Off to Taiwan

I mentioned last week that I was going to Taiwan, and I’m leaving today. I’m flying From Kansai to the airport formerly known as Chiang Kai-shek tonight and coming back way too early on the 19th. I’ll spend about half my time in Taipei meeting up with old friends, but as fun as that might be the really cool part of the trip will be in the back half.

In my department at Kyoto University there is a girl from one of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes doing her PHD on topics related to education and development of Taiwan’s aborigine community, who often goes back to Taiwan for research and what I guess you could call development related activist or volunteer activities, and who told me when I mentioned that I was going to Taiwan in August that she would be around, and offered to show me some aborigine culture. Not having really spent any time in those parts of Taiwan, I imagined that it would be pretty cool to take a day or two to visit one of the villages, but when we spoke maybe 4 days ago, she described to me an eight day itinerary involving three different villages of three different tribes! It might have thrown of the schedule I was thinking of, but I expect it to be pretty awesome.

Naturally I’m bringing my camera along, and I’ll have plenty of photos and such to post after I get back.

We Fear Change

I haven’t been up to much in terms of writing these days, save for one exciting development: my first essay on!

Follow the link to read what I have to say about the SMAPtastic Takuya Kimura’s latest attempt at acting.

Japanese constitutional law quiz

Diet BuildingSince I’m running through various Japanese legal topics in preparation to sit some state exams, I thought I would share the pain with all you readers though a fun little quiz:

  1. Who appoints the justices of the Supreme Court?
  2. What “duties” do citizens have under the Constitution?
  3. What are the qualifications to be a member of the Cabinet (i.e. a minister of state)?
  4. What procedures does the Constitution require before someone is arrested?
  5. Name a state action which the Supreme Court found to violate the freedom of religion clause.
  6. What is the procedure for signing an international treaty?
  7. Can a person be convicted based solely on their confession to the crime?
  8. Who determines the imperial order of succession?
  9. When can a person exercise their right to an attorney?
  10. How many Diet members must be in attendance to form a quorum?

Answers after the jump.
Continue reading Japanese constitutional law quiz

The Viceroy’s many connections in the Orient

Two of the three bloggers at Cominganarchy, who go by the online handles of, Curzon and Younghusband, were in the same university in Kyoto where Adam and I did our undergraduate study abroad exchange program while we were there. Curzon, like Adam and Joe, had previously participated in a one year high school study abroad exchange in a different part of Kansai (and a different program from the one Adam and Joe were on), and even before that-12 years ago now-had done a summer program in which he stayed for a month with a host family in Otsu, a small city in Shiga Prefecture located just across the mountains to the east of Kyoto.

Although Curzon spent his first few months of undergraduate study abroad living in the same international students dormitory that Adam and I later lived in (Curzon arrived before us), and which Younghusband had lived in a couple of years earlier, he soon moved out and into one of the very cheap and very old fashioned dormitories that lie somewhere on the continuum of housing between hovel and tenement, with facilities so bare that they would never even be considered a legal residence back in the United States. I say dormitory because while each resident has an individual room-which cost a measly 13,000 yen (around $130) per month-for that price you got just a room, with only a shared toilet and no bathing facilities anywhere in the building. This sort of arrangement used to be typical in Japan, where neighborhood bath houses are still common in many areas, but has understandably fallen out of fashion in a period when most people can afford better.

When I returned to Kyoto earlier this year, I spent the entire month of April living in the spare bedroom of a friend’s apartment, down in Kyoto’s far southern ward of Fushimi so that I would have a base from which to look for someplace else to live. Since I have another friend who was in fact studying with Cuzon, Adam and I back in 2002-03 who will be moving back to Kyoto in September to engage in some other study program, we had decided that, so we would be able to live cheaply and yet still have a decent amount of space, we would rent a house to share after he arrived. However, not wanting to be stuck with a double share of rent for the intervening months, I decided that it would be best to find somplace both cheap and temporary, and if at all possible also located close to campus.

The biggest difficulty here has to do with the way rental leases are often structured in Japan. Even when the actual monthly rent is low, is it typical here to pay an outrageous reikin (often translated as “key money” equal to several months rent, in addition to a month or two of rent upfront, and a deposit equal to a couple of months rent. I considered living in one of those foreigner guest houses for a couple of months, but I visited one and it seemed fairly lame, and I thought I could do cheaper. And I did. I managed to get very lucky and find a place which is very cheap, very well located, and has a contract that I can leave with no penalty. The building is, rather oddly, owned by a monk who actually lived inside the temple on Hiezan, the holy mountain on the NE corner of Kyoto, who is so seriously monk-y that he spent twenty years engaged in a special Esoteric Buddhist meditation where, although he could interact with people, he did not leave the mountain at all. Needless to say, his grasp of modern technology is rather weak.

The apartment is, while old, low-class, and rundown, is however, unlike Curzon’s aforementioned former place, actually an apartment. A small one, to be sure, (a single 6-tatami room and a 2.5 tatami kitchen area separated by sliding doors) but with a (very basic) kitchen, a (Japanese style) toilet, and a bath. What it lacks, however, is a shower. And the bath tap only produces cold water, so you have to fill it up, heat it up with the gas bath heater-that very annoyingly must be turned on from the veranda- and then wash yourself by sitting next to the tub and pouring water on yourself in a sort of poor-man’s psuedo-shower. But, at least there is an air conditioner. While far from ideal, the price was right. ¥25,000 a month, with no reikin, and only a one-month deposit that the monk landlord promises I will get back as long as there is no extraordinary damage. But considering the ragged tatami and old paint that was here when I moved in, the bar for that was set low. I believe that this is the lowest price you could possibly get in Kyoto for a room with private bath, and while on the shabby side, is still a solid two or three steps above the ¥13,000 room.

The landlord occasionaly drops off various gifts, senbei, expensive chocolates, fancy tea, etc. which I find hanging on my door handle every few weeks when I get home from somewhere. These are most likely gifts brought to the temple by parishioners, which the monks then redistribute for some reason. Two days ago I returned home to find a new treat, with an envelope containing the following note attached.

Mr. Roy Berman

It is my very pleasure and astonishment that you and Mr. Curzon my acquaintance should be good friends from the same province.As you know, he stays in Tokyo now, and orders me to serve you as possible!


Naturally perplexed, I emailed Curzon to see how this might be, and it turns out that Mr. Koutai (first name) was a friend of Curzon’s host father from his very first stay in Japan, 12 years ago in Otsu. The hostfather had taken the then-teenaged Curzon up Hiezan to meet the monk, and they met again a couple of weeks ago when Curzon visited the old host father in Otsu.

U.S. Finally Gets Around To Closing Last WWII Internment Camp

<embed src=”” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowScriptAccess=”always” wmode=”transparent” width=”400″ height=”355″ flashvars=”file=”></embed><br/><a href=””>U.S. Finally Gets Around To Closing Last WWII Internment Camp</a>

I think this video is actually a few weeks old, but I just saw it.

Could be called “10 places I’d like to visit”

I stumbled across a fantastic post on Oddee entitled “10 Most Amazing Ghost Towns“, all 10 of which are officially now on my list of places I’d like to go. My affection for ruins and abandoned places is well documented, so how could I resist places like this sand-drowned Numibian village?

As it so happens, I should actually be able to stop by one of these sites within the next month. The Sanzhi haunted retro-futuristic beachfront housing development is located on the north coast of Taipei County, not very far from Danshui. And I’m going to Taiwan next Wednesday for almost 3 weeks.

While Sanzhi may not exactly be a short walk from Danshui station, it looks like a very reasonable bike ride to me, and I’m fairly sure that Danshui is one of the MRT stations where loading/offloading of bicycles is allowed. Hopefully I’ll have some time to track down this place while I’m in Taiwan.

Original Flickr set.

Location on Google Maps.

Ironic spam

As you probably know, blogs these days are constantly being bombarded with spam comments composed of text randomly chosen by spambot software. In clearing out the spam box here, I just spotted the following line in one blog spam comment:

Many blogs have stopped using trackbacks because dealing with spam became too burdensome.It has since been implemented in most other…

How to get a document “apostilled” in Japan

Lately my job has kept me embroiled in legal matters involving civil law countries in Europe, and as a result, I’ve become very familiar with a fun little device of international law called an apostille.

apostilleBasically, an apostille is a certificate which authenticates a government document so that the document is effective as a government document in any country which has acceded to the Hague Convention of 1961. (There are a few big countries which haven’t, such as China, Brazil and Indonesia, but most of Europe and the English-speaking world is on board.)

These can be necessary in any number of contexts. Among them:

  • If you sign a document before a Japanese notary, the notary generally has to attach an apostille to their certification in order to make it valid as a notarized document in other countries.
  • In the business arena, apostilles are often necessary when a Japanese company is directly buying property or taking a lien on property, particularly in civil law countries where this has to be done through a professional notary.
  • In the courtoom, apostilles are often necessary when making extradition requests, or if entering a Japanese government document as evidence in litigation.

Apostilles are always issued by government offices, although the exact issuing entity varies by country. In the United States, for example, one can obtain an apostille from any state government or from any federal court. Japan keeps tighter control over the process, and there are basically two ways to get an apostille here if you need one:

1. The neighborhood notary public

All notary offices in Tokyo and Kanagawa can attach an apostille to a notarized document; you just have to ask the notary when you go in to sign. (Note, however, that notaries attached to foreign embassies are not likely to have apostilles on hand; assuming they don’t, you would have to get an apostille from the competent authority in their home country.)


The other way to get an apostille — and the only way to get an apostille on government documents other than notarials — is to apply directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. You can either do this in person or by mail: applications are accepted at the MOFA building in Tokyo (2-2-1 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku 100-8919) and the Osaka prefectural government building (2-1-22 Otemae, Chuo-ku 540-0008). If you do it in person, you have to leave the document overnight and pick it up the next day. All the details in Japanese are on this page.

There is a special procedure to be aware of when getting an apostille on a Legal Affairs Bureau document, such as a corporate registration certificate or real estate record. The registrar seal printed on the certificate is not enough for MOFA to issue an apostille; you also have to get a separate certification of the registrar’s authority sealed by the head of the bureau. In Tokyo, this is issued from a secluded office buried in the back of the 6th floor.

So much for that idea

Well, I had been planning to take a trip this summer in which I would go by train from Kyoto to Fukuoka, visit a couple of friends there, then head down through Kyushu by train to Kagoshima, from where I would take a ferry to Okinawa, spend a few days, and then take another ferry to Taiwan. Unfortunately, it looks like the only ferry company servicing the Okinawa/Taiwan route has gone out of business. Arimura Sangyo, which had been making the run for decades, is apparently no more. Their website is gone, the phone number is out of service, and an unofficial mirror of their former web page has added a statement informing that they officially ceased service in June, and went into corporate liquidation just on July 11.

So, apparently there is not currently any sea route between Japan and Taiwan, which has probably killed my entire concept for the trip. I may still book a flight for a couple of weeks in Taiwan, and I will probably at some point do the boat trip to Okinawa, but without the ferry connecting Okinawa to Taiwan, there seems to be little point in linking it all into one trip- unless someone reading this has info on another ferry company which somehow doesn’t turn up with any amount of googling.

Although plenty of other ocean routes still seem to be pretty active, ship is certainly long past its prime as a method of passenger transport. But, as fuel prices continue to climb and air travel becomes increasingly expensive after a long period of relative affordability, might we see a resurgence of medium distance (by which I mean a day or two, say between Pacific Islands, but not trans-Atlantic or Pacific) as an affordable alternative?

On a related note, while looking for currently active ferries, I found this rather neat web page on the history of long distance ferries in Japan.


Someone posted the following report on Arimura to the Lonely Planet message board.

Arimura Industries, a ferry operator, that is based in Okinawa Prefecture in Japan, plying between Japan and Taiwan, intends to liquidate sometime soon mainly because of the current drastic fuel cost hike. The service has been completely suspended since 6th June. When the operations will resume is uncertain at the moment.

Arimura has been petitioning the Okinawa Prefectural Government to establish a new entity to continuously run the business only to have got an evasive answer. The company will keep on hiring the 120 employees. Its three vessels have been moored idly at Naha Sea Port.

It has been under reconstruction since 1999 based on the Corporate Rehabilitation Law.

Clothing and nekkidness in the Meiji era

I am fascinated by this lengthy narrative of how Japan evolved from a nation where “scant clothing… was mainly an indication of manual labor” to one where “virtually all Japanese wear underwear.” (Warning: Most links in the article lead to old pictures of naked people which are likely to cause problems if viewed at the office.)

It’s an interesting story, not so much because of the scandalous bits (e.g. foreign journalists developing unhealthy fascinations with the neighborhood mixed-gender bathhouse), but also because of the government’s role in forcing these changes on the public as part of the general campaign to make Japan more European.

It isn’t too hard to see how this also helped usher in the current era of WaiWai and pornographic comic books. Standardizing fashion in a modest manner undoubtedly did wonders for the democratization and modernization of Japan, but it also seems to have led to a lot of the sexual repression that generates train groping and hidden camera fetishes today. (Not that I’m complaining: loincloths aren’t my style.)

By the way, there is a wealth of artificially-colorized old Japanese photographs available on Flickr courtesy of one “Okinawa Soba.” Among my favorites: