Monthly Archives: January 2006

The “what the hell” theory of Japanese law

Unless you follow the business media in Japan, you probably haven’t heard about the upcoming overhaul in Japanese corporate law. It’s pretty intense, and it illustrates my personal favorite theory of Japanese legal policy: the What The Hell Theory. Basically, the theory states that:

  1. Japan sees a legal instutition overseas and decides to adopt it.
  2. Japan picks a random portion of the institution and says “What the hell! Let’s change it!”
  3. This change leaves Japanese society with an evil mutant form of a foreign institution that doesn’t really work properly.
Case in point: this new institution called the godo kaisha (GDK). Up until now, there have been two basic kinds of corporations in Japan: the kabushiki kaisha (KK) and yugen kaisha (YK). The YK structure is for small companies, and the KK structure is for large companies (or, more often, small companies that want to seem large). As of April, the YK will cease to exist and its place in the system will be filled by the GDK. Continue reading

Takebe’s Grandchildren Think Horie is His Brother… OOPS!

At a speech in Saitama City, the embattled LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe, who is being blamed for his outpouring of support for ex-Livedoor president Takafumi Horie during the September 2005 Lower House election, let people know that he had to tell his grandchildren that he is in fact NOT Horie’s brother, despite saying so at a speech at the time.

Aso Backs off of Tactless Emperor-Visit-Yasukuni Speech PLUS

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Aso Qualifies Remark Calling For Emperor To Visit Yasukuni

TOKYO (Kyodo)—Foreign Minister Taro Aso clarified Tuesday that his call over the weekend for the emperor to visit the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo was not meant for the emperor to go there ‘’in the current situation.’’

‘’I made the remark from the standpoint of the spirits of the war dead enshrined (at Yasukuni) because they died for the emperor. I never said that (I wanted) the emperor to make the shrine visit in the current situation,’’ Aso told a news conference.

Aso said Saturday in a speech in Nagoya that ‘’From the viewpoint of the spirits of the war dead, they hailed ‘Banzai’ for the emperor—none of them said long live the prime minister. A visit by the emperor would be the best.’‘

Nothing witty to say about this guy, but I have discovered a wonderful site dedicated to the man. This site is as fascinating as it is jam-packed with information. Some quick highlights:

  • - He reads 30 comic books per week. 30! (Was once caught reading Rosen Maiden in the VIP room at Haneda Airport, and had comics shipped to him when he was in America)
  • - In addition to comics, he reads a ton of normal books and is an intelligent man with lots of stories to tell (Yet another counterexample to the facile notion that problematic politicians are simply fools)
  • - Visits Yasukuni Shrine every year despite being a Christian (Christians are, of course, forbidden to worship other gods as one of their most basic tenets)
  • - Is apparently aware of the existence of 2-channel as a “problem forum site on the Internet”
  • - Was voted best dresser in the political world in 1977
  • - Speaks English, having studied at Stanford and London University after graduating from Gakushuin, which before the abolition of the peerage in 1947 was an exclusive finishing school for the Japanese nobility
  • - Lived in Sierra Leone for 2 years developing diamond mines but left after a civil war erupted
  • - Once said, “I think the best country is one in which rich Jews feel like living.”

  • Continue reading

    Why I’m changing my name, part 1

    I’m taking an overnight trip out of town in a couple of weeks, and I decided to book a room in a “business hotel” online. Some of these places are surprisingly cheap: you can stay in the middle of a big city for as little as $40 a night or even less.

    Then, I got this email:

    Thank you for your reservation at Hotel. We are contacting you because of a matter of importance for our customers from overseas.

    At Hotel, our rooms are secured at night with an automatic lock system and PIN pads. While the PIN pad system is very convenient, it is also complicated, and among our customers who are not particularly proficient in Japanese or have difficulty understanding Japanese, many have been unable to use the system, or have been locked out of their rooms at night.

    Because of this, we ask all customers who do not speak Japanese to provide a translator at check-in when possible. After one stay the system is fairly easy to use, but as we cannot verify that you, Mr. Joe [sic], have stayed with us before, we are sending this message to you. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

    Yet another reason I need to naturalize and change my name to Joichi Koizumi.

    Update: I was thinking about this over a slow afternoon in the office, and I started wondering: “What would Debito do?” (Somehow he works his way into all of my blog posts.) So I wrote back to the hotel:

    Thank you for your e-mail. I live in Japan and work as a translator, so I don’t think there will be any problem. One thing I do wonder about, though, is whether you have had instructions written in English? Many hotels and weekly mansions in Tokyo have similar systems, and they provide instructions in English so that foreign customers do not have to worry about misunderstanding. Maybe something similar would save you from having to send out these warnings (and also be more convenient for your guests who don’t speak Japanese).

    The hotel manager wrote me back within ten minutes.

    Thank you for your reply. We do indeed have an English version of the instruction sheet you suggested in your e-mail, so please don’t worry about that. Our customers are not generally from the English-speaking world, thus the e-mail you received. Thank you again for your comment, and we hope you have a safe trip.

    Sooo, that’s that. I guess the interpreter is only necessary if you can’t read.

    Birthday cigarette [photos]


    Larger size here.


    Larger size here.

    Taken December 28, 2005 at a friend’s birthday party. The red glow comes from the focus assist light of someone’s miniature digital camera. I was looking through my camera while they took a photo, and when I saw the appearance of the scene bathed in orange light I had them keep it trained on the subject while I took my own photos.

    Both taken with Canon 300D and 17-85mm EF-S lense.

    Kujira versus Echizen

    No, it’s not the title of the newest Godzilla spinoff, but the stars of the two recent seafood related news stories that have been making waves in Japan.

    I’ll start with kujira, which is the Japanese word for whale. Japan has not just continued it’s program of so-called “scientific whaling,” in which they violate the international treaty prohibiting commercial whaling while pretending they haven’t, but is actually increased their catch. This is despite the fact that almost nobody actually likes whale meat.


    According to the report, the inventory was about 1,000 to 2,500 tons around 1995. It hit a low point of 673 tons in March 1998 but began to increase to reach 4,800 tons last August.
    [...]
    The Fisheries Agency admits the whale meat inventory is rising and has begun studying ways to expand sales in Japan.

    “It is true that such a trend exists. We will study ways to expand sales channels as well as to reform sales methods,” an agency official said.

    Such moves by the government to stimulate the whale meat market will probably draw more criticism from antiwhaling groups that fear more consumption in Japan.

    Since 2000, the research whaling has been expanding in terms of volume and number of species. On the other hand, consumption has not increased as areas of high demand for whale meat are limited in Japan.

    “Unless the consumption of whale meat increases dramatically, the stockpile of whale meat will surge,” Sakuma said.


    I’m not interested in getting into the debate over whether or not commercial whaling should be allowed, but irrelevant to that argument I can say that this current policy is just absurd. While Japan has been making some progress in their battle to change the treaty banning commercial whaling, they have, in fact, signed a treaty banning commercial whaling. They are, in fact, violating that treaty while pretending not to. The fact that Japan is carrying out their whaling operations illegally only makes it easier for opponents of whaling to continue to attack them by adding the illegality of it to the moral/environmental argument, in contrast to Noraway, who carries out fully legal commercial whaling by virtue of having never signed the anti-whaling treaty.

    Echizen (actually echizen kurage) are a species of massive (200kg) but benign (as in, they aren’t the stinging kind) jellyfish that have recently been multiplying like crazy in Chinese and Korean waters, and drifting towards Japan in plague-like proportions. There are so many of these gigantic blobs floating around the Sea of Japan that it has actually become impossible for fisherman to put out their nets without catching some, sometimes to the point where catching actual fish becomes almost impossible.

    South Korean fishermen have been suffering similar woes, but China, where giant jellyfish are a delicacy often served dried and dressed with sesame oil, does not seem to have registered the outbreak as a major problem, Japanese officials said.

    Seaside communities in Japan have tried to capitalize on the menace by developing novel jellyfish dishes from tofu to ice cream, but for some reason the recipes have failed to take off.

    Participants at Thursday’s conference said they had experimented with feeding the jellyfish to farmed crabs and using them as fertilizer.


    What we have here are, basically, are two different sources of sea-borne protein, and neither one is even remotely popular or has much of a market. One form of protein is for some reason being pursued with vigor despite the fact that doing so leads to both international controversy and such a massive excess of the stuff that it ends up just rotting (or at least staying frozen) in warehouses.

    The second form of protein is also in no particular demand as a food source, but it is so abundant that it is literally washing up on the shores of Japan and clogging the nets of fishermen.

    Japan’s commercial whaling is a diplomatic and economic failure, and all the resources being spent by the government in supporting it are a complete and utter waste, serving no purpose except to satisfy a nostalgic fantasy of older people who remember eating whale meat in the school lunches in the years after the Second World War when far more desirable meats like pork or beef were difficult to come by.

    The sea is so thick with echizen jellyfish that catching some is unavoidable, and therefore figuring out how to exploit them as a resource is an economic necessity in areas where the fishing industry is disrupted. From a purely market based standpoint, an increase in the catch of unwanted whales is absurd, and the slow pace of developing echizen into a positive resource is wasteful in another way.


    As stocks of wild fish are becoming depleted in some areas, the farming of fish is becoming steadily more popular. But to support fish grown in farms, they still have to send out trawlers to catch huge hauls of smaller fish species to use as feed, so even though they aren’t catching as many, let’s say salmon or tuna, they may still be depleting the species that those fish survive on in the wild. Perhaps the echizen, which naturally are more abundant than ever, could be become a primary source of protein for farmed seafood, and by extension, the humans who eat them.

    Japan doesn’t like black people? No, all foreigners are screwed

    And here’s the proof: Black man loses lawsuit against exclusionary store; not deemed a discriminatory statement. But take a look at why the claim was kicked out of court:

    The man who brought the suit is 41-year-old Steve MacGowan. On September 4, 2004, MacGowan and another black friend were looking at eyeglasses in the window of an optician in Osaka. The store owner came to the front, said “Get out! We don’t like black people here!” and kept the two out of the store. The suit was filed in October of that year.

    The decision, following MacGowan’s allegations of violations of constitutional equal protection provisions, focused upon the existence of a discriminatory statement. The judgment: “The plaintiff’s ability in Japanese creates a substantial problem. We cannot overlook the chance that the statement made on that day was almost completely miscomprehended.”

    So the bottom line is, unless your Japanese is absolutely perfect, you’d better have some native witnesses around if you want to win in court. Or better yet, carry a tape recorder.

    (Thanks to Debito for the tip.)

    More on the Aso Speech

    There was a very interesting part of Aso’s speech calling for the emperor to visit Yasukuni that didn’t make it into English reporting so far:


    “Japan is treated like a nouveau-riche child because it has no military power but does have economic power. All the G8 countries are White, and Japan is the only Yellow Race country there. So we teamed up with the best fighter, America. This should be obvious!” (Source: NTV News 24, paraphrased from memory)

    The statement repeats a theme emphasized in Aso’s most recent essay on his official website:

    If you analyze the current situation, unrelated to the anti-American feelings of left-leaning Japanese and the mass media, isn’t it Japan who has no choice but to take a basic national policy attitude of relying on America? Even children know the everyday wisdom that if there’s a dangerous person in the seat next to you, protection, if you can’t provide it yourself, become friends with the best fighter. This is a little too simplistic, but please consider this one “differing opinion.” 

    Unfortunately, the video has already been taken down. If anyone can find me the full text of his speech I would really appreciate it!