Lawyering in East Asia

One of my favorite law-related blogs is Above The Law, a self-proclaimed “legal tabloid” which focuses on embarrassing gossip about lawyers, judges and law firms. Lately they have been running a mini-series of posts on practicing in Asia (by which they mean Greater China, Korea and Japan):

Although these posts are being somewhat maligned by their sponsorship (a Hong Kong-based legal recruiting firm), the information seems spot-on to me. Some important points to take home:

  • Working in East Asia gives a lawyer the chance to take on a lot of responsibility way earlier than they usually would (or, maybe, should). Law firms are smaller here, the market is a bit less competitive (in that there are fewer players), and there’s more potential for client contact and business development than there is in the US or UK.
  • If you speak the local language, you have an edge in the job market because employers will see you as more committed to the region. On the other hand, if you read the local language, you are likely to be employed in the crappiest work there is (translating and reviewing business documents). I actually know a Japanese lawyer who hid his English skills for this reason, even though they were good enough to get him into a top-tier American law school: he didn’t want to be stuck handling grunt work for foreign clients when he could be doing high-level negotiations, research and drafting in his own language.
  • Time zones are a hidden complication. I’ve noticed one bonus of time differences: there’s a “quiet window” between about 11 AM and 4 PM in Tokyo, starting when New Yorkers go to bed and ending when Londoners wake up, making it easier to focus attention on outstanding matters without being bothered too much. The downside is that you have to do your real-time correspondence with London and New York outside this window, meaning there’s a lot of potential for early mornings and late evenings.

Many of the notions in these articles apply not just to legal practice, but to expat-ty jobs in general, making them potentially a good read for people in other private sectors.

Ma administration already beginning “rectification of names”?

Over a year ago I wrote two posts on pro-independence President Chen Shui Bian’s (陳水扁) campaign of “rectification of names (正名)”, in which various agencies, school texts, and other labels were renamed to suggest an affiliation with Taiwan rather than China.

Taiwan rectifies names in new history textbook: January 31, 2007

More on rectification of names in Taiwan: February 7, 2007

Where the now former president Chen is a member of the pro-localization Democratic Progressive Party (DPP-民進黨 ) and himself of the more radical localization/independence faction, the new president Ma Ying-jiu (馬英九) is a member of the Chinese Kuomintang (KMT-國民黨), and may make Chinese appeasement an aspect of his administration’s policy. This could easily include reversals of DPP iniatives such as the renaming of national corporations (post, oil, etc.) and the removal of former dictator Chaing Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) name from both the Taipei area airport which formerly bore his name, and to the grand Ming imperial tomb-inspired complex now currently knows as Democracy Memorial Hall (臺灣民主紀念館), but originally constructed as the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (蔣介石紀念館) following his death. While one can understand why Taiwanese democrats (small ‘d’) might object to the former dictator being memorialized in the style of the Ming Emperor’s (although his body is not buried there), it is also easy to see why some members of the KMT-Chiang’s political party-objected to the alteration, and why there is bound to be at least some amount of lobbying for a new executive order to change it back, now that their party has retaken the presidency.

One of the most notable of these renamings was the change of the national postal system from Chunghwa Post- which means China Post (中華郵政) to Taiwan Post (臺灣郵政). While this change has not (yet?) been reversed, it is possible that Taiwan may be in for a round of doubly confusing name flip-flops and reversals. As the Taipei Times reported on the day of Ma’s inauguration (yesterday, May 21)

Forty-year-old Mr Chen waited for two hours before he could put his hands on the sets he had ordered. He said he had purchased the stamps not only because Ma was president, but also because the Chinese characters for “Republic of China” were once again on the stamps.

Last year, the stamps issued by Taiwan Post Co only bore the name Taiwan.

Is this merely an example of the Taiwan Post Co honoring the new chief executive by printing his portrait next to the official name of the country he now leads, or a foreshadowing of a larger restoration of China -oriented names by the new administration? How deeply has Chen’s rectification of names really penetrated in Taiwan? Do most people prefer the localized names to the ones matching the country’s official name of Republic of China? How much has the necessity for campaigning in competitive elections with an electorate made up mostly of ethnic Taiwanese really changed the formerly mainlander-dominated KMT? And where does technically-mainlander but Taiwan-raised pragmatic Ma fit into this? Unfortunately, I have not been in Taiwan for over two years now and I really do not have a very solid sense of how most people have been reacting to these issues recently. It may be safe to predict that Ma will not be renaming any more “China” such-and-such to “Taiwan” such-and-such, but whether he will let all of the recent changes stand is another question entirely.

Taiwan’s Kung-fu politician

No, this isn’t a reference to some pathetic cheesy metaphor, but a quote from new Premiere Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄).

After the ceremony, Liu escorted Chang on his way out of the Executive Yuan.

Liu tripped while walking down the stairs in the lobby of the Executive Yuan hall, nearly falling.

“I am fine. My kung fu is very good,” Liu, a martial arts fiction fan and author of more than 10 martial arts novels, joked in response to reporters’ questions. (Taipei Times)

I just hope that Liu hires this guy as his legislative assistant.

DSL in Japan, update

I mentioned the other day how it takes an entire month of waiting to get DSL installed in Japan, due to control of the local loop remaining entirely with the former government monopoly telecom NTT, while service can be provided by a variety of competitors. One of the interesting side effects of this is that no matter who your provider is, the physical line installation at the home is still performed by NTT. And because installation will be performed not by my service provider KDDI, instead of having the installer bring along the modem and accessories, they mail it in advance. I am not sure if this is because NTT refuses to cooperate and deliver the modem for another company’s service, despite being legally obligated to perform the local loop installation required for service connection, or if KDDI (I think Softbank does the same thing, but I forget) has merely decided that it is logistically simpler to send modems through the package delivery infrastructure.

And speaking of the package delivery infrastructure, I was very impressed by Kuroneko Takkyubin’s service. When I got home last night at around 8:30 there was one of those failed delivery notification notices in my mailbox. Oddly, the time written on it was 10 o’clock, which makes not sense at all, since I was at home until around 11am, and it was still well before 10pm. Regardless, the notice had the standard information on how to contact either the automated phone system, the internet website, or a live switchboard operator to schedule redelivery- but also had a somewhat astonishing fourth option: the cell phone number of the delivery truck driver who had attempted delivery that day. Since it said he was reachable until 9pm, I called up, the call was answered instantly, and once I told him my name and address, he said to stay and wait for him. I assumed I would be waiting for several minute, but there was a knock on my door, literally, at most two minutes later!

And thus is customer service in Japan-a melange of impenetrable bureaucracy and inflexible, pointless rules for some things, but in other areas some of the most helpful and convenient services found anywhere.

Money for the blind

A high-level US court just ruled that American paper money must be redesigned so that blind people can distinguish bills by denomination. Other countries accomplish this through subtle tactile differences or different bill sizes, but all US currency feels more or less the same, at least when it’s fresh off the presses.

When I went to Albany in February to be sworn into the New York bar, I had a number of odd experiences, among them:

  • Drinking Chinese state-brewed beer in a sketchy hotel room while discussing what would happen if they went to war with Japan (this would have led to nothing good had the sole Chinese attendee not decided to “go to bed” early)
  • Sitting in a crowded waiting room next to a lawyer who works literally within eyeshot of my office window in Tokyo
  • Touching a girder from the World Trade Center

But probably the weirdest experience was when I bought a pack of gum inside the New York state government Cloud City.

Everything was normal until I went to the cashier. I put the gum on the counter. The cashier said “Hi, what are you getting today?” For many people, that would merit some kind of sarcastic response. As usual, I bit my tongue, which was probably a good thing because the cashier was blind.

I tried to act as un-shocked as possible, and said “Umm, a 5-pack of Doublemint.”

“OK,” she said, and started pushing buttons on the register. The register read out the numbers as she pushed them. “POINT SIX NINE ENTER. SEVENTY-THREE CENTS.”

“That’ll be 73 cents,” she said.

I handed her a five-dollar bill.

“Out of how much?” she said.

“Uhh, out of five.”

Anyway, I wonder whether she works there all the time. Maybe they just put her there on bar admissions day as an ethics test for new lawyers. Or maybe people really work on the honor system in Albany. Who knows. At least her job will be a bit easier in a few years’ time…

George Takei’s comments on gay marriage ruling in California

This isn’t normally the sort of thing we discuss on this blog, but in announcing his upcoming marriage with his partner of 21 years, the sci-fi actor makes an interesting comparison between discrimination involving his sexual orientation and Japanese descent. Here is Takei’s entire letter, with italics added for emphasis.

Our California dream is reality. Brad Altman and I can now marry. We are overjoyed! At long last, the barrier to full marriage rights for same-sex couples has been torn down. We are equal with all citizens of our state!

The California Supreme Court has ruled that all Californians have a fundamental right to marry the person he or she loves. Brad and I have shared our lives together for over 21 years. We’ve worked in partnership; he manages the business side of my career and I do the performing. We’ve traveled the world together from Europe to Asia to Australia. We’ve shared the good times as well as struggled through the bad. He helped me care for my ailing mother who lived with us for the last years of her life. He is my love and I can’t imagine life without him. Now, we can have the dignity, as well as all the responsibilities, of marriage. We embrace it all heartily.

The California Supreme Court further ruled that our Constitution provides for equal protection for all and that it cannot have marriage for one group and another form – domestic partnership – for another group. No more “separate but equal.” No more second-class citizenship. Brad and I are going to be married as full citizens of our state.

As a Japanese American, I am keenly mindful of the subtle and not so subtle discrimination that the law can impose. During World War II, I grew up imprisoned behind the barbed wire fences of U.S. internment camps. Pearl Harbor had been bombed and Japanese Americans were rounded up and incarcerated simply because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Fear and war hysteria swept the nation. A Presidential Executive Order directed the internment of Japanese Americans as a matter of national security. Now, with the passage of time, we look back and see it as a shameful chapter of American history. President Gerald Ford rescinded the Executive Order that imprisoned us. President Ronald Reagan formally apologized for the unjust imprisonment. President George H.W. Bush signed the redress payment checks to the survivors. It was a tragic and dark taint on American history.

With time, I know the opposition to same sex marriage, too, will be seen as an antique and discreditable part of our history. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy remarked on same sex marriage, “Times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper, in fact, serve only to oppress.”

For now, Brad and I are enjoying the delicious dilemma of deciding where, when, and how we will be married. Marriage equality took a long time, but, like fine wine, its bouquet is simply exquisite.

Much of the debate over the legitimacy of this court decision, and gay marriage in general, is based upon the question of whether sexual orientation as a basis for discrimination is on the same level as gender and race. Since the general scientific and societal consensus seems to be that sexuality is primarily an inherent characteristic (whether due to genetic or prenatal factors), rather than a matter of “choice” or “lifestyle” I personally cannot buy the argument that it is not a similarly invalid basis for discrimination. I imagine that the best route for success on the part of gay marriage equality advocates is to continue to press comparisons with the earlier generations’ fight for racial and gender equality, continue to conflate racial discrimination with homophobia, and remind people that “separate but equal” is a vicious lie. Most people will likely balk at highly technical debates of constitutionality and jurisprudence, but perhaps more of them will listen when an elderly Japanese-American homosexual tells them that being barred from marrying his fiance is equivalent to being locked in an internment camp in the 1940s.

Incidentally, my favorite potential remedy to the entire issue is the somewhat radical proposal to remove the term “marriage” from the law entirely, make the state responsible only for two-party “civil unions” to which gender is irrelevant, leaving marriage as a religious sacrament or label of self-identification.

Google fails

No definitions of Bitchin were found in English

Definitions of Bitchin on the Web in Spanish:

* Bitchin’ es un EP de We Are Scientists, grabado entre 2001 y 2002 y lanzado el 30 de septiembre de 2002 por la propia discográfica de la banda …

I hope my friends do not use Google to translate my Facebook wall posts. Especially the Spanish-speaking ones: they will be even more confused.

Pacifist lawsuits: not just for Japan any more

It seems like every few months there’s yet another court ruling as to the constitutionality of Japan’s defense forces. Apparently, Americans are following suit with regard to the Iraq war.

New Jersey Peace Action et al. v. Bush, represented by the Constitutional Law Clinic at Rutgers University Law School-Newark, alleges that the war violates article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which assigns to Congress the authority to declare war.

Clinic director Frank Askin said the framers at the 1787 constitutional convention denied war-making powers to the president except in response to sudden attacks when Congress might not have time to react quickly.

“The founders were very clear that only Congress could make that awesome decision,” he said in a statement. “They [members of Congress] were not permitted to delegate that power to the president and thus be able later to disclaim responsibility for a decision gone bad.”

Interesting (but, I suspect, futile) arguments in the full article.

DSL in Japan

To quote from Arstechnica’s article comparing various national broadband policies:

The government requires local loop unbundling so that new ISPs can emerge without having to rewire the last mile every time. The government also has a 34 percent stake in NTT, one of the major telecoms, and has ordered it to deploy fiber whether or not it shows a profit; broadband is considered a key piece of infrastructure that can’t simply be deployed only where it is profitable. The government also subsidizes a third of the cost of all fiber-to-the-home deployments in rural areas, where rolling out new lines can prove terribly expensive. The result is one of the fastest broadband networks in the world at one of the lowest price-per-megabit points anywhere.

I ordered DSL at a KDDI/AU retail shop just after I moved into my apartment, around the 2nd of the month. Last night I finally got the letter confirming my request, and notifying me of the installation date: May 29th. Why does it take so long? Well, as you may realize from the above paragraph, despite a plethora of service providers, the local loop is still owned by the quasi-government monopoly telecom company of NTT, and regardless of who you subscribe with, only NTT is allowed to actually hook up your line. While the freedom of provider choice-which has all but vanished in the US, except for competition between entirely different categories of service such as a having one cable and one dsl provider in the same city-is nice, I feel as if they could futher streamline the NTT-reliant installation procedure.

The New Yushukan – a more refined elitist self-delusion

Over the Golden Week holidays, I had the chance to visit Yasukuni Jinja, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Japan’s war dead and the Yushukan, a museum on the shrine grounds that mainly focuses on the military history of modern Japan through World War II. It was my first time to the museum, and it ended up being well worth the 800 yen admission fee, if only to catch a glimpse of mainstream right-wing thought on the war. Without pretending to expertise on the subject, I’d like to give a quick rundown of my visit and some impressions.

We visited on Saturday, and our first encounter was with an outdoor antique market, in full swing despite the light rain. The lineup of wares, while heavily featuring elaborate ivory carvings (a scale model ship was the most impressive bit elephant tusk), were an interesting assortment of Showa-era memorabilia. There were old records, collectible cards of forgotten manga characters, tattered Imperial Army uniforms and medals (one in English, perhaps for colonial conscripts?), waifish, flapperesque mannequin heads, old jade, and many vintage magazines (I especially liked a Takarazuka Revue promotion from the 80s and a playbill/promotion from a Japanese stage production of Gone with the Wind). We bumped shoulders with the middle aged female clientele and traded greetings with the cantankerous older men who ran the shops.

After a quick perusal (we didn’t buy anything out of a desire to avoid filling up the apartment with other people’s musty memories), we walked under the enormous tori’i arch and past the refreshment stand. Some men, elderly but not elderly enough to have fought in WW2, sat in front of the vending machines, decked out in military gear. One wore a t-shirt calling on “all Japanese to be proud” of their Yamato racial heritage. Are those of the Yayoi stock not their compatriots?

We showed our guest the prayer-and-donation area where Koizumi made his controversial visits and turned right, past the memorial sakura grove and the stage to the square in front of the museum.

By my count, there are four major memorials in the square – for war horses, dogs, pigeons, battleships, and Justice Pal, the Indian representative at the Tokyo tribunals who issued a dissenting opinion that Japan was not guilty of waging a war of aggression. He gets quite a large concrete memorial, with his photo and a key quote written in Japanese calligraphy. At first I wondered why Justice Pal, who is neither Japanese nor enshrined at Yasukuni, would warrant higher billing than, say, Tojo or Admiral Yamamoto. But as we shall see later, war crimes, and the legacy of Japan’s ruling elite, are the overwhelming theme of the Yushukan.

As we entered the building, the first things we saw were: directly in front, a locomotive that once ran over the “bridge of death” over the River Kwai; to the left, a Mitsubishi Zero fighter; and the ticket machines (800 yen) on the right.

The museum starts on the second floor, and before the real exhibits begin you can take a look at some “fan artwork” — there is a stylized rendering of a pilot training center, some preserved cherry blossoms from when they were in full bloom last month, and a somewhat odd statue featuring a brave WW2-era Japanese soldier with, if I remember correctly, a woman on his right and a naked boy to the left who would probably be best described as “savage” in the colonial sense of the word.

The first main exhibit is a quick rundown of pre-Edo and Edo period Japan, focusing on the “samurai spirit” that the museum claims has been a consistent code of Japanese warriors. The explanations and displays of armor are accompanied by pictures of the great leaders from Warring States through the WW2 era, with Toyotomi Hideyoshi, uniter of the archipelago, gaining a place next to Admiral Yamamoto, a man who plunged Japan into war with the United States despite having bluntly told Prince Konoe that such a war was unwinnable.

We were then treated to the section on the late Edo period, when the shogun was forced into signing unequal treaties with the Western Powers, a move that would eventually result in civil wars and the “restoration” of the emperor and the construction of modern Japan.

Here the translations were extremely spotty. There was plenty of explanation of geopolitics (the Opium Wars are duly noted for foreign visitors), but several interesting facts were left in Japanese only – for instance, a chart showing the number of foreign ships sighted off of Japan’s coasts in the 19th century (very few until the 1850s), a depiction of attacks on foreigners perpetrated by pro-emperor agitators in the “sonnou-joui” (“respect the emperor, expel the foreigners”) campaign; and no translation of passages showing how that movement turned its anger at the shogunate. Also, no translation of the descriptions of various nations by the Iwakura Mission (“Britain is a model of even development!”)

The message, however, was clear – Japan was forced into national disgrace by a weak shogunate, the pro-emperor faction fought and won control of the country, and it was this faction, and its ingenious leadership, who took Japan deftly into the modern era by learning from the West, renegotiating the unequal treaties, and embarking on the national modernization drive.

For the uninitiated such as myself, it might be perplexing why Yasukuni Shrine would feel the need to spend so much time playing up the events and achievements of the late Edo/early Meiji era. One more obvious motive is the need to characterize the West as a dangerous imperialist power that Japan has needed to deal with since that era. The other, detailed in the section of the museum that outlines Yasukuni’s history, surprised me – Yasukuni Shrine was built in 1869 to commemorate those who died for the emperor in the pre-Restoration civil wars.

From there it was on to Japan’s development and colonial period, which was fairly unremarkable except for the fact that triumphal arches were once a common sight throughout Japan, though most have been taken down. While the Meiji section fascinated me, I will admit that the complicated geopolitics from the first Sino-Japanese war through the Marco Polo Bridge Incident made my eyes glaze over. I will note that Japan’s unsuccessful proposal to the League of Nations to ban all forms of racial discrimination receives prominent mention.

The WW2 section is also quite convoluted. Both this and the previous section seem aimed straight at the hardcore nationalists who are likely the most enthusiastic visitors. The basic story seemed to be, everything was going great (they really nailed the Brits in SE Asia) until “the turning point” and then they were pretty much doomed.

As far as I can remember, there was no section on the home front (no bamboo spears) and not a word about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the interpretation of the bomb is sensitive even in Japan, I guess the rightists didn’t want to get near that.

The immediate aftermath of Japan’s loss is briefly touched on (captured soldiers sent to Soviet gulags, another monument to Justice Pal), and then, finally, after a whole museum dedicated to Japan’s wondrous political leadership, a memorial to the Japanese who died in World War II. The walls are lined with small photographs, along with a profile containing their names, some vital stats, and how they died (in battle, of a battle-related disease, etc.). There are also exhibits of personal effects.

Though this seemed like the logical end of the museum, on our way out there was a final exhibit of the various suicide attack weapons – small fighter planes and manned torpedoes. The sheer size of the exhibits probably dictated their location, but it was a little jarring to see a respectful homage to the countless war dead followed by what seemed like a justification for pointless, desperate suicide missions that came into full use only after the war was a lost cause. The explanation next to the fighter plane implied that the pilots used ejector seats to escape and survive after the attacks. A video in the corner featured a Western reporter interviewing (in fluent Japanese) a surviving kamikaze pilot who seemed to be dismissing the conventional wisdom on kamikaze attacks, but unfortunately I did not stick around for that.

Last week’s visit came well after the museum’s 2006-2007 renovation. Yushukan was widely ridiculed for hyperbolic arguments justifying Japan’s involvement in the war, such as “Roosevelt forced Japan to go to war to lift the U.S. economy out of the Great Depression,” leading some cooler headed conservatives, such as retired diplomat and foreign policy commentator Hisahiko Okazaki, to refine the exhibits and take a more reality-based stab at making the facility’s central arguments.

And overall, the museum benefits greatly from omitting such cheap shots. The views of those involved in the shrine and what it stands for are made much clearer (to name a few: Japan was foisted into the international scene at a time when the great powers were bent on bringing Asia under their domination, good-faith attempts by the Japanese to encourage a more just international system (such as by calling for Korean national sovereignty prior to annexation or by suggesting that the League of Nations proscribe racial discrimination) were constantly thwarted by the West, the denial of Japan’s legitimate interest by the West were ultimately responsible for the outbreak of the Pacific War, Japan fought bravely but was ultimately outmaneuvered).

Personally, though I deeply disagree with the museum’s approach, I am not offended by the mere existence of a rightist war memorial. The arguments made did not seem particularly pernicious or dishonest, though certain claims (such as “Japan had repeatedly proposed national independence for Korea, but the West rejected the idea” prior to formal annexation in 1905) seemed kind of disingenuous. I am not in much of a position to make a strong case for or against most of the claims, but a private group, especially one so highly revered and with such a key role as Yasukuni, has every right to make an argument from a certain historical perspective.

But despite the outward appearance of officialdom and authoritativeness, Yasukuni could never be a “national” war memorial. The endless beatification of the Japanese ruling elites, including the bunglers who brought about Japan’s destruction in World War II, is as insulting as it is undeserved. The deaths of millions of Japanese, and the complete upending of the society, gets barely an afterthought, not to mention the destruction wrought by the war. In their place are the aforementioned lengthy historical diatribes and minutely detailed geopolitical analysis. Mrs. Adamu commented that it was like a three-dimensional edition of a typical Japanese textbook – lots of names and dates to memorize, not much context.

I had a hard time deciding whether the planners of the museum were simply carried away with respect for the war leaders and the voyeuristic lure of political intrigue, or if they were more interested in refuting the charges of “aggression” and absolving the “So-called Class A War Criminals” to quote the title of a prominent right wing manga on the subject.

This relentlessly defensive tone misses the point of what a war memorial should be about. When average Japanese talk about the war, only rarely will someone bring up the war leaders or the Powers. Mostly people bring up their personal, first/second/third-hand experiences – grandfathers who brought back souvenirs from Manchuria, memories of hunger in the early postwar years, and on and on. Where is the memorial for them?