Watch your language

First, the story as reported by The Japan Times:

Police arrested four members of a rightwing group Thursday on suspicion of defaming the chief priest of Meiji Shrine last autumn by claiming in loudspeaker truck protests that he had embezzled money.

Toshio Takahashi, 60, head of Kokubo Doshisha (Group to Defend the Country), and group members Kei Sasaki, 69, Shin Sasaki, 34, and Osamu Nakagawa, 33, were arrested on suspicion of slandering the shrine’s chief priest, Katsushi Toyama, 73, police said.

Investigators believe the acts were connected to Meiji Shrine’s erroneous failure to use on invitation cards the appropriate honorific language to describe a visit by Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko last April.

The shrine, dedicated to Emperor Meiji (1852-1912), used the phrase “ryo denka” (“their highnesses”) instead of “ryo heika” (“their majesties”).

The shrine’s mistake drew criticism from various nationalist groups. A senior member of another group was arrested in February for allegedly breaking windows at Toyama’s home in Setagaya Ward.

According to police, Takahashi and the other three paraded in loudspeaker trucks in the shrine’s vicinity last September and October.

Their speeches featured slanderous claims, including that the chief priest had pocketed income from Meiji Jingu Stadium, investigators said. Between last September and February, the group paraded near the shrine in loudspeaker trucks some 150 times, according to police.

What exactly were the right wingers so upset about? What do these titles even mean?

Meiji Jingu accidentally referred to the Emperor and Empress as ryou-denka. (両殿下) Denka (the prefix simply means ‘both’) in modern usage is a proper way to refer to the princes and princesses of the Imperial family. In earlier times it was also, beginning with the time of the Emperor Daigo (reign 897-930), used to refer to the Fujiwara clan regents who held much of the political power, and eventually by the Shoguns who ran the government during the Muromachi and Edo periods.

The term that the shrine should have used is Ryou-heika (両陛下). Heika is the correct term of address for the Emperor, Empress, the previous Emperor’s wife, or the Imperial Dowager.

According to various Japanese language articles, there was also a second reason for the right-wing protests.

In august of last year, after some sort of quarrel (I haven’t read about the details), the Meiji Shrine withdrew from the Jinja-honchou (神社本庁) in August of last year. It was actually at that time that the right wing groups began their campaign of harassment, which they were ordered to stop by the courts in October. The Jinja-honchou is the nation-wide Shinto organization that was established following the post-war dissolution of state-Shinto. Approximately half of all Shinto shrines in Japan currently belong to the association.

For reference, here is what one of the trucks from one of Japan’s other fascist organizations looks like. Notice the large Japanese flag on the right side, and on the left the chrysanthemum seal of the Imperial Family with the character, 自( short for 自由, meaning ‘freedom’) in the middle. The slogan on top reads ‘Establish an independent constitution,’ which of course means one that does not limit Japan’s military activities, and I would hazard, also isn’t so hung up over protecting the civil rights of Japan’s foreign population.

Oy vey

In response to John’s asking if I was from New York.

Wed Sep 28, 6:44 PM ET

In this Sept. 12, 2005, photo released by the Brooklyn borough president’s office, a sign on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge proclaims ‘Leaving Brooklyn: Oy Vey!’ The sign, bearing the Jewish expression of dismay or hurt, is intended as a way of acknowledging Brooklyn’s large Jewish population. Borough President Marty Markowitz says motorists seeing it know it means ‘Dear me, I’m so sad you’re leaving.’ (AP Photo/Brooklyn Borough President’s Office, Kathryn Kirk)

Beneath Japan’s Cuteness

Yesterday Roy posted on Census-kun, the Giant Baby whose cuteness will compel all ethnic Japanese (and from the look of things, quite possibly Daniel Carl) to participate in counting Japan’s declining population, which is expected to peak at 127.74 million in 2006.

Not to be outdone, today I’d like to introduce readers to a valuable online resource that is not without its own brand of cuteness…The Ministry of Finance!

That’s right, The Ministry of Finance.

Seeing Census-kun reminded me of a user-friendly tax brochure the Ministry of Finance put out several years ago. The brochure, called “Let’s Talk About Taxes,” featured a cute claymation-like family of six who explores the wonderful world of government income and expenditure.

Who us? Cute?

Who, us? Cute?

Don’t let the cuteness fool you however. The contents of the brochure are excellent and provide a great introduction and overview to Japan’s current fiscal situation that most people might otherwise shy away from if it weren’t for the cartoon characters. Think of them as sugar coating on a bitter pill, or the lime wedge following a tequila shot.

But worry not dear reader, for the cuteness doesn’t end there. In visiting the MOF site I noticed a curiously cute button just above the one that takes you to the aforementioned tax guide. I clicked on it and the next thing I know I’m in Finance Town!

Go! Go! Finance Town!

In Finance town, visitors join the Finance kids, Noboru, Wataru, and Hikaru along with their two mouse-buddies and a lazy-ass cat called Doranyago, who wears a cape and superhero get up and apparently never pays his taxes. You can go fishing, perform high-flying acrobatics on the trapeze, or play dodge ball. Play the games, learn about the importance of paying taxes, and then go take the Finance Quiz. Perform well and make Doranyago pay his taxes!

Here again, don’t let the cuteness fool you. I actually learned a few things from the quiz. I don’t want to reveal too much for those of you who haven’t taken it yet, but I had no idea that there was 入湯税 in Japan, or that the symbol for a tax office on a map is patterned after the bead on an abacus!

Before the Zaibatsu

Time Asia has a great article on Osaka’s Kongo Gumi (金剛組) construction firm, which they describe as the world’s oldest family firm, but I suspect may actually be the world’s oldest continuously operated business of any kind. Sure, if you go back that far it’s probably the case that all businesses are family firms, but since today one term is a subset of the other, the latter is a bit more impressive to the ear.

Built to last

Of the 202 Buddhist sanctuaries in Osaka’s Tennoji neighborhood, there is one that stands out: Shitennoji, the first Japanese temple commissioned by a royal and one of the oldest Buddhist complexes in Japan. Construction began in A.D. 593, just decades after the religion reached the country’s shores. One of the carpenters for Shitennoji, Shigemitsu Kongo, traveled to Japan from the Korean kingdom of Paekche for the project. Over a millennium-and-a-half, Shitennoji has been toppled by typhoons and burned to the ground by lightning and civil war—and Shigemitsu’s descendants have supervised its seven reconstructions. Today, working out of offices that overlook the temple, Kongo Gumi Co. is run by 54-year-old president Masakazu Kongo, the 40th Kongo to lead the company in Japan. His business, started more than 1,410 years ago, is believed to be the oldest family-run enterprise in the world.

Kongo Gumi’s official corporate website is located here (in Japanese of course)

If you look at their ‘corporate summary’ page, you’ll see that their date of founding is listed as Asuka period, 6th year of the reign of the Bidatsu emperor, 30th emperor of Japan. To put that in perspective a little, this would be about the time that the Arthurian legends are generally believed to have been set, so for a more familiar equivalent, think about what it would be like if the construction company that had built Camelot were still in business-AND they’d kept up the maintenance on Camelot the whole time, so you could pay your five bucks admission to walk past the velvet rope in front of the Round Table, and get your photo taken in front of The Stone.

And yes, although now officially organized as a modern corporation, the CEO is still a Mr. Masakazu Kongo.

創業 飛鳥時代第30代敏達天皇6年(西暦578年)
社名 株式会社 金 剛 組
代表取締役 金 剛 正 和