My trip to Nagoya

On March 1, after 4 years in Japan, I finally made it to the country’s third-largest metropolitan region for the very first time. As far as tourist destinations, Nagoya ranks pretty low due to an almost total lack of old buildings or noteworthy landmarks, but like anyplace else there is a certain local quality, the experience of which is itself worth the visit.

In retrospect, I had perhaps one of the most peculiar two-day visits to Nagoya that anyone has ever had. The first day began with a brief Shinkansen ride from Kyoto Station to Nagoya Station, at which point Aceface picked me up in his car, took me briefly by Nagoya Castle, and then drove over to the heavily Brazilian Homigaoka public housing project. (I did a separate post on this part of the visit which you can see here.) After seeing Toyota City’s Braziltown, we made a brief stop at the Toyota City Hall on our way back to the Nagoya, where we joined Aceface’s Mongolian wife and their son, as well as Younghusband and his wife, for a Tsagaan Sar, aka Mongolian New Year, party. (Younghusband blogged about this party.) Much lamb was involved, as well as Mongolian karaoke, being made to dress up in traditional Mongolian robes, and the drinking of Chinghis (Ghenghis Khan) brand vodka.

Here is a Flickr-Flash slideshow of the Mongolian party, in which you can see me and Younghusband being dressed up (although photos with his face are left out for his blog anonymity).

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Day 1 in the Philippines: Chatting with communists

After my mishap last week I made sure to get to the airport about two hours earlier than I needed to, and so naturally the plane was an hour late-which would have easily more than made up for the amount of time by which I had missed my plane last week.

I found a place to crash for the night in the backpacker/tourist district near downtown Manila as it is not too far from the airport, although I will be staying for the next couple of days in the University of the Philippines area up in Quezon city, about an hour away from the airport.

I took a brief stroll around the area after checking in to pick up some toiletries at a 7/11 and grab a snack. This is not the nicest part of Manila to walk around at night, as you have to dodge both men trying to sell you women and women trying to sell you themselves. Even if that had been the goal of my walk, as opposed to toothbrush and stuffed bread thing, I am perfectly capable of reading signs and walking into a store and don’t need anyone following me and gabbing in my ear, thank you very much.

In the morning I took another stroll around to get breakfast, and instead of being accosted by pimps and whores met with watch and viagra merchants. Shouldn’t the viagra sellers be out when the prostitutes are? Doesn’t anybody coordinate their schedules? Such are the mysteries of the cosmos.

Walking around with my new camera, I was reminded of one of the peculiarities of the Philippines, being that a foreigner wielding a fancy camera will actually be stopped by locals asking you to take their photograph. “One shot, right here.” They say. Needless to say, this is the reverse, or at least crossverse, of the usual relationship between the tourist photographer and the busy local. It takes a few times, initially, to realize that there is no scam, no demand for money involved, but merely some globally rare but nationally common enjoyment of the experience of being documented.

After being called upon to photograph one smiling old man-a pleasant enough interaction-I had the misfortune of stepping on a sidewalk stone which shifted in a downwardly spinning fashion beneath my foot, plunging it into the murky sewery depths beneath, soaking my foot and mildly scraping my shin. A couple of people on the sidewalk nearby hurried over to ask if I was all right, and  no serious harm done I said that I was, as one man hawking cigarettes nearby shifted the slab back into a less precarious place.

Just before getting back at the hostel (whose wifi I am currently perusing) I stopped to briefly admire a well-maintained fire truck parked on the street, whereupon I was greeted b its crew, relaxing at the side of the street across from it. Exchanging hellos, they asked me where I was from, I told them “US, New Jersey, currently studying in Japan”, the usual introduction, following which I become absorbed into a nearly hour-long conversation with one of the men. They were volunteer fire fighters, not city employees, and even the fire truck is privately owned. I saw a Rotary Club emblem on it, presumably one source of funding.

This man, whose name I will not mention for reasons that will be apparent, looked to be in the general neigborhood of 30. When I started to expain to him that I was studying the area of colonial history he gave his widely-shared opinion that education was the best thing that America had given to the Philippines. He then followed up by expressing dismay that America and the Philippines, having been engaged in building a system of education generally maintaining a high level relative to the region, had not carried those high standards into the realm of Philippine history, choosing instead to present a slanted and incomplete version of that history, particularly where the Community Party of the Philippines is concerned.

He asked me if I had heard of Jose Maria Sison,  which I had. Sison, now elderly and living in political exile in The Netherlands, is the leader of the CCP who has written many revolutionary tracts over the years. I mentioned that I have one of his books, “Philippine Society and Revolution”, written in the 1970s, which I had downloaded from a website. I mentioned that I had read more of Renato Constantino, the most famous left-wing historian of the Philippines, to which he replied, “well he’s OK too,” clearly indicating a strong preference for the writings of Mr. Sison. Out of both interest and politeness I then asked where I might find some more of Sison’s writings, to which the reply was “well, for that you have to go up there” by which he meant, to the mountain camps where the communists hide out and train. His writings are banned in the Philippines, and cannot be bought or sold or even possessed openly.

He, or perhaps I should say The Young Communist, which is what he gradually and eventually came out as, was originally from Manila, of middle class background. Of partial Chinese descent, his grandfather had married a non-Chinese Filipina and been disowned, which says enough to The Young Communist about Chinese society for him to want no part of it. He went to Polytechnic University of the Philippines,which he described as the second most communist university in the country after UP (University of the Philippines), where he had been recruited by one of his professors. UP, he said, while containing the highest proportion of communists and communist sympathizers, is also by far the most elite and wealthiest of the nations universities, with over 80% of the student body themselves coming from an elite background. While people there may be intellectually communist, and may even join the struggle, they will never have the full level of understanding of the need for revolution possessed by those of a more humble background. “Poverty is part of the education.”

He had then spent his university career traveling back and forth between the city, where he studied in class, and the mountain regions, where he studied in the communist camps. He never lived full time in the mountains, because (and he stressed this) he “never had a job up there” due to not being a member of the armed struggle. Instead, he studied comunist philosophy and methods for organizing and activism, and worked in some aid programs for the aborigines. The aforementioned writings of Sison were studied, but he said he would always shred or burn a copy after reading it.

After university, he stopped going to thee camps in the mountains to concentrate on work in the city. He mentioned that there was some sort of amnesty for CCP memberss, which applied to him perhaps since he was not in the armed faction-I did not adequately get the details. The Young Communist then gestured at the fire truck saying that it was part of his work, to do something for the community. While he does consider himself a communist and refers to other communists as “comrades”, he is pragmatic and considers himself a realist. He says he works for revolution, but not in the radical and dramatic sense of a popular uprising and the establishment of a People’s Republic, but in the sense of changing the social order in a gradual and peaceful fashion. To this end he is involved in organizing in the labor movement and in the promotion of revolutionary art, and even the volunteer fire fighter duty, and makes money to live off doing some kind of event organizing thing, which I got virtually no sense of due to his clear lack of interest in talking about work when he could be talking about the real work.

Having seen the results of revolutions throughout the 20th century, he does not believe that an armed uprising will actually improve things long-term except, and here I dare to presume, in the case of a violent and oppressive dictatorship. He had particular venom and bile for Marcos, whom he considers perhaps the worst person in modern Philippine history-a statement that many would agree with. In his view, following the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, which toppled Marcos, there was a window of opportunity for real reform, which was squandered and undermined by the same old elite, and each president since Corey has only been worse. Like many here, he bemoans the fast that the best and brightestt and most educated leave the Philippines behind to go work in the US or other foreign countries, which “is bad for the Philippines on a macro level, but you really can’t blame them for taking care of their families” even as it continues the cycle of underdevelopment.

While I can understand how an espoused communist might not be in favor of armed struggle for both moral and pragmatic reasons, I am both startled and puzzled to hear him say that he considers Marxism to be unrealistic and Marxists to be mistaken. When he goes on to say that national democracy is the only framework that makes sense to work within for the foreseeable future, I am left wondering what actually makes him a communist as opposed to merely a very progressive liberal. What, aside from self-identification, is different from my own views? We seem to have similar views on both history and current events. Neither of us is calling for the overthrow of the state, but think that dynasty in electoral politics (a far more serious problem in the Philippines, but one that is distressingly on the rise in the US) is unforgiveable. Perhaps he has a dream of some distant communist society, but what person with any spark of imagination and optimism doesn’t fantasize about a future utopia? I certainly don’t pretend to think that any society in existence in the world today, however much better things may be now than in the past, is more than a shadow of things to come. But I also don’t pretend to have any glimmer of what future society might be, as fun as it is to guess or imagine. And I wonder, does The Young Communist even believe in communism? Does it matter? If someone can follow a religion-say Christianity-as a set of moral guidelines but not a literal description of history or roadmap to the future, why can’t someone calling themselves Communist approach that doctrine in the same way?

Reverse alchemy in action

UPDATE: Nevermind, this is apparently something to do with the real World of Warcraft!

I thought this ad for a bottom-feeding gold buyer had an interesting Heavy Metal theme to it. I guess they want people to think of their “service” as medieval-style alchemy, only in reverse:


Or maybe the WOW is supposed to stand for “World of Warcraft.” Are they expecting unemployed lardasses to pawn their mom’s jewelry so they can keep playing?

But let’s be serious — NEVER sell your gold to a random site on the Internet — they won’t pay good prices!!! Here is a good debunking of the scam:

A little online sleuthing finds that I’m not the only one who figures that if Cash4Gold has this much money to spend on TV ads, someone’s getting the short end of the stick, and it’s probably the people sending in their family heirlooms to be melted into ingots. The folks at put Cash4Gold to the test, rounding up a bunch of old rings, necklaces, and earrings, and taking them to a regular pawn shop to be appraised. The offer: $198 for the lot. They then sent the items to Cash4Gold and waited for a check in the mail. It arrived within a few days as promised… in the amount of 60 bucks. (You don’t have to accept the check; the deal isn’t done until you cash it.)

That price alone is practically criminal, but that’s where the truly slimy part of the operation begins. First, if you call Cash4Gold and ask for your stuff back, you abruptly get a better offer: In the case of the above experiment, the offer was a whopping $178. That’s a better deal, but still not market rate, though the caller was told that Cash4Gold could “manipulate the numbers on their end” to make it appear that more product was sent than was in reality. Bizarre, but it’s really the only way Cash4Gold can cover its behind to convince you the original offer wasn’t a wholesale ripoff.

For once, North Korea has a point – what IS Tamogami doing teaming up with the abductee families?

(UPDATE: In case you didn’t notice, Japan got totally SLAMMED by NK in these articles)

The AFP:

NKorea slams Japan over kidnap issue
Tue Mar 10, 9:56 am ET
SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea accused Japan Tuesday of raising an outcry over the abduction of its civilians in an attempt to find a pretext for recolonising the peninsula.


The North said its military would launch a “merciless” strike on Japan if the former colonial power “dare pre-empt an attack” on the communist country.

The warning came as relatives of a Japanese woman kidnapped by North Korea arrived in South Korea in an attempt to clarify her fate.

Japan, which colonised the Korean peninsula 1910-1945, is trying to find an “absurd” excuse to realise its ambitions for re-invasion, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary, without referring to the case of Yaeko Taguchi.

“Japan’s noisy and disturbing trumpeting about ‘the abduction issue’ is nothing but a prelude to its operation to stage a comeback to Korea,” the agency said.

Taguchi‘s family will meet Kim Hyun-Hee, a pardoned former spy for the North, in the southern city of Busan on Wednesday.

Taguchi’s elder brother Shigeo Iizuka, 70, and her son, Koichi Iizuka, 32, arrived in Busan along with Japanese officials, Yonhap news agency said.

Pyongyang has admitted kidnapping Taguchi in 1978 when she was 22 to train its spies, but said she died in a car crash in July 1986.

But the ex-spy Kim, who had taken Japanese lessons from Taguchi, has said in interviews with local media that Taguchi was alive until at least 1987.

The article makes it sound like the North is plainly spitting in the face of the abduction victim families. But not even North Korea is that tone-deaf. No, their style is much more Norimitsu Onishi than Cruella DeVille. The actual KCNA story says nothing about the PR efforts of the abduction victims and concentrates only the recent statement of someone we’ve covered here before:

KCNA Slams Japanese Militarists’ Agitation of War

Tamogami, former chief of staff of the Air “Self-Defense Force”, in a recent lecture given on the subject of “the abduction issue”, let loose a spate of reckless remarks calling on Japan to “take the posture of attacking north Korea by mobilizing the SDF.”

These are unpardonable outbursts which can be heard only from a man who is hell-bent on the moves to escalate the confrontation with the DPRK and start a war against it.

As well known to the world, Tamogami is a wicked Right-wing reactionary cursed and censured at home and abroad for having spoken for the Japanese militarist forces of late.

What he uttered is peppered with a spate of sophism intended to turn Japan into a military power and realize overseas expansion let loose by the successive Japanese reactionaries ranging from reckless remarks shamelessly whitewashing their past war of aggression to outbursts claiming access to nuclear weapons and the exercise of the “right to collective self-defense.”

Tomogami’s utterances indicate that the Japanese reactionaries’ wild ambition to conquer the Korean Peninsula and other countries in Asia and the rest of the world has reached an extreme phase. This is not only a blatant challenge to the DPRK’s sovereignty but a serious threat to the peace and security of Asia.

The provocative jargon let loose by Tamogami suffices to prove that he is an offspring of those who advocated the militarization of the Japanese society and the process to turn it reactionary and an icon of militarist Japan bereft of the normal way of thinking and off the track of normal development.

The AFP sees a timing decision in this KCNA story, but I am sure the KCNA editors would argue that Tamogami’s timing is too perfect as he is raising his voice at a time of heightened tensions and on a day when the morning news shows all feature the tearful meeting between the plane bomber and the abduction victims. Here is what he said during the February 28 speech specifically on the abduction issue to 250 people at an event sponsored by a “citizens’ group” in Nagoya:

“The abduction issue will not be resolved unless we show (North Korea) a posture that we will beat you to a pulp, even if we have to mobilize the Self Defense Forces.”… When asked specifically what he meant by “beat you to a pulp,” he stated, “North Korea will not budge unless we show the posture that we will use the Self Defense Forces to attack.”

Masumoto and Tamogami
Masumoto and Tamogami

Interestingly, Teruaki Masumoto, secretary general of the abductee families association and younger brother of an abductee, seemed to agree with Tamogami: “If we could mobilize our Self Defense Force in the same manner as other countries, we could have sunk the spy ships and considerably lessened the number of abductees.”

That North Korea is the detested rogue state that actually perpetrated the kidnappings (and likely murdered/forced suicide on many of them, all under state sponsorship) goes without saying. Nothing can be more absurd than the KCNA’s fantasy of having credibility on this issue, or on just about any issue for that matter.  But while it is always perilous to see North Korea’s side of any debate, I want to emphasize two things:

  1. This insistence on characterizing the most radical right wing elements in Japan as the voice of an influential group who could incite warlike rage in the Japanese populace at a moment’s notice is typical of many “liberal” Japan observers, and it’s no less wrong when they do it. If anything, the far right engages in guerrilla PR tactics to wedge the Japanese government toward one policy or another. That is hardly the image of a group that’s in control. It’s one of the ultimate arguments to keep Japan a weakened client state and it’s a powerful one at that.
  2. To that end, the abduction victims’ movement doesn’t seem to be helping assuage such concerns. Have the victims’ groups ever met a right-wing demagogue they didn’t like? You have to wonder how far they are willing to take their campaign to prioritize this issue over a possible nuclear showdown.   Far from denouncing Tamogami’s comment, the groups appear to be welcoming him into the fold (perhaps a smart move for someone with right-wing political ambitions). On March 6, a week after the controversial comment, leaders of two such groups joined Tamogami for a rally to save the abduction victims. His speech title: “Correct Historical Recognition and the Abduction Issue.”

警察庁 v.s. 警視庁 — Distinguishing the National Police Agency from the Tokyo Metropolitan Department

Readers living or traveling in Japan’s capital may note that Tokyo police officers and patrol cars bear the characters 警視庁, or keishichou. At first glance it appears to be the characters for the National Police Agency (NPA), except the middle of the three characters is different — the NPA is 警察庁, or keisatsuchou. Keishichou is the unique name attributed to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. For a Japanese speaker even mildly familiar with the structure of government in Japan, this looks peculiar — why is a prefectural police department named in such a way that it appears to be a national agency?


The history begins with the Meiji Restoration, when the keishichou was established in 1874 to protect and police the seat of government. As a police department, it had a unique role from the time of its establishment — some of its officers were organized into a division that fought for the Imperial government in the Satsuma Rebellion. The keishichou at this time served as a prefectural police department, but it was an agency of the government, subordinate to the cabinet, and Tokyo prefecture only had the authority to decide its budget. Later, the department also housed the Tokko special police force, the civilian counterpart to the military’s Kempeitai, taking part in both criminal investigation and counter-espionage functions.

The headquarters of the keishichou was situated just outside Sakuradamon, the southern gate of Edo Castle/Imperial Palace, possibly due to its importance in guarding the emperor, but also because that site was the location of an infamous assassination a decade earlier, and the location of the agency may have been a show of authority. The jolly Victorian structure was unfortunately destroyed in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, as witnessed below. (Today, the Keishichou is right next to Sakuradamon gate, and the NPA is in the building next to it.)


During the Occupation, the Keishichou was reformulated under the old police law, and added the imperial police under its jurisdiction, which had previously been a wholly independent branch of authority. During the same time, GHQ set up a similar keishichou in Osaka, which only lasted for the years of the Occupation.

After the Occupation, Tokyo’s Keishichou became an ordinary prefectural police department, but kept its name and retained some of its unique functions. From a jurisdictional standpoint, most prefectures are divided into wards with different departments of the prefectural police having jurisdiction over certain regions of each prefecture. Only Tokyo and Hokkaido have police departments where one department and all of its officers have responsibility for the entire prefecture, without divisions into areas. Also, the keishichou maintains some additional responsiblities, being responsible also for policing the Imperial Family, the Diet, the administrative agencies, the cabinet, the embassies of foreign nations in Japan, and other important people (officers of the keishichou were dispatched to Hokkaido for the G8 summit). The Keishichou is also the only prefectural police department that handles any fire truck activities (typically a separate task handled by the shoubouchou, or Fire Prevention Agency) because the imperial police force have this task especially assigned to them as part of their duties.

Interestingly enough, metropolitan police departments that provide similar functions in other countries, such as Scotland Yard in London and the Paris Prefecture Police are often translated as keishichou as well.

Japan exports compared internationally – OUCH

Just saw this chart in an FT article about Malaysia:


Not good! Also, they seem to have taken a bigger hit than Brazil as well:

But Brazilians might beat their own record in the first quarter of 2009, as a thrifty American consumer and less demand for oil have hit Brazil hard. Overall exports fell 26 percent in the first two months of this year, and they make up one-third of GDP.

Japan’s exports only make up about 16% of GDP, so the impact of a year-on-year 46% drop would be equivalent to a 23% drop in Brazil, but it’s still a near halving of the driver of economic growth over the past few years, and other aspects of Japan’s economy such as domestic consumption or the public sector (depending on government action) seem to offer little hope.

Animated Japanese population pyramid, 1930-2055

Check out this animated GIF showing the age breakdown of Japan’s population for 1930-2055, courtesy of the National Institue of Population and Social Security Research (click for full size; males are on the left, females on the right).


When it got  to 2055, I almost expected it to topple over!

The pen or the chop?

Like other East Asian countries, Japan is a heavy user of seals (hanko) as a means of authenticating documents. So is it better to use a seal or a signature?

Japanese civil procedure doesn’t particularly care. If you ever end up in a Japanese courtroom, a signature is just as admissible as a seal impression for proving that someone approved a document. Some lawyers recommend signing and sealing to have twice the protection. If you’re really paranoid, the best way to avoid doubt is to sign or seal your document before a notary public. There are Japanese notaries in every city, and most embassies and consulates offer notarial services to citizens and related parties (often for much less than the Japanese notaries charge).

Although you can get away with a signature for most private matters, seals are required under Japanese law when registering certain things with the government: companies, real estate, cars, childbirths and the like. But foreigners get some special consideration thanks to the Act Regarding the Signatures, Seals and Indigent Certification of Aliens, which was passed by the Diet in 1900. An imperial order in 1926 struck out the second half of the statute (I believe it had to do with getting court fees waived, which is the contemporary use of the Japanese term), so its effective portion is now just two lines:

Article 1. Where a signature and seal are to be used pursuant to a law or ordinance, it shall be adequate for an alien to use a signature.
2. Where only a seal is to be used, an alien shall be deemed to have given a seal by virtue of their signature.

Japanese nationals resident outside Japan can also use signatures for such transactions, mainly out of necessity: since they are not registered residents of a Japanese city, they cannot have the registered seal which is normally needed to record legal title to things. The usual alternative, for both foreigners and non-resident Japanese, is to get a signature certificate from a consulate or local authority, which shows the person’s signature and has an official attestation to the effect that “this is the verified signature of so-and-so.”

This doesn’t stop seals from being necessary in some private transactions, such as banking, where a private counterparty simply demands that a seal be used. In that case, you have no choice other than to complain. But institutions are starting to be more flexible with seals and signatures, so it’s becoming increasingly rare to need a seal for private transactions.

Brazilian community in the Homi Danchi, Toyota City

The Homi public housing development (“Danchi” in Japanese) in the Homigaoka area of Toyota City, in Aichi Prefecture, is now home to a large population of Brazilian immigrants. They mainly came to the area to work at Toyota and related manufacturing jobs, but are now often the first to lose those jobs due to the worsening recession. The Homi Danchi (population over 11,000) is decades old and was originally inhabited entirely (or almost entirely) by Japanese, but due to its affordable prices and location now has a majority of Brazilians, and the stores in the area reflect that ethnic shift.

Tensions between the Japanese and Brazilian residents of the Danchi over such issues as garbage disposal and communication difficulties have existed as long as Brazilians have been moving into the city residential complex, but have worsened as the Brazilians have become the majority. Japanese residents, who are now largely elderly and single residents or single-mother families, often complain that the non-Japanese speaking Brazilian newcomers have not assimilated as well as they had hoped, and do not follow the rules that had been set by the “Community Board” (自治会) long before their arrival. Although there are around 400 vacancies in the Homi Danchi, the Japanese Community Board and the city have an agreement to only allow 40 units to be newly rented out each year so that new residents have time to acclimate, but the Brazilians claim that this quote is a form of ethnic discrimination. This has become particularly contentious as newly out of work Brazilians in the area are in need of cheaper housing. On top of this, Brazilians who can no longer even afford the low rent of the Danchi are moving out and leaving behind huge amounts of trash, particularly bulk trash which clutters the hallways and public areas. To attempt to resolve these issues, and to negotiate with the Danchi Community Board and the Toyota City government, the Brazilians organized their own Japan-style Community Association (保見ヶ丘ブラジル人協会) in January of this year.

Some more information, in Japanese and slightly out of date, can be found at this web site.

I was taken to visit the Homi Danchi by a friend who had an appointment there on March 1 during my first visit to the Nagoya region. We stayed for a few hours, and the introduction above is based on what my friend, those present at the Brazilian Community Association meeting, and other residents told me.

Photos can be viewed in either this Flash slideshow, or in flat HTML/JPEG below. All photos were taken with Canon 50D camera using 17-85 EF-S IS lens.

Continue reading Brazilian community in the Homi Danchi, Toyota City