Category Archives: Technology

Post earthquake initial impressions by Adamu

It is still very early into this tragedy, and a lot could change in the coming days/weeks/months. But I wanted to give some initial impressions. I have been going to the office as usual and basically heading directly home to keep updated and try and calm down my mother via Google Talk. Here are some of my observations so far based on my experiences and the reports I have been reading and watching in English and Japanese. To save time, I have not included links to some stories I did not feel like digging up:

  • Japan rocks – The reaction to the earthquake has been impressive, though sadly even the best response is unequal to adequately deal with the massive destruction in northeast Japan. The buildings were strong enough to stay standing through the quake, the streets were safe enough to walk home when no trains ran, and a full court press came to the rescue the next day. As far as planning and citizen preparedness goes, Japan has the whole world beat, hands down. It seems like in many ways the authorities learned from the failings of the Kobe earthquake. I feel very proud of my adopted home. Note that the emperor agrees with me. In his recent national address, he noted with admiration that foreign observers praised the Japanese people for their calm, helpful reaction to the quake.
    Unfortunately, even the best plans cannot protect against one of the biggest earthquakes/tsunamis ever known. The damage is immense, and it will take a long time to recover. But I am confident that Japan has what it takes to get through the disaster and emerge as strong as ever.
    As the days unfold, I notice that one advantage Japan seems to have on its side is a very adversarial media. From the outset, I think the Kan administration has done its best given the circumstances, and I don’t really agree with the assessment of some media outlets that it was too slow to set up shop inside Tepco. However, on top of that the mainstream media covering this story have (admirably) shown very little deference to the prime minister and Tepco. I think this has put the fear of God into these officials to disclose as much information as possible and be as cooperative as possible. Also, the US (among other countries) is offering very generous support and has been among the most supportive governments in backing up Japan’s response. It has issued statements saying they are “in agreement” with the Japanese assessment of the nuclear situation. Betraying US confidence at this point would not go down well. With all that pressure, attempting to hide things could easily turn Tepco into the next BP (and then some) and the Kan administration into the villain that Murayama is remembered as being during the 1995 Kobe earthquake.
    Twitter has also been a big positive, in my opinion. It helps average people exchange trusted information (and lies to a much lesser extent), and there is a kind of wisdom-of-crowds quality in which certain proposals are retweeted by enough alpha-users that they grab the attention of the authorities. For instance, I saw some prominent Japanese Twitterers retweet a request to have sign language interpreters at press conferences, and a day later sure enough there they were. On the other end of the spectrum, there have been some chain letters spreading untrue rumors. I received one about “poison rain” due to the Chiba oil tanker fire, and I have heard about others. It is worth noting that the person who sent that one emailed me after she learned it was false.

  • Supply shortages in Tokyo should be resolved soon - At this point, it is hard to tell what is more to blame for the empty shelves – the hoarders or the reduced shipments? All the same, manufacturers are reporting sufficient capacity to supply the area, and any disruptions in deliveries should be relieved by next week’s release of emergency oil reserves. The reserves should alleviate the supply shortages and give time for availability even in Tokyo to get back to normal as early as next week. One big reason for the delay is that the worst affected regions got priority, which is only natural.
    Unfortunately, this is one area where average people and the government were kind of a letdown. For one thing, people seemed to start panic buying very quickly. I took a trip to Tochigi on Sunday and already the gas station lines were long. At the same time, the government only started telling people to stop panic buying today! The media seemed to be doing its job, noting the activity and noting how problematic it was, at least as far as I read.

  • People are overreacting to the nuclear crisis, big time – The risk of radiation is, by all credible accounts, very small for almost everyone in the country. I am as glued to updates as anyone, but I am not panicking. In fact, I think focusing too much on the nuclear crisis runs the risk of de-emphasizing the massive toll the tsunami took on the region. The French chartering flights to evacuate expats and warnings based on nuclear fears are overdoing it, I think. I mean, I would understand some people without a deep connection to the country leaving, or at least moving or sending loved ones to stay somewhere safer. I have my wife and in-laws in the area, so I don’t want to leave unless it is truly necessary. In addition to the nuclear concerns, there are the transit problems and hoarding/logistics problems with daily necessities, not to mention the risk of aftershocks. This is scary for everyone, but people who don’t know the language or don’t have people to rely on have that added layer of difficulty. And if you can’t follow the mainstream Japanese media (and sensible Internet sources like Mutant Frog!), you are liable to read sensationalized reports from the overseas media.
    This last bit is a sore point for me. Thanks to all the scary US media reports, my mother has been absolutely terrified. My relatives and family friends have been calling her nonstop to know if I’m OK. I know the media are in the misery business, but more than that it seems like the reporters are far too detached from the story. They focus so much on broader implications and potential scenarios that it ends up providing no practical information to people who actually want to have an even-handed idea of what’s going on.

  • The aftershocks are really scary – since the big earthquake it almost feels like there are small rumblings going on constantly. I especially feel this way at the office, where the building’s design makes it kind of easy to feel small tremors. The bigger ones fill me with dread. As they happen, I wonder if this one will build up slowly into a big quake like the one on Friday. Even when there are no quakes, for some reason I feel like the ground is shaking when I am walking down long hallways.

  • Many outside observers have failed a very easy test of decency – When reacting to a tragic event, the rules of etiquette are simple. Express sympathy for the victims and note the tragedy of the affair. This is not the time to make dumb jokes, call a natural disaster retribution for something some people from Japan did that you don’t like, or condescendingly generalize about Japanese culture. Too many people have failed miserably in this regard. If you need to react this way, keep it off the Internet at least!

  • I am a terrible investor – Last and most definitely least, what do you think is the only individual stock I own? Some hints: In the two months since I bought in, it has seen much of its generating capacity wiped out forever and been threatened with government-enforced annihilation for mishandling the disaster response. Oh and it has been limit-down for three days straight.

A note on energy conservation

Due to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants being offline, the Kanto area is experiencing serious power shortages. According to Tokyo Vice-Mayor Inose Naoki as of  around 4:30pm, the electricity demand in the Tokyo Power area exceeded the supply by 1/3, and therefore a 1/4 reduction in electricity consumption will be necessary to avoid rolling blackouts in the near future.

What you see above is a map of Japan’s electrical grid, which for odd historical reasons is separated into a 60hz grid (same as North America) in the western half of Japan and a 50hz grid (same as Europe) in the eastern half. As you can see, the blue areas on the above map are the 60hz region and the red areas are the 50hz region. Although there is a crossover in the middle that allows frequency conversion, it is not high enough capacity for the Kansai (west Japan) grid to have much effect in compensating for the shortages in Kanto and Tohoku (east and north-east Japan).

According to Osaka City Mayor, Hiramatsu Kunio, the crossovers between the two systems only transmit a total of 1 million kilowatts, which is a smallish percentage of the electrical shortage volume in Kanto, which according to Inose’s statement was 10 million. Since there are also no energy issues going on in Kansai, there should still be enough power available to feed the 60hz/50hz crossover even without energy conservation efforts, and Hiramatsu has stressed several times that no extraordinary energy conservation measures are necessary at this time, and if they are deemed necessary later there will be an announcement.

Of course this does not mean that conservation is a bad idea – it never is! Residents throughout Japan would be well advised to take reasonable conservation measures, such as for example using gas or oil heat instead of electricity, whereas residents of the 50hz Kanto region should be conserving as much power as possible to help reduce the odds of a total blackout.

Update: Sounds like the national government just called for nationwide energy conservation, but my point still stands. Electricity conservation is FAR more critical for people living within the 50hz region.

[Update: March 14 2:10pm] Rolling blackouts have been scheduled for Tokyo, but due to successful power saving measures, especially suspending operation of many trains, this morning’s blackouts were avoided. Details of the blackout regions and schedule can be found here.

According to Tokyo Vice-governor Inose Naoki, some time in the next few weeks an additional thermal based power plant (natural gas or oil I presume, but unclear) with a capacity of 7 million kilowatts – which will go most of the way towards filling the 10 million kilowatt gap between the ordinary electricity demand load and the current available supply. I can’t find any other details as to what plant he is referring to, or what it has been doing this whole time.

On a lighter note, fans of the anime series Evangelion have half-jokingly began referring to energy saving measures as “Operation Yashima” (ヤシマ作戦) after an event in an episode of the show in which the output of the entire electrical grid of Japan is redirected into a massive energy weapon in order to defeat an invading alien creature. One fan has also made a nifty poster calling on people to save power in the graphic style of Nerv, the fictional government agency in the Evangelion series.

Vital stats of the Fukushima Nuclear Plants

As there has been some incorrect and/or incomplete information being circulated regarding the details of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants in this post I have translated the vital details of the various reactors of both Fukushima Plant #1 and #2 from their official profile pages at the Tokyo Power Company (which is their owner) website.

Apologies for the bizarre amount of white space, something wacky with the table HTML I can’t fix now, but the information itself is completely legible.

In both tables, the numbered columns refer to the individual reactors of the plants. For example, Plant #1, Reactor #1, etc.

Profile of Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Number One: (福島第一原子力発電所)

This was the first nuclear power plant build and operated by the company. It covers an area 75 times as large as Tokyo Dome, about 350,000 square meters.

Reactor #1








































































































































































#1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6


C

O
R

S
P

E
C

S

Output(万kW) 46.0 78.4 78.4 78.4 78.4 110.0
Construction start 1967/9 1969/5 1970/10 1972/9 1971/12 1973/5
1971/3 1974/7 1976/3 1978/10 1978/4 1979/10
Reactor type Boiling Water Reactor(BWR)
Containment Vessel Mark I マークII
% made in Japan 56 53 91 91 93 63
Primary contractor GE GE・Toshiba Toshiba Hitachi Toshiba GE・Toshiba
R
E

A
C

T
O

R

Heat output(10,000s kW) 138 238.1 329.3
Fuel assemblies(#) 400 548 764
Fuel assemblies(length in m) ~4.35 ~4.47 ~4.47
Control Rods(#) 97 137 185
Pressure vessel Gauge(m) ~4.8 ~5.6 約6.4
Total height(m) ~20 ~22 23
Total weight(metric tons) 440 500 750
Container vessel Total height(m) ~32 ~33 ~34 ~48
Cylinder diameter(m) ~10 ~11 ~10(Upper part)
Spherical diameter(m) ~18 ~20 ~25(Lower part)
Pressure control pool volume(metric tons) 1,750 2,980 3,200

T

U
R

B
I

N
E

Rotation speed (rpm) 1,500
Intake steam temp(℃) 282
Steam pressure(kg/cm2g) 66.8

F

U
E

L

Type Uranium dioxide
Uranium capacity(t) 69 94 132
Fuel assemblies(#) 400 548 764

Profile of Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Number Two: (福島第二原子力発電所)















































































































































#1 #2 #3 #4
C
O

R

S
P

E
C

S

 

Electrical output(10,000 kW) 110.0 110.0 110.0 110.0
Construction start 1975/11 1979/2 1980/12 1980/12
Operation start 1982/4 1984/2 1985/6 1987/8
Reactor type Boiling Water Reactor(BWR)
Containment Vessel Mark II Mark II revised
% made in Japan 98 99 99 99
Primary Contractor Toshiba Hitachi Toshiba Hitachi
R
E

A
C

T
O

R

Heat output(10,000 kW) 329.3
Fuel assemblies(#) 764
Fuel assembly total height(m) ~4.5
Control Rods(#) 185
Pressure Vessel Gauge(m) ~6.4
Total height(m) ~23
Total weight (metric tons) ~750
Container vessel Total height(m) ~48
Diameter(m) ~26 ~29
Pressure control pool volume (metric tons) 3,400 4,000

T

U
R

B
I

N
E

Rotational speed(rpm) 1,500
Input steam temp(℃) 282
Steam pressure(kg/cm2g) 66.8
F
U

E
L

Type Uranium Dioxide
Uranium capacity(metric tons) 132
Fuel assemblies(#) 764
B
U

I
L

D
I

N
G

Nuclear reactor building Height 58m、subsurface depth18m(6 surface floors, 2 basement levels)
Turbine building Height above ground ~33m、subsurface depth ~5m
Waste treatment building(Shared facility) Height ~41m、subsurface depth ~18m(6 surface floors, 2 basement levels)
Central exhaust tower Height ~120m、altitude ~150m

Do Charisma Men need defending?

This blog has a general “no mentioning Debito” rule because with the topics we cover here, he is the gaijin/Japanophile equivalent of Godwin’s law – the topic of conversation becomes instantly derailed into what people think of him and his views and actions. And on the occasions when the man himself has chimed in it has never gone well. The Internet can be an inhospitable place, sadly.

But today I am going to make an exception because he uses his most recent Japan Times column to give us a glimpse at his worldview from a different angle and it caught my interest.

To sum up, he has a problem with the old Charisma Man comic strip from the 90s. As many of our readers will remember, it was a funny caricature of the many young white Western men who come to Japan to teach English and find their luck with the ladies and general social status is much higher here than it was back home. So far so good. Where he takes offense is that there is a character “Western Woman” in the comic that can see him for the nerd he was back home and bring him back down to that level. These people he calls Identity Police and scolds for trying to label people and put them back in a social pecking order they are escaping in Japan.

Basically, I can agree with his point. People have a right to live with dignity even if they’re different and it isn’t fair for someone to come along and insult them. And he’s right that the picture painted is overly broad, though that’s kind of why it was funny to begin with.

Unfortunately, dealing with the topic of a label like this is inherently fraught. Merely by mentioning it we are in some small part accepting the premise of its author. For his part, Debito alternates between denying CM is important and addressing the entire column to anyone who thinks the label might apply to them (presumably a broad group of Western white men living in Japan). Oh well, such are the cards we are dealt.

Thing is, I don’t think this group is exactly under constant attack. There are definitely haters out there, but it’s overdoing it to call them “police.” If you let a detractor have that much power over your life decisions, it’s time to develop a thicker skin.

Any group of people that makes a decision outside the range of possibilities for the majority is going to meet with misunderstanding, ridicule, and even outright hostility. It just comes with the territory. “Charisma Men” are sometimes used as a safe target. For example, this entry on satire blog Stuff White People Like summed up many Americans’ attitude on Japan pretty well: “All white people either have/will/or wished they had taught English in Japan.  It is a dream for them to go over seas and actually live in Japan…White people love Japan… but you have to be careful about how much you like Japan.  If you know how to speak Japanese, you kind of ruin it for everyone else.”

On the other hand, the spread of the Internet has given rise to many ways for such outsiders to compartmentalize themselves. Unfortunately, a kind of siege mentality often develops where people pat each other on the back and find camaraderie among their ilk. These same people will then turn around and scorn some other group they see as different or inferior. In the process all hope of mutual understanding is lost. Something Awful’s Weekend Web feature has many, many great examples of this self-justifying, indulgent, and cliquey behavior.

Probably the best way to bridge these gaps is to appreciate and respect people who are different and resist the temptation to define yourself by putting down the things that you’re not. It’s an impossible task, but it’s important to at least try.

***

In the column Debito seems to accept the premise that most Westerners who come to live in Japan would be “losers in their home countries.” In effect, he is making the Identity Police’s case for them! He also defends “those derided as Charisma Men” as ”providing valued, profitable service to society,” which again is just playing the same game as the detractors. It seems like he doesn’t have a problem with Identity Policing as long as he gets to wear the badge.

There are probably tens of thousands of Westerners living in Japan for various reasons, with hundreds if not thousands coming and going every year. And almost 30 years since the founding of Nova and more than 20 for the JET Program, many of the original Charisma Men have become Charisma Husbands and Charisma Dads, and maybe even Charisma Grandpas. So many people and such a long history make for an incredible amount of diversity. And that includes the nerds and losers remaking their identities along with jocks, former soldiers, nice people, criminals, weirdos, and completely normal and boring people. In fact, I am willing to bet that more than a few of them actually do “coast on charisma” as Debito insists they don’t.

He closes by asking his audience of self-identified CMs to “unite” in pride as nerds-turned-immigrants. I find the idea hard to comprehend. It’s like asking everyone who ever got cosmetic surgery to unite. Despite the superficial similarity, there’s simply very little to unite around. I don’t mean to sound antisocial or apathetic. Organizing and getting together is important for groups that have a reason to unite, like teachers’ unions or people who actually share cultural traditions. I realize that the question of identity has special resonance for the type that might be drawn in by a “Charisma Men, unite!” message, but these people should have more important things to worry about.

So I have an alternative recommendation for Debito’s readers: rather than worrying about what someone might be saying behind your back, why not work on being a better husband, spending time with your kids, or improving your career? Or maybe go back to coasting on your charisma if that’s your thing?

Yahoo STILL beats Google for mapping Japan, 4+ years later

Reprising a topic which I brought up in 2006, it seems that Google’s mapping team still needs to get its act together when it comes to covering Japan. Their map data is nearly a year out of date, while Yahoo seems to update its maps almost in real time.

I’ll focus on Tokyo area airports in this post, since they are one of my primary target areas of geekery. Here is Google’s map of the area surrounding Narita Airport rapid access line, which opened last summer:


View Larger Map

Note that the line doesn’t show up at all (though its timetable data is loaded into the transit directions engine, and the route will be vaguely highlighted if you search for it). On the other hand, Yahoo is completely up to date:

Now here is Google’s map of Haneda Airport, where a new international terminal opened back in October. Of course, they haven’t gotten around to updating yet, though they at least managed to include an icon showing one (but not both) of the new international terminal’s railway stations.


View Larger Map

Yahoo again is totally up to date, showing the full terminal building, the surrounding tarmac AND both stations (zoom in to see them).

So what gives? Both services are apparently getting map data from the same company (Zenrin) so you would think their maps would have almost identical content. One possibility, corroborated by the copyright legends at the bottom of the maps, is that Google is relying totally on Zenrin while Yahoo makes its own updates pending full updates from Zenrin. Another possibility is that Google simply doesn’t demand updates from Zenrin as often because their Maps team is based outside Japan and has no clue how much construction goes on here.

You don’t know them

When you see someone on TV, or read what they write on a blog or YouTube comment, you don’t know them. This sounds obvious, but judging from the volumes and volumes of discussions on the Internet, no one seems to take this to heart.

Even if you’ve watched someone’s show for years, you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg of what this person is all about. A talk show host might be an avid hunter, or a drinker, or a plastic model kit geek, and we would never, ever know.

But so many of us demand authenticity, or at least a standard of conduct, from people in the public eye, and reserve the harshest score if they don’t measure up.

In Japan, these impulses flare up into the endless stream of ginned-up scandals. Who are we to judge Ebizo for hanging out with the wrong people? None of us knows him. Hell, I had barely heard of him before the scandal.

No one really knows Sarah Palin despite all her exposure and all the journalist profiles and behind the scenes looks. Yet everyone has an opinion about her (I’ll concede it’s somewhat necessary to assess a potential presidential candidate).

The people with influence on what goes on the news and the rest of the media know all about this and exploit our nature ruthlessly for their own ends. Our affinity for an attractive actress gets us in the door of our local Mos Burger; a finely aged oyaji tells us it’s cool to drink a certain kind of beer; and news reports convince you in a matter of seconds that a stranger is a villain who deserves to die.

This concept applies in even the most mundane aspects of showmanship. On those Japanese shows with panels of commentators, the panelists are either competing for airtime or want to keep getting asked back. What that means for you is they stop acting like they would face-to-face and start making comments that will get the most reaction from a mass audience. There are endless ways to keep track of audience reaction these days, including Twitter and 2-channel in Japan. If you can entertain, you’re doing your job.

The same goes for blogs, in a way. I am not just talking to a friend at a bar, I am writing for the “masses” (my many dozens of readers). That means I am putting my best face forward and saying things to get a reaction. Hence, you don’t know me even if you’ve been reading me from the beginning.

I’ve met some readers offline in the past. As a rule they’ve been nothing like I would imagine from their blog comments. Only after putting the two together can I really connect their offline personality to what they write online. While they are connected and an extension of the person, it’s necessarily a cross section.

TV and essentially all media are stages where people put on shows to get a desired reaction from the audience. For better or worse, the Internet has turned everyone into a media personality, so it’s only healthy to keep this in mind when going through life, and especially when reacting to blogs and reader comments.

This post was inspired by a recent conversation with a friend who shall remain anonymous because, well, you don’t know him!

Emerging backlash against “Japocalypse” theme

Taiwanese tabloid news video makers NMA have a way of perfectly capturing the silliest and most over-the-top possible interpretations of events. Case in point, their take on Japanese herbivore-men:

The video reminded me of the emergence of a mini-trend – articles countering the familiar narrative of Japanese decline and decay. Here are a couple examples.

First, we have Foreign Policy blogger Joshua Keating, who has started a “Japocalypse Watch” to point out over-enthusiastic reports of Japan’s decline:

I’m not really sure I buy [the trend of youths wearing skinny jeans] as a response to the Japanese economy unraveling.  First of all, another recent New York Times trend piece informs me that rising economic power China also has kids with tight pants.

Then there is Atlantic correspondent James Fallows, who used to live in Japan:
The broader point is that while there may be a few relatively small countries that can be classified as “failures” across the board, big complex societies are always a mix of strong and weak points, and the prevailing Western view of Japan goes way too far in (self-congratulatingly) dismissing it as an utter “failure.”

And my personal favorite is a column from David Pilling that questions the assumptions that lead people to dismiss Japan as a failure:

If one starts from a different proposition, that the business of a state is to serve its own people, the picture looks rather different, even in the narrowest economic sense. Japan’s real performance has been masked by deflation and a stagnant population. But look at real per capita income – what people in the country actually care about – and things are far less bleak.

After living in Tokyo for a few years I have become quite sympathetic with this side of the argument. It’s clear that a lot needs to be done to ensure Japan’s continued prosperity, including securing the government’s long-term finances and social safety net. But compared to even the US, there’s a lot to admire and enjoy about life in Japan. Of course, my tune could change once the government announces what will no doubt be some significant tax and withholding increases over the next year or so.

Correcting the record

It would certainly be nice if reporters on the Japan beat didn’t approach their work with such a focus on declining vs. rising powers or other overly broad themes. Maybe articles like these will spur some reflection among correspondents, which would be a positive step.

At the same time, it’s hard to get worked up about this kind of stuff anymore. I understand that readers in New York or Washington will lose interest unless the topics stay broad and generally within their realm of familiarity. In my case, when I read about parts of the world that aren’t familiar to me, NYT articles are almost always more digestible than the local English-language news, simply because I am not familiar with the local leaders or various aspects of the culture.

Probably the best course for people with an interest in setting the record straight is to focus on communicating your side of the story and pointing out egregious errors. One recent example seemed like a pretty healthy exchange of ideas. The NYT’s Hiroko Tabuchi wrote an article “Japan Keeps a High Wall for Foreign Labor” that took a negative view on the Japanese government’s policy on foreign labor. In response, the Japanese embassy replied with some clarifications and rebuttals.

Merits of each argument aside, I feel like this was a perfectly appropriate and thoughtful response to an article that was basically sound. Of course, it helps when there’s a solid foundation to the article in question. There’s probably nothing you can do to counter the endless stream of Japan Weird stories.

Update on life in Tokyo

A lot has changed for me over the past year and a half. I won’t go into too much detail, but the biggest shift has been my new job. In September 2009 I started translating for an equity research team, which means I spend my days reading and translating reports on publicly listed Japanese companies and the stock market in general.

It’s a fun and deeply interesting job, but it’s had an impact on my commitment to blogging in a big way, for a few reasons. For one thing, I came into the job with a woeful lack of knowledge about stocks and finance. I’ve been spending many nights studying to try and fill in the gaps. Only recently have I felt ready to try and start broadcasting my thoughts again.

Also, all the background research about the Japanese corporate world has had an unexpected side-effect: it more or less satisfies my urge to do the same thing on MFT. I mean, why blog about how Saizeriya serves TV dinners as restaurant food, when I already spent the better part of a day writing the same thing in an analyst report? It feels redundant. Most times, I can’t even be bothered to post something on Twitter.

Recently, I have felt a little more confident in focusing on blogging again. But when I opened the WordPress site, I had a bit of writer’s block. My thinking and interests have changed since the time when I was blogging about pillow-girlfriends and the like. At this point, I don’t know what future posts will look like, but at the very least it now seems kind of pointless to snipe at foreign press coverage of Japan. Working in the investment world with a team of veteran translators has probably skewed my perspective.  I will probably spend more time talking about things like the Gyoza no Ohsho training scandal.

Life in Tokyo in 2011

It’s been almost four years since Mrs. Adamu and I moved to Tokyo, and this September will mark the 12th anniversary of my first landing in Japan at Kansai International Airport. The me of 12 years ago probably couldn’t imagine how I’d be living today. Of course my life has taken many unexpected twists and turns, but more generally, the life of a gaijin in Japan seems much more comfortable and less alienating than it used to be, at least from my perspective.

When I was a high school exchange student, my contacts with the home country were basically limited to monthly visits with other exchange students and the occasional rented movie or episode of Full House on Japanese TV. It didn’t matter much because I was concentrating on learning Japanese to fulfill my newfound dream of one day appearing on one of those shows where Japanese-speaking foreigners argue about politics.

But on the flight home something odd happened. Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers was showing on the in-flight entertainment, and for some reason I couldn’t stop laughing at all the cheesy jokes. I had been away from American humor for so long that even a little taste of it made me crack up. It happened again during my Kyoto study abroad days, when about six months in I watched Ace Ventura Pet Detective.

I don’t have those moments anymore.

I am typing this post on a laptop connected to my home WiFi connection, a few minutes after catching up with The Daily Show and Colbert Report. I can download/stream any movie or music I want using one of the world’s fastest Internet connections, while my cable TV opens up even more possibilities. The Net has all the world’s news. Skype lets me video-chat with my parents at holidays. There are two Costcos within a reasonable driving distance, and a decent amount of import stores that allow me to easily and cheaply cook American food if I so desire. I bought a queen-size bed at Ikea. Hyogo and Kyoto in 1999 and 2002 offered none of these, for both financial and technological reasons.

In so many ways, living in Tokyo in 2011 lets me keep my feet in both Japanese and American cultures. Obviously, I would not trade these comforts, but in a lot of ways it muddies the idea of assimilating into Japanese culture and fundamentally feeling like I live in a foreign country. If it mattered to me, I guess I could tilt the balance of my media/entertainment more toward the Japanese side, but it doesn’t. When I was younger I was all about learning to understand Japanese TV and movies and reading manga. But these days I know most Japanese TV is utterly stupid, and it’s rare for me to encounter a manga title that really grabs me (the last one was Ishi No Hana). Who knows, this might be another reason some of my old go-to blog topics seem less interesting now.

Filipino Freethinkers hit Internet meme culture

Readers may remember that during my most recent trip to the Philippines I quite randomly made friends with many of the core members of the Filipino Freethinkers, a new advocacy group working for freedom from religious pressure in society and blogged in detail about our initial meeting. On Saturday some members of the group picketed the Philippines Catholic Bishop Conference to protest the Church’s opposition to a proposed reproductive health (i.e. birth control) bill that is being supported by the new president Benigno Aquino, and a photograph of them was printed in the Philippine Inquirer, and then picked up by Boingboing. Why you ask? Just take a look at the photo in question, as well as the installment of the geek webcomic xkcd referenced in the sign held by Red Tani, one of the founders of Filipino Freethinkers. The comic’s caption is “Wikipedian Protester.”

The part of the article about the protesters is as follows:

A group of pro-RH (Reproductive Health) advocates trooped to the CBCP office in Intramuros, Manila, to condemn the Church for interfering in government-mandated initiatives for reproductive health.

Rhoda Avila of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines told Figura her group was urging the Church to stop spreading “lies” about birth control and allow the government to do its work in providing Filipinos an affordable and accessible reproductive health program.

A slight tension occurred during the 15-minute dialogue while Figura was explaining that the Church was not interfering but “merely issuing guidelines.”

“Based on what? On your non-sexual experience?” protester Marlon Lacsamana snapped.


I’ve mentioned the problem of the Philippine government’s previous disinterest in birth control before on this blog, and hope that they have the backbone to resist the Church’s archaic stance on sexuality and birth control.

The official Filipino Freethinkers website is at www.filipinofreethinkers.org.

My solution to Twitter performance anxiety

There’s an interesting article in the NYT about what Twitter does to your inner dialogue. Basically, the idea is if you are Tweeting all the time you are “always on” and start thinking your life is a reality show.

Absolutely right! Just about anyone who’s used Twitter for an extended period of time could tell you that. In fact, a Google search for “I Tweet Therefore I am” shows multiple articles with that title on other sites, one on Gawker written eight months ago.  But if that gets tiring or is turning you into an asshole, there is a simple solution:

Take a freakin break every now and again!

Remember when your parents said not to watch too much TV? Same thing.

As someone without an iPhone, Blackberry, or even one of the Japanese mobile web platforms, maybe I am being naive and behind the times. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask to maybe keep the phone in your pocket, temporarily disable the Twitter client on your browser, and concentrate for once. I am told that there are even times when the Internet itself isn’t necessary.

On Twitter (unlike Facebook), there seems to be less incentive to pay close attention to who is on your followed list or who sees your updates. People come and go, and even those who follow you only tune in when they are interested. That’s the beauty of the real-time web.