Krispy Kreme in Japan: Believe the Hype!


At Last, Melt-in-your-mouth Donuts are Coming to Japan for the First Time!

t2006121301donuts.jpgOn Tuesday, popular American donut chain Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (KKD) let reporters get a look at the inside of their first store in Japan, located on the south side of JR Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, before its official opening on December 15.

KKD was founded in the US in 1937. It currently operates approximately 400 stores in 10 countries including Canada and the UK. The store’s flagship product “original glazed,” which will sell for 150 yen, features a crunchy outside and melts in the mouth.

In Japan, a Japan-based corporation jointly owned by the Lotte coroporation and management services company Revamp (PDF) will will manage the restaurants. The company plans to open 50 stores in the Kanto region within 5 years.

Comment: I can’t wait for this. I haven’t had KK since July and Mrs. Adamu’s been without for even longer.

Money quotes from Patrick Macias

Patrick Macias, journalist/author and expert on Japanese anime/manga culture, is one of my favorite commentators on Japan. Though I can’t say I share his affinity for Ultraman reruns and shitty 1970s Japanese rock bands, part of what I like about Macias is the fact that he understands Japanese culture but nevertheless takes what he enjoys from the country (namely otaku culture) without compromising his personality or values. A recent interview he granted podcast Otaku Generation featured some of his typical wit. I’ll transcribe some of the choice quotes so you don’t have to listen to the tinny, irrelevant banter of the questioners:

“I was told that the worst that I could do as a gaijin writer on Japan was to live in Japan because you need this perspective if you want anyone to pay attention to you. Otherwise you’re just one of those kind of circus monkeys they have on the TV shows there who sort of read the newspapers in the morning talking about American foreign policy even though even though they haven’t been in America for, you know, 10 or 15 years.”

“Pizza is a joke in Japan. People should be arrested for what they call pizza there. I think the mafia should just go over there and start shooting people ‘cuz that shit is not pizza. It’s like a tortilla with cheese on it and tomato sauce… And you don’t get that bloated, gassy feeling two hours later. It goes down too easy. With pizza, it’s got to be a struggle against your own humanity to digest it. At least American pizza should be… Even Mama Celeste would destroy the average pizza in Japan. Totino’s party pizza is gourmet compared to what you can get in Japan for top dollar.”
Continue reading Money quotes from Patrick Macias

Jesus in action!

One of the more fun fixtures in Japanese politics is Jesus Matayoshi, a fellow who’s kind of like a lovable combination of Lyndon LaRouche and that guy from Heaven’s Gate. As his name indicates, he claims to be God: he can occasionally be spotted cruising around Tokyo shrieking out of a speaker truck when he’s campaigning (unsuccessfully) for a seat in the Diet.

While trying to explain his phenomenon to my lady-friend, I stumbled upon this wonderful clip from YouTube, showing one of his official election speeches. (Unfortunately, it’s only in Japanese, with no subtitles.) It starts off slow, so if you’re in a hurry you should skip forward to the last minute or so, where he lets loose his money quotes: “Koizumi should cut his belly and die!” and “I, the One God Jesus Matayoshi, will cast Koizumi into the depths of Hell!” Gotta love the kabuki voice, too.

After seeing this, Barack Obama is just not that interesting…

Akie Abe wants to help you “like Japan”

An interview with PM Shinzo Abe’s wife Akie appeared in the BBC recently. In the interview, she indicates interest in an issue that I have had personal experience with:

Another interest of mine is to increase care for those students from abroad who are studying in Japan – I wonder if there is anything I can do in my present position to help them like Japan more.

The wife of the prime minister is a very special position. If there is something only I can do while I am in this position then I would like to contribute and I would like to be useful.

That’s a noble pursuit, indeed. However, as far as I can tell she has zero history promoting any such agenda. She may be studying Korean, but it’s apparently just because she’s such a big fan of Korean soap operas.

No, it’s far more likely she, like her husband Shinzo most of the time, will be using her position to promote existing education ministry policies.

According to the latest outline of Japan’s educational exchange program (PDF), there are already several government programs in place that could be interpreted as encouring a positive opinion of Japan. These include generous government scholarships (for a lucky 10%), subsidized Japanese language education, subsidized housing, access to Japan’s 70%-off national health care plan, and the ability to work part-time while studying.
If that’s not enough, students also commonly have access to cultural activities such as calligraphy:

Exchange students learning Shodo1.JPG

And interaction with the community:

Exchange students in the community.JPG

Compared to the US, where visa procedures, stringent restrictions on work, and a general atmosphere of distrust would seem to be counterproductive to fostering a positive attitude of the country, Japan’s system seems to already coddle its foreign students quite a bit. But most of the foreign students who get their undergrad degrees in Japan cannot find work in the country and end up having to go back. The way I see it, Japan can do two things to make its foreign students “like Japan,” and they are both things the US does a pretty good job of — offer a top-rate education and the opportunity to get a piece of the economic pie by allowing the students to stay and make a career in Japan. Statements like Mrs. Abe’s show that this still isn’t the priority. The scholarships that give educations that foreign students can take back with them are certainly beneficial, but I think Japan can do more than the limited opportunities it gives now, especially when many companies are clamoring for foreign labor.

Part 2: A brief history of Philippine-US relations: Early colonial rule

Since it turns out that all of my books on the Philippines are back home in the US and I’m not going to hit the library for a blog entry, I’m relying on a combination of memory and internet sources. I apologize for any errors, tell me if you spot any, and don’t quote this in your schoolwork.

Continued from Part 1: The “Nicole” Rape Case.

The fact is barely remembered in the US, but The Philippines was a colonial possession of the United States from approximately 1900-1946. The exact date at which The Philippines became a US colony is open to debate. The US purchased the Philippines from Spain in 1898 after winning the Spanish-American war, but since The Philippines had already declared an independent republic earlier that year, after years of resistance against Spanish colonial rule, and with neither the nascent first Republic of the Philippines nor the United States recognizing each other’s legitimacy as administrator of the country, the Philippine-American war broke out. The US defeated the Philippine military and established a colonial government in 1901, headed by Governor General William Howard Taft, whose experience in this job led to his later role as President of the United States.

Although The Philippines was a colony of the US, administration of the colony was markedly different from the colonies of European nations that still existed, or the colonies that Japan was busily establishing to the north. United States rule was particularly different from the earlier Spanish rule that it replaced. “From the very beginning, United States presidents and their representatives in the islands defined their colonial mission as tutelage: preparing the Philippines for eventual independence.” (source) In many ways, US colonial administration of The Philippines, with its mission of “tutelage” in preparation for independence, was more similar to US led occupation missions in post-war Japan and Germany, or present day Iraq than to traditional concepts of colonial rule. Keep in mind that Douglas MacArthur, the leader of occupation era Japan, had been in the Philippines before the Japanese invasion of World War II.

Compared to Spanish rule, whose policy was to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of the Spanish and mixed-blood colonial elite, spread the Catholic faith, exploit the land for resources that could benefit the home country, and keep the populace illiterate and unorganized, US rule was an improvement. Governor General Taft’s administrative philosophy was “the Philippines for the Filipinos . . . that every measure, whether in the form of a law or an executive order, before its adoption, should be weighed in the light of this question: Does it make for the welfare of the Filipino people, or does it not?”

To this end, and with the eventual goal of independence, the colonial administration promoted economic development, building political structures and instituted compulsory education for all citizens, using English as the primary language of instruction-in contrast to Spanish times, when very few Filipinos ever became proficient in Spanish. The Catholic Church had been the official religion of the colony and actually conducted much of the local governance throughout the islands, with the Spanish colonial government primarily sticking to urban strongholds. The Church had thus accumulated massive holdings, and priests had been known to run isolated parishes in the manner of medieval fiefdoms. The act establishing the colonial administration also revoked the Church’s official status, and the United States bought the majority of Church land, reselling it to private citizens and businesses.

But even though American colonial rule of the Philippines was relatively benign when compared with most European administered colonies over the previous centuries, it was still colonial rule. Like any colony, the colonizers imposed their language and culture on the colonized. English was the official language throughout the American colonial period, a constant reminder of who was really in charge, and in the early years also an impediment against participation in the civil service by Filipinos. Today, English remains one of the two national languages of the Republic of the Philippines, along with Tagalog, the native language of the region of Luzon island surrounding Manila, the country’s capital and economic center. While citizens throughout the country are supposed to be educated in both national languages, many Filipinos with a native regional dialect besides Tagalog are actually more comfortable with English, which they consider a supplement to their native language, as opposed to Tagalog, which is sometimes seen as threatening regional dialect. The various dialects and languages are all strongly influenced by the language of their colonizers, with a large part of everyday vocabulary consisting of Spanish and English words. Interestingly, speakers of Philippine languages will sometimes use entire grammatically correct phrases or even clauses of English in ordinary conversation in their native language. I have heard that speakers of the Tagalog (Manila region) dialect use the most English words, but the more provincial Visayas dialects contains a higher proportion of Spanish words. However, Spanish derived words are used only as vocabulary in all dialects, and never as complete grammatical structures, which is reflective of the rarity of actual Spanish fluency in the Spanish ruled Philippines.

All governments have some level of corruption, and those which are not answerable to the people they administer, such as colonial governments, tend to be worse. The American colonial government in the Philippines was described in a 1921 letter from Dean C. Worcester as one in which graft was “generally, openly and insolently demanded as a prerequisite to the performance of their duties by government officers and employees.” (Worcester was an author of several books on the Philippines. One can currently be found at Project Gutenberg.) Aside from corruption, there was also contempt for the natives from many colonial administrators, even including at least one Governor General. In 1905, Taft’s secretary wrote “the trouble with Governor-General Wright and some others was that they came from the South and that they could not get rid of the race-prejudice which the man from the South of the United States has.”

Some prominent figures such as Mark Twain and William Jennings Bryan had opposed on anti-imperialist and anti-racist grounds the colonization of of the Philippines in the first place, but during the early years of the colonial period there was little support for granting them independence in the near term. There had been a promise by the US government from the beginning that the Philippines would be granted independence someday, when it was ready, but the primary debate was between those who wanted to establish a local Philippine civilian government subordinate to the US administration, and those who wanted to continue direct rule. Representing the first opinion, former Governor General Taft, now Secretary of War, wrote in 1907 that “the partial control of the government which is now in the hands of the Filipinos has itself developed both conservatism and an interest in the existing government which will have a healthful tendency to delay the pressure for immediate independence on the part of those who are actually exercising influence in the Assembly.” On the other side, an American teacher working in the Philippines wrote in 1908 that a “mistake was made in introducing civil government quite so soon, but on the other hand the military people exaggerate very much the danger of an insurrection and the need of an army–it is for their interest to do so.”

Next, part 3: Through Independence.

Right-wing trucks in Kobe

The December 7 issue of Shukan Shincho ran a story in its “Heaven’s still a long way off” section about bothersome right-wing sound trucks that plagued the city of Kobe in the months of October and November. Here is a quick translation of the article:

The behind-the-scenes story of the 50 right-wing sound trucks that gathered in Kobe

Nihon Kominto img001.jpg A number of police officers watch the intersection intently. There is also an anti-riot squad carrying duralumin shields. Security trucks are stationed at hotels, and several patrol cars can be seen spinning their red lights at the city hall. This is what Kobe looked like on November 26 as a state of heightened security continued throughout the city. Just what was going on that day?

It all began in late October. The right-wing group Japan Emperor People’s Party submitted an application to use a public parking lot located on the city’s Rokko Island. The city administration granted the group permission saying there was “no reason to refuse them.” It was a contract to use a space that can hold 150 passenger cars for one month.

“Since then, several right-wing group sound trucks started gathering in Kobe. The prefectural police immediately deployed a massive amount of anti-riot police. They installed a checkpoint at the road in front of the parking lot and the two sides started staring each other down. There were some minor fisticuffs when the police searched the person of one of the group members,” says a local journalist.

Then on November 5, 50 sound trucks began a large-scale demonstration in town. A taxi driver who witnessed the event describes the scene:

“I saw them at the intersection on the west side of Kobe station, and it was a doozy. All of a sudden, black and white sound trucks were there as far as the eye could see. It’s quite a sight to see so many at once. They were playing military marches or something, but the volume was low. It was actually kind of creepy, too quiet.”

The real reason

Just what did they gather in Kobe in droves to protest? Masashi Takajima, action committee chairman of the JEPP, which continues its activities in Kobe, had this to say:

“Our recent sound truck activities were intended to protest the North Korea issue. That country is trying to return to the six-party talks while in possession of nuclear weapons. These activities are in response to that. The reasons we chose Kobe are several including the fact that they continue giving tax breaks to facilities owned by [pro-Pyongyang Korean-Japanese group] Songryon.”

However, an official from the Kobe Prefectural Police contends:

“We see their true objectives to lie somewhere else. At the end of September, just before Kobe held the National Athletic Meet [Kokutai], the large hotels in Kobe city established a ‘Liaison Committe to Exclude Organized Crime Groups.’ They made it clear that they would refuse to allow members to stay at or use their facilities. [These recent events] are in protest of that.”

Also, a senior leader of a right-wing group who participated in the sound truck activities murmurs:

“It’s true that the refusal to let gang members stay at hotels was the inspiration for the recent sound truck activity. More than the hotel issue, we intend to put pressure on the prefectural police who called for the exclusion of organized crime members. However, there’s a gag order in place and no one is allowed to tell the ‘real reason.'”

Takajima rebuts these claims, explaining, “That’s totally wrong. We never went to protest at hotels, nor did we talk about that in the sound trucks. A gag order? There’s nothing like that at all.”

The right-wing group quickly vacated the sound trucks from the premises of the parking lot on November 24, the day the contract expired. That is because the city refused to extend the contract. However, Takajima notes, “All we have to do is secure another location to base our activities from. We intend to continue our activities, including during [Christmas light show] Luminarie, when people gather in Kobe.” The battle between the police and right-wing groups looks likely to drag on.

PESEK on Japan’s shrinking population

As if he were aware of MF’s recent discussion on the economic effects of Japan’s shrinking population, Bloomberg columnist William Pesek weighs in with some characteristic commentary. Pesek reports on some economists who claim that population aging and a shrinking work force would, contrary to popular belief even in mainstream Japan, have no detrimental effect on the economy as long as there’s sufficient growth in productivity, which is apparently a piece of cake. Pesek, as the headline of his column would suggest, thinks this prospect of a healthy-yet-possibly-shrinking economy so flies in the face of how we understand conventional economies that he called on the authors of Freakonomics to investigate. Here’s the main thrust of the argument:

[Sharmila Whelan of CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets:] “Access to labor, technology and capital are the least of Japan’s problems,” Whelan said. “Creating an environment where there is unhindered entry and exit of new businesses and new ideas are born resulting in continuous innovation and cost savings is the greater challenge. Japan has a long way to go, but the process has started.”

Let’s hope so. Otherwise, the world’s No. 2 economy could shrink along with the ranks of the Japanese.

I think the productivity question is a big “if” in this equation as the creation of the above-mentioned enviornment remains a major sticking point. Without the political leadership of a Koizumi, Japan’s government seems keen to rest on its laurels and fall back on public works spending and support of export industries that promotes the status quo of dangerous stagnation in Japan. But now, we have Abe as prime minister. And as I’ve noted before and as has been borne out by recent events, including the reinstatement of the “postal rebels,” the failure of the Abe administration to follow MOF’s line and divert gas taxes away from road building, the political leadership just isn’t there right now to provide that energy. Sure, initiatives that have LDP/bureaucratic consensus, like education and defense reform or the promotion of further government outsourcing can move through the Diet smoothly, but Abe so far seems to lack Koizumi’s resolve and has found himself on the losing side of crucial policy disputes within his own party. And it remains to be seen whether he will be able to stand up for his stated policy of cutting government debt and expenditures in the face of a boost in tax receipts.

Given the continued decline in public works spending and progression of reforms that were decided in the Koizumi days, Japan is in a much better position than it would have been. But Abe continues to disappoint, and it’s not as if there’s much out there in terms of alternatives. Within the LDP we have Foreign Minister Taro Aso as Abe’s most likely successor. He worked to undermine postal privatization as MIC minister just as he’s undermining Abe’s China diplomacy as Foreign Minister now. And then there’s opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa, who may be a strong politician, but he’s in poor health and not a particularly charismatic leader.

However, there are the makings of new breed of leaders, at least according to the author of the interesting-sounding The Japanese Money Tree: “Investors are ignoring an arguably much more important demographic shift…A younger generation of politicians, executives and policy makers is poised to take charge.” And Pesek goes on to note: “CLSA’s Whelan says fewer people will do for Japan what former and current prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe have been unable to: catalyze an innovation boom that makes Japan more productive.”

These may be some famous last words, but is a generation of young innovators going to provide what the current one can’t? Perhaps it’s more likely that foreign-developed technological advancement will lead to productivity improvement, but can Japan count on that? Another question: What if Japan’s productivity increases, innovation adds vitality to the economy and improves living standards and all that, and the economy still ends up shrinking on an absolute level? Would people be willing to accept it?

The new Ministry of Defense and the difference between a “Commissioner” and “Minister” in Japanese politics

The Japanese government’s move to make the Japan Defense Agency into the “Ministry of Defense” can be a little confusing. The bills were passed with almost unanimous support in the lower house, with main opposition party DPJ voting with the ruling coalition, and will likely be enacted into law by the end of the Diet session this year. But what is it that would change, exactly? More specifically, what would the role of a Minister of Defense be, exactly? I decided to very casually look into it, and here is a blockquote-filled summary of what I found out:

The editorial page at Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, known for a left-of-center stance, had this to say:

Postwar Japan reflected on its history of aggression and colonial rule and vowed never to repeat the mistake of allowing the military to distort politics as it did before World War II.

That is why Japan did not position the armed forces it acquired again after the war as a military force but instead organized the SDF. The decision was also effective in announcing that the SDF is different from a regular military force to audiences both at home and abroad.

The SDF was also a symbol of a new Japan, which does not attach great importance to military affairs. The decision to establish the “Defense Agency” instead of a ministry of national defense or defense ministry carries the same message.

The government and ruling parties say that even if the agency becomes a ministry, there would be no substantial change. The change would boost the pride of SDF members. Other countries have ministries that oversee defense affairs. Just because the name is changed, it doesn’t mean the revival of prewar militarism, they say. That may be true.

But what is being tested is our determination and the will of postwar Japan not to again become a militaristic nation. It is not a question of something getting old and outdated.

To sum up, Asahi warns of the dangers posed by the morale-boosting effects that upgrading the SDA to the SDM would pose. If it’s about “pride” then why not can’t the SDF be happy with bold appearances by a top hat-wearing Shinzo Abe such as was seen last month? This explanation is just too vague. Its news report on the bill’s passage of the lower house has more detail:
Continue reading The new Ministry of Defense and the difference between a “Commissioner” and “Minister” in Japanese politics

The history of Philippine-US relations and the Nicole rape case. Part 1: The case

Although it has been overshadowed by the devastating typhoon that has killed over 1000 people throughout the Philippines, under normal circumstances the conviction of US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith’s conviction by the Makati criminal court (Makati is a city in the greater Manila metropolitan region) for the rape of a young Filipina woman would be the biggest story in the country. The woman, known as “Nicole”(23) due to a media tradition of not reporting the names of rape victims, is only one of what many consider to be many Filipinas/Filipinos who have been abused by US soldiers over the century that the US has had a military presence in the country, but is the first to ever see her attacker convicted in a Philippine court. While it is specifically a victory for “Nicole,” in the Philippines this verdict is also generally being considered a milestone in the assertion of sovereignty and the rule of law in a country which lacked the first throughout its almost 400 years as a colony, and the second during the more recent Marcos dictatorship, which ended in only 1986.

Daniel Smith (21) was charged with the actual rape, along with three other marines and their Filipino driver who were all charged with assisting and egging on Smith, but not actually participating directly. Nicole, who was 22 at the time, was apparently attending a party on the base due to her being engaged to another soldier (the relationship has since dissolved), and after imbibing so much alcohol that she lost consciousness, was carried to a truck in which Smith raped her, while the other marines cheered him on, and the Filipino man simply drove around. Faced with physical evidence, namely semen stains on the woman’s underwear and a used condom, Smith could not deny that the sex had occurred, but naturally he claimed that it had been consensual, “Nicole” claimed otherwise, and the other men all denied culpability. In the end, only Smith was convicted-probably due to medical expert testimony that she had suffered injuries consistent with sexual assault, and while the others may not exactly have been hailed as innocent and offered an apology, they were acquitted on grounds of reasonable doubt. In accordance with the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement, although Smith is being tried in a Philippino court, but was held in the custody of the United States embassy pending conviction, after which he has now been ordered by the judge to begin serving his sentence of life (actually 40 years under local law)in a Philippine prison. It is, however, currently unclear whether he will be transferred immediately, as his attorney is filing an appeal, and a related motion requesting that he remain in US custody pending the final appeal. Current agreements between the USA and The Philippines grant no special protection to US soldiers acting outside their official duties, but memories of previous unequal arrangements linger, and public has not trusted either the US or Philippine governments to live up to the conditions of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

A timeline of events related to the crime and trial can be found here.

While rape cases are by nature always sensational and cases involving military personnel are all the more so, this particular case is particularly significant in the context of the history of The Philippines.

Part 2: A brief history of Philippine-US relations: Early colonial period, to be followed by the third and final section.

Buddhist Teachings Part 1

My reading style since I graduated from college has generally been to maintain a steady diet of constant Internet reading between translations while slowly making my way through 3 books or so that are interesting but not “inspiring” on the back burner, reading each occasionally until I finish them, get more into one of them, or discover something else entirely that excites me enough to finish it in a few sittings. Now that I have recently finished Bob Woddward’s State of Denial (Rumsfeld was a jerk), I’m currently in the middle of 3 books: Matsumoto’s Suicide Notes, a repring of a series of columns by comedy duo Downtown foil Hitoshi Matsumoto, Business Nonsense Dictionary by the late Ramo Nakajima, and finally The Teaching of Buddha, left in my Penang hotel room by “The Society for Promotion of Buddhism.” Maybe now that I’ve posted my reading material publicly it’ll get my ass off the computer chair for a bit to actually read this stuff in earnest.

But for now I’ll just post a couple interesting bits from the Buddhist teachings book:

At one time there lived in the Himalayas a bird with one body and two heads. Once one of the heads noticed the other head eating some sweet fruit and felt jealous and said to itself: “I will then eat poison fruit.” So it ate poison and the whole bird died.

Continue reading Buddhist Teachings Part 1