Obama in Washington Square

I attended the Barack Obama rally in Washington Square Park this Thursday evening entirely by accident. I meet my Mandarin tutor at a NYU building on Washington Square East (since she’s also teaches Chinese classes for NYU,) and so I was walking from the 4th St subway station towards the park when I noticed police had set up a security perimeter and cleared the park, and there were thousands of people thronging on all sides. When I found out that Obama was going to be speaking there later on, I decided to go and listen after my lesson, but not having one of the tickets printed out from the website I went and stood in one of the outer, grassy areas of the park on the NW corner, from which I could just barely see Obama’s spotlit back as he gave his speech.

And it was a good speech. Not, admittedly, very specific or detailed, but I consider that simply part of the format of an event that one would classify as a general rally, and not a speech targeted at a particular group-although he was smart enough to give a number of nods to both the financial plight of college students, as well as his days living in New York, hanging out in that very park, and going to nearby bars in the Village (although he did not mention, in the heart of NYU, that he had been studying at Columbia at the time.) I read enough political news so that I wasn’t particularly interested on what he had to say about issues, since I’ve already heard the positions, but it was impressive and rewarding to see how well the man can work a crowd when he’s doing well. I’m not at all a fan of attending political events like rallies, protests, marches, and so on, but I am glad that I saw this one, and as a bonus I got to watch it with my friend Charles (yes guys, Charles from Rits) and that I met up with my friend Imara and a couple of his friends from political science class afterwards so there was someone to discuss it with.

Here is some video of the speech, courtesy of Salon.com, and you can get some more in depth coverage from the Ameripolitics nerds who blog at Salon, or from the New York Times article on the event- which naturally makes a big issue out of his criticisms of Hillary Clinton, to whom he referred as “the senator from New York.” And yet, somehow we knew that he wasn’t talking about Chuck Schumer.

Burma: Will Japan show its teeth next week?

The junta in Burma has “successfully” put down much of the protesting in the country, according to NYT, with unconfirmed reports from diplomats of dozens of deaths in the crackdown. The junta is divided as to how to move forward, while a UN inspector has arrived in the country to observe conditions there. This leaves the rest of the “international community” to figure out just how to successfully exert influence and whether stumbling blocks China and Russia can be brought along. One of the many open questions in the crisis in Burma is how Japan will act.

Amazingly, the debate in Japan has been transformed this week as a result of the apparently intentional point-blank shooting of Kenji Nagai, a photographer for a Japanese production company.

The Japanese government has gone from a basically hands-off approach to demanding full explanations at the highest level. Still, new prime minister Yasuo Fukuda has not gone ahead with sanctions and has decided only to demand an explanation and lodge an official protest over the incident. However, most significant is that major commentators have begun calling for Japan to initiate sanctions against the junta, which has so far not been a popular position as Japan has had a policy of so-called dual engagement, giving aid to the country while trying to maintain relations with democracy leaders as well.

Fueling the change in the government’s stance is the fact that Nagai’s death has put a face on the ugliness of tyranny for the Japanese public and the blunt shove and rapid-fire of bullets that felled him symbolize the almost casual brutality that Burma has faced for decades.

The protests’ coverage in the media was transformed overnight at the news of his death and intensified when it was learned that he was killed so brutally, going from the usual “instability in a foreign country that doesn’t affect us” sort of coverage to much more involved reports of the protests that more closely resembled the BBC’s intense up-to-the-minute reporting.

In addition to an increased volume of media coverage, the tone of commentary has changed dramatically. Just this morning, the host of a news talk show noted something to the effect of “the only reason the junta wants to stay in power is to protect their vast financial interests” backing up the biggest justification for targeted sanctions.

Newspaper editorials the morning after Nagai’s death made limited calls for escalated Japanese involvement. From Asahi: “Why not have Japan take the initiative? We must not allow the robes of monks to get tainted with blood.” Yomiuri noted: “As Japan has maintained ties with both the military regime and pro-democracy forces in Myanmar, it should explore ways to contribute to the settlement of that country’s difficult situation.”

However, once the news of Nagai’s apparent cold-blooded killing came out, Asahi’s latest editorial (Title: “Cooperate with Asia to Put Pressure on Myanmar”) dramatized the fact that Nagai continued filming even after being fatally wounded as a symbol of the junta’s fear of free expression of the public’s will. Asahi then called for Japan to initiate unilateral sanctions and wonders why the initial government reaction has been so tepid. “The power of Japan’s diplomacy is being called into question,” it claimed.

Sankei, Japan’s most conservative national newspaper, had a more concrete proposal while sounding the similar tone but did not call for sanctions (title “Time has come for democratization in Myanmar): “Japan, as the largest provider of economic assistance, has a major role to play. We must go further in explaining that if democratization comes to pass, aid from Japan and the West will begin again in earnest.”

Nikkei (Title: “Initiate Sanctions and Put International Pressure on Myanmar’s Military Regime”) goes the furthest of all and calls for unilateral sanctions and full participation in the international pressure on the Burmese government.

While all recognize the key role that other countries, especially China, must play in exerting pressure on the military government, it is heartening that Japanese commentators can see Japan as having an interest in democratization and will not (in some cases at least) merely toe the government line.

Expect the debate in Japan next week to center on whether Japan’s government will announce some form of sanction proposal, either unilaterally or in some kind of international proposal. While the Fukuda cabinet would like to focus on domestic concerns as it must face a tough Diet session, the pressure is on for the government to show it can protect its citizens and “play a responsible role” in the international arena. The Voice of America has described the situation in Burma as Fukuda’s “first crisis” (so we can see what the US would like Japan to do, but it would be smart for US Japan hands like Michael Green to stay out of the debate this time) and the Burma issue will remain at the top of the agenda for a while to come.

Sympathy protests have been going on in Japan (primarily in Nagoya and outside the Burmese consulate in Shinagawa). These protests are critically important to show that the message is being heard in Japan as well and its citizens are keenly aware of the situation. I will be out in Shinagawa this Sunday to show support and I hope some of the MF readers will come out as well!

BTW, Mrs. Adamu has been doing her part to get the message out to the Japanese audience. She has a translation up at BurmaInfo.net, a Japanese-language site for Burma news. The article she has translated is an account of the famous brief encounter the protesters had with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in front of her home in Yangon/Rangoon. You can read the original article in English here.

The video can be seen here.

Japan creates translucent frog

Japanese researchers have succeeded in producing see-through frogs, letting them observe organs, blood vessels and eggs under the skin without performing dissections.

Japanese researchers have succeeded in producing see-through frogs, letting them observe organs, blood vessels and eggs under the skin without performing dissections.

“You can see through the skin how organs grow, how cancer starts and develops,” said the lead researcher Masayuki Sumida, professor at the Institute for Amphibian Biology of state-run Hiroshima University.

“You can watch organs of the same frog over its entire life as you don’t have to dissect it. The researcher can also observe how toxins affect bones, livers and other organs at lower costs,” he told AFP.

Japanese cultural influence in Taiwan- cosplay

Just after I wrote my post the other day on Japan’s influence on place names in Taiwan, I saw this article at Yahoo News on the popularity of Japanese style “cosplay” in Taiwan.

As the fashion catches on across the island, experts have said that it could help Taiwan’s young people break out of the strictures forced on them by the traditional Chinese pressure to conform.

Since “cosplay” first hit Taiwan little over a decade ago, its enthusiasts have been dressing up like their favourite manga characters and gathering at cafes, parks and manga expos across the island.


In Taiwan, role-playing dates back to around 1995 but has been gaining in popularity in recent years largely thanks to the Internet, said Mio Chang, supervising editor of bi-monthly cosplay magazine “Cosmore”.

“Cosers admire the ‘manga’ or ‘anime’ characters and want to imitate them. It is a passion for them to recreate the looks, the costumes and props,” said Chang, herself a coser for many years.

I don’t normally post about this sort of thing, except that while I was living in Taipei I just happened to stumble across one of the very events described in the article.
At a recent expo at National Taiwan University’s stadium, cosers were seen portraying a wide variety of roles from princesses to maids, space warriors, martial arts masters and even Death.

When I was studying at NTNU and considering switching to the program at National Taiwan University, I was riding my bike around, checking out the area one day, and just happened to ride through the campus right into the middle of a massive cosplay convention, which was taking place in and around the main gymnasium/hall building. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera, but it was a highly amusing thing to run across at random.

And of course, the topic of Taiwanese cosplay is always a good opportunity to post this amazing photograph of former Taiwan president Lee Teng Hui, dressed as high school principal from a Japanese manga. As his wikipedia entry says on the topic:

The cosplay was centered on Heihachi Edajima (江田島平八 Edajima Heihachi), a hawkish principal of a boarding school in the Japanese manga Sakigake!! Otokojuku (魁!!男塾) (Shonen Jump). The ; this was used as an advertisement on his personal website and “school” (輝!李塾) beginning in late 2004. This manga comic was a comedy centered on a fictitious reform school for contemporary boys, modelled under the Imperial Japanese Army.

Video of journalist murder in Burma

This video from Japanese news television shows the murder of journalist Nagai Kenji by Burmese security forces.

[Update] Second video added, link courtesy of Julián Ortega Martínez.

[Update 2:] Adam has posted some excellent analysis of the effect that this video is having on the debate in Japan. I urge everyone here for the video clips to read his article as well.