Kabuki Spreads to the White House

Our latest Kabuki Alert come from Wonkette:

White House Kabuki: The Administration Reacts to the SCOTUS

The Bush Administration’s preliminary reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld are in — and they’re not terribly exciting or surprising.

At a press conference earlier today with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, President Bush got peppered with questions about the decision. Pretty much every non-Asian journalist in the room asked about Hamdan. Bush said that “we take them [the Supreme Court] very seriously.” Glad to hear it; so do we. He also stated that “we will conform to the Supreme Court.” Nothing controversial there.

So the definition of “political kabuki” in this blog post seems to be “reacting to a Supreme Court decision while a Japanese politician is in the room.” We’ve seen it earlier defined as “a meaningless horse and pony show debate in Congress” and “putting off tough fiscal policy decisions to protect one’s legacy as Japan’s reformist PM.” Let’s nail it down people: Just what is “political kabuki”? And where did the term come from?

More than Half of Japanese Men Sit Down to Pee

I’m busy packing now, but I just wanted to direct you to this recent rant from Nikkan Gendai (a sensational tabloid that uber-commentator Naoki Inose has described as a good read on the ride home when you just want to say fuck you to the powers that be). According to the writer’s unscientific observations, more than half of Japanese men are now sitting down to pee.

Question to you: is this true? I’m not sure exactly how this guy was investigating men’s rooms, but find out!

At this one place where I worked (scanning Japanese medical journal articles for the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, MD) what pissed me off in the men’s room was noticing people purposely not flush the urinals, as if they were afraid of the germs contained in the flusher. There were days when I’d notice that none of the urinals were flushed. Granted, these are NIH contractors, so they know a lot we don’t. But that doesn’t give them some pass to “let it mellow” just because they think their immune systems can’t handle it! And anyway, isn’t leaving stagnant urine around a health risk of its own?

Koizumi Rocks out, sort of


Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went to Graceland with Bush today. The visit was described on NPR as a “gift” to the Prime Minister in appreciation of his unwavering support for the US.

Well, Koizumi must have liked it, because he was about as animated as he gets today – he even broke into song briefly, a move that clearly creeped out the president a little bit. Perhaps it was the PM’s choice of words – “Wise men say only fools rush in” – could this have been a subtle barb at Bush’s pre-emptive war doctrine?

You can watch Koizumi sing here on the UK’s Channel 4 along with some other little tidbits about Japan and Britain’s Elvis-mania.

UPDATE: NYT has more singing! Plus anti-whaling Elvis impersonaters!

Yasukuni all over again

As if the Niagara Incident wasn’t bad enough (there’s currently a huge controversy in the Japanese media over whether it should be labelled the ナイアガラの滝の事件 or ナイアガラの滝の事変), and now this report!

The “King” never came to Japan, but Japan’s prime minister is making a pilgrimage to Graceland.

Elvis fan Billy Morokawa says Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will likely feel the power of Presley’s enduring energy when he tours the rock-and-roll legend’s home in Memphis, Tennessee, Friday with President Bush.

Did you see that? “Pilgrimage” There’s no way this visit is going to pass the church/state test, and visiting it alongside President Bush the “I was only going in my capacity as a private citizen” defense is never going to fly, particularly when considering his personal history in this cult.

Koizumi, 64, is an Elvis devotee who not only shares a January 8 birthday with his idol, but picked out his songs for a 2001 charity album, “Junichiro Koizumi Presents My Favorite Elvis Songs.” The prime minister appears on the album’s cover standing next to Elvis outside Graceland in a composite picture.

Back in 1987 when Koizumi was a mere lawmaker, he and his brother Masaya, now a senior adviser to the Tokyo fan club, helped raise funds to erect a status of Elvis in the Japanese capital to commemorate the 10th anniversary of his death.

Three years ago the prime minister, an eclectic music lover whose favorites also include German composer Richard Wagner, sang his favorite Elvis hit — “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” — with actor Tom Cruise, then in Tokyo to promote his movie “The Last Samurai.”

Let’s just hope that this time the Supreme Court actually has the guts to face the real constitutional question and not skirt the issue on technicalities.

Required Movies for American Japan Watchers

The following is slightly modified from a response to an e-mail I received requesting recommendations for good “films on Japan” such as Lost in Translation of The Last Samurai.

The recent double threat of Lost in Translation and Last Samurai (but not the dud Memoirs of a Geisha), like some other popular Japan-themed films, were all good, entertaining movies, but I never felt like any of them gave me much insight on my experiences in Japan. As an alternative, I present my picks, in descending order of how highly I recommend them, that weren’t necessarily the best-made or most purely entertaining, but nonetheless got me thinking about the US-Japan relationship or the experiences I had while I was (ostensibly) studying there:

Fog of War (2003) – Essentially a long interview with Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and WW2 vet who helped orchestrate the firebombing of Japan in 1945. The movie is great on so many other levels, but I recommend this to those studying Japan for the sections that talk about “proportionality in war” and the wholesale bombing of Japan. America destroyed a majority of most of Japan’s cities and capped it off with two atomic bombs. Consider this – the US visited upon Japan heretofore untold destruction and chaos. McNamara asks: was this proportional to US aims? Having watched this movie, it makes perfect sense to me why many Japanese seem to treat visiting Americans as if the GHQ were still around. The film serves as a good conversation starter and a challenge to the bland rationalizations that Americans learned in their US History classes in high school.

Seven Samurai (1954) – I am in no way a film buff (look at my other recommendations!), but this movie is one of the best action movies I’ve seen from any country. Seven guys, and they all get a chance to kick some ass. This film is all about being a man, so ladies should probably stay away- that is, if they can resist the mysterious allure of Toshiro Mifune.

Mr. Baseball (1992) – Tom Selleck plays an aging Yankee sent to play for Chunichi Dragons. Hates it, won’t listen to coach, but in the end learns to work within the system while teaching his stuffy coach a thing or two and, of course, sleeping with his daughter. All you male ALTs out there could only hope to be so lucky! Then again, none of you are Tom Selleck. For better or worse, this is considered to be a pretty well-done “American fish out of water in Japan” movie. Even though the plot is something of a gaijin fantasy, it’s a generally true-to-life portrayal of Japan that can at the very least serve as a heads-up to some of the more obvious culture shocks (squat toilets, low doors, weird guys screaming strange English at you).

Whispers of the Heart (1995) – This is a movie from Ghibli Studios (think Princess Mononoke) about a little girl who falls in love with a fiddle-playing wunderkind and finds mystical guidance from a magical German cat. Boring! Forget the story and take in the sights as she walks around a lovingly and painstakingly detailed animated depiction of suburban Japan. I’d recommend this more to returnees than newcomers, but this movie could come in especially handy during those inevitable “Japan-hating gaijin” periods. I mean, if the Miyazaki crew could find this much to love about Japan, then there’s got to be some good stuff left over for little old you, too. One thing that didn’t sit right with me about WOTH would have to be the “dealing with your own mediocrity” theme that is featured in this movie and common elsewhere in Japanese pop culture (See “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana” by SMAP). Call me an idealist, but I’m not ready to give up that easily, and neither should young Shizuku!

BTW, this movie turned me into a John Denver fan, and if watching it doesn’t make you a convert, then you should at least understand why so many Japanese people like him.

MXC – Show on Spike TV that’s a (loose) dub of an older Japanese show featuring host Beat Takeshi as he presides over the painful experiences of contestants in a brutal obstacle course game show. I can imagine nothing more humiliating in life than being run over by an enormous, papier-mache boulder and then being fire hosed by a Power Rangers villain as punishment. This should serve as a great introduction to Japan’s culture of humiliation, pointless endurance, and unabashed gaudiness. Sadly, this type of stuff is no longer typical of Japanese TV (at least when I was there, lots of tame talk shows, eating shows, and dating shows – though it looks like pain TV seems to be making something of a comeback these days).

Gung Ho (1986) – Funniest scene in this movie is the corporate re-education camp in the beginning (ribbons of shame, anyone?). Michael Keaton plays a union leader in the Midwest who convinces a Japanese auto company to take over a shut down factory. The American workers, including George Wendt of “Cheers” fame, get uppity when the Japanese managers expect them to work with no sick time or human dignity, as Japanese supposedly do. Never mind that real managers at Japanese auto factories in the US never tried this in real life. The plot twists this way and that, but eventually the workers make a near-impossible promise to become as productive as any Japanese plant within a month – Can they do it? Yes, sort of. The message? If only American auto workers would give up their silly unions and work themselves to the bone, then the jobs would stay. The movie suffers from some annoying performances, one-dimensional characters, and bad writing in general, but it is still worth watching just to see how scary Japan was to the US back in 1986. We let go of those fears a bit too early, if GM’s fate is any indicator.

Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978) – The always-annoying Bears go to Japan to play an exhibition game at the urging of a scheister TV producer, and literally everyone ends up getting ticked off in the process, especially the audience. Recoil in horror as a 13-year-old “bad boy” (signified by a peach-fuzz mustache IIRC) Bear creepily stalks and tries to force himself on an unsuspecting Japanese girl. It’s pure dreck, full of unapologetically racist and willfully ignorant sentiment, and almost unwatchable. Why do I recommend it, then? Because this is probably how your mom and dad see Japan. Redeeming quality: wrestling legend Antonio Inoki makes an appearance. Grunting, fuming Antonio Inoki, folks. His shtick hasn’t changed a bit in the almost 30 years since this movie was made.

Awesome stuff from the National Diet Library – Part 1

Today I was poking around Japan’s National Diet Library (more or less equivalent to the US’ Library of Congress) website, and the amount of amazing material that’s available to anyone who can read Japanese and navigate their search engines is simply breathtaking. I’ll be bringing you highlights from time to time:

Imperial Diet archives – Way back in 1889, when Japan was actively aping Western culture in a mad scramble to avoid colonization, a legislature called the Imperial Diet, based on the Prussian and British systems, was established. While the body had only limited powers and was only briefly considered to serve its purpose, to this day the Japanese government claims bragging rights as “Asia’s oldest democracy.”

Anyway, as part of its (exhaustive) Birth of the Constitution of Japan online exhibit, the National Diet Library has made public the Imperial Diet records from September 1945 (after the Allied forces first landed in Japan) until March 1947 (when it was shut down leading up to Japan’s new constitution). I certainly hope they’ll release the rest of the records going back to 1889. Incidentally, the entirety of Japan’s laws dating back to the Meiji constitution is available here in case you were wondering.

The records (written in old-style Japanese) are a rather difficult read, but here’s a random sample from Japan’s first postwar prime minister, Shigeru Yoshida:

November 29, 1945 (When Yoshida was Foreign Minister):

State Minister Shigeru Yoshida: As to Mr. Fuke‘s question, I regret that there was a problem with my answer, I apologize… so I will answer once again. The whereabouts of our compatriots in Manchuria and North Korea is extremely important, I worry on it night and day, and we are making all possible efforts by various means, but while it is truly regrettable, we have not as of yet been able to acquire accurate information. We do receive bits of lopsided information from time to time. According to what we’ve received, depending on the region, conditions are better than imagined in some places and cause us concern in others. In other words, in Southern Manchuria and other areas, it seems that even order has been gradually restored, and there are even those who are calmly attending to their work in some parts. However, we cannot definitively know the actual conditions, so it is truly regrettable that we are not at a stage where we can give satisfactory explanations to our citizens who have families in the various areas. When we are there, we will report such through the Diet, and as we receive information, we will report it in an appropriate manner. (applause)

Hm, not the best random sampling, but believe me this is a good thing.

Little-known fact: The word “baka” (idiot) was uttered 173 times in the Imperial Diet’s final year and a half, often (based on a cursory glance at the results) in reference to dangerous left-wing elements such as labor unions. Compare that to the 7 times the word’s been said in the modern-day National Diet in the past 5 years.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Aso: Japanese Animation Readies Humankind for Robot Slavery

I can’t believe I’m going to see this guy next week:

The word “robot” is said to have come to us from the Czech word robota, which means “labor” or sometimes even “drudgery,” and thus is a word that originally carried a negative connotation.

But through Japan’s Astro Boy or the cat-like robot Doraemon, the meaning of the word “robot” shifted, instead becoming a benevolent friend who helps human beings. In Asia and elsewhere around the globe, robots came to be understood as the “white hats” -the good guys.

The impact of this situation is that countries with an affinity for Doraemon do not have workers who reject industrial robots, and thus in those countries, industrial productivity rises. In addition, you find that Japanese-made industrial robots sell well.

Yaskawa Electric Corporation and the other firms of Japan’s “big three” hold a market share of half the global market in the area of robots for welding or applying coatings. Of course, Astro Boy and Gigantor-what we in Japan know as “Tetsujin 28”-are there in the background to all this. In other words, what created the climate in which all this could take place was Japanese culture, and I am continually speaking of culture’s significant contributions in this area.

(Picture: Aso – 2nd from left – giving some kind of award to Bulgarian sumo wrestler Kotooshu (I’ll let you guess which one he is))

GREAT NEWS! Krispy Kreme Doughnuts to Open in Japan!

One less reason for expats to go back home – Krispy Kreme will be opening in Japan this winter! Nikkei has the details:

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Lotte To Bring U.S. Doughnut Chain Krispy Kreme To Japan

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Lotte Co. plans to start opening Krispy Kreme doughnut chain stores in Japan this coming winter with turnaround specialist Revamp Corp., The Nihon Keizai Shimbun learned Wednesday.

As a first step, Lotte and Revamp aim to set up a joint venture around late May and to open through it one or two stores in Tokyo this year. This venture is expected to increase the number of stores to 30-50 in five years by opening locations at major train terminal buildings and shopping malls around the nation. It may also set up Krispy Kreme stores inside Lotteria hamburger chain restaurants, as well as open new Krispy Kreme-Lotteria joint stores at malls.

Lotte Group already runs Krispy Kreme franchise stores in South Korea. In Japan, it has decided to team up with Revamp to tap that firm’s extensive knowledge of the Japanese consumer market.


In Japan, prices will likely be set around 100 yen — about the same as or slightly less than doughnuts at Duskin Co.’s Mister Donut chain, which dominates the Japanese market with some 1,300 stores and annual sales of 125 billion yen.

I hope they decide on a location for the first stores soon so I can start apartment-hunting in the area.

This is a bold move against the good-but-could-be-much-better Mister Donut. Krispy Kreme doughnuts are great but simply do not have enough of an international presence. Once, on a trip to Japan I spotted a Filipino kid taking boxes and boxes of the things home for his family. Also, I make it a point to take every Japanese friend of mine who visits to eat at “KK” (as Mrs. Adamu calls it). Every single one of the people who tried it loved the hot fresh doughnuts. It actually ended up being the highlight of the trip for one of Mrs. Adamu’s friends (“I’ll never forget those melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts,” she said).

Indeed, Krispy Kreme’s already got a bit of a word-of-mouth reputation among Japanese expats and tourists, so perhaps that will help KK establish itself in Japan. Apparently, Japanese residing in New York have already invented a cute abbreviation for it: “Kuri Kuri” (from the Japanese Kurisupii Kuriimu).

Bubble Aota says outloud what most hardcore fundie women only dream about

Great new single from aging Japanese model Noriko Aota – “Jesus.” You can listen to a clip of the song by clicking the icon on the lower right-hand portion of this site. Here are some of the uplifting lyrics:

I wanna kiss Jesus power & soul
I don’t wanna pray, let’s kiss!
I wanna kiss Jesus power & soul
Let’s hold hands to love each other!

I wanna kiss Jesus power & soul
Hold him in my hands, as much as I want
I wanna kiss Jesus power & soul
Let’s hold hands like lovers!

Oh, Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Attention my heart!
Look at me, over there!

This real-life manifestation of Cartman’s vision reminds me of those Christian women who talk about Jesus as if he’s the world’s best boyfriend.

(Thanks to conbinibento for letting us know)

Iron Sheik: In Japan they call you Khosrow Vaziri

I was intrigued to note that the classic WWF’s own Iron Sheik is actually known by his real name, Khosrow Vaziri, in Japan. Apparently, the former bodyguard for the Shah did not get the same villainous characterization in Japan.

Of course, the Iron Sheik has popped back into the public eye with the release of some amazing interviews with him:

  • Where he calls Brian Blair “a fag worse than Michael Jordan… I mean Michael Jackson.”
  • And where he expounds his hatred for “loss-bians
  • ↑ This shit is CLASSIC, people.