AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Archive for October, 2008

How many points on that buck?

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 31, 2008

HERE’S SOME NEWS that Japanese sportsmen will cheer: The regional newspaper Agara reports that deer season in Wakayama will start on Saturday, two weeks earlier than usual. It will also be extended for an extra month to end on 15 March. The season has been lengthened specifically to control the deer population, because the animals are causing serious problems for local farmers. As a result, the season will be concurrent with that for wild boar, another animal responsible for significant crop damage.

The financial loss to agriculture caused by deer in Wakayama alone has more than doubled from 16.9 million yen in 1998 to over 36 million yen ($US 366,630) every year since 2003. The volume of crops lost has also skyrocketed. Deer in the prefecture spoiled a total of 24 tons ten years ago, but that had soared to 3,337 tons by last year.

Another aspect of the new policy will be an emphasis on hunting females. In the past, the limit had been one deer per hunter per day, but this has been increased to two—only one of which can be a male.

The prefecture’s office for the protection of the agricultural environment said:

“The damage to agriculture caused by wild animals in 2007 totaled roughly 300 million yen, and deer accounted for a large part of that. The new policy focuses on the hunting of females, and we hope there will be a decline in their numbers.”

The only deer that inhabits Japan is the Sika deer, which is common throughout East Asia. Deer hunting was prohibited in the 1950s because the animal was close to extinction, but the ban was lifted in the 1980s when the population was quickly restored. (Wolves are extinct in Japan and the deer has no other natural enemies.)

The Sika deer is said to be harder to kill with a rifle shot than the variety in North America. The breed is also causing problems elsewhere; year-round culling is encouraged in Great Britain because of the danger they present to forests, but this has yet to solve the problem.

If the deer stalkers in Japan needed any more encouragement, here’s another factor: Sika venison is said to be delicious. I can’t vouch for that, unfortunately, because I’ve never been to a restaurant with deer on the menu and never eaten any served at a private home.

Foreigners who live in the big city might be surprised to know there is a long tradition of deer hunting here. This is a description written in English of deer hunting in Japan in the 1890s. The article says the hinds were the primary targets of hunters because the unborn fawns were considered a delicacy.

That makes me wonder: Was the meat eaten raw as sashimi?

Posted in Agriculture, Food | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »

Culture of resentment

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 31, 2008

JAMES NA at the DPRK Studies website links to a story about a South Korean man who went on a killing rampage–without a gun. He used a knife to stab six people to death and wound seven others.

Mr. Na, as his linked op-ed in a Seattle newspaper makes clear, is opposed to harsher gun laws. He admits that cases such as the knife killings are rare, but thinks it is worth pointing out that they do occur.

Here is his second point:

As South Korea grows affluent and achieves near-first world standards of living, it also has acquired that first world social disease — the sense of inflated entitlement and the inevitable and attendant resentment when the entitlements fail to materialize. To wit, South Korea has become a “victimhood society” where the traditional response to experiencing personal failure, a deep sense of personal shame, is being replaced by resentment at the society at large.

The media reflect and compound the problem, too. In the past, Korean media, including its famous melodramas, often showed the trials and tribulations of hardworking ordinary folks (e.g. starving little girl character grows soy beans in her spare time to sell at the market next day). Now, as with Western media, Korean TV programs show the young and the beautiful who are effortlessly rich, fashionable and hip. Everything comes easily to these fictional characters — it’s no work and all play.

The result is that when underachievers fail to acquire the trappings of the rich and the beautiful quickly and easily, they become angry — not at their own lack of hardwork or perhaps even bad luck, but at the society at large, represented by faceless “others.”

I can’t speak to conditions in contemporary Korean society, but I agree with his argument.

The full post is here.

Posted in Social trends, South Korea | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

The curse of the Buddha?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 29, 2008

IT’S NOT ALWAYS EASY to see where religion ends and superstition begins. Take the example of the Tanaka Mud Yakushi (Buddha of medicine and healing) in Mizunami, Gifu.

Before

Before

The story is told that when Japanese hegemon Oda Nobunaga ordered the burning of local shrines and temples, worshippers dug a hole in the ground to hide the statue. Their ploy worked; the statue survived. Perhaps as an aftereffect of its burial, there arose a legend that people could cure their physical ailments by smearing mud over the corresponding body part on the statue.

More than 400 years later, a layer of mud roughly 40 centimeters (15 inches) thick and weighing 60 kilograms (132 lbs.) covered the figure, and no one knew what really was underneath the dirt. In fact, there were rumors that the statue was headless. Some people wanted to remove the mud and see for themselves, but their hands were stayed by another legend: The people who removed the mud would suffer divine punishment.

It almost sounds as if it were an East Asian version of the Egyptian curse of the mummy. Breaking the seal on the tombs of the ancient Egyptian kings was supposed to result in death. The popular press counted 21 supposed victims by 1935 after Howard Carter opened the tomb of King Tutankhamen more than a decade earlier.

A local society for the preservation of the Tanaka Mud Yakushi was undeterred by the curse, however, and they decided to remove the mud and uncover what had been hidden all these years. A Buddhist sutra was read before the members of the society started cleaning early last Saturday morning, and by lunchtime the statue was revealed. Thanks to their efforts, you can see in the second photograph what they found under the mud.

After

After

The Buddha of medicine and healing turns out to have been made of granite, 95 centimeters (37 inches) tall and 43 centimeters (17 inches) wide, and still possessed of its head. The statue is depicted with a medicine jar in its left hand, which is often the case for this particular image.

What happens next? There was nothing on the statue to indicate when it was carved, so the municipal board of education (responsible for local historical and archaeological matters) asked researchers to try to date it later. The mud that was removed will be stored at the community center next door.

Will the preservation committee suffer from the Curse of the Buddha? That probably won’t happen—researchers have determined that no one really died from the Curse of the Mummy. It was just a figment of the imagination of the popular press. (The more things change…) Besides, it’s unlikely that the Buddha of medicine and healing would be responsible for spreading unhealthiness, don’t you think?

Then again, it never pays to be too cocksure, and centuries-old superstitions take on a life of their own. By three o’clock Saturday afternoon, a worshipper seeking relief had already daubed some fresh mud on the statue.

Posted in Religion, Traditions | 3 Comments »

Turning bath time into tea time

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TEA IS MORE THAN A BEVERAGE for East Asians—they’ve been using it in medicinal applications for centuries. Their belief in its powers can sometimes be excessive. Mao Zedong, for example, is said to have gargled with tea instead of using toothpaste to brush his teeth. It had the effect of turning his teeth green late in life, but that wasn’t due to the tea stains.

So it’s no surprise that a Japanese entrepreneur has launched a successful business selling soap made out of green tea. Four years ago, Kawahara Hiroko shut down her beauty treatment salon in Fukuoka and moved to Shibushi, Kagoshima. There she discovered the local green tea for which the city is renowned. She says the idea for using in soap was to establish Shibushi tea as a national brand. (There’s been a trend in Japan over the last few years for localities to promote their products as a brand under the region’s name.) But the profit motive was undoubtedly a second, if not the unacknowledged first, reason.

After a year of trial and error with a Kumamoto soap manufacturer, Ms. Kawahara came up with a cake of soap that contains camellia oil and royal jelly in addition to the organically grown tea. She uses tea from the year’s second crop, which has a higher catechin content.

She dubbed the product Cha-no-Sato Shibushi and started selling it on the Internet two years ago through the Smileyou company. They have a comfortable relationship–she’s the company president, so the business negotiations went very smoothly, I’m sure. Sales are still surging 40,000 cakes of soap later, and this year they’re on a pace to double those of 2007.

Ms. Kawahara thinks one of the reasons for the product’s success is that consumers are increasingly interested in product safety. There’s another reason she doesn’t need to mention to a local audience—it’s easy to sell any kind of green tea product in Japan, including green tea-flavored ice cream, confections, and candies.

Will the green tea soap make you squeaky clean? You can find out by forking over 1,980 yen ($US 21.21) for a 100-gram cake. If you live in Japan, you can buy it directly from their Japanese-language website here. The CEO certainly looks well-scrubbed, and that’s one impressive stack of lather in the photo.

(Note to the WordPress landlords: This is not an advertisement!)

Here’s a final thought: The Japanese already combine the cultural symbols of green tea with rice to make the delicious o-chazuke. Now here’s a combination of two more—green tea and the bath.

Posted in New products | Leave a Comment »

Mag speculates on Ozawa successor

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 28, 2008

THAT OPPOSITION LEADER Ozawa Ichiro’s health will not allow him to maintain an active role in either politics or government for much longer now seems to be accepted within his party, as this translation of an article that appeared in Sentaku magazine points out.

They note that Mr. Ozawa has to lie down for two hours every day after lunch, which forces him to miss the start of Diet sessions. One junior member of his party, the Democratic Party of Japan, is quoted anonymously as saying he would be unable to serve more than six months as prime minister if the DPJ forms a government.

The article focuses on three possible successors: Kan Naoto, Hatoyama Yukio, and Okada Katsuya. Though it discusses the pros and cons of their potential leadership, the excerpt fails to bring up one salient point–all three have been there, done that, and fallen on their faces. Mr. Okada might have an advantage because he is the freshest face of the three, but he seems to lack the political stomach for the job:

He disappointed his followers when he declined to run against Ozawa in the election of the party leader this past summer, saying, “If I garner a large number of votes, that could create a schism within the party.”

Only if you let it happen, Mr. Okada. And therein lies the problem–a party/government leader has to have the spine for the job. He certainly can’t worry about being too successful.

Sentaku does not mention as a possibility Maehara Seiji, who succeeded Mr. Okada as party leader and had to step down after the party bungled the handling of a bogus e-mail. Might it be that Mr. Maehara has made too many enemies within the party by too openly criticizing the DPJ and its boss in the press, and too openly palling around with people in the ruling LDP?

Sentaku also fails to mention (at least in this excerpt) what would happen if Mr. Ozawa became prime minister in a coalition government. Such a coalition would be even more unstable than the already shaky DPJ, and would be viable only as long as Mr. Ozawa was around to keep it together.

Even then, the DPJ leader’s previous try at running a non-LDP ruling coalition (from behind the scenes) fell apart after only 10 months in the early 90s.

It may take some time to get there, and there might be a few detours and ad hoc arrangements along the way, but a political realignment in Japan seems to be inevitable. An Ozawa swan song as a six-month prime minister would only accelerate the process.

Afterwords: Sentaku has a unique marketing strategy. It is not sold over-the-counter. In fact, it is not possible to buy a single issue at all. It is available by one-year subscription only. The publisher will not even sell single copies of back issues.

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

Aso to reporters: Knock it off!

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 25, 2008

REPORTERS COVERING the prime minister of Japan are allowed to ask him questions every day in brief press conferences called burasagari, or “hanging on”, as in hanging on to a strap or a person’s shoulders.

The burasagari got its name from the practice of reporters “hanging on” to the prime minister every morning as he walked from his official residence to the Diet building and asking him questions. The press created problems as they hung on the man’s coattails by not watching where they were going, and sometimes photographers wound up stumbling and falling.

Prime Minister Koizumi ended the practice, either to protect them or the public. He resumed the daily informal press conferences in the official residence after the reporters promised to behave, however, and the name burasagari stuck.

For a taste of how the Japanese press conducts itself, here is a quick translation of a burasagari held earlier this week with Prime Minister Aso Taro. Before this exchange, Mr. Aso was asked and answered a few other questions about the six-party talks (and had to caution reporters not to include two different topics in the same question). The following accounts for about 80-90% of the press conference. The questions are italicized.

***
You’ve gone to evening get-togethers several nights in a row at upscale establishments where patrons spend tens of thousands of yen a night. I think that’s far removed from (what) the common people (feel). What do you think?

Using the definition of “common people”…does the Hokkaido Shimbun often use that word? (N.B.: The word the reporter used was shomin, which can also be translated as “the masses”, as a contrast to the wealthy. Japanese newspapers seldom use it.) Until now, I think most of the time I’ve gone to establishments in hotels. Now you’re trying to change that around into something like, I go to ryotei (exclusive expensive Japanese restaurants) every night. That’s not true.

Those high class—

I told you to stop asking questions in a way that tries to trip me up. Just talk more about the facts, only the facts. I can talk all you want about the day’s schedule.

That–

Right?

…hotel–

Since when did Majiri (a Roppongi establishment) become a ryotei? You tell me. That despicable way of talking isn’t right. You have to get organized first, you know, before you talk. You ought to stop the kind of talk where you twist things around any way you can.

All right. When I was talking about high-class establishments, I meant places where the general public would think it was expensive to spend the evening and have a meal.

Right. Use that sort of proper definition. Do that in the future (when you have a question). Sometimes, when you act as a representative (for the reporters) and ask a question, it always sounds somehow like you’re giving it a strange twist.

Really?

Yeah. Your questions make me wonder if that’s the kind of newspaper you are.

What do you think about this criticism?

I’ve always thought that hotels were inexpensive, you know? When meeting a lot of people, it’s always seemed to me that hotel bars were safe and inexpensive. That’s the truth. Which places are actually inexpensive and which are expensive is another matter. But I’m going to ask you something. Say for example I go to an inexpensive place. There are 30 reporters around me. Including you. Then there are the police officers. If (the proprietor) tells you you’re interfering with his business, how are you going to answer him? If he tells you that you’re interfering with his business, would you say it’s your right as a newspaper company, and then keep standing around nonchalantly and get in the way of his business? I’m asking you, now. Answer me. (Laughs)

What I want to ask–

No, answer my question. I answered yours. Now I’m asking the question this time. Would you just be unconcerned about it?

We do our reporting so as not to interfere with business.

But they said you are. In fact, they said it to me…so they said, please don’t come. Hotels are the least likely to say that.

I see.

Do you understand? So, it sounds to me like you’re just asking things for your own advantage. I think that hotels are the place where people are less likely to complain. That’s been my style so far, and as of now I don’t intend to change.

Of course the money isn’t marked, but I don’t think the reason there are political contributions and political party subsidies (from public funds) is just to have luxurious meals…

I pay my own way. Political party subsidies…if I (used) that money…Fortunately, I have my own money, so I pay my own way.

If that’s the case, (if you) return (the money)–

Return it? (Cuts off the reporter and ends the interview)

***

For those wondering why a reporter would waste the time of the prime minister—and therefore the people—by badgering him to the point of absurdity, the Japanese news media have lately been trying to create a narrative of Aso Taro as a high-living plutocrat who spends his nights out on the town despite a looming international economic downturn, instead of dressing in a hair shirt and taking a vow of poverty for the duration.

For those wondering whether the Japanese news media are just as capable as their colleagues overseas of acting as if they’re playing in a sandbox rather than doing the job of gathering information and providing reliable reports on current events for the people who purchase their product, you now have the answer.

Afterwords: The text comes from the Sankei Shimbun. The newspaper is held in disdain by the left-wing bien-pensants, who sometimes behave as if merely reading it is a sign of personality disorder. Yet it is the only newspaper in Japan that offers the entire text of not only the burasagari, but speeches and policy debates on line.

These days, unfiltered news is the only option that makes sense.

Posted in Mass media, Politics | 11 Comments »

Obama is beautiful world

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 25, 2008

HERE’S A YouTube video lasting just under four minutes with a catchy song and video performance based on the idea that Obama (the man, not the city in Japan) is Beautiful World. (Though the city is probably where the shoe store in the video got its name.)

It’s a lot of fun and is worth watching regardless of your political preferences, because it’s a great demonstration of how positive and unselfconsciously playful the Japanese can be. It’s one of the reasons I like Japan so much. There’s not a lick of cynical irony or tiresome politicizing in there at all–just a bunch of people goofing off and having a good time.

That said, I have to wonder whether the guy wearing the helmet with the blue plastic dolphin on top has been hanging out with too many Obama supporters from the other side of the Pacific.

Posted in I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Politics | 1 Comment »

Holy water

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 23, 2008

OPEN-AIR BATHS, known as rotenburo, are one of the delights of Japan. Now, imagine how much better they could be if the water were sanctified instead of just sulfurous.

The people who live in or visit Maniwa, Okayama, already know. Every June for the past 22 years, they’ve celebrated Rotenburo Day in the city’s spa district to give thanks for the healing waters. This year’s ceremony attracted 5,000 people.

The day got started with an early morning rite that involved dipping water out of 11 of the district’s baths. Then officials and tourists took that water to another open air bath that also has a sand bath next to the Asahi River to give them a cleaning. (The principle is the same with sand baths. The bathers get covered up to their necks in sand to work all that sweat out.) That was followed by the Gathering to Give Thanks to the Hot Spring, during which the miko, or shrine maidens, dressed in white and red in the photo, poured the water from the spas into the sand bath to purify it.

Rotenburo Day features more than just Shinto services. There were also performances by local taiko drum groups, children’s flute and drum groups, and chindon bands to create a festival mood. And if that weren’t enough, the 20 baths at the local inns and spas in Maniwa were open to the public for no charge.

Spending a day outside relaxing in a hot spring, getting purified in spirit and body both without any psyche soap, and enjoying taiko and chindon performances…that’s enough to get me pricing train tickets for a trip to Maniwa next June!

Afterwords: You’re right, this is a few months late. I just rediscovered it in a corner of my files and thought it was too good to save until next year.

Posted in Traditions | Leave a Comment »

Ozawa still under the weather

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 23, 2008

ALMOST TWO WEEKS AGO, we had this post about the health problems of opposition leader Ozawa Ichiro of the Democratic Party of Japan. The concerns are serious enough to make one wonder if he could withstand the rigors of a national campaign and serve as prime minister if his party takes power. At that time, Mr. Ozawa was scheduled to spend about three days in the hospital, but wound up staying for a week. DPJ officials have also been known to be less than truthful about his health in the past, as that post describes.

On Wednesday, the DPJ boss kicked off a national speaking tour. He visited Fukuoka to give a speech for a probable lower house candidate there and hold talks with local party leaders.

Today, he was supposed to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, who is in Japan for a visit. He had to break the date, however. Mr. Ozawa felt unwell after his first stop on the campaign trail, so he canceled the meeting and his entire schedule for the day. He will rest at home instead.

Though it isn’t being widely discussed, the DPJ leader’s health could well be an important–if not the most important–factor in the election (whenever that will be) and the post-election political environment.

Posted in Politics | Leave a Comment »

Bubbling waters run shallow

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 22, 2008

BIG RIVER WAS THE NAME of an early hit by American country and western singer Johnny Cash. The Man In Black also had a puckish sense of humor, so it’s no stretch of the imagination to think he could also have found the material for a hit song in Japan’s Butsubutsu River.

The Butsubutsu River

The Butsubutsu River

That’s the name of a body of water in Nachikatsu’ura-cho, Wakayama, which the prefecture designated a Class 2 River on the 21st. The Butusbutsu River is only 13.5 meters (14.7 yards) long, so it is now officially the shortest river in Japan. That distinction was previously held by the 30-meter long Honbetsu River in Shimamaki-mura, Hokkaido.

Short as it is, the Butsubutsu River is a tributary flowing into the Konoshiro River. It has an onomatopoeic name that is derived from the water bubbling to the surface from streams below ground. But it’s just as likely that the municipal officials filling out the application thought Butsubutsu was as good a name as any and stuck it on the form.

The local Wakayamanaians use it for washing fish or vegetables, and even for drinking water, according to reports. At least that’s what it’s used for by the folks who know how to find it. The municipal government asked Wakayama for the upgrade in July because the prefecture has jurisdiction over Class 2 rivers. (That’s part of a classification system used by the Japanese government to facilitate river management.) The prefecture agreed because they thought the Class 2 designation would help protect water quality and the surrounding scenery.

They also freely admitted they hoped it might bring some PR to the area. Well, here they are!

*****
How much did he spend a year on hair tonic?

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Posted in Environmentalism, I couldn't make this up if I tried | Leave a Comment »

Laying down the law

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 21, 2008

THE STORY HAS ALL THE ELEMENTS of more familiar causes célèbre: Parasitic attorneys disfiguring the intent of the law to further their own objectives, politicians making intemperate comments and then toggling between I’m sorry/I’m not sorry, and newspapers imitating third-rate blogs. In short, it’s another milestone in the descent of public discourse into the cesspool.

Except this time the story is happening in Japan and not in the West.

In April 1999, an 18-year-old male posed as a plumber (or plumbing inspector, or drainage pipe repair worker, depending on the newspaper) to force his way into an apartment in Hikari, Yamaguchi. Once inside, he tried to rape the woman living there, 23-year-old Motomura Yayoi. When she resisted, he strangled her with his hands, performed sex on her corpse, and strangled her 11-month-old baby with a rope after throwing the infant to the floor.

He later explained in court that it was his desire to rape a total stranger.

Defendants aged 14 to 19 are usually tried as juveniles in Japan, but they are tried as adults for serious crimes. These cases account for 0.8% of all juvenile trials. The 27-year-old defendant’s name has never been revealed because he was a minor when he committed the crime. (Hereinafter, we’ll call him Nanashi Gombei.)

Nanashi’s first trial was held at the Yamaguchi District Court in 2000. He confessed and was sentenced to life in prison.

The disappointed prosecutors were seeking the death penalty, so they appealed to the Hiroshima High Court. The Hiroshima court upheld the Yamaguchi ruling in 2002, so the prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court.

Japan’s Supreme Court sided with the prosecutors. The Hiroshima court ruled that life imprisonment was appropriate because the killings weren’t premeditated and the killer was a minor. The Supreme Court said those arguments were insufficient and told Hiroshima to try again.

The Second Hiroshima Trial

In April this year, the prosecutors finally got what they were looking for when the Hiroshima Court reversed itself and handed down a death sentence. But the second Hiroshima trial was not a cut-and-dried replay of the first.

This time, Gombei had a new defense team of 20 veteran lawyers in his corner. The team was headed by Yasuda Yoshihiro, a long-time opponent of capital punishment. He chases those ambulances most likely to provide him with mass media exposure. For example, Mr. Yasuda defended Asahara Shoko, the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult/terrorist group that conducted five coordinated attacks on the Tokyo subway using sarin gas. They killed a dozen people, severely injured 50, and caused temporary health problems for another 1,000.

Reports say the defense team was “set up in March 2006 over concerns the top court might decide in favor of the prosecutors.” I have been unable to find any reports explaining who specifically “set it up” and who was “concerned”.

During the second high court hearing, the retooled defense team took a radically different approach than its predecessor. One of the biggest changes was to Nanashi’s story. He now said the police and the prosecutors forced his confession. He argued that his first defense team thought he deserved life imprisonment and therefore didn’t argue his case properly. Further, he denied that he intended to commit either the rape or the murders, and didn’t remember either touching the woman or tying the rope used to strangle the baby into a knot.

This directly contradicted his statements during the first two trials.

During questioning at the second Hiroshima trial, the accused said:

“At the time of the incident, I was in such a state that I didn’t even realize I had wrapped a rope around the baby’s neck and tied it in a bow. I first learned that the rope was tied in a bow when I was shown the rope during questioning… I held the baby in my arms thinking I would soothe her. I wasn’t cradling her to kill her, but fell into despair when I ended up killing her.

His lawyers claimed that the man should have been charged with injury resulting in death and that he was not in control of his actions. They said:

“The baby didn’t stop crying, so the defendant wrapped a rope around her neck and tied it in a bow, and she died.”

They added:

“(He) inadvertently killed (Motomura) because she rebuffed him when he held her…(He was holding her) out of a desire to behave as if he were her baby, because she reminded him of his own mother, who had committed suicide…. (He) lost track of himself as he feverishly pushed the victim down without noticing that he was strangling her.”

Because of his mother’s suicide, the defense attorneys argued, Nanashi didn’t have the opportunity to develop mature relationships with others. They said the attack arose from a sense of loneliness.

They claimed that Motomura died “accidentally” when Gombei used one hand to grip her throat in a backhand chokehold. In his earlier trials, the man said he had used both hands to strangle the woman. But the defense said that conflicted with the autopsy report.

They further maintained that the defendant didn’t consider sex with his victim’s corpse to be a crime, but a means to “return to his mother’s womb”, and that he hoped “it would bring it back to life.”

In regard to the murder of the infant, the defense team said the man used a rope to “loosely” strangle the baby to stop her from crying.

The prosecutors begged to differ:

“The defendant is trying to dodge the death penalty by fabricating and distorting facts of the incident and even disgracing the victims.”

The Hiroshima Court didn’t buy either Nanashi Gombei’s story or the defense arguments. Presiding Judge Narazaki Yasuhide said the killer’s intent and calculation were undeniable. He said that Nanashi’s inability to remember touching the woman or holding her neck was unnatural, and added that he didn’t believe a word of the defendant’s statements about killing the baby.

On the acts themselves:

“It was a selfish, self-centered and mean crime that ignored the personality of the victims”.

On the claim that he raped Motomura as a way to revive her:

“That is a preposterous idea, and it is doubtful that he could think of such a thing in front of a corpse…It’s rational to assume he raped her to satisfy his sexual appetite. It’s extremely incredible that he would think she would come back to life (by being raped), and I can never give credence to such an idea.”

Getting to the heart of the matter, the judge said:

“It is unnatural and unreasonable to be silent for 6 1/2 years after the (original) indictment if it contradicts the facts.”

He also noted that the defendant never came up with those explanations during any of the 296 meetings he had with his first defense team.

Said the judge:

“(The crime was) cold-blooded, cruel and inhumane…By presenting false excuses, the defendant has abandoned any effort to face up to his crime, and his attitude, which is an insult toward the bereaved family, is far from reflecting any remorse…There is no particular circumstance that would warrant taking into consideration a penalty other than the death sentence.”

He addressed the defendant’s demeanor:

“(He) seemed to have neglected to face the seriousness of the crime he committed while trying hard to avoid the death penalty…The apology he gave to the victims’ relatives was superficial, and his antisocial nature has been emphasized…even taking into consideration that he had just turned 18 years old at the time of the crime, he can’t avoid the death penalty.”

The defense counsel immediately appealed to the Supreme Court, which is like saying the days are getting shorter this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere.

The original defense team criticized the new defense team’s handling of the case and charged that their strategy did more harm than good. Imaeda Jin, one of the members of the initial team, said:

“The lawyers focused on denial of the act and failed to show the immature personality of the defendant to judges who finally made the decision that the defendant was lying…I thought if we had made his face and name public, we would have more sympathy for him because he looked very immature for his real age, like he was a junior high school student. I thought the public would understand his ‘immaturity’ at the time of the case. However, my proposal was not accepted.”

Journalist Washimi Kazuo thinks the second appeal to the Supreme Court will be rejected. Yes, the Supreme Court justices were the ones who wanted a retrial to begin with because they thought life imprisonment was too lenient, but Mr. Washimi has a different take:

“The defense will need a better strategy because judges these days care about the public’s sympathy for the victim. They cannot ignore it.”

Does Mr. Washimi pine for the bygone days of some golden age when a “strategy” was devised for judges who might have cared more about confessed killers than their innocent victims?

The Importance of the Case

This is the third death sentence in Japan since the end of World War II for a case returned to a high court by the Supreme Court. The Juvenile Law states that the death penalty cannot be applied for offenders under the age of 18. Courts have sentenced 18- and 19-year-olds to death three times since 1983, and 14 times since 1966. Nine of those sentenced have been executed.

Also at issue is how much longer 18-year-olds will be considered juveniles in Japan. When the mechanism was created during the Abe administration to govern national elections on possible Constitutional amendments, both the ruling coalition and the opposition party agreed to allow 18-year-olds to vote. (The current voting age in Japan is 20.)

The ruling is therefore viewed as a turning point for the courts’ handling of the death sentence involving cases in which the defendant is 18 or 19. Opinion polls also show that the Japanese public overwhelmingly supports the death penalty, with some surveys running as high as 70%.

It also comes before a new system takes effect next May in which lay judges begin taking part in the decisions for the verdict and sentence in criminal cases, including murder. No one can anticipate the impact the participation of lay judges will have on the Japanese legal system, though it is bound to be transformational. (Check the Legal System category at the left sidebar for more posts on that subject.)

Gov. Hashimoto’s Non-Lethal Injection

The lurid circumstances of the case—the attempted rape and murder of a young mother, the murder of her baby, and sex with a corpse—ensured that the trials would become instant content for the print and broadcast media. And when the new defense team hijacked the case and turned it into a vehicle for their cause, it inevitably became a weapon on the cultural battlefield.

The conflict wasn’t sparked by a minor skirmish, either; the counterattack was launched with the media equivalent of an artillery barrage from Hashimoto Toru.

Mr. Hashimoto is an attorney who has developed a popular following by appearing on television talk programs. He parlayed that popularity into election as the governor of Osaka earlier this year.

Gov. Hashimoto Toru

Gov. Hashimoto Toru

On 27 May 2007, before his election, he appeared on the local Osaka TV program Soko Made Itte Iinkai (Can You Say That Much?). He dropped his payload on Nanashi Gombei’s defense team during the show by calling their tactics “absurd”. While that in itself was uncontroversial, what he did next was unprecedented for Japanese television: He encouraged the viewing public to file chokai seikyu, or “disciplinary claims,” to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (link on right sidebar) demanding the disbarment of the Yasuda team. (Lay persons have this right in Japan.)

As a result, the JFBA received more than 8,000 claims against Nanashi’s attorneys—that’s easier than it sounds because the form can be downloaded from the Internet. In contrast, only 1,367 claims against individual lawyers were filed nationwide for the year in 2006.

As so often happens in these cultural clashes, Mr. Hashimoto’s broadside had both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side of the ledger was his use of the term absurd to describe the defense. The Yasuda team concocted a patently absurd defense, and they deserved to be called on the carpet of public opinion for a dressing down.

But there were negative aspects as well. Regular television appearances are all about publicity, and perhaps Mr. Hashimoto was already thinking about a run for governor. He found the publicity he sought.

But he also failed to explain to the people who submitted the disciplinary claims that it was not the legal equivalent of simple complaint to a company over shoddy service. Persons submitting such claims can be sued for interfering with a lawyer’s livelihood.

See You in Court, Governor

What happened was close enough. Instead of suing the people who submitted the claims, four of the lawyers working on the Yasuda team sued Mr. Hashimoto. Earlier this month, a court found in their favor and ordered the governor to pay two million yen ($US 19,600) in damages to each of the four. Judge Hashimoto Yoshinari (probably no relation) said the governor defamed the defense lawyers and interfered with their work.

The governor was not the only over-the-top attorney named Hashimoto, however. The judge Hashimoto dismissed the governor’s assertion that the lawyers fabricated their defense claims and deserved to be punished. He said the lawyers were carrying out their duties of providing the best defense for the defendant.

Please. Perhaps Hashimoto Toru did behave recklessly, and the defense attorneys did not deserve to be disbarred, but it only requires a minimum of common sense to fuel suspicions that the second defense team’s strategy was fatuous nonsense created to keep Nanashi Gombei alive on a legal life support system to further their own ends.

The judge also said:

“No matter how absurd or preposterous the defendant’s claims were, those claims do not infringe upon the dignity of the lawyers.”

Only a lawyer could say that with a straight face.

The judge said of Gov. Hashimoto:

“(He) does not have a proper understanding of the mission and responsibilities of lawyers who protect the basic human rights of minorities.”

Here the judge veers into tin foil hat territory. The only conceivable “minority” group to which Nanashi Gombei could belong that would have a bearing on the case is minors, and protecting his “basic human rights” was never at issue. What the judge did here was to protect the time-honored privilege of lawyers to game the system for their own ends, rather than to protect the remaining integrity of the system itself.

The judge helpfully observed that it is not uncommon for defendants to change their story, but no one needs a law degree to figure that out. He neglected to point out, however, that Gombei didn’t change his story until nearly seven years later and that he changed it only when it became apparent that he was headed for the gallows. He also neglected to point out that the new story was ludicrous on its face, but his senses have likely been dulled by decades of listening to courtroom cock and bull.

Imaeda Jin, quoted before as part of the original defense team and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, told reporters:

“It is important for society as a whole to recognize the important role of the defense in protecting the interests of the defendant.”

One wonders at what point in their legal careers attorneys become oblivious to how silly they sound to the rest of us. Nanashi Gombei’s interests, such as they were, were never threatened. Indeed, they were well protected through three trials. Protecting his interests became an issue only when the new defense team saw in him a chance to advance their own.

As befitting the duties of membership in the guild to which he belongs, Governor Hashimoto contritely apologized to the defense team:

“The initial ruling is serious. I believe there is no doubt that my own views went beyond the acceptable line.”

But that won’t stop him from filing an appeal:

“I don’t think the ruling is unjust. But considering that there are three stages in the court system, I would like to hear the high court’s opinion.”

Thus ensuring that his stream of publicity will continue.

He needn’t have worried: The Asahi Shimbun made sure he got plenty. They blasted Mr. Hashimoto in an editorial published the day after the ruling:

“If he seriously accepts the ruling, he should not appeal. Moreover, he should voluntarily surrender his qualification as a lawyer. If the public sees his apology only as a token gesture, they could also question his qualities as a governor.”

Here is the English version of the editorial, titled Defamation Suit Ruling. (The link won’t last too much longer). The Japanese version, however, was titled Bengoshi Shikaku wo Henjo Shite ha, which specifically calls on him to relinquish his qualifications.

Of course the Asahi employee who wrote this editorial is unlikely to have first-hand knowledge of the notoriously rigorous qualifications for Japanese lawyers. And no one will be surprised to discover that Mr. Hashimoto and the newspaper come from the opposite sides of the political fence.

Even some in the Japanese media have criticized the Asahi for the juvenile heavy-handedness of their recent op-ed pieces, which have come to resemble gas bubbles from the cloaca of the blogosphere or the straight news reporting of name brand Anglosphere journalism. (Exhibit A: They called former Justice Minister Hatoyama Yukio the “God of Death” for expediting delayed executions.)

Mr. Hashimoto was not pleased. During a speech at a ceremony for the Ground Self-Defense Forces in Itami on Sunday, the governor said:

“They’re just mouthing off. If more adults act like the Asahi Shimbun and do nothing but run people down, then Japan will go to the dogs.”

He wasn’t finished. Here’s what he said at a later event:

“I’m in a position of authority, so I don’t mind strong criticism, but criticism that crosses the line into mockery isn’t criticism at all. I’m completely opposed to mocking criticism.”

When one of the reporters suggested that Mr. Hashimoto was being childish, he replied:

“What of it? Wasn’t the Asahi Shimbun childish too? I don’t know who it was, but they said what they said.”

The governor hasn’t let up. At a press conference during a visit to Tokyo on Monday, he blasted the newspaper again:

“The Asahi Shimbun is a stupid opinion journal. I think they ought to shut down their business right away.”

Epilogue

  • Mr. Hashimoto is unlikely to lose votes by backing capital punishment and bashing the self-serving pretzel logic of lawyers, but he might lose votes unless he understands that How is often more important than What.
  • Mr. Yoshida and the rest of his sanctimonious gang of parasites will continue to cloak themselves in the ideals of justice to pervert common sense and force their own version of morality on the rest of us. It’s odd how much they resemble politicized Christians in the U.S., politicized Hindus in India, or politicized Moslems throughout the world in that regard. They’ll be supported by other members of the guild regardless of their beliefs, particularly against such apostates as Mr. Hashimoto.
  • The defense used by the second team of lawyers at the second Hiroshima trial is so breathtakingly weird that one is forced to wonder whether they employed it because it was more likely to get the Hiroshima court to change its mind and sentence Nanashi Gombei to death, resulting in more publicity.
  • Quality journalism will become an increasingly foreign concept at the Asahi, as it already has at many other media outlets in the Western world. They won’t mind; they’re getting as much publicity for their bad behavior as Mr. Hashimoto is getting for his. Besides, now that the media has been thoroughly outed for its obvious biases, it has been liberated from the pretense of impartiality.
  • Nanashi Gombei’s execution is now about six years overdue, and each day that passes is another day alive that he no longer deserves. All that can prevent the inevitability of his execution is a change in the ruling party in national government and the possible appointment of a Justice Minister who thinks his opinions are more important than the near-consensus belief of the Japanese public.

Posted in Legal system, Mass media | 1 Comment »

With friends like these

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 19, 2008

“You’ve betrayed Vietnam. Someday you’re going to sell out Taiwan. And we’re going to be around when you get tired of Israel.”
– President Hafez al-Assad of Syria to U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger

“America is harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend.”
– attributed to Professor Bernard Lewis

WITH THE EXCEPTION OF GREAT BRITAIN, Japan has been America’s most dependable ally since the end of the Second World War. To take the point further, Japanese conduct in that time might well be used as a model for the behavior of the ideal national ally.

After its defeat in that disastrous war, it has embraced liberal, free-market democracy and conducted itself in an exemplary manner abroad. The country followed the American lead to become one of the most generous providers of foreign aid today, and some years has been the world’s leading aid donor. Much of this aid, particularly the assistance distributed in Asia, goes unnoticed in the West.

Japan has supported every major American diplomatic initiative for more than half a century. It has continued to uphold the Security Treaty between the two countries despite varying degrees of domestic opposition. Sometimes, this comes at great political cost to its government officials, as former Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke discovered in 1960.

It still hosts American military bases, which requires both enormous financial outlays and the willingness to ward off internal criticism. For example, about 34,000 American service personnel are stationed in Japan, and another 5 to 6,000 are employed by the Department of Defense. The Japanese provide the land for U.S. military bases rent free and pay 217.3 billion yen (US$ 2.144 billion) of their costs.

Some of those bases had to be relocated because of local opposition to their presence, especially in Okinawa; Japan will foot the bill for the new construction work. Some Marines will be moved to Guam; Japan will pay $6.09 billion of the $10.27 billion required for the facilities and infrastructure development resulting from relocation. Japan also has had to provide $900 million in local subsidies to offset the criticism of both the public and local politicians.

In addition, the Japanese are the second-largest donor for the rebuilding of Iraq, after the U.S.–at American insistence.

How is this Japanese loyalty repaid?

It gets stiffed. Not every once in a while, but regularly.

And it just happened again.

Former Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo visited the U.S. during his recent year in office and asked President Bush for reassurance that it would not remove North Korea from the list of nations sponsoring terrorism absent further help from Pyeongyang in resolving the issue of the fate of Japanese citizens they held prisoner.

For years, North Korean agents infiltrated Japanese territory and abducted ordinary Japanese citizens from remote, seaside locations and spirited them away to North Korea to work as language and cultural instructors. They even kidnapped a 13-year-old girl on her way home from school. The North allowed a few of the unfortunates to return to Japan, but provided patently false information on the fate and whereabouts of the remainder.

The perpetually self-absorbed Uncle Sam failed to realize that for many Japanese this issue was just as important as the circumstances of the roughly 2,500 American POW-MIAs thought to have been held in Vietnam at the end of the Vietnamese War. As in Japan, that issue was also kept alive—for 30 years—through the efforts of family members. Its own experience should have meant that America would be that much more sensitive to Japanese concerns.

During Prime Minister Fukuda’s visit, President Bush stood next to him and said:

“I’m going to tell the Japanese people once again: We will not forget this issue. I understand, Mr. Prime Minister, how important the issue is to the Japanese people, and we will not forget the Japanese abductees, nor their families.”

Perhaps Mr. Bush didn’t forget the abductees, but he didn’t take Japanese concerns about them—or their concerns about national security—very seriously when he capitulated to North Korea and removed the country from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

He also forgot about common courtesy. Mr. Bush didn’t bother to consult with Japanese Prime Minster Aso Taro beforehand. He informed him of the decision just 30 minutes before it was announced at about 11:00 p.m. Japan time.

And that was only after an urgent request from American Ambassador Thomas Schieffer.

Just the day before, a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official had said that reports of an imminent delisting were “completely incorrect.” In short, America’s best friends were the last to know.

But Mr. Bush also made sure to ask the Japanese prime minister to express his sympathies again to the abductees’ families, and said he really wanted to help resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, the United States has blithely asked Japan to fork over food aid to North Korea as humanitarian assistance. That is unlikely to happen.

Here’s what else is unlikely to happen: Full North Korean compliance with American requests. Part of the new deal with Pyeongyang includes visits to sites involved with the country’s production of nuclear material—but only those sites the North declared last June. Inspections of other sites, such as those suspected to be the location of an enriched uranium program, will require “mutual consent”.

It would be a waste of time to speculate on the likelihood that mutual consent will ever be achieved.

Why is this important? The terms of the U.S.-Japan security alliance call for the U.S. to defend Japan in case of attack. There are missiles in North Korea aimed at Japan right now, as missiles in the Soviet Union were aimed at the U.S. during the Cold War. Those weapons can easily reach Japan, a country the North Koreans have threatened to turn into a sea of fire.

Pyeongyang’s political leadership was none too stable when Kim Jong-il was in good health and in charge. It can only grow more undependable in the days ahead.

Japan is powerless to take any steps to prevent North Korean aggression. The Americans made sure of that in 1945 when they deprived the Japanese of the legal authority to conduct preemptive defense. They reserve that right for themselves.

This cavalier American attitude towards its ally is not a recent phenomenon. Indeed, it sometimes seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

For years the Japanese government held the line on establishing diplomatic relations with Red China, even though normalized relations were in its financial interest, and Japanese businessman and politicians had clamored for it since the 1950s. Instead, the U.S. actively prevented it.

When the U.S. finally recognized the Chinese on its own, it did not bother to inform or consult with Japan in advance. The Japanese were stuck with a policy they never wanted to begin with. President Richard Nixon’s explanation was that a mature alliance did not need to focus on “superficial public events”.

By that time, Zbigniew Brzezinski, later to be President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor, was already on record for criticizing the Japanese Foreign Ministry as “the Asian Department of the United States State Department”.

In the early 80s, the United States refused to allow Japan access to its advanced navigational system for military aircraft, citing security reasons. The Japanese were forced to develop their own system for the American-built aircraft, and eventually produced hardware superior to the American system. The U.S. then demanded that the Japanese share theirs and threatened to reduce military assistance to them if they did not.

When U.S. President Bill Clinton visited China in 1998, he bowed to Chinese demands that he not visit Japan. (This was two years after Chinese military intelligence officials had funneled money to President Clinton and his Democratic Party in the form of political contributions.) Mr. Clinton’s administration had already irritated Japan by trying to manipulate the yen as an instrument of trade policy, which helped to blunt a Japanese economic recovery just as it was getting under way.

The leader of what was presumed to be the world’s only superpower thus snubbed its premier ally in the Eastern Hemisphere to avoid displeasing the Chinese.

During George W. Bush’s first term as President, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was reported to have hinted there would be no objections if China increased its nuclear arsenal as long as Beijing stopped opposing the U.S. missile defense program.

What is Japan supposed to do if the guarantor of its defense strengthens the position of potential threats to that defense?

The Americans were upset when the primary Japanese opposition party forced the government to suspend its naval mission to supply fuel to US-led forces in Afghanistan after its mandate expired on 1 November last year after six years. During that time, the Japanese had provided free fuel and water worth about 22 billion yen to U.S. and other coalition ships patrolling the Indian Ocean for drug runners, gun smugglers and suspected terrorists.

Yet again, the Americans were oblivious to the domestic situation of its ally. The Japanese were trying to come to terms with a divided and gridlocked legislature for the first time in their history, and the opposition Democratic Party of Japan unwisely chose the refueling mission to confront the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in the Diet in a failed effort to force an election.

During the debate in Japan, the question arose regarding how much of the fuel it supplied to the U.S. was later diverted to the military effort in Iraq. The Japanese government asked the American government for this information. The Americans refused to provide any.

At the same time, America demanded that Japan stop its whaling fleet from catching any whales during its annual scientific expedition to the South Pacific. Said a U.S. State Department spokesman:

“We call on Japan to refrain from conducting this year’s hunt, especially with respect to humpback and fin whales…While recognizing Japan’s legal rights under the whaling convention to conduct this hunt, we note that non-lethal research techniques are available to provide nearly all relevant data on whale populations.”

Events last year were a near disaster for the bilateral relationship, of course, after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution criticizing Japan for what it termed was Japan’s failure to address the comfort women problem of World War II. Japanese across the political spectrum—even those on the left, who would never dream of soft-pedaling their country’s behavior during the first half of the 20th century—were appalled at the lack of understanding, not to mention tact, exhibited by the American legislators. Everyone in Japan realized that the primary motivation for the measure was to satisfy the vested interests of a few American politicians supported by the Korean-American and Chinese-American lobby in a quid pro quo arrangement, as well as indulge the strain of Little Jack Horner politics (“What a good boy am I”) characteristic of some politicians on the left.

In other words, campaign cash and the opportunity for a day of self-congratulation were more important considerations than the international humiliation of a loyal ally.

When speculation arose that Prime Minister Abe Shinzo might renounce the Kono Statement, which was an apology and partial acceptance of responsibility for Japanese behavior, not only the American lower house, but the White House itself, pressured the Japanese to modify their stance. A note was sent to Mr. Abe through Ambassador Schieffer warning the Japanese prime minister to cease and desist.

For leverage, they threatened to withdraw American support for Japan against North Korea regarding the abduction issue.

What was it that Mr. Bush later told Prime Minister Fukuda?

“I’m going to tell the Japanese people once again: We will not forget this issue. I understand, Mr. Prime Minister, how important the issue is to the Japanese people, and we will not forget the Japanese abductees, nor their families.”

Well, he kept his promise not to forget, didn’t he?

Backed into a corner, Mr. Abe stated that he would stand by the Kono Statement.

Now imagine how the Japanese felt when the House’s move to pass a similar resolution concerning the Turkish massacre of Armenians was quashed because of fears it would jeopardize Turkish-American relations. Among those who spoke out against that resolution were Mr. Brzezinski, Ms. Rice, and Mr. Carter. Mass media outlets also criticized the resolution, though none of them had any such qualms when the resolution against Japan was up for debate.

Japan Ambassador Kato Ryozo said passage of the comfort woman resolution “will almost certainly have lasting and harmful effects on the deep friendship, close trust and wide-ranging cooperation our two nations now enjoy.”

Mr. Kato was sharply criticized for his statement, but his assertion cannot be easily gainsaid. It might be a little while longer, however, for the repercussions of the resolution to become manifest in the relationship.

On some occasions, the Americans can’t be depended on to fulfill its ordinary obligations. For example, last year the two allies finally resolved a dispute dating from 1998 regarding the American refusal to pay rent on its embassy property in Tokyo.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Michael Mansfield used to say that the Japanese-American alliance was “The most important bilateral relationship, bar none.”

But the United States government has never acted as if it believed it.

One of these days, the Japanese government might stop believing it too.

Posted in International relations, North Korea | 20 Comments »

Soba in bloom

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 17, 2008

EVERYONE KNOWS what the rice plant or wheat looks like before it’s harvested and processed into food, but perhaps only a few people would recognize buckwheat—the plant used to make soba noodles—even if they were standing in front of it.

But the photo at the left shows a field of soba in bloom near Shirahama-cho in Wakayama, so they no longer have any excuse! A group of farmers in the area decided last year to grow soba as an off-season crop after the rice harvest, which is starting to become an agricultural trend in Japan. This 50-are field (1.24 acres) was planted on 10 September, and it grew quickly enough for the soba to flower by the end of the month.

Wakayama, as it turns out, is not known for soba production. Hokkaido is the national champion by a wide margin, and Wakayama doesn’t even rank among the top ten prefectures for area under cultivation.

Considering the quantity of soba consumed in Japan, it was surprising to discover that 80% of the soba eaten here is now imported, and that imports didn’t begin until 1952. (Before World War II, Japan was an exporter.) The bulk of the imports come from China, followed by the United States. Most of the crop is processed for noodles, but soba sprouts are also eaten in salads. The dried plant is used for pillow stuffing, though production is somewhat limited because the plant is an allergen.

Now that you know what the flowers look like, there are about two weeks left to spot them. The blooms will last until the end of this month, and harvest begins at the end of November or the beginning of December.

But any time’s a good time to eat some!

Posted in Agriculture, Food | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Update on the Busan-Kyushu paradigm

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 17, 2008

IT MAY BE MORE FUN to read or watch media stories that are tailored to create agitation in their consumers, but it’s a lot more constructive to follow the stories about how the builders of society are rolling up their sleeves and getting down to business–particularly when those stories are about the efforts to strengthen ties between the southeastern Korean Peninsula and Kyushu.

Unlike the tales of finger choppers, flag burners, and pheasant butchers, the following stories are relegated to the corners of the back pages in the print media and overlooked by the broadcast media. But more people should be aware of the efforts of people who understand where their best interests lie and take positive steps to make it a reality.

For example:

Busan-Fukuoka Supranational Business Institute

Dongseo University in Busan, the Busan Development Institute, and Kyushu University’s Research Center for Korean Studies signed an agreement last month to establish the provisionally named Busan-Fukuoka Supranational Business Institute to train personnel with the capability to work immediately in a Southern Korean Peninsula/Kyushu economic sphere. Due to open in March, this will be the first joint Japanese-Korean venture for operating an educational institute.

Dongseo University Vice-President Jan Che-guk said:

“We must train people who can support economic cooperation to create a regional body that is not limited to simple exchange between Busan and Fukuoka”.

The institute will provide instruction in attracting logistical centers and new industries, as well as international financing, to train people employed at area businesses.

It will accept 30 people in its first year, including students at local universities. Plans call for classes to be conducted over the Internet to allow for the participation of students in Fukuoka. They also looking for companies and other groups in Fukuoka to take a capital stake in the enterprise.

Fukuoka-Busan Economic Cooperation Council

The provisionally named Fukuoka-Busan Economic Cooperation Council, consisting of the mayors and business leaders of both cities, will be established at the end of October to promote economic ties and activities between the two cities. The council hopes to encourage economic activities as part of a Southern Korean Peninsula/Kyushu economic sphere. Their current plans include strengthening ties between the Japanese and Korean auto industries and developing contactless payment cards that can be used for transportation facilities and shopping in both countries.

Sources in Fukuoka City report the idea was suggested by Busan Mayor Hur Nam-sik to Fukuoka City Mayor Yoshida Hiroshi in March. The mayors and other top officials would meet once a year, while the working staff would meet four or five times a year. The council plans to conduct surveys by the end of this year for use in creating specific plans for next year.

The ceremony launching the council will be held at the end of October in Fukuoka City, A forum is scheduled for next February in Busan, and it will include the release of an interim report. The second general meeting is planned for next August.

Pohang Municipal Employees Study in Fukuoka

The city of Pohang, South Korea, has begun a unique training program in which it will dispatch municipal employees to two cities in Fukuoka to study their approach to municipal government in Japan. The employees will spend an entire working week in Fukuoka City and will also visit nearby Kitakyushu during their stay. The population of both Japanese cities is more than one million people, while that of Pohang is about 510,000.

The employees will study Japanese measures for municipal development and environmental protection. The city plans to send 1,000 employees–close to half their workforce–to Kyushu by the end of next year.

Pohang is the location of the headquarters for Posco, the world’s third largest steel company. Kitakyushu was also at one time a center of heavy industry, but has focused on attracting and developing environmental businesses in recent years.

The idea came from Pohang Mayor Pak Sung-ho when he visited Fukuoka City in August:

“We have many things to learn, including strategies for municipal development. All our employees should see this city at least once.”

The first group of 18 Pohang employees arrived on 6 October and stayed until the 10th. Among the sites they visited were Seaside Momochi, a reclaimed area in Fukuoka City that is now a business and cultural district, a Nissan Kyushu Plant, and the Murasaki River in Kitakyushu. The head of the Pohang delegation remarked about the latter:

“It was very impressive to see what had been thought to be a dead river now reborn as a recreation area for the citizens. We hope to use this as an example as a way to clean up our polluted inner harbor.”

Afterwords

Here’s what the people from Pohang are studying: How Kitakyushu recreated itself from a gray city into a green city.

And here’s what they’re seeing. Seaside Momochi:

And the Murasaki River during cherry blossom season:

Posted in International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

A public service announcement for a captive audience

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 15, 2008

MARSHALL MCLUHAN BECAME FAMOUS for introducing the concept that the medium is the message. Mr. McLuhan is unlikely to have considered the possibility this medium would be combined with this message, however.

As the photo shows, the Hakodate Office of the Hokkaido police department has created special toilet paper with printed messages cautioning users against the ore-ore (“It’s me, it’s me”) telephone scam. That’s a type of fraud in which the grifter cons the recipient of the call into depositing money into his bank account by impersonating a relative (or a policeman or another official supposedly attending to that relative) in serious trouble and in need of immediate cash.

This toilet paper medium has several messages, two of which are: “Don’t go to the ATM right away”, and “Be careful of stories that sound too good.” The designers also included a picture of a squid to create a Japanese language pun. The word for “squid” is ika, and the word for “don’t go” is ikanaide. The message combines the picture of the squid with the “naide” written in one of the Japanese alphabets to create a type of rebus.

The police gave the toilet paper away for no charge at a conference kicking off a regional safety campaign held in Hakodate on the 11th, as well as at local crime prevention seminars. Don’t get your hopes up: It’s not available commercially.

The prefectural police said they thought employing something used every day in the home would be effective for preventing crime. (One wonders what other household items they considered before hitting on the idea of toilet paper,) They also said they purposely tried to create a clever public awareness campaign to combat fraud.

Some people like to take reading material into the loo with them, but toilet paper with a fraud awareness message sounds to me like an excellent excuse to buy a bidet.

At least that way, the medium would offer a massage instead of a message!

Bonus information!
A look at the Hakodate website reveals that the city sent a delegation to the 4th Star-Shaped Citadel Cities Summit at Hellevoetsluis, The Netherlands, conducted from 8-11 July.

The first summit was held at Hakodate in 1997. Here’s that website.

Is there an international institute somewhere that offers government officials special instruction in ingenious but pointless ways to spend public funds?

Posted in I couldn't make this up if I tried, Popular culture | 6 Comments »

 
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