Rare family names

Neat article in The Taipei Times a couple of weeks ago about a man whose hobby is collecting documentary evidence of people with rare family names.

Some of the rare surnames Kuo has collected include Hu (虎, tiger), Yi (蟻, ant), Shui (水, water), Yun (雲, cloud), Suo (鎖, lock), Dan (但, but) and Mai (買, buy).

They also list Yao (要) Pang (逄) and Tse (策)as examples, although his total list consists of over 200. I don’t believe I have ever seen any of these used before, except for Yi (蟻, ant) although I can’t recall where that was.

Yesterday I met a Japanese girl with the family name of 鎹 (Kasugai), which is a kind of metal clamp or staple used for fastening two pieces of wood together in carpentry. Most of the Japanese people around had also never seen the name before, and many (in a group of grad students) couldn’t even read it, and the Chinese guy around also couldn’t.

A Call for 21st Century Government in Japan

Aceface kindly pointed me to this, a scanned pdf of the Japanese-language “Flying Object Information” form, filled out by hand by a Japan bureaucrat. It contains the basic information on the missile that flew over Japan on Sunday, noting where it was spotted (to the west of Akita prefecture) and when and where it left Japan’s territorial sphere. Notice also the painfully low resolution of the scan (200dpi?), such that the font is jagged, and you can see random black dots where the scan was imperfect.

The Japanese government has been doing its best to show the public that it is being diligent and fully in-control of the North Korea missile situation. The day of the launch, news clips showed fresh young agency bureaucrats in the Self Defense Force and other affiliated government agencies in rural Akita and Iwate prefecture literally sprinting between rooms when the launch was announced. The public disclosure of the pdf linked above is yet another part of looking busy. They’re doing their absolute best to look like they control the situation when they are almost entirely helpless. Tobias has more on this here and here.

I give them an “A” for effort in looking busy. But the stubborn refusal of the Japanese to use modern technology in the most basic of internal management systems is just revolting. Communications in every modern western organization today are handled electronically — nothing needs to be filled out by hand, and there aren’t “runners” in the halls of the Pentagon and Whitehouse to implement and communicate important information. (In the rare situation that data must be taken by hand, it is punched into a database or system through data entry, and raw handwritten documents that aren’t fit for public scrutiny aren’t voluntarily disclosed to the world). Japan has the best hi-tech gadgets in the world, but so much of the busy work of government (and industry) is still handled by this type of paper scrawl, and throwing raw manpower at problems instead of trying to make systems of operation and management efficient or streamlined. All of this means that government in Japan circa 2009 is backwards. This simply must change.

In other news related to the DPRK missile launch, a majority of Americans would support a military response to the missile launch, 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Gingrich says he would have destroyed the missile before it was launched, and in case you didn’t hear it, despite all the chest-thumping from Pyongyang, the launch was actually a failure.

Cheap vending machines date back to 2003


Tokyo Walker has an interesting tidbit on “merchant-owned” vending machines. For decades, the vending machine business was restricted to direct operation by the drink manufacturers, but in 2003 was opened up to small owner-operators. This development has been the driver of the growing number of machines offering very cheap canned coffee and other drinks. According to today’s article, some offer items for as cheap as 50 yen apiece.

How do they do it? Apparently by selling drinks that are “close to their expiration dates” or bear discontinued labels, options not available to the manufacturer-run machines.

(Bonus vending machine fact: As of 2007, there were 5.4053 million vending machines in Japan (48.8% of which were drink machines), by far the most per capita in the world)

Vicarious Hanami

For those of you unable to enjoy hanami cherry blossom viewing today, you can live vicariously and see people enjoying the hanami at Shinjuku Gyouen in Tokyo on Google Maps. (I’ll be there later today!)



(Google maps’s totally lame iframe tags can’t be embedded here, so the above is a jpg; click the link to interract with the map.)

Big changes in Japanese crime reporting, thanks to lay judge system

Japan’s new lay judge system will begin in July. Following the contentious national debate that occurred when people suddenly realized that a decision taken 10 years ago was coming to fruition, people have apparently resigned themselves to the inevitability. The next step has been the process of mental and physical preparation for what lies ahead. Citizens worry over the moral implications of deciding a person’s fate, lawyers and opposition lawmakers jockey for last-minute changes to the details, and the government is busying itself with the ongoing and enormous propaganda effort and the administrative grunt-work of selecting the lay judges and setting up deliberation rooms.

im20090327imc3r001_2703200913The news media, for its part, has collectively agreed to a rigorous reform of its crime reporting policy, a major change the likes of which have not been seen since the late 1980s, when the media started appending the title “suspect” (容疑者) to accused defendants’ names to emphasize the presumption of innocence.

Cyzo Magazine reports that starting last year, the major news organizations have almost all established new guidelines for crime reporting. While there are slight differences, and it is unclear whether TV news orgs will follow suit, they broadly follow the pattern of the Asahi Shimbun’s new policy:

  1. Clearly state sources of information – Previous practice tended toward lines like “according to the investigation…” which never bothered to cite the actual information source and essentially accepted whatever the police told them as the truth. Out of concern this could bias lay judges, Asahi will now cite specific police department names to make things clearer (the Yomiuri goes further and will note the title of the official at the police department).
  2. Emphasize that the news comes from an official announcement – Rather than saying “The Akasaka Police Department arrested so-and-so” the Asahi will now emphasized that the department announced that it made an arrest.
  3. Note whether the suspect admits to or rejects the charges.
  4. Avoid categorical statments, specifically  “[media institution] has learned” (XXXがわかった) – This is to avoid making it sound like the results of police investigations automatically become the truth.
  5. Include the accused’s side of the story – In addition to police sources, the Asahi and others will endeavor to include the views of the defendant’s lawyers as well.

My first reaction: This is all  stuff they should have been doing anyway! But I get the idea that without this impetus, the news organizations have found it impossible to report stories following such standards without risking losing access to the police press clubs. Of course, this story of softball “bad stenography” reporting in exchange for access is pretty much a constant in all areas of corporate journalism in Japan and elsewhere.

However, there is a somewhat unsettling background to these changes. First off, these “self-regulations” did not come about unilaterally of the media’s own volition. Being the first to report on a major arrest is a very easy way to sell papers, and the newspapers and wire services have long used the police beat as a place for young reporters to learn the ropes.

But out of concern for the impartiality of lay judges, the courts are considering UK-style regulations that would restrict reporting certain details of a criminal case, such as the details of police interrogations, until the beginning of court proceedings. The media have revamped their crime reporting policies in the hope of preserving this pillar of their business models. In the absence of constant updates on the progress of interrogations, I wonder how the TV stations and newspaper society sections would fill all the time that would surely open up?

Gay marriage now legal in Japan-to a foreigner, huh?

After a discussion a few weeks ago about the situation of gay politics and life in Japan and Taiwan, there seems to be a very significant update. The Japanese Ministry of Justice has apparently announced that gay marriages will now be recognized as legal in Japan, but only in the rare circumstance that a Japanese national has gotten married to a foreign national of a country which allows gay marriage. If such a couple gets married in a foreign jurisdiction which allows gay marriage, that marriage will also be recognized in Japan, but this is apparently NOT an option for a couple consisting of two Japanese nationals. I am slightly baffled at why they would want to go out of their way to create such a special case exemption, which is even more confusing than the rules for recognition of marriage between various US states.

The ministry has so far rejected the issuance of such certificates to Japanese citizens seeking to marry same-sex partners of foreign nationality as such marriages are not approved under domestic law.

For Japanese nationals, whether they are gay or not, to marry foreigners in foreign countries, they must obtain certificates from the ministry by submitting documents including their name, birth data, sex and nationality, and similar information about their marriage partner.

Under the latest decision, the ministry will issue a new type of certificate which will only clarify that the person has reached the legal age for marriage and that he or she is single.

“We were not able to get (the ministry) to forgo the clarification of sexuality. But I want to hail the Justice Ministry’s decision as a step forward (for gays),” said Taiga Ishikawa, who represents gay support group Peer Friends.

Ishikawa said that Japanese gays were not able to get married to a gay foreigner even if their marriage partner’s country approved of same- sex marriage, because the Justice Ministry would not issue the certificate.

“And without marriage they were unable to obtain visas for their partners to live together,” Ishikawa said.

Yes, I suppose it is a major milestone and perhaps a step towards greater legal equality in Japan for all homosexuals, but what really is the point of this new regulation as-is? Who thought it made any kind of logical sense to create a right only for a Japanese to marry a foreigner of the same sex, but not for two Japanese of the same sex to get married? Actually, the last line quoted above gives the answer: by allowing Japanese gays or lesbians to marry their partner, that partner will now qualify for a spouse visa-which in many cases is the difference between allowing a relationship to continue or not. This is of course not an issue for two gay Japanese, who while strangely will now actually have less legal rights and privileges as a couple than one consisted of one Japanese and one foreigner, but at least will not have to worry about being separated due to the vagaries of immigration law.

(Via Andrew Sullivan’s blog)

More on Ozawa scandal conspiracy theories

Note: This is a follow-up to my previous post “All About the Benjamin” about some of the wilder theories set forth by Benjamin Fulford, the titular independent journalist.

Despite widely held expectations that he will/should quit, Ichiro Ozawa remains in his position as DPJ president amid the charging of his former public secretary with violations of the political funding law. Other sources have quite smartly covered this scandal – here and here for starters.

But as the courts slowly work out this case, I want to focus on one aspect of the scandal that deserves attention – the public’s reaction. While those polled appear to think that Ozawa should do the right thing and quit, apparently a noisy few are indulging in conspiracy theories as to why the prosecutors decided to target Ozawa when a critical election was looming. No doubt speculation was flamed by Ozawa’s own accusations that the prosecutors are engaged in a politically motivated investigation.

In some corners, Internet commenters, some half-kidding, some definitely not, have implied that the Ozawa prosecution was not just politically motivated, but perhaps even a plot by the CIA or “the Jews” to protect their buddies in the LDP.

The accusations have been pervasive enough for Kunihiko Miyake, former MOFA diplomat and political appointee in the Abe administration, to devote a column in the Sankei to batting down these rumors in the interest of “correct understanding of the international situation.”  He tries to argue why neither the CIA nor “the Jews” could possibly be controlling the Japanese prosecutors:

  • He has met CIA agents working in Japan, and their Japanese simply isn’t good enough for them to even make acquaintance with, let alone control, the Tokyo prosecutors, who have a history of fierce independence and even arrogance in exercising their authority.
  • He seems to consider the idea of a Jewish conspiracy as too ridiculous even to address, instead simply noting that only sheer ignorance could lead Japanese to entertain such beliefs based on debunked notions expounded in the fabricated book Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He also notes that anyone who even comes close to implicating Jewish conspiracy theories in the US is instantly and rightly branded a dangerous nutjob.

Though he mentions that American industrialist Henry Ford was a fervent anti-Semite and indulger in conspiracy theories, he seems to think that today in Japan only “bloggers” could possibly be fooled into believing conspiracy theories.

So I think it is important to note that it is not simply bloggers who believe in these conspiracy theories. This Sunday, a TV host was forced to apologize for the comments of one Atsuyuki Sassa, a commentator, former upper level police official, and the first director of what is now the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, one of Japan’s five main intelligence services. Talking about the global financial crisis, he argued that the “capitalists doing the bad things are all Jews.”

Watch (h/t Shozaburo Nakamura):

This is a highly respected man who once had top-secret security clearances (not that that actually means he is privy to know the real conspiracy or any such nonsense), so it goes to show that it doesn’t take a pajama-clad blogger to be taken in by the likes of a wild conspiracy theorist like Ben Fulford (who himself is a respected commentator who has appeared on some of the same TV programs as Sassa).

“Alpha blogger” Lead-off man’s blog, writing in reaction to the Miyake piece, suggests that it would be more persuasive to explain what a real conspiracy looks like to show how ridiculous these pretend ones are. To aid, I’ll just repost this video from Noam Chomsky to reiterate:


“I think this reaches the heart of the matter. One of the major consequences of the 9/11 movement has been to draw enormous amounts of energy and effort away from activism directed to real and ongoing crimes of state, and their institutional background, crimes that are far more serious than blowing up the WTC would be, if there were any credibility to that thesis. That is, I suspect, why the 9/11 movement is treated far more tolerantly by centers of power than is the norm for serious critical and activist work. How do you personally set priorities? That’s of course up to you. I’ve explained my priorities often, in print as well as elsewhere, but we have to make our own judgments.

From a site dedicated to debunking 9-11 myths:

… Real conspiracies have very few players and even then, they are usually exposed. Enron, Watergate, Iran/Contra and the rest have few people involved and someone always comes out to blow the whistle.

The evidence for a conspiracy to use 9/11 to invade Iraq is significant.  While there is not one shred of evidence the government blew up the World Trade Center, there is evidence that they used the tragedy to remove Saddam Hussein using poor WMD evidence.