Legend of Koizumi anime

Yes, “The Legend of Koizumi”, a completely gonzo comedy manga in which international affairs are all settled by world leaders playing mahjong that was once described by an eminent critic as “the best manga ever,” has finally seen n anime adaptation. It is being released as an OVA instead of being shown on TV, and will go on sale in late February for ¥2940. (Watch this space for news.) In the meanwhile, the first section has been uploaded to Youtube, and with English subtitles for those, like myself, who can’t follow all the mahjong talk.

Incidentally, I love all the little references in there, like Kim Jong Nam’s Mickey Mouse ears, recognition that Taro Aso was on the  Olympic rifle team, and a GWB reference everybody will get, but what I really want to see is an adaptation of the storyline that shows Pope Benedict employing ancient Catholic magic to win at mahjong.

What to do with an obsolete airport

Itami Airport

The media is reporting that Osaka governor Toru Hashimoto is thinking of demolishing Itami Airport and building an international academic village on the property where everybody speaks English. People are already raising hell about this idea over at Debito’s blog. I think it’s a silly idea (as presented, anyway) and will never make it out of committee, but the issue of what to do with Itami is still pertinent, as Osaka really doesn’t need three airports.

What can you do with an airport you don’t need any more? Here are five possibly pertinent examples:

  1. Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong
    Kai Tak has many parallels to Itami. It was mostly built by the Japanese military (during their wartime occupation of Hong Kong), and it occupied a prime central location in huge city that grew increasingly dense over the years. As a result of the latter, the airport was cramped, overcrowded and hair-raisingly difficult to get into: aircraft landing in one direction had to approach the runway at a right angle, then make a hairpin turn just above the ground to touch down (video). Kai Tak was replaced by a somewhat Kansai-like airport, the current Hong Kong International Airport, in 1998, and was promptly closed. Since then, the site has been more or less empty despite constantly-shifting plans to build hotels, cruise piers and a giant stadium there.
     
  2. Stapleton Airport, Denver
    In its heyday, Stapleton was one of the busiest airports in the world, serving as a cross-country hub for Continental Airlines and United Airlines. Like Itami, though, it was in the middle of a mostly residential area, which limited its growth potential and caused friction with residents over noise. In the early 90s, the federal government threw millions of dollars into an enormous new airport on the outskirts of the city, Denver International Airport, which is now the second-largest airport in the world. Stapleton was then closed down, and the site converted into a “new town” of 30,000 people.
    (Aside: I visited Denver last November, and the airport strikes me as totally ridiculous—you pass the sign that says “WELCOME TO DIA,” and the next sign says “TERMINALS – 15 MILES.” The largest airport in the world is in Dammam, Saudi Arabia and is larger than the entire country of Bahrain.)
     
  3. Hoover Field, Washington
    Hoover Field was the first airport in the capital of the United States, back in the earliest days of commercial aviation. It was built across the river from the city in Arlington, Virginia on the other side of the 14th Street Bridge. The site was incredibly cramped, though—most notably, there was a road running through the middle of the main runway, requiring railway crossing gates to be lowered whenever a plane took off or landed. The field was shut down around the start of World War II, when National Airport opened nearby, and the site was then used to build the Pentagon.
     
  4. Meigs Field, Chicago
    Meigs was a small airport on an artificial peninsula right on the lakefront of Chicago—essentially a miniature 1930’s version of Kansai Airport. It was most famous in its heyday for being the default starting location in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Mayor Richard Daley started campaigning in the early 90’s to convert the site into a giant park, and after a decade of bureaucratic stalling by Congress and the FAA, he took matters in his own hands and ordered the runway bulldozed into uselessness overnight. The site is now a lakefront park and was briefly being sold as a potential venue for the 2016 Olympics.
     
  5. Old Kitakyushu Airport, Kitakyushu
    This is probably the closest parallel in Japan to a potential Itami closing scenario. The old Kitakyushu Airport was a relatively small facility, with one runway and a handful of daily flights to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, using relatively small YS-11 prop planes, later replaced by faster but still small MD-80 jets. The airport was clearly a bit of joke even in the mid-70s, and so the local government commissioned a new, larger offshore airport nearby, which opened in 2006 (and, surprisingly enough, is still not all that popular). The site was initially envisioned as a new urban project, but there were no takers; economics finally came out victorious, and the site is now zoned for industrial use, housing a hospital and a couple of industrial production sites.
     

There is one fate which Osaka undoubtedly wants to avoid—the fate of Montreal. Montreal spent something like a billion dollars to build and expand a giant airport on the outskirts, Mirabel Airport, which would have been the largest in the world were it ever completed. Just like Osaka, Montreal projected that their old downtown airport, Dorval, would quickly become too small for demand, and they tried to lock international carriers into the more distant Mirabel in order to artificially boost its popularity despite stagnating overall demand. The result was that Montreal lost relevance as an air hub, since nobody wanted to connect between the airports, and the city was getting less internationally relevant anyway. Montreal eventually gave up on Mirabel and moved everything back to Dorval in the nineties, leaving their gleaming new airport as a gleaming white elephant plied only by a few cargo planes.

So what could Osaka do with Itami Airport’s site? As a former Itami resident (I had a host family there back during my first stay in Japan), I have some ideas of my own.

First of all, it would be great as a replacement for the rail freight yard in Umeda, which is a pretty wasteful use of downtown space. ITM is right next to a JR trunk line and could be connected fairly easily—it also isn’t far from the Sanyo Shinkansen, which could theoretically be used for some freight traffic in the future once everything goes maglev. Then the downtown space occupied by the current yard could be fully converted into residential or commercial buildings. (UR has actually already started this process on one side of the yard.) This would also fit in fairly well with the light industrial character of the immediately surrounding real estate.

If you want to get a bit more fantastic, how about a space elevator? Or perhaps a new central government location for some of those Tokyo-bound bureaucrats? (I already proposed a similar fate for KIX in comments to this post.) Perhaps the Defense Ministry could move out there and give up its nice space in Ichigaya, though I’m sure the more lefty locals wouldn’t like that plan.

Sending Papers

Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010
Nudes land photographer in trouble
Kyodo News

Police plan to send papers to prosecutors shortly on photographer Kishin Shinoyama on suspicion of public indecency for shooting photos of nude models in public spaces for a book, sources said Saturday.

The police are consulting with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office on sending papers on the 69-year-old photographer and two female models, the sources said.

“Send papers to prosecutors” is a crude (but accurate) English translation of 書類送検 or shorui souken, a word frequently seen in Japanese news stories with no statutory basis or definition. What does it mean, and at what stage is Shinoyama in the criminal prosecution procedure?

“Sending papers” describes a situation where police officers have not arrested someone, or initially arrested them and released them, and then send the relevent evidence that identifies the suspect with the criminal offense. The word “sending papers” is not actually used by the police or prosecutors and does not appear in any criminal procedure legislation, but is a correct explanation of what happens—Article 246 of the Criminal Procedure Law obliges the police to promptly send all papers and evidence regarding the suspect and the incident (and information regarding confessions). Prosecutors can, and do, designate that some minor crimes be up to the discretion of the police to process independently or to decide at their discretion whether or not to send papers.

The background to Shinoyama’s case is that the photographer shot nude photographs of his two adult models in Tokyo in twelve public places, including a church and the Aoyama Graveyard, between August 16th and October 15th, 2008. The police received several complaints during this time and investigated one incident on September 7th, but Shinoyama responded by submitting a document to the police stating that his models were wearing swimming suits. When the photographs were published in his latest collection “NO NUDE” in September 2009, police felt compelled to proceed with a formal investigation.

Shinoyama’s public statements on this began with a defiant tone (“In my fifty years as a photographer…!”), but he has since taken a much more concilatory tone (“I’m sorry. I meant to consider my surroundings, but I was not careful enough”). That’s because in Japan’s apology-based criminal justice system, he still has time to avoid prosecution. Once the prosecutors receive the papers, they make the decision of whether or not to prosecute the case, under Article 247 of the same law, and have the option of deciding to not prosecute, under Article 248. At this point, the police are still “consulting” with prosecutors as to how and what to send them so as to be in compliance with their legal obligation. And the biggest issue with Shinoyama is a combination of the fact that he took public pictures of the nudes, that numerous people called 110 to complain, and Shinoyama’s denial of this fact at the time. If he apologizes enough, this appropriatly aged photographer could still avoid the most serious sanctions—or as one article in the Mainichi concludes, “it appears the goal of sending papers here is to put the brakes on similar acts.”

Underground Gamblers and Academic Grants

This week’s Metropolis has a feature on underground gambling. It’s an interesting read:

The gambling professional is, in general, not who you think he is. For a pro gambler, Rei looks pretty normal. He has an average build, wears average clothes and works a regular day job. He lives in a messy six-mat apartment. The paint on the walls is peeling off, and his stuff is strewn about the room. In the corner lie a couple of duffel bags thrown there the previous night. By all appearances, it’s a standard Japanese bachelor’s apartment.

Except that those bags contain enough ¥10,000 bills to wallpaper the entire room.

Later on in the article, there are short notes about gambling in Japan. Academics may be surprised to read this:

Doing research on Japan? There’s a good chance you’re being supported by the gambling industry. Every year The Nippon Foundation donates roughly ¥30 trillion to charitable and educational causes. It all comes from boat racing.

For the most part, this is true. The Nippon Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in Japan, receives over 3% of kyotei (motorboat racing) annual revenues.  According to the 2006 Government Whitepaper on Leisure, the total market for 2005 for kyotei was 978 billion yen. In the early 90s, it was about double this. More details can be found in David Plotz’s Pachinko Nation. (Incidentally, Plotz’s research was supported by a Nippon Foundation grant.)

Of course, this isn’t to criticize the foundation itself, which has supported good works around the globe. Apparently some academics in Japan do look down on their grants, however. Last year, a friend of mine was faced with the choice of either a Fulbright or a Nippon Foundation grant for her dissertation research. When she told an academic friend of hers about this, the friend closed the door and quietly told her that she risked a small amount of stigma were she to go with the latter.

If this is how some Japanese academics deal with researchers whose grant is merely peripheral to gambling, I wonder how they will treat someone whose research is on gambling…

Self-proclaimed veteran translator: modern fansubbing a mess

From the “almost two years old but news to me” department:

Via the comments section at Neojaponisme, we have this series of videos decrying modern anime fansubbers as cliquey, Japanese language-worshiping elitists who offer “Japanese lessons” instead of actual translations. Their refusal to create plain, easily digested subtitles and refusal to translate culturally specific Japanese (instead offering copious on-screen liner notes) scares away potential new fans and is generally useless, he argues.

Watch here:

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

On a basic level, he is absolutely right that for a general audience, translations should be very clear and nearly invisible. It’s what I strive for in my job and on this blog, for sure. But from my (admittedly limited) experience with fansubbed anime, it’s clear enough that fansubbers are not in it for the benefit of a general audience. In the era of Wikipedia, BitTorrent, and Youtube where esoteric cultural knowledge is rapidly becoming obsolete, being an elite fansubber is one of the few sure-fire ways left to secure King Geek status. Maybe having an insular subculture makes it harder for good anime titles to break through into the mainstream (as has been fansubbing’s most often-cited benefit), but isn’t that kind of the whole point?