Letter from Penang (edited)

(Edited to delete full copy-paste)

A friend who recently visited Penang noted that at the Penang Musuem, a room that described the contributions of different peoples to the island, the Japanese section read: “[…] Besides traders, women were prominent in this emerging society. Most of them were prostitutes.”

(Note: This report is unconfirmed and I myself failed to notice it during my own quick trip through the same museum)

Ayase ghetto watch: 75 year old woman in murder- (attempted) suicide

I live in Ayase, a nice little suburb on the Tokyo city limits of Adachi-ku. It is not a very well known area (neighboring Kameari is famous for the anime “Kochikame“), save for crime-related issues. First, Tokyo Detention Center is a 10 minute walk from the station. It is the successor institution to the now-closed Sugamo Prison and has hosted a cavalcade of famous prisoners, recently the fallen star and former Livedoor president Takafumi Horie and Aum Supreme Truth cult leader Shoko Asahara (who recently ran out of appeals in his death penalty case).

Also, some famously heinous crimes have taken place here:
1. A man who was convicted with a suspended sentence in Hokkaido for imprisoning a 20-year-old woman for two weeks in his home in 2001 repeated his crime in 2004 when he lured an 18-year-old Hyogo Prefecture woman he met in a chat room into his apartment in Ayase. Just as he had done in the first incident, he used a dog collar to keep the woman under wraps. She escaped after 3 months but has suffered from PTSD ever since. The man was not arrested until May 2005 (Wikipedia seems to suggest that he was able to claim psychological troubles to avoid arrest, perhaps due to being from a prominent Aomori prefecture family), at which time more than 1,000 “human pet” themed adult video games were confiscated from his apartment. I first heard about this when apartment hunting because a room was open in the same building where the crime took place. We ended up not taking it partly for the creepiness factor but mainly because it was too expensive considering its distance from the station.

2. In 1989, a group of at least 6 young men (4 of whom were successfully prosecuted; all were between 16 and 18, under the age of majority in Japan of 20) imprisoned a 19-year-old high school girl in one of the boy’s homes (located in Ayase) for 41 days, raping and abusing her until she finally died. The boys then placed the girl in a barrel, filled it with concrete, and hid the barrel in Wakasu, Koto-ku, Tokyo. The incident was only discovered after one of the boys confessed to it when police arrested him for another crime.

So as I get to know my area a little better, I plan to keep track of some of the news about town. This time up, we have an murder-attempted-suicide:


80-year-old man stabbed to death, wife severely injured in apparent murder-suicide attempt (Adachi Ward, Tokyo)

August 10, 2007

At approximately 8:10PM on August 9, a passerby reported to 110 (Japan’s 911) that a man had collapsed in the doorway of a hardware store in Towa, Adachi Ward 2-chome. Tokyo Metropolitan Police Ayase Precinct sped to the scene and found the 80-year-old store own stabbed in the abdomen. He died almost immediately after beeing rushed to a nearby hospital. His wife (age 75) was found in the 2nd floor bathroom with severe stab wounds to her stomach. She told police that she stabbed her husband and then tried to kill herself. The police view the incident as a non-consensual shinju (murder-suicide) and are investigating the wife’s motive.

Investigators say the man fled his house and asked passersby for help, saying his wife had stabbed him. A suicide note apparently written by the wife was found at the scene.

Garden State/NYC update for Aceface

On my last post Aceface asked:

Hey,why not write some more about the garden state for non American readers for this is travelogue afterall.
I’m wondering what becomes of the turnpike after nearly quater of a century of my absence from New Jersey.Is Great Adventure(of the six flags theme park) still there?What happened to Flushing/Fort Lee Japan town that I’ve heard it is now changed as Taiwan/Korea town?I really really miss New Jersey!

You should come visit then!

I did just do a NYC related post the other day, and when I start carrying my camera around more you may see more local things. But if you really need a New Jersey fix, I recommend Weird New Jersey. Get some copies of the physical magazine if you can, it’s loads of fun.

The Turnpike is pretty much the same. They briefly discussed privatizing it before people realized it was just a cash infusion with no real long term gain or service enhancements. I believe tokens have been completely phased out- the toll is 35 cents cash, or in some areas 70 cents but only in one direction (to improve traffic flow the other way) and most people who use it more than once in a blue moon have EZ-PASS, a battery powered radio transducer box that sits on your dashboard or sticks to the windshield up by the rear-view mirror and passes your account information wirelessly to the toll booth as you drive through, making the whole payment process way easier. To get one of these boxes you pay a small deposit ($20?) and get a free replacement when the battery runs low. There is an electronic sign that warns you when your account is low on money.

Six Flags is still there, I have not been since I was in 8th grade though.

Flushing is Chinese and Korean. I don’t know if there are many Taiwanese there or not, but Cantonese still go to Manhattan Chinatown, and Chinatown definitely has a Taiwanese presence still. I was there last week and saw a sign for the USA headquarters of the KMT, and there was also a sign in the window with Lien Chan’s (連戰) name on it.

I feel like Fort Lee is almost all Korean, but also Japanese still live in the Fort Lee/Edgewater area. There is a Japanese supermarket/shopping center there in Edgewater, which used to have a Kinokuniya branch, but I think now has some other bookstore in its place. I haven’t been to Fort Lee or Flushing this year, so I haven’t got any current personal observations.

In NYC, St Marks Place, the former locus of punk culture in the region (a culture which has taken a near mortal blow with the passing of CBGB’s), is now the closest thing to a Japanese area in the city, with at least a half dozen izakaya type places on just the one block, and a little Japanese market around the corner to the north, which is on the second floor above a bookstore (elevator access), and sells Japanese products. I believe last week I saw a sign down the street to the north-west that Kinokuniya was either opening a second location near there, or perhaps moving from their old Rockefeller location, which makes sense. I doubt many Japanese are hanging out over there these days, compared to the numbers you see every day in the Village.

One of these places, which I was at last week, is labeled as something like “日本帝國居酒屋” (Japanese Empire Izakaya – although I forget the place’s actual name), with lots of old-timey Showa-period kitch and decoration, like old posters, antique pachinko machines, etc. Signs with random vaguely pro-Japanese imperialist slogans and phrases, also written on the t-shirts worn by staff, such as “神風特攻隊.” (Kamikaze special attack squad) In the men’s bathroom, next to the mirror, there was a red sign that just says “長崎原爆.” (Nagasaki Nuclear Bomb) This is also the only place I have ever seen outside of Japan that has “Hoppy” on the menu- and even in Japan it’s usually just places going for an oldy-timey kind of mood. (This paragraph is taken from some comments I just made on a tangentially related topic at Neomarxisme.)

Update: the friend I went with reminds me the place is called ケンカ, meaning “to argue.” They also have an actual stuffed tanuki inside, posed to look like the cartoonish tanuki statues you often see in Japan, which is both a little awesome and a little creepy.

There are of course many, many other Japanese restaurants and bars throughout the city, which there’s really no need to discuss. There are also a few other Japanese markets/stores of note, but actually for Japanese food products your best bet is probably a Korean store, some of which are much bigger and carry a large amount of food and drinks from Japan. Of special note is the NYC branch of Japanese used bookstore mega-chain Book Off, located on 41st St, just south of Grand Central Station, and just east of the public library. Just down the block from Book Off is a Japanese restaurant, a Japanese bakery/cafe, with some of the sorts of baked goods that you normally only see in bakeries in Japan, and a Japanese market/lunch place that does things like katsudon for eat-in or take-away.

Anyone else have some observations to share for Aceface’s NY/NJ travel guide?

Mid-level NK soldiers pawning their uniforms for cash

ZAKZAK reports that while authentic North Korean army uniforms have been available for sale in China near the North Korean border for some time, until recently you could only find low-level grunts. But now real rarities have found their way to China – actual ceremonial uniforms worn by colonels at occasions attended by Kim Jong Il himself. In the DPRK’s Korean People’s Army, colonels are 8th from the top of the 24-rank hierarchy of which the late Kim Il Sung remains the top.

Normal usually sell for about 37,000 yen (2300 yuan or about $340) and usually go to South Korean or Japanese tourists, according to one seller. The uniforms are in abundance as soldiers pawn them to pay for daily necessities. Experts quoted in the article felt that this indicated some further degradation of whatever order is left in the North Korean military, who are supposed to be some of the best taken care of people in the country.

The uniforms make it to China through a small network of traders who move back and forth along the border, often making deals from within NK with carefully hidden mobile phones.

Attention, office workers of Japan: Shut the hell up

You can talk on the phone using your INDOOR voice, thank you very much. And get back to work! You’ve been chatting with your coworkers for the past 20 minutes.

Two songs that have been on my mind recently:

Snoop Dogg at his best:

I mean look at him — he’s young, energetic, and he’s got that bomb Dr. Dre beat (hell, I’d sound awesome with Dre backing me). These videos are great too — pointless cut scenes, parties, censored corporate logos.

And this, a little after the unfortunate “fo shizzle” stage and after he had given up drugs… It’s not his worst but he’s never really topped that early era (I mean consider this — he’s come full circle from proclaiming that he’s got no love for “ho’s” to complimenting them for having “bomb-ass pussy” — I take it as a sign of age and diminished popularity that he can’t just strip women in public and spray them with seltzer water or whatever he does and still expect them to like him).

Electric cars in New York City, circa 1906

Yesterday’s New York Times had an article on the short-lived wave of electricity powered automobiles that were popular in the city almost exactly one century ago.

Starting in 1914, the Detroit Taxicab and Transfer Company built and operated a fleet of nearly 100 electric cabs. Customers would often wait for a smoother, cleaner, more tasteful electric cab, even when a gas-powered cab was already on station.

At the turn of the 20th century, quiet, smooth, pollution-free electric cars were a common sight on the streets of major American cities. Women especially favored them over steam- and gasoline-powered cars.

Last year I posted a 1906 article from the same newspaper’s archive on an auto show at Madison Square Garden, which discussed electric vehicles in use at the time.

Breweries are still the leading users of motor trucks. The three-ton truck that is ordinarily used will carry fifty half-barrels. As an indication of its utility, it may be interesting to note that one of these will leave a big brewery around New York at 6 o’clock in the morning, make a trip to Coney Island, return at 2 o’clock, and finish a short city delivery before 6 in the evening. With horse-drawn trucks, four horses would be needed to make the trip to Coney Island, and the team would not get back until late at night, while the following day it would be necessary to give the horses absolute rest. Most of the big breweries have their own electric plants and thereby reduce the cost of recharging their electric trucks to about 2t or 30 cents, representing only the actual cost of the fuel. If recharged in an electric garabe, the cost is about $1.25. The Vehicle Equipment Company maintains a large electric wagon garage at Ninth Avenue and Twenty-seventh Street, where over 100 cars in daily use are kept.

The electric wagon can run only 30 to 35 miles on a single charge, and this limited radius naturally restricts the use of the electric wagon for city purposes. With good roads and with its simpler construction, requiring less mechanical work than is needed to keep the gasoline trucks in good condition, the electric wagon has become firmly established as the ideal method for deliveries in large communities. There is little difficulty now in securing capable men to manage them. The manager of one of the large concerns stated that motormen of the surface and subway lines are applying for jobs to drive electric wagons in great numbers. Their familiarity with electric motors fits them admirably for the work, as they can make light repairs and prevent needless damage, elements that enter largely into the economy of the motor commercial vehicle.

I asked then, “Did you know we had electric cars in 1906? Why are they still so scarce in 2006?” A place like New York City does in fact seem like an ideal environment for battery powered vehicles, and you actually see them in use quite a bit in parks or train stations, where speed is no factor, but would it in fact be effective to re-introduce electric vehicles for commercial purposes, much in the same way as described in the 1906 article, but with modern motor and battery technologies?

Various: Former 1960s student activist now DPJ president of Upper House

** Asahi, in an editorial praising the supposed end of back-room deals between Diet ruling and opposition camps:

The new president of the Upper House is a son of the late Saburo Eda, who served as general secretary of the Japan Socialist Party during the 1960s. When he was a student at the University of Tokyo, Satsuki Eda earned a reputation as a leading campus activist. Eda was deeply involved in the student movement opposing the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which was signed in 1960. In a tragic episode in this movement that occurred on June 15, 1960, Michiko Kanba, a University of Tokyo student, died in a clash between police and demonstrators who crashed into the Diet premises. Eda was among the protesters on that day.

At that time, Nobusuke Kishi was the prime minister. Kishi’s house was often surrounded by demonstrators. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was then a young grandson of the conservative politician and would play with Kishi at his house, as Abe recalls in his book. Kishi is said to have looked amused as his grandson repeatedly said two words: “Anpo Hantai!” (Down with the security pact!), which was the main slogan of the demonstrators.

Ironically, Eda, who once fought fiercely against Kishi, will look down at Abe, who reveres his grandfather, from the seat of the Upper House president.

** And in other news, in case you needed confirmation that Koizumi is interested in forming his own party, check out this reecnt editorial in Nikkei by Naoki Tanaka, a former Keidanren-related think tank head who now is in charge of “Center for International Public Policy Studies” the Koizumi think tank:

LDP leadership concluded, without much thought, that if the party openly criticized civil servants for their perceived sins in those areas, then the electorate would take the view the ruling party was indeed successfully taking over the baton of reform from the Koizumi. However, the electorate must realize that the new LDP leadership is an entirely different team from the one led by Koizumi and it was not something that could be easily grafted on Koizumi’s legacy of reform. What it all boils down to is that the LDP already suffers from reform fatigue, and the need for a party that can replace the LDP has become imperative.

Through the nationwide discussions that took place prior to the latest election, there was a shared understanding among the electorate that the purpose of the upper house poll was to give a score to the sitting government. Considering these results, one can expect the Japanese media to press Abe, who has vowed to stay on despite his party’s election rout, to dissolve the lower house and call a general election. This would take Japan into a season of fundamental political upheaval in which all involved, particularly the electorate, will have to re-examine the essence of the reform agenda and the political methods employed to attain reforms.

You can interpret that line several ways, but given the fact that the DPJ and Kokumin Shinto are submitting a bill that would freeze postal privatization, I doubt Mr. Koizumi or his cronies will have much use for them either.

Real names

We had a discussion a while back on this blog over whether it made more sense to post items using my real name, or my “Mutantfrog” handle. After speaking to a relative the other day and hearing that there was some confusion over the multiple author situation (realization that I wasn’t writing everything on here struck after seeing Adam mention his wife in a post), I decided that it would probably be a good time to switch to my real name.

Readers should take note that the author name appears under the title of each post, next to the date, and to the left of the author icon. While Adam and Joe have actual photographs of themselves for the author icon, mine currently remains the frog icon, which is also now the site icon, but I suppose that could also change in the future.