Category Archives: Propaganda

Game review: Abe-pyon is a fun, free, no-nonsense smartphone game; political propaganda at its best

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A couple weeks ago the Japanese ruling Liberal Democratic Party released Abe-pyon (Abe Jump; iOS link / Android), its first official smartphone game. The release was timed ahead of the upcoming Upper House election to try and reach voters that might otherwise not be interested in politics.

You control a cartoon version of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he jumps higher and higher. Hitting springs gives you an extra boost, and as you go higher you reach more elite government/party titles (LDP Youth Division Director, Minister, Secretary General, etc. all the way up to Prime MInister).

For a low-budget simple game, Abe-pyon has been very well received, but I am not surprised—the game is actually quite fun and addictive, it’s free, and unlike virtually all other high-profile smartphone games (that I have played at least), it is a pure and complete game with no in-game purchasing whatsoever. To control Abe you tilt the phone from side to side, and this is the first smartphone game I have played where that was actually fun and even doable on the train. It is a lot of fun to try and slip Abe between two platforms to get at one of the red super-bonus springs.


This person made it to 11,000

You might complain that you are being propagandized by a political party, but if this is what it takes to bring an actually enjoyable and no-nonsense game to my iPhone, then that part doesn’t bother me a bit.

The game’s simple but well-done mechanics remind me of some earlier endless runner type games I have played, most notably Nanaca Crash, a Flash game (and Mutant Frog favorite) where you control a bouncing boy who was sent flying by a girl who was apparently stalking him. That was back in a the good old days before Facebook games taught every game maker of the potential to get rich through microtransactions.

The sound in the game is also pretty great. You get to hear comical boioioioing! sound effects whenever you hit a bonus spring, and Abe lets out a panicked squeal when he dies (sadly that isn’t his real voice). There is a rollicking Blues Brothers-style rock song which is also pretty fun (though I keep it off if I am listening to podcasts).

Abe pyon high score

My current high score

That being said, there are a few drawbacks, most of which have to do with the nature of the game. For one thing, you have to start from the beginning every time, so it takes a while to get back near a high score. You can pause the game and come back, but my iPhone 4S has so little memory it often loses my progress if I open a few more apps. I find that my hand tires out a little after getting to 800 or so, so I tend to mess up after that. If the LDP decides to sell the game to an actual business, offering continues might be a good way to monetize.

All in all however, I have shocked myself at how long I have been willing to stare at Abe’s face (albeit in cartoon form) to play this game. That speaks to how enjoyable the game is, so I definitely recommend trying it out if it’s on your local app store and hope more political parties will get the idea to curry favor with the populace by making great video games.

Update: It has come to my attention that this game is very similar to a popular game Doodle Jump. I haven’t played that one but the screen shots seem very close. Thanks Dan and Emily!

Adamu will be on Livestream helping break down the election this Sunday starting at 8pm!!

Two major elections are coming up in Japan this Sunday—a general election to choose members of the Diet’s lower house, and a race for the Tokyo governorship. The chances of a change in government are high and of all people, that great buckler former PM Abe Shinzo is the favorite to become Japan’s next prime minister!

To help make sense of it all, I’ll be participating in a Livestream broadcast with Garrett De Orio and Kozo Ota, two of the Tokyo English-language blogosphere’s foremost political (and yakyu) junkies. You can save the URL here. We go on air at 8pm, once the polls close. It promises to be a fun and informative evening, so if you like sarcastic commentary and wading deep into the swampy weeds of the Japanese political system, this one is for you my friend.

During the stream we will be answering Twitter questions live with the hashtag #japanelection. Please drop a line! Given its importance, we will be focusing mostly on the general election.

Before Sunday I will try and do some posts highlighting aspects of the election that might fall through the cracks of what has become a quite robust Japan blogo/Twittersphere of late. Outfits like Japan Real Time, Japan Probe, and Shisaku have all been great.

Otherwise you can follow me at @adamukun on Twitter for regular updates. Please let me know in the comments below what sort of issues you want to hear about, and I hope to see you on the stream! Oh and if you’re a Japanese citizen make sure to get out there and vote!!

Post-quake nuclear bungling in context, seawater-gate edition

This week, Japan’s political news was dominated by a political fight between the LDP and DPJ over whether Prime Minister Kan, the day after the March 11 earthquake, ordered Tepco to stop flooding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant with seawater. Something shocking happened that poured cold water on that debate, however. The head of the facility admitted that regardless of orders from corporate headquarters to stop (apparently relaying the PM’s wishes), he continued the flooding operations because it was the right thing to do.

In many ways this conflict is a tempest in a teapot, at best a distraction from dealing with the nuclear accident and post-quake situation right now. But it does offer us a window, however slight, into how information has flowed (or not) among stakeholders and the public.

The Nikkei has an interesting lowdown on the farcical sequence of events:

The controversy began with a document issued Saturday by the government’s joint task force with Tepco, purporting to tell the “facts” of how seawater was injected into the No. 1 reactor March 12, the day after a tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Tepco began pumping ocean water into the hot reactor at 7:04 p.m. without informing the government, according to the document. A company employee at the Prime Minister’s Office later telephoned the power plant and the injections stopped at 7:25, only to restart 55 minutes later, the report stated.

A different picture emerged Thursday.

At the time the pumping began, officials at company headquarters had decided there was next to no chance that the seawater would cause the fuel inside to go critical again, Tepco Vice President Sakae Muto told a news conference.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan had asked about that possibility in discussions with Nuclear Safety Commission Chairman Haruki Madarame and other advisers.

But what headquarters officials heard from the employee stationed at the Prime Minister’s Office was that the “atmosphere” there was that the cooling operation could not go ahead without the prime minister’s approval, according to Muto.

In a video conference with plant manager Masao Yoshida, Tepco officials decided to halt the seawater injections. But Yoshida disregarded that order, and the pumping continued. Although final authority did rest with the plant manager, he never reported his actions to headquarters. Head office officials, for their part, never confirmed with Yoshida that the order had been carried out.

At that stage in the crisis, with reactor coolant going up in steam and the fuel rods melting, every second counted. The plant’s emergency manual prescribes seawater injections in such a situation. Regardless of the “atmosphere” at the Prime Minister’s Office, turning off the pumps would have been the wrong decision, based on the conditions at the plant.

Asked why he decided to reveal that the seawater injections continued nonstop, Yoshida said he “thought it over again carefully after it became a controversy in the newspapers and the Diet.”


Right off the bat, I want to say that getting the “real” situation is basically impossible for the general public, and that’s kind of the point of this post. But assuming this report is basically true, it seems clear to me that this is definitely not a case of Tepco or the government hiding information, per se. Mr. Yoshida (who was apparently quoted indirectly through a Tepco spokesperson) was the only one hiding anything, for reasons he must think make sense, even if they deprive outside observers of an accurate picture of the situation.

Get a load of Tepco headquarters – they never confirmed whether he had actually stopped the water? I guess Yoshida just pretended to “restart” the operation when they said it was OK an hour later?

I have read so many articles saying that “Japan” has not been forthcoming with information about the nuclear accident, but I find that hard to believe. Information has been released by the truckload. The entire scandal got started when Tepco released a detailed breakdown of what happened. But even when important people have the best of intentions and submit a report in good faith, there’s no guarantee they will have all the facts.

The Kan government has recently announced an independent commission to study the accident, and the IAEA has its own people on the ground investigating. Openness isn’t the problem here. The problem is how difficult it is for outsiders to get a clear picture of a rapidly unfolding situation, even when the people in charge are trying to be forthcoming.

Again it’s hard to really feel like I have a sound basis to comment, but from my limited vantage point this incident makes a lot of people look bad, most of all the LDP who so quickly leaped on a potentially damaging decision by the prime minister for political gain, only to learn their entire premise was flawed. No one stopped the seawater because, thankfully enough, someone at Tepco had a cool enough head to not listen to superiors who were more worried about reading the Prime Minister’s “mood” than how to control the reactor.

Yoshida might be punished by Tepco for not reporting his actions, but I think he deserves a lot of credit for taking the necessary action. It also bears mentioning that his actions fly in the face of the common stereotype of Japanese deference to power.

The “Fly-jin” hype, or: 「フライジン」に該当するページが見つかりませんでした

In English-language news media, everyone is talking about this new word “Fly-jin”, a play on “Gaijin,” i.e. foreigners who have fled Japan in the wake of the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear holocaust [/sarcasm]. Take this article in the Wall Street Journal that everyone is talking about:

The flight of the foreigners—known as gaijin in Japanese—has polarized some offices in Tokyo. Last week, departures from Japan reached a fever pitch after the U.S. Embassy unveiled a voluntary evacuation notice and sent in planes to ferry Americans to safe havens. In the exodus, a new term was coined for foreigners fleeing Japan: flyjin.

The first part of that excerpt is true—foreigners really have fled, and lots of Japanese companies are really pissed about it. I just heard a story of a person fired from a (rather domestic, small-minded) Japanese company for fleeing the country and missing 8 days of work. (I think the biggest problem in this sitaution wast the backward employer and the failure of communication by the fleeing foreign employee.)

But has anyone heard the word “Furai-jin” in actual Japanese conversation? A search of the Japanese version of news.google brought in zero results for “フライジン” and no relevant searches for “フライ人”. A google search for the later brought up lots of pages regarding people who are in love with fly fishing. A targeted google search brought up one thread on a 2ch Japanese chat threat—which is a translation of the Wall Street Journal article! In fact, I find myself in full agreement with a commenter on that 2ch thread:

>”flyjin”(fly + gaijin)
これ絶対この記事書いた奴が考えたろ…

Translation: “’Flyjin’... I bet the guy who wrote this article came up with that.”

So a challenge to Mariko Sanchanta, author of the above WSJ article: can you show us the word “furai-jin” was used before you put it in your article?

Death of Detroit: “The Karate Kid” vs. Eminem

I finally got around to seeing The Karate Kid (i.e. last year’s remake starring Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan) last weekend.

Though not a revolutionary classic of filmmaking by any means, it was still pretty enjoyable and interesting from my perspective. One reason is that it is the only Hollywood film I have seen that captures the modern experience of being an American expat in Asia—particularly of being an American kid coming to Asia. The protagonist, 12-year-old Dre Parker, goes through the same stages of frustration and emergence in Beijing that I went through as a 15-year-old in Osaka. This balances to hilarious effect with the “overawed clueless expat” character of Dre’s mother Sherry, who spends most of the movie fawning on the wonderfulness of everything Chinese.

The other interesting facet of the film is its historical context in the industrial decay of America and simultaneous emergence of China. At the very beginning of the film, Sherry and Dre move from a middle-class existence in Detroit to a middle-class existence in Beijing, and a long portion of the opening credits consists of shots of the decaying metropolis of Detroit. The reason for their move, which is only briefly mentioned in the film, is that Sherry worked at a car factory which closed down, and the only way she could keep working was to transfer to a factory in China. When Dre gets exasperated and wants to go home, Sherry emphatically tells him that they cannot go home because there is nothing left for them.

In short, it’s a movie primarily about a kid overcoming his weaknesses through kung fu discipline, and secondarily about America, China and the expat experience in the 21st century. On the latter point, it does a much less groan-worthy job than the likes of Rising Sun and Gung Ho did during the Japanese emergence of the late 1980s.

The decay of Detroit is, of course, nothing new; there have been a few big movies made on the theme, such as the non-fictional Roger & Me in 1989 and the fictional 8 Mile in 2002. Now Chrysler is using the legacy and the decaying grit of Detroit as selling points for their high-end cars; on Sunday, they ran the following ad during the Super Bowl, which is the most-watched TV program in the US just about every year, and got Eminem to pop in as a spokesman. (Hat tip to James Fallows for the link.)

The ad conveniently ignores the fact that Chrysler will be owned by Italians as soon as it pays off its debts to the US federal government. But hey, image is everything.

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.

Obama won the Nobel because Bush was just that bad

Obama won the Nobel Peace Price completely out of the blue and really without much in the way of results. I think the whole world must be scratching its collective head now.

So to try and help make sense of things, I just wanted to echo the sentiment in this post from Talking Points Memo:


It’s not the accustomed stance of a writer or blogger. But this one does have me at something of a loss for words. I notice the condemnation of the Taliban, the edged snark of the superciliati. But I also see Ana Marie Cox’s first-off Twitter: “Apparently Nobel prizes now being awarded to anyone who is not George Bush.” And while less than generous, I think she’s on to the root of the matter. But perhaps not precisely in the way she thinks.

This is an odd award. You’d expect it to come later in Obama’s presidency and tied to some particular event or accomplishment. But the unmistakable message of the award is one of the consequences of a period in which the most powerful country in the world, the ‘hyper-power’ as the French have it, became the focus of destabilization and in real if limited ways lawlessness. A harsh judgment, yes. But a dark period. And Obama has begun, if fitfully and very imperfectly to many of his supporters, to steer the ship of state in a different direction. If that seems like a meager accomplishment to many of the usual Washington types it’s a profound reflection of their own enablement of the Bush era and how compromised they are by it, how much they perpetuated the belief that it was ‘normal history’ rather than dark aberration.


Okada: No need for vice-minister press conferences; Nikkei: Take it back NOW

My new circumstances give me access to most of the daily papers, in real live dead tree format. So today I looked at the Nikkei and came away with some thoughts:

Nikkei has an editorial forcefully demanding that the DPJ scrap any plans it might have to eliminate press conferences for every ministry’s vice-minister (事務次官). The piece is a reaction to a recent comment from incoming foreign minister Katsuya Okada that they wouldn’t need to hold their own press  conferences because the traditional vice-minister inter-ministry meetings will be discontinued. Under LDP rule, the meetings had become a sort of shadow cabinet meeting and a manifestation of bureaucrat rule.

Calling the suggestion “rash,” the editorial writers lecture Okada that the people in power always try and reduce the number of press conferences as a way to escape scrutiny, and that it’s not up to those in power to decide what the public’s right to know is. One example of the benefits of these press conferences is that the agricultural vice-minister recently had to step down for making inappropriate comments at his press conference about a tainted rice scandal.

I checked, and none of the other major newspapers felt the need to devote an editorial to this issue (the Yomiuri for its part allotted its second editorial to lionizing Ichiro for his new hitting record). But I wouldn’t be surprised if some follow the Nikkei’s lead.

The incoming DPJ administration is expected to open up the press clubs in government institutions, which previously have been almost exclusively limited to domestic, mainstream newspapers and TV stations. Hence, the mainstream news media are on the watch for any signs they could lose their biggest asset – privileged access to those in power. The newspapers are more exposed to damage on this front than TV stations as the news is their only business, at least in their principal medium. The Nikkei in particular just got done posting its first loss since it started publishing figures, for the first half of 2009.

In principle, I agree with the Nikkei’s point that the powerful should be held up to scrutiny. But the Nikkei is changing the subject. Okada didn’t necessarily say he wanted to reduce the number of press conferences. As far as I can tell, Okada’s is merely saying that if the vice-ministers aren’t going to be in a position to speak for their ministries, of course they shouldn’t have press conferences. Maybe a political appointee would be the more appropriate person to put in front of the podium.

In fact, the DPJ’s plans to open up press clubs to independent media will open up government, so I would not be worried if the government stops holding press conference for people who are supposedly irrelevant anyway. The DPJ shouldn’t listen to the Nikkei. Remember, the media will try to portray itself as a defender of the public good, when in fact it’s an institution that’s exploited government secrecy for decades to its financial benefit. I would be happier if the Nikkei spent its vast resources not on acting as stenographers for the government and occasionally getting someone to say stupid things in public (as they did to make the vice minister resign), but instead on actual investigations.

Max Blumenthal at the 9-12 rally in DC

Just thought I’d pass this amazing video along.

Some of the interviews are unfair “gotcha” material, but it’s great to see people get confused when he asked them why they’re so opposed to health care reform and what exactly will happen when the “Obama revolution” goes down. These people really should stop and ask themselves what they’re getting so paranoid about.

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!