Monthly Archives: October 2006

Aso in the mist

So tonight I was at a huge party at the Imperial Hotel welcoming one of the international bigwigs of PricewaterhouseCoopers to town. It was a major affair. They booked an enormous banquet room, and provided foreign guests with earphones so they could listen to simultaneous translations of Japanese speeches from the major partners in the tax and advisory wings of PwC. Then the bigwig came up to speak, and he had a Japanese interpreter copying each sentence of his English speech. A slightly more stilted performance.

Finally came the guest of honor: the Foreign Minister himself. He wandered out onto the podium, looking slightly drunk, and proceeded with his speech… in English. Now, Aso doesn’t exactly speak perfect English to begin with, and being red-faced didn’t help too much either. He stumbled around a talk about international business for a couple of minutes, then turned to the interpreter (who was still hanging around from the last speech) and shouted “All right, now translate it!”

One of my companions looked down at his simultrans earpiece and said “I wonder if he’ll get the message if I put this on?”

Right wing blog, 2-channel harassing Mainichi reporter of Korean ancestry for left-wing stances, speaking rudely about emperor

Popular right wing nutjob blog murmur mumur, along with his buddies at 2ch, are furious over the behavior of a reporter for the Mainichi Shimbun, a third-generation zainichi (Japanese of Korean ancestry) named Park Chong Ju, at recent press conferences given by the Saga prefectural governor (UPDATE: For the record, murmur’s blog hasn’t commented on the emperor press conference specifically, but he probably will since Park is the subject of a “series” on the blog). In particular, people are angry over a 9/28 press conference given by the Saga prefectural governor announcing that the emperor would be attending a ocean-themed festival (that apparently already took place on 10/29) in the prefecture. Park was rude when questioning the necessity of spending millions of dollars to bring the emperor to the prefecture when govt finances are in trouble. He not only failed to use the proper honorifics when speaking of the emperor and his wife (calling the imperial couple “those two” rather than the formal 天皇皇后両陛下 “their majesties, the emperor and empress”), he questioned “the meaning” of an imperial visit, suggested that the money spent on the imperial visit could be used to help “the less fortunate,” and asked whether people would be forced to wave the Japanese flag, an act controversial among Japan’s left wing. Others were annoyed by his “interrogation” style of questioning, which is actually pretty common from what I’ve observed of reporters. It’s not pretty, but it’s also not something that’s usually publicized since press conferences like this have only recently been posted in full online and by their nature are not that popular to watch.

You can watch the video on Youtube or take a look at the transcript. In Japanese only.

To express his dissatisfaction with Park, Murmur mumurhas decided to use his favorite tactic and put up Park’s personal information, including mobile phone number, business card, and photographs, in an attempt to encourage readers to harass the man and contact his employers to complain about his performance. Consider it the online equivalent of black sound trucks outside a Communist Party picnic.

Basically, Zainichi can do no good in the eyes of the Japanese right wing. Almost anything Koreans do sets them up for ridicule and scorn, or denouncements as spies in their midst. The mere knowledge that a well-known person has Korean blood makes them a member of the Korean conspiracy. Apparently this reporter has an activist streak who thinks of himself as a representative of the people (a more recent incident had the Saga governor informing Park “This isn’t a place for reporters to state their opinions!”). He’s written articles critical of revisionist textbooks and in favor of allowing more government participation for the zainichi population, in addition to his critical stance on using tax revenues on the emperor’s visit.

As another commenter on 2ch pointed out, these stances make Park an easy straw man for those with a more conservative outlook (the majority of 2ch for starters). There have been several threads posted criticizing his manners, politics, and the definition of his own role as a reporter.

I want to say stuff like this makes me feel good about the state of American political discourse, but of course we’re no better, what with our own countless examples of petty harassment.

PSE Law update: Call for comments

You may remember the April 2006 flap about a law in Japan that bans the sales of a whole slew of used electronics, such as the original Playstation and used musical instruments, unless they could be tested to earn a seal proving their electrical safety. In response to massive protest from musicians and secondhand retailers, the relevant ministry, Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), came up with a stopgap solution – allow and assist dealers in performing the tests themselves – that would supposedly. help ease the burden on the “recycle” industry. I, lacking the intuition to know a half-baked compromise idea when I see one, declared METI’s bone-throw along with other loopholes in the law to have “thoroughly declawed” the painful aspects of the PSE Law.

However, a recent survey conducted by the “Japan Reuse Association” indicates the following:

  • 47% of secondhand electronics retailers have stopped selling affected recycled goods that don’t already have the PSE mark;

  • 33% are inspecting and affixing the PSE stickers themselves;

  • 6% are making use of a “rental” scheme in which buyers of affected goods sign a rental contract for the goods but never actually have to return it and pay a rental fee equal to what would have been the purchase price; and finally,

  • 6% are ignoring the law and selling affected goods as they always have.
  • So regardless of METI’s attempt to ease the transition, if this survey is correct the new regulations are significantly harming the industry, and by extension, consumers. In that sense, the “assistance measures” taken up by METI seem to have had only limited effect.

    So to get the real scoop, here’s what I want to know from you: is this what it looks like on the ground? Can one easily buy old Playstations/Dreamcasts/Saturns etc at the “recycle” shops in Japan?

    Now keep in mind this survey came from an industry group chaired by a Mr. Koichiro Ogawa, a secondhand “wholesaler” and former chair of the “Association to Consider the PSE Issue” who was quoted in many articles during the PSE scare. The group was founded specifically to try and get the law amended so that it makes sense.

    Dilapidated houses in Penang, part 1 [Photos]

    During my trip to Penang, I was struck by the numerous old, gorgeous Chinese houses that had been left to rot. I took way too many photos of them as I walked around, so here are some of the highlights. I was a little disappointed that the houses don’t look nearly as spooky on camera as they do in real life:

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    How not to win an appeal

    A 30-year-old man appealing a ruling of death for killing and robbing four people in separate cases in Nagano and Aichi prefectures in 2004 said Wednesday he had killed another woman in Fukushima in 2003.

    In a hearing at the Tokyo High Court, Shojiro Nishimoto said, “I killed a woman probably in the city of Fukushima in around April or May of 2003,” adding that he abandoned her body “in the mountains.”

    “I hit her while inattentively driving a car…(and)...strangled her with a rope as she made a struggle,” he said.

    Totally defensible!

    (full story)

    Google Japan update

    Joe has posted a couple of times on the annoyances of trying to use Google services on Japanese cell phones. The biggest problem has been the fact that mobile Gmail, while working fine for English, has actually not been able to display Japanese text on a Japanese mobile phone. Until now. I am happy to report that, perhaps starting as recently as this week, I now have no trouble reading Gmail messages in Japanese on my phone.

    Panamanian Frogopalypse

    A deadly fungus is sweeping across Cenral America, extinguishing species after species of amphibian. Over 120 species are known to have succumbed so far, and biologists fear that if nothing is done, all remaining species in the region could be annihilated as well. At the moment, a treasured species of golden frog is clinging to existence inside the walls of a “crumbling backpackers’ hangout.” Conservationists, with the support of desperate frog-loving locals, are taking drastic measures to keep their land full of these fragile, colorful, and sometimes mildly translucent creatures.

    With the public quelled, the frog rescue project turned to its next phase: building a state-of-the-art center at a private zoo in El Valle to house the delicate frogs. The nearly completed center will be the ecological equivalent of a nuclear fallout shelter, a refuge from a toxic environment and an uncertain future.

    While I imagine most readers will be reminded of Noah’s ark, my first thought when I read this was of the science fiction novel I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, in which a lone surviving human stays holed up in a fortified building in the middle of a city, fighting off daily attacks by crazed plague-spawn vampires. Hmmm, a community of Brian Jacques style anthropomorphic frogs in a Panamanian rainforest-esque setting, mutated into ravenous beasts by a strange fungus, only one frog left untouched. Or better yet, The Wind in the Willows is in the public domain. It could be a sequel- Toad of Toad Hall, no longer content with puttering around the home countryside in his “magnificent motor-car” decides to go on a grand Central American expedition, but little does he know that in the jungle there lurks an unexpected danger…