Monthly Archives: May 2005

News Marathon 2: Price Predictions: “Minced Cod”

Demand for meat replacement brings bullish prices

The prices for American “Minced Cod” which is the basis for “Kamaboko”, “Chikuwa” and other processed boiled fish paste products are expected to become bullish. The demand for a replacements arising out of BSE and Avian flu breakouts in Europe and Asia are causing a rise inquiries about fillets (sold in threes). Meanwhile, the production of mince is falling, so fears of a shortage are placing focus on bream and other “golden thread” fish. However, high oil prices are predicted to cause a slump in fish harvests. Domestic inventory is at a low standard, and we are likely to see more and more markets trying out a price increase by the fall season.

Price negotiations for American produced Minced Cod are conducted twice a year in spring and fall between the American and Japanese fishing industries

Importers were demanding a price drop due to domestic fish cake makers’ profit deterioration, but with a worldwide expansion in demand looming, the spring negotiations this year decided on the 3rd straight price increase.

Producers are shifting from mince to fillets, which have a higher unit price, making the fears of a mince shortage high. Due to this, there was a partial movement to use “golden-thread” as a replacement. However, last year’s import quantity was 54,060 tonnes, a 14% decrease from the previous year. According to a fishing company, this is because of “the lackluster response from the consumer.”

This year, with an increase in cost of fishing boat operation due to the rising price of crude oil, and harvest amounts shaky, there are some who predict that domestic influx may be limited. There is a movement among fishing companies to find other replacements, but at present they have not found a promising contender.

The Farming, Forest, and Fisheries Minsitry says that minced Cod inventories were 41,937 tonnes at the end of this March, 23% lower than they were in March of last year. With an increasing crunch in supply and demand, wholesale prices for frozen minced Cod increased 13% to 295 yen per kilogram. Depending on the supply quantity for the fall season, further price increases are likely. (KM)

News Marathon 1: Kitakyushu Police officer on vacation looks away while driving, hits and kills 2

Nikkei:

Fukuoka Pref. Tagawa Precinct 2nd Division Security Section Chief Patrol Officer Uchigata Daisuke (30 of Fukuoka pref. Tagawa-shi, Nara) hit 2 men crossing Prefectural Road 2 of Numamoto-cho, Ogura-minami-ku, Kitakyushu in his car at 2am May 29th.

Araki Hakafumi (64 of Soita-cho Nakamotodera) died immediately after receiving a strong blow to the head, and Tone Eisaku (79 of Oguraminami Kamiyoshida 3) died soon after breaking his spine.

According to reports of Oguraminami Precinct, Uchigata was on his way back to his hometown in Kitakyushu City on holiday. “I was distracted by a restaurant’s sign on the side of the road, so I was looking over at that,” he explained.

Oguraminami prefecture is questioning Uchigata on suspicion of negligent homicide while on duty, but they do not plan to arrest him. The precinct explains, “There is no fear of flight or hiding of evidence. The victims were crossing the street outside of a pedestrian crosswalk, so the level of negligence is rather low.”

Araki was reportedly on his way to a nearby restaurant with a number of people at the time.

Chief Sakai Yoshio of Tagawa Precinct said, “We express deep apologies to the families of the deceased. We will continue to work to the full ability of our leadership to prevent similar incidents” (Kyodo News)

The best advertisement for learning martial arts ever

This short video (about 10 seconds) on a Russian news website is just amazing. I can’t read a word of Russian, but according to Babelfish,

To robber they broke neck (VIDEO) not always the attempts to select in those surrounding things conclude with the success of robbers. The camera of internal observation, established in one of the elevators of Tokyo office, fixed the unique case, when they gave worthy rebuff to criminal. With the broken neck it was delivered into the hospital, and girl after the dacha of indications in the police station was with the peace tempered vosvoyasi.

Vosvoyasi indeed. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Incidentally, the Japanese word next to the time code in the corner of the screen is Kodansha, the name of a famous Japanese publishing company. I suppose it was filmed from a security camera in the office of their building.

Thanks for the link goes to Redlunatic.

Arrival in Taipei

I’m dead tired. I arrived in Newark airport at about 10pm New York time tuesday night. Boarding at 12.30 Five hour flight to Seattle. Two hour wait. Twelve hour flight to Taipei’s Chiang Kai Shek airport, arrival 7.30am. Bus to Taipei station. On the way I pass Mosburger several times. Mosburger is the Japanese answer to McDonald’s, and the absolute unrivaled king of burger-form fastfood. Not aware that it existed anywhere outside of Japan I am thrilled far out of proportion to the actual significance of this discovery.

Arriving at the train station it takes me a few minutes to figure out exactly where the hostel is. Thirteenth floor of a building, above an electronics mall with Acer, Apple, iRiver, Asus, MSI, BenQ stores is not the place one you would expect to find a youth hostel, but when they said “right across the street from Taipei main station” they meant it-doubting only causes me to walk back and forth a few times, the strap of my portable computer carrying case wearing out my shoulder muscles.

I check in, I prepaid on the internet but I don’t have an Internation Youth Hostel membership card so I give him a few dollars to register for one of those before I’m allowed in. I’m sharing a room with a couple of Japanese guys who just arrived from Korea and leave for the Phillipines in a week. They are planning to travel all the way around the world. “How long will it take”, I ask.” Hmmm, maybe a year”, Ohta ventures. Clearly their plans are not fixed. I ask what their plan for the day is? “I think we’ll go see this”, he says. “What?” I ask stupidly, when I realize he is wearing a yoda shirt, and his friend (whom I think is named Kobayashi) has Darth Vader on his chest. “Ah yes, I saw that last week. Definitely better than the last two. But of course, if you’re enough of a fan to wear a t-shirt there’s really no question about going is there?”

I go to take a shower. Slightly confused at first, as the toilet stalls and shower stalls are the very same. Let me be clear, because I thought my eyes deceived me at first. The shower is mounted above the toilet, and the toilet seat becomes soaked as you shower next to it. I suppose it’s an efficient use of space, but I am a little shocked. This design would be anathema in Japan, where they don’t generally even allow the toilet and shower to be separate stalls in the same room, much less so… interactive.

I go down the block to the subway station, and look around the underground bookshop for a while before I go into the purchase area. I’m pleased to see that a moderately sized general bookstore has specifically marked off sections for fantasy and science fiction. It is all in Chinese, but I notice that much of it is translated from Japanese authors, and probably most of the rest from western languages. I also note that there are books in English scattered throughout the store, mixed in with the appropriate topical section, not segregated in an English corner. I recall what I had read about the linguistic history of Taiwan. Originally inhabited by aborigines speaking Pacific island languages, Fujianese and Hakka settlers from southern China, colonization by Dutch, expulsion of the Dutch and a larger influx of Chinese, speaking a mix of southern dialects. Annexation by Japan around turn of 20th century, imperial rulers gradually implement replacement of Chinese with Japanese, particularly effective in education and literary worlds-for a time in the 30’s and 40’s even native Taiwanese are writing literature in the Japanese language. Following Japan’s defeat in the second world war Taiwan is given to the Republic of China, the government of which decides to supress Japanese as well as all non-Mandarin dialects, a policy which continues in full force until the 80’s and I believe is still gradually leveling off. The author’s theory seemed to be that the history of language on Taiwan has led to a culture in which many people have a more relaxed distinction between native and foreign languages. I consider that a single bookstore in which English books are shelved alongside Chinese books does not make for a broad sample.

Highlights From Today’s State Department Press Briefing


I went to another State Dept. briefing today. I even got to ask a question:

MR. BOUCHER: Okay, we’ve got one more in the back. That’s it?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) [ed: they censored where I said I’m from West Japan Daily] Private Charles Jenkins has been issued a passport by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and he wants to meet with his 91-year-old mother in North Carolina. When is he coming and will he face charges when he arrives?

MR. BOUCHER: I think the issue of charges and the military has already been dealt with. I don’t think there’s anything more on that. You can check with the Pentagon.

As far as when is he coming to see his mother that would be between him and his mother. I don’t have anything on it.

Ouch. Some unscrupulous (kidding!) journalists at TBS ripped off my question and used it in their broadcasts. You can watch it here. At least I wasn’t the only one who thought it was newsworthy!

The same “French” guy I mentioned last time had another colorful exchange with Boucher today. He’s actually Serbian or something (Something Seprus):

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, since this coming Friday, May 27th, is the beginning of the process of the creation of an independent Kosovo, may I raise a couple of questions without interruptions, however?

MR. BOUCHER: I don’t think we’ve put out an announcement like that.

QUESTION: Excuse me?

MR. BOUCHER: I don’t think that’s quite the right way to characterize May 27th [ed: He’s being sarcastic because May 27th hasn’t happened yet], but go on.
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Slate mentions me but forgets to link

I’m honored to be quoted in Slate’s Today’s Blogs feature:.


Dissent under the bridge: Many bloggers are riveted by a video showing men hanging an anti-Kim Jong-il banner under a bridge. Since being smuggled out of North Korea, it has caused a furor in Japan and South Korea; “it is the first evidence of a nascent dissident movement inside North Korea.”

“There is controversy over what motivated the filmmakers—pure hatred for the regime or the knowledge that Japanese television stations would pay thousands for such footage. But why should it matter? It’s solid proof of dissent in a nation of people supposedly brainwashed into slavish reverence for a dumpy, bespectacled tyrant whose entire wardrobe consists of khaki windbreakers,” opines Kerry Howley on Hit & Run, Reason magazine’s blog, which links to the video. Mutant Frog Travelogue’s Adam Richards, who posted a video of a North Korean public execution on his Web site earlier this year warns, “Watching idly and wondering if everyone’s OK is unacceptable because we know exactly what’s being done to the North Koreans. Think before you watch.” And conservative Ace of Spades HQ writes that this is “a force for truth, justice, and, dare I say, the American way of life.”

One problem, however: SHE FORGOT TO LINK TO MY SITE! What gives? Every other site got a link but mine. Funnily enough, I’m still experiencing a surge in hits from those with the patience to copy-paste “Mutant Frog Travelogue” into their favorite search engine.

Bidisha Banerjee, I beseech you: link to me! If not this time than the next, please! As someone who covers blogs, you should realize how precious links are to bloggers.

From Jersey to Taiwan

I first visited China in March of 2003 during the between semester break of Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan where I was studying at the time. I never wrote much about that trip, but my fellow traveler Chris Gunson, who was also studying at Ritsumeikan as an exchange student from Rutgers, has a good account of the entire journey (illustrated with my photographs and his maps) on his website at www.cgunson.com/china/. At the time I know no Chinese at all, and although Chris had taken a little Chinese in high school he couldn’t actually speak it to any degree, just understand a few words and read or write simple sentences. Since we were both students of Japanese, which has a writing system largely based on that of Chinese, we could read a decent number of words in much the same way that a reader of English can make out some Spanish or German words on a page, and traveling all the way across a country as large as China with only these limited communication skills to rely upon was part of the fun.

Still, after spending about three weeks in China without the ability to communicate with a single taxi or bus driver, the servers in any but the best restaurants, the ticket sellers at the train station, or any other local people aside from the rare college student, unable to watch tv, read the newspaper, and so on I thought that it might be fun to learn Chinese and someday return with the ability to do all of those things and more. Ordinarily this would seem like a mildly nutty decision, but since I was already living in Japan studying that language it hardly seemed unreasonable. During the following semester in Japan, my second, I made arrangements to stay for a second year so when I returned home to the States that July it was only for summer vacation and not for good. When during the summer I stopped by my home university, Rutgers to see some people and take care of some things, I dropped by the university bookstore and bought the textbook used there for elementary Chinese.

When I went back to Ritsumeikan I started to study the book with the help of a girl from Shanghai that I was friends with, but just doing a little bit every week I didn’t really get very far, and she was impressed enough that my pronounciation was less awful than that of Japanese people that she knew studying Chinese that she didn’t worry much about my general slow progress, and when we both ran out of time to study together I set aside Chinese study for a while.

About a year after my first trip to China I went again. This time I was traveling alone much of the time, instead of wandering aimlessly I was visiting friends that had studied with my in Japan, and the trip was capped by a journey from China into Kazakhstan. I originally created the first version of this site to document that trip, and part of those journals are preserved in early entries on this blog. Here are some of them.
2004 travel journal
HK part 1
HK part 2
HK part 3, etc.
Shekou
Shenzhen
Beijing
Yonghe Gong (Former palace in Beijing converted into Tibetan Buddhist temple)
Tiananmen
The Summer Palace and lost on the way there.

I never actually wrote an adequate account of the trip out west and to Kazkahstan, but there are a number of photographs in my gallery section, as well as of all sections of China that I visited.

On this trip to China I actually brought my textbook with me and tried to study a bit while I was traveling, but time was short and my level was so low that I gave up quickly and just enjoyed myself, and resolved to actually register in Chinese class when I returned to Rutgers in the fall. I had also been studying a little bit of Korean on the side at Ritsumeikan, with the help of a Korean girl that I was dating at the time and actually ended up registering for both Chinese and Korean 101 for the fall semester. (Sidenote, I stopped in Seoul for a few days on the way home from Japan. My travelogue from that time is located here and here)

I had assumed that because Japanese and Korean have such similar grammar and use Chinese loanwords in such a similar way, and because it uses a fairly easy phonetic writing system instead of thousands of characters that it would be easier than the tonal Chinese language to learn, but over the course of the semester I was surprised to find that while I had to study mindlessly for hours to memorize Korean vocabulary, after having already spent years memorizing Chinese characters for reading Japanese, Chinese class was by far the easier of the two. Studying two languages at elementary level at the same time was kind of inconvenient, so next semester I just stuck with Chinese so I could properly concentrate.

Around the middle of that final semester, one day in class my Chinese teacher handed me an application for a Taiwan government scholarship to study Chinese in Taiwan. “Do you have any plans for the summer yet?” she asked, adding “the application is due tomorrow.” Not even remotely having and fixed plans for after graduation I brought the application back the following day, and a couple of weeks found out that I had got the scholarship, which is $25,000 New Taiwanese Dollars (about 30 to one $US) per month, which will be placed in the care of the school in Taiwan at which I study for me to get when I arrive. What’s that? Although I was assured money to study in Taiwan, I hadn’t actually registered for an actual course of study yet, so I scrambled to get together the application forms for that, which in addition to the standard teacher recommendations also required a physical and HIV test (negative of course). The people in the scholarship office made it clear that scholarship recipients were guaranteed admission to the program of their choice, of course phrased a bit subtly. After looking over the various options I opted for the Mandarin Training Center at National Taiwan Normal University, in Taipei.

My flight leaves tonight (technically tomorrow’s calendar date) at thirty minutes past midnight. It flies first to Seattle, then I transfer for another twelve hour flight to Chiang Kai Shek international airport in Taipei. The scholarship provides me money that is expected to be used for tuition, rent and other expenses, but it actually only lasts for three months while I’m going to be staying for at least six, so I need to make up for the shortfall out of my own pocket, partly through some money saved and partly through the freelance Japanese to English translation that I have been doing part time for about three quarters of a year, and can carry on doing anyplace where I have a decently stable internet connection. Because the school dorm is for some arcane reason not avaliable to recipients of this particular scholarship program (incidentally, a rule that I also saw in Japan, which caused great inconvenience for at least two international students that I knew), I will be staying in a youth hostel (conveniently located across from the main Taipei train station) for the first few days while I try and find some accomodations on my own. Since the campus is located extremely downtown, as you can see if you look at this map of the area (warning, very large image!). The NTNU campus, also known by its abbreviated Chinese name ShiDa(師大) is located just a couple of blocks northeast of Guting Station, which is one of the largest in the city. Since the school is located in such a downtown area I may or may not be able to afford a room within walking distance, but I’m sure that going a couple of subway stops away would not be much of a hardship at all.

So this is it, I’m about to have some dinner, pack up my stuff, and head to the airport. I would like to remind everyone that there are a number of galleries of photos from some of my previous trips, and to look out for more of both writing and photographs here regularly and hopefully soon.

Japan and China United in Pedophilia: the unlikely diplomacy of Saaya Irie

I had heard about this a few days ago but was originally too disgusted to report on it. The very existence of this girl as a sex object makes me question my whole involvement with Japanese society. It looks like, however, she is helping to quell anti-Japanese sentiment in China. Here’s the story:

Busty child reported to ease anti-Japan tension in China

By GEOFF BOTTING
Shukan Bunshun (May 19)

The wave of anti-Japanese sentiment in China continues, more than a month since the first round of demonstrations against the Japanese government’s approval of a controversial school textbook flared throughout the country. Diplomats and politicians on both sides have been trying to diffuse tensions in a flurry of meetings and shuttle diplomacy, but so far these methods have had only limited effect.

At this point, it might seem that a miracle is required to put bilateral relations fully back on track.

Saaya Irie, an 11-year-old Japanese girl, may not be that miracle, but she has clearly played a part in pacifying a certain segment of China’s population, according to Shukan Bunshun.

If anything about Saaya is miraculous, it’s her body—she wears an F-cup bra, though she has yet to reach her teens. So when a photo of her in a bikini was posted on a Chinese Internet forum called “100,” she immediately caused a sensation.

The pic was accompanied by message—rendered in mock Marxist rhetoric—reading: “An 11-year-old Japanese girl with large breasts has a proclamation for all Chinese people! Dear elder brothers, a beautiful young Japanese girl is beseeching you.

“Please stop these anti-Japanese hijinks. If you don’t, I won’t like you anymore.”

At the end of the message, she states that her breasts would “rise up” if the people “unite for the sake of China’s democracy.”

According to an anonymous source described as an Internet expert, the message and photo were posted by someone involved in www.2ch.net, a Japanese online forum.

Thanks, 2ch, for helping bridge the gap. Here’s how the poor girl reacted when confronted with the news:

So how does Saaya feel about all the commotion? A bit frightened, actually, an official at her talent agency says .

“She had a worried look on her face and said, ‘I’m shocked. I wish they’d stop,’ ” the official quotes the starlet as saying when hearing the news. The official added that Saaya finds it hard to believe that she has played any kind of role to smooth bilateral relations.

But in a written message, Saaya says: “I would like to see good relations between Japan and China. If relations are good, I think everyone will be happy.”

Her very career should frighten her. I can’t express enough how sick this makes me. Her parents should be ashamed of themselves. She’s eleven freaking years old! (Here’s a link if you must know what she looks like)

Aichi Expo a hit after all, dammit

From Japan Today:


No. of expo visitors tops 5 million

NAGOYA — The number of visitors to the World Exposition in Aichi Prefecture surpassed the 5 million mark Monday morning, at a faster clip than the organizers’ anticipated, the Japan Association for World Exposition 2005 said.

The number is one-third of the 15 million visitors the association has set as the goal for the total number of visitors to the expo, which runs from March 25 to Sept 25. (Kyodo News)

Bastards. I’ll never live down missing this thing. It still sucks though, right?

More on North Korea protest videos

Since totally scooping major media outlets with links to footage of a public execution in the DPRK a while back, I haven’t been keeping up with NK news nearly as much as I should. But one thing never changes about Kim Jong Il’s North Korea—it sucks the big one.

Case in point: this report from the LA Times on the recent video footage trickling out of North Korea It’s apparently the work of NGOs and intrepid, possibly entrepeneurial, refugees smuggling cameras over the border. A quick excerpt:

videos have emerged from inside North Korea of a public execution, children begging at a train station and humanitarian aid from the United Nations being sold at a market.

These videos have created a perverse market in which footage of atrocities in a gulag is the “most coveted” and Japanese TV stations will pay thousands of dollars to those who can deliver. In Japan these videos are a sideshow—the news stations are broadcasting them during “golden time” (prime time in America) and garnering huge ratings. Hell, they’re a sideshow on this site, too. We ended up getting linked to by ogrish.com, a site devoted to showing grotesque footage of suicides, assassinations, or anything else gruesome enough to satisfy 14-year-old boys’ bloodlust. I can’t blame the North Koreans for trying to make money. In North Korea people have to do whatever they can to survive.

What troubles me is that we get off on watching the videos from the comfort of our TVs and PCs. The tragic situation in North Korea is not some car crash on the side of the road. Watching idly and wondering if everyone’s OK is unacceptable because we know exactly what’s being done to the North Koreans. Think before you watch.

I sincerely hope that the tragedy of North Korea will end soon, and perhaps this small propaganda outlet can get the message out in some small way.

Here’s an excerpt of the story for those too lazy to click:

Secret N. Korean Footage Suggests Nascent Dissent

BANGKOK, Thailand — With shaking hands, the North Korean climbed onto the shoulders of a buddy to reach the underside of the bridge. As another accomplice stood guard, he hung up a banner denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in bright red paint.

Then he took out a video camera, disguised to look like a carton of cigarettes, and filmed his handiwork for posterity.

Today, the North Korean who says he shot the video on behalf of a group called the Freedom Youth League lives in hiding in Thailand under an assumed name. A small, wiry man in his 30s, he smoked L&M cigarettes nervously as he recalled his daring feat against the totalitarian government.

Everything had to be done with the utmost secrecy, he said, to the point that he and his associates communicated by means of notes passed in sacks of potatoes. He didn’t dare tell even his wife.

“If we were caught, everybody would be dead,” said the man, who goes by the name Park Dae Heung.

The 33-minute tape has created a sensation in Japan and South Korea, where it has aired repeatedly. South Korean human rights advocates say it is the first evidence of a nascent dissident movement inside North Korea.

Besides the banner hung on the bridge, the video shows an anti-government banner in a factory restroom and has one particularly eye-catching scene in which the camera pans over an official photograph of Kim Jong Il defaced with graffiti as a man denounces him off-camera.

The video is one of a series of samizdat videos that provide a rare glimpse of life in what may be the most secretive country in the world. Since the beginning of this year, videos have emerged from inside North Korea of a public execution, children begging at a train station and humanitarian aid from the United Nations being sold at a market.
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