Monthly Archives: January 2010

Why are Japan’s beaches so disgusting?

The environment at Enoshima Beach really is a bizarre contradiction for a nation that prides itself on cleanliness and orderly behaviour. I was always led to believe that the Japanese truly respect their natural environment. Or perhaps Enoshima Beach is simply a pressure valve for Tokyoites in summer . . . where they can strip off not just their clothes but also any respect they have for their surroundings.

Matthew Abrahams writing for the Sydney Morning Herald about six months out of season. This is a problem discussed in Japan as well (see this TV report republished on Japan Probe).

There is a ton of amazingly beautiful and (more or less) unpolluted coastline in this country, but it tends to be of the boulder- or concrete-encrusted variety that is pretty useless for beach recreation, like this scene just a stone’s throw from Enoshima.

IMG_0506

I’ll throw out a few explanations of my own for Shonan’s problems.

  1. The few “good” beaches around Tokyo have to accommodate a huge beach-going population—the Tokyo metropolitan area has a population about one and a half times that of the entire Australian continent. Even if most people were meticulously clean, a tiny percentage of bad apples would be enough to spoil the beach for everyone.
  2. Beach visitors in Tokyo generally live very far from the beach (at least half an hour by train) and probably have a more tenuous personal connection to it than your average Australian coast-dweller.
  3. Shonan attracts the lowest common denominator of Japanese beach-goers, as the more well-off prefer to drop a few hundred (or thousand) bucks and visit Guam, Hawaii, Southeast Asia or the Gold Coast. Thus Shonan gets a bigger share of working-class yokels than the urbane Tokyo that many foreigners experience.
  4. As James notes in the Japan Probe piece linked above, Japan has no qualms about drinking in public, and booze consumption inhibits any pre-existing qualms about leaving trash on the ground.
  5. For some reason I can’t figure out, public trash cans are very rare here; if you want to throw something away while walking down the street, you basically have to find a convenience store. Same story at the beach, except there are no convenience stores.

The Google zeitgeist on Japanese marriage

There are some interesting posts floating around the blogs about what Google’s “auto-suggest” feature auto-suggests regarding love and marriage, summarized in this post which indicates that women overwhelmingly want to be loved, while men overwhelmingly want to get kinky.

I just read these today, but the near-future Mrs. Jones was telling me this weekend about a similar phenomenon she had heard of with the Japanese auto-suggest feature, so I decided to try it myself.

Here are the top suggestions for “wife” (妻):

  1. wife hysteria
  2. wife birthday gift ranking
  3. wife birthday gift
  4. wife shochu
  5. what to call wife
  6. wife gift
  7. wife honorifics
  8. wife depressed
  9. wife gift ranking
  10. wife not registered (i.e., the Japanese equivalent of common law marriage)

And here are the top suggestions for “husband” (夫):

  1. hate husband (most hits by a long shot)
  2. average husband allowance
  3. husband violent language
  4. dead husband procedures
  5. what to call husband
  6. husband depressed
  7. husband unemployed
  8. husband allowance
  9. husband space
  10. dead husband pension

Giving all permanent residents the right to vote = terrible idea

The DPJ has agreed to submit a bill that would grant foreign permanent residents of Japan (let’s call them PRs) the right to vote and run in local elections. Getting voting rights without having to give up Korean citizenship has long been a goal of zainichi Korean activist groups. But this proposal would apply both to “special” permanent residents that include the population of “zainichi” Koreans and Chinese from Taiwan who remained in the country after WW2, and to any foreigner granted permanent residency.

The bill has stirred up a firestorm of criticism, most loudly from the right wing. However, in support of the bill are some powerful forces, first and foremost DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, whose job it is to ensure a lasting majority for his party. According to at least one critic, the decision to offer suffrage to all PRs may be  an attempt to secure a more permanent voting base because the zainichi population has been falling precipitously as the original group dies off and their decendants naturalize.

Personally, although I could potentially benefit from this bill if I one day am granted permanent residency, I don’t think it’s a good idea. Except for unique circumstances, only the citizens of a country should be allowed to vote.

Right-wing anger

The right wing and their allies in the opposition LDP have mobilized against this bill. Right-leaning Sankei Shimbun has run features pointing out the “big problems” with the bill. Financial services minister and conservative People’s New Party President Shizuka Kamei is against the proposal, noting he would refuse to sign a cabinet decision on the matter. In a statement, he worried that some areas with large foreign populations would see an upheaval of political power. He also suggested the compromise measure of loosening the requirements to naturalize, without being specific.

Protests have been common, and generally have taken a highly xenophobic tone. The crux of the argument is that there is no good reason to give PRs the vote and that almost no nations unilaterally grant foreign citizens the right to vote (some EU countries allow it for other EU citizens, along with some other exceptions made for special groups (PDF)). Some of the criticism veers into the paranoid, however. In addition to the long, long list of furious red herring arguments documented by Debito, here is a video of one activist calmly explaining that this is an attempt by China to take over Japan by populating the country with foreign voters.

Almost non-existent support

It’s obvious enough that these protesters are making ridiculous arguments and have cranked the outrage way out of proportion. But what is the case for giving PRs the vote?

In addition to expected support from zainichi Korean groups, we have some uncharacteristically half-baked support from Debito, the well-known human rights agitator: “Debito.org is in support, given how difficult it can be to get PR in Japan, not to mention how arbitrary the naturalization procedures are.” But just because it’s tough to get the status, that doesn’t mean one should get the right to vote and be elected. I am not accusing foreigners in Japan of being spies or degenerates, but a basic tenet of a country and the Japanese constitution is that it is to be governed by its citizens. That requirement helps assure those who will be involved in politics are committed citizens of the country. Permanent residents are already protected under the law and do not need to renew their visa to stay in the country. I think if they want more than that they should be ready to give up their original passport and become citizens.

In an article in Japan Focus, professor Chris Burgess praises the zainichi suffrage movement as “multiculturalism in practice” but makes no mention of the expanded proposal.

I can understand giving the special permanent residents the vote because they are for all practical purposes citizens of the country. The current DPJ proposal would essentially exclude those who did not explicitly take South Korean citizenship (朝鮮籍維持者), if I understand correctly. But I would not even have a problem with these people getting the vote as it was an tragedy of history that put them in the country in the first place. If Japan would permit dual citizenship that would be one thing, but absent that letting them vote one way to let them participate in society.

But really, what constituency of non-zainichi PRs is actually asking for the right to vote? The only one who really stands to gain is the DPJ itself which would earn itself an expanded and loyal voter base. That’s an irresponsible way to decide election policy in this country, and as much as it pains me to side with rabid right-wingers who may wish me ill will, they are right on this issue. There are more important issues in my opinion (allowing dual citizenship, establishing an immigration policy) that should be given more priority.

(Thanks to Mulboyne for the video link)

Where to live in Japan? My, and your, top ten list

A post on the worst cities to travel to at ComingAnarchy developed into a comment discussion on the worst and best cities, with many regular MF commenters quickly joining the thread and turning the topic into a list of best and worst places to live or visit in Japan. Which gave me an idea—for those of you who live in Japan, or who are familiar with Japan, where would you want to live, and why?

This post covers my top ten, but I must preface this with an important disclaimer—my life in Japan will always be centered in Tokyo, for family, professional, and personal reasons. But I have long fantasized about acquiring a secondary residence outside the capital, for use as a vacation retreat, a place to escape from the city, or to settle for retirement. This list is covering top ten candidates for that second residence.

Biei, together with its more popular neighbor Furano, has some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen in Japan. Situated in the center of Hokkaido and closer to Asahikawa airport than Asahikawa city itself and thus a rural area that is very convenient to the rest of Japan, it is a popular place for Tokyoites to escape the city in the summer and has gorgeous, rolling hills covered in fields and farms. It would be a great place to launch into my favorite pasttime, cycling around Japan. Land is also relatively cheap—you can get a house with a backyard for the same price as a tiny apartment in Tokyo. The one disadvantage would be poor access to fresh seafood.

Kagoshima is a fun place for me because of its pride in its local history and easy boat access to the Okinawan islands. And I have never seen a town in Japan promote its own history so well, with biographies of famous Meiji military, political and business figures peppered over the city marking the places where they were born. Add to that the fun gardens, quaint trollycar, and Sakurajima just across the bay, and it really is a beautiful city with personality.

Tsushima is a beautiful island with countless hills and inlet bays situated between Kyushu and Korea. It has a tiny population of less than 40,000 people, and land in Tsushima can be had for a real bargain, and for a brief moment, I thought of buying some when I was there in 2007—but unfortunately, the airport no longer has direct flights to Tokyo, only Nagasaki and Fukuoka (and Korea).

A number of places along the Izu peninsula, or even out in the Izu islands, would be a wonderful place to be, with beautiful beaches in summer and very mild winters, delicious fresh food from the sea, and convenience to Tokyo that would make it almost possible to commute.

Kawagoe has always struck me as perhaps the nicest old neighborhood in the greater Tokyo area, with its clock tower and many old temples (some people complain that the buildings are not genuine, but that doesn’t bother me—even if it’s not genuine, it’s authentic, and it’s the effort and thought that counts). It is also a cheap train ticket away to Tokyo, just an hour away on the Seibu Shinjuku line. Kawagoe would be a great place to live if you were working in Tokyo but wanted to hold on to a town with history and personality.

Rebun is the northernmost island of Japan after Hokkaido, and sits a short ferry ride away from Wakkanai. This remote island truly feels like the most remote area of Japan, when you cross the stubby mountains to its west side and look down over dramatic cliffs that drop into the sea, tiny huts in a small village, and water empty of any ships except the occasional fishing boat.

Karuizawa is a hoity-toity mountain retreat for Japan’s old school elite, and one of the few places outside Tokyo where land prices are absurdly high. But it is truly beautiful in the winter

Practically part of the capital, Yokohama is one of those places that makes me reevaluate my life in Tokyo everytime I visit. It has a feel of being much more modern (read: futuristic) and clean, consumer good prices feel much cheaper, and land prices and housing prices give you much more bang for your buck than Tokyo.

Wakayama holds a certain special place in my heart because it was the first place I lived in Japan as a teenager. I have lots of friends there, and land prices keep on getting cheaper, although the economy is notably awful.

Fukuoka boasts the most convenient airport in the world, right in the heart of the city, great food, fun history and things to see, and is the one place on this list next to Yokohama that just could be a permanent home outside of Tokyo for an eager professional doing business with the rest of Asia. And it also boasts great cuisine—first class seafood, nabe, ramen, and much more.

This list is long, but how about you, readers? Bonus points if you can come up with a graphic as AWESOME as mine above.

Admiring Shoichi Nakagawa

I happened to be listening to a speech by Shoichi Nakagawa from August 2005, addressing the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ), just after Koizumi dissolved the cabinet and just before the LDP went on to win a crushing victory against the LDP rebels and the DPJ. The background to this is that, I recently started listening to the speechs of the big names from that tumultuous year, such as Watanuki and Kamei (who went on to start the Kokumin Shinto, with Kamei now being a powerful force in the new government), Okada and Kan (as they floundered trying to find a theme on which to run their campaigns, little did anyone guess they would be leading powerful figures in a new government in a few years), Koizumi and his former cabinet minister Hiranuma (perhaps the key battle between two politicians that year, as they were locked in mortal combat); and Abe (who at the time was the favored heir to the Koizumi throne, yet we all know that didn’t last).

Nakagawa was at the bottom of my list of people to listen to, because he wasn’t particularly important that year, and his career thereafter fizzled and failed. Less than a year ago, he resigned after appearing drunk at a speech in Italy—particularly reckless as it was as he signed an agreement with the IMF to lend them $100 billion in the largest single loan ever in history. He went on to lose reelection in 2009 in what was previously deemed a very safe seat, and dying under peculiar circumstances several weeks later. Many people in Nagatacho and in political circles that I associate appeared devastated, thinking it was a big loss, but I never understood the attraction of the man—my only memories of him from the past few years were of him looking exhausted and bleary. I thought he was another entitled hereditary politician, overrated and unimpressive—and it had been clear to all Nagatacho watchers for years that the man had a serious alcohol problem.

Yet listening to his speech from the campaign of 2005, I had a real change of heart. Nakagawa spoke clearly and concisely, showing the best side of a politician speech and a policy wonk. He loosened up the foreign press audience with a little English, an apology (how Japanese) and a joke (how American), then launched into politics and policy, speaking clearly and carefully on very complicated topics. Having just listened to the speeches of a handful of other politicians from that year, he definitely came across as the best, far more concise, intelligent and persuasive than all the other big names noted above. (Koizumi is, of course, always brilliant—but his collected speeches from that election campaign are just a collection of him sounding pissed off regarding the rejection of postal privatization.)

Note also his joke on neckties and longevity, which in retrospect, is grim. You can download and listen to the speech here, should you be so inclined.

“The legal profession must be saved from itself”

I posted this article on ComingAnarchy.com, and feel it worth sharing here also because it serves as a good international comparison to the controversial introduction of the law school system in Japan. In Japan, new law schools have been introduced that, at the time devised, were supposed to produce graduates who would pass the new bar exam at rates close to American law school rates, about 60-70%. Those rates have in fact been at around 20%, meaning that despite the new system, thousands of promising young graduates sacrifice some of the most important years of their lives on a wasted course of study that will not result in a career.

Critics write on this as if it is unique to Japan. But it’s not—especially not America in recent years. Of the hundreds of thousands of lawyers in the profession, there are many tens of thousands who never find employment in practice, with many thousands who were added to the unemployment roster over the past two years due to the sharp economic downturn, and yet the American Bar Assocation and numerous state legislatures are pushing to open even more law schools.

The author thinks the solution is to regulate and limit the power of the ABA, and maybe he’s right, although I tend to take a more cynical view and think that the complicity with the reckless expansion of the profession is far broader. An abridged version of the article appears below. Every paragraph is basically enough to expand into an entire book chapter. I think the numbers are also a worthwhile comparison—many more thousands of people (tens of thousands) waste their youth in American law schools than in Japanese law schools.

No more room at the bench
Mark Greenbaum

Remember the old joke about 20,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea being “a good start”? Well, in an interesting twist, thousands of lawyers now find themselves drowning in the unemployment line as the legal sector is being badly saturated with attorneys…

From 2004 through 2008, the field grew less than 1% per year on average, going from 735,000 people making a living as attorneys to just 760,000, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics postulating that the field will grow at the same rate through 2016… the number of new positions is likely to be fewer than 30,000 per year. That is far fewer than what’s needed to accommodate the 45,000 juris doctors graduating from U.S. law schools each year.

Such debt would be manageable if a world of lucrative jobs awaited the newly minted attorneys, but this is not the case. A recent working paper by Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt Law School contends that with the exception of some of those at the best schools, going for a law degree is a bad investment and that most students will be “unlikely ever to dig themselves out from” under their debt. This problem is exacerbated by the existing law school system.

Despite the tough job market, new schools continue to sprout like weeds. Today there are 200 ABA-accredited law schools in the U.S., with more on the way, as many have been awarded provisional accreditation. In California alone, there are 21 law schools that are either accredited or provisionally accredited, including the new one at UC Irvine.

The ABA has also refused to create and oversee an independent method of reporting graduate data. Postgraduate employment information generally provides the most useful facts for prospective students to study in deciding whether to go to law school.

In many cases, the data that schools now furnish are based on self-reported information, skewing the results because unemployed and low-paying grads are less likely to report back. Law schools do this because they want the rosiest picture possible for the influential rankings given by U.S. News & World Report. Despite its ample resources, the ABA has rebuffed calls to monitor the schools to get more accurate data, calling the existing framework an effective “honor system.”

Based on what happened with the accreditation task force, the ABA is not likely to force change; it is too intertwined with the law schools. ABA groups—such as the task force, which was chaired by a former dean—are stacked with school officials who have no incentive to change the status quo. This is why the ABA should get out of the accreditation business completely.

Unlike other professional fields such as medicine and public health, whose preeminent professional organizations do not have control over the accreditation of schools and programs, the ABA exercises unfettered power over the accreditation of law schools.

The U.S. Department of Education should strip the ABA of its accreditor status and give the authority to an organization that is free of conflicts of interest, such as the Assn. of American Law Schools or a new group… The legal profession must be saved from itself.

The Origin of 回教

If you read any dated text in Japanese that refers to Islam, or, say, watch the movie Ghandi with Japanese subtitles, you may see the word Islam written with the characters 回教, or kaikyou (or in Chinese, huíjiào). Archaically this was also written 回回, in which case it was pronounced Uiui in Japanese and huíhuí in Chinese. Where did these characters come from and why were they used to refer to Islam?

Christian Europe’s first interraction with the Islam religion was with the Arab Middle East and with the first Caliphate that rapidly expanded to dominate the Middle East, North Africa, and Persia and directly challenge the waning influence of the kingdoms of post-Roman Europe. The Far East had a much slower and gradual introduction to the religion and the Muslim people. The first reference of the characters identified by scholars is during the Northern Song Dynasty in the 10th to 12th centuries, when the characters 回回 were used to refer to the religion of the Uyghers (the name of the people was written as 回鶻、or 回紇). For centuries, the words were used almost interchangeably because the Uyghurs were the only Muslim people known to the Chinese, but as Islam spread, the characters 回回 were expanded to broadly include more people than just the Uyghurs, and during the Ming Dynasty, the characters 回回 were converted into 回教.

Through the Ming and Qing dynasties, Chinese people who converted to Islam and who lived in China were called 回民, and the Turks of Central Asia were called 回部. Today, characters 回族 refer to the Hui people, a minority ethnic group in China of people who appear Chinese in external appearance but who follow the Muslim faith. The word 回部 refers not to the Turks of Central Asia but the Uyghurs. Exactly when the words came to Japan, or when they arrived in Japan and were understood, is not understood, at least not in any resource that I can find in my online research.

In the mid-20th century, the words were slowly understood as being inaccurate and possibly politically incorrect. Japan now almost universally uses the word イスラム教 or イスラーム, while the Chinese use the words 伊斯蘭教 (Yīsīlánjiào). However, Vietnam, which converted to a Roman letter alphabet in the 19th century, still keeps the old word for Islam with the word Hồi giáo, adopted from the original characters.

The gold standard in wartime

I was just reading the 1938 edition of “Social Education in Taiwan,” published by the Japanese colonial government, when I came across this rather neat line in the middle of a section (page 76) on how the civilian population was being taught to aid the war effort (Second Sino-Japanese War) on the home front.

個人所有の金の価値が装飾用又は個人の虚栄心を満足させるが如き単に個人的価値を有するに過ぎないが一度国家の所有に移転すれば、国際収支決済の機能を発揮し、延いては国運発展上寄与する所極めて大なること。

This translates to:
The value of gold held by an individual merely possesses the value a piece of jewelry, or of causing vanity, but should that ownership be transfered to the state, then it will not serve a function in resolving the international balance of payments, but also serve as a grand contribution to the development of the fate of the nation.

It then goes on to recommend that citizens (or perhaps “subjects” is a better word)
think of their own personal finances and sell their gold to the government, as it will not only be highly profitable to sell at the current high market price, but that by exchanging the gold official currency, it can be invested in other ways such as bank deposits, where it will bring about a natural increase in wealth [i.e. through interest], which will be far more profitable than letting it going to waste  sitting at home. [Error in my original translation corrected thanks to Aki’s comment below.]

I don’t feel 100% confident about my translation of the latter part, so if anyone has a better translation for 「之を貨幣に換へ、貯金其の他の方法にて運用せば自然財産の増加を来すを以て徒に死蔵し置くに比し極めて有利になること」 than please let me know. Incidentally, this isn’t a section I plan to use in what I’m working on now, just that I thought it would be of interest to all of you.

Now, I wonder how the value of the original gold vs. the paper money held up over the course of the next several years.

Subway planning Japan surge

Great news, people. Subway will open 80 new Japanese locations in 2010 (sub req’d). Most new stores will be in highway service areas and shopping centers where other fast food restaurants have shut their doors. That means you could start seeing Subways where the now-defunct Wendy’s used to be.

That will bring the number of Subways in Japan to around 270. Say what you will about their quality, Subway is the one of the only easy places to get a real deli sandwich in Tokyo. Mrs. Adamu and I love it.

I will be watching developments on this front very closely as I am considering moving out of Ayase at some point in the next year or so. Being near a Subway will be a major plus.

One interesting fact about Subway Japan – about 90% of their locations are franchisee-owned. So that older gentleman watching over the teenage part-timers making your sandwich? He probably has a very direct stake in making sure you’re satisfied. The same goes for most of the 957 Baskin Robbins stores.