Control yourself, man!

Pop quiz: You’re a man sitting on the train in suburban Japan, minding your own business. The attractive lady sitting next to you nods off and unknowingly rests her head on your shoulder. You:

a) Pretend like nothing is happening
b) Wake her up — she’s distracting you from your Yukan Fuji!!
c) Silently appreciate how safe Japan is since this kind of thing happens all the time
d) Seize the moment — cop a feel!

If you chose d) then you might one day end up in jail like the not-too-bright fellow featured in this report from Nikkan Sports:

JR [West] Employee Fondles [Woman] on Fukuchiyama Line

The Takarazuka Precinct of Hyogo Prefectural Police arrested JR West employee Takao Ohashi (39) on November 29 for a red-handed violation of the Prefectural Nuisance Prevention Ordinance for touching a woman’s breast while riding on the JR Fukuchiyama Line.

According to police investigations, Ohashi works for JR West’s Osaka Construction Office‘s Keiji (Kyoto-Shiga) Office. The man, who had the day off, is suspected of touching the breasts of a woman who sat next to him on the express train while it was traveling from Kawanishi-Ikeda Station to Takarazuka Station at 12:15pm.

The woman raised her voice, upon which another rider who noticed took Ohashi off the train at Takarazuka Station and reported him to the Precinct via a station employee. Ohashi has reportedly told police, “The napping woman‘s head cuddled up on my shoulder, so I couldn’t help but touch [her breasts].”


More Makiko Fujino Hijinks

This is from a little while ago, but whatever:

LDP’s Makiko Fujino under fire after skipping Diet session for talk show

Newly elected Diet member Makiko Fujino has come under fire for skipping a plenary session of the House of Representatives to attend two talk shows in Fukuoka.

Fujino, a food researcher, explained her absence from Thursday’s session by saying she had made a promise to appear in the shows, but some residents remain critical of her actions.

Fujino traveled to Fukuoka on Wednesday evening and on Tuesday afternoon she gave a food-related charity lecture and appeared in a cooking talk show titled “Beautiful Italy,” before returning to Tokyo.

Her appearances resulted in her missing a plenary session of the Lower House, in which the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) presented an explanation of its counterproposal on postal privatization and various parties presented questions over a period of about two hours and 20 minutes.

The 56-year-old Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member’s secretary defended her actions, saying she had decided to keep a promise.

“One of the shows was a charity effort to build houses in Sri Lanka, which was hit by the tsunami, and she had promised to attend before being elected. She was unable to change the date and fretted over her decision, but in the end she gave preference to keeping her promise,” the secretary said. “She will receive an explanation of the session from another Diet member and bureaucrats once she returns to Tokyo.”
Continue reading More Makiko Fujino Hijinks

Japanese Peruvians: the rest of the story

The recent Fujimori ruckus reminds us of the often-forgotten diversity in Latin America. Besides Native Americans (yes, they live in South America, too), there are about 90,000 people of Japanese ancestry living in Peru.

Japanese immigration to Peru started in 1899 with a boatload of 790 people, arriving in Callao to make a new living as sugar plantation workers. But, as in the United States and other American countries, immigration ended in the early 20th century, and a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment swept the country in the 1930s (when Fujimori’s family entered the country), culminating in mass riots in 1940. Although Peru waited until 1945 to declare war on Japan, the government froze Japanese assets immediately after Pearl Harbor, confiscated Japanese-owned property, and deported some Japanese individuals to U.S. concentration camps beginning in 1942. Even after the war, it was not until 1955 that assets were un-frozen, and Japanese could not enter Peru until 1960 (and were even then subject to strict quotas and eligibility requirements).

Of course, by then, the job market in Japan was much better than in Peru. But Peruvians in Japan were few and far between… until 1987, when Tokyo began issuing visas for ethnic Japanese in South America to return to Japan as workers (a practice called dekasegi). And the Peruvian population swelled in response: from 500 in 1985 to 10,000 in 1990. Despite the unimpressive Japanese economy of the 1990s, Peruvians in Japan quadrupled in number between 1990 and 2000. Brazilians grew by a similar proportion.

Now, there are 55,000 Peruvians in Japan, making them the #5 foreign nationality after Koreans, Chinese, Brazilians, and Filipinos. Since most are ethnic Japanese (or at least pretending to be), they are hard to distinguish from natives, especially when they speak the language and have Japanese names (as they commonly do). There are enough in the major cities that you’re likely to meet a few if you hop around enough bars and clubs.

So while Fujimori’s story is far from usual, finding a Japanese in Peru or a Peruvian in Japan is far from unusual.

Reflections from Somers High School Class of 2000 Reunion

WARNING! This post is entirely about my personal life. For your Japan fix, go here to see Miss and Mister Tokyo University. Quoth Joe, “Mmm pre-feminist society.” High school reunion antics after “the jump” (in quotes because it sounds lame):
Continue reading Reflections from Somers High School Class of 2000 Reunion

My new life in Japan

Conversation I had with MF a few weeks ago while we were taking a look at Japanese satellite TV operator SkyPerfecTV’s channel offerings:

MF: you should just quit your job and fly to japan next week
MF: screw the apartment
Adamu: dont tempt me
MF: you can get a job at nova
Adamu: haha
MF: and then go home to your sweet, sweet tv
Adamu: ok now that IS sad
MF: and a big can of kirin
MF: or asahi dry
Adamu: asahi
Adamu: id have to have a good tv
Adamu: maybe i could get those tv goggles
Continue reading My new life in Japan

Happy turkey day

Some thoughts from Christopher Hitchens in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (print edition, which I only read when travelling by air):

Considering Thanksgiving, that most distinctive and unique of all American holidays, there need be no resentment and no recrimination. Likewise, there need be no wearisome present-giving, no order of divine service, and no obligation to the dead. This holiday is like a free gift, or even (profane though the concept may be to some readers) a free lunch—and a very big and handsome one at that…

It is the sheer modesty of the occasion that partly recommends it. Everybody knows what’s coming. Nobody acts as if caviar and venison are about to be served, rammed home by syllabub and fine Madeira. The whole point is that one forces down, at an odd hour of the afternoon, the sort of food that even the least discriminating diner in a restaurant would never order by choice.

You know, he’s right on that last part. Facing a cooler of cheesecake and pumpkin pie at Costco the other day, I picked the pumpkin pie with no deliberation. And although pumpkin pie is tasty, I would have picked the cheesecake on any other day of the year, again with no deliberation. That’s cultural brainwashing at work. Not that I’m complaining; pumpkin pie is like autumn leaves, the sort of thing a year wouldn’t be complete without.

Off to the Philippines

I’m writing this at 9.20pm, Taiwan time, in an internet cafe in Shida night market. No, I’m not out in a net cafe just to ease myself into the feeling of traveling before I actually depart. Yes, I do own my own computer here, currently located and fully operational in my own apartment. What is not working is my internet connection. For some reason unknown to me or my flatmates, the phone/DSL line went completely dead last night, and between final exams in my Chinese class yesterday and today and an early morning flight there was just no time to wait for a repairman. This internet cafe is called Concept, but as far as I can tell the only concept they had in designing this place was “take a basement room and plaster it with World of Warcraft posters.

I’ll be leaving on a 9.30am flight tomorrow (Nov 25), Taiwan’s Eva airlines from Taipei’s Chiang Kai Shek airport, to Manila, Philippines. Returning at the same time, December 7th. Everything in between is a little up in the air.

I have several friends in the Philippines that I’ll be visiting, all Philippinos who I met while I was living in Kyoto. Of the five people I expect to meet up with, three were students at Ritsumeikan with me (two exchange students and one graduate student), and two were graduate students at Kyoto University, that I met through my Philippino friends at Ritsumeikan, who they knew from home.

Some of these friends I’ll be seeing in Manila, and one (or two, if she can go), I’ll be meeting on Boracay Island. Rocs (the friend I will be meeting there) tried to book a flight for me for this weekend, but it was too short notice, so instead I’ll arrange one for the following weekend after I arrive in the country. Although next weekend is more convenient in terms of time, this weekend would have been much better from a financial perspective. Rocs tells me that following December 1st, when the tourist season starts, prices for accomodations will double.

Aside from that, I have very little idea of exactly what I’ll be doing while I’m there. I’m sure Manila will be interesting for a couple of days at least, and Arlo was telling me that there are some nice places to visit not too far from Manila. Since I was unable to actually find an English language guidebook in the stores here-plenty of guidebooks, but no Philippines book in stock-and also haven’t had much time to read up online (particularly in light of domestic service outage).

I’ve backed very light. I borrowed a smallish hiking backpack from my flatmate Steph-larger than my schoolbag, but much smaller than the orange monster I used to hike around China. I’ve packed a few days of clothes, my camera, a few minor items, and a few books. The books mainly consist of a couple of Japanese language history books on Taiwan. This is a space saving strategy, as English books take far, fare less time to read, and even one large book in English would weigh a few times as much as two slim Japanese paperbacks. Of course, since the entire educated population of the Philippines is fluent in English, I may pick up some local histories or novels in the English language, so I can actually know something about the country I’m in.

I don’t feel particularly nervous about my lack of preparation for the trip, and my lack of any real knowledge about where I’m going. A lot of people say that the Philippines is a dangerous country to travel in, but I think it should be a lot safer ever since they locked up Commander Robot. Is my lack of stress merely the calm before the storm, a lack of human emotions, or simply exhaustion from the dozen or more trips I was forced to make to various Taiwanese offices and burueas over the past three weeks to get my Taiwanese residence visa and reentry permit, so I would actually be able to come back into the country on the return leg of my trip instead of having to live like Tom Hanks in that that silly movie about the airport?

Cambodian citizenship

According to every news agency in the world, Angelina Jolie has just been made a Cambodian citizen. She was awarded this honor via “a royal decree giving her Cambodian citizenship.”

According to the Cambodian Constitution of 1993, the status of the King is basically:

The King of Cambodia shall reign but shall not govern.

It goes on to list the various duties of the King, but they all basically come down to issuing proclamations that have been pre-approved by the Assembly. The King is granted no power to make any decisions on his own, not even to appoint his own heir.

How are normal people like us, who aren’t important enough to have special acts and royal proclamations made in our name, treated by Cambodia’s citizenship law?

CAMBODIA (Formerly Kampuchea)
CITIZENSHIP: Citizenship is based upon Decree No. 913-NS, of November 20, 1954, and Law
No. 904-NS, dated September 27, 1954.

BY BIRTH: Birth within the territory of Cambodia does not automatically confer citizenship.
Two exceptions are these:
 Child born in Cambodia, of non-citizen parents who were also born in Cambodia.
 Child of unknown parents found in Cambodian territory.

BY DESCENT: Legitimate child of a Cambodian mother or father, regardless of the country of
birth. (According to Cambodian law, “legitimate” refers to the child being formally
acknowledged by either of its parents.)

 A foreign wife of a Cambodian citizen is eligible for citizenship upon the date of the
 A foreign husband of a Cambodian citizen must fulfill all naturalization requirements, but
need reside only for two years.

BY NATURALIZATION: Cambodian citizenship may be acquired upon fulfillment of the
following conditions: Person has resided for at least five years in the country, knows the
language and culture, has a steady means of support, and is of good moral character.

Exception: A Cambodian wife of a foreign national is permitted to retain her Cambodian
citizenship unless required to renounce it by the laws of the husband’s home country.

Hmmm. Article 49 of the constitution says

All Khmer citizens shall have the duty to take part in the national reconstruction and to defend the homeland. The duty to defend the country shall be determined by law.

And Cambodia doesn’t recognize dual citizenship. If Cambodia gets in another war, you better watch out Angelina or they might just draft you.

Drinking on the job just got a whole lot healthier?

beer yeast pills?

Saw this in an ad for “Asahi Super Beer Yeast” from the Nikkei.

Fortified with vitamins and minerals! This is the oyaji equivalent of marketing sugared cereals as “part of a balanced breakfast.”

One may recall my post on this topic a while back.

Two possibilities: a) His comments weren’t accidental at all but a strange form of viral marketing; or b) Someone at Asahi got the idea for this after his comment and possibly other propaganda started creating a buzz for healthy effects of beer. Hell, they already sell “Diet” happoshu.

The popularity of these “snake-oil” products in Japan simultaneously fascinates and infuriates. They clearly have no medical value but are popular in part due to the deep belief by many Japanese people in superstitions like the ability of blood type to determine personality. Even those who don’t buy in still know their blood type and know how to work it into a conversation. It may be sapping the time and energy of Japan’s biggest drug companies, but it sure is fun to watch.

That is not to say Americans are free from this parasitic organic supplement craze. Look at this ad for “brewer’s yeast” (spelling errors corrected):

Brewer’s Yeast is an excellent source of protein and several B-vitamins.

It is produced by cultivation of Saccharomyces cerevisiae on malted barley in the production of beer. After fermentation, the yeast is separated from the beer, roller dried and debittered.

Why not just eat food with protein and B-vitamins in it? I’m not an expert, so I’d appreciate the opinion of anyone knowledgable in the medicinal benefits of yeast (I mean, I thought it caused infections?!)

The economics of language learning

Following up on the last post, chew on this: although there are plenty of languages that seem useful, there is no rational reason for you to learn most of them.

Of course, it’s very rational (in fact, often unavoidable) to learn a language when you have no choice—if you live or work where that language is all that’s spoken. That’s part of the beauty of exchange programs and cross-cultural romance. But beyond that, you’re better off hiring a translator or interpreter when you need one: it’s much cheaper, and likely to be just as effective.

That’s why Americans rarely learn foreign languages: the benefits simply aren’t there. That’s also why children learn languages “more easily” than adults: they have much less choice in the matter, especially if their peers are speaking a different language. Adult professionals, like the aforementioned lawyers in Tokyo, can just outsource their language needs, and save a lot of time and money by doing so.

So what accounts for those of us who learn languages for the hell of it (including the authors of this blog)? Basically, we’re nuts. Not thinking things through. I love knowing Japanese and I keep learning more, but it hasn’t been particularly useful in my life, except when haggling with electronics dealers in Den-Den Town. Yet I keep learning it, probably because the amenities in Japan are so tempting, and, like most Westerners who know Asian languages, I have way too much fun flaunting the skills (what Jay Rubin calls the “look, Mom! I’m reading Japanese!” effect).

On the other hand, a professor of mine, who loves Japan enough to spend a few months teaching there every other year or so, has stopped bothering with language classes. For him, there isn’t much necessity: his family speaks English, his classes are taught in English, and a couple of lines from a phrasebook are all he needs to order lunch or locate an English speaker. Maybe if he were dropped into a high school classroom in Osaka, he would start figuring out those characters.

One of my favorite analyses on this issue comes from amateur linguist/online ne’er-do-well Mark Rosenfelder, who wrote a nice, meaty article on the “how”s and “why”s of language acquisition, and reached the same conclusion: language learning almost always comes from necessity, and the exceptions can be counted as strange obsession. So before you go off to learn a language for kicks, consider what your obsession is.