Monthly Archives: August 2009

Darling wa Gaikokujin live-action film due out next year

The news from Cinema Today (via @matt_alt). Here’s a quick and dirty summary:

Shooting has started on the film Darling wa Gaikokujin (My Darling is a Foreigner) starring Mao Inoue and Jonathan Scherr as the featured couple, Saori and Tony, set for release in spring 2010 from Film Partners [the people who brought you live-action Gegege no Kitaro...].

The film is based on the hit manga series. The first scene involved Tony reacting far too literally to Saori’s sarcastic humor. The two actors reportedly interacted with the same lighthearted sprit as the original.

The producer Kazuya Hamana (head of TV content at TBS)  spent five years preparing for this film and plans to try and recreate the feel of the original comics for a story that everyone can relate to.

While the theme is international marriage and the culture barriers, it will no doubt include scenes that everyone can relate to even if their partner isn’t foreign. Expect both happy and sad moments as the couple faces ironic misunderstandings arising from their misguided attempts at being considerate to each other.


Can’t say I’m looking forward to this. It’s a Japanese film shot by a mainstream studio (and produced by a TV producer no less), strike one. The title role goes to a gaijin talent from a jimusho, strike two. And they promised touching moments, which means they will probably inject some dorama-style schmaltz that didn’t appear in the original (one of the few things going for it), strike three.

My verdict: Stop checking the Cinema Today site this moment and ignore all the hype. This won’t even be so-bad-it’s-good, it’ll just be a source of frustrated hair-pulling and ulcers.

It’s not my intention to offend people of course. But really, I have been burned so many times by having any expectation of quality from the Japanese entertainment industry that I trust nothing offered to me. I really hope I’m wrong.

Take the LDP stress test, courtesy Ichiro Kamoshita

My current lower house representative in Tokyo’s 13th district is Ichiro Kamoshita, an LDP man who is now seeking his sixth term in office in the August 30 general election. He’s also a licensed psychiatrist who’s written more than 90 self-help books.

Early polls show him facing an uphill battle against DPJ challenger as anger at LDP rule rises, but that doesn’t mean he’ll go down without a fight.

To help promote some of his policy ideas as he seeks re-election, Kamoshita has borrowed a fun idea from the Scientologist playbook: stress tests! Those who visit his website or receive one of his pamphlets can take a test entitled “Working 2.0” (働き方 2.0).

The test asks, “Is your mind stressed out?” (心のストレス、たまってませんか?). To answer, the reader must go through a list of symptoms and check all that apply. Here is the full list:

  • I feel like meetings and discussions are actually meaningless

  • I keep working hard but I remain poor as ever

  • I have at some point felt like throwing it all away

  • I sometimes feel like I want a life where I can spend all day looking at the ocean

  • I sometimes feel like I want to liquidate the past and start over from scratch

  • I can more or less predict what my life will be like in 20 years

  • I have been doing the same exact job ever since joining my company

  • I have recently stopped chatting with family and coworkers

  • I have at times felt suddenly lonely in closed-in spaces such as the subway or elevators

  • I have called someone just to hear their voice, only to hang up after the second or third ring

  • It has become painful to go back and forth between home and work

  • It makes me jealous to see the empty trains heading the opposite way during rush hour.

Results

Here is my paraphrase translation of the results

If you checked 0-3 items: You’re the type who is good at dealing with stress. As someone with the capacity to process pent-up emotions, you realize it’s not worth it to get mad at your idiot boss. You know you can either take action or ignore it.

4-7: You need a mental detox. Just as removing toxins makes your skin look healthier, removing stress will make each day brighter and help you become better at many things. Why don’t you try and talk with friends or those around you about the things that worry you? Talking to someone will help you sort out the things that have been going back and forth in your head when you were thinking about them all by yourself.

8-10: Try and improve your lifestyle. Stress is the worst when you cannot escape it. You might need to switch jobs, take a vacation, or do something to get out of the group of people you are having problems with and break with the status quo. You might benefit from vegging out in the bathroom for 30 minutes or skipping a day of work sometime.


How did you do on the test? You can take it in Japanese here. I think I got around 4, but then the test seems designed to put everyone in that range. Who hasn’t thought about living at the beach?

Kamoshita’s plans for you

After the results, the next page is a list of labor-related policy proposals (note that at this point the reader still doesn’t know this is a political pamphlet, let alone from LDP man Kamoshita). They are:

Telecommuting – With almost 70% of workers in the services sector, it is possible for more and more people to work using technology instead of commuting to an office.

Working closer to home - Under this proposal, people would have two homes – a small room in the city close enough to their office to let them get their by bicycle, and a larger weekend house in the country where they’d rest on holidays and retire in old age. This would eliminate the issue of packed commuter trains.

More flexible working hours - By allowing flextime and diverse employment schemes such as temp work, people would be able to choose their working style while being eligible for the same social programs.


Kamoshita understands

In the final two pages Kamoshita reveals himself, tells of his own experience, and pledges to fight for the hard-working salarypersons of Japan.

You see, until age 44 Kamoshita also had to ride crowded trains to work. He even occasionally had to get off midway due to the stress (thankfully he got elected in 1993 and has probably never ridden a commuter train since).

***

According to the Yomiuri, Kamoshita wrote this pamphlet himself and is immensely proud of it, noting that this original pamphlet might be the first of its kind in Japan.

For a politician, maybe. But unfortunately the Japanese Scientologists have beat him to it!

More facts about Japanese convenience stores from Shukan Toyo Keizai

Shukan Toyo Keizai has an article on the state of convenience stores in Japan. Amazingly, all the major chains are planning to grow their number of stores (where can they even fit these days?). Anyway, here are some of the more interesting takeaways:

  • There are 42,204 convenience stores in Japan, according to the industry association. And they are still growing!

  • A major source of new store openings is the relocation or reconstruction of existing stores. In FY2008, 7-11 Japan opened 874 stores, of which 429 were relocations of existing stores. Many of the relocations are to make room for parking lots following road widening or other changes to the market. (I recall a local Sankus did this about a year ago, now they are about a block further away with a shiny new parking lot).

  • Convenience stores earn most of their money off royalties from franchise owners. But with so many stores out there, it’s getting harder to find new people willing to make the investment. Now is a relatively good time to look for new franchise owners thanks to the recession. People tend to be more willing to start up a convenience store franchise when the economy is bad. To combat this difficulty, recently convenience store companies have been trying to get franchise owners to invest in multiple stores.

  • 80% of people who sign up to be convenience store franchise owners are men in their 30s and 40s. To own a convenience store, you usually must work at one for a year as a trainee, but you can shorten this by taking an exam after 6 months.

  • To own a Circle K usually requires a 3 million yen initial investment, but incentive programs can reduce this to 650,000 yen.

  • As with many chains, convenience stores exercise tight control of their franchises. Apparently, they even hire the clerks. Many convenience store companies have their own placement services to do the hiring. This is no doubt a key source of the foreign workers we see on a regular basis.

Using a cell phone as visitor to the States

One of the perennial annoyances of world travel in the early 21st century is the difficulty inherent in having the wireless connectivity abroad upon which one has become dependent in one’s country of residence. To say, having operable cell phone service. Yes, the entire world now generally recognizes GSM and unless you are foolish enough to travel abroad with a CDMA only provider like America’s Verizon or Sprint, or Japan’s AU, then your foreign phone shall operate locally, but with the combination of using a foreign phone number and operating said number in a foreign land under a roaming agreement, which produces a particularly usurious fee schedule, wherein a simple text message or phone call of greetings is so expensive as to chill the blood and whiten the face.

The solution to this problem is inherent in the same GSM specification that allows phones and service provider accounts of most nations and varieties to operate worldwide – the SIM card. In most countries, a traveler may simply peruse a local vendor of inexpensive SIM cards offering a reasonably priced prepaid service, whether said vendor be official company store, or marketplace stall, or even automated machine, and after completing the local procedure shall simply replace their existing SIM card, being extremely careful not to lose it, whereupon he or she then has a local phone number.

The difficulty of obtaining such a prepaid SIM card varies greatly by nation. In my experience, the most difficult of all is Japan, where they are simply not sold; the only options for the foreign traveler is to cavort without a cell phone, in the manner of a twentieth century hobo, or to pay a truly outrageous fee for a rental phone or the aforementioned international roaming service. The easiest of all may be The Philippines, where there is a SIM card vending machine located in the lobby of the international airport, allowing one to purchase the chip without providing any personal identifying information, or even to interact with a human being. Someone higher on the scale is Taiwan, where the item may be purchased cheaply and readily at any of the innumerable vendors dotting the market-places, but where the traveler is required by law to show both one’s passport and a supplemental form of identification, quite a burden for a thing so small.

And this brings me to today. Here I am, in my country of citizenship and birth, but only for a short time. Far too short a time to obtain the ongoing contractual wireless service of a resident, and yet far too long, and with far too busy a calendar of engagements to vainly search for working examples of the antiquated coin-phone, or to scurry from doorway to doorway, in search of an unprotected WiFi signal, like a starved and lonely rat trapped out in a storm, trying to sniff its way home before the scent fades.

Here in the US we have two providers of GSM service. AT&T and T-Mobile. Yesterday I was in Manhattan, I believe at 6th Avenue and 17th Street, where stores of these competing firms stared down each other across the Avenue (increasingly full of bicyclists, in these recessionary days). I first inquired at AT&T, the original provider of my retired Samsung Blackjack, now being asked to come out of retirement for one more short campaign. Absurdly, they told me that the fee for a SIM card was $100, with $100 worth of service included. So, there is no base fee but I would be required to spend far more money than I will actually use. And across the way, loquacious Dennis of the T-Mobile store, resident of The Bronx, informs me that their basic fee is a mere $10, with service structure that becomes increasingly favorable (to both parties) the more credit one purchases, in the grand mercantile tradition of the bulk discount.

In fact, it turns out that my old Blackjack was still SIM-card locked to AT&T (meaning that it would not work with any other provider), but either a law of congress or regulation of the FCC now requires that providers of services provide the code needed to unlock said lock, which AT&T (relevant tech support # is 1-800-331-0500 ) did most readily upon request. And now, here I sit, surrounded by phones and computers of divers sizes and capabilities, but amidst them is a single unit, made in Korea, purchased in New Jersey some years ago, containing within itself an accurate and complete record of the telephone numbers of family, friends, associates and acquaintances domiciled in these United States, and once again with the capacity and license to contact them.


loquacious


Traveling to Dubai and Singapore

The following is written “in character.” For those of you who are not ComingAnarchy readers, a translation appears below.

Her Majesty has requested that I, her loyal subject, attend to the Empire’s matters in other parts of the Orient. In a few weeks I will be traveling to two important regional cities—Dubai in the Persian Gulf, and Singapore at the southern tip of the Asian continent. Tally Ho!

curzon travel

Singapore is a place I know well and have visited in the past. Once a small Malay fishing village at the mouth of the Singapore River, under the keen leadership of the British East India Company and the virtuous oversight of the British Empire, the port has grown into one of the most important trade cities in the Far East.

My trip to Dubai will be my first trip to the Arab Middle East, and it is a place I am less familiar. The British Empire currently protects the city from attacks by the scurrilous Ottoman Empire under the terms of the Exclusive Agreement of 1892. Last I heard, a fire swept through the city in 1894 and burnt down most buildings. I’m not sure what has happened since to require such an urgent trip by me, the Viceroy of India, but I serve at Her Majesty’s pleasure and look forward to attending to whatever tasks lay ahead.

Readers can look forward to dispatches, photographs, and reports from these trips. And naturally, should any readers be available for merriment and sharing intelligence in either location, please be in touch.

* * * * *

TRANSLATION: I’ve got business-related trips to Dubai and Singapore coming up in the next few weeks. My time is very limited, but if the opportunity is available I’d welcome the chance to meet any readers who may live in either city, so please be in touch.

5 fun examples of Tochigi-ben (or whatever Mrs. Adamu’s family speaks)

After a long hiatus, Mrs. Adamu is back with a blog post about her local dialect, Tochigi-ben. She grew up in Ashikaga through elementary school and spent the rest of her school days in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. We visit about once a month with her immediate family who still live in Chiba.

During my trips there, in addition to noticing strange Christian signs I’ve managed to pick up some phrases of the local dialect from her relatives. Some examples:

1. 「わりかし」= 意外と 
  父がよく、「これ、わりかしうまいんだよ」と言う。
Her father says this a lot, especially when he buys sashimi from his favorite roadside merchant.
2.「ごきちゃん」=ごきぶり 
  母が「ごきちゃんがでた!」と言う。両親の家にいた時、そんなに何度もでたとも思えないのだが。
A cute term for cockroach. They do appear from time to time.
3.語尾の「ど」
  父が使う。きっと栃木弁。
  「行ぐど!」=行くぞ、行くよ。「出たど」=出たぞ、出たよ。
I use this one mainly as a joke because her family says いぐど! all the time as if they have a cold.
4.語尾の「(だ)がね」
  私が栃木に行ったときに使う。祖母と会話するときなど。
  「私、それ言ったがね」=「私、それ言ったよね」
  「お店はこっちだがね」=「お店はこっちだよ」
This ends up sounding kind of angry a lot of the time.
5. 疑問形語尾の「ん?」
  「もう食べたん?」「寝てたん?」「テレビ見てるん?」 (= もう食べたの? etc)
This one Mrs. Adamu uses herself all the time when talking on the phone to relatives.

Japan Lower House election – Meet the candidates Part 0.2 – Scenarios of potential results

Who is likely to win?

No one can say for sure, but so far polls consistently favor the DPJ to pick up a large number of seats. Tobias Harris at the Observing Japan blog sees DPJ advantage wherever he looks, and so do the major weekly magazines. As I see it, there are three realistic scenarios, in order of likelihood:

1) The DPJ picks up a large number of seats but not enough to form a government alone or with its current opposition partners.

For the DPJ to win 241 seats, the number required to form a government without any help from coalition partners, it will have to expand its current standings from 112 seats by 129. Alternately, to form a coalition government with current opposition forces, the DPJ would need to pick up 98 seats (assuming all other parties stay the same).

Either result would be a true blowout. I haven’t checked, but one expert on the subject has told me that a gain of 129 seats would be the biggest win under the current constitution. However, that’s the result that most in-depth analysis is predicting.

But what if it doesn’t happen? It’s entirely possible that the DPJ could pick up just 90 seats, eight seats short of a clear win. In that case, as yesterday’s Nikkei notes, immediately after the election the parties would have 30 days to negotiate a government coalition before the extraordinary Diet session must be held to choose a prime minister. In that case, minority parties such as Your Party could end up being the deciding factor – they could go either way. The Nikkei predicts this could lead to some party defections as various groups jockey for position.

A DPJ loss would be an enormous shock considering the momentum and expectations for a DPJ win. For some it would be a relief, while others (including many in the foreign press, apparently) would be sorely disappointed.

2) The DPJ picks up a historically unprecedented number of seats and can form a government either on its own or in a coalition with the current opposition.

This is the easiest scenario to envision and it’s the one most widely reported. If the DPJ can pick up at least 98 seats, assuming other opposition parties stay the same, it wins. It can form a government headed by DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama.

3) The LDP pulls off an upset and manages to stay in power somehow.

Expectations for the LDP seem next to non-existent. While the mainstream domestic media are maintaining a more or less neutral tone, polls consistent show a clear advantage to the DPJ. The foreign media seems to discount the possibility of an LDP win (in at least one case conducting a pre-emptive post-mortem), opting instead to play up the historic nature of the election. But it’s not at all an impossible scenario. If all of Aso’s political gambles, his smears of the DPJ, and his insistence that the LDP is the most responsible party to lead Japan end up paying off somehow, he will have pulled off a major achievement that could lead to his own long term in office.

This scenario does seem unlikely, however. As Hiroshi Yamaguchi and Tobias Harris have been showing, election predictions by people who have analyzed each district are all showing major DPJ gains.

***

And so ends my introduction to the lower house election. From here on in, I’ll be focusing on my local race in Tokyo’s 13th district.

Japan Lower House election – Meet the candidates Part 0.1 – Issues and parties

Moving forward with my series on this upcoming election, today I would like to talk about the main issues at stake and outline the main parties in the race.

What are some of the issues in this election, and where do the main parties stand?

Bureaucratic control – As I mentioned in the last post, Japan’s bureaucracy has maintained control of the ship of state for most of the postwar period. The DPJ wants to fix that and create a system more like the British executive branch, while the LDP pledges to do some trimming around the edges.

Pensions – With the aging of Japan’s population, there is a widespread concern that the country’s pension system won’t be able to keep up. These concerns are no doubt bolstered when the government acts to limit benefits, as it has several times in recent history, or is caught losing records and misappropriating large chunks of the pension fund. As a result, the pensions issue turns up as the top priority for voters in most polls. A general consensus seems to have formed that the only way to fund the pension liabilities is to raise consumption taxes, but that remains a political third rail.

Depopulation – As mentioned above, the issue of population decline is a major source for concern, as the entire model for economic growth more or less hinges on a growing population. The prospect of relative economic decline has many Japanese putting off childbirth until later in life and settling in for a long-term period of mediocre lifestyles. To help assuage these concerns all parties have pledged one form or another of childcare support – The LDP pledges to make school affordable, while the DPJ has promised to give cash handouts to couples with children while levying tax penalties on single-income families with no children.No party is talking about expanding immigration as a way to stem depopulation, a move that would be controversial but has been widely argued for.

Economic turmoil/unemployment – The LDP has made the current economic downturn its top priority. Aso has repeated that it will take three years for Japan’s economy to fully recover (though it’s odd that he started saying that more than six months ago and he’s still saying “three years” in TV ads. Shouldn’t it be 2.5 years by now?) and will continue efforts to combat the short-term deficit.

Structural reform – Though the 2005 election was fought on the merits of privatizing the postal service, both parties appear set to revise the terms of privatization if they win this time around. Aso’s LDP pledges to “say goodbye to excessive market fundamentalism” while the DPJ has pledged to freeze the planned stock offerings of Japan Post’s banking and insurance arms. On other fronts, however, the DPJ seems to be more active in pursuing some structural reforms – namely, eliminating “special accounts” that are managed by various ministries, and taking on bureaucratic rule as a whole.

One area of policy where the DPJ and LDP differ very little is support of less central government control over Japan’s local administration (which is incidentally a long-term goal of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication).

Both the LDP and DPJ have also proposed reforming the legislative branch of government. The LDP wants to reduce the size of both houses by 30%, while the DPJ has only proposed eliminating 80 of the 180 lower house proportional representation seats.

Foreign policy – Though it might not decide the election, the parties have real differences when it comes to foreign policy. The LDP is seen as willing to maintain the status quo of the US-Japan alliance, while the DPJ has made it clear they would seek some more fundamental renegotiation. Meanwhile, the DPJ is viewed as more willing to build close relations with China, as evidenced by DPJ president Yukio Hatoyama’s pledge not to visit Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister. The prevailing view of US Japan-watchers seems to be that if the DPJ takes power, these differences would mean real but manageable change, as outlined in this WSJ op-ed by Dan Blumenthal and Gary Schmitt.

What are the main parties and what are their platforms?

Liberal Democratic Party – This is the party that’s been in power for almost all of Japan’s post-war history. There’s some truth to the cliche that the LDP is “neither liberal nor democratic… nor a party” – the members tend to be more right-wing (closer to the European definition of “liberal”) though the internal factions have widely disparate policy objectives. Their campaign centers on positioning themselves as the more responsible party versus a spendthrift DPJ that can’t be trusted with power.

(You can take a look at an English-language policy brochure here (PDF))

Democratic Party of Japan – The current main opposition party was formed in 1998 and took its current form in 2003 from an merger of several smaller parties that had either formed or evolved from the messy political reorganization of the 1990s. The LDP was removed from power in 1993 only to take back the premiership in various convoluted coalition governments until things stabilized in 1998, when the New Komeito and the LDP solidified an alliance that continues to this day. The DPJ, therefore, is a wide mix of former socialists, moderates, and conservatives united principally in their desire to gain power (this is very similar to the LDP’s uniting factor).

People’s New Party (Kokumin Shinto in Japanese) – A breakoff of the LDP, Kokumin Shinto is the party I like to call the anti-postal privatization party. This party was formed in 2005 when Koizumi ousted dozens of his own party for voting against his bill to privatize Japan Post, an effort aimed at helping restore Japan’s financial soundness while cutting off the political base of some of his political rivals. These included some long-time political heavyweights such as Tamisuke Watanuki of Toyama and Shizuka Kamei of Hiroshima, who now lead Kokumin Shinto. Their entire platform boils down to opposition to postal privatization, as the postal interests have long been the members’ source of support and funding. They are allied with the DPJ on the condition that the DPJ support the bill to freeze the impending IPOs of the Japan Post Bank and Japan Post Insurance.

While Kokumin Shinto is somewhat single-minded, they have at times proven an adept opposition party, thanks to Shizuka Kamei, who is a foremost Soka Gakkai hater and opposition researcher.

New Party Nippon – This is another party formed in the wake of the LDP’s “postal rebellion” in 2005. It’s led by Yasuo Tanaka an author-turned-politician who led the fight against wasteful spending during his term as Nagano governor. This party remains tiny and in this election they are only fielding a few candidates.

Your Party – This is yet another party formed due a split in the LDP split, only this time the defectors are pro-structural reform elements. This party is led by Yoshimi Watanabe, a Tochigi Prefecture politician and former administrative reform minister who left the LDP after the party refused to implement his policy initiatives. His small party is also not expected to make much of an impact in this election, though if the results are close all small parties could become critical to forming a government.

New Komeito – This is the populist/pacifist party that serves as the political arm of lay Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai. With the third largest number of seats in the lower house, they are the LDP’s coalition partner and have pledged to stick with the LDP win or lose (yeah, right). They have a fairly stable voter base of Soka Gakkai believers, and so are expected to keep their current standing. They are campaigning on promises of administrative reform and enhanced social spending.

Japan Communist Party – The communist party in Japan has essentially renounced revolution as a means to achieve socialism and instead campaigns on labor and other populist issues. This election, as in 2005, they are emphasizing their role as a check on the conservative tendencies of the other parties. For instance, they devote the back page of their manifesto to criticizing some of the DPJ’s policies, though they are expected to enter into a coalition with them should the DPJ win. The DPJ’s success is likely to come at the expense of some of the JCP’s seats, especially in the proportional representation voting. Though the revival of 1920s communist propaganda The Crab Canning Ship has renewed interest in the JCP, it’s unclear whether that will help the party in this election. In last month’s Tokyo assembly election, the JCP actually lost seats. In my district the JCP is fielding a candidate against the LDP and DPJ.

Social Democratic Party – This center-left party is what remains of the Japan Socialist Party, the longtime permanent opposition under the 1955 system of semi-permanent LDP control. Since the 1990s their numbers have dwindled and they are struggling to remain relevant. They are also considered likely to coalition with the DPJ if they take the reins of government.

Happiness Realization Party – The sudden decision of new religion Happy Science, a personality cult of guru Ryuho Okawa, to form the Happiness Realization Party and run in the general election has raised eyebrows in Japan but not garnered much local press coverage. As I noted in my posts on the Tokyo assembly election, their campaign pledges make promises that don’t even seem physically possible – they want to eliminate most taxes, invade North Korea, and build a massive bullet train system all over the world. What does this have to do with reality? Not a whole lot, but the party seems to be betting that people are stupid enough to vote for “no consumption taxes.”

There are a couple other parties running, including Muneo Suzuki’s Shinto Daichi, a Hokkaido-specific party designed primarily to keep Suzuki in office. But they are too minor for me to bother with at this point.

***

In my next post, I will discuss the three likely post-election scenarios: Will the LDP stay on top, will the DPJ score a landslide and take over, or will the DPJ gains not be enough to form a government with the current opposition parties?

Fishing on the tetrapods

On Tuesday, I took a long bike trip from my home in Ayase to Kasai Rinkai Park in Edogawa-ku. While I recover (going long distances on a mamachari can be tiring), I will post some photo highlights (you can see the whole album here).

First up we have this guy fishing on the tetrapods. Not sure what he is trying to catch, but maybe these tetrapods in the middle of the river give him a strategic position away from other fishermen.

This photo was taken from the Kasaibashi bridge.