Dual nationality and Zainichi Koreans

Via the Marmot’s Hole, it appears that South Korea is currently drafting a law that would finally allow for dual citizenship of adults. The dual citizenship law in Korea is currently more or less the same as Japan, i.e. that it is only permitted for minors who are theoretically forced to choose upon reaching the age of majority. In Japan that age is 20 and in Korea is 22, but the principal is the same.

Those who obtain foreign citizenship by birth will be allowed to maintain it if they submit a written oath by the age of 22 not to exercise the rights and privileges of foreigners in Korea by using their second passport.

After the age of 22, men will be allowed to maintain multiple citizenship only if they complete their military service here. Under the current law, dual citizenship holders must choose one nationality by the age of 22 and submit a written pledge to give up their foreign citizenship if they choose their Korean nationality. The revision is aimed at blocking a drain on military manpower.

Those caught using their foreign passports to enter international schools or invest in Korea as foreigners will be ordered to choose a single nationality and automatically lose their Korean nationality if they fail to give up their foreign citizenship within a specified period.

The regulations also apply for other groups such as foreigners who have immigrated through marriage with Koreans; highly skilled foreigners; senior citizens living overseas; those who have regained Korean citizenship after being adopted by foreign families; and Chinese nationals who were born and have lived here for more than 20 years.

Under the current law, foreigners have to give up their foreign citizenship within six months after they obtain Korean nationality.

There are a couple of complications that I’m curious about, however. First, I assume that military service has a maximum age as well, and if so, are older men allowed to acquire dual-citizenship without doing it? The second case is more complicated though-the so-called Zainichi Koreans. Republic of Korea citizens who are permanent residents of Japan, particularly those who came during the pre-WW2 colonial period and their descendants. Will they also allowed to become dual nationals? And if so, what about military service?

Well, as it currently stands Zainichi Koreans, as well as Korean permanent residents in other countries, are exempt from the draft. However, should they “return” to Korea with the intention of becoming a permanent resident there, they lose this exemption.

大韓民国 兵役法
第2項 ・・・・・・・・・・・国外で家族と共に永住権を得た者(条件付き永住権を得た者を除く。以下同じ)又は永住権制度がない国で無期限滞留資格を得た者の場合には、兵役免除の処分をすることができる。
第4項 ・・・・・・・・・・・兵役の免除を受けた者が国内で永住する目的で帰国するなど大統領令が定める事由に該当するときは、その処分を取り消して兵役義務を賦課することができる。

But will overseas Koreans, such as the Zainichi, even be allowed to acquire dual citizenship? There would probably be no significant issues in a country like the United States, which tolerated dual citizenship-even with countries that require military service, as long as they are a military ally like Israel. But what about Japan? I really can’t say. Although later-arriving Korean immigrants are also technically lumped in with Zainichi, the term is mainly concerned with those who, as I mentioned above, came over as colonial subjects, and their descendants, who were granted an unusual “Special Permanent Residents” status as a diplomatic compromise between Japan and Korea. (Note that the population of Zainichi who “came over during the colonial period and their descendants” is actually larger than the number of Special Permanent Residents, as some thousands returned or moved to Korea when it became independent, but later decided return to Japan, where they had spent most or all of their lives. Those who left Japan and returned were legally counted as new immigrants, and did not qualify for Special Permanent Residency.)

Many have wondered why neither country has ever allowed dual citizenship in the past, particularly for this minority. In fact, when Japan and South Korea were originally discussing the legal status of the Zainichi Koreans, the idea of allowing dual citizenship was floated, but was allegedly vetoed by the US government. As domestic politics in both countries, as well as their relations, have changed a lot over the decades, (and the US probably doesn’t care, or have the power to set policy anymore) a similar conclusion would not necessarily be foregone today, but I still can’t see Japan tolerating South Korea to unilaterally change their citizenship policy in a way that potentially hundreds of thousands of Japan residents. Zainichi Koreans (a group which actually consists of both South Korean citizens and quasi-stateless/quasi-North Korean citizens) have no problem naturalizing as Japanese citizens (they used to), but (at least anecdotally) are also forced to give up their Korean citizenship more strictly than westerners. I can’t see this changing until Japan also changes their own law to allow for adult dual citizenship, and I have yet to see any sign that they plan to do so.

Travels to Tsushima, Part 1: There and Back Again

In April of 2008, I took a trip to Tsushima island for several days with a close friend, and we spent a long weekend traveling around the island by bicycle. By popular request, here is a brief travelogue of my trip, split into three parts.


What is Tsushima?
Tsushima is an island situated almost perfectly between the Korean Peninsula and the island of Kyushu, but which has been in the Japanese cultural sphere for all of recorded history (since at least the Kofun period). The Mongols invaded the island twice on their way to Japan, slaughtering many of the inhabitants. After their departure, it once again became an independent Japanese province under the control of the So Clan, who ruled the island for seven centuries. The So Clan maintained relatively friendly relations with Korea, and often acted as an ipso facto advocate for Korea domestically in Japan. Today, it is part of Nagasaki prefecture, despite its geographic proximity to Fukuoka.

It has a very small population — despite being Japan’s sixth largest island, it is home to only 34,000 people. (By comparison, the smaller Sado Island off the coast of Niigata has a population of 63,000.)

Continue reading Travels to Tsushima, Part 1: There and Back Again

Koreans will say goodbye to seals

A few months ago, I wrote about the declining use of seals in Japan, and Adamu commented that Japan ought to abolish seals altogether. Well, South Korea is almost there:

At present, 32.89 million Korean nationals, or 66.5 percent of the entire population, have personal seals registered with the authorities, while a total of 48.46 seal certificates were issued last year, incurring enormous social and economic costs, according to government data. Hundreds of personal seal forgery cases are also reported every year.

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security said the government plans to scrap 60 percent of official demands for the personal seal registration certificates this year, with the remaining 40 percent set to be gradually abolished over the next five years.

A separate Joong Ang Daily article explains that this policy was the work of a “Presidential Council on National Competitiveness,” and that Korea’s use of seals only dates back to its days as a Japanese colony (its seal registration law was instituted in 1914).

CSIS scholar: An aging Japan will lose any hope of controlling its effective sovereignty

Brad Glosserman, a former member of the Japan Times editorial board now with CSIS*,  has a WSJ op-ed (link here just in case) on Japan’s national security situation as its society ages and population declines, taken from a US strategic perspective. It’s pretty grim stuff:

The strategic implications of this shift are equally important. Japan’s demographic transition will act as a guillotine, cutting off the country’s policy options. Most simply, budget priorities will shift. Health care, currently underfunded, will become a considerable drain on the government purse. Defense spending — always a tough sell in Japan — will feel a tighter pinch. Recruitment for the Self Defense Forces, already difficult, will get harder. The reluctance of some Japanese to see their country assume a higher security role will be intensified as the population gets older and more risk averse. Japan will be reluctant to send its most precious asset — its youth — into combat.

Other forces will reinforce Japan’s increasingly inward-orientation. Foreign aid and investment have laid the foundation for Japanese engagement with Asia (and the world). But as the domestic economy dwindles, official development assistance and the investment capital that lubricated foreign relations will shrink. This will diminish Japan’s status in the region as other countries replace Japanese funds.

All won’t be negative: The demographic transition will make it difficult, if not impossible, for other regional powers to demonize Japan as in the past. The bogeyman of remilitarization could be laid to rest for good. This will help eliminate one of the most important obstacles to regional cooperation and provide a real impetus for Asian solutions to Asian problems.

Then he wraps up with some recommendations for how the US can respond to Japan’s demographic changes:

The U.S. needs to be prepared for these contradictory impulses and adjust how it engages Japan accordingly. First, it must abandon the quid pro quo mindset that often characterizes alliance discussions. Japan will have considerably less to contribute to the alliance, but that should not mean the alliance is less important. Discussion should focus on how Japanese contributions serve larger public and regional interests. Japan must do its part and come up with creative ways to share burdens and responsibilities.

Second, the U.S. should shift the alliance’s center of gravity away from military issues. Japanese engagement in this area will become more problematic. If Washington pushes Tokyo harder to make military contributions, it risks politicizing the alliance and undermining its support in Japan.

Third, the U.S. should create and strengthen regional institutions. Regional security mechanisms can pick up the slack as the U.S.-Japan alliance evolves. Other economic and political organizations can minimize tensions in the region. This process should begin soon, while Japan has more influence to maximize its leverage during the creation process. Washington and Tokyo should stop seeing their bilateral alliance and multilateral institutions as zero-sum alternatives. The U.S. should not see this process as a threat to its interests; instead, it should trust Tokyo to see that its interests are respected in these discussions. That would constitute a new form of burden sharing.

Finally, the U.S. has to get its own economic house in order. Washington has relied on Japanese savings — along with those of China and other Asian nations — to finance its profligacy. As Japan ages, it will no longer have those funds to lend to the U.S. This is a potentially wrenching adjustment for America — one that might produce some premature aging of its own.

Typically for op-eds by think-tank people, Glosserman is less interested in making his thoughts clear to the general public than he is in reaching a more sophisticated audience of policymakers. This strategy makes for just this sort of opaque, “wonkish” writing style.

So as the title of this post suggests, I’ll offer the clarity that Glosserman won’t. At the risk of mischaracterizing his argument, here are the points I think he is trying to make:

  • The demographic situation means Japan will get weaker and weaker to the point that it’s too old and financially crippled to credibly defend itself or economically engage with countries in the region.
  • This means the US cannot stop providing a strong defense presence in Japan or else “other countries” will replace Japan as a power in Asia.
  • To get this done, the US needs to pursue a strategy of (1) Pretending the US-Japan alliance is reciprocal by making reasonable demands for Japanese contributions and by not making military issues an explicit focus of the alliance, i.e. stop making loud public demands, (2) Building up regional institutions on terms the US can accept, and do it now before Japan really starts to look bad, (3) Keeping China (and to a lesser extent South Korea) on board as friendly powers so Japan and China can work together on the second piece of the strategy (though he doesn’t outline how to do this); and (4) End the US “reliance on Japanese savings” (that part is light on details as well; I suspect it’s a hastily added reference to the economics topic du jour).
  • If this can be accomplished, a “Beijing-Tokyo axis” can lead efforts to build EU-style integration of the region which will lead to a lasting peace. And they all lived happily ever after.

Got that, Japan? You’re doomed to live out the 21st century as a paralyzed dementia victim, and CSIS is ready to have the US start manipulating you like a ventriloquist’s dummy in America’s efforts to reshape the region.

My brief reaction is that Japan shouldn’t be counted out quite so easily, but America would be foolish not to think realistically in this direction. Funnily enough, he seems to more or less describe America’s existing policy toward Japan (maintain the alliance no matter what), except for a reminder to US leadership that they shouldn’t expect too much of Japan considering where its demographics are headed.

* Glosserman is affiliated with the “Pacific Forum CSIS” located in Honolulu of all places. Sounds like a much more comfortable post than the real CSIS on K Street in Washington.

North Korean propaganda posters

imperialist wolves

“Do not forget the US imperialist wolves!”

ess_north_korean_39 extensive goats

“Let’s extensively raise goats in all families!”

Check these amazing samples of NK propaganda posters, with an interesting analysis:

Stylistically, North Korean art is far more than a mere copy of Soviet Russian socialist realism. As was the case with the revolution itself, North Korean socialist realist art had to accord with Korea’s specific historical conditions and cultural traditions. Kim Il Sung pronounced that “Korean Painting” [Chosonhwa], the indigenous post-revolutionary development of traditional ink painting, was the best representative of Korean styles and emotions. He made the essential features of Korean painting the model for all fine arts. Kim Jong Il in his Treatise on Art (Misullon, 1992) described the qualities of Korean Painting as clarity, compactness, and delicacy. These characteristics have become the standard applied to all art produced in North Korea. As such, they also form the basis and model for poster art. On the latter, Kim Jong Il had more to say in his treatise on art. As important tools in the mobilization of the masses, posters have to have an instantaneous impact on the viewers’ understanding and their desire to act upon this understanding. Their message has to be accessible, clear and direct; informative and explanatory, as well as exhortative. The link between contemplation and action is crucial. A poster artist is ultimately an agitator, who, familiar with the party line and endowed with a sharp analysis and judgment of reality produces a rousing depiction of policies and initiatives that stimulate the people into action. Only if the poster appeals to the ideological and aesthetic sentiments of the people will it succeed in truly rousing the people. Kim Jong Il refers to poster painters as standard bearers of their times, submerged in the overwhelming reality and in touch with the revolutionary zeal and creative power of the people, leading the way from a position among the people.

Posters are visual illustrations of the slogans that surround the people of North Korea constantly. North Korean society is in a permanent mobilization. Party and government declarations are stripped down to single-line catchphrases. Through their endless repetition in banners, newspaper headlines, and media reports, these compact slogans become self-explanatory, simultaneously interpreting and constructing reality.

Koen de Ceuster

(thanks to @cominganarchy)

The state of autocracy in East Asia, from the Financial Times

(Updated below with Pilling article)

Since today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen square riots (which are being observed in China with a mass ban on various international websites), now is a good time to reflect on the Chinese Communist Party’s spectacular success at staying in power since 1989.  To that end, the FT has some great new articles on the political scene in China and North Korea.

First, think tank senior associate Minxin Pei on how the badguys won after Tiananmen (emphasis added):

How Beijing Kept Its Grip On Power

Chinese leaders appear to believe that they have discovered the magic formula for political survival: a one-party regime that embraces capitalism and globalisation. Abroad, the party’s success raises fears that it has established a viable new model for autocratic rule.

Clearly, the most important explanation for the party’s apparent resilience is its ability to deliver consistently high growth. However, largely through trial and error, the party has also developed a complementary and quite sophisticated political strategy to strengthen its power base.

A lesson taken from the Tiananmen debacle by the party’s leaders is that elite unity is critical to its survival. The political necessity of launching China’s economic reforms in the late 1970s required the party to form a grand alliance of liberals, technocrats and conservatives. But the liberals and the conservatives constantly clashed during the 1980s, over both the speed and direction of reform.

Disunity at the top sent out mixed signals to Chinese society and, during Tiananmen, paralysed the decision-making process. After Tiananmen, the party purged liberals from its top echelon and formed a technocratic/conservative coalition that has unleashed capitalism but suppressed democracy.

An additional lesson learnt from the party’s near-death experience in Tiananmen was that it must co-opt social elites to expand its base. The pro-democracy movement was led and organised by China’s intelligentsia and college students. The most effective strategy for preventing another Tiananmen, the party apparently reasoned, was to win over elite elements from Chinese society, thus depriving potential opposition of leadership and organisational capacity.

So in the post-Tiananmen era, the party courted the intelligentsia, professionals and entrepreneurs, showering them with perks and political status. The strategy has been so successful that today’s party consists mostly of well-educated bureaucrats, professionals and intellectuals.

Of course, when it comes to those daring to challenge its rule, the party is ruthless. But even in applying its repressive instruments it has learnt how to use them more efficiently. It targets a relatively small group of dissidents but no longer interferes with ordinary people’s private lives. In today’s China, open dissent is stifled but personal freedom flourishes.

… Ironically, this political strategy has worked so well that the party is now paying a price for its success. With the technocratic/conservative alliance at the top and the coalition of bureaucrats, professionals, intelligentsia and private businessmen in the middle, the party has evolved into a self-serving elite. Conspicuously, it has no base among the masses.

Next, how Kim Jong Il’s presume successor, Kim Jong-un might not so easily enjoy cult status:

Why three Ps mean end of an era in N Korea

It is unlikely he can even become a “Dear Leader” like his father. Cult-status reduces with every step taken away from the “Great Leader”, Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founder who is celebrated for his guerrilla battles against the Japanese in Manchuria in the 1930s.

“The cult system cannot go on through the third generation,” said Kim Tae-woo, researcher at the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul.

“For the cult system to be established, three things are necessary – power, personality and policy. But Kim Jong-woon is now only in his 20s, so it is hard to expect the three Ps from him.”

North Korea’s leaders rule by the Confucian notion of “mandate of heaven”. In state media, the firmament often expresses its pleasure with rulers via a rainbow or comet.

“I expect the transfer of power will be smooth while Kim Jong-il is alive. But after his death, it will be a collective leadership backed by the military with Kim Jong-woon as a titular leader,” said Choi Choon-heum, senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

(Don’t tell anyone, but I reposted both articles here)

Bonus: Via Planet Money, here‘s a video of a North Korean market. Seems kind of dirty and destitute, but otherwise about as bustling as some markets I’ve visited in Bangkok or South Korea:


UPDATE: Now David Pilling joins the China Tiananmen anniversary fun (also here):

China’s success outstrips democracy for now
By David Pilling

Those who imagined in 1989 that the suppression of students marked the death throes of authoritarianism have been bitterly disappointed. Today, the Communist party’s knife is sharper and the hemp less knotty: it rules largely through the consent of a population grateful for its management of a breakneck economy and its restoration of China’s long-lost prestige. If there were elections tomorrow – What a way to mark the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen! – the Communist party would probably win by a landslide.

This has come as a shock to many observers who assumed that the party would be hoist by its own contradictions. If it promoted market reforms, it would open up the forces of freedom and wealth that would serve as its own gravedigger. If it clamped down on liberalisation it would stifle economic growth with the same result. It has not so transpired. The party has it both ways: authoritarian government with increasing, though circumscribed, market liberalisation. The bars of the “birdcage economy” are still intact.

… After 20 years, Deng’s narrow view of democracy has prevailed. At some stage, a broader one will follow.

Krauthammer on Japan nukes

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When I checked the news sites this morning I noticed that Andrew Sullivan had linked to this clip of Krauthammer calling for Japan to “declare itself a nuclear state” in response to North Korea’s becoming a “nuclear power,” with the comment “yeah, China will go for that.” For me, the bigger question is whether Japan would go for that. Although the possibility of a nuclear-armed Japan is less taboo than it used to be thanks to repeated broaching of the topic by a loose coalition of right-wing political figures, the public at large is still strongly opposed. For example, a public opinion survey conducted in November 2006 shows 14% in favor, 78% against. Those numbers will likely be shown to have changed slightly in the inevitable followup surveys to come within the next week or two, but I would not expect a radical shift.

Incidentally, take note of Krauthammer’s phrasing: “negotiations with the Japanese to encourage them to declare themselves a nuclear power.” He seems to be working under the widely held assumption that Japan already holds all of the technology necessary to build a nuclear bomb (almost certainly true), and had secretly laid all of the necessary groundwork short of the final stops (possibly, but less certain) in such a way that they could have weapons ready within weeks should they suddenly become permissible.

But even if the technology is ready, I just don’t see it happening. Constitutional revision allowing a more conventional military is slowly becoming more and more possible, but decades of anti-nuclear education will not be overturned as easily, whatever the fantasies of American neo-cons.

Difficulties for rare names in China

Just two weeks ago I posted a link to an article about a Taiwanese “collector” of rare Chinese family names. While his activity may seem to be a mere eccentric hobby, documenting these names and their lineage does have important historical significance, as seen in recent moves by the Chinese government. According to a NYT article from April 20, China has been phasing in an electronic ID card system which does not support many of the exotic antique characters used in rare family names, and their solution has been to ask people affected to change their names.

One of the main examples given in the article is the character [ed: oops, actually the character they reference was too obscure for me to enter using either the Japanese or Chinese IME. I confused it with the still-rare but far more common “驫”. 驫 (骉 simplified, as it would be written in the PRC), pronounced “Cheng” according to the article, but “Biao” according to the dictionary. Apparently the software used for the Chinese ID system does not support this character, despite the fact that I had no problem drawing it on the IME pad in Windows Vista using my house, and it can even be found in the Japanese language Wiktionary.

(Before I go on, I want to note briefly that the word 漢字, meaning “Chinese character” is used in Chinese, Korean and Japanese, respectively pronounced hanzi, hanja, and kanji. When using one of these three words I am specifically referring to the use of Chinese characters in that country/language.)

According to the article, the computer system currently in use by the government supports 32,252 hanzi, out of well over 50,000 found in the most comprehensive classical dictionaries. The government is currently working on a restricted list of characters approves for use in modern Chinese writing, which they estimate will exceed 8000 characters-a significant drop from even the current de-facto list of 32,252.

While these sorts of legal restrictions on one’s very name name may sound stereotypically totalitarian for the communist People’s Republic, in fact both Japan and Korea have had similar restrictions for a long time. In Japan, the Law on Household Registration (Koseki-hou) governs the kanji which may be used in personal names. Under current regulations, kanji for personal names may only be chosen from either the Joyo Kanji (Kanji for Daily Use, the list that forms the basis of public school Japanese education, Japanese proficiency tests, etc.), consisting of 1945 characters, or the  983 character Jinmeiyou-kanji (Kanji for Use in Personal Names). Both of these lists have been revised, usually expanded but sometimes with deletions, over the years.

There was an amusing incident during the 2004 round of additions to the Jinmeiyou list. The committee proposed an initial list of 489 additions purely based on statistical analysis of the commonality of various characters in modern Japanese text, and then posted it online to seek comments. While many of the names were popular, 9 of them were the target of objections from the public, and were removed from the list. Those 9 kanji were: 糞(feces) 屍(corpse) 呪(curse, magic spell) 癌(cancer) 姦(rape) 淫(lewd obscene) 怨(hatred, grudge-as in the horror film) 痔(hemorrhoid) and 妾(concubine). (Bonus word trivia: two of these kanji combine to make the word for necrophilia.) As a foreigner who has only been studying Japanese for around 8 years, I recognized all of 9 of these on first glance and could read all but two(淫 and 妾), so I would assume that any adult native-reader of Japanese knows all of these moderately obscure characters and many hundreds more, despite their not being on the official government lists.

(The current Jinmeiyo list may be seen conveniently at Wikipedia.)

In South Korea there are 5151 characters allowed, even though most people normally write their name in the natively developed hangul alphabet, which has replaced hanja in everyday use. While traditional Korean family names are all hanja, personal names may also contain hangul. Interestingly, the Korean list of name characters is written using the same Chinese characters as the Japanese one-인명용 한자(人名用漢字), although like other shared Sinic words it is pronounced in the Korean fashion “inmyong yo hanja”.

North Korea legally eliminated hanja from their language some time ago, so even though most names can be traced etymologically to Chinese, all legal names today are written in hangul in all circumstances.

Vietnam was also historically a Chinese-character culture (known locally as chữ nôm), but they abandoned it early in the 20th century. While as much of their vocabulary is descended from Chinese words as in Japan or Korea, today they write purely in the Roman alphabet and the original Chinese characters for words or names are found only on old art or documents, or in dictionaries.

Taiwan, as befitting its role as the bastion of traditional Chinese writing, has no restrictions on hanzi name use. Hong Kong and Macao, which while part of the PRC also maintain traditional writing and also have a separate legal code from the PRC, presumably also have the same level of name freedom as Taiwan.

Now, what about immigrants? When I was first studying in Japan as an undergraduate, I know a girl whose name contained the hanja “妵” (pronounced “ju” in Korean), which is not just absent from the Japanese name-kanji list, but also not even found in standard Japanese fonts or dictionaries! On her Foreigner Registration Card, this character was pasted in using an obviously different font, as it couldn’t be typed normally. While I do not know the actual law, I assume that this is the traditional custom for dealing with domestically disallowed hanzi/hanja names in Japan, or domestically disallowed hanzi names in South Korea. (In South Korea today, Japanese names are usually rendered in hangul based on their pronunciation, and the actual kanji are ignored.) However, when a foreigner naturalizes in Japan their legal name must follow the local rules, which may force them to adopt a less exotic name. Of course, even should they be forced to change their name, nothing will keep them from using the original one in all circumstances except legal documentation.

To summarize, the freedom of choice for Chinese characters in names of the four countries which still use such names is as follows:

Taiwan* > China > South Korea > Japan

*Hong Kong and Macau may be at this level, confirmation needed

Although the NYT article implied that the imposition of restrictions on the hanzi in names is threateningly totalitarian, in fact Chinese citizens will still have FAR more options than Koreans or Japanese even if restricted to the 8000+ character list, and South Koreans today have nearly twice as many options as the Japanese do, despite that fact that most South Koreans can hardly read any but the most common of hanja. Of course, it is only in Japan where one has the option of choosing a reading for ones name that has no historical relationship whatsoever with the kanji themselves.

Did Japanese watch their baseball team beating Korea on mobile “websites”?

UPDATE: Could have been “a special WBC page set up on the Asahi shimbun’s web site”. Thanks to commenter ST

In an otherwise vividly descriptive article on Japan’s World Baseball Classic victory, it seems like the Wall Street Journal reporters may have made a slight error (emphasis mine):

Even workers who couldn’t watch the game live on television kept an eye on the contest. In Tokyo, three Japanese businessmen who were waiting for the subway huddled together staring at a mobile phone screen, tracking every pitch from a Web site.

I am pretty sure they must have been watching “1seg,” a mobile TV signal that’s become fairly common in Japan over the past three years or so. Scenes of strangers watching mobile TV together have become somewhat common in Japan, a sort of modern-day version of businessmen stopping to watch the sample TVs at the Sakuraya in front of Shimbashi Station. During pivotal sports games (Asia Cup soccer, Red Sox in the World Series, etc.), people seem willing to share their mobile TVs with onlookers. Maybe they don’t have much choice unless they want to be a jerk and turn it off, but all the same it’s a new and somewhat rare expression of community with strangers in this city.

(DISCLAIMER: This is not an essentialist statement about Japanese culture! I found Washington DC to be full of similarly detached and unfriendly strangers, as perhaps it should be to a certain extent).