Why does Koizumi really visit Yasukuni?

I noticed that we were being linked to by this slightly curious post on a forum devoted to the Chinese Military.

Full of Japanese insisting that Jap nats are as much lunatic fringe as certain members on this forum.

I sincerely do not believe that Koizumi, if he did not have to do it for the political advantage in the Japanese representative democracy, would go to that particular shrine if he had the choice. It’s not worth ruining relations with China and Korea, and if Japan wants to become a normal country it has to at least stop it with the shrine visits: it can argue that it has given sufficient reparations for its abuses during WW2 and its occupation of China and Korea, but certainly there is no sense in the war criminal shrine.

First of all, why in hell would he think that we’re Japanese? I can’t imagine anything that would suggest that even remotely.

Second, in response to the idea that Koizumi is forced to engage in the Yasukuni shrine visits because of domestic political concerns and not his own beliefs. I agree that this is the case, but not in the way that the poster suggests.

The important thing to remember is that while Japan is a country with a democratically elected parliament, their head of government is a prime minister chose by the elected parliament, and not directly chosen by the people. What this means is that Koizumi does not have to appeal directly to any voters outside of his home territory of Kanagawa prefecture district 11 (Yokosuka and Miura Cities). He is prime minister due to the fact that he is the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and when he engages in activity best described as ‘pandering to his base’, i.e. the Yasukuni visits, he is pandering not to the general electorate of Japan as say a US President must, but to the LDP Diet members that actually selected him as Prime Minister.

Let me clarify some more. The LDP, despite the name, is in fact the most conservative of all the major political parties in Japan. Koizumi is actually a member of the most liberal faction of the LDP (the LDP is divided into formally organized factions, something like sub-parties that band together for political strength). Ever since he rose to prominence in the party he has been a controversial figure, a driving force for economic structural reform and various significant liberalizations in Japan’s domestic policy. How exactly did a young, divorced geisha-dating, liberal reformer get to be the president of the conservative right-wing virtually unchallenged for half a century Liberal Democratic Party? Yasukuni.

The visits to Yasukuni are Koizumi’s deal with the devil. To secure the support of enough of the arch-conservative power bosses within the party, to get himself into the position from which he would have a chance to even attempt to reform the stagnant and sometimes corrupt Japanese economic machine he had to give them something in return. When he won the presidency of the LDP, he had already lost twice before and it probably looked to him as if he would never be able to succeed without making a concession. What he promised them was that in exchange for cooperation, he would make annual pilgrimages to Yasukuni.

He may very well have been morally opposed to the visits, and he was probably smart enough to realize the potential damage to diplocatic ties with former colonies, but as a politician he decided that domestic reform was a higher priority. Having made that promise, his only choices are to continue the visits or all his entire career to self-distruct. After a significantly weaker showing in the most recent major Diet election the LDP is getting worried, his massively important postal privatization plan almost stalled completely, and time is running out for him to make his mark.

Something that is implicit from all I’ve said above, but I have not yet quite stated explicitly, is that although Prime Minister Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni are required by domestic political concerns, they still do not necessarily reflect any widespread demand for him to do so. He was forced into it to secure the support of a minority faction of his own party, to give him the majority within the party that he needed to become president of the party and then Prime Minister.

I don’t honestly know how much support there is within Japan for the Yasukuni visits, or how strong the nationalist right-wingers have become. From what I have seen, and from what I have heard from people who were in Japan long before I was even born, it does seem that the nationalists have gotten more vocal recently, but are still very, very far from having anything that you could call a popular mandate. I believe that it would be a tragedy for radicals to rise to power again in Japan, and I hope that ultimately the more sensible moderates will prevail. Some people seem to think the radical right-wingers have already won, but I am just trying to explain that this is far from the case. They are only becoming more organized and more vocal, and hopefully the quiet opposition is nothing but a slow response.

Photographic proof of Japanese used panty vending machines? Plus a rant at no extra charge

Another gem thrown in my lap by Google Alerts:

This lame article from South Africa — really no more than a list of links — points to all the quirkiness of Japanese vending machines for no discernible reason. I don’t even think he’s in Japan.

I, however, am above such crass sensationalism and would never point out “strange” things about Japan just to get hits.

That’s why I was fascinated when I came across a certain something in his article. We’ve all heard the rumors. Some of us may have even seen something similar in Japan. In Kyoto I did see a vending machine that sold “panties”, but upon close inspection they did not claim to be used and actually appeared to have circular openings in the front (no comment). But very few people I’ve talked to have ever actually seen one. The picture below was reportedly taken in 2001 and is a “converted cigarette machine”:

It closely resembles machines I have seen in Japan before. Something about them makes me doubt they are the actual “used panty” vending machines for a couple reasons: 1) no mention of them being used; and 2) the public outcry that such activities have generated in the past. But I could very well be wrong.
Continue reading Photographic proof of Japanese used panty vending machines? Plus a rant at no extra charge

China keeps it real… Real dumb

China’s protests and harassment of Japanese people and business owners continue to remind the world of Kristallnacht. This is receiving broad coverage, so I’ll just link to some of it:

Japan Today:

2 Japanese students beaten up at Shanghai restaurant

Two Japanese students were beaten at a restaurant in Shanghai on Saturday night and sustained injuries, the Japanese Consulate General in Shanghai said Sunday. The students were beaten with a beer mug and an ashtray by an unknown number of Chinese, consulate officials said.

Japan Times
Continue reading China keeps it real… Real dumb

J. Thomas Schieffer arrives in Japan

I’m too lazy to really do any research about this guy (personal friend of Bush, owned the Rangers with him, on the board at JP Morgan) or who came before him, why he’s the ambassador, what happened to Baker (“In March 2005, he joined Citigroup as a advisor to senior management on international matters.” — Wiki) or anything really. I’ll just let you guys take a look at some clips from his Narita Airport speech. It’s full of meaningless platitudes, but I think there were some interesting bits:

Arigato gozaimasu. Kon nichi-wa.

Can’t imagine how badly he mangled that.

Last week shortly after I was sworn in, the President called to emphasize again how much our relationship with Japan meant to him and to the peace of the world. He asked me to convey to you, the people of Japan and to Prime Minister Koizumi his deep appreciation for your friendship and understanding. The President believes that there is much good that we can do together in the world.

Translation: If you had any doubts about how America feels about you beefing up your defense capabilities, read my lips: keep up the good work!

There is no doubt that we live in dangerous, difficult times but there is also no doubt that these can be times of great opportunity. Sixty years ago, World War II was ending and the world realized that a new era was beginning. In my judgment, September 11th was the last day of that old era and the first day of something new.

Opportunities for Japan? Read further:
Continue reading J. Thomas Schieffer arrives in Japan

Anti-eachother propaganda in China and Japan?

I was writing a response to Jing’s much appreciatedcomment on my previous post and it began to meander enough so I thought I would post on the front page instead. For full background, read the original article, and the response to it on the excellent ESWN blog.
[Note: I posted the wrong link at first, I apologize, it has been corrected.]

Very interesting. I generally look at ESWN once in a while, but I hadn’t caught this article yet. Based on what he writes at ESWN (and based on what I’ve read there in the past I have pretty good faith in what he writes) the Japan Times article (actually a translated Kyodo piece, I think it’s worth noting) is either deliberately misleading or very factually misinformed (I would wager on a combination).

I would still like to know more about what the books say. For example, does he only visit the most extreme rightist institutions in Japan, or does he also explain how in reality these views are an extreme minority position these days? Were these books even banned for their own sake or was it really something else he did?

Whatever the case, it is still an obvious fact that anti-Japanese sentiment is encouraged by the Chinese government. When I was traveling in China I don’t believe I met a single native person who didn’t cringe a little bit when I mentioned that I studied Japanese, and when asked they all admitted to “hating Japan.” I remember a conversation with one Chinese man working at a youth hostel where I stayed, and after talking for a while and admitting that he got along very well with almost all of the Japanese guests there and has no dislike them on an individual basis, he still hated the country for some unarticulatable reason.

This attitude is common throughout the country, and clearly a result of education and media and not personal conclusions, because people only ever learn one side of the story. I will gladly admit that there is some level of this in Japan as well, but not nearly to the same degree. For example, Japanese textbooks may inappropriately gloss over attrocities comitted in the past by the Japanese, but they do not teach outright hatred of modern China the same way that the Chinese seem to be taught to hate Japan.

Certainly the museum at Yasukuni shrine exhibits some reprehensible attitudes, but there are right-wing nutcases in every country. (excepting a few like, say, China where the nutcases universally call themselves left-wing instead for obvious reasons) There is anti-Japan sentiment in China, and anti-China sentiment in Japan, but the former case seems to have far more encouragement from the government and the media (which is of course all controlled by the government to some degree), and therefore far more of a majority opinion. I am also not saying that there is not enourmous racism in Japan, but it tends to be more universalist in nature (uck, that almost sounds positive!), and not the result of a longterm propaganda campaign against a specific political enemy.

ESWN writes that “Yu Jie as an example of a public intellectual pressuring the Chinese government to become more forceful against the revival of Japanese militarism.” I have no argument at all with working to prevent the revival of Japanese militarism, but China (and North Korea) have a decades old policy of using that as an excuse to maintain Japan as a potential threat to continue to justify their long-corrupted revolutionary demagogy, to fan the flames of their own nationalism.

As a footnote, all of the Uyghur I spoke to in the far west province of Xinjiang had very different attitudes. While they probably learn about the evils of WW2 just like any other student in the country, they seemed to be of the universal opinion that hating the Chinese for what they are still doing to to the Uyghur up this very day is a far more pressing issue. The professional guides who tend to receive a lot of Japanese tourists in Turpan all agreed that the portrayal of modern Japan in the Chinese media was quite unfair, and also said that they found the tourists from Japan far more agreeable than the domestic ones, who are often blatantly rude and racist to the local Uyghur people. (One of them, who spoke fluent Japanese and no English, mentioned he was particularly fond of young, single Japanese women, but this is another matter entirely, which would probably receive rather more popular support from the average Chinese man on the street.)

JANJAN — Media by, for and about the people

I recently came across this great web site, JANJAN — Japanese Alternative News for Justice and New cultures. It’s kind of like Korea’s OhMyNews, which as some of you may know is an Internet-based “citizens’ journalism” site. All the reporters are amateur, and content is regulated through an editing staff and the following of a set of rules called the “Citizen Journalist Code“.

The site, as I learned belatedly, got some international attention when one of its reporters, Imai Noriaki (18 — the link is actually not a story by correspondent Kwan Weng Kin but a translation of a Japanese tabloid story that paints the three abductees in a negative light) was abducted in Iraq and threatened with beheading. While I certainly don’t support the fact the he and the other two abductees (Takato Nahoko and Koriyama Soichiro) needlessly put themselves in harm’s way, the idea of citizens’ journalism is refreshing, especially in a country such as Japan with a relatively controlled, passive, and reactionary media.
Continue reading JANJAN — Media by, for and about the people

Koizumi and Richard Gere finally meet — space time continuum remains intact… for now

OK, they look a lot less alike than they did when Koizumi first took office, but god damn:

UPDATE: For those who don’t see the resemblance, you may now shut the hell up and bask in the awe that was once the Mane of Richard Gere:
Look at all its...majesty!

It’s like an older white version of Koizumi came back to warn him about some future disaster… or maybe just dance the night away…

But seriously: what is going on? Assuming for a minute that Gere is the future Koizumi (and, just so we’re clear, I believe in this as surely as I believe in the tastiness of unagi-don), theoretically there should be a big problem. Movies have taught me that if the you of the future encounters the you of the past, there will be a rift in the space-time continuum and all existence shall be erased forever. Or could BTTF be wrong, and it’s totally OK for you to meet your future self (or even have kids with women from the past who are destined to liberate your people.. in the future…)

Or maybe it’s some combination of various sci-fi movies.. What if, for example, the BTTF warning about meeting your future self is true, but the space-time continuum doesn’t rupture instantly, instead taking 29 days to unravel a la Donnie Darko? The end may be coming folks… Feel free to share your own theories of what the Gere-Koizumi meeting portends for the survival of the universe!

Aichi Expo Opens Today, MFT watches from a distance

Well, it finally started: the Aichi World Expo 2005. It promises to usher in the next wave of technology (Robots), showcase the best the world’s got to offer, and is being held in the economic power of Asia’s fastest-growing city. Thanks to major sponsors, Toyota, for both holding the Expo and building the Nagoya International Airport to support it. Japan’s Yokoso! tourist PR campaign led up to the event, with even Koizumi appearing in commercials welcoming visitors to experience the country of ancient culture and futuristic technology, or whatever he said. Some visitors to Japan will be able to get their hands on special PDAs that will allow them to make phone calls and get pertinent information. Not everyone agrees that Japan is the best tourist destination, though, citing not only language difficulties but more basic tourism problems — Japan’s stores don’t accept foreign credit cards, and there is no reliable hotel information for most destinations.

Despite all the fuss about walking robots, the most popular attraction at the expo is likely to be Totoro’s house, a life-size recreation of the lovable creature’s home in the classic movie, My Neighbor Totoro. For all the hype about this being a World Expo, it’s really going to be mostly Japanese tourists in attendance. Fact is, there probably won’t be throngs of people from all over the world storming the country to get a peek at what the Expo’s got to offer. Like most people who are curious about the bampaku, I am content to read about the highlights online (and I’ll be sure to blog anything good I come across).

I don’t know about you, but the Internet makes me a lot less curious about the world. Now that I can read all sorts of really general information on the Internet for free, I feel like I already have a sense of what those places must be like. The Marmot’s Hole, for one, has completely ruined me on Korea. I have gotten such an inside scoop from Marmot and his blogroll that I kind of doubt I’d be missing much. When you’re an adult and the thrill of going out and getting drunk fades, all that’s left is more going out drinking. Doesn’t matter where you are, if you work full time then you don’t have time for much else. It’s all the same — the minute differences between countries that you care about can be easily digested in a foot-long blogroll.

No wait, I take it all back. I wish I could be there. I really really do.

Lame “Asian” Restaurants

This blog has a great rant about how much “Pan-Asian” restaurants suck. In trying to cover the whole damn continent they get it all wrong and water it down way too much to please the yuppies. In DC the big crap-fest is Raku, but there are some Thai fusion-type restaurants that fit the description as well. But Mr. O-Dub can tell it better than I can (link via The Melting Blog):

Memo to All “Pan-Asian” or “Asian Fusion” or “Asian-Infused” Restaurants:

First of all, just admit it: “Pan-Asian” is your way of charging exorbitant prices and exploiting naive white people who don’t feel comfortable venturing into a restaurant run by actual Asian immigrants.

Second, stop skimping on the flavor and spices. Are you interpreting the Greek prefix “Pan” in “Pan-Asian” to mean “not even remotely”? I’m talking to you, Zao Noodle, king of bland.

Third, if you’re going to co-opt Asian food, stick to the cuisine of one country. You can’t offer watered-down versions of pad thai, adobo, sashimi, and bi bim bop on your menu. You’re destroying the ongoing struggle of Asian Americans to convince everybody else that we’re not all the same.

Indian Customer Service Sucks — Not because they’re Indian, because I can’t understand them!

The Asia Pages pointed me to this WP article about how tough it is for Indian customer service workers to deal with racist Americans who want to deal with Americans.

I agree that the Indians aren’t to blame for wanting to use their English skills to feed their families. But I have to tell the lame-asses who hired them: Indians accents are hard to understand! Even as someone who has lived abroad (though not in India) and who deals with shitty accents for a living, I have to ask the customer service people to repeat themselves almost every sentence. I’ve had a few customer service experiences where the person was in India but easy enough to understand and sometimes even friendly, but 7 times out of 10 (I’ve had to call customer service a lot lately) I feel like I’m lost in a foreign country.

We’ve been screwed so hard by companies in the customer service department that I’m not even going to bother asking for courtesy anymore. They can be complete assholes as long as the problem gets solved. But I don’t think it’s racist or too much to ask to speak with a customer service representative that actually speaks my language. I’m not the typical moron who needs everything explained step by step, but if there is no manual included with the product I buy (and there’s usually not) and it’s not working I need someone to tell me what’s wrong with it. And if possible I’d like to understand it the first time it’s said. That is all.