New Photo Galleries

Since I’m about to leave for Taiwan I thought I would finally upload some of the previous travel photosets that I had been meaning to post ever since I created the blog. Click each thumbnail for the corresponding gallery page.

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Beijing, 2004

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While in Beijing I of course had the visit the Great Wall.

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This is a set of photos I took of the outside of an abandoned Beijing Opera house I found in a sidestreet. The decaying hand-painted posters are great, I only wish I could have somehow taken them down and saved them from the inevitable demolition.

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Urumqi, 2003 and 2004

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Turpan, 2004 and 2004

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Almaty, Kazakhstan, 2004


Attack of the Clowns

This just in from the AP:

WASHINGTON – President Bush on Friday said he would veto legislation that would loosen restrictions on embryonic stem cell research and expressed deep concern about human cloning research in South Korea.”

I’m very concerned about cloning,” the president said. “I worry about a world in which cloning becomes accepted.”

Now I’m not saying that I am in favor of cloning. To be quite honest, I am not going to pretend I have sufficient grasp of the scientific or moral issues involved to make an educated decision to clone or not to clone.

But the last thing I’m worried about is a world in which cloning becomes accepted and we have a bunch of Jango Fetts running around on a rampage. (Wait, on second thought, that might solve the Army’s recruitment problem! )

And quite frankly, this kind of crap should not rank too high on the President’s agenda either. If he wants to be concerned about human life, how about starting with our soldiers dying in Iraq.

And since that was an admittedly cheap shot (and about as damned intellectually lazy as one can get), here’s a more legitimate criticism: what about the hundreds of murdered women and children in our ally in the Global War on Terror, Uzbekistan.

Or perhpas those Afghans a couple of our sick fuck soldierstortured to death at Bagram?

And while we’re on the subject of South Korea, if the President wants to express his concern, he might want to begin with the Bank of Korea and its irresponsible behavior in the Forex markets during the past two days.


Fear of protesters will keep Jackie Chan from Taiwan

From the Taipei Times

Movie star Jackie Chan (成龍) says he will stay away from Taiwan for four years to avoid protests over remarks he made calling last year’s presidential elections a joke, TVBS reported yesterday.

At a news conference in China last year, the action hero said Taiwan’s disputed presidential election was “the biggest joke in the world,” provoking calls from politicians in this country to ban his movies.

In an interview in Cannes with TVBS broadcast yesterday, Chan said he wanted to avoid Taiwan for the time being.

“If I come, some people might organize something at the airport,” Chan said, alluding to recent political protests at CKS International Airport.

For the record, I don’t think that Taiwan’s presidential election is a joke. Please don’t throw things at me when I come off the airplane in Taipei next week.


Jenkins obtains a U.S. passport

Charles Jenkins, who spent nearly 40 years in North Korea after deserting his U.S. Army unit in 1965, has been issued a U.S. passport, the embassy in Tokyo said Tuesday.

Jenkins, who served 25 days in a U.S. military brig last year after his court-martial, is believed to be planning a trip to the United States to visit his ailing mother.

Jenkins, 65 and frail, has said he has no plans to return permanently to the United States but would like to visit his home in North Carolina with his family.

His wife, Hitomi Soga, was kidnapped by North Korean agents when she was a 19-year-old student and taken to the reclusive state in 1978.

She married Jenkins soon afterward but was only allowed to return to Japan in 2002 when North Korea reversed years of denial and admitted it had kidnapped 13 Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s. Jenkins and their daughters left North Korea and joined Soga last July.

Earlier this year, he told reporters he wants to see his 91-year-old mother as soon as possible. She lives in a nursing home in Roanoke Rapids, N.C.

The Japan Times: May 18, 2005

Attention Saru and Adam- North Carolina isn’t all that far from DC. Think you can manage to track down Jenkins for an interview when he comes to visit? I can’t wait to read the long version of this guy’s autobiography.


Why Paul Krugman Should Stick to Economics

Full disclosure — I am not a huge Paul Krugman fan. I do not mean that in the sense that I do not like the man or his work. For the most part, I do. I only mean that I own just one of his many books, and that happens to be the International Economics text book he co-authored with Maurice Obstfeld. (I have, however, read everything he has written on the Japanese economy.)

Nevertheless, I do recognize that not only does Professor Krugman understand economics, but he also has a brilliant gift for making it understandable (and even enjoyable) to others.

Consider this example from today’s NYT:

Here’s how the U.S.-China economic relationship currently works:

Money is pouring into China, both because of its rapidly rising trade surplus and because of investments by Western and Japanese companies. Normally, this inflow of funds would be self-correcting: both China’s trade surplus and the foreign investment pouring in would push up the value of the yuan, China’s currency, making China’s exports less competitive and shrinking its trade surplus.

But the Chinese government, unwilling to let that happen, has kept the yuan down by shipping the incoming funds right back out again, buying huge quantities of dollar assets – about $200 billion worth in 2004, and possibly as much as $300 billion worth this year. This is economically perverse: China, a poor country where capital is still scarce by Western standards, is lending vast sums at low interest rates to the United States.

Yet the U.S. has become dependent on this perverse behavior. Dollar purchases by China and other foreign governments have temporarily insulated the U.S. economy from the effects of huge budget deficits. This money flowing in from abroad has kept U.S. interest rates low despite the enormous government borrowing required to cover the budget deficit.

Low interest rates, in turn, have been crucial to America’s housing boom. And soaring house prices don’t just create construction jobs; they also support consumer spending because many homeowners have converted rising house values into cash by refinancing their mortgages.

(To see the point o read the rest of the story here. Trust me, it’s worth it.)

Now, compare that to his May 16th op-ed, “Staying What Course?,” which is nothing more than another liberal gripe about the War in Iraq. And the New York Times has enough of those already.

It doesn’t require a PhD in Economics from MIT to see that the United States, “isn’t just bogged down in Iraq; it’s deteriorating under the strain. We may already be in real danger…” Any reader of the NYT who happens to be in a semi-conscious state would have picked up on this in reading through the 24 pages that preceed the op-ed section.

So please, Mr. Krugman, I have absolutely no objection to your criticizing the policies of the Bush Administration, and most often I even agree with you. But please, please, stick to economics.


Explaining Adamu — a work in progress

Hey, everybody! This is Adamu. Up to now, we at MFT have attracted a wonderful audience without having to explain ourselves, and we are thankful for that. Not that anyone has ever asked, but I feel the need to tell you guys a bit about what this site is about and who I am.

Mutant Frog Travelogue was born one day when the MF and I decided that the countless links we send each other over IM might actually be interesting to strangers. The reason this is a “Travelogue” covering “Japan” even though none of the posters is actually in Asia or traveling at the moment (that will change soon) is because we all have lived there, speak and read Japanese, and feel like blogging about it. Saru is an economist who happens to also be a talking monkey. We brought him on the team in order to raise this site’s average IQ. The wonderful, salamander-poison-yellow design is all MF since I don’t have the patience to sit down and figure out how to use WordPress. If you sniff your monitor while Mutant Frog is loaded the fumes will get you high. Try it now!

While those readers with a keen eye will realize that I used to run Adamu’s Jappanica (and also that I was once fired from Walgreen’s), some of you might be wondering who I am and why the hell I have any authority to write about Japan. Well, the answer to the second question is I don’t, and that’s why I am writing a blog instead of working a full-time job somewhere. All I can offer readers are the ability to read and translate Japanese (though not nearly as well as the ESWN guy can translate Chinese) and my own brand of forced wittiness and garbled politics.

However what I lack in authority or talent I make up for in enthusiasm for my subject. Japan’s not a great place, but I spent the two most interesting years of my life there. Some might say two years is nothing, and for some it might be. I’m different. I skipped my senior prom to go to Japan. I turned both 18 and 21 there. Where some people have bittersweet memories of their youths, I have often fond, sometimes tragic memories of Japan. My first beer, my first girlfriend, my senior trip — experienced them all in Japan. When I say, as some may remember, that Japan “irrevocably damaged my psyche” I’m not joking. I am constantly shocked at the ease with which my fellow expats are able to return home and all but forget what they did there. My fate is unmistakably intertwined with Japan, boom or bust, mockery be damned.

Being away is not unlike leaving a bagel out of the package — I’m slowly going stale. This blog is one of my many efforts to maintain a connection to my “adopted home” and its language while struggling to make a living in DC.

That’s not to say that life in Washington isn’t interesting. Far from it! There’s all sorts of interesting people, like the fat homeless guy who spends so much time leaning on a newspaper machine that his gut has begun to droop down due to gravity, or the guy who spends all day outside the Vatican Embassy holding a sign that says “VATICAN HIDES PEDOPHILES“. A multitude of black homeless people and wacky protestors — two things that are rare even in New York these days.

I’ve had some interesting jobs as well — babysitting a Kuwaiti prince and the First Daughter of Kansas and doing corporate espionage for a “hotel research firm” among them — but nothing I’d call a career. Right now I work two jobs: 1) translating legal documents that I don’t actually understand and 2) teaching English to Japanese men who make way too much money to get away with coming all the way to the East Coast and speaking the crappy nonsense English that I am forced to endure daily. And no, they don’t really want to improve, so can it. I am also a part-time slave at a Japanese newspaper’s Washington Bureau, which lets me call myself an official member of the press (ask nice and I’ll show you my press pass).

That’s who I am, but what are my politics? I’d gauge myself a pragmatic anarchist. The cynical jerks in power have no business being there, but I can’t very well kick them out, can I? So I’ll continue to vote far-left and hope for the best. You won’t find much political commentary coming from me unless something is obviously out of whack. My primary moral influences are Noam Chomsky, John Stossel, Asahi Shimbun, Utada Hikaru, Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Onion AV Club, and Miura Ayako. I’m not religious but I do pray that I can keep my weight down. My hobbies include avoiding my coworkers, blogging, and hanging out with Mrs. Adamu.

That’s all for now and surely more than you ever wanted to know about me.


Hey China, don’t ask Japan for any more apologies!

Last friday I had to go into Manhattan to drop off my passport and visa application at the Taiwanese Consulate Taipei Economic and Cultural Center located near the corner of 42st Street and 5th Avenue, conveniently only about a block away from the New York City branch of the popular Japanese used book store Book Off to look around for a bit and spotted last year’s special March issue of the magazine Bungei Shunju (文藝春秋) containing the two stories that won the Akutagawa literary prize for new writers that year on sale for only $2, and having read the beginning of one of the stories (蛇にピアス / Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara) and I decided to pick it up to have something a little lighter to read for the five hour bus ride to DC than the books on Taiwanese history that I had brought with me. As it so happens, I was distracted by one of the more serious articles in the magazine, a piece by a Mr. Ma Li-cheng.

Ma Li-cheng was born in 1946 in the Sichuan province of China. He become a commentator for Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television in 2003, but in August 2004 quit that position and returned to Beijing. He has written several controversial pieces on Chinese/Japanese relations, one of which has been published in Japanese as Japan Doesn’t Need to Apologize to China Anymore (日本はもう中国に謝罪しなくていい). The following article is a summary of that book’s argument, translated into Japanese and with commentary by Japanese journalist Satoshi Tomisaka. Mister Tomisaka’s comments will be in italics, and I will not put add any of my own, although I may post some of my thoughts after finishing the translation of the entire piece. I am not posting Ma Li-cheng’s article because I agree with everything he says, but I think that he does represent a different position from what is currently avaliable online in the English language, and that readers will find something interesting to think and comment on.

This post will be a centralized table of contents for the article, and as I translate each section I will post it in a new blog entry and update the table of contents below with a hyperlink to the appropriate post.

Hey China, don’t ask Japan for any more apologies!

By Ma Li-cheng
Edited by Satoshi Tomisaka

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: China has also invaded Japan
Part 3: Set aside the history probem
Part 4: Japanese nationalism
Part 5: The ‘Chinese Threat Theory’
Part 6: To a ‘Normal country’


My first State Dept. Press Briefing

In my search for gainful employment I began an internship at the Nishi-Nippon Shimbun last month, and so far it has been pretty rewarding. I already have a press pass, making me a real live journalist (now I just need to learn how to write!) and yesterday I got to attend my first Daily Press Briefing at the State Department. I’ll be going to many of these and other similar functions in the future so let me know if you have any questions you want asked (especially on Japan issues).

My boss hailed us a cab, as he so often does, and we arrived at Foggy Bottom a little late, but they didn’t seem to mind. All I had to do was present my press pass, give my nationality, walk through the metal detector, and I was free to enter. A short hallway led to a huge wooden door emblazoned with the words “Carl T. Rowan Press Briefing Room”. It was a scene I had seen dozens of times on TV: a well-dressed Richard Boucher speaking calmly on every world issue you can think of, reporters asking angry questions, all in an immaculate, velvety-blue room designed to look good on television.

A few things surprised me about the visit: a majority of the reporters were 30-something “hardcore journalist” types who had obviously done their homework and then some and seemed to know Boucher personally. They asked questions like this one about the Newsweek story that got people killed in Afghanistan:

QUESTION: Richard, just to follow up on the timeline — and excuse me if I’m wrong — it’s not a week from Monday, I think it was two weeks from Monday that the actual Newsweek thing came out, right?

They called him Richard! How cool is that?

Another thing: Richard Boucher is sharp as a tack. Say what you want about the State Department, but you can’t claim that they hire idiots. Check out this exchange between Mr. B and an angry French (?) man who sat in front of me:

QUESTION: Mr. Richard Holbrooke, a close friend to Nicholas Burns, stated in Washington Post, “No way U.S. troops to leave Kosovo.” I’m quoting. He predicted that Kosovo will become independent, there is no way about that, there is no question about that, and Montenegro will separate from Serbia. Any comment on this multiple division of the Balkans in the early stage by the U.S. policy? What exactly you are trying to do in that area?

MR. BOUCHER: We’re not making predictions. We’re setting up a process where the outcomes can be decided in a way that stabilizes the region, that helps the region as a whole find its destiny in Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions.

QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, to be honest with you, and I hate to make comparisons, my only weapon is, as I’ve told you many times in this room, history. And allow me to ask how the two gentlemen, Nicholas Burns and Richard Holbrooke, and besides with them, the State Department itself, ignore totally the fact that Kosovo, the so-called sarcoma-kaposis, was created by Adolf Hitler, transferred Albanians from the mainland to fight the Serbs in order to control southeast of Europe seeking an exodus via the port of Thessaloniki to the Aegean Sea.

MR. BOUCHER: I don’t think either — first of all, Nicholas Burns and Richard Holbrooke are two different people so I wouldn’t lump them together in terms of their views. Second of all, I don’t think either one ignores history. I will speak for Under Secretary Burns, since he works for us, and the point here is to overcome that history, is to have a future that’s different from the past, and not to — not to repeat mistakes of the past but rather to move forward where this region can find peace and stability within our Euro-Atlantic framework that makes them part of the whole and not separate chunks to create problems.

QUESTION: But since the end of the Second World War, America was trying to reverse whatever Hitler did, with only exception of Kosovo. Why?

MR. BOUCHER: I don’t think I would characterize U.S. policy as that way.

Notice how Boucher is not only somehow able to formulate an answer to the man’s question (which was delivered in a thick accent from the back of the room) but also manages to totally refute his claim and dress him down.

The coolest thing of all was that at the end of the conference everyone got up and huddled around Boucher for an “off the record briefing”. Obviously, I won’t tell you what was said, but it’s generally known that it’s an opportunity for reporters to ask more candid questions in exchange for agreeing to quote the spokesman as “a senior State Department official”.

I almost feel like a real journalist. Now all I need to do is find someone who will pay me!


More on Saito-san: The Japanese in Iraq

Still no word on whether he’s dead or alive. The French government has acknowledged his service to their country and that he left the Foreign Legion with the proper paperwork. Saito’s brother, as I have learned recently, has said that the government should not let the kidnapping affect their policy, a statement that both the government and the media certainly wanted to hear. Other family members of victims have used their national spotlight to criticize government policy, resulting in negative portrayals in the media (especially for the unfortunate Koda-san).

Also, the Iraqi government is apparently arranging for some kind of mediation to take place between local leaders and the armed group (Ansar Sunna (sp?)) responsible for the kidnapping.

Masaco always has a great perspective on things, so I’ll let her do the talking this time:

According to her comment on my last post on Saito, there is a media blackout of personal information about Saito. We’ll have to wait for either the information on his condition to come forward or for the less scrupulous tabloids to give us more dirt on him.

The Japanese, who are used to thinking only of peace, are confused as to why Saito would try and join a foreign army.
From her blog:

A left-wing activist, a soul-searcher, Japan’s top mercenary, and a freelance photojournalist.

Being captured by terrorists seems to be restricted to those who “expect/should expect it”, so that makes me feel safer. This time the victim is a soldier of a foreign army, so the Japanese government’s response is made a little more difficult: is he one of ours or one of theirs?

I was once shocked to read a book where (I forget the title, but it was a Bessatsu Takarajima book) an interviewee explains, “I was sick of the lukewarm atmosphere of Japan so I decided to join the French Foreign Legion.” The man interviewed had several moments where he thought “Now I’m going to die!” but did not feel like returning to Japan instead remaining to fight another day. I don’t remember how he got to thinking like that (I’m sure that the man himself said something like, “I don’t know why but at some point I noticed that’s how it was.”), but it makes me think that the idea that “The entire human race definitely wishes for a life free from warfare,” has something of a religious quality.

Whatever the circumstances, I pray that he will be able to fight another day.


Japanese Hostage Seems Like a Cool Guy

The face of a veteran

At the time of writing, the status of Security Guard Akihito Saito, kidnapped and reported injured in Iraq, was unknown.

As we all wait and pray for his safety, Japanese media outlets are busy digging up information on this enigma of a man. The 44-year-old former SDF member had a 21-year career in the French Foreign Legion, seeing action in Africa and Bosnia. A quiet man, it is unknown why he left the Legion to work in Iraq as a security consultant. The French Foreign Legion has a rule of not asking its members about their past and does not follow up on them after they leave. But it is known that he was fluent in French and acted as an interpreter for new Japanese recruits to the Legion (of which there are apparently quite a few!).

A lieutenant who served with Saito said, “He had a lot of friends at the Legion, so even if he has parted ways with us we pray for his safe release.”

UPDATE: I just had to add something. Japan, as a pacifist country, has few “veterans” save for the aging survivors of the Imperial Army. The positive representation this guy is receiving reminds me of glorification of soldiers that goes on in America. Could he be the first modern Japanese war hero?