Banned Imports to North Korea

It has been widely reported that the sale of “luxury goods” (奢侈品) to North Korea has been panned by the Japanese government, but I have seen only example of what “luxury goods” consists of in the English media. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has a complete list avaliable on their web site(PDF), dated November 14. See below for my rough translation of this list.

As you read this list, consider which of them is so essential and valuable that you would not be willing to trade it for a nuclear bomb.

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Abe, a “cool” sunglass-donning, leather jacket-sporting man of the people

Abe meets U2’s Bono. Bono somehow loses all powers of judgment and perception and deems Japan’s prime minister to be “cool”:
Abe Bono nn20061130a3a.jpg

Abe finally moves into his official residence, but not before picking up a few things at the Tokyu Hands department store in Shibuya accompanied by his wife Akie and apparently the entirety of Japan’s news media:
Abe Tokyu Hands Nov 20061.JPG

Nice jacket! He bought pens, a stapler, some bath salts, cellophane tape, a blazer, some slacks, ties, and some books at Book First: a historical novel by Jiro Asada, and “for some reason” as Sponichi put it, five dictionaries, including an English-Japanese dictionary.

The Abes’ pet dog, a miniature dachsund named Roy, will stay behind with Shnzo’s mother at their residence.

Another JASRAC arrest

JASRAC, the copyright enforcement association for Japan’s music industry, has described criminal charges and arrests for copyright violators as rare. Yet less than 3 weeks after reports came out of a JASRAC-inspired arrest of a restaurant owner for singing the Beatles comes another arrest. This time, a man has been thrown in jail for distributing mobile phone ring tones on his website without permission.

CNET reports that similar to the recent arrest, JASRAC had repeatedly warned the 45-year-old suspect from Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, since June 2002 to stop allowing people to download copyrighted songs from his website. In February 2003, the organization got the man’s ISP to delete the ring tones under the “ISP Liability Restriction Law” (author’s translation). However, the man continued to operate his website by linking to the files from a different source. The ISP shut down his site again in 2004, but JASRAC noticed the site was back up in April 2006. The association called the police after the man ignored a warning letter, and on November 27, the man was put in jail, charged with violations of reproduction rights and rights of public transmission as defined in Article 119 Section 1 of the Copyright Law.

In other JASRAC related news, the association recently co-released a report with the Association of Copyright for Computer Software (ACCS) estimating that monetary damage from copyright infringement of software, music, films, manga, etc, using the Winny peer-to-peer file sharing software (whose creator was arrested in 2003) amounts to about 10 billion yen (about USD$86 million), based on an estimate of the retail value of each file currently available for download using the software as of October 10. This is a pretty sloppy estimate, and it only goes to show how comparatively well-policed piracy is in Japan, especially when you compare that to the RIAA’s estimate that piracy loses the US music industry $4.2 billion annually in worldwide sales.

Self defense ministry

A revision of the Self Defense Agency Establishment Law that will upgrade the agency to ministry status is set to pass the lower house in 2 days and become law in this Diet session. The new entity will be known as “Self Defense Ministry.”

I just hope this isn’t what they have in mind:

self defense ministry patch1.gif

The Christian Martial Arts Association is an association of certified Christian martial artists world wide, who have united and become a part of our Lords great commission [ Mat.28: 19-20 ]. To teach certified top quality martial arts of all styles in a christian atmosphere. Allowing each instructor to open or operate a certified top quality martial arts school by the United States only Certified, Registerd Christian Martial Arts Association that will not go against the convictions of their relationship with Christ. Neither to be controlled or bound by a political or governing secular body, but who desires to stay true to the values of the Christian Martial Arts Association. To break down the walls between denominations and styles of born again believers in Christ. If we are truly believers in Christ then there should be no discord between us, but we should be in one accord as Paul wrote in Phil. 2: 2; Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Say it with me: “Dentsu”

A full report by an independent committee has been released detailing the scandal has embroiled the Abe administration surrounding faked “town meetings.” Since their beginning under the Koizumi administration, the meetings, which were intended to serve as a forum to include citizens’ opinions in the policymaking process for such initiatives as postal privatization and education reform, most of the meetings have been exposed as frauds, with government officials planting questions and paying participants to provide opinions supporting the government’s position. Moreover, massive cost-padding has been discovered in the administration of the meetings, which cost an average 11 million yen to hold and occasionally featured a staff member being paid to operate the elevator.

Conspicuously missing from English-language reporting on this scandal, including at least one report from a Western outlet, is the fact that the contract for administration of the first meetings was awarded to massive Japanese ad agency Dentsu with no competitive bidding. I’m just a little surprised that the angle hasn’t been more fully explored, since no-bid contracts always ripe for criticism and the Western media have had a great time slicing and dicing the Halliburton corporation for its ineptitude in Iraq.

Dentsu involvement is no secret, but so far even the Japanese-language newspapers haven’t done much to pick up that part of the story. The Asahi’s wording is especially strange:

Another revelation in the investigative committee report is that the government likely overspent on some meetings. The report said the cost of holding a town meeting in the first half of fiscal 2001 was 21.85 million yen, not including advertising, whereas in fiscal 2002 and later years the average cost per meeting was between 7.19 million yen and 12.85 million yen.

The reason is likely that in the first half of fiscal 2001, government officials selected companies to operate the town meetings. In subsequent years, the companies were chosen by competitive bidding.

Hokkaido Shimbun, reporting on the investigation results, noted that Dentsu ran the first 16 meetings since the program began in 2001, costing the Japanese government 395 million yen, or about 24 million per meeting. After the meetings were opened to competitive bidding, other companies including Dentsu managed the meetings, and the costs came down to more than half that.

An excerpt from the 2005 book Dentsu’s True Colors: The Media Industry’s Greatest Taboo, indicates that Dentsu was an advisor to the Koizumi administration from the very beginning. Along with other ideas that came to define the Koizumi administration such as US-style “one-phrase” (sound byte) politics, the town meetings were Dentsu’s idea to begin with, and the government left management of them up to the company’s discretion, leading to criticism from then-Nagano governor Yasuo Tanaka:

That was how Dentsu became involved in policymaking not just on the national level but on the local level as well, and tied it into their business.
It looks as though “town meetings” were just such an instance of Dentsu involvement. The office in charge was placed in the Cabinet Secretariat, but Dentsu was contracted to manage the town meetings with a private (no-bid) contract. One reporter commented that he was surprised one time when he went to cover a town meeting in Okinawa:
“When I went inside the hall, staff wearing Dentsu badges were all over the place. And regarding the content of the meeting, I couldn’t understand the meaning of spending money on such a thing, and the statements of the people in attendance were more like petitions than a conversation.”
The fact is, the average cost to hold these meetings was a staggering 60 times greater than what it cost to hold Nagano Governor Yasuo Tanaka’s powwow meetings, which were started earlier on.

It’s been explained by Japan policy academic Robert Angel that the town meeting scandal resulted from a lack of careful attention to the administration of the meetings, and deference to local leadership, “once the novelty wore off,” led to the planting of questions. But the planting of questions has so far been documented to have begun as early as October 2001, while Dentsu was in charge. According to Asahi, “In fiscal 2001, 185 people asked planted questions at 50 town meetings, although there is no information available to determine if the government paid them to do so.” And as e-mail records (PDF courtesy of DPJ lower house member Daisuke Matsumoto) of preparations for the meeting in Hachinohe, Aomori prefecture show, the planting of questions and guidance came from the town meeting office in the cabinet, not local leadership.

Dentsu has a reputation for being a shadowy manipulator of public opinion, and has been accused of a host of dubious accomplishments from swaying sheep-like voters with flashy pro-postal privatization campaign tactics in the September 11, 2005 general election resulting in a huge LDP victory, to staging the entire “Train Man” phenomenon on popular message board site 2-channel to reap massive profits from pre-planned soap opera and movie adaptations. However, according to an anonymous retired Dentsu official quoted in True Colors, Dentsu relishes this reputation and cultivates it: “Dentsu’s public image, as if they have been involved in national conspiracies, has had the effect of making the company look more powerful than it actually is. Dentsu is aware of this and purposefully neither confirms nor denies this role.”

As much as I’d like to see Dentsu dragged through the mud for their role in this scandal, the fact remains that the government led this initiative to deceive the public and drown out actual public opinion. Given the history of the Japanese government, this comes as little surprise, but these days scandals spread like wildfire over the Internet, people are aware and quick to anger at such flagrant ethical violations, hopefully forcing the political leadership, who increasingly relies on public support to stay in office, will start paying attention to what the public really thinks rather than staging horse and pony shows.

The secret of Mino Monta’s success

Japanese TV host Mino Monta was recently inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for “most live hours on the tube by a TV host.” Mino, who according to Japanese media reports was drunk at the ceremony, used the opportunity to declare his intentions to expand his TV appearances to night broadcasts.
That’s too bad for some people, since judging from the reaction at FG and No-sword, foreigners in Japan are kind of sick of seeing the man. Many Japanese (“way to go!“) on the other hand, predictably have a soft spot in their hearts for the bland, Regis Philbin-esque commentator who is famous for giving schmaltzy but stern advice to old ladies who can’t get along with their daughters-in-law every weekday afternoon on his “Bold live phone calls” segment.

Still, one wonders just how he gets the energy to appear lucid for 21 hours a week on live TV. Back in June of last year, Mino-san made headlines after announcing a curious part of his morning routine:

In a back-and-forth with a female announcer, Mino-san made one of his usual health-related comments, “The yeast in beer improves your immune system.” He then admitted to viewers that every morning he drinks a 50-50 mixture of beer and tomato juice every morning to stay healthy.

Now, I’ve never tried this before, but it sounds even more disgusting than Shinzo Abe’s beloved tree kale juice. Adamu’s personal recommendation: a 25-75 mix of Sprite and Corona, preferably taken late at night. It goes down very smooth, though I can’t exactly call something like that healthy.

To close out I’ll post a hilarious video of Mino’s phone call program (in Japanese but can be enjoyed by all the world) that No-sword was nice enough to find on YouTube:

It’s getting hard to keep track of all these Big Brothers

Periodically, the Japanese government has decided to fingerprint all resident foreigners as part of the alien registration process. This would invariably raise many complaints from the foreign community, since people didn’t appreciate the “criminal” treatment. Well, this was in the latest newsletter from the US Embassy in Tokyo:

Fingerprints

Every so often we, at the Embassy and Consulates, receive requests from people who need a copy of their fingerprints to apply for a specialized license in the U.S. Recently we started receiving similar requests in relation to the extension of the long-term resident permit in Japan.

We verified with the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice that as of April 2006, foreign long-term residents must provide the Japanese authorities with a copy of their criminal history record to extend their visa. In order to obtain such a record, Americans have to provide the FBI with a copy of their fingerprints.

We used to refer such requests for fingerprints to the local Japanese police, but in most cases the police have stopped offering this service. Since the Embassy does not provide this service, Americans needing a copy of their fingerprints should follow the guidance listed online here.

So now I have to say that the Japanese government is better, because at least they use bicycles and cute image characters to track my sedition.

Signs of improvement?

As our Alex Kerr inspired discussion continues I have noticed two recent stories in which public policy makers are actually working to address some of the very issues which he focuses on.
First, from The Japan Times: (Try Bugmenot to view the article.)

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government started a project Monday to cut down 1.8 million cedar trees in the mountainous Tama region west of Tokyo to help people with cedar pollen allergies.

One in every four residents in the metropolitan area is believed to suffer from cedar pollen allergies in spring, when the trees release vast amounts of pollen into the air.

The project, aimed at reducing pollen produced by a 1,200-hectare area in the mountains by 20 percent over 10 years, involves replacing ordinary cedar trees with broadleaf trees and a new kind of cedar that releases only a tenth of the pollen of the conventional cedar.

Timber from the felled trees will be used to make desks and lockers for schools and to help build private housing, the metropolitan government said.

“(The cedar trees) have caused vast damage across the country, but the central government hasn’t done anything for us. The metropolitan government will take the first step,” said Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who attended the ceremony.

Next, the AP passes on reports from Yomiuri and Mainichi that Kyoto is banning certain billboards and neon signs, as well as increasing regulation over building heights.

TOKYO: Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto plans to ban billboards on top of buildings and blinking neon signs to improve the city’s landscape, news reports said Saturday.

Kyoto, dotted with old temples, shrines and other historical sites, is known for its beauty and is a popular tourist destination.

But just like many other big cities in Japan, Kyoto’s streets are not free of eyesores such as gaudy billboards and glaring neon signs. Critics often blame Japan’s lax regulations.

Kyoto plans to ban all rooftop billboards as well as neon signs that flicker, Japan’s largest daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported Saturday.

The city plans to revise its regulations on outdoor advertisements by March and rooftop billboards and blinking signboards are expected to be removed completely in six years, the paper said.

The city is also considering introducing stricter regulations on the height of buildings in areas near historic sites, Yomiuri said.


Notice the photograph of Tokyo Governor Ishihara Shintaro, who has appeared in public with Kerr, personally cutting down a cedar true. Kerr has of course been extremely active in promoting Machiya preservation and historic district legislation in Kyoto. Should he get some credit for his activism, or were these policy changes inevitable?

A Tale of Adventure and Hardship Among the Savage Japanese Islanders

The following story is from the June 15, 1852 edition of the New York Times, its second year of publication.

From St. Helene-Cruelty of the Japanese toward American Sailors.

By the bark Eureka, arrived from Canton, this morning, we have the following statement of cruel treatment by the Japanese toward shipwrecked American seamen, and the murder of one of the unfortunate men taken at St. Helena some months ago:

“MURPHY WELLS, an American citizen, born in the State of New-York, late carpenter on board the American whaling ship Lawrence, of Poughkeepsie, Capt. BAKER, states that the said vessel (Lawrence) was wrecked on the 28th of May, 1846, by running on a reef of rocks, in the dead of the night, about 300 miles off the coast of Japan, during very thick weather. All hands remained by the vessel till daylight, when three boats were manned, by the whole of the ship’s company, who took with them all of their clothing, &c., that could possibly be got at, as the vessel was fast going to pieces, the sea making a breach over her. They then made the best of their way for the Island of Japan. During the night the boats separated, and two of them have never been seen since.

“Our boat (WELLS’S) arrived in safety, after seven days’ passage. On the moment of arrival, the natives took possession of all of us, our boat and effects, and we were thrust into a prison cage, made similar to those in which wild beasts are kept for exhibition, where we were confined and half starved for eleven months and a half, after which we were transported to a Dutch settlement down the coast, where we were again put in prison by the Japanese for two months more.

“At the expiration of this confinement, we were brought before the chiefs and tried for daring to approach their land. We told them we were shipwrecked, which they would not listen to, and upon no terms would they grant us our liberation. They threatened to cut off our heads, because they thought we were English, whom they hate; but when we told them we were Americans, they said nothing more, except to ask us of what religion we were. Upon our telling them we worshiped GOD, and believed in JESUS CHRIST, they brought a cross bearing the image of our Saviour, and had we not trampled upon it at their request, they would have massacred us on the spot. We were then detained on shore, in prison, for a couple of days more, when they sent us board a Dutch ship, bound to Batavia, where we arrived in December, 1847-each of us doing the best we could for ourselves to get a passage home.

“While we were in Japan, in prison, one of our comrades, THOS. WILLIAMS, endeavored to make his escape, but was caught and taken back to prison in a dying state, owing to wounds inflicted on him with some deadly weapon; there was a gash over his forehead which bled profusely. The poor fellow lived about six hours. The natives brought a coffin, into which they compelled us to place the corpse, when they it took it away. What was done with it, we could never ascertain.

“The names of those saved from the wreck are GEO. HOWE, second mate; THOS. WILLIAM, seaman (since murdered); THOMAS WILLIAMS, seaman; PETER WILLIAMS, seaman; HENRY SPENCER, seaman; MURPHY WELLS, carpenter.

“We head of several English seamen being there in confinement similar to ourselves.

“It is anxiously hoped the American Government will not suffer this treatment, but more particularly so sanguinary and act towards hapless shipwrecked American seamen to pass without ample retribution.”

The sailors had their retribution. One year later, on July 8, 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States Navy landed in the port of Edo, forcing the Japanese Shogunate to enter into relations with the United States, and allow foreigners legal entry into the country.