Activists stalk English teachers in South Korea – a glimpse at Japan’s future?

The LA Times has a story on how an activist group in South Korea, sinisterly named the “Anti-English Spectrum” has been following foreign English teachers to ferret out suspected wrong-doing:

The volunteer manager of a controversial group known as the Anti-English Spectrum, Yie investigates complaints by South Korean parents, often teaming up with authorities, and turns over information from his efforts for possible prosecution.

Outraged teachers groups call Yie an instigator and a stalker.

Yie waves off the criticism. “It’s not stalking, it’s following,” he said. “There’s no law against that.”

Since its founding in 2005, critics say, Yie’s group has waged an invective-filled nationalistic campaign against the 20,000 foreign-born English teachers in South Korea.

On their website and through fliers, members have spread rumors of a foreign English teacher crime wave. They have alleged that some teachers are knowingly spreading AIDS, speculation that has been reported in the Korean press.

The debate over foreign English teachers is symbolic of a social shift taking place in a nation that has long prided itself on its racial purity and singular culture, South Korean analysts say.

In less than a decade, the number of foreigners living in South Korea, with a population of nearly 49 million, has doubled to 1.2 million, many of them migrant workers from other Asian nations.

Also included are the foreign English teachers, most from the United States, drawn here by compensation packages that may include as much as $2,500 a month plus free rent and a round-trip ticket to teach a Korean population obsessed with learning from native speakers.

While the idea of vigilantes following English teachers around is definitely unnerving, the effort seems much smaller and more reasonable than I expected from the headline. No reports of violence and just one threatening e-mail. If there are troublemakers in the country I think the citizens have a right to their activism. The “activists” seem more like a community of Internet hobbyists going after a group that’s done nothing to them for no reason other than self-satisfaction, very similar to the incidents of “enjo” flaming campaigns in Japan (or scambaiters, “Anonymous” protests against Scientology, etc. in the English-speaking world). I am tempted to write it off, but given what I am reading here and all the reports on English teachers smuggling drugs and getting into other trouble, the relationship between the foreign English teachers and the local Koreans seems genuinely strained.

Given the relative similarity of the situation in Japan (homogeneous Asian population, fetish over learning English from natives), it struck me how nothing like this has sprung up yet, especially given the industry’s business/hiring practices and the excesses of some of the teachers. There are stirrings of anti-foreigner sentiment here and there, but what strong feelings there are tend to come from fringe rightist groups railing against Koreans.

It’s possible there is a difference of degree in Korea – the Internet is a more integral part of life, there are proportionally more English teachers there, and foreigners in general are a more visible presence. That said, it could offer a glimpse at where Japan might be headed.

Korea remains one of the most connected nations on the planet, and has become famous for flaming campaigns. There was a recent string of celebrity suicides, some apparently a result of internet harassment.

In Japan, these attacks are quite common, though I have yet to hear about any high-profile suicides. Japanese net users have turned their ire on Westerners before, most notably in the “WaiWai incident” when they became outraged over lewd, liberally translated articles on the Mainichi Daily News site. If a foreign English teacher commits a heinous crime (or the police decide to play it up), it’s possible the 2ch crowd could start something a “Spectrum” of its own. If it comes to that, we will all no doubt back our dismissive comments about Debito and beg him for help (I am guessing there is no Debito equivalent in Korea – prominent Korea blogger Marmot has very little sympathy with his wayward fellow Westerners). Even so, I don’t get the impression that average Japanese people feel uneasy about Western English teachers – quite the contrary, they tend to be treated very well. Maybe we can thank the JET program for bringing in more “high quality” talent with its more rigorous selection process.

Next, there are a lot of English teachers in Korea! If the article’s figure of 20,000 is correct, it’s even more than the roughly 14,000 in Japan (and shrinking) even though Korea’s population is just 40% of Japan’s. If Japan had the same proportion of English teachers there’d be 36,000 of them, and businesses would probably have to lower standards even more to fill all the positions.

According to the article, foreigners make up 2.4% of South Korea’s population. In Japan that number is 1.74% and growing. Also, from all accounts the US military presence is felt a lot more in Korea, be it from soldiers on the street or the daily awareness that the country remains in a state of imminent war.

But with the foreign population on the rise in Japan, its greater visibility means there will definitely be some kind of reaction. Some might feel the kind of anger that’s directed at the government’s proposal to give permanent residence the vote. Those protests have yet to produce any violence or anything worth calling an “incident” but it’s a potential rallying point, and the bill hasn’t come up for debate yet.

The article draws a link between the Anti-English Spectrum and the overall issue of dealing with foreigners in “racially pure” South Korea, noting there have been some recent racially motivated attacks. I think there’s a clue in this for people watching Japan. When the net activists start wielding the hammer of anti-foreigner rage, Western English teachers might start to look more and more like a nail.

Dissolving a Local Assembly

There’s a rumble in Nagoya as the mayor is clashing with the assembly over a reduction in local taxes, and commentators are mulling over the possibilities of what could happen next. Will the assembly pass a no-confidence resolution against the mayor? Could a citizen petition demand the dissolution of the city assembly? Or will the assembly dissolve itself?

In Kasumigaseki, the central government is a classic example of a parliamentary system. The people elect their representatives to the Diet, which in turn selects the prime minister. A chief characteristic of this form of government is that the parliament and prime minister have their hands around each others throats: the parliament can pass a motion of no-confidence in the Prime Minister with a mere simple majority vote and force resignation or an election at any time, just as the prime minister has the power to dissolve the parliament at will (but which is not as straightforward as you might think).

Local governments are structured differently. Under the Local Autonomy Law (地方自治法) passed in 1947, Japan’s local governments follow a more republican form of governance that incorporates direct democracy. The voters elect not just the members of their municipal and prefectural assemblies, but also the mayor of the municipality in which they live, and the governor of the prefecture. In addition, the people have the right to petition to dissolve the assembly or force a vote to have the mayor or governor resign. The relationship between the governor or mayor — let’s call this person the “Executive” — and the assembly is more distant than relationship between the Prime Minister and the Diet. For a no confidence resolution to pass in a local assembly, 2/3rds of all assembly members must be in attendance, and 3/4ths of all attending members must vote for the measure. Once the chairman of the assembly delivers the resolution to the executive, he has ten days to either dissolve the assembly or resign. This is the only case when an executive can dissolve a local assembly.

The Local Autonomy Law, passed during the American occupation, did not grant the assembly the right to dissolve itself, because that’s not in the arsenal of an elected assembly in a republican government. But it wasn’t long before the Diet came under intense popular pressure to recognize the right of a local assembly to dissolve itself and call an election. So eighteen years after the passage of the Local Autonomy Law, the Diet passed in 1965 the “Special Measures Law concerning Dissolving the Assembly of Local Governments” (地方公共団体の議会の解散に関する特例法). The law is noticeable for its brevity at a mere two articles long, and yet the first article states the law’s purpose in a long-winded statement which shows, I think, how reluctant the scholars of political theory in Kasumigaseki were to meddle with the direct democracy of local governments:

Article 1. This law sets out special measures to the Local Autonomy Law regarding dissolving the assembly of local governments, following the trend of public opinion concerning petitions on dissolving the assembly of local governments, so that such assemblies can dissolve themselves and hold elections to listen to the opinion of local residents.

The second and final article goes on to set incredibly high standards for dissolution: 3/4ths of all assembly members must be in attendance, and 4/5ths of all attending members must vote for the dissolution. I do not know of any other elected assembly in the world that has such a steep threshold for passing a resolution. Consequently, you might think that this is an obscure procedure that exists under law, but which is never practically used.

Not so — a mere month after the law passed, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly dissolved itself after public and opposition pressure following an LDP bribery scandal (refereneced previously by Adamu in this post on Tokyo’s local elections). And the next year the Ibaraki Prefectural Assembly dissolved itself. Prefectural assembly dissolutions have been just about unheard of since, but dozens of municipal governments have dissolved as well, usually following the revelation of fraud or gross illegality during an election.

New blog in Japanese

I love MFT for what it is–a vehicle for international people interested in Japan to bounce ideas, rants and anecdotes off each other. That said, MFT has its limitations. In particular, not many Japanese people are involved here, which is understandable given that (a) we blog in rather colloquial English much of the time, and (b) many of our topics are simply not that interesting to locals.

Yet we cover many topics that could use more attention and counter-voices from Japanese people, and have even carried a couple of Japanese-language posts in the past for that purpose. I also personally want to improve my Japanese writing skills, which don’t get as much exercise as they should.

So I decided to start a completely separate personal blog, in Japanese and as Japanese-blog-like as I can stomach. (I will use my real name and avoid emoji, in case you’re worried.) This new blog is not really intended as a “Japanese version” of MFT, though material may be cross-posted or cross-referenced from time to time. It is basically a separate project with separate purposes in mind.

Here’s the link, and here’s a direct link to the first post, about how I “fell into Japan.”

Panasonic in Mecca

Panasonic has quietly been a top topic in Japanese news stories concerning the Middle East this month by winning a contract to put up the first corporate billboard in the holy city of Mecca. The billboard will be near the airport and will be for consumer goods aimed at pilgrims.

I note that this has been published in a few media outlets in Japan, where the press release was issued in Japanese, but I cannot find news stories that report this in English and see no evidence that the story was published in Arabic.

A thread at 2ch brings up some interesting points that should have given Panasonic pause: “Isn’t this like breaking the prohibition on tall buildings in Kyoto?” and “I’m sure this is fine because they were speaking with Muslims on the deal, but I wonder what the extremists will think.” On the one hand it’s great that Japanese companies are breaking ground and leading the way as they push into new markets, but I hope they’ve done their cultural due diligence.

Does money have the constitutional right to talk?

This has been a hot topic in American legal discourse recently thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, which upheld the notion that corporations have the right to free speech — in this case, the freedom to spend money to defame Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries, which was previously banned for corporations under election finance statutes. You can read the whole opinion here (PDF), but it is long, and filled with discussion of the historical concepts of corporations, going back to when the Constitution was written.

The idea of corporations having constitutional human rights seems alien to many American observers and probably bizarre to many Japanese people. So far, the best concise analysis of the subject I have found (in the context of the American case) is this piece by law professor Usha Rodrigues at my favorite “blawg,” The Conglomerate. She points out that even the justices of the Supreme Court did a good job of conflating various types of “corporation,” when in reality a corporation can be a home-office business, a completely non-profit organization or even a type of governmental entity. (Justice John Paul Stevens, who led the left-wing dissent, even brought Tokyo Rose into the argument.)

From this perspective, it becomes more clear that corporate status is not a very good dividing line. It captures Goldman Sachs and the big oil and pharmaceutical companies, but it also captures the Sierra Club, the NRA and all sorts of organizations that *do* have a valuable role in consolidating a force of popular opinion that might not otherwise be expressed.

The real problem for populists, I think, is the fact that political donations are treated as a form of speech. There’s a way to get around this: amend the Constitution. Good luck doing that without a lot of money to run a campaign.

Since this is mostly a Japan blog, I should add that Japan’s Supreme Court ruled similarly, albeit more tersely, on a similar case in 1970 — the Yawata Steel case, outlined in Japanese here. This case was originally brought by a lawyer who held Yawata Steel stock and wanted to stop the company from making political donations. The court’s ruling, which is still law in Japan, was that Japanese corporations have the full array of constitutional human rights “to the extent possible given their nature” (性質上可能な限り). Some extracts from their opinion (available here in Japanese), followed by my English paraphrase:

Companies are formed for the purpose of performing a particular business, but this does not mean that they can only act in direct furtherance of the purposes listed in their articles of incorporation. Companies, like individuals, are part of the state, their localities and their regional societies, and have responsibilities toward those entities. Even if a certain type of act is beyond the purposes of the company as provided in its articles of incorporation, such an act should still be allowed to the extent that it is expected and demanded of the company in the course of its social relations.

Such acts are not necessarily limited to not-for-profit acts. A company may also (directly or indirectly) find value toward its own development as an enterprise through disaster relief, services to society, funding social welfare projects and other peripheral acts. Appropriate expenses by a company toward these social duties are naturally to be allowed and do not violate shareholder rights or harm shareholder profit.

The above reasoning also applies to corporate gifts to political parties. The constitution does not expressly mention political parties nor grant them any special status, but implicitly assumes their necessary existence through its general structuring of the representative democracy system. Political parties are the most powerful constituent body of the people’s government, and to participate in their development is naturally to be expected as a social act even by a company. Political donations are a normal component of the cooperation between citizens and their government.

Legend of Koizumi anime

Yes, “The Legend of Koizumi”, a completely gonzo comedy manga in which international affairs are all settled by world leaders playing mahjong that was once described by an eminent critic as “the best manga ever,” has finally seen n anime adaptation. It is being released as an OVA instead of being shown on TV, and will go on sale in late February for ¥2940. (Watch this space for news.) In the meanwhile, the first section has been uploaded to Youtube, and with English subtitles for those, like myself, who can’t follow all the mahjong talk.

<object width=”480″ height=”295″><param name=”movie” value=””></param><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true”></param><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always”></param><embed src=”” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”480″ height=”295″></embed></object>

Incidentally, I love all the little references in there, like Kim Jong Nam’s Mickey Mouse ears, recognition that Taro Aso was on the  Olympic rifle team, and a GWB reference everybody will get, but what I really want to see is an adaptation of the storyline that shows Pope Benedict employing ancient Catholic magic to win at mahjong.

What to do with an obsolete airport

Itami Airport

The media is reporting that Osaka governor Toru Hashimoto is thinking of demolishing Itami Airport and building an international academic village on the property where everybody speaks English. People are already raising hell about this idea over at Debito’s blog. I think it’s a silly idea (as presented, anyway) and will never make it out of committee, but the issue of what to do with Itami is still pertinent, as Osaka really doesn’t need three airports.

What can you do with an airport you don’t need any more? Here are five possibly pertinent examples:

  1. Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong
    Kai Tak has many parallels to Itami. It was mostly built by the Japanese military (during their wartime occupation of Hong Kong), and it occupied a prime central location in huge city that grew increasingly dense over the years. As a result of the latter, the airport was cramped, overcrowded and hair-raisingly difficult to get into: aircraft landing in one direction had to approach the runway at a right angle, then make a hairpin turn just above the ground to touch down (video). Kai Tak was replaced by a somewhat Kansai-like airport, the current Hong Kong International Airport, in 1998, and was promptly closed. Since then, the site has been more or less empty despite constantly-shifting plans to build hotels, cruise piers and a giant stadium there.
  2. Stapleton Airport, Denver
    In its heyday, Stapleton was one of the busiest airports in the world, serving as a cross-country hub for Continental Airlines and United Airlines. Like Itami, though, it was in the middle of a mostly residential area, which limited its growth potential and caused friction with residents over noise. In the early 90s, the federal government threw millions of dollars into an enormous new airport on the outskirts of the city, Denver International Airport, which is now the second-largest airport in the world. Stapleton was then closed down, and the site converted into a “new town” of 30,000 people.
    (Aside: I visited Denver last November, and the airport strikes me as totally ridiculous–you pass the sign that says “WELCOME TO DIA,” and the next sign says “TERMINALS – 15 MILES.” The largest airport in the world is in Dammam, Saudi Arabia and is larger than the entire country of Bahrain.)
  3. Hoover Field, Washington
    Hoover Field was the first airport in the capital of the United States, back in the earliest days of commercial aviation. It was built across the river from the city in Arlington, Virginia on the other side of the 14th Street Bridge. The site was incredibly cramped, though–most notably, there was a road running through the middle of the main runway, requiring railway crossing gates to be lowered whenever a plane took off or landed. The field was shut down around the start of World War II, when National Airport opened nearby, and the site was then used to build the Pentagon.
  4. Meigs Field, Chicago
    Meigs was a small airport on an artificial peninsula right on the lakefront of Chicago–essentially a miniature 1930’s version of Kansai Airport. It was most famous in its heyday for being the default starting location in Microsoft Flight Simulator. Mayor Richard Daley started campaigning in the early 90’s to convert the site into a giant park, and after a decade of bureaucratic stalling by Congress and the FAA, he took matters in his own hands and ordered the runway bulldozed into uselessness overnight. The site is now a lakefront park and was briefly being sold as a potential venue for the 2016 Olympics.
  5. Old Kitakyushu Airport, Kitakyushu
    This is probably the closest parallel in Japan to a potential Itami closing scenario. The old Kitakyushu Airport was a relatively small facility, with one runway and a handful of daily flights to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, using relatively small YS-11 prop planes, later replaced by faster but still small MD-80 jets. The airport was clearly a bit of joke even in the mid-70s, and so the local government commissioned a new, larger offshore airport nearby, which opened in 2006 (and, surprisingly enough, is still not all that popular). The site was initially envisioned as a new urban project, but there were no takers; economics finally came out victorious, and the site is now zoned for industrial use, housing a hospital and a couple of industrial production sites.

There is one fate which Osaka undoubtedly wants to avoid–the fate of Montreal. Montreal spent something like a billion dollars to build and expand a giant airport on the outskirts, Mirabel Airport, which would have been the largest in the world were it ever completed. Just like Osaka, Montreal projected that their old downtown airport, Dorval, would quickly become too small for demand, and they tried to lock international carriers into the more distant Mirabel in order to artificially boost its popularity despite stagnating overall demand. The result was that Montreal lost relevance as an air hub, since nobody wanted to connect between the airports, and the city was getting less internationally relevant anyway. Montreal eventually gave up on Mirabel and moved everything back to Dorval in the nineties, leaving their gleaming new airport as a gleaming white elephant plied only by a few cargo planes.

So what could Osaka do with Itami Airport’s site? As a former Itami resident (I had a host family there back during my first stay in Japan), I have some ideas of my own.

First of all, it would be great as a replacement for the rail freight yard in Umeda, which is a pretty wasteful use of downtown space. ITM is right next to a JR trunk line and could be connected fairly easily — it also isn’t far from the Sanyo Shinkansen, which could theoretically be used for some freight traffic in the future once everything goes maglev. Then the downtown space occupied by the current yard could be fully converted into residential or commercial buildings. (UR has actually already started this process on one side of the yard.) This would also fit in fairly well with the light industrial character of the immediately surrounding real estate.

If you want to get a bit more fantastic, how about a space elevator? Or perhaps a new central government location for some of those Tokyo-bound bureaucrats? (I already proposed a similar fate for KIX in comments to this post.) Perhaps the Defense Ministry could move out there and give up its nice space in Ichigaya, though I’m sure the more lefty locals wouldn’t like that plan.

Sending Papers

Sunday, Jan. 24, 2010
Nudes land photographer in trouble
Kyodo News

Police plan to send papers to prosecutors shortly on photographer Kishin Shinoyama on suspicion of public indecency for shooting photos of nude models in public spaces for a book, sources said Saturday.

The police are consulting with the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office on sending papers on the 69-year-old photographer and two female models, the sources said.

“Send papers to prosecutors” is a crude (but accurate) English translation of 書類送検 or shorui souken, a word frequently seen in Japanese news stories with no statutory basis or definition. What does it mean, and at what stage is Shinoyama in the criminal prosecution procedure?

“Sending papers” describes a situation where police officers have not arrested someone, or initially arrested them and released them, and then send the relevent evidence that identifies the suspect with the criminal offense. The word “sending papers” is not actually used by the police or prosecutors and does not appear in any criminal procedure legislation, but is a correct explanation of what happens — Article 246 of the Criminal Procedure Law obliges the police to promptly send all papers and evidence regarding the suspect and the incident (and information regarding confessions). Prosecutors can, and do, designate that some minor crimes be up to the discretion of the police to process independently or to decide at their discretion whether or not to send papers.

The background to Shinoyama’s case is that the photographer shot nude photographs of his two adult models in Tokyo in twelve public places, including a church and the Aoyama Graveyard, between August 16th and October 15th, 2008. The police received several complaints during this time and investigated one incident on September 7th, but Shinoyama responded by submitting a document to the police stating that his models were wearing swimming suits. When the photographs were published in his latest collection “NO NUDE” in September 2009, police felt compelled to proceed with a formal investigation.

Shinoyama’s public statements on this began with a defiant tone (“In my fifty years as a photographer…!”), but he has since taken a much more concilatory tone (“I’m sorry. I meant to consider my surroundings, but I was not careful enough”). That’s because in Japan’s apology-based criminal justice system, he still has time to avoid prosecution. Once the prosecutors receive the papers, they make the decision of whether or not to prosecute the case, under Article 247 of the same law, and have the option of deciding to not prosecute, under Article 248. At this point, the police are still “consulting” with prosecutors as to how and what to send them so as to be in compliance with their legal obligation. And the biggest issue with Shinoyama is a combination of the fact that he took public pictures of the nudes, that numerous people called 110 to complain, and Shinoyama’s denial of this fact at the time. If he apologizes enough, this appropriatly aged photographer could still avoid the most serious sanctions — or as one article in the Mainichi concludes, “it appears the goal of sending papers here is to put the brakes on similar acts.”

Underground Gamblers and Academic Grants

This week’s Metropolis has a feature on underground gambling. It’s an interesting read:

The gambling professional is, in general, not who you think he is. For a pro gambler, Rei looks pretty normal. He has an average build, wears average clothes and works a regular day job. He lives in a messy six-mat apartment. The paint on the walls is peeling off, and his stuff is strewn about the room. In the corner lie a couple of duffel bags thrown there the previous night. By all appearances, it’s a standard Japanese bachelor’s apartment.

Except that those bags contain enough ¥10,000 bills to wallpaper the entire room.

Later on in the article, there are short notes about gambling in Japan. Academics may be surprised to read this:

Doing research on Japan? There’s a good chance you’re being supported by the gambling industry. Every year The Nippon Foundation donates roughly ¥30 trillion to charitable and educational causes. It all comes from boat racing.

For the most part, this is true. The Nippon Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in Japan, receives over 3% of kyotei (motorboat racing) annual revenues.  According to the 2006 Government Whitepaper on Leisure, the total market for 2005 for kyotei was 978 billion yen. In the early 90s, it was about double this. More details can be found in David Plotz’s Pachinko Nation. (Incidentally, Plotz’s research was supported by a Nippon Foundation grant.)

Of course, this isn’t to criticize the foundation itself, which has supported good works around the globe. Apparently some academics in Japan do look down on their grants, however. Last year, a friend of mine was faced with the choice of either a Fulbright or a Nippon Foundation grant for her dissertation research. When she told an academic friend of hers about this, the friend closed the door and quietly told her that she risked a small amount of stigma were she to go with the latter.

If this is how some Japanese academics deal with researchers whose grant is merely peripheral to gambling, I wonder how they will treat someone whose research is on gambling…

Self-proclaimed veteran translator: modern fansubbing a mess

From the “almost two years old but news to me” department:

Via the comments section at Neojaponisme, we have this series of videos decrying modern anime fansubbers as cliquey, Japanese language-worshiping elitists who offer “Japanese lessons” instead of actual translations. Their refusal to create plain, easily digested subtitles and refusal to translate culturally specific Japanese (instead offering copious on-screen liner notes) scares away potential new fans and is generally useless, he argues.

Watch here:

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

On a basic level, he is absolutely right that for a general audience, translations should be very clear and nearly invisible. It’s what I strive for in my job and on this blog, for sure. But from my (admittedly limited) experience with fansubbed anime, it’s clear enough that fansubbers are not in it for the benefit of a general audience. In the era of Wikipedia, BitTorrent, and Youtube where esoteric cultural knowledge is rapidly becoming obsolete, being an elite fansubber is one of the few sure-fire ways left to secure King Geek status. Maybe having an insular subculture makes it harder for good anime titles to break through into the mainstream (as has been fansubbing’s most often-cited benefit), but isn’t that kind of the whole point?