“Hell on Earth” … well, not quite


Osorezan! “The Mountain of Fear.” Ain’t it quaint. It was the first stop on my recent tour of northern Japan with Curzon (who’s still wandering around the back roads of Hokkaido).

Although some misguided websites call it a mountain, it’s actually a temple in a valley surrounded by mountains. The temple is surrounded by rocky terrain lying atop a very sulfuric hot spring, which releases smelly gas from vents in the ground.

When pre-modern types saw this, they assumed that they were seeing spirits escaping the underworld. So legend has it that this is a natural gateway to Hell, and many pilgrims come to leave little offerings for the dead. One common sight around the hot springs is little stone statues dressed in children’s clothes–memorials to dead young’uns.

Anyway, if this is what going to Hell looks like, maybe I need to maintain my life of evil…

Mixi headed for IPO

Mixi, the 5 million-strong Japanese social networking service, is getting ready to go public with an IPO on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Mixi expects to get ¥6.9 billion from the deal, about 7 years’ profits at the current rate.

In case you haven’t tried it, it’s a mighty fine service. While it has the usual features–you can make a profile and leave comments about others–its real strength is in its communities and their message boards, and there’s one (or more) for just about anything imaginable. Kind of like Orkut meets Yahoo Answers. The diaries are also pretty popular, although I tend to avoid them because they’re just not that interesting.

We thought GREE was cool as hell a year and a half ago, and now we just look at it and laugh at its lameness.

New hanko, meet old public sector

One investment I might make soon is one of these new security hanko gadgets.

A hanko, for the uninitiated out there, is a personal seal that serves as your signature for most official purposes in Japan. It looks cool, but suffers from a major drawback: it’s very easy to forge. A person can get a color photocopy of your seal impression, or just take your hanko and seal all sorts of stuff in your name. Like, say, a divorce agreement. That wouldn’t be fun.

So Uniball’s new hanko uses a special security feature: you dial in a two-digit combination, which changes a pattern of marks surrounding your name. Unless a person knows the proper combination, they can’t get the seal to duplicate your registered seal impression.

But, according to Mobile Ojisan:

Mitsubishi Pencil recommends Dial Bank Hanko only for bank use. Some local government outright refuses to register this metal hanko as one’s personal seal.

Brilliant. Now I could protect myself from seal thieves, if only some mildly retarded guy at city hall wasn’t making up rules. “No, no no, your seal has to be ivory.”

Ishihara: “Grow some balls and stop hitting on robots”

That’s the gist of his latest interview. Maybe he just wanted to make the otaku cry.

If you go out in the world, it’s filled with sensitivity, and it’s much more interesting. For example, there is no fun in seducing a female robot who only acts in a certain way. But it’s fun to seduce a human, because you can only predict, but not know what will really happen. When it comes to seducing, it is fun to think how you can successfully reach the heart of the target.

Lest you be misled, he still knows where Japan’s strengths lie:

My plan for the Olympics is to fully utilize robot and computer technology. For example, it wouldn’t be too bad of an idea to have Astro Boy fly with the Olympic torch.

At least it didn’t have liquid in it

Copyright be damned, this one is best in its entirety:

Man accused of telling US airport security penis pump was a bomb

CHICAGO (AP) — Prosecutors say a 29-year-old man traveling with his mother desperately did not want her to know he had packed a sexual aid for their trip to Turkey.

So he told security it was a bomb, officials said.

Madin Azad Amin was stopped by officials on Aug. 16 after guards found an object in his baggage that resembled a grenade, prosecutors said.

When officers asked him to identify it, Amin said it was a bomb, said Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney Lorraine Scaduto.

He later told officials he lied about the item because his mother was nearby and he did not want her to hear that it was part of a penis pump, Scaduto said.

Amin has been charged with felony disorderly conduct, said Andrew Conklin, a spokesman with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

Amin faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

UPDATE: What actually happened was that he tried to say “pump” in a really bad Arabic accent and it came out sounding like “bomb.”

Google: Not for Japan

A while back I noted the superiority of Yahoo over Google for mapping Japan. Nowadays, I find that I have to keep both Google and Yahoo Japan as home pages because there are a lot of things that Google hasn’t yet figured out how to do. For instance:

  • Very few of Google’s products interface well with Japanese mobile phones. Take Google Calendar. It can only send alerts to Gmail, or to a U.S. mobile phone by SMS. Yahoo, on the other hand, can send alerts to any e-mail address, including my phone’s (both the English and Japanese versions of Yahoo are capable of this). Yes, Google Calendar is shinier-looking, and the ability to automatically pull events from e-mails is pretty cool, but how hard can it be to broaden the e-mail alert function?
  • Also, maybe it’s just my phone, but Gmail and other mobile Google sites almost never display properly on it–they either get moji-baked or they fail to load entirely.
  • I keep Tokyo weather on my Google home page, and half of the time, it’s totally wrong–i.e., the system doesn’t know whether it’s day or night, or thinks that it’s 100°F outside when it’s really 80°.
  • Google Finance, Google News, etc. are incapable of telling me how the Nikkei is doing. Granted, this is a two-way problem, as I can’t see the Dow on Yahoo Japan either–in fact, the only website I know that can seamlessly provide both is good ol’ Bloomberg. (Love you guys!)

I know Google is busy saving the world and all that, but can’t they save the world for people outside the U.S., too? Sheesh, guys, get off your high hammocks and get with the picture.

Asahi at its best

Today’s left-wing text-blob of hate:

Our 54-year old Auckland resident made his fortune in a housing related business back in Shikoku. There was a time when he felt a certain pride that the money he paid in taxes went to support his homeland, to provide education and build roads.

But he became disillusioned when growing budget deficits dried up cash flows to rural areas such as Shikoku.

It increasingly became apparent that all resources, be it people, things or money, got sucked up by Tokyo and big corporations.

Awww! All the money this guy made from his corporation ended up going to someone else’s bigger corporation? Shucks. He just needed to be friendlier with politicians. (Or, y’know, aim his marketing at Tokyo and big corporations to “suck” the money back.)

The top 10 Blogs in Japan

Back in February I took a look at the top blogs in the Japanese blogosphere based on Technorati ranking. But I happened to glance at the standings again recently, and things have changed. While many of popular blogs are still in the top 20, there are a lot of new contenders. Here’s the new top 10 (as of August 23):

1. Akiba Blog – cutesy anime stuff from Akihabara (“Akiba” for short), Tokyo’s electronics district. Seems to specialize in erotic action figures.
2. Shoko-tan’s Blog – celebrity blog, up from #6 last time.
3. Ouch News – Posts stories from Japan’s news and then reprints relevant commentary from 2ch, Japan’s massive anonymous forum site. This is actually a pretty good site for those who don’t feel like sifting through all the anti-Korean comments.
4. Gigazine – tech, fast food, convenience store drinks, etc.
5. WTF LOLOLOLOLLOLLLLLL!!!!! – Comedy site that also picks up the best from 2ch. Recent post: “Mr. Amazon, this doesn’t look good…” Links to a strange “Amateur Train Rape” (NOT SAFE FOR WORK) DVD sold on amazon, with uncensored genitals on the cover (illegal in Japan).
6. Kotaro’s Blog – Flash games, animations, videos, etc.
7. New Akiba Dot Com – More cutesy Akihabara stuff, less porn. As you may have noticed, Akihabara is now known almost more for otaku culture than electronics these days.
8. Kaori Manabe – celebrity blog, down from #2 last time.
9. PingMag – The Tokyo-based magazine about “Design and Making Things” – the title sums it up pretty well. There’s also an English version.
10. Mumur’s Blog – Politics blog “Supporting” DPJ senior official and Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly member from Edogawa District Akihiro Hatsushika. He is apparently famous for telling people “You’re messed up in the head so you should go to the hospital.” More on this a little later.

Kikko Comments on Earthsea

Fans of Ghibli Studios and the Earthsea novels are surely interested in how Ghibli’s interpretation turned out. Not so good, it looks like, judging from some reports and the original author’s reaction. From the general sound of things, it seems that Goro wasn’t up to the task after all. That’s unfortunate.

But I’m not here to talk about that. My interest is in the blog post that Kikko, Japan’s mysterious and popular (but no longer top) political blogger, wrote on the film. The bulk of the post is a translation of Le Guin’s official reaction to the movie, but she prefaces that with a conversation between two young women that she supposedly overheard on the train. Below is a translation of just the conversation:

A: Oh no! At this rate, I’ll fall right to sleep!
B: Oh? Are you not getting enough sleep, Kyoko?
A: Hm, every night it’s too hot…If I sleep with the A/C on, my skin gets dry and so does my throat!
B: Well, then you should just go see Earthsea!
A: Why’s that?
B: I went to see it last week with Marie and Chika, but I fell asleep a half hour after it began because it was so boring…and when I came to the end credits were rolling!
A: It’s that boring?
B: I didn’t see almost any of it, but Marie and Chika said they couldn’t stand it and fell asleep about halfway through…so it looks like at least the first hour is boring enough to make you sleepy…
A: But, the TV and everything is saying it’s a “big hit in theaters!” right?
B: Really? Since I was let down by Howl’s Moving Castle, I had hope this time would be better, but this was way more boring than Howl…It’s like, rather than tell the story with animation, the characters just explain the story in order with long monologues…so I gradually started to feel sleepy, then eventually closed my eyes and just listened to the lines, and then just fell asleep.
A: Oh, I see.
B: Like, since all the lines are long and in a monotonous explanatory tone, it makes you feel like you’re being forced to listen to a lecture by Oishi the Section Chief.
A: Really??? Haha…

(emphasis added)

Kikko’s comments that follow the above conversation criticize the mass media for caving in to pressure from promotional agencies such as Dentsu by lavishing unearned kind words on movies and other products even when they are clearly terrible as in the case of Earthsea.

As poignant as Kikko’s sentiments may be, I have a hard time believing that Kikko actually overheard such a conveniently-worded conversation. She claims not to have seen the movie (typical of her other lengthy articles about Japanese anime) yet but has no problem using a supposedly overheard conversation to back up criticism of the media and badmouth a movie she hasn’t even seen. If that’s true then it’s irresponsible, and if not then, well, she’s being just as dishonest as Dentsu and the mass media, isn’t she?

Since an article posted on her site broke a major development in the faked earthquake safety data scandal last year (and in the several stories she’s had pertinent information on since), wide and well-founded speculation has spread that the purported writer of this blog (a “hair and makeup artist” in Tokyo) does not really exist, or at least that there is something less than forthcoming about the source of the blog’s content. One theory (as noted in a “Kikko Watching” wiki) is that the site serves as the repository of one or more news reporters that use it to reveal information that can’t make it past editors in the major publications. This is the theory I’m going with, so check back in a few months or so when the truth is finally known to see if I was right.

Whatever the source of the articles on Kikko’s blog, the site has been extremely entertaining and illuminating as it often contains information and analysis that is simply not available elsewhere. However, there are many many other instances where I am left shocked at the claims Kikko’s site makes. For example, her repeated claim that weapons of mass destruction were and are being used by the US military in Iraq are not backed up by any credible evidence whatsoever, and sources she does cite for other issues have turned out to be fake. And then there are the suspicious quotes and anecdotes, one of which I have translated above.

Clearly any blog’s comments cannot be taken as gospel truth, especially when coming from one as mysterious as Kikko’s. But the scandal over Kikko makes me wonder: when the newspaper can’t even tell you when a film sucks, perhaps it’s preferable to hear the truth from a frank and knowledgeable fraud than swallow lies from the opaque and manipulative establishment.

Jon Benet Murderer Arrested

The Thai press (at least the English-language kind) is abuzz over the arrest of Jon Benet Ramsey’s alleged killer. He lived pretty close to one of my friends, apparently. But as for my take (not that anyone asked), The Onion sums things up rather nicely:

“An accused murdering sex-offender goes into hiding, and no one thinks to check out Thailand?”

In other news, the man apparently tried to get a sex change while in Thailand. They’re cheap here at around US$1600, so maybe he just had some extra cash lying around and wanted to see what would happen.