Japanese vs US Blogs

High praise from Curzon at Coming Anarchy:

Educational and entertaining in one healthy dose, [Mutant Frog Travelogue is] probably the best East Asian blog around.

Thanks, I think we’re pretty great too! But that made me wonder — what do other East Asian blogs look like? What about, just for example, the highest ranked Japanese blogs on Technorati?

(Note about Technorati from their About section: “Technorati displays what’s important in the blogosphere — which bloggers are commanding attention, what ideas are rising in prominence, and the speed at which these conversations are taking place.” Hence, these rankings are a measure of what people with blogs are linking to, not the number of page views, influence, revenue, or any other factor (as far as I can tell))

For starters, let’s see what’s out there. Here’s a quick rundown of the top ten blogs in Japan and the US/English-speaking world (for comparison):

Japanese blogs:

1. がんばれ、生協の白石さん! “Fight on, Shiraishi of the Co-op!”

This is the blog of a Mr. Shiraishi, “very very average” employee of the Co-op (student cooperative/school store) at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. Shiraishi gained fame for being the writer of responses to comment cards that students would write to him. The comment cards are a well-known phenomenon at Japanese universities as the answer are often posted outside the Co-ops on a bulletin board. He differs from other such Co-op employees in that he actually answers the stupid joke comments that he gets rather than giving them a quiet death in the round file. For some reason this has become majorly popular in Japan, probably because college students throughout the country have wondered just what kind of weirdos answer their comments.

Latest post: Too much Mah-jongg!


Question: I am suffering from a lack of sleep from too much mah-jongg. I’d like to go to class, so what can I do?

Answer: Make an effort not to play mah-jongg too much! If you keep on like this, I think you’ll end up crying in public. Your free time only exists because you are studying and researching, so switch over from mah-jongg and do your best!

OK, this at least has some novelty value. I remember the comment board at Ritsumeikan answered my question why they stopped serving these awesome banana crepes (they’re a winter-only item).

2. 眞鍋かをりのココだけの話 Kaori Manabe’s “Stories that don’t leave this room”

Kaori Manabe is a popular (not to mention beautiful) model/actress/all-around talent, perhaps best known outside Japan for her role in the 2001 film Waterboys. Her blog has gained fame for its frequent updates, endless blathering on trivial topics, and plentiful photos of Manabe-chan.

Latest post: A Friendly Fire Festival

Inanity abounds:

There’s a very strange person called Mr. A that I see all the time on location.

Is he an airhead? Well, he’s more of a socially inept ‘go my own way’ type of guy. H

His special feature is to make statements that surprise people without meaning to at all.

His hobbies are playing the horses and movies (mostly thrillers).

His private life is shrouded in mystery (but he absolutely does not have a girlfriend).

Continue reading Japanese vs US Blogs

Ancient Romans proved to be pretty much as you always imagined them

The Discovery Channel website reported a couple of days ago that an interesting piece of ancient Roman pop culture has just been discovered by divers exploring near Durham, England.

Divers exploring a river near a former Roman Empire fort and settlement in Britain have found a piece of pottery that depicts the backside of a rather buff gladiator wielding a whip and wearing nothing but a G-string, according to British researchers.

The image represents the first known depiction of a gladiator in such revealing attire. It adds to the evidence that ancient Romans viewed gladiators not only as fearless warriors, but also as sex symbols.

It seems almost absurd that gladiators weren’t sex symbols. A couple of days ago I posted a link to some fantastic ancient Roman graffitti. Here is what was written about gladiators.

II.7 (gladiator barracks); 8767: Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here. The women did not know of his presence. Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.

II.7 (gladiator barracks); 8792: On April 19th, I made bread

II.7 (gladiator barracks); 8792b: Antiochus hung out here with his girlfriend Cithera.

V.5.3 (barracks of the Julian-Claudian gladiators; column in the peristyle); 4289: Celadus the Thracian gladiator is the delight of all the girls

Ancient graffitti from Pompei

I love seeing graffitti in different places, and these translations of ancient Roman graffitti found in the ruins of Pompei are both informative and hilarious. Here’s a random selection from around the middle of the page. Isn’t it amazing how much it’s like what you see scrawled on bathroom walls across the globe even today?

VI.14.36 (Bar of Salvius; over a picture of a woman carrying a pitcher of wine and a drinking goblet); 3494: Whoever wants to serve themselves can go on an drink from the sea.

VI.14.37 (Wood-Working Shop of Potitus): 3498: What a lot of tricks you use to deceive, innkeeper. You sell water but drink unmixed wine

VI.14.43 (atrium of a House of the Large Brothel); 1520: Blondie has taught me to hate dark-haired girls. I shall hat them, if I can, but I wouldn’t mind loving them. Pompeian Venus Fisica wrote this.

VI.15.6 (House of Caesius Valens and Herennius Nardus); 4637: Rufus loves Cornelia Hele

VI.16.15 (atrium of the House of Pinarius); 6842: If anyone does not believe in Venus, they should gaze at my girl friend

VII (House of the Tetrastyle Atrium); 2060: Romula hung out here with Staphylus.

Belgium Has The Smurf Bomb

While this story’s been making its way around the blogs for days now, I can’t help but propagate it a bit further. The opening says it all:

Unicef bombs the Smurfs in fund-raising campaign for ex-child soldiers

The people of Belgium have been left reeling by the first adult-only episode of the Smurfs, in which the blue-skinned cartoon characters’ village is annihilated by warplanes…

What could be crazier than this? As it turns out, the idea that was left on the cutting-room floor:

Julie Lamoureux, account director at Publicis for the campaign, said the agency’s original plans were toned down. “We wanted something that was real war—Smurfs losing arms, or a Smurf losing a head—but they said no.

Thankfully, the spot will only be shown late at night, when the kids are (hopefully) asleep, and when the only victims of this ad will be adults. Let’s see how much money it raises for the Smurf-killers at the UN…


The Washington Post just posted a dual review of two books discussing the impact that Japanese art had on the European art world during the late 19th century, as Japanese art began to flow into the West following the ‘opening’ of Japan by Perry and the subsequent Meiji restoration.

Japonisme is filled with firsthand observations from a slew of artists such as Renoir and Monet. The author pinpoints the relationship between James McNeill Whistler’s oil paintings, especially his “Variations in Flesh Colour and Green: The Balcony,” and Torii Kiyonaga’s work. A woodcut print of a group of Japanese courtesans entertaining a customer is juxtaposed with Whistler’s painting of Western women dressed in kimonos: The composition and the perspective, with its view of the water, were clearly inspired by Kiyonaga’s print, which, in fact, Whistler owned.

Cultural Crossings Between Japan and the West
By Lionel Lambourne
Phaidon. 240 pp. $69.95

The Bing Empire
Edited by Gabriel P. Weisberg, Edwin Becker and Evelyne Possémé
Mercatorfonds. 295 pp. $69.95

The Zimmerli Art Museum, located on the campus of my alma mater, Rutgers University, has a well put together collection also entitled Japonisme, which primarily focuses on art created in France under the influence of Japanese works. I recommend that anyone at Rutgers or in the vicinity check out this exhibit (I believe admission is free, but that may only be for students. Or I may be wrong.) Unfortunately, they have but a single image from it online.


Comprising turn-of-the-last-century European and American works on paper and ceramics as well as related Japanese art, this collection reveals the strong influence of the art of Japan on the art of the West and in so doing reflects the pervasive cross-cultural interchange which took place between Japan and the West beginning in 1854 when, after 200 years of isolation, Japan opened its doors to the West.

Jewish populations

I spotted this article in the English language edition of Haaretz via this very cool website, which presents links to and translations of foreign press clippings about attitudes towards the US from around the world.

srael will have the largest Jewish population in the world by 2006, when it will surpass the United States for the first time in history, the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute said Monday.

Planning institute director general Avinoam Bar-Yosef presented the research group’s annual report on “the situation of the Jewish people” to the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee on Monday. The institute, which is partly funded by the Jewish Agency, concluded that the State of Israel is the single guarantee of the Jewish people’s continued existence. Bar-Yosef will submit the report to the government next week.

Today about 5.28 million Jews live in the U.S., with 5.235 million living in Israel.

For some reason this makes me a little uneasy. I’d always been a little bit relieved that Israelis were the minority of the world’s Jewish population. With there finally being more Jews in Israel than the US, will it be harder for people to accept that non-Israeli Jews like myself don’t necessarily have any particular bond to the country, support for their policies, or desire for them to have laws granting me special rights and privileges.

The article also notes that are are only about 1 million Jews left in Europe today. As we all know about 6 million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis, and of those who survived a huge proportion emigrated, becoming much of the aforementioned Israeli and American Jew populations.

To see the aftermath of the virtual disappearance of Jews from Eastern Europe, we turn to this fascinating article from the Boston Globe.

”How — if there were no Jews — the world would be enraptured!” she wrote. ”The people that stood at Sinai to receive a desert vision of purity, the people of scholarly shepherds, humane prophetic geniuses, dreams of justice and mercy” — how admired they would be. In a world without Jews, the memory of Jewish civilization would be endlessly fascinating. ”Christian ladies,” Ozick imagined, would ”study ‘The Priceless Culture of the Jews’ at Chautauqua in the summertime” or create Jewish prayer shawls at ”a workshop on tallith making.”

Well, Jews haven’t vanished from the world. They have, however, all but vanished from Poland. More than 90 percent of Poland’s Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and most of those who survived emigrated long ago. The result is that a land that once was home to 3 million Jews — 10 percent of Polish society, the largest Jewish population in Europe — is now more than 99.9 percent non-Jewish. Millions of Poles have never knowingly met a Jew. But, oh, how enraptured they are with the genius that was Israel!

I arrived in Krakow near the end of the annual Jewish Culture Festival, a nine-day extravaganza of concerts, lectures, films, and exhibitions — all with the aim, to quote a festival brochure, of ”presenting Jewish culture in all its abundance.” An elegant catalog, 160 pages long, lists a dizzying array of offerings: lectures on ”Talmudic thought” and ”Jewish medical ethics,” forums on European anti-Semitism and the Hebrew poetry of Haim Nahman Bialik, concerts of klezmer music, liturgical music, and ”Songs of the Ghettos and Jewish Resistance,” workshops on Jewish cooking, Hasidic wedding dances, and celebrating Hanukkah with children.

I suppose it’s kind of sweet in a macabre sort of way that they find us so fascinating now that we’ve vanished from their country, but wouldn’t it have been nice if there had been a little bit of apprecation in Poland for Jewish culture say, between 1900 and 1945?

Italy allows Chen entry as president – or do they?

The Taipei Times today published an article leading with the incredible headline Italy allows Chen entry as president. The article states:

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) departed for the Vatican yesterday afternoon to join 200 state and religious leaders paying a final tribute to Pope John Paul II.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said the Italian government pledged to grant Chen entry to the country in his capacity as head of state.

Chen’s attendance at the papal funeral today will mark the first time a president from Taiwan has visited the Holy See since the establishment of diplomatic ties 63 years ago.

The visit will also make Chen the first president from Taiwan to set foot in a European country.

Is this in fact entirely accurate?

Let’s have a look at the article the BBC published a day before the trip happened.

A Chinese spokesman expressed “strong dissatisfaction” at Italy for granting Mr Chen a visa to go to the Vatican.

Italy has diplomatic ties with Beijing, rather than Taiwan, which China sees as part of its territory.

And later on in the same article-

If Mr Chen goes ahead with his trip, he will become the first Taiwanese president to visit the Vatican – one of only 25 nations that officially recognises Taipei diplomatically, and the only one in Europe

He is scheduled to leave Taipei on Thursday for Rome, and stay in the Vatican until after Friday’s funeral.

In fact, the Taipei Times is making a very subtle, but highly misleading mis-statement. President Chen is being received by the Vatican as a head of state, but he is not, as the Taipei Times implies, being so received by Italy. From where does this confusion arrive?

To understand, let’s go to Zimbabwe for a moment. The NYT reported this morning that-

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert G. Mugabe, arrived in Rome on Thursday to attend Pope John Paul II’s funeral, apparently using a diplomatic loophole to evade European Union sanctions that ostensibly bar him from traveling to any of the union’s member states.


Under normal circumstances, Mr. Mugabe would not be permitted to fly to Rome. He is among 95 Zimbabweans whom the European Union has barred from entering its territory on the grounds that they “commit human rights violations and restrict freedom of opinion, association and peaceful protest.”

Mr. Mugabe appears to have evaded the travel ban because he is going to the Vatican, which is not a member of the European Union. A treaty obliges Italy to grant safe passage to visitors bound for the Vatican, which has no airport.

While I imagine that Chen is certainly not a criminal like Mugabe and has as much right as any Taiwanese citizen to visit European nations as a private citizen, the assertion that he is being received as a head of state by Italy is quite false. Italy is simply giving him landing permission as a head of state on a diplimatic visit to the Vatican, but this is based entirely on their treaty obligations to the Vatican, and in no way reflects their position towards Taiwan.

Taiwan is only formally recognized as a country by a few countries around the world, in Europe only by the Vatican. The Vatican’s reasons for maintaining relations with Taiwan over communist China are clear. Unlike the other nations of the world whose responsibilities are the economic and physical safety of their citizens, the Vatican’s primary concern is the spiritual guidance of Catholics around the world. China, despite what they claim, does not allow freedom of religion, forcing Catholics to choose between either a state organized Catholic church, which was forced to cut ties to the Vatican so long ago that they still conduct Mass in Latin, or pray in secret, at risk of prosecution by Chinese authorities.

In the flurry of news related to the Pope’s funeral The New York Times also has an article on this topic. As they say,

China’s 12 million Catholics are mourning the death of John Paul II, but his passing is also a reminder of an unfinished legacy: the division of Chinese Catholics from the rest of the church, and from each other. Indeed, if John Paul II helped bring down Communism in Eastern Europe, the Communist Party that rules China proved resilient. The two sides never came to agree to normalize relations between the Vatican and China and end the diplomatic break that began more than a half century ago under Mao.

On a personal level, the pope never achieved his goal of visiting China.

Of significant interest is that fact that a Chinese spokesman for the laughably named ‘Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association’ is quoted in the BBC article above as saying “The decision to let Chen Shui-bian attend has hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, including five million Catholics.” Clearly the Vatican holds the combined interests of the 7 million hidden Catholics in China, as well as the hundreds of thousands of Catholics in Taiwan, are also worth looking out for.