Gay politics in Taiwan vs. Japan

I had been vaguely aware that gays are more open in Taiwan than in Japan (more active gay pride festival, spotting a very cleary labeled gay bookstore near Taiwan University), but hadn’t consciously realized quite how different things are before reading this article from yesterday’s Taipei Times.

Gay rights activists yesterday announced that they would form a voting bloc to support gay-friendly candidates in the upcoming legislative by-election in Taipei City’s Da-an District (大安).

“We’ve had six gay pride parades in Taipei in the past six years and more than 18,000 people took part in last year’s event — that’s where the voters are,” chief coordinator of last year’s gay pride parade, Lee Ming-chao (李明照), told a news conference.

“In the process of mobilizing the gay and lesbian community in Taipei, we estimated that around 10 percent of voters in Da-an District are gay — including myself. We can surely become a deciding minority if we stand together.”

He predicted that the turnout for the by-election would be lower than the 60.47 percent for last year’s legislative election.

This whole concept seems to me utterly inconceivable in Japan. While there is not much in the way of active discrimination against gays in Japan (like there is in most Muslim countries and some Christian ones, even including much of the US until recently) I get the impression that homosexuality and related issues are still generally more taboo here than anywhere else in all of East and Southeast Asia. Yes, there is a transgender politician in Tokyo, but Kamikawa Aya is said to be the only openly LGBT politician in the entire country of over 120 million people. Compared with Taipei’s apparently increasingly popular gay pride parade, Tokyo’s has been cancelled for this year due to lack of interest/resources.

Japanese rastas


A small but devoted Rasta community developed in Japan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Rasta shops selling natural foods, Reggae recordings, and other Rasta-related items sprang up in Tokyo, Osaka, and other cities. For several years, “Japan Splashes” or open-air Reggae concerts were held in various locations throughout Japan. For a review by two sociologists of how the Japanese Rasta movement can be explained in the context of modern Japanese society, see Dean W. Collinwood and Osamu Kusatsu, “Japanese Rastafarians: Non-Conformity in Modern Japan,” The Study of International Relations, No. 26, Tokyo: Tsuda College, March 2000 (research conducted in 1986 and 1987).

Where are these Japanese rastas today?

A comprehensive guide to Type B Adamu

A Japanese website is helpfully offering free “instruction manuals” based on your name and blood type. Here’s mine:


Head: Can’t remember (*won’t remember)

Mouth: Often talks to himself

Heart: Super-calm and collected

Right hand: Lots of wastefulness

Overall: Ultimately self-centered?

Accurate? Hm, not really. Try it yourself and see how you measure up!

While blood type-based personality tests are well-known to be completely baseless, many in Japan, mainly women, do believe that at the very least knowing someone’s blood type will divide them into four broad personality classes. See Wikipedia for a helpful chart of these categories.

(Thanks to Hiroshi Yamaguchi for the link)

Crazy Car Crash

I was biking home when I saw the aftermath of a car accident which had left a small car standing perfectly on its side. I happened to have my brand new Canon 50D digital SLR in my bag and decided to grab a quick night shot to test out exactly how vastly improved the low-light high-ISO performance is compared with my antiquated 300D. The visual quality is not fantastic, with a fair amount of noise and much loss of fine detail due to noise reduction, but keep in mind that these photos were taken at ISO 12,800. Even at such an extreme ISO, the noise levels are approximately the same as what my old camera got at ISO 1600, and with far, far higher resolution, more accurate auto-focus, faster performance, etc.

So, I thought I would just get an amusing photo of the car on its side (note: the occupants didn’t look to be badly hurt, so it’s ok to laugh) but then it got a lot more amusing when the police pushed the car over back onto its wheels, and one got in and drove it away.

[Update: Link to Flickr page so you can find full resolution images.]

[Update 2: Here is an example of a super high ISO file with no noise reduction. Not very usable.]

Continue reading Crazy Car Crash

How to kill the “turning Japanese” cliche?


Turning Japanese

Adam Posen of the Peterson Institute for International Economics is the go-to guy for understanding Japan’s lost decade. From prepared testimony for a Joint Economic Committee hearing tomorrow…

What follows is thankfully not Adam Posen reading the words “turning Japanese” into the Congressional record, but I swear if I see that phrase again I might just rip myself in half, Rumpelstiltzken-style.

Now, here at Mutant Frog we like to follow cliches in the media, my own favorites being the overused “kabuki” and the often-used but always amusing “slammed!”  But “turning Japanese” is just so cringe-worthy that I haven’t been able to bring myself to mention it.

I am not sure why I hate this phrase so much, but I suspect it’s got a lot to do with the grating awfulness of the original song. I mean, imagine if every time Spain is mentioned on CNN they started playing “Hey, Macarena!” That’s how this makes me feel.

So what can be done to end this painful abuse of the English language? I was thinking it might make a difference if someone came out with a new definitive song about Japan, this time without the cartoonish 80s new wave voices and stereotypically “Asian” intro melody. Please let me know your ideas so we can finally take care of this important issue.

(Bonus: See Marxy’s take on the song at the bottom of the link)

Foreigners to finally be booked in the same registration system as Japanese people

Per a Kyodo wire report in Japanese, the new “zairyu card” proposal (detailed here and here) coincides with an MLIT proposal for an updated resident registration (juminhyo) system, which will include foreigners for the first time.

This is perhaps the best part of the entire change. For years now, foreigners have been booked in a separate alien registration system, which creates all sorts of hassles: their Japanese spouses officially appear to be single, and the foreigner can’t verify their identity using the same means as locals (which confuses inexperienced clerks all the time).

So now the picture is a bit clearer. When a foreigner moves, they will update their juminhyo at city hall just like a Japanese person would, and this update will be forwarded to Immigration for recording in the zairyu card system. It still isn’t clear how extensions and changes in immigration status will work (the same in reverse?), but this seems like a promising line of developments so far.

Heads up

I’ll be flying to the Philippines next Thursday (March 5) and staying until March 24. I don’t have a clear travel plan yet, aside from spending a bit of time in Manila with some friends I haven’t seen in a while, but I’m definitely going to check out the famous rice terraces farther north in Luzon. Are there any readers in the Philippines, particularly Metro Manila? Any readers with particular recommendations on places to visit?

The bullet train from Shinjuku to Odawa and Hakane

This has to be one of the most poorly fact-checked articles on Japan ever.

I am with a group of friends on a short trip to Tokyo. Keen to see some Japanese countryside, and to experience a part of everyday Japanese life, we’ve asked the concierge at the city’s Mandarin Oriental hotel, where we are staying in some style, how we might visit an onsen.

Easily, is the answer. Hakane is one of the country’s most famous onsen resorts (Japan has 2,000 such places, and 20,000 hot springs), and lies just two hours from Tokyo. Better still, it’s reached on a bullet train, meaning we will also get to enjoy another of Japan’s iconic experiences. The concierge will organise tickets and transfers.

But not our short trip to the train, sadly. If you were to have a nightmare involving public transport, forget buses, Tube delays or people barking into mobiles. Think, instead, of Shinjuku, Tokyo’s main railway station […] a vast and bewildering maze, made all the more bewildering by the fact that there isn’t a word of English anywhere, or at least none that we can find, as we scour signs and dash from one bemused, monolingual Japanese commuter to another asking for help. […]

All too soon we are disembarking at Odawa to pick up the local service to Hakone-Yumoto. We sit and ride through increasingly pretty countryside while gaggles of Japanese schoolchildren beam at the Western strangers in their midst. We revel – as we have done so often in Tokyo – in the otherness of the whole experience.

Where to begin?

1) The Mandarin Oriental is near Tokyo Station, on the other side of town from Shinjuku. If this guy was taking a “short trip” to the station, he was probably getting the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station.

2) But let’s assume, arguendo, that he really did go to Shinjuku. He wasn’t really riding a “bullet train,” then, since the real bullet trains don’t go to Shinjuku. It was probably an Odakyu Romance Car. Unlike the Shinkansen pictured in the article.

3) Where did he get those numbers? Two thousand is close to the official count of the 全国温泉旅館同盟, but here’s a site that counts fifty thousand onsen in total.

4) Anyone who can’t read the English signage in a Tokyo train station needs new glasses.

5) Anyone who can’t find a single English speaker in a Tokyo train station either isn’t trying hard enough or doesn’t speak comprehensible English. (Perhaps this chap has an unintelligible accent.)

6) Obviously, there is no such place as “Odawa” or “Hakane.”

7) The word “otherness.” What the hell does that mean?

Invest in North Korea?!

Yes, says the man in the bowtie:

Feb. 24 (Bloomberg) — A U.K. businessman is seeking to raise $50 million to invest in North Korea, reviving a 2005 plan after the U.S. government removed the communist regime from its list of countries that support terrorism.

ChosunFund Pte. Ltd. will join with North Korean partners for mining and energy projects, Colin McAskill, founder of the Singapore-incorporated fund, said in an interview.

“The country holds huge natural resources but is capital starved and lacks the technology and management skills with which to develop them,” McAskill said.

McAskill, 69, said he has been consulting on potential North Korean projects since 1987. While the country attracts one-off investment deals such as a recent contract licensing Orascom Telecom Holding SAE to provide wireless telephone services, it has struggled to raise money from global financial markets since defaulting on overseas debt in the 1970s.

London-based emerging markets money manager Fabien Pictet & Partners Ltd. was considering a fund that would invest in South Korean companies that do business with the North. The idea is “on hold for the time being,” Jonathan Neill, managing director, said in an e-mail.

I understand that the terror designation was a technical barrier for to much economic aid in addition to banning most financial institutions from doing business with NK. And I know saying investing in North Korea is a bad idea is like shooting fish in a barrel.

But the US political decision to remove NK from the list doesn’t strike me as any real vote of confidence in the country, since North Korea appears to remain the dictionary definition of a state-run criminal enterprise, even if it hasn’t strictly engaged in “terrorism” the 80s. Nor is this is any real sign that the situation in North Korea is at all stable.  The ailing health of Kim Jong Il also plays a decisively destabilizing role. We could easily see a succession battle worthy of imperial Rome when he finally dies.

Still, you have to give the man credit for sticking with the idea for more than 20 years. There is always the chance that NK will stabilize somehow, so getting in on the ground floor would then be seen as a smart move. There could also be a rationale for investing in SK companies who take on NK projects with the backing of the South Korean government, or with some other guarantee to offset losses.

Roppongi is Tokyo’s toilet bowl

Walking from Nogizaka Station to Tokyo Midtown this morning, I joined thousands of commuters who were forced to step over what appeared and smelled to be a smear of human feces on the Roppongi sidewalk. Was it anti-capitalist terrorism, or just the work of a partier who couldn’t contain himself?

Now that some of my anger has subsided, I can’t help but see this as an aptly pungent metaphor for modern Roppongi. While conveniently located in the center of Tokyo, for a long time the Roppongi area was not considered a business district but overwhelmingly the notorious nightlife center of Tokyo. But the construction of business centers such as Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown over the past few years has re-branded the area as office-friendly. Yet as long as the dozens of clubs continue to infest the Roppongi Crossing area, workers such as myself will be forced to commute each morning using the same streets taken by the drunks and gangsters to go home the previous night. I have had more than one run-in with drunks returning from a night out, but needless to say today’s experience trumped them all.