd, 2005

    The Liberal Democratic Party celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its founding yesterday:

    The Liberal Democratic Party marked the 50th anniversary of its founding Tuesday and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told a celebratory convention the party’s mission now is to implement structural reforms on a par with the Meiji Restoration and the postwar economic miracle to cope with a changing world.

    “In Japan’s modern political history, two big reforms can be called ‘miracles.’ One was the Meiji Restoration of 1867-68, and the other is the reform that came 60 years ago after the defeat in World War II,” said Koizumi, who is also LDP president, at the convention in Tokyo.

    The Meiji Restoration marked the transfer of power from the feudalistic Tokugawa shogunate to a new central government, ushering in the Meiji Era (1868-1912) and forcing the country out of three centuries of isolation.

    Koizumi noted that the two reforms were achieved after many people were killed.

    “How can we, in a peaceful way, implement reforms to deal with ongoing change around the globe?” he asked. “That is the duty of this governing party as it marks the 50th anniversary of its founding.”

    The party also publicized some of its new platform, including one that’s been both controversial and anticipated:

    Secretary General Takebe officially unveiled the new party platform, the goals of which are a new ideology that embraces “contributing to the realization of world peace,” “passage of constitutional revisions,” “revision of fundamental education law,” and “achieving small government.”

    Former Prime Minister Mori, chair of the party’s drafting committee for constitutional revisions, announced proposed revisions that stipulate that Japan maintains a “self-defense army” and add new rights related to privacy and the environment.

    I haven’t seen anything about phrasing that would give Japan the right to participate in “collective defense” missions, which was the other big military matter under discussion in the drafting committee.

    Chosen time

    Posted by Sean at 09:25, November 22nd, 2005

    What I love most about Madonna as a lyricist is her inventiveness with language, the way she’s constantly stretching her idiolect to accommodate new contours in her idiosyncratic inner world.

    For example, this is the chorus to “I Love New York” from the new album:

    Other cities always make me mad
    Other places always make me sad
    No other city ever made me glad
    Except New York
    I love New York

    It’s like you’re privy to her most private thoughts, huh?

    Okay, enough with the deadpanning. WTF? I could have written that. In fact, I think I did write it–in first grade when Miss Cramer gave us an assignment that was, like, “Write a poem describing where you’ll live after you grow up and decide you’re too fabulous for the Lehigh Valley.” Maybe Lourdes was helping Mommy at work that day?

    Madonna’s intelligence is generally, uh, of the non-verbal variety, and that’s okay–she’s a musician and dancer primarily. Her lyrics are almost never graceful–she likes clunky metaphors and lines that scan dicily–but when she’s at her best, they’re punchy and immediate. Frequently (as above), she’s at both her best and her worst in the space of the same song. Of course, maddeningly enough, I love “I Love New York” to death. It’s just, I swear I can feel that chorus making me dumber every time I hear it.


    Posted by Sean at 09:15, November 22nd, 2005

    To complete the set of contentious meetings this weekend, Prime Minister Koizumi met with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin:

    In summit talks Monday, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to expand their economic ties but broke no new ground on the Northern Territories dispute.

    Japanese officials described the Tokyo talks as frank and thorough. Both sides seemed happier skirting the contentious territorial issue–apparently for fear of having to make drastic concessions that would not win public approval at home.

    The two sides signed 12 agreements ranging from energy development and telecommunications to fighting terrorism and promoting tourism.

    Analysts suggested that Moscow feels it has the upper hand right now because the Russian economy stands to benefit from high oil prices. In addition, a swell in nationalistic sentiment in Russia may make it more difficult for Putin to give ground on the dispute.

    After nine years here, I have to wonder: When and where is nationalist sentiment ever not swelling in Asia and its environs?

    The Nikkei editorial on the meeting this morning added uncharacteristically little. Besides the dispute over islands, the negotiations for a Siberian pipeline didn’t produce an agreement as firm as Japan would have liked.

    Letter from home

    Posted by Sean at 08:23, November 21st, 2005

    Joe e-mailed me a week or so ago to say that the local paper where I grew up, The Morning Call , was getting a new publisher. It didn’t mean anything much to me–I no longer live in Emmaus, and it’s doubtful that the publisher cast a Katherine Graham-like cultural shadow, in any case. I did go back to the Call‘s website, though. Among its blogs is one by a guy from the Poconos who’s stationed in Iraq. As you may imagine, he doesn’t get to post much, and he seems to be in a hurry when he does, but it’s interesting:

    Yes, there are women here and after talking only with guys it is nice sometimes to talk to a woman. Female soldiers are mainly at the brigade level and the medical field. Recently we actually requested one for a mission. It met with great resistance. See, bringing women along on the mission actually helps a lot. We, male soldier, don’t interact with the women in Iraq because of their culture but often come across them when we go into homes. Having a female soldier there to do searches on the Iraqi women if necessary and to hlep out with information gathering. The women of Iraq are very shy, but when there are female soldiers around they seem very eager to talk. One incident the other day a 8 year old boy was crying when we went into the home and our female soldier put her arm around him at what seemed to be the perfect time and he instantly stopped crying and felt comforted. We believe that this helps extremely with getting to know the Iraqi people and help them see us not as an invading force but as real people trying to help.

    That was posted on 11 September, BTW.

    The Harrisburg correspondent runs one of the paper’s other blogs. I’m not sure he’s quite the wit he appears to think he is, but lamentably few of us are. In his favor, he comments on federal as well as state legislators, meaning that he keeps an eye on how Specter and Santorum are voting.

    How it works

    Posted by Sean at 07:38, November 21st, 2005

    There’s a post I’ve kind of been meaning to make for the last few months, and given the fraternal love electrifying the atmosphere in the US Congress and blogosphere, this seems like a good time to make it.

    I’ve been getting an increasing number of hits from people looking for information about Japanese defense. Quite a few of them are from university and US military ISPs, but I assume even they are mostly from people who are just kind of curious about what’s going on here.

    There’s always the possibility that someone doing Real Research is blundering into me, though. If so, I hope this is obvious, but just in case: I’m not a moron, but I’m also not a political scientist. Still less am I a military strategist. I tend to choose each story I post about for one of a couple of reasons.

    One is that Prime Minister Koizumi, while hardly perfect, has taken real political risks in so firmly and ringingly allying himself with the Bush administration in the WOT. A lot of Americans–educated general readers like me–seem not to pay much attention to Japan now that its period of dizzying economic hypergrowth has been over for fifteen years, but the Pacific Rim is a region of extreme importance to US interests. Japan’s loyalty to us as an ally and the evolution of its own military policy matter a great deal, and I think they deserve more notice.

    Another factor I consider when posting is that the usual media line about studious, slave-to-tradition, unfailingly safe, enlightened-social-democratic, mysteries-of-Zen Japan is grossly reductive. I’m sure most foreign correspondents make a good-faith effort to report things accurately, but you don’t have to live here long to realize that some of them simply don’t know what they don’t know and can’t formulate the right questions. When a story shows a side of Japan that doesn’t fit the usual pattern, I often find it worth calling attention to.

    Finally, there’s a ridiculous idea abroad in the world that Americans are provincial while everyone else is cosmopolitan and intellectual. That kind of crap is bad enough when it comes from Everyone Else; when I hear other Americans buying into it, it drives me crazy. Japan, despite an educational system that’s the envy of much of the world, displays plenty of what we now call cultural insensitivity…and sometimes plain ignorance. I think it’s helpful to remind people that that kind of thing is a human, not an American, problem.

    I might also say a word or two about my sources. Japan’s tabloidish news magazines are frequently the first to report major scandals and such. I don’t cite them because it’s generally necessary to wait to see whether the major dailies pick up on a story, anyway, to find out whether it has any substance or was just a sensational rumor. The dailies are a little slower, but if there’s meat in there somewhere, it’s in their interest to get to it eventually. And they’re usually far ahead of Reuters or CNN. If a link goes to a Japanese story, the translation that appears here is my own. That means you have to trust me; but I have several readers, at least one of whom comments regularly, who also read Japanese fluently. If I’m parsing anything incorrectly, I have no doubt that it will be pointed out to me immediately and triumphantly. (Don’t make that face at me, boys. You know it’s true.)

    One more thing for those reading from the military: We support you. There’s a lot of jabber lately about polls and yanking people out of Iraq by next Friday and stuff, but the Americans (and a handful of English and Japanese people) I know believe what you’re doing, whatever your individual assignments happen to be, is worthwhile and meaningful. If the President says you’re not done, you’re not done. Thanks for staying on the job. We all owe you. I don’t say that nearly often enough.

    Added on 22 November: From the Grandstand kindly links this post and adds a Thanksgiving-specific message for our military folks to my general one.

    Added on 23 November: Thanks to the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler for the link also. He adds his own thanks to our soldiers.