Sunday, April 29, 2007

Japan loves Green Day

Green Day the San Francisco punk/pop/rock trio, that is:

Utada Hikaru sings Boulevard of Broken Dreams (live studio)

Puffy sings Basket Case (live concert)

Clearly I still cannot get over the changeover to Showa no Hi .

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Mukōjima Hyakkaen

Of the municipal gardens dating from the Edo Period, the little-visited Mukōjima Hyakken is the only one that was not at one time part of a daimyō's yashiki or an Iwasaki family mansion. Squeezed into a tiny space in a decidedly unfashionable section of Sumida-ku, it is an odd remnant of Edo commoner culture.

The Mukōjima Hyakkaen was founded around 1804 by Sahara Kikū, an antiques dealer with numerous ties to the authors and artists of his time. The garden began as a plum grove planted in the midst of vegetable plots, orchards and rice paddies, for at that time the east bank of the Sumida was still Edo's larder. Many of the early visitors were Kikū's numerous friends in the art world; the garden is dotted with memorial stelae engraved with poems and messages from the famous and the forgotten.

After the founder's death, management of the garden fell to his descendants. Throughout the late Edo and the early Meiji periods it remained a playground for common folk escaping the bustle on the crowded west bank of the Sumida.

Akamaruhanabachi Bombus hypnorum on Wisteria
Mukkōjima Hyakkaen
Sumida-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
April 28, 2007

Amadokoro Polygonatum odoratum
Mukkōjima Hyakkaen
Sumida-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
April 28, 2007

Shaga Iris japonica
Mukkōjima Hyakkaen
Sumida-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
April 28, 2007

Bombus hypnorum on Tani'utsugi Weigela hortensis
Mukkōjima Hyakkaen
Sumida-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
April 28, 2007

Musashino kisuge Hemerocallis middendorffi var. musashiensis
Mukkōjima Hyakkaen
Sumida-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
April 28, 2007

Shiran Bletilla striata
Mukkōjima Hyakkaen
Sumida-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
April 28, 2007

Okinakusa Pulsitilla cernua
Mukkōjima Hyakkaen
Sumida-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
April 28, 2007

Barley candy and tea set (300 yen)
Mukkōjima Hyakkaen
Sumida-ku, Tokyo Metropolitan District
April 28, 2007

Midway along the western wall of the garden, tucked in a corner, is a small shop with a very natsukashii assortment of refreshments and a range of gifts peculiar to the garden (The shop is a very fine place to take refuge during the sudden deluge at 3 in the afternoon)

In the mid-Meiji, the Sahara's sold the land to a wealthy local landowner, who continued to operate the garden as a public recreation spot.

During the Taishō period, a typhoon flooded the area for a month. The long immersion in brackish water killed everything in the garden. The landowner's family replanted the trees and flowers and the garden was back in business.

In 1939 the landowner's widow bequeathed the garden to the city of Tokyo. On the night of March 10, 1945, however, every living thing in the garden again died, this time from the firestorm of the Great Air Raid.

After the war ended, the city planned to convert the barren space into a baseball practice field. Surviving local residents mounted a campaign to reestablish the Mukkōjima Hyakken.

The city relented and with the help of local residents replanted the space in the style of a country garden.

And the Saharas? Well it just so happens that inserted in the 1939 bequest was a clause requiring the city to permit the Sahara family to continue to operate the one concession stand on the grounds.

So behind the counter in the shop you are likely as not to find this grinning gentleman, Mr. Sahara, the 8th generation since Kikū to look after the needs of visitors to the Mukōjima Hyakkaen.

Friday, April 27, 2007

After one thousand four hundred...

...and twenty eight years in continuous operation as an independent company, the Kongō-gumi has succumbed.

Korean temple builders, brought to Japan by Shōtoku Taishi to construct Shintennōji in Osaka, 40 generations of CEOs.

All things must pass...but it makes me feel kinda wistful...

Oh, well, there's still the ryokan Hōshi, in continuous operation since 718.

If you stay inside Tokyo for Golden Week... are an eeeeediiiiioooot!!!

Get off your duff and go visit some place special!

Mt. Fuji seen from the slopes of Mt. Ōno
Ashigarakamigun, Kanagawa Prefecture
May 3, 2006

Photo: MTC

Abe Shinzō - Plagiarist?

At a hastily arranged meeting with a group of leaders of the U.S. Congress, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō was asked about his position on the Comfort Women--the only fathomable reason the meeting had had to be arranged.

According to scuttlebutt, the PM explained to the assembled that he had been misquoted on the "no evidence of coercion" statement--which is correct, if not for the Kantei-concocted reason that he was only talking about the study compiled before the release of the Kōno Statement.

The Prime Minister then proceeded to confess what were ostensibly his true feelings as regards the women:


Now translating this in the most literal, awkward way possible, one extracts from the above something on the order of:

"Along with the heartfelt sympathy I am expressing toward the former Comfort Women (honorific plural) who tasted (honorific conjugation) the bitterness of life, I am filled with the feeling of wanting to say 'I'm so sorry' as regards the extremely painful situation into which they were put."

I have some difficulties with the original, particularly the first phrase ending in the imperfect "suru to tomo ni". My confusion over the PM not choosing the continuative shite iru probably just exposed the wretched poverty my understanding of Japanese grammar.

[Any and all better translations of this passage will be gratefully accepted in Comments]

After losing it over the grammar, your second perplexed thought (OK, maybe not yours, but definitely mine) is:

"Who starts out his sentences 'For those who have tasted the bitterness of life' and ends it with "and you know, I am filled with a feeling of 'I don't know what to say?"

Where the hell is the makoto ni for the full frontal makoto ni mōshi wake nai effect?

Who talks like this?

Who indeed?

Engaging the wayback machine, we find almost the identical sentence in reports of Abe's love call to President Bush on April 3.

Well, almost identical. There is the one, interesting deviation:

Source: 2007/04/04 Mainichi Online, link here.

Owabi o hyōmei shite iru...

OK, so here we have the continuative this time...but more interestingly, we have Abe telling Bush about his continual and continuing expressions of apology (owabi o hyomei).

For some reason the PM was not feeling full of "Gosh this is just too bad" sorriness on that day...but sure wanted to assure the president of his vow of "Apologies now...apologies forever!"

Or something like that.

But what of this high-faluting intro to these two sentences: "for those who have tasted the bitterness of life?"

Well, through the skepticism born of knowing Mark Twain's Rule #7 of rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction, the cut-and-paste function on my computer and Google, of course, I believe we have the culprit:

Recognize it? You can find it here on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

OK, I'll stop being's the Katō Statement--the July 6, 1992 announcement by the then Chief Cabinet Secretary Katō Kōichi acknowleding the results of an in-house government survey that confirmed Japanese Imperial government involvement in the establishment of the comfort women network of brothels.

Oh, the heartfelt sympathy!

Care to lay any bets on a determined researcher's ability to Google up the origins of the rest of the sentence?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sands of Iojima not

To: David R. Sands
The Washington Times

Dear Mr. Sands:

Shinzo Abe has never been Japan's foreign minister.

That is all.

Into the Teeth of the Wind

If Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was thinking he was going to inobtrusively slip into Washington; talk about Japan's potential value to U.S. global security strategy; do the photo op thing at secure locations; boogie on up to Camp David for some George W. face time (can one think of any other pairing of G8 leaders whose life stories and ideological leanings are as much in alignment?); get on the plane at Dulles; wave once and git outta town...well...that just got a whole lot harder.

The truth about Japan's 'comfort women'
The Washington Times

By Henry Hyde and Chris Smith - April 26, 2007 - Recent denials by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that women in Asia were coerced into sexual slavery by Imperial Japan during the war years perpetuate pain and sorrow among victims and their loved ones. As Mr. Abe represents the Japanese people to the world, his views also damage foreign perceptions of the great strides many Japanese have made as peaceful, responsible world citizens since 1946. As friends of Japan, we urge the Japanese people to courageously acknowledge and redress the wrongs perpetrated by Imperial Japan.


Victims of Imperial Japanese brutality throughout East Asia and the Pacific and their families want Japan to frankly acknowledge what it has done. A responsible demonstration of humanity from Japan's social and political leaders will promote general healing and trust in the region, while as Mr. Abe surely knows, official denials from Japan's leaders keep these issues alive and alarm its neighbors.

Facing history squarely is the first duty of leaders anywhere. In the United States today, for instance, political and social leaders courageously acknowledge a shameful history of slavery and racial discrimination. What makes their efforts courageous is that they challenge long-held myths that were used to justify outrageous behavior that weakened our society. Correcting long-standing myths is hard. Efforts to redress them may not initially succeed, but ultimately they strengthen society and make the country more admirable...

When the Republican former chairmain of the House International Relations Committee publishes an op-ed in the house organ of the Neo-Con Right making you an offer you cannot had better not refuse.

Here it comes (It's all right)

There it is, on the horizon, rising up from out of the waves!

It's the Great East Asian Labor Migration Co-Prosperity Sphere!

Job Explosion in Japan, Dearth in Korea
Chosun Ilbo

Japanese head hunting firm Recruit forecast that Japanese companies will hire 932,600 workers next spring, up 13 percent from this year, while 436,500 university graduates are expected to hit the job market. That means there will be 2.14 jobs per job seeker. This is the highest ratio since 1992, when the Japanese economy was reveling in a stock market and real estate bubble.


In Korea last year, 1.6 million people sought jobs through employment support centers under the Labor Ministry. But only 770,000 of them were able to find jobs. That translates into a ratio of 0.47 jobs per jobseeker. A survey by the Korea Employers Federation shows businesses plan to cut down hiring university graduates by 30 percent this year.

The government does not create jobs. Businesses do. Over the last five to six years in Japan, the “Koizumi reforms” have led to a decrease in the number of government workers while increasing support for private sector investments and start-ups. So-called reforms in Korea have done the opposite, increasing the number of public servants, while government-run entities took away work supposed to be done by the private sector. The result of that is the difference in the job to jobseeker ratios: 2.14 in Japan and 0.47 in Korea.

For some reason, I doubt that anyone is going to see a point to keeping the doors to legal immigration as narrow as they have been.

Maybe the Prime Minister can go back to his Shimonoseki constituency, stand on the dock and shake hands as Japan's new Korea Wave washes in.

Akie-chan can do the introductions (she speaks Korean, yeah!)

And admiration for the "Koizumi reforms"...ok, still bracketed in quotation marks...from South Korea!

One has to love it.

"Little darlin' I see that ice is slowly melting..."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Something nice...

...for a change.

Some rather smart individuals seem to have put a concerted effort into producing a remarkable series of essays for the third number of Asia Policy (the page with links to all the PDF files can be found here).

I have so far only read only the special essay by Kenneth Pyle and Dr. Michael Green's contribution to the Roundtable on Northeast Asian security. I have been impressed by the quality of the thinking and the writing. (I may not care for Dr. Green's choice of introductory metaphors but cannot complain about his conscientious approach). Even from this very small sample I can tell that reading the entire publication is going to be a treat.

I very much look forward to finding out what Richard Samuels, Kenneth Lieberthal and the others have to say.

Space Oddity

A prurient trifle, but I have always refered to the AVEX merchandising supernova Hamasaki Ayumi as "the Alien".

From the title of an article in this week Shūkan Bunshun, it seems that I am not alone in thinking her extraterrestrial:


Here is Hamasaki Ayumi
(the katakana assessment tatooed to her torso is not mine)

Here is your garden variety Roswell crash survivor.

"How to do your eyes up in Ayu's 'like a Martian's' style" indeed.

By the way, since when does Shukan Bunshun offer articles on makeup application techniques?

Speaking of the perception and visual consumption of the female form, this recent post at Néomarxisme speculates upon the socioeconomic role playing origins for the recent ghastly intensification of paedophilic imagery in popular culture as reflected in reverse by a recent contrarian issue of Brutus magazine.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

He gets it. He doesn't get it. He gets it...

...He doesn't get it.


The PM sat down for a little talk yesterday afternoon at 13:25 with the folks from the Asahi Shimbun and Kyōdō Tsūshin regarding his upcoming trip to the U. S. of A.

When asked about how he intends to deal with that comfort women problem that everyone seems to be talking about, the Prime Minister revealed this terrifying (if you are a P.R. person, that is) message management strategy:

Wow, that's a surefire media strategy--one worthy of the early Bush years.

"I have already explained to the President by telephone my way of thinking. If a question comes from a journalist, I will respond." The PM did indeed call the President on the 3rd, explaining to him that "I have expressed my apologies" and the President responded, "I believe you!"

Aside from the unintentional homoerotic vibe of the passage ("I have already apologized." "I believe you!") is there an authority with less credibility in terms of what he perceives to be true or not than George W. Bush? A man who can do the impossible, look into Vladimir Putin's soul? (The guy's ex-KGB--what "soul" could he possible have?) Mr. "Brownie, You're Doin' a Heck of Job"; Lord "Medals of Freedom for Everyone Involved with the Peace in Iraq"; His Majesty "I am the Decider"--the producer of oral flatulence that never quite makes it across the threshold of faith into the parlor of fact.

Then there is the other fantastic P.R. plan: let the little people of the press just stuff it.

With this in hand, I am poised to put a seal on the Comfort Women Problem at the summit. While I will be interacting with reporters during my trip to the United States, there is no wide open press conference for foreign press that has been set up.

While I know why your press officers would be following the grandmotherly advice route ("If you haven't got anything nice to say, then don't say anything") you are making your first and possibly last visit to Washington as Prime Minister. This winter, moreover, a heady contretemps erupted over things you purportedly said or did not say. In the maelstrom your surrogates and hangers-on accused a U.S. Representative of being a front for anti-Japanese agitprop by Chinese and Korean agents.

With all of this water so recently under the bridge, if you are adamant that you are not going to be making any effort to actively engage the Washington Press Corps--please don't whine when the Powers Out There perceive you to be retreating into a hermit crab defense--and gosh darn, don't be surprised if people don't like you.

Think of who your host is, the man who is in the aggregate the least popular U.S. President in the history of the Universe.

[Note to the too-tight-shorts crowd--one of the reasons Japan has had to be pressured into issuing apologies so many times is that Japan is not Germany--and I mean that in a positive way.

Japan has no strong regional forums like the EU and NATO around to melt into, no continent-spanning trans-national groupings to negate its exceptionalism on daily basis.

The relatively broad, unfettered autonomy Japan enjoys has a price.

Of course, there is the "real, official, sincere apologies" reason too.]

And all this come waaaaay before the "foreign as opposed to who?" quibble one can have over the nationality of the journalists at a press conference being held in Washington DC or at Camp David.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Oh Crap (and that's a technical term)

U.S. Military-Industrial complex snow job alert.

F-22 attractive to Japan as missile threats grow
Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

David A. Fulghum - Japanese military officials are eyeing the F-22 Raptor as an antidote to growing regional missile threats, Aviation Week & Space Technology will report on April 23.

The Lockheed Martin-built fighter is expected to become a key element in missile defense because it can detect and destroy small cruise missiles and also evade sophisticated air defenses to bomb ballistic missile launch sites. Whether Japanese law might be interpreted to allow the country's Self Defense Force to use the bombing to defend against ballistic missiles is still an open question.

Japanese military officials are quietly but firmly making it known they want the U.S. to release the F-22 to compete for its air force's F-X fighter program, and that they are adamant in wanting to field the most advanced air combat technology available.

Tokyo wants a stealthy fighter equipped with an active electronically scanned radar for cruise missile detection and wideband data links to push additional information into Japan's increasingly sophisticated air defense system - a package offered, for the moment, only by the F-22...

Total blankety-blank, expletive-deleted and gag-me-with-a-fundoshi nonsense.

Excuse me, but what cruise missiles are threatening Japan so?

DPRK forces have none--and no one except maybe the Iranians would be stupid enough to sell them any.

China has low-flying ship-to-ship Sunburns and its indigenous Silkworms and variants for anti-ship warfare (most of which are used for coastal defense, so Japan would have to be attacking China for these missiles to see use). It has no cruise missiles designed to attack Japanese land targets. Oh sure, the Chinese could send a Song or Han class attack submarine-based with its wave-skimming YJ-8s to pop up 30 nautical miles from Japanese territory and fire away. But that would sort of leave a somewhat minimal amount of time for detection, identification, tracking, interception and destruction, wouldn't it?

The Russians are co-developing with India the Brah-Mos hypersonic cruise missile. While it has a 300 km range, making it a threat to the Japanese mainland even from outside the EEZ, it flies at over Mach 2, making it a damn difficult target even for an F-22 to knock down. Besides, the Indians wouldn't co-develop a weapons system that is to be aimed at Japan, would they?

So what's the deal here?

Could it be that the manufacturers of the F-22 in the United States, having been stiffed by the U.S. Air Force, are desperately seeking foreign buyers for their $130 million-per-plane budgetary horror?

A plane that cannot cross the International Date Line without all of its systems suddenly crashing, rendering the plane deaf, dumb and blind ?

And what is the likelihood that a cash-strapped ASDF is going to buy the world's most expensive fighter jet without there being significant Japanese input in its manufacture?

When the GOJ military budget is shrinking in nominal terms, with no rises in sight? (hat tip on link to Observing Japan)

My guess is Kyūma Fumio, annoyed at having to retract his too honest assessment of the run up to the Iraq War, is getting some measure of revenge by pulling America's collective leg, with the Financial Times acting as his unwitting facilitator.

Later - Now the above is not to say that a couple of squadrons of F-22s would not be welcome in an Armageddonesque air battle over the southern part of the East China Sea involving hundreds of Chinese Sukhoi 30s backed by YJ-83 cruise missile packing JH-7 fighter-bombers against Japan's 203 F-15s and 40+ flyable F-2 fighters.

However, no persons aside from seriously twisted war gamers are contemplating such an epic, multi-level battle. For one thing, what would set such a conflict off?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ein schönes Land

Abe Shinzō's "beautiful country", what does it look like?

Like this, I guess:

Nature and mankind appear to be united as in nowhere else. Everything that stems from this country is elegant and bright, not abstract-metaphysical but always tightly bound with what Nature gives.

Elegant are the landscapes with green islands or hills, elegant are the trees, elegant are the arable lands carefully constructed and carefully divided into small parcels, in particular those houses standing on the lands, and finally the people, their language, movements, clothes with all the tools they use.

...the Japanese house with very organized smooth walls, many small rooms with tatami-mats laid softly. Each small thing has meaning and significance. In addition, elegant people with picturesque smile, bow, and sitting—everything one wonders but cannot imitate. You try in vain.

Oh foreigners! You cannot eat the elegant Japanese dishes. Be satisfied with seeing them. Compared with our people, the Japanese are cheerful and carefree in their company with each other — live not in the future but at present time. Their cheer is expressed always in fine form, never noisy.
But how can so many live on so little land without internal strife?

It is proper to a Japanese tradition that one does not express one's feeling and emotion but remain calm and reserved. This is the reason why many, even the persons not mentally harmonious to each other, can live under one roof without having painful frictions and conflicts.
But does not the soul whither without struggle, without competition? Are we not beasts of the field, who must compete with tooth and claw to reach our ultimate selves? Or have not the Japanese found a better way?

For us, the whole education is directed so that the struggle for existence as an individual should be successful under the most favorable conditions. Especially in the cities, there are most advanced individualism, ruthless competition with the highest forces, and feverish work to get as much luxury and pleasure as possible. The bonds of families became loose, the influence of artistic and moral tradition in daily life relatively poor. The isolation of individuals is regarded as a necessary consequence of the struggle for existence.

As a result, we lost the cheerful light-heartedness, which can be obtained only by increasing mutual participation. The prevailing rational education— indispensable for our practical life under our relations— makes the individualism sharper, and consequently the loneliness of the individuals becomes sharper in the conscience.

It is quite different in Japan. The individual is much less solitary here than in Europe and America. The bonds of families are much tighter than ours though the laws protect them less. The force of public opinion here is stronger than ours, and takes care of the family system not becoming loose. What the education and born good heartedness of the Japanese make sure is completed by fama (rumor), printed or not printed.
The first time I ever heard this essay, I could not believe the naiveté, the horrible projection of a personal fantasy upon a nation.

I was standing at the time and thought I was going to fall.

If it had been written by a fool, it might have been bearable.

But no fool wrote it.

And because it is not the product of a foolish mind, this enthusiastic, almost adolescent trifle is ranked among the greatest of the treasures of the Meiji apologists. It is one of the Right's Ur-texts, an ultimate corroboration of the justness of their cause, the proof that the Meiji State was a thing of great beauty.

Who could have written the above?

Mr. Prime Minister, you have the honors. Did you not conclude your speech to the Diet on September 29, 2006, your first speech to the Diet after your election, with a quote from this essay?

Of course you did.

So tell us.

"Once, when Albert Einstein visited Japan, he said, 'It is my sincere wish that the Japanese people keep intact and never forget those traits which you have intrinsically possessed: humbleness and simplicity essential to an individual, pure and calm Japanese heart.' I believe it is fully possible to build a 21st century Japan, which retains the Japanese virtues which Einstein admired, and filled with charm and vitality. I believe that the Japanese people have the ability to realize this."
Albert Einstein wrote the essay.

Don't you understand? It's Einstein; it must be true!

Yes the man who in 1905 in his annus mirabilis deracinated our stolid understanding of the cosmos, who in 1932 fled Germany to escape Nazi terror and in 1939 signed his name to Leo Szilard's letter to President Roosevelt, the one that asked the President to initiate a program to develop an atomic bomb--he wrote an essay about Japan during a 1922 visit.

He had been in Japan for all of...two weeks.

And the most delicious of ironies?

The date he penned this essay was...December 7.

Albert Einstein's full essay, translated from the German by a Japanese physicist, can be found here .

Gnu Whirled Hors d'Oeuvres

When Prime Minister Abe Shinzō visits Washington next week, he will be the guest too late to save the deteriorating party.

A squinting and (punch)drunk President Bush (possibly standing so as to try to block the view of the slouched-over form of Alberto Gonzalez) will greet him in a White House done up in Norwegian Wood Style ("She asked me to stay and she told me to sit anywhere. So I looked around and I noticed there wasn't a chair.") Beside him will be Actual President Richard Cheney and..."Darn, Condi said she would be here."

Gone will be the 600 who rode with the president into the valley of death: Wolfowitz, Armitage, Bolton, Powell, Kelly, Green,(yes, that's intentional) Feith, Snow, Snow, Card, Lawless, Baker, Joseph, many gone...

Replaced they will be with a whistling, smiling Democratic Party clean up crew poking through the wreckage, gleefully tallying up the costs to the Republican Party of its six years of excess and measuring the size of the windows in the Oval Office.

Outside of the United States, the Merry Men of Bush's Sure-would Forest ("Sure would like to to see me some WMD's!") are all either banged up, kicked out or headed out the door. Former President Aznar sounds ever more like a man with only his moustache for company; Prime Minister Berlusconi has all the time to work on his tan, get his eyes fixed and apologize to his wife; Tony Blair is on his last lap (and not a victory lap either) and John Howard, the man who managed to hang on as prime minister during the greatest economic expansion his country has ever known (a political genius, I tell you) has finally annoyed enough of his fair dinkum countrymen to possibly get sent to the sheep dip.

So the Prime Minister Abe, after years of apprenticeship as "the American Enterprise Institute candidate" will arrive at the great center of Western Civilzation with his Nipponocon message of fury ("Hun Sen, will you stand beside me as I demand the truth about the 17 of my countrymen who disappeared?" "Uh, Shinzō, I was a member of the Khmer Rouge.") only to find nothing but lettuce in the salad bowl and the remaining guacamole an unappetizing shade of brown.

And if that weren't enough, some smartass with a press pass (who let this rabble in here?) will ask annoying crap like "Why did your Cabinet on March 16 issue a Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) saying that the Kono Statement has never been the subject of a Cabinet Decision and your Cabinet is not thinking of making it the subject of a Cabinet Decision? What's up with that?"

Oh, the injustice of it all.

No Good Times, No Bad Times...

...there's no times at all, 'cept--*

What the hell is this?

Dammit, I remember when the Old Gray Lady reported the facts, not filler and speculation.

Seriously, it has been three days since the crime. All this extraneous garbage is embarrassing.

Uh oh, my crabby malcontent dates me.

Later - From the same formerly august publication, the claim that Wen Jiabao "reveals himself as a new kind of Chinese leader"--which is absurd in so many ways it defies counting.

*Reference to the second stanza of this (which really dates me).

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Homage à Eschaton

This is what I hope will be the first of a long running series of posts on "What Masaru said."

Japan's Politics of Cultural Shame

By Masaru Tamamoto

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to cast off the post-World War II order and transform Japan into "a beautiful country" filled with pride and confidence.

This is the slogan of his premiership.

It is as if he believes that Japan has sunk into a state of moral degradation since 1945, and is in need of salvation. It is almost as though he wants to turn back the clock to 1945 and start anew. He is concerned less about guilt over Japanese aggression during World War II than about the shame of not having dealt with the consequences of defeat...

You can download the pdf of the essay here - but buying the dead tree version might kick a little money the East Asia Foundation's way. Some browsers (mine, for instance) have difficulties with the html version.

Finally free of the fetters that bound him, Dr. Tamamoto seems ready to kick in a few shins (and wouldn't be a beautiful world if somebody paid him to do it)?

Oh, I know, I know..."It's not an academic essay"..."It's not nuanced."..."There aren't any footnotes."...ah yes, footnotes...well...

Who gives a tanuki's twaddle--it's alive, it's cogent, it's coherent and it's just in time for the Japan-U.S. summit!

The Other Shoe

Then there is the part no one will talk about.

If Itō Icchō had been shot in New York City, he might still be alive today.

Or in Paris. Or in Baghdad, for Amaterasu's sake.

According to accounts, he died of blood loss and heart failure. Heart failure because of blood loss would probably be more accurate.

Blood loss!

What the hell were the ambulance people doing, turning him on his back so he could drain like bucket with a hole in the bottom of it? And where were the fluid IVs, plasma bags and wound-staunching compresses?

There is a flip side to living in a country where there is almost no assault with weapons or former members of the military with combat wound experience in medical practice--emergency response to traumatic weapons-related injuries may not be too skillful.

Oh, why do I even bother to use the conditional? If rescue workers and doctors have zero experience with these kinds of injuries, the patient under their care is just is not going to make it.

It's a tradeoff, I guess.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ni ni roku no mo'!

The leaders of the political parties of Japan did not acquit themselves very well in their responses to the assassination last night of Nagasaki Mayor Itō Icchō.

(Click here for Bruce Wallace's excellent account of the crime and its wider social context).

From the clips shown on the morning shows, most of the party leaders could only mouth infuriating semi-inanities on the order of that his killing "made them angry" or "was inexcusable interference at election time" -- making it sound as though the shooter should have waited to kill the mayor on a day less proximate to the election.

The only party leader to not sound like an idiot was General-Secretary Kamei Hisaoki of the tiny Kokumin Shintō.


"In a democracy, the use of violence as a means of trying to solve a problem is simply inexcusable."

All power and more to Kamei-giin for his acute moral and historical sense on this sad morning.

The Hot Seat

Mr. Prime Minister, your ass is on fire.

Courtesy: Sankei Shimbun
April 18, 2007

This is one of the weird ones.

First of all, his pants are not pulled down.

Ostensibly this is a reference to the TOTO Burning Toilet problem , not to be confused with the TOTO You Must Be Kidding Me problem, where the company is the main sponsor of Matsutoya Yumi's concert featuring a water show and synchronized swimming.

Now the warmth he is feeling is being regulated, according to the arm rest, by his support numbers from the latest polls, which have risen since last week's summit.

[This is just an aside--but have you noticed how Abe's popularity numbers rise when he does something contrary to his nature, like staying away from Yasukuni and keeping calm about China's rising power, and fall when he follows his instincts?

Fascinating how this is the diammetric opposite of the way poll numbers would move under Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō.]

The cartoonist, however, seems to be telling the PM that the "Oh warm and fuzzy, a warm feeling...oh it feels so good I'm getting used to it now" tingling is not a good thing but a prelude to a butt burning.

I'm not quite sure what the message is here (something to do with not feeling too comfortable before the next rounds of local elections and the House of Councillors election in July)...but I like it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A deep resonance

A sentence that sounds so deep you can hear the echo.

Models are not blank slates for styling: they must be protagonists for the lifestyle narrative.

The rest of this clast post is Shibuya style fashion industry scuttlebutt; it does not match the above for intellectual gloss.

But then against such a Sartrean invocation, albeit one about cute teenager fashion, almost any statement would slouch away, whimpering.

"Protagonists for the lifestyle narrative"...ooooohhh.

Though it is damn essentialist of me, after observing the dress habits of the young on parade in front of Meiji Jingu, in Shibuya, around Shimokitazawa and in Kichijōji, I can't help but feel that one of the distinctive features of Japanese cultural life is the sense of clothing as performance.

There and Back Again

Thank you for your patience.

A personal tragedy has kept me from writing.

I am afraid I shall not be very funny for a long while (Oh, you were not that funny to begin with - Editor) but I will try to think out loud more often.

Here is a first thought.

Of late, the great minds congregating at NPR's Japan Forum have been debating, to a greater or lesser degree, the stupidity/immaturity/naivety of the Koizumi economic team in the first years of the Koizumi Era--and consequently what are the limits on economic reform and policy making in the present time.

It is a long-running debate, having taken place under a variety of thread names in the past. The cast of characters, however, remains largely the same.

The general consensus between the various warring factions is a condemnation of the policies of the Koizumi-Takenaka axis in the years 2001-2--when the constriction of public works spending and the focus on strict regulation of financial instutions had a deleterious effect upon stock markets and the economy, one that only the once-in-a-lifetime burst of capital goods demand from China and a massive flood of liquidity from the Bank of Japan could bring to a halt.

Or something like that...the details of what happened next fascinate any and all those who really, really, really want to make mountains of money out of differential molehills.

The problem with the argument--and I am not referring to the inherent bias problem when you have stockbrokers and investment bankers offering up their views about what the government is doing about the stockmarkets and financial regulation--is that the Koizumi Cabinet may not have had an economic policy in its first years. What Koizumi & Ko. more likely had was a political policy with economic consequences.

Koizumi and his advisors saw the Lost Decade as the proof that nothing but nothing would ever pull Japan out of its slump except a cauterization of wounds inflicted by the LDP. Koizumi came into office intent on reviving Japan by breaking the majority party.

In imposing constricting and thus deflationary measures, the Koizumi-Takenaka team was not intent on purifying business, as the hapless GOJ Governor Hayami Masaru had tried to do (winning him the coveted "Worst Central Banker in the World" accolade). The goal of the Koizumi shock was the halting of the redistribution of Japan's surpluses to economic losers--not the weak, as the mincing statists wail, but the parasites--that had been allowed to survive and cover the landscape because of their political utility (and we can all list up, without much effort, the various LDP money pumps that were sucking the country dry).

So to debate about the "economic mistakes" of the Koizumi team in its first years in office strikes me as engaging in argument arising from improper premises. The Koizumi team was not trying to revive an economy; it was trying to kill a political system.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Whiling awaying

I had the distinct privilege on Sunday of visiting Nikkō again, this time in the company of author Niels Planel.

We whiled away the hours on the Tōbu Line limited section-express (1320 yen, 2 hours and 5 minutes one way) arguing vociferously about the cons and cons (as Koizumi Jun'ichirō fanatiques, we see no "pros" anywhere) of the current government's policies.

Once in Nikkō, however we managed to shut up and look about us.

Pond of the Shōyōen
Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture
April 8, 2007

View from the Plum Room
Nikkō Tomozawa Imperial Villa
Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture
April 8, 2007

The Niōmon of the Taiyūin
Nikkō, Tochigi Prefecture
April 8, 2007

Not entirely silent were we. Monsieur Planel, when he spied the famous monkey sculpture in the Tōshōgu, quipped, "Oh, look, it's a stunningly accurate representation of the Japanese news media!"

Blogging will be rather light this week despite the likelihood of megatons of nonsense being spewn over Wen Jiabao's visit. I have some rather important personal business elsewhere that will keep me away from Shisaku for a while.

All photos by MTC

Monday, April 09, 2007

Back in the JMSDF

You don't how lucky you are.

A French arms merchant once explained to me that dancing was considered one of the social graces worthy of a proper naval officer's concentration.

But this epic, historic, hysterical video is a whole other kettle of fish.

I thought that the JMSDF had erased it, trashed it, sent it on a one way journey to Davey Jones's locker in the switchover to the website.

But no.

Indeed, it now has an embarassingly infantile companion, seemingly produced by the people who do Kamen Rider promotional shorts.

Amaterasu, how I love the Second Constitutional State.

War Memory and Social Politics in Japan, 1945-2005

It's out!

Today's IHT - The Asahi Shimbun has an enthusiastic revue (no link yet) of Dr. Franziska Seraphim's long- awaited book on civil organizations and war memory.

(Partial disclosure: the reviewer, Dr. Ken Ruoff of Portland State University, deservedly considered the go-to guy on the Imperial House in the postwar era, was a contemporary of Dr. Seraphim's at Columbia University's East Asian Studies Ph.D. program)

Here is the description:

Japan has long wrestled with the memories and legacies of World War II. In the aftermath of defeat, war memory developed as an integral part of particular and divergent approaches to postwar democracy. In the last six decades, the demands placed upon postwar democracy have shifted considerably--from social protest through high economic growth to Japan's relations in Asia--and the meanings of the war shifted with them.

This book unravels the political dynamics that governed the place of war memory in public life. Far from reconciling with the victims of Japanese imperialism, successive conservative administrations have left the memory of the war to representatives of special interests and citizen movements, all of whom used war memory to further their own interests.
Here is the order page for the book.

Though my opinion is worth just about nothing (and that is how much people tend to pay for it) I would describe Dr. Seraphim as one of the six to seven smartest individuals I have ever met. Her monograph is most likely to be the definitive study on the subject of the use and misuse of war memory--though in his review Dr. Ruoff alerts the reader of the imminent publication of another study on the same subject.

Expertise abounds! And just in time for the much-ballyhooed summits!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Late Sakura Viewing - The Yusakaji

If you are already feeling somewhat bummed by the falling of the somei yoshino cherries in the urban lowlands, you can still see the scads of late blooming cherries in the mountains.

The numerous unusual varieties planted alongside the Yusaka Trail out of Hakone Yumoto most likely will be just starting to bloom this weekend.

If the weather is clear, the trail has a magnificent view of the coast and the Pacific Ocean, as well as the volcanic mountains to the south.

Stairway of Roots
Yusaka Trail, Hakone Township
Kanagawa Prefecture
April 17, 2006

Usuzumi (?) Cherries
Yusaka Trail, Hakone Township
Kanagawa Prefecture
April 17, 2006

The Trail Widens
Yusaka Trail, Hakone Township
Kanagawa Prefecture
April 17, 2006

Chisuji no taki
Yusaka Trail, Hakone Township
Kanagawa Prefecture
April 17, 2006

Descent to Kowakidani Station
Yusaka Trail, Hakone Township
Kanagawa Prefecture
April 17, 2006

Access: Odakyū Railways Romance Car from Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto. One hour and 25 minutes.

Cost: one way = 2020 yen (Riding the so-called "Express" in order to save a little money will only make you hate yourself: it stops waaaay too many times.)

Time: two leisurely hours to the Sengen Summit for lunch, then one hour down to Kowakidani Station on the Hakone Tōzan Tetsudō. 520 yen and a little less than a half an hour's ride back to Hakone Yumoto.

The first half of the trail runs along the ridge dividing the two main highways running up to Lake Ashi and the Mt. Fuji caldera. The engine noise, particularly from the motorcycles, can be depressing.

The trail is also extremely popular so erosion in some sections is severe.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Change the seating arrangements...

In Sapporo (no news people to report on what's being said way up there, for sure, he thought) Nakagawa the Barking Mad expressed deep love for Wen Jiabao and an abiding respect for the Abe foreign policy team:

ガス田問題 中国を泥棒に例え政府間協議求める 中川氏

2007年04月04日19時06分 - 自民党の中川昭一政調会長は4日、札幌市での講演で、東シナ海の天然ガス田開発問題について「日本は『温家宝首相が来るから、それまではまあまあ』と言うが、中国は刻一刻、貴重なエネルギーを自分のものとして取っている」と指摘。そのうえで「向こうの理屈としては、取るのは当たり前。泥棒に入って家族が黙っていたら持って行っちゃう」と語り、中国を泥棒に例えて共同開発をめぐる政府間協議を急ぐよう求めた。
The premier of China is to pay a visit to Japan after a seven year hiatus. Casting China as a "thief" of Japan's natural gas a week before is, shall we say, needlessly provocative and a tad unwise?

I have never understood the obsession with the gas fields anyway, except as a proxy for METI's losing battle with MOFA. The gas cannot be piped to Japan because the fields lie on the other side of the Okinawa Trench. You cannot build an LNG plant in mid-ocean.

Let the Chinese go right up to the border and drill away all they want. Have Japanese companies do the same on their side of the border. Have the Japanese drillers link their gas lines to the Chinese network, selling 100% of their production to Chinese consumers.

Everybody's happy.

Honestly, if LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Nakagawa Shōichi did not exist, a comedian would have had to imagine him.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

True Fables - The Big House

The house I used to live in stands in a bedroom suburb of Tokyo located on the JR Chuō Line.

A long, long time ago, when the Chuō Line was being built, the engineers and surveyors left an exceptionally long stretch of track without a station serving it. As towns and industries relocated from the city center to the areas around the Chuō Line stations, the area to the north of this long stretch of uninterrupted track remained covered in orchards and vegetable gardens. It was not until 1964, forty years after the opening nearest station, that a passenger platform was built at the midpoint of this long stretch, opening the area up for urban development.

Which explains the T family.

The T family were the owners of most of the farmlands. In much of the rest of Tokyo east of Tachikawa, families like the Ts sold off their lands to developers in the 1930s. These same families then saw their wealth go up in smoke in the incindiery bombings or in the postwar hyperinflation.

However, due to the fluke of the vast distance between their landholdings and the nearest railway station, the Ts only started selling off their lands to builders in the late 1950s.

So the Ts, owners of a landbank, are still the lords of their community.

Like the great families of rural villages, the main T family, the honke, found it necessary to hive off the branch lines, the bunke, keeping them away from family inheritance by bankrolling small mom-and-pop operations for the bunke to work in. So it is that even today, retailing and services in the town are provided mainly by T family-owned establishments--the sporting goods stores, the barber shop, the ugly game center in front of the pathetic station...

The T's not only dominate the town's economic life--they dominated its social and political life as well. The head of the local PTA was a T. The LDP representative for the town immediately next door (the rest of the city is a Democratic Party bastion) was a T. Of course, every local committee, shrine observance and festival had to be led by a T.

Even now, when the last parcels of open farmland are being subsumed under single family homes, everyone is still acutely aware that the T family believes we are all arrivistes with only the most tenuous of claims to ownership of what was once their land.

So it was not a great day when The Daughter, in a fit of what I hope was righteous fury, snapped in two all of the pencils of the T boy in her class.

The eldest son of the honke.

Now my spouse--a native of the town--was too mortified to go and apologize.

So the job fell to me.

So with The Daughter I set out, contrition gifts in hand, in search of the honke palace.

I asked The Daughter, "Where is it?"

"T-san said he lives in 'the big house' on the main avenue that runs out of the station, just around the corner from where we live. "

So nonchanlant daughter and dutiful parent set off down the lane. When we came to where the lane runs into the main avenue, we halted.

We looked left.

We looked right.

We looked left again.

We looked right again.

"Where did he say he lived?" I asked The Daughter again.

"In 'the big house' on the main avenue that runs out of the station, just around the corner from where we live. "

"I don't see a big house, do you?"

The scattering of single family homes on the avenue (most of the buildings are low-rise manshons) looked normal-sized to me.

"No, I don't."

The barbershop on the corner had the T family on it. We went inside.

"Is this where (child's name) lives?" I asked.

"Nope, he lives in the house next door, behind the wall."

We went outside again. Next door was a pair of decidedly average-looking houses behind a decrepit cement block wall.

Confused, we walked through the opening in the wall into a lonely dirt yard.

Nothing moved.


We heard some noise coming from the house in the back.

"Let's go ask there."

The house in the back was a two story stucco affair, gray with age--looking a lot like the old house of the in-laws before they tore it down.

"Hello?" we tried again.

More noise.

I slid open the glass door of the house. Inside was a clean but decidedly-looking dingy old wooden entrance hallway, with some children's shoes in the tiled entranceway.

"Ojama itashimasu!" I yelled.

A woman in simple clothing came out.

"Oh hello. How can I help you?"

"I'm sorry, is this the house of (child's name)?"

"Yes it is," she replied. She turned 90 degrees and called up the stairs, telling her son to come downstairs because he had visitors.

The slope-browed little toad made his way down the stairs. I began a litany of all the most apologetic set phrases I could think of.

The mother gently cut me off, saying that there was no problem. Smiling, she made her son accept the gifts that we offered, and made him acknowledge that The Daughter had indeed made recompense for the damage she had caused.

After a few more rounds of effusive apologies, The Daughter and I left the entryway, closing the sliding glass door behind us.

As we walked out the gate, I turned to The Daughter, and said:

"What the hell was he talking about 'the Big House'? His house no bigger than ours!"


The other day a very bright individual said to me:

"The problem with Abe, Nakagawa Shōichi, Aso, even Fukuda...all of them--is their whole life through they have been the children of important and powerful individuals. All they have seen is how others behave before their parents or their grandparents. They believe that obsequiousness is their right. Outsiders, the little people, bowing down and asking forgiveness of their families--that is all they know. Apologies are, for them, for inferior beings. They have never apologized to anyone outside their immediate families."

So perhaps the members of the top tiers of politics, LDP and Democrat alike, cannot help themselves.

In their mind's eye, they live in the Big matter what reality might be.

And we...are just uppity upstarts squatting upon Their Land.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

And while I'm at it, I wish I had a pony

Tanaka Hitoshi, writing in the Financial Times, wishes everyone would just let Japan become normal. And let Japan discard "fictions and taboos". And let Japan focus on building bridges to the east Asian community.

A better way for Japan to live with its neighbours
Financial Times

Published: April 2 2007 17:59 Last updated: April 2 2007 17:59

In recent years foreign observers have reported increasing nationalistic pride in Japan. Such growing sentiment is rooted in frustration over gaps between Japan's security policy and the reality of today's world, and between contemporary Japan and its wartime past.

Japan's humiliation during the 1991 Gulf war first revealed the gap between the constraints of its pacifist constitution and the demands of the post-cold-war world. Despite its $13bn contribution, Japan was criticised for its inability to participate in the operations of the coalition forces. Meanwhile, controversy over Japan’s wartime past – exemplified by the Yasukuni shrine, which honours 2.5m war dead, including 14 Class A war criminals – has loomed over its relations with neighbours and has created an opening for a harmful strain of nationalism.

I'm afraid this is the tenor aria from Act I, Scene II of La MOFA del Destino -- "It's the constitution's fault! And those damn priests at Yasukuni! Always making us look powerless and stupid! Un rengo per il mio cavallo!"

Not exactly.

Japan's problem at the time of the Gulf War was an ossified and illegitimate political class whose members could not move a meter outside their usual billets of shoveling pork and ingratiating themselves to their faction leaders.

How do I know this?

Because the celebrated Mr. K sent the destroyers to the Arabian Sea and the GSDF to Iraq without changing one damned comma in the Constitution--that's why.

Later in the piece Tanaka-san asks that everyone stop politicizing history.

Good luck. No wait, vaya con Dios...pero vaya.

"We should leave history to the historians," is a declaration of personal moral failure masquerading as impartiality.

Just don't tell the PM and Dr. Michael Green at CSIS that I said so, though.

Monday, April 02, 2007

That Time of Year Again

Koganei City, Tokyo Metropolitan District
March 31, 2007
Captured by MTC

Just Cross the Street, OK?

I have to hand it to Japan's Meiji revivalists : they illustrate the implicit perils of acting out Zeno's paradox.

Rather than crossing Reconciliation Street to the other side, they choose, out of a sense of fair play and going along with the game, to go halfway.

Then, whining at the unfairness of it all, they drag themselves halfway again across the remaining distance.

They then plant themselves, arguing that to go any further would be an affront to the dignity of Japan/Japanese culture/the soldiers who died creating a new Japan (Amaterasu, do I ever dislike that formulation!)/Japanese virtue--oh, whatever.

They are stunned to stupefication when the street lights change and they get run over.

What is to be said of these protagonists when they have already safely crossed a street but then choose, out of a sense of self-destructive orgueil (I cannot help it, the English word will not do) to retreat back into traffic?

EDITORIAL/ Okinawa's forced suicides
The Asahi Shimbun

The government has instructed publishers of many high school history textbooks to alter descriptions of mass suicide incidents during the World War II battle in Okinawa. In latest textbook screening, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology told the publishers to eliminate all references to the Japanese military's direct role in these tragedies.

The ministry criticized descriptions that said civilians were forced by the Japanese Imperial Army to commit mass suicide. The government says it is not clear the military issued such orders. Many publishers complied, and their textbooks now state vaguely that civilians were "driven into mass suicide," instead of that the people were "forced by the Japanese military to commit mass suicide."

The tragic mutual killings of civilians took place in the Kerama islands, where invading U.S. forces landed first in the Battle of Okinawa. Several hundred islanders killed themselves and their families in mass suicides.

By removing references to the Japanese military's direct involvement in these acts, the government obscures the abnormal nature of Japan's militarism. The military did not want to allow Okinawans to be captured by American soldiers and so it forced them to commit suicide. Isn't this move to rewrite textbooks an attempt to distort history?

I could say something cruel on the order of, "If you believe A to be true and the other side changes the wording so that A is no longer true, yes, you can say, 'This is an attempt to distort history."' Really, you have the right to say that, oh righteous editors of The Asahi Shimbun. Honest, you do."

But why bother?