Akiyama Saneyuki to the Czar: “I want to play a game…”

I have recently enjoyed downloading episodes of Sono toki Rekishi ga Ugoita, the iconic NHK series on key moments of Japanese history. (Much to my surprise, these episodes are available due to a passionate following that the series has in Taiwan, and many episodes are available via bit torrent download, with Traditional Chinese subtitles.)

In watching these episodes, I was pretty horrified to see that, for an episode regarding the strategy behind the victory of the Battle of Tsushima, the theme music from the horror film SAW was used — just see these two key scenes that I clipped for the purposes of this blog post (the break between the two separate scenes is seamless, but there is a 20 minute gap between scenes at 1:22).

Why on earth does NHK pick this kind of music, and what’s the decision-making process behind the selection? For someone who knows where the music comes from, it really ruins the otherwise well-produced TV documentary.

Zainichi players on the North Korean soccer team

With all the World Cup excitement in Japan right now, I just thought I’d link to this Bloomberg report on the two players from Japan on the NK soccer team:

North Korea, the lowest ranked team in the soccer World Cup, faces five-time champion Brazil tonight with its hopes pinned on two players from Japan.

Japan-born striker Jong Tae-Se and midfielder An Yong Hak, who both play in the J. League, will represent the communist nation in its first World Cup match in 44 years, playing at 8:30 p.m. local time in Johannesburg. Ladbrokes Plc, a U.K. oddsmaker, rates North Korea a 1,000-to-1 chance to win the tournament.

This is the first time players from Japan are representing North Korea at the World Cup, according to Ri. Jong, 26, who plays for Kawasaki Frontale in the J. League, and Omiya Ardija midfielder An, 31, were named in the national team last month.

The two players attended North Korean schools in Japan, hold North Korean passports and have no problem communicating with Pyongyang-based teammates, Ri said.

North Korea, playing in its second World Cup since reaching the quarterfinals in 1966, has no professional teams. National team players earn about twice the average laborer’s salary, according to the North Korean football association.

I am hoping for a US-Japan championship match, but of course that isn’t realistic.

Kan is not a “Japan rarity,” but decent foreign reporting may be

I’m going to break down this post from the WSJ’s Japan blog piece by piece.

In the U.S., the current president, vice-president, first lady and secretary of state are all lawyers.

Sure–the Democratic Party is mostly run (and also mostly financed) by lawyers. But the Bush administration had few lawyers in its ranks; the composition of the cabinet is really determined more by who is choosing its members.

More than 40% of the members of Congress hold law degrees, in fact. Finally, they have some like-minded counterparts at the top of the Japanese government.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is the first ”benrishi” lawyer to be prime minister in Japan since World War II, “benrishi” being licensed to handle patents — such as for his Mahjong machine — and other intellectual property matters. His top aide, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, is a “bengoshi”, or general lawyer.

First of all, benrishi is a very narrow qualification, somewhat like being a patent agent in the US except that it also involves advisory functions and covers a range of intellectual property. Kan doesn’t even have a law degree, and the benrishi exam only tests a few specific IP laws (see the official spec here).

Secondly, Kan is not the first postwar lawyer prime minister. Tetsu Katayama, prime minister from 1947 to 1948, was a full-fledged bengoshi and is even pictured on Wikipedia wearing his attorney pin.

But most importantly, this analysis betrays a basic misunderstanding of how legal services differ between the US and Japan. Harvard professor Mark Ramseyer attacks the under-lawyered Japan myth in his excellent book Japanese Law: An Economic Approach. In one early section of the book, he points out that there are many other qualifications to provide legal services to third parties, and that a huge amount of Japan’s legal work is performed by people with no Japanese law license whatsoever, including Justice Ministry bureaucrats, corporate legal staff, and foreign-qualified lawyers like me.

Ramseyer also points out that the number of law school graduates in the US (many of whom also end up not practicing law independently) is not that different on a per-capita basis from the number of law faculty graduates in Japan. This brings us back to the WSJ:

Altogether, the Kan “irregular militia” cabinet has four lawyers, the same number as the final Hatoyama cabinet it replaced, and the new secretary general of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, Yukio Edano, is also a lawyer. That’s quite a sea change from the last administration in the Liberal Democrat Party’s nearly 50-year rule: Taro Aso had no lawyers in his cabinet at all.

This is all technically true, but not very relevant. Again, most legally-trained people in Japan end up not becoming attorneys. This includes several members of Aso’s cabinet, including Kaoru Yosano, Yoichi Masuzoe and Shigeru Ishiba, who all graduated from law faculties of top universities.

Besides, the LDP has plenty of licensed lawyers on hand, even if Aso didn’t utilize any of them. His successor as leader of the LDP, Sadakazu Tanigaki, is a bengoshi. So is one of the most popular LDP-backed politicians at the moment, Osaka governor Toru Hashimoto. Many lesser LDP legislators sport attorney pins, too.

Mr. Kan’s Justice Minister Keiko Chiba, a holdover from the previous cabinet, practiced law for years — a less common background for Japan’s top law official than one might expect. While in the U.S. it would be considered irregular to appoint an attorney general who lacked experience as an attorney, many Japanese justice ministers have come from other fields, including engineering and nursing.

This comparison overlooks a very fundamental difference between the US Cabinet, which can consist of whomever the president can push through the Senate, and the Japanese Cabinet, the majority of which has to be comprised of legislators. Pretty much all Japanese Cabinet members, including the Justice Minister, come from a single background: the Diet. They get to the Diet in different ways, but they never walk straight from a drawing board or operating room to head up the Justice Ministry.

It also overlooks a very fundamental difference in the two posts. The Japanese Justice Minister has practically no advisory role, whereas the US Attorney General is expected to give legal advice to the President and the Cabinet. The Justice Minister has few formal duties, and they only personally carry out one of those duties: administration of the death penalty. Other duties, like stamping foreigners’ entry permits and representing the state in court, get delegated in practice to much lower-ranking bureaucrats, and the minister’s theoretical oversight of the prosecutor corps is rarely exercised.

Despite all these differences, full-fledged lawyers still get to be Justice Minister on a fairly regular basis. Chiba is the fourth Justice Minister in this decade (out of eleven) to have a bengoshi qualification. The previous three were, of course, all LDP people (Okiharu Yasuoka, Masahiko Komura and Seiken Sugiura).

For decades Japan had the fewest lawyers per capita of virtually any developed nation, but that is changing. The country now has nearly 29,000 lawyers, a figure that has roughly doubled in 15 years. A law-school system introduced in 2006 has opened the doors wider to the profession.

Now we’re talking about bengoshi, not benrishi. Kan’s qualification has pretty much nothing to do with law school.

Law school also has little to do with the slowly-rising number of lawyers. Entry to the bengoshi profession is strictly a function of the bar exam pass rate, which was extremely low (3% or so) under the old bar exam which required no graduate school, and is still only one-third or so for people who have finished three years of law school under the new licensing system. The exam is full of tricky questions which effectively require the exam taker to memorize all the central statutes of the Japanese legal system as well as the key precedents and scholarly arguments surrounding each one. Other law licenses like benrishi have similarly onerous exams, though no others force people to sit in school for three additional years just to have a one-out-of-three shot at the license.

In all of these cases, the doors could be opened wider by making the exams more practical, but the exams are designed to create a high barrier to entry. As a result, the people who pass these exams tend to be the type of people who could not be bothered with going into a corporate or government job straight out of university, and they tend to stay in private practice rather than joining large institutions–which, as we know, hold all the political power in Japan.

In contrast, US bar exams are designed to mint larger numbers of lawyers, with a passage rate between 80% and 95% in most states. The passage rate is lower in some states where people can take the exam without going to law school, such as California (where apprenticeship study and unaccredited law schools are both options) and New York (where foreign lawyers and law graduates can sit the exam with a certain minimal level of US legal training). They test a narrower range of law and are generally meant to check a person’s reasoning skills rather than knowledge of the chapter and verse of the law.

And with more than 4,000 women lawyers (up from a mere 42 a half-century ago), Japan may be closer to having a pair of lawyers someday as its first couple, following in the footsteps of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack and Michelle Obama.

Yuck. One lawyer is more than enough.

JAL’s Middle East Adventures

Japan Airlines (JAL) is in the hotel business, and not surprisingly, it wants to get out. As the company seeks to restructure itself into a viable business, one of its plans is to sell its hotel arm, possibly to Hotel Okura. JAL currently owns 41 hotels in Japan and 17 overseas, and those overseas hotels are overwhelmingly in large cities — Beijing, London, Mexico City, Hanoi, Hong Kong, and on and on. Others are in tropical resorts popular with Japanese tourists, such as Bali, Palao, and Guam. There is also one JAL hotel in the Middle East, in a somewhat unusual location.

One of these things is not like the other…

The only JAL Hotel in the Middle East is not in a major city such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha or Beirut. It’s in the tiny emirate of Fujairah, one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, situated not on the Persian Gulf but on the Gulf of Oman. (Don’t rely on the JAL map above for the accurate location — click here for a map that explains where Fujairah is in the context of the other UAE emirates).

The hotel was announced in October 2005 to much fanfare and at that time was scheduled to open in December 2006, with another hotel in Dubai to open in 2007. The JAL Fujairah actually opened in May 2007 — not a bad time lag, actually. The hotel itself is owned by a Kuwaiti company called ACICO — which stands for Aerated Concrete Industries Co., a more old-school construction company that is not a typical player in the luxury hotel business. JAL is the manager of the hotel, and its truly distinguishing characteristic is the cuisine, which is genuinely Japanese and said by some to have some of the best sushi in the entire Middle East. I have heard of more than a few people driving the 2 hours from Dubai to Fujairah just to have a sushi lunch, and then drive home.

Objectively, to international standards, the JAL Fujairah is a beautiful beachside hotel located near a number of other luxury hotels along the Fujairah coast. But locally, I have heard it referred to as a “motel”, and substandard when compared to the other modern luxury coastal resorts in Fujairah such as the Rotana and Le Meridien.

JAL had bigger plans for the Middle East, and was one of countless companies that got caught up in the Dubai property boom and the hotel boom. But they ran into problems. The Dubai hotel originally announced for 2007 was pushed ahead, and when construction was underway on the JAL Tower, built on prominent real estate along Sheikh Zayed Road, across from the iconic Emirates Towers in early 2007, it was at that time scheduled to be opened in 2008. It was also to be followed by the JAL Hotel and Spa Resort Bahrain in 2009. The later project has since been cancelled, and the former has yet to open as of this writing in early 2010.

At this point, the cause of the delay is not clear. The tower had just about been completed when I arrived in Dubai last autumn — check out these photos of the building that were taken shortly thereafter — and as of December 2009 it was scheduled to open in April 2010. But it remains closed, and it has yet to open or announce an opening date, only stating on its web page that it will open sometime in 2010. Something must be planned — last month they hired a new director of finance, and last week they hired a new manager, and their web page says they are hiring. But I would be surprised if they opened anytime during the summer months or during Ramadan in August, which means an opening in September at the earliest.

By that time, JAL Hotels may not be JAL Hotels anymore. With a possible sale of JAL Hotel’s assets to Hotel Okura, the first Japanese-managed hotel in the Middle East could be run by a relatively domestic Japanese hotel business. Dubai’s Japanese are hopeful that they can maintain the best sushi in the region.

This dude is totally awesome


With fastly approaching deadlines I have been blogging very little recently, but I have been posting a lot of random links and very short thoughts to my Twitter account (as a former English major, I am, like the New York Times, too proud to use the word verb “tweet” in public). I’ve noticed though that the discussions here tend to be so good that long and in depth ones often develop out of little more than a link, so I am curious, do you – the readers and commenters – think that I (perhaps we) should shed my (our) bias against very short, content-lite blog posts, and put more short posts in this space rather than silly Twitter, on the off chance that it can get some valuable discussion threads going?

The crime of “blasphemy”

The Kishin Shinoyama nude-photos-in-Aoyama-Cemetery story which Curzon mentioned earlier this year has finally come to a close, with the photographer ordered to pay “¥300,000 in fines for public indecency and blasphemy.”

Wait a minute… blasphemy? How could that possibly be a crime in such a non-religious country?

Go go gadget Criminal Code!

第188条 神祠、仏堂、墓所その他の礼拝所に対し、公然と不敬な行為をした者は、6月以下の懲役若しくは禁錮又は10万円以下の罰金に処する。
2 説教、礼拝又は葬式を妨害した者は、1年以下の懲役若しくは禁錮又は10万円以下の罰金に処する。

(Disrespect of Places of Worship and Disturbance of Preaching, Etc.)
Article 188. A person who has committed an open and disrespectful act toward a shrine, temple, graveyard or other place of worship shall be sentenced to imprisonment at labor or confinement for six months or less, or a fine of 100,000 yen or less.
2. A person who has disturbed preaching, worship or a funeral service shall be sentenced to imprisonment at labor or confinement for one year or less, or a fine of 100,000 yen or less.

So there you have it; messing with religion is a crime in Japan. It doesn’t seem to be prosecuted that often, though: the various crimes against religion don’t even merit a line item in the Justice Ministry’s annual prosecution statistics.

Yes he Kan? Kan faces early test – postal votes, or the people’s?

New prime minister Naoto Kan has to make a major decision that will likely characterize his style of leadership going forward.

The decision revolves around the current postal reform legislation – the bills, which would reorganize Japan Post to ensure greater government control and a firmer mandate of universal service, have already passed the Lower House but must pass the Upper House to become law. But there isn’t enough time in the current Diet session to get the job done in the Upper House. Kan has the option of extending the Diet session to get the bills passed, which would postpone the looming Upper House election. But should he?

The postal bills are incredibly divisive, potentially dangerous as policy, and have been crafted to pander to special interests without much serious thought to Japan’s long-term future. Bending over backwards to get the bills passed would be a clear sign that the DPJ-led government needs to rely on postal worker support to stay in power. He and his party govern in a coalition with the PNP, a small party with the postal workforce making up the bulk of its support base. The PNP has threatened to leave the coalition and deny the DPJ an outright majority in the upper house unless the bill is passed early.

On the other hand, not postponing the Diet session would imply Kan is opting for an early election, in other words he could capitalize on the support of the general public afforded him in the wake of his appointment as PM. Sure, this option might lose him the PNP, but he might not need them come July if things go his way.

So which will it be? Kan has apparently promised to decide on this tomorrow morning. I eagerly await his decision.


A fneeter is a “freeter” who only does a minimal amount of work.

That’s from the Nihongo Zokugo Jisho website.

I think this is the first Japanese word I’ve heard of which is derived from two Japanese words both derived from English (“フリーター” and “ニート“). Are there other examples I’m overlooking?

What is Japan’s National Language?

It may surprise some readers (but perhaps not others) that Japan has no official language. This may seem trivial, but remember that Japan’s constitution, the basis of its entire legal system, was largely drafted by US lawyers and then translated into Japanese (which is why the Japanese language, such as randomly granting rights to “citizens” or “anyone” without a meaningful discrepancy, is so scattershot). What, then, is the law regarding the use of Japanese, and where is Japanese language use mandated by law?

The instances are surprisingly few. Perhaps the most important is Article 74 of the Courts Law:

Article 74: In the courts, the Japanese language shall be used.

The pre-war Foreign Courts Cooperation Law also provides that any document submitted to the Japanese courts must contain a Japanese translation.

The other instances are pretty minor and frankly merely procedural:

* Japan’s Patent Law and other related intellectual property laws requires that all international patent registration documents be submitted in Japanese. These laws were primarily amended to bring Japanese domestic law into line with the international treaties on IP registration that Japan has signed.
* Under the Notary Public Law, notaries can draft proof documents — that are in Japanese.
* Foreign doctors doing clinical work in Japan must speak Japanese, or another language approved by the Ministry of Health Labour and Welfare.
* The conversion of a foreign driver license requires that it be translated into Japanese by an officially approved translation body, under Article 107-2 of the Road and Transport Law.
* Foreign company reports designated by the cabinet to contain public interest information or information for the protection of investors must be in Japanese, under Article 24 of the J-SOX Law.

In my search of the Japanese law database houko.com, those are the only significant instances where the law mentions Japanese.