Japan from the inside out

Archive for July, 2008

Par for the course

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 31, 2008

THE SOUTH KOREANS like to teach their children, “Dokdo is our land.”

But could someone have made a mistake in translation? Are they really saying, “Dokdo is our sand“?

Thanks to Get a Job Son

Posted in I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , | 11 Comments »

The Olympics and the ugly side of the Chinese

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 31, 2008

Love of country has never implied for me an unawareness of its shortcomings or a hatred of other nations….In a world in which sovereignty must exist, some kind of identification with that sovereignty is also necessary: too rigid a national identity has its dangers, but so does too loose a one. The first results in aggression toward and denigration of others; the second in society’s disintegration from within, which can then provoke authoritarian attempts at repair.
– Theodore Dalrymple

HERE IS A SUPERB opinion piece about China and the Olympics written by an ethnic Chinese. Called “Why the Games Bring Out the Ugly Side of the Chinese“, it appeared in The Age, an Australian newspaper, and was brought to my attention by the poster who goes by the name of Get A Job Son.

The author was born in Sydney to parents originally from Hong Kong and Indonesia. He is now in the United States studying law.

Here’s how it starts:

The slogan for the Beijing Olympics is “One World, One Dream”. It is plastered in huge print on billboards across China, but no one can tell me which “one dream” it is that we are all supposed to be chasing. And as the nation fires up its Games preparations, it’s also starting to look less like we all come from the same “one world”.

Because he’s Chinese, he’s rooting for the home team:

I want China to win the most gold medals. I want Chinese brands sold in American department stores.

His enthusiasm is tempered by Chinese behavior, however:

But in the past six months, Chinese nationalism has started to scare me….I am disappointed that many Chinese people seem to have abandoned the Olympic spirit in the name of patriotism. I am disappointed that they are claiming sole ownership of these Games as theirs alone to organise as they please so they can prove how far they have come.

Given the inherent, millenia-old nationalism of the Chinese, this should not be surprising.

GAJS thought this part worthy of note:

What scares me — in addition to a mob mentality in a country of 1.3 billion people — is that I think at least part of this mentality comes from refusing to be the white man’s lackey, from wanting to emerge triumphantly from oppression, from a need to say, “I told you so” to former imperial powers. It scares me because I think it comes from a place not so different from where conversations with my own friends sometimes end up, a place in which young people want not only to deconstruct the mainstream but fight it as well.

GAJS also thought the substitution of Korea for China in the above might help elucidate their attitude toward the Japanese. (I would add the Chinese attitude toward the Japanese as well; both countries are deliberately incorporating anti-Japanese attitudes into the identity of the nation-states they are still in the process of creating.)

If I were to quibble with the author about the piece, it would be about the underlying sentiment here:

With less than two weeks to go, the Olympics no longer feel as if they are about nations coming together, leaving their baggage behind, and competing on a level playing field; they seem more about just us Chinese coming together, and dramatically showing ourselves why we are so great and strong.

It’s not just the Chinese, it’s everyone who’s ever hosted an Olympics or major international sporting event. Recall the “Daehan-minguk” chants and red t-shirts in South Korea during the World Cup, for example.

The same is true regardless of the scale. I caught by accident a scene broadcast on CNN of a small group of young men obnoxiously chanting USA! USA! as they marched down the street in Atlanta during the 1988 Olympics. That was just as unpleasant to watch as the other examples.

Forget the helium-filled platitudes about overcoming borders and internationalism. Besides, I suspect the only people who get a real sense of internationalism in action are some of the athletes themselves. Rather, for the rest of us, these events tend to awaken and encourage nationalism rather than sublimate it. How could they not? The athletes are wearing national uniforms when they compete, and tables are kept showing national medal totals. Why would anyone expect anything else to happen?

The Olympics, the World Cup, and other similar events have the potential to bring out the ugly side of us all.

UPDATE: Here’s some bad news for anyone who thought that China could act responsibly and keep its word during the games:

Communist officials have outraged the International Olympic Committee and the world’s media by barring unfettered access to the internet – reneging on a key pre-Games promise to open China’s doors to the world.

One advantage to being the “flower in the center of the world” is that you get to define reality:

Beijing officials insisted the media had all the internet access they needed. “Our promise was that journalists would be able to use the internet for their work during the Olympic Games. So we have given them sufficient access to do that,” said Sun Weide, spokesman for the Olympic organising committee.

But that’s not how the ICO sees it:

Under the agreement between the IOC and Beijing Olympic organisers, the host country must provide the same access to reporters as in the previous Games in Athens and Sydney.

An IOC member weighs in:

Australian Olympic Committee president and IOC member John Coates said the about-face was surprising and disappointing as free access to the internet was “important for transparency, particularly during Games time”.

Why is he surprised at the inevitable?

There’s more to the story:

He said the internet issue appeared similar to China’s handling of the equestrian events. IOC president Jacques Rogge was informed one night by telephone that the events would not be held in Beijing but in Hong Kong because of quarantine issues with the horses.

Olympic television broadcasters in China for the Games said local police had prevented their film crews from recording in public areas.

Beijing officials have restricted live broadcasting from Tiananmen Square for official broadcasters to between 6am and 10am, and 9pm and 11pm. Only stand-ups are allowed at these times, and live interviews are banned at any time.

Beijing Games organisers have also banned aerial photography of Tiananmen Square, the starting point for the marathon.

Isn’t it time to start drawing conclusions?

If one chose to bet on form, the smart money would be on (1) The Chinese maintaining their position, (2) The possibility that the Chinese might come up with a few more “surprises”, and (3) The ineffective ex post facto bleating of the media.

Win, place, and show.

UPDATE 2: Here’s some excellent advice from Gordon Chang:

The solution…is not for foreigners to cower in the presence of angry Chinese. On the contrary, we should tell them to get over it. There is no point to legitimizing Beijing’s largely fabricated version of historical events. And we only deceive ourselves when we believe that the Chinese will develop a more “self-assured sense of nationhood” while their government continues to lie about their past.

Afterwords: Thanks again to both Mac and Get A Job Son for sending me this excellent material. I was happy to be able to present it to everyone. As it turned out, the timing was also excellent. Today was final exam day for the two university classes that I teach, and I was a judge at an English speech contest for high school students in the evening, so I didn’t have much time or energy left over for writing something myself.

Posted in China, Sports | 15 Comments »


Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 30, 2008

PEOPLE USED TO ASK ME when I first came to Japan whether I suffered from culture shock. Whether it was because I had read extensively about the country before coming, my experience living in different regions of the US, or having two grandparents who weren’t native English speakers, I could honestly answer no.

One day, however, I did feel as if I were living on a different planet!

There was a serious heat wave during my first summer, and summers are intensely hot in Japan to begin with. The temperatures were above 40 degrees Celsius (100+ Farenheit) several days in a row.

One morning I woke up and stepped outside the front door. It was obvious already that the heat wave was going to continue. The heat was one thing, but the sound I was hearing was quite another. In those days I lived next door to a temple with a large, old tree, and by then it was filled with semi, or cicadas.

The combination of the brightness, the heat, and the otherworldly sound of the cicadas made me realize I wasn’t in Kansas anymore!

It’s difficult to describe that sound to people who have never heard it, but fortunately, reader Mac sent me an e-mail with a story about cicadas that is too good to keep to myself.

So here is Mac’s story. At least I hope it’s Mac’s story–if it’s not I’ll have to apologize and take it down!

It’s my first summer in Japan. I disappeared just at the start of the manageable and comfortable rainy season and arrived back at Kansai in full blown summer.

Heat … humid … pools of sweat I can just about cope with … but the noise? Nothing had prepared me for that. Walking along tree-lined avenues in the morning, I thought it was some high-tech emergency services vehicle alarm going off.

What was it? Cicadas.

Lifting some stats from a related article, their noise can exceed 90 decibels and peak at 120 db. That is about as loud as a bulldozer or comparable to lawn mower peaks on hot days. By comparison, motorcycles are factory-limited between 82 to 86 decibels and 100 plus is on a par with a Harley-Davidson at speed.

Industrial noise expert Billy Martin, a hearing scientist at Oregon Health & Science University, said that “Exposure to 91 decibels of sound for two hours, or 94 decibels for one hour, could begin to cause some permanent hearing damage” and noise-induced hearing loss. “Such noise also could cause psychological strain … anxiety, aggravation and high-blood pressure. Loud sound is very stressful.”

Meanwhile in Nature magazine (last year), David Cyranoski reported that Cicadas are cutting off Osaka’s citizens from their Internet connections. “A cicada known as the kumazemi is descending on Japan en masse, deafening the citizens and wreaking havoc on the country’s fibre-optic system. The 6- to 7-centimetre-long black cicada (Cryptotympana facialis) inhabits western Japan.

Shiyake Shigehiko, curator of the Osaka Museum of Natural History, and Numata Eiji, a biologist at Osaka University, show that the cicada population increases every year for four years, after which it returns to base level and the cycle restarts. From the past three years’ data, the scientists calculate that this year will be the four-year peak, with nearly 2.5 times as many cicadas as in 2006. The noise level is also set to climb. Measured at 90.4 decibels at another Osaka park last year, this year the same spot is expected to hit 94 decibels — decibels follow a logarithmic scale, so that’s more than double the volume. Prolonged exposure to this level of noise causes deafness.

The kumazemi are also cutting households off from their Internet. Apparently mistaking fibre-optic cables for withered branches, they have been punching their one-millimetre-diameter egg-laying tubes into the cables and laying eggs allowing water to seep in and causing failures.

You know what this means? Given the role internet services provide in setting up dates and meeting new partners … the little blighters are attempting to interrupt human reproductive cycles!

It’s them, or us.

Posted in Environmentalism | 19 Comments »

More on the Busan – Takeshima paradigm

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 28, 2008

HERE ARE THE Joongang Daily’s headlines for today’s lead story on its Internet edition:

U.S. agency joins fray over Dokdo
Changing its designation of islets indicates sovereignty is in dispute

The first paragraph:

An official United States agency has crashed into the middle of the feud between Seoul and Tokyo over the Dokdo Islets by appearing to lean towards Japan.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s what really happened:

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names recently revised its description of the islets from a South Korean territory to a territory with “undesignated sovereignty.”

Here’s the response of the South Korean government:

The Korean Foreign Ministry held an emergency meeting yesterday and decided to form a task force under a vice minister to deal with the change, said a senior ministry official.

An order had already been sent to the South Korean Embassy in Washington on Saturday night to express Seoul’s concerns and investigate the change.

Rufus T. Firefly: Of course you realize this means war!

The South Korean League for Maintaining Supremacy in English Alphabetical Order must have found this an ominous step:

The Web site of the U.S. board used to show other names with which Liancourt Rocks are called, listing “Tok-to” first and then Takeshima; but the order was changed so that the Japanese name appeared first and then the Korean name.

By coincidence, the lead story in the print edition of this morning’s Nishinippon Shimbun also had to do with Takeshima (Dokto). Here are the headline and subheads translated into English:

Takeshima Mention (in teacher instruction manuals) Casts Shadow on Japanese-Korean Exchange Programs
104 Events in 33 Prefectures Affected
20 Events in Kyushu – Yamaguchi Canceled

The body of the article focuses on the statistics, and there is an accompanying chart. A total of 63 events have been canceled outright, 20 of which were in Kyushu and nearby Yamaguchi Prefecture. Those are the areas in Japan closest to South Korea. One of the most recent cancellations was a trip by South Korean sixth-graders to Karatsu, Saga, for a homestay.

Kyodo’s English version has finally been released, and you can read it here. Notice the evenhanded tone.

As last week’s post on this issue emphasizes, there are two aspects to the Japanese-Korean relationship. One I described as the Takeshima paradigm. That is typified by the preceding articles, particularly the one from the Joongang.

The other I described as the Busan paradigm, named after South Korea’s second-largest city. People in business, financial, and political circles there are working to create a supra-national economic zone with their counterparts in Kyushu, Japan, just across the Korean Strait. It is the modern manifestation of an interaction between those two regions that has been ongoing since ancient times.

Astonishingly enough, it is still ongoing despite the Korean hysteria and efforts to create a battlefield out of bureaucratic institutions in other countries.

For proof, one only has to look at two other articles on page four of the same edition of today’s Nishinippon Shimbun.

The first, which occupies more than a third of the non-advertising space on the page, is about the women divers of Jeju, a Korean island in the strait. Known as haenyeo in Korean, the women have worked for centuries diving for abalone, other shellfish, and seaweed (first photo). These free divers have developed remarkable physical strength, including the ability to stay underwater for as long as two minutes. They were often the primary income earners for their families.

Japanese will find this story familiar because they have an identical tradition. Here the women are called ama (second photo). (The Chinese characters are the same in both languages and mean women of the sea.) In fact, Japan and Korea are the only countries with women making a livelihood from diving for shellfish and seaweed. Some of the Japanese women, however, are now pearl divers.

The women from both countries have traveled to each other’s country as migrant maritime workers. There are records of ama from Yamaguchi going diving in Ulleong in 1879, and women from Nagasaki and Fukuoka traveled to work in the seas near the Korean mainland until 1929.

Meanwhile, the haenyeo from Jeju went to the island of Miyake in the Pacific, south of Tokyo, to work in 1903. They later worked throughout the country using Osaka as a base.

The article focuses on an academic symposium held in Jeju last month whose theme was the women divers of both countries. Fewer women are willing to do this sort of work, and the Koreans want to preserve the culture. They are enlisting Japanese assistance to have the divers named a world intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. Professor Ko Jan-hun of Cheju National University says, “If we apply together with Japan, with whom we have a history of exchanging techniques, then winning recognition from UNESCO will be easy.” The Koreans are cooperating most closely with Japan in Mie, where most of the ama work today. Several people involved in the effort in Mie traveled to Jeju.

The second article describes the seventh meeting of an association formed to commemorate the overseas exchange activities of Amenomori Hoshu, a Confucian scholar who lived from 1668 to 1755. Amenomori served the Tsushima domain as an emissary to the Korean Peninsula for nearly a quarter of a century. He lived in Busan for two years, and while there helped compile a Japanese language dictionary. On his return, he wrote a Korean language textbook for beginners. (He also learned Chinese.)

The scholar is known as an advocate of close, friendly relations between the two countries, which he expressed in the phrase seishin korin (sincere relations between neighbors). The association rotates the site of its meetings among Tsushima, Fukuoka City, and Seoul, and this year it was Seoul’s turn to play host. The meeting was held as scheduled with a delegation of 60 from Japan, even though it was just a few days after the latest controversy erupted.

Said the association chairman, “At times such as these, I think (the key is) seishin korin.”

For some Koreans, this choice of paradigms seems to be an easy one to make. It’s too bad that too few find it too easy to make the wrong choice.


Some links of interest:

1. The Jeju Haenyeo Museum in Jeju devoted to the women divers. There’s no English or Japanese, but you won’t need them to see the more than 100 photos.

2. Here’s a previous post on a Mie ama festival. It’s festival number three.

3. This YouTube video of the Jeju women unloading their catch is worth watching. It’s a shame that people filming YouTube videos insist on talking at the same time, despite having nothing to contribute. At one point, the woman here says, “They’re looking for octopus. Maybe.” She would have done us a favor by letting the Korean woman accompanying her do all the talking.

Posted in History, International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

The nascent Japanese eco-skepticism

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 27, 2008

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace in a continual state of alarm (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing them with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
– H.L. Mencken

When people come to know the truth, they will feel deceived by science and scientists.
– Dr. Akasofu Shun’ichi, Professor Emeritus of the University of Alaska and Founding Director of the International Arctic Research Center

THE JAPANESE USED TO SAY they were 10 years behind the Americans in everything. Of course that wasn’t true—after all, college students in this country in the late 1970s never did dose themselves with LSD to turn on, tune in, and drop out.

But there’s one instance in which they may be right. Their growing skepticism of the claims of the radical environmentalists about global warming, carbon dioxide, and rising ocean levels is just now becoming apparent. That skepticism has been building for the better part of a decade in the West. It fully emerged seven years ago when former Greenpeace member Björn Lomborg revealed in his groundbreaking book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, the blantant exaggerations, mythology, and untruths behind what is now more new religion than scientific concern.

Consider the statement above by the Nagano-born Dr. Akasofu, now an American citizen. Then consider his credentials. A geophysics professor since 1964, he was named one of the “1000 Most Cited Scientists” in 1981 and 2002. He has received the Chapman Medal from the Royal Astronomy Society of London, the Japan Academy of Sciences Award, the John Adams Fleming Award of the American Geophysical Union, and the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Star, a Japanese medal.

He has written a paper titled Notes on Climate Change, which you can read here. Dr. Akasofu compares the current climate change scare to the panic caused in the U.S. by 30 October 1938 radio broadcast of Orson Welles’s realistic dramatization of The War of the Worlds.

Another skeptic is Dr. Itoh Kiminori of Yokohama National University, who has written several books on this subject in Japanese. The most recent is Lies and Traps in Global Warming Affairs (地球温暖化論のウソとワナ –Here is the link for Japanese readers.)

Despite serving as an expert reviewer of the work done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared a Nobel Prize with Al Gore, Dr. Itoh sharply disagrees with their conclusions. In a guest post on a climate science website, he outlined six points for policy makers to consider when formulating environmental policy:

  1. The global temperature will not increase rapidly if any. There is sufficient time to think about future energy and social systems.
  2. The climate system is more robust than conventionally claimed. For instance, the Gulf Stream will not stop by fresh water inflow.
  3. There are many factors to cause the climate changes particularly in regional and local scales. Considering only greenhouse gases is nonsense and harmful.
  4. A comprehensive climate convention is necessary. The framework-protocol formulism is too old to apply to modern international issues.
  5. Reconsider countermeasures for the climate changes. For instance, to reduce Asian Brown Cloud through financial and technical aid of developed countries is beneficial from many aspects, and can become a Win-Win policy.
  6. The policy makers should be “Four-ball juggler.” Multiple viewpoints are inevitable to realize sustainable societies.

A third Japanese eco-skeptic is Dr. Takeda Kunihiko, vice-chancellor of the Institute of Science and Technology Research at Chubu University. His most recent book is Hypocritical Ecology. (偽善エコロジーHere is the link for Japanese readers.)

The Japan Times recently ran a profile of Dr. Takeda, in which he said:

Fear is a very efficient weapon: It produces the desired effect without much waste. Global warming has nothing to do with how much CO2 is produced or what we do here on Earth. For millions of years, solar activity has been controlling temperatures on Earth and even now, the sun controls how high the mercury goes. CO2 emissions make absolutely no difference one way or another. Soon it will cool down anyhow, once again, regardless of what we do. Every scientist knows this, but it doesn’t pay to say so.

Dr. Takeda speaks of fear; H.L. Mencken spoke of alarm over the hobgoblins.

Why is this Japanese awareness emerging now? Could it be part of a larger emerging global awareness of the combination of improbable claims and tyrannical methods of the environmentalists?

It’s not out of the question. Take for example the Physics and Society Forum of the American Physical Society, which has recently crossed over to the camp of the skeptics.

The APS is opening its debate with the publication of a paper by Lord Monckton of Brenchley, which concludes that climate sensitivity — the rate of temperature change a given amount of greenhouse gas will cause — has been grossly overstated by IPCC modeling. A low sensitivity implies additional atmospheric CO2 will have little effect on global climate.

Larry Gould, Professor of Physics at the University of Hartford and Chairman of the New England Section of the APS, called Monckton’s paper an “expose of the IPCC that details numerous exaggerations and “extensive errors”

In an email to DailyTech, Monckton says, “I was dismayed to discover that the IPCC’s 2001 and 2007 reports did not devote chapters to the central ‘climate sensitivity’ question, and did not explain in proper, systematic detail the methods by which they evaluated it. When I began to investigate, it seemed that the IPCC was deliberately concealing and obscuring its method.”

Here is Monckton’s paper on their website:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) concluded that anthropogenic CO2 emissions probably caused more than half of the “global warming” of the past 50 years and would cause further rapid warming. However, global mean surface temperature has not risen since 1998 and may have fallen since late 2001…More importantly, the conclusion is that, perhaps, there is no “climate crisis”, and that currently-fashionable efforts by governments to reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions are pointless, may be ill-conceived, and could even be harmful.

He concludes:

  • Even if temperature had risen above natural variability, the recent solar Grand Maximum may have been chiefly responsible.
  • Even if the sun were not chiefly to blame for the past half-century’s warming, the IPCC has not demonstrated that, since CO2 occupies only one-ten-thousandth part more of the atmosphere that it did in 1750, it has contributed more than a small fraction of the warming.
  • Even if carbon dioxide were chiefly responsible for the warming that ceased in 1998 and may not resume until 2015, the distinctive, projected fingerprint of anthropogenic “greenhouse-gas” warming is entirely absent from the observed record.
  • Even if the fingerprint were present, computer models are long proven to be inherently incapable of providing projections of the future state of the climate that are sound enough for policymaking.
  • Even if per impossibile the models could ever become reliable, the present paper demonstrates that it is not at all likely that the world will warm as much as the IPCC imagines.
  • Even if the world were to warm that much, the overwhelming majority of the scientific, peer-reviewed literature does not predict that catastrophe would ensue.
  • Even if catastrophe might ensue, even the most drastic proposals to mitigate future climate change by reducing emissions of carbon dioxide would make very little difference to the climate.
  • Even if mitigation were likely to be effective, it would do more harm than good: already millions face starvation as the dash for biofuels takes agricultural land out of essential food production: a warning that taking precautions, “just in case”, can do untold harm unless there is a sound, scientific basis for them.
  • Finally, even if mitigation might do more good than harm, adaptation as (and if) necessary would be far more cost-effective and less likely to be harmful.

In short, we must get the science right, or we shall get the policy wrong.

The conclusion cites as an example of misguided policies the starvation caused by the use of food crops for biofuel. Here’s what the World Bank thinks:

Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% – far more than previously estimated – according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian…It will add to pressure on governments in Washington and across Europe, which have turned to plant-derived fuels to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and reduce their dependence on imported oil.

Rising food prices have pushed 100 million people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel prices as “the first real economic crisis of globalisation”.

“Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate,” says the report.

Winnipeg climatologist Tim Ball says that severe weather patterns are the result of global cooling, rather than global warming, but that the proponents of human-caused climate change ignore that. In addition to the bad science, Dr. Ball says the proponents are pushing a fraud:

The world is cooling while CO2 levels continue to rise. In every record for any period in history temperature increases before CO2, not as assumed. Plans to implement carbon taxes to offset warming exacerbate soaring fuel prices. Effects of policies implemented to replace fossil fuels with biofuels are driving food and total living costs rapidly higher.

The graph from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that severe tornadoes were higher in the period from 1950 to 1975. Global temperatures were falling during that time. Since then frequency has decreased as the world warmed to 2000. Since then the world has cooled slightly and the pattern shows a slight increase in severe tornadoes.

This trend of severe weather is most likely to increase as the Earth continues to cool. Proponents of human caused climate change will claim it proves them right. They will continue their practice of claiming natural events as unnatural. Unless people understand the basic science they will continue the fraud and pressure politicians into even more damaging energy and environmental policies.

Meanwhile, in The Guardian, the aforementioned Björn Lomborg says we’re being force-fed vastly over-hyped scare stories that block out sensible solutions to climate change.

Fear…hobgoblins…scare stories…

When it comes to global warming, extreme scare stories abound. Al Gore, for example, famously claimed that a whopping six metres of sea-level rise would flood major cities around the world.

Gore’s scientific adviser, Jim Hansen from Nasa, has even topped his protege. Hansen suggests that there will eventually be sea-level rises of 24 metres, with a six-metre rise happening just this century. Little wonder that fellow environmentalist Bill McKibben states that “we are engaging in a reckless drive-by drowning of much of the rest of the planet and much of the rest of creation.”

Given all the warnings, here is a slightly inconvenient truth: over the past two years, the global sea level hasn’t increased. It has slightly decreased. Since 1992, satellites orbiting the planet have measured the global sea level every 10 days with an amazing degree of accuracy – 3-4mm. For two years, sea levels have declined. (All of the data are available at


This doesn’t mean that global warming is not true. As we emit more CO2, over time the temperature will moderately increase, causing the sea to warm and expand somewhat. Thus, the sea-level rise is expected to pick up again. This is what the UN climate panel is telling us; the best models indicate a sea-level rise over this century of 18 to 59 centimeters (7-24 inches), with the typical estimate at 30cm. This is not terrifying or even particularly scary – 30cm is how much the sea rose over the last 150 years.

Simply put, we’re being force-fed vastly over-hyped scare stories. Proclaiming six meters of sea-level rise over this century contradicts thousands of UN scientists, and requires the sea-level rise to accelerate roughly 40-fold from today. Imagine how climate alarmists would play up the story if we actually saw an increase in the sea-level rise.

Here’s the truly scary part:

Increasingly, alarmists claim that we should not be allowed to hear such facts. In June, Hansen proclaimed that people who spread “disinformation” about global warming – CEOs, politicians, in fact anyone who doesn’t follow Hansen’s narrow definition of the “truth” – should literally be tried for crimes against humanity…Campaigner Mark Lynas envisions Nuremberg-style “international criminal tribunals” against those who dare to challenge the climate dogma.

Of course the politicians aren’t interested in the science–they’re seizing the chance to make themselves look good by confronting imaginary hobgoblins. Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo led the way earlier this month at the Toyako Summit.

The Group of Eight powers took a step forward Tuesday in the fight against global warming at their summit in Lake Toyako, Hokkaido.

They agreed to “seek to share” with both developing and developed countries the goal of halving global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 2050. They called on all signatories to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to share this vision and to adopt this goal at their meeting.

What better solution for today’s G-8 leaders? They’ll be long gone by 2050, but meanwhile they’ll get the credit today for their empty but expensive promises.

The parties to the pact are preparing to create a framework to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, whose implementation period expires in 2012. It is, therefore, significant that the G-8 requested parties to the pact to adopt this goal.

The United States did not readily accept the 50-percent reduction by 2050 goal. Instead of giving up, the G-8 decided to leave the matter to the U.N. framework. In effect, Japan and Europe brushed aside outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush’s reluctance to ensure that the United Nations leads the initiative.

American CO2 emissions have declined since the Kyoto Protocol was written, while those of Europe, signatories to the treaty, have increased. So what does the G-8 decide to do? Take the matter out of the hands of the people who were successful and put it into the hands of the people who are “deliberately obscuring” their methods to produce bad science.

The Asahi would also have us think global “warming” is a question of security.

In June, the National Intelligence Council (NIC), a U.S. government organization that analyzes foreign policy issues based on data provided by the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence bodies, published its assessment of the security threats posed by climate change.

In its report, the council warned that global warming could aggravate the problems of poverty and resource shortages, thereby triggering more civil strife and conflict in already volatile regions.

The world must brace itself for all sorts of problems triggered by continued warming of the Earth. At the same time, it must take every possible step to eventually curb harmful climate change.

As demonstrated by the biofuel solution, the only problems we’ve have so far have been those caused by governments responding to hobgoblins.

Global warming is projected to have disastrous consequences–a rise in sea levels and more frequent droughts and flooding.

Refer to the link above regarding the satellite measurements of sea levels showing that no disastrous consequences are in the offing. The Asahi didn’t.

Security strategy among the major powers tends to concentrate political and military power on regions which are most likely to experience conflicts or which involve intertwined national interests. Europe was such a region during the Cold War, just as the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula are today.

The impact of global warming, whether it be sea-level rises or extreme weather, will cut wide swaths around the world. Such crises could emerge simultaneously in many parts of the world.

If the fallout brought on by global warming causes conflicts to break out all over the world at the same time, even the overwhelming military power of the United States or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the world’s largest military alliance, will be powerless to handle this intractable situation.

Now that took some writing skill: the Asahi needed only three paragraphs to turn hot air into uncontrollable global chaos.

The basic principles of sustainable security include…spreading democratic governance to prevent the proliferation of failed nations that are unable to govern their people.

Good luck with China. They didn’t think the Kyoto Protocol had anything to do with them either.

The threats posed by global warming, if compounded by delayed policy responses, will only cause more confusion.

So stop confusing yourself by thinking and do as we say!

Developing countries are likely to be hit the hardest by sea-level rises, floods and other damaging effects of climate change. This is particularly troubling.

Harmful climate change could widen the gap between rich and poor in these countries, thus setting the stage for riots and political unrest. This could trigger a huge refugee exodus as people flee their devastated countries. Some people may even be tempted to join terrorist organizations.

A worst-case scenario including the above developments must be taken into account when we map out strategies for expanding aid to developing countries….

If a “worst-case scenario…must be taken into account”, none of us would get out of bed in the morning.

But give them extra credit for those writing skills: three more short paragraphs to spin some more hot air into a justification for a global income redistribution scheme to prevent terrorism.

And if you object, Jim Hansen will put you on trial for crimes against humanity.

Support should also be provided to help developing countries improve their political systems and administrative abilities so they can respond more effectively to problems caused by climate change. But such support should be provided in the least intrusive manner.

Wouldn’t you love to hear just how they propose to accomplish that?

All these threads converge in the recent visit of Tavau Teii, deputy prime minister of Tuvalu, to Japan to shake down the government for money.

Well, that’s not what he said, but that’s what he was doing. The Asahi—natch—has the story:

The audience gasped as Tavau Teii, deputy prime minister of the tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu, presented his slide show. Frame after frame showed how global warming threatens to submerge the island group that is home to fewer than 12,000 people.

Get ready for it.

“Tuvalu stands as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. There is no time to waste,” Teii said, addressing about 650 citizens at a public awareness symposium organized by Tokyo’s Adachi Ward late last month ahead of the Group of Eight summit that starts Monday in Hokkaido…The event was to serve as a showcase for Japan’s first program to help Pacific island states cope with the impact of global warming under the Cool Earth Partnership, a wide-ranged program for helping developing countries deal with climate change.

In mid-December, Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Apisai Ielemia submitted a proposal for dealing with climate change, aimed at prodding the major emitters to heed the demands of island nations.

The proposal called on industrialized countries to create systems to compensate for damage caused by global warming, with funding from taxes that would be levied on international airline fees and shipping fees.

While welcoming the package, experts based in small Pacific island nations note that more will be expected from Japan.

What a lovely scam.
Step one: Make up false charges about a real issue.
Step two: Force other people to pay for a false solution.
Step three: Congratulate yourself for finally achieving income distribution from the developed world to the undeveloped world using the hobgoblin of rising ocean levels that aren’t rising.
Step four: Get the Japanese to pay even more for an even longer time.

Patrick Nunn, a professor of geology at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji…called Japan’s program a “short-term measure, not a long-term sustainable one.” At the current pace, it is inevitable that parts of island states such as Tuvalu will become uninhabitable in 50 years, he said. The Japanese program, as he understood it, would “likely only help islanders survive for another 30 years.”

In other words, the beggary/buggary will go on for half a century.

Get ready for more:

“Climate change is a problem caused by industrialized countries, with the burden borne disproportionately by developing countries, like those in the Pacific. Those responsible for causing the problem should shoulder greater responsibility in alleviating it,” said Jyotishma Naicker, a climate change specialist at WWF South Pacific Program based in Fiji…

What’s the point? To shame people into feeling so guilty they won’t object when the contents of their wallets are stolen in the name of morality and environmentalism—even though income distribution is the real name of the game.

If the facts don’t get in the way first:

It is likely that the beach erosion and building on (Tuvalu) caused the sea flooding of areas over the last decade. And that is a true environmental concern. But it is a local, man-made problem that will not be solved with massive cuts in carbon dioxide emission.

An environmental official of Tuvalu, Elisala Pita, is concerned with the alarmism of western eco-imperialists. In an interview in the Canadian Globe and Mail on November 24, Pita says that, “This [coastal] erosion is caused by man-made infrastructure. Tuvalu is being used for the issue of climate change. People are telling all these lies, just using Tuvalu to prove their point. No island is sinking. Tuvalu is not sinking. It is still floating.”

Careful, Mr. Pita–you might be looking at a stretch in jail for saying what you think.

Some Japanese have finally gotten wise to what’s going on. The Asahi is surely a hopeless case, but what will it take for the rest of the country?

Charging Dr. Akasofu Shun’ichi–who received a medal from the Emperor of Japan for his scientific work—with crimes against humanity at the Nuremburg/Tokyo Environmental War Crimes Tribunal?

They’re not going to stop, you know. Now that they’ve been exposed, they’ll fight back with more extreme claims and more despotic measures.

Get ready for it.

Posted in Environmentalism, Mass media, Social trends | 8 Comments »

More tofu = lower fertility?

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 26, 2008

SKY TV in the UK presents this report on research at Harvard finding that higher soy intake leads to significantly lower sperm counts.

Sperm count ranges between 80 and 120 million sperm per millilitre (million/ml) of semen for normal healthy men.

But researchers in the US found that those with the highest soya intake had average counts of 41 million/ml lower than those of men who did not consume soya products.

Yes, even Sky TV knew the next question was obvious.

The scientists addressed the obvious question of why Asian men, who eat large amounts of soya, still appear to be fertile.

They pointed out that while obesity is increasing at alarming rates in the US, it is still much less common in Asia.

That’s because…

The research also brought more bad news for overweight or obese men, with the link between soya consumption and sperm count being stronger in that group.

Overweight men may be extra affected because their bodies produce more estrogen than slimmer people, the researchers believe.

Here’s a more detailed report on the Harvard study. The researchers said:

…the clinical significance of their research remains to be determined, and further randomised trials are needed.

Considering the population figures in East Asia, I think I’ll take this with a grain of salt pending further trials.

On second thought, I’ll skip the salt. It’s not very appetizing with tofu.

Posted in Food | 6 Comments »

Japanese and South Korean editorials on Takeshima: A comparison

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 25, 2008

ONE POINT I often try to make here is that the Japanese media is not as biased in a nationalistic sense as some people claim. Bias, as with beauty, is in the (biased) eye of the beholder, but I think the tone of the Japanese print and broadcast media is in general rather mild.

“Compared to what?” some might ask, and that’s a valid question. In fact, that’s what this post is about.

New reader Chris (at least I think he is a new reader), contributed some comments over the past couple of days on this week’s Takeshima posts. Chris seems to be a reasonable fellow who expresses his sincere opinion in a positive way, which is always welcome. His exchange with another commenter started me thinking, and that’s a dangerous thing for an ampontan to do!

First, Chris said:

I know anything from a Korean source would be biased towards Korea. Same as with Japan I would imagine.

Poster Aceface replied:

The second largest paper in the country, Asahi, actually had an op-ed by the head of commentary department mentioning handing the island over to Korea in 2005.

To which Chris answered:

Perhaps I should have phrased my sentences a bit different. Most sources from a Korean would be biased as well as most sources from a Japanese would be biased. Every country has its bias when it comes to writing its own history.

Well, why don’t we find out!

The following are excerpts from and links to Japanese and South Korean newspaper editorials about the recent Takeshima contretemps.

Not all the Japanese editorials are in English. The Mainichi Shimbun has temporarily suspended its English website due to the WaiWai stupidities, and a few other newspapers don’t have English translations of their articles. Therefore, I’ve translated the juiciest parts.

Japanese-language newspaper links are as evanescent as the dew, so I usually don’t link to them. I’m making an exception in this case to allow people to correct the translations, if they think it’s necessary, or to allow people the chance to critique the parts I chose to translate.

The point of this is to present a general overview, so please do not write in to say, “Oh, that’s just the XXX newspaper, they’re XXX wing, you can’t take them seriously.” For that reason, I’m not going to identify the ideological orientation of the Japanese newspapers. (You’ll figure it out soon enough anyway.) I’m not familiar enough with the Korean newspapers to say.

Let’s start with Japan first.

Yomiuri Shimbun, 15 July
Teach the Truth—Takeshima Part of Japan

The Takeshima islets are an integral part of our nation’s territory historically and according to international law. This is the position the Japanese government has steadfastly maintained.


…the manual calls for teachers to refer to disagreement between Japan and South Korea over territorial claim to the Takeshima islets.

This shows a measure of a diplomatic consideration for South Korea. The South Korean government is strongly opposing Japan’s move, as demonstrated by its plan to temporarily recall South Korean Ambassador to Japan Kwon Chul Hyun. We hope that Seoul responds to the matter calmly.


The circumstances took an abrupt turn shortly before the San Francisco Peace Treaty, which stipulates the post-World War II territory of Japan, went into effect in 1952. Then South Korean President Syngman Rhee suddenly declared sovereignty over the waters around South Korea and drew a line in the Sea of Japan to claim the Takeshima islets as part of his nation’s territory. Since then, South Korea has unlawfully occupied the islets.

South Korea is a neighboring country with which Japan has to closely cooperate in scrapping North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and resolving the dispute over its abduction of Japanese.

However, what the Japanese should be taught in school–issues relating to their territory included–is a matter that can affect their sovereignty. Diplomatic consideration belongs in a different category from that covering an obligation to pass the history of a sovereign state and accurate facts about its territory onto upcoming generations….

Solving the territorial dispute over the Takeshima islets is a difficult task. For this reason, it is vital that the Japanese people correctly understand the issue and can state their case to the international community.

Asahi Shimbun, 16 July
Takeshima Issue

For South Koreans, Takeshima is far more than just a territorial issue. It is a symbol of Japan’s past colonial rule of the Korean people. The islands were incorporated into Japan’s Shimane Prefecture in 1905. That same year, Japan divested Korea of its diplomatic rights in prelude to the annexation of the Korean Peninsula.

“Tokto, our land” is a South Korean song taught to all children to inculcate patriotism. The issue of ownership is essential to South Korean nationalism.


The education ministry’s curriculum guidelines are revised every 10 years or so, along with the accompanying manual. 2008 was such a year.

Some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party saw this as the perfect opportunity to insist that schools spend more time discussing the Takeshima issue, as well as the longstanding row with Russia over the Northern Territories.

In South Korea, the administration of President Lee Myung-bak was inaugurated in February. Given the fact that Japan cannot do without South Korea’s cooperation in dealing with North Korea over the nuclear and abduction issues, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was careful not to get into a diplomatic fray with Seoul.

That explains Fukuda’s decision not to delve into the Takeshima issue when revisions to the official curriculum guidelines were released in March. As a trade-off, however, he had no choice but to allow the Takeshima issue to be mentioned in the manual. This illustrates Fukuda’s weak footing in his own party.

Lee has problems on the home front as well. South Koreans’ anger with their government has exploded with the resumption of U.S. beef imports. The Lee administration cannot afford to come across as spineless at this critical juncture.

Nevertheless, everybody should calm down.

The manual issue amounts to nothing more than a rehash of the Japanese government’s official stand on the Takeshima issue. In fact, existing textbooks from four publishers already contain passages on Takeshima. The great majority of Japanese citizens hope to maintain good bilateral ties. Tokyo should seize every opportunity to explain this fact clearly and patiently to Seoul.

We can appreciate South Korea’s anger. But that said, it is also a fact that the manual states objectively that South Korea and Japan have always been at odds over Takeshima’s ownership.

Both sides should present their arguments, agree to disagree, and try to resolve the dispute calmly. That is the only way to go.

The Japan Times, 17 July
(The Japan Times is an English-language newspaper unaffiliated with the vernacular dailies.)

Don’t Let Islets Issue Damage Ties

The government’s decision to mention the Takeshima islets, in the Sea of Japan, in a teaching manual has cast a pall over ties between Japan and South Korea, both of which claim sovereignty over the islets. South Korean reactions are strong and could touch off strong nationalistic sentiment in Japan….


The decision came at a bad time. South Korean President Lee Myung Bak has seen his approval ratings plummet over U.S. beef imports and cannot afford to take a conciliatory stance toward Japan. Both Japan and South Korea should do their utmost to keep a lid on popular emotional outbursts.


During his Tokyo visit in April, Mr. Lee and Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda agreed to build a “more mature partnership” between their countries. The tiny islets should never be allowed to undermine bilateral ties, which are vital for mutual prosperity and stability in East Asia.

Mainichi Shimbun 15 July
Territorial Issues Need to be Considered Calmly

South Korea has strongly objected to the Japanese decision, and has taken such steps as temporarily recalling its ambassador. But at this point, we would like to see a calm response from the South Koreans….

We cannot forget that both Japan and South Korea should maintain strong ties to respond to North Korea. There will be no benefit whatsoever if problems incapable of resolution in a short time cause a reversal in Japanese-Korean relations…

Considering South Korean textbooks state that “Dokdo is our land”, it isn’t unnatural for Japanese textbooks to take up the Takeshima question from this perspective: “As historical fact and international law make clear, (it) is our land.”

Territorial issues easily inflame popular sentiment. This issue should be rationally and persistently discussed by both governments in a diplomatic setting. Repeatedly taking emotional stands will never lead to a resolution…

Nikkei Shimbun (Business and financial newspaper)

I couldn’t find their editorial, but did find this excerpt somewhere else:

“We hope the Japanese and South Korean governments strive to prevent conflict over this serious political problem. The intensification of Japanese-South Korean conflict will only make North Korea happy.”

Sankei Shimbun 15 July (Business and Financial Newspaper)
Clearly Teach that Takeshima is Japanese Territory

…It is not clearly written (in the instruction manual) that Takeshima is an integral part of Japanese territory, and that is highly unsatisfactory…

The territorial issue has a bearing on Japanese sovereignty. Including diplomatic considerations in the instruction manual, which describes how to teach the subjects, will be a source for future trouble in Japanese public education…We have a difficult time understanding Korean dissatisfaction.

Social studies classes must properly teach that Takeshima is without question, historically and legally Japanese territory—including the historical circumstances. That is what public education is all about.

The Nishinippon Shimbun 16 July
(This regional newspaper primarily covers Northern Kyushu. It is based in Fukuoka City in Kyushu and is the largest major newspaper closest to South Korea.)

Seeking Calm from Japan and South Korea

That Takeshima is an integral part of Japanese territory has long been the view of the Japanese government, and a view with which most Japanese people agree. In that sense, the content added to the teachers’ instruction manual merely reflects that view…To have the manual state there are differences with South Korea in claims over Takeshima is an objective fact. Few Japanese will object to the rationale of the inclusion that we are furthering (the students’) understanding of our land and territory…It is natural to objectively teach in classes the existence and circumstances of Takeshima, and it would be unnatural to deal with the situation by purposely avoiding the existence of Takeshima, which is on the map, after all.


The South Korean government and people have continued to strongly insist that Dokdo is South Korean land, and that no territorial issue exists regarding the island…(Recently) the South Korean government immediately objected to the instruction manual, and temporarily recalled their ambassador. National Assembly members flew on helicopters there to demonstrate that South Korea effectively controls (it).

But at this point, we want to say to South Korea: “Hold it.”

We want the South Korean government to calmly accept and explain to its people that the content of the manual is restrained, with consideration given to the South Korean view. While there are domestic political considerations, the opposition to another country and conflict between governments can fan nationalism between both people. It can only inflame anti-Japanese and anti-Korean sentiments.

Thus fissures will reappear in the Japan-Korean relationship, which had finally been repaired. Neither country should seek a deterioration of relations…We also hope Japan will calmly exert diplomatic influence.

That’s why it’s necessary for both sides to recognize the difference in claims, and to persistently continue rational discussions by verifying the historical facts.


Now for the South Korean editorials. The Korean Herald and Seoul Times websites are user-unfriendly, and I had trouble navigating them. That’s why they aren’t represented. If I missed some newspapers, let me know. These are in no special order. There are multiple editorials from some Korean newspapers and only one from the Japanese newspapers because that’s how the newspapers chose to do it.

The Korea Times 18 July
Change in Approach

Diplomatic rows between Korea and Japan have followed an almost fixed pattern in the past: Japan usually started them by provoking Korea over historical or territorial issues; Koreans flared up; Tokyo then backed off with an excuse or apology; and Seoul forgave and forgot ― until the next provocation. Upon the end of each episode, however, Japan savored what little progress had been obtained. It will likely be quite different this time…

Seoul may take whatever diplomatic retaliatory measure it thinks necessary, depending on the future development. It is questionable, however, whether the officials should compete to unveil the strong-arm tactics all at once.

What they should do instead is to orchestrate a comprehensive strategy to prepare for a drawn-out dispute first by dividing the roles of administrative and legislative branches, public and private sectors and central and provincial governments and then by combining it into a one, long-term plan.

The real war surrounding Dokdo has just begun in earnest.

Chosun Ilbo 18 July
For Each Provocation, a New Structure on Dokdo

Japanese politicians, from ruling and opposition parties alike, are uniting in their efforts to claim sovereignty over Korea’s Dokdo islets. As Japanese society shifts further to the right, politicians and the news media are also shifting in that direction, giving rise to this movement over the islets. And this movement is expected to continue for a long time. In other words, Japan will never voluntarily give up on its claim over Korea’s Dokdo.


In the end, we must stop being dragged around by Japan’s provocations, but start gathering various historical records evidencing Korea’s ownership of Dokdo to prove this according to international law. We must also step up our vigilance. If Japan continues to take provocative measures regarding Dokdo, we should also make it a point to increase the number of facilities we build there.

Dong-A Ilbo 14 July
Japan’s False Obsession With Dokdo

Historically and pragmatically, it is absurd for Japan to claim sovereignty to the islets. Responsibility and discretion lies entirely in the hands of Japan. It can choose to follow rationality and abandon its unreasonable greed for the island or scuttle its recovering relations with Korea.


…Isn’t it absurd to talk about “considerate approach” when Japan is talking about another country’s territory? No matter how Japan as a whole tries to disguise the truth, the truth is that Dokdo is Korean territory.

Fukuda promised a future-oriented new era in his April 20 meeting with President Lee. Less than three months have passed, and Japan is trying to stab its neighbor in the back! How can we trust this country and its prime minister? Senior figures in Japan have constantly announced Japan’s sovereignty over Dokdo and have shattered relations between the two countries. Catering to the Japanese population, Japanese leaders have repeatedly made false arguments while turning on their ally.

Shame on Japan! If Tokyo insists on this absurdity, we have to fight back hard. And Japan shall be held solely responsible for the casualties from a harsh bilateral relationship.

JoongAng Ilbo 16 July
United on Dokdo

It is wrong to hit a person and then ask him to stay calm. It is wrong to patronize the person, saying that he hit him with an open hand instead of a closed fist, out of good will.

One feels enraged and helpless upon hearing the Japanese government’s and media’s outrageous claims that Japan owns the Dokdo Islets in the East Sea. Japan’s actions looks like those of a gang member who hits a passerby on the shoulder out of the blue and then through intimidation, tries to keep the person from responding.


…The Japanese government has upset Koreans’ otherwise peaceful sentiment and now it asks Koreans to be calm in response. This is a serious provocation.


…Japanese media outlets also reported that the Dokdo issue was addressed in the recent Korea-Japan summit meeting, even thought that is not true.


The Japanese government and media must be aware that the ownership of Dokdo is an issue of sovereignty, that it has nothing to do with any particular administration and that not one single Korean will offer concessions over the islets.

JoongAng Ilbo (#2) 15 July
Dokdo is ours

Claiming that Dokdo is Japan’s territory is one thing; teaching it to teenagers is another. The latter is tantamount to encouraging young people to dispute the ownership of Korea’s territory in the future when they grow up….


Japan says the section about Dokdo in the document was stated in an indirect way because it respects Korea’s stance. But this is nothing but a word game.

…If Japan had genuinely apologized for invading and colonizing its neighbors, the government would have refrained from mentioning Dokdo in its education guidebook.

This is why many maintain that Japan wears a smile on its face but will betray you behind your back, and that Japan is not qualified to become a leader in the region or on the international stage.


…Japan’s provocation is technically the same as a declaration of war for sovereignty over our territory. Dokdo is Korea’s territory, according to history, international law and geography.

…The Korean government needs to respond with determination but it should stay calm so that exchanges and cooperation in the private sector, such as economy and culture, are not disrupted.

The Hankyoreh 15 July
The right response to the latest Dokdo claim

We must, first of all, note that this move is a shameless distortion that ignores historical and substantial truth. Dokdo is territory proven to be Korean through authoritative historical sources and is under Korean control. But since 2001, the Japanese government has aided and abetted the distortions, and in 2005 it issued an official opinion regarding the textbook approval process, calling for clarity so that there is no mistaking that Dokdo is Japanese.


South Korea is of the view that this is a rejection of our proposal to “look straight at the past and open up the future,” and is moving to recall the ambassador to Tokyo and take measures that better assert Korean control over Dokdo. This would appear to be the unavoidable course of action.

However, it must be noted that the current situation was, in part, caused by the Lee Myung-bak administration’s flippant approach. He knew well enough how Japan has trampled on the goodwill of previous Korean administrations when they said they would not make historical issues diplomatic ones, and yet he bowed his head to Japan saying that he would “move to the future without raising questions about the past.” When it became apparent Japan was going to include its territorial claims on Dokdo, Lee’s administration got all flustered but was able to win nothing about the matter. It should take this as a lesson, realize that “unresolved issues of the past” are not issues of the past but of the present, and respond accordingly.

The Hankyoreh 16 July
More of Lee’s foreign policy failures

Japan is gradually increasing the intensity of its territorial claims on Dokdo, this while ignoring historical and substantial truth, and its behavior must not be tolerated. The Korean government is taking action in response to Japan’s provocation, by recalling Seoul’s ambassador and better asserting Korean control over the islets.


However, the action the government is now taking does give you the feeling it is making a big to-do to hide its own policy failures, given how its approach was completely different from previous Korean policy towards Japan.

The situation we have today originated in the (Lee) administration’s flippant and shallow thinking about relations with Japan, and international relations in general. It needs to reflect on its approach and give deep consideration to the interests of the Korean people and state and base foreign policy on that, because only by doing so will there be a future for Korean diplomacy.

That’s the crop. Additions and corrections welcome.

And as they say elsewhere: We report, you decide.

Posted in Education, History, International relations, Mass media, South Korea | Tagged: , | 71 Comments »

More Korean duck soup

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 24, 2008

SOME OF YOU probably thought I was being a wise guy when I compared the South Korean reaction to Japan’s inclusion of the Takeshima territorial dispute in their school curriculum to the Marx Brothers’ movie Duck Soup. (See the second post down.)

But how else to explain the outburst of Kwon Chul-hyun, South Korea’s ambassador to Japan, who was summoned back to Seoul last week? Mr. Kwon visited the headquarters of Hannara (The Grand National Party), which is the current ruling party, to give a report on his Japanese adventures.

If he wasn’t eating Duck Soup, he must have been drinking something. Here’s what he said, as reported by the Chosun Ilbo. Keep in mind this is going from Korean to Japanese to English:

“Japan has the same island country characteristics as England. They dislike isolation, so they have the inherent desire to advance onto the continent. South Korea should utilize that against them.”

This was going too far even for the South Koreans, and party members chastised Mr. Kwon for speaking in a manner unbecoming a diplomat. One Hannara party official led him out of the hall without a word, and the rest of the conference was closed to the public. Another party member told the press that the audience was bewildered. Cha Myong-jin, a National Assembly delegate and the person responsible for party press relations, is said to have expunged that portion of the ambassador’s remarks from the official record.

This brings to mind several questions:

First, how much did Mr. Kwon’s family have to spend to buy his way into the diplomatic corps?

Second, whose bright idea was it to send to Japan someone so disoriented from reality, rather than to some small, unimportant, and out-of-the-way place? Someone needs to tell Hannara about remittance men.

And finally, how could the ambassador spend more than a month here without realizing that the only people who think the Japanese would be interested in another continental invasion are running on the fumes of an overtaxed imagination?

As for the photo, reader Mac sent that along, and I thought I’d put it up in case you haven’t seen it. It’s from a demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul last week, when a group of bravos hammered nine pheasants to death, cut off their heads, dripped their blood on the Japanese flag, and then tossed their corpses onto the embassy grounds. Dig the military threads.

Onlookers were supposed to think they were green pheasants, which are the national bird of Japan, but it seems they had to make do with butchering the Korean variety instead. There might be some symbolism in there if you think about it.

Mac says the lads also chewed on the bird guts. While it is a game bird, and some might find it tasty, pheasant sashimi probably isn’t that appetizing.

Besides, guys, you’re supposed to squeeze all the blood out first.


I had to piece the story of the ambassador together out of three different reports. One I read this morning in today’s edition of the Nishinippon Shimbun.

Their account of the story was curious. They mentioned that Mr. Kwon called Japan an island country—which they said was a subtle Korean insult—but left out the part about the inherent Japanese desire to invade the continent.

Surely they knew about it and snipped it on purpose. Why? To prevent a heated reaction from their readers and avoid creating a bad impression of Koreans, obviously.

Remember that the next time you read a rant from a Western journalist, or a disaffected foreigner writing in the English-language press in Japan, or some blog, that would have you believe the press in this country often whips the insular, narrow-minded populace into a nationalist fervor.

Baloney. It just doesn’t happen, and anyone who spends any amount of time here and is intellectually honest knows that.

It does happen in other East Asian countries, however. But none of them is an island.

Posted in International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , | 12 Comments »

How much does a Diet member cost?

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 23, 2008

DON’T GET THE WRONG IDEA–the headline doesn’t refer to the funds required for hanagusuri, or nose medicine, one the Japanese terms for bribery.

It refers instead to a budget proposal by New Komeito, Japan’s forgotten political party. They’re trying to maintain their relevance despite being overshadowed by their Liberal Democratic Party stable mates, with whom they nominally rule in a coalition government. Because the party, which is considered by some to be the unofficial political arm of the Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, receives little coverage in the media, it’s difficult to know what they stand for. Then again, that’s difficult to figure out even when you read their website.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they stand for something.

New Komeito issued a draft version of their new party platform at the end of last month. It was briefly mentioned in the press, and the few people who read about it promptly forgot all about it. That’s a shame, because it contained some capital suggestions.

The pick of the litter was a 10% slash of the salaries and benefits of Diet members and national civil servants at the level of bureau chief and above.

That’s not coming out of the clear blue, because cash-strapped local governments throughout the country have implemented similar, and even more radical, pay cuts. True, New Komeito could have come up with an better idea for using the money saved—namely, to give it back to the citizens in the form of lower taxes.

Well, we can dream, can’t we? And while we’re dreaming, let’s include the fantasy that politicians are going to start pinching the public’s pennies because they’ve finally understood it’s not their money to begin with.

But when someone starts talking about a 10% cut in MP salaries and benefits, at least now they’re talking about some real money.

How Much Does a Diet Member Cost?

Former upper house member Fudesaki Hideyo, a member of the Japan Communist Party who resigned over a sexual harassment scandal, provided some details on the remuneration Diet members receive during a roundtable discussion that was presented in book form in Sangi-in Nanka Iranai, or We Don’t Need an Upper House!

During the discussion, he mentioned that all members of the upper and lower house receive an annual salary of 22 million yen (as of last year). That’s $US 206,000, give or take some spare change.

But he also brought up their 12 million yen annual allowance for documents, communications, transportation, and lodging expenses.

Mr. Fudesaki points out the allowance alone would make a handsome salary for the average employee. It’s the equivalent of $US 112,000.

Tax free.

And those funds aren’t subject to auditing, so no receipts are required to confirm expenditures.

Crunching the Numbers

The former Diet member thought a breakdown of this allowance into its individual components would reveal that it was unnecessary.

For example, the privilege to send mail for free is roughly similar to the franking privileges received by members of the U.S. Congress. The law states that Japanese parliamentarians can send public documents or documents related to government business free of charge.

But Mr. Fudesaki points out that most of the communication conducted by Diet members is sending PR–free campaign advertising–to local constituents about their Diet activities. The funds are used to cover these mailing expenses and their telephone bills. He doesn’t think those qualify as “public documents”. In fact, he wonders how much of this annual allowance is spent on drinking parties or on personal expenditures.

As an ex-Diet member, he should know.

He also wonders why there is a need for a transportation allowance. All Diet members ride in JR’s Green Cars for free. That means first class rail transportation nationwide. They also receive free passes for private railroads and buses. Those who live outside the capital area receive four free round-trip air tickets to their home districts a month.

Both houses share what is called the Motor Vehicle Division, which has close to 200 automobiles—black, naturally—and an equal number of drivers at their disposal. The limousines are used mostly for the commute to their Tokyo lodgings and to and from the airport for their trips home. (These are called the Friday-Tuesday trips: Friday afternoon flights home, and Tuesday morning flights back to Tokyo.) The cars and their drivers usually sit idle, especially when the Diet isn’t in session.

Is an additional transportation allowance really necessary?

Living expenses are also included in the allowance. This benefit is provided for those MPs from outside the Tokyo area who have to maintain a separate residence in the capital.

Except that those who live in the capital receive the same allowance too. And all MPs can live in government apartments at sharply discounted rents.

Why are living expenses reimbursed?

Wait, we haven’t gotten around to their annual tax-free allowance of 7.8 million yen for “studying legislation” (slightly more than $US 73,000). Nor have we mentioned that the government provides a financial subsidy to political parties that amounts to roughly 44 million yen per member (slightly more than $US 412,000). The justification for the last one is to keep the parties from shaking down businesses for political contributions. Ha!

Put all this cash in the same pot with the transportation freebies and the total bill for the taxpayer comes to roughly 100 million yen a year for each member (about $US 938,000). The combined membership of the upper and lower houses is 722 people.

We’re not done yet.

Here’s a Kyodo report describing how 150 MPs from both houses either have been or will travel abroad this summer. At taxpayer expense.

Lawmakers are defending the trips as an opportunity to exchange views with counterparts in other countries and carry out fact-finding missions abroad…

What facts are they finding abroad?

Diet affairs committee chiefs of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, New Komeito, as well as the Democratic Party of Japan and Social Democratic Party, are visiting Australia from Monday to look at the decision-making process of the country’s parliament.

Considering how they’ve conducted the Diet’s business since the DPJ gained control of the upper house in July 2007, they’re unlikely to learn much, and even less likely to apply it if they did.

Keep in mind there are roughly as many people in metropolitan Tokyo as there are in all of Australia.

And don’t forget that New Komeito was the party to come up with the idea of cutting Diet member swag by 10%. Maybe the party’s reps are going along on the junket to observe how Australia’s parliament cuts its members’ salaries.

Members of the Lower House’s special committee on disasters have been in China’s Sichuan Province since Sunday to examine the damage inflicted by the May 12 quake.

Wow, look at all that rubble!

They will also travel to Italy and Romania to study antidisaster measures there.

Then again, maybe the legislators are telling the truth. After all, why would anyone visit Romania on a summer junket when they have so many other semi-plausible destinations they could choose from?

Don’t answer that!

A group led by Akiko Santo, vice president of the Upper House, is on a trip to Europe, counting France and Italy as destinations, between July 8 and Monday to hold talks with senior members of European parliaments.

Paris is lovely in the summer, they say.

You know, it’s a shame the media didn’t pay much attention to the New Komeito proposal.

And it’s even more of a shame that we’ll probably never hear about it again.

Posted in Government | Leave a Comment »

Seoul’s choice: Busan or Takeshima

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 21, 2008

SOON OR LATE, South Korea will have to choose which paradigm to apply for its relations with Japan. They have two choices, both of which can be represented by geographical entities.

One choice is Busan, a city of more than three million on the southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula. It lies only 140 miles away from Fukuoka City in Kyushu across the Sea of Japan. Kyushu is the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands and has a population of roughly 13 million people.

The other choice is Takeshima, a group of islets in the Sea of Japan claimed by both countries. (The South Koreans call the islets Dokto.) The islets have a combined area of 187,450 square meters, or 46 acres. In contrast, Central Park in New York City covers 843 acres.

The Busan Choice

Cross-strait relations between Busan and Kyushu have thrived for more than a millennium. The interaction between Kyushu and southeastern Korea was so extensive that some scholars in both countries consider the region as a whole to have been one cultural sphere. The sea route between the two areas was the avenue through which Chinese culture entered Japan. Until the end of the 8th century, Kyushu (and the Japanese imperial court) interacted more extensively with the Baekche and Silla kingdoms than it did with the Japanese northeast.

Today Busan is South Korea’s second-largest city and most important port. It is the hub of Korean logistic operations, has an advanced commercial and industrial infrastructure, and is the center of the country’s offshore fishery industries.

Meanwhile, Kyushu accounts for 10% of Japan’s GDP. Standing alone, the region’s GDP exceeds that of both The Netherlands and Australia.

Earlier this month, it seemed as if the South Koreans under new President Lee Myung-bak would put the demagoguery of predecessor Roh Moo-hyun behind them and choose the Busan paradigm. One of Mr. Lee’s campaign promises was to support the creation of a super-regional economic zone that would include both Busan and Kyushu.

Two weeks ago, he met with a group of representatives of regional Japanese newspapers, including President Kawasaki Takao of the Nishinippon Shimbun, to discuss bilateral ties. He told them his government planned to hold discussions in the second half of the year to begin the steps to create the economic zone.

It was the first time Mr. Lee mentioned the scheme publicly since the election. He said:

“Korean-Japanese relations will develop with the formation of a joint economic zone. Busan and Kyushu in particular are already an economic zone, so we look forward to its realization in concrete terms.”

The private sector and local governments in both countries have pushed the idea for several years, but real hope for its success emerged when the South Korean government said it would make it their official policy.

The president also said that regional competition would benefit South Korea by stimulating domestic competition. He added that Busan-Kyushu ties were a win-win relationship with great potential. During his campaign, he asserted that real exchange with Kyushu was necessary to make the greater region competitive with Seoul, Tokyo, and Shanghai.

He envisions a super-regional economic zone contributing to the growth of venture capital-funded firms and technology transfer centers. It would become a center for financial markets and region-specific financing, and enhanced cooperation in tourism and cultural exchanges.

For leaders in business, academic, and government circles in both regions, Mr. Lee was preaching to the choir. They’ve been getting ready for just this opportunity for a long time. Here are some steps taken just before and just after Mr. Lee’s press conference with the Japanese.

Interregional Cooperation

  • Business and academic leaders formed the Fukuoka-Busan Forum in 2006. It has been meeting regularly to examine policies for strengthening ties and creating a super-regional economic zone. It met again at the end of last month.
  • At a meeting in Busan on 24 June, Busan Mayor Hur Nam-sik and Fukuoka City Mayor Yoshida Hiroshi agreed to issue a joint declaration in August calling for the creation of a super-regional economic zone encompassing Kyushu and the southeastern part of South Korea. They also planned to continue meetings to establish a set of priorities for the effort.
  • Universities from both regions made arrangements to form a consortium this August for the mutual recognition of academic credits.
  • Last week on the 16th, the Kyushu Investment Support Association was launched with the participation of 20 companies and groups from Japan and South Korea to provide assistance to South Korean companies wanting to establish a presence in Kyushu. Association members include the Fukuoka City-based Kyushu Economic Federation, the Fukuoka City branch of the South Korean Shinhan Bank, and the Nishi-Nippon City Bank. South Korean companies are boosting their investments in Kyushu’s manufacturing industry, so the association brings together professionals from such fields as Japanese law, intellectual property rights, and employment to provide those companies with expert information.

According to the Shinhan Bank, the sharp increase in companies wanting to invest in Kyushu has been driven in part by the appreciation of the won. The bank plans to set up Kyushu Investment Support Centers in all its branches this month.

  • The Kansei Value Creation Department of Kyushu University’s User Science Institute announced it will conduct joint research with Dongseo University of Busan. Their objective is to improve the design of four transportation hubs in both countries to create more aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically efficient facilities. One will be the international terminal at the Port of Hakata. The researchers also expect to employ new survey methods to discover the potential needs of the facilities.
  • As it is, more than 800,000 people now use the Port of Hakata every year to travel by high-speed jetfoil to Busan. The service is so successful that a new sea route to Busan was opened in June from the Port of Moji in Kitakyushu immediately to the north.
  • Finally, Korean Air Lines announced it will add another daily round-trip flight between Fukuoka City and Busan starting 1 September. The airline already operates one daily round-trip. The additional flight will allow more businesspeople in Fukuoka to commute to Busan for day trips on the 50-minute flight. The route is frequently used by personnel from Japanese businesses in Kyushu from the auto parts and steel industries.

The Korean About-Face

One week after Mr. Lee met with the reporters, however, the Korean attitude abruptly changed when the Japanese education ministry added a couple of sentences to its curriculum guidelines.

The ministry’s instruction manual for teachers, which is due to take effect in 2012, directs them to handle “the Northern Territories as part of our nation’s territory.” That is a reference to the four Japanese islands seized by the Soviet Union after Japan surrendered in World War II. The manual also asks teachers “to provide a deeper understanding of our nation’s territory” by handling the Takeshima islets “in a manner comparable to that used in dealing with the Northern Territories.” It also suggests that the teachers discuss the conflicting territorial claims between Japan and South Korea.

This is the first mention of the Takeshima issue in the manual. The phrasing in the final version was softened to avoid ruffling Korean feathers by stopping short of calling Takeshima “an integral part of our nation’s territory.” The South Koreans, however, had asked Japan not to mention Takeshima at all.

South Korean Unilateralism

South Korea currently occupies the islets in violation of international law. As part of the San Francisco Peace Treaty at the end of World War II, Japan was forced to relinquish specified territories it seized or colonized in the first half of the 20th century. It was allowed to keep the remaining unspecified territories, Takeshima among them.

But the South Koreans occupied Takeshima on 2 September 1954 using military force. Japan did not resist, and the Koreans knew they would not; the Japanese Constitution relinquishes the right to use military force for national aims. (The Japanese cannot even agree if they have the right to self-defense; the Defense Ministry claims it does because it is not specifically denied in the Constitution. Speaking of this ambiguity, Defense Minister Ishiba said at a press conference, “…if the case occurred tomorrow that a suspicious boat appeared off the coast of the Noto Peninsula, there would arise the question: ‘Shall we chase after it as a violation of the Fisheries Law again?’”

Japan suggested that the two countries submit the case to the International Court of Justice, but the South Koreans refused. For them, it seems, might makes right.

They have been more accommodating at times. Five months before the Japanese and the South Koreans signed the 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations restoring ties between the two countries, the governments reached a secret agreement about Takeshima.

The agreement stipulated that:

  1. Both countries recognized that the other claimed the islets as their own territory, and neither side would object when the other made a counterargument.
  2. They would regard it as a problem that would have to be resolved in the future.
  3. If any fishing territories were demarcated in the future, both countries could use Takeshima as their own territory to mark the boundaries. Those places where the two lines overlapped would be considered joint territory.
  4. The status quo in which South Korea occupied the islets would be maintained, but the Koreans would not increase their police presence or build new facilities.
  5. Both countries were to uphold that agreement.

Rather than abide by the agreement, however, South Korea stationed security guards on Takeshima and increased its presence, adding lodgings, a lighthouse, a monitoring facility and an antenna. In November 1997, despite repeated protests by Japan, they built a docking facility to enable use by a 500-ton supply ship. They built a manned lighthouse in December 1998.

The secret agreement was reported by the South Korean monthly magazine Joongang last year. The magazine also reported that the only copy of this agreement was burnt when it was discovered among President Park Chung-hee’s papers after his assassination.

In contrast to the bellicosity and lack of respect for diplomatic convention demonstrated by the South Koreans over the years, Japan’s approach has been markedly benign. To have teachers simply bring up the Japanese claim in the school curriculum—starting four years from now—while also mentioning the Korean claim, is neither belligerent nor an insult to Korean statehood.

The Takeshima Choice

South Korea stands to reap substantial benefits from continuing to strengthen ties with Japan, yet their response to the mild revisions of the instruction manual–none of their business to begin with–could be characterized by calling it the Takeshima paradigm. Their actions in the week since then resemble nothing so much as a group of high school students restaging the Marx Brothers’ political satire Duck Soup, this time as a soap opera.

In his role as Rufus T. Firefly, the ruler of the mythical Freedonia, Groucho Marx created a running gag by reacting to anything and everything with the statement, “Of course you realize this means war!” Now consider the South Korean reaction.

  • Their first step was to recall their ambassador to Japan, Kwon Chul-hyun, back to Seoul.
  • The Japanese suggested that the foreign ministers of the two countries meet to discuss the issue. The South Koreans wouldn’t hear of it.
  • In an astonishingly incongruous step, Seoul beefed up security around the islets, even though Japan has never used, or threatened to use, military force since the end of the war.
  • Prime Minister Han Seung-soo went so far as to accuse Japan of risking regional peace over the issue.

“This is not only damaging the amicable South Korea-Japan relationship… but also undermining peace in Northeast Asia by letting the future generations repeat the distorted history,” Han said.

Rufus T. Firefly: “Of course you realize this means war!”

  • The South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry postponed indefinitely the discussions on a bilateral free trade agreement. President Lee and Prime Minister Fukuda agreed during an April summit to find a way to resume negotiations over an economic partnership agreement. That likely includes the economic zone in the south.
  • South Korea’s ruling party now wants to build a hotel on the islets to show they aren’t really uninhabited. Unassisted survival is impossible there—no arable land, no water—but the Korean government foots the bill for keeping two people in residence.

Other Reactions

The Koreans have let the issue affect other aspects of the bilateral relationship.

  • The cities of Kitakyushu and Incheon were going to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their sister city ties this summer. Not any more, they’re not. Incheon notified Kitakyushu that it would be unable to participate.

They sent a fax to the Kitakyushu municipal offices.

  • Bucheon suspended its friendship activities with Okayama City. The two municipalities have sent delegations to each other since 2002. A 60-person group from Bucheon was scheduled to visit Okayama for three days in August. Not any more, they’re not.

The Okayama City mayor says the decision was regrettable, but hopes that the activities can resume in the future.

  • The city of Tsushima in Nagasaki has held the Arirang Festival every year since 1980 to stage a recreation of the dispatch of Korean envoys to Japan. (Arirang is the name of a Korean folk song.) Representatives from their sister city, the district of Yeondo in Busan, were to participate, as they have every year. Not any more, they’re not.

Event organizers said they thought it was unfortunate that the South Koreans weren’t coming, but said they thought it was a temporary phenomenon and would wait until the fuss blows over.

  • Tottori City has been conducting an exchange program for junior high school students with the city of Cheongju. This year, a group of South Korean junior high school students were scheduled to visit. Not any more, they’re not. Cheongju notified Tottori it would be unable to participate for the foreseeable future.

They sent a fax to the Tottori City municipal offices.

Said the Tottori mayor: “It’s regrettable that a political problem should interfere with the exchange of junior high school students.”

Said a Metro spokesman:

“Having condom ads in a public space might not be acceptable for some people. Secondly, there is an anti-Japanese sentiment brewing among citizens over the Dokdo issue.”

Rufus T. Firefly: “Of course you realize this means war!”

  • Before Ambassador Kwon returned to Seoul, he visited the Japanese Foreign Ministry offices in Tokyo.

He told reporters:

“I lodged a strong protest and called for a prompt correction. I pointed out what was wrong and what Japan loses from this.”

Well, what does Japan lose from this? Closer ties were supposed to be a win-win situation, according to President Lee. Doesn’t the Korean response make this a lose-lose situation?

Except that South Korea loses much more than Japan does. It no longer has the opportunity to benefit from preferential economic ties with a nation that has more than twice as many people, and which also happens to be the world’s second-largest economy.

The creation of a super-regional economic zone would boost Busan’s domestic competitiveness as well as that of the two regions in East Asia.

On the other hand, Japan loses condom advertising in Seoul subways.

Perhaps the greatest loss suffered by South Korea is the loss of its credibility. Here’s a Korean Times article describing what’s happening around the world:

The U.S. Library of Congress, the largest library in the world that also serves as a research division for Congress, has been mulling over whether it should stop using the name Dokdo in its authoritative guidelines distributed to libraries around the country. (It is considering using) the name Liancourt Rocks (which) comes from French travelers who first introduced the East Sea islets to Europe…

Even in the online world, an increasing number of web sites are embracing the English name Liancourt Rocks over Dokdo….

Yonhap reported that as “a result of Japanese lobbying,” a growing number of Web sites and online references around the world are deciding to stop using the Korean name Dokdo when referring to the islets.”

Some of the major online dictionary sites and Internet portals that stopped using the name Dokdo include,, and, Yonhap reported.

Yonhap of course did not report that South Korean lobbying was the reason those sites used the Dokto name to begin with. They also did not report that people around the world have grown so tired of bogus Duck Soup claims about Takeshima, the real name of the Sea of Japan (supposedly the East Sea), and the English spelling of Korea (supposedly Corea, thereby gaining an alphabetical edge), that Koreans are increasingly being tuned out.

Just imagine what would happen if the rest of the world found out the Koreans think the real name of the East China Sea is the West Sea.

Some sympathy must be extended to South Korean President Lee. His election represented a return of adult leadership to the Blue House and a mature approach to bilateral relations with Japan. But he likely feels compelled to shore up his popular support, which pancaked when his countrymen were infuriated by his decision to resume the import of American beef.

Clearly, he has to deal with a national polity that is immature and prone to tantrums, which limits his opportunities for statesmanship. He has warned politicians in the National Assembly not to use the issue for personal political advantage, but there’s not much he can do in the face of popular delusion.

His preference in bilateral relations with Japan must almost certainly be that of choosing the adult option of the Busan paradigm. How can he be held responsible for those of his countrymen who prefer the childish option of the Takeshima paradigm?

All he–and Japan–can do now is wait for the rest of South Korea to grow up and allow the natural trend for closer Busan-Kyushu ties to reassert itself on a larger scale.

However long that will take.

Posted in History, International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 75 Comments »

Matsuri da! (93): How’s the weather up there?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 20, 2008

WHAT THE DICKENS is that nearly-naked man doing in the tree—playing Tarzan? Well, anything can happen at a Japanese festival, so it’s not entirely out of the question. But no, he’s not swinging on vines from tree to tree looking for Jane.

Actually, he’s forecasting the weather!

Don’t laugh—the technique he’s using has sometimes been more accurate than the Weather Bureau’s predictions.

What he’s doing is called the Hata-Age, or Flag (pennant) Raising. That’s part of the festival conducted on 15 July by the Ayabe Hachiman Shinto Shrine in Miyaki-cho, a town of 9,000 in Saga.

During this part of the festival, three young men clad in loincloths skinny up a 20-meter gingko tree on the shrine grounds. When they’ve climbed as high as they can go, they tie an 18-meter length of bamboo to the trunk. Stuck on the end of the bamboo is a pennant made of flax.

The chief priest will observe how the pennant is tossed by the wind twice a day until 24 September, the date of the Hata-Oroshi, or Flag Lowering. Based on the condition of the flag and how it curls on a particular day, the priest is supposedly able to predict the crop and the weather for that season.

Dating to 951, this method is said to be the oldest weather forecasting system in Japan. The shrine hasn’t always used the same gingko tree, however—the one they hang the flag on now is only 700 years old.

So far this year, the flapping of the flag indicates that area farmers will enjoy their best crop in more than 10 years. The priest thinks the early end of the rainy season has something to do with that.

The priest insists the forecasting technique works. Before you’re tempted to dismiss this as superstitious nonsense, however, you should realize that a study conducted by Saga University backs him up.

Miyaki-cho is located in the valley of a mountain range, and the wind blows straight through the valley between the Ariake Sea in the southeast and the Tsushima Strait in the northwest. The university study confirmed there is a cause and effect relationship between the wind and local meteorological conditions, and that careful observation of the flag can identify those conditions.

In 1993, the Fukuoka District Meteorological Observatory predicted a hot August with mostly sunny days. The priest at the shrine begged to differ. After observing the flag, he predicted there would be many cloudy days and frequent rain—and he nailed it. In fact, the heavy rains that month caused a lot of damage.

It will come as no surprise that the wind divinity is the tutelary deity of the shrine.

Now you know why the Japanese are so interested in the Divine Wind. And they’ve been keeping a trained eye on it for a long time!

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The DPJ: Your father’s LDP

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 18, 2008

A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.
– H.L. Mencken

“NOT YOUR FATHER’S…” is the first half of a hackneyed English catchphrase used to express the novelty of whatever follows in the second half, be it a commercial product or type of entertainment. The idea is to persuade the youth market to buy a product or consume a service by appealing to their fantasy that they are superior to previous generations.

A Google search on the phrase quickly shows just how trite it has become: “Not your father’s Fourth of July party”, “Not your father’s superhero movie”, “Not your father’s heavy metal”, and “Not your father’s bowling alley”. Only a witless writer (or one writing for people he considers witless) would still consider using the expression. Its appearance is a signal to turn the page or move on to the next website.

While the phrase is unknown in Japan, one group of politicians is using the concept to sell itself to the electorate as “Not your father’s political party”. They promise honest-to-God-really-this-time reform and a complete break with the wicked ways of the past as represented by the zombies of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Pitching themselves as the new breed is the primary opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan.

Those who make politics a career learn how to talk the talk, if nothing else. But the key to their greater success is whether they can pass the voters’ sobriety test by pretending to walk the straight and narrow.

Is the DPJ capable of walking straight enough to avoid the breathalyzer and take power? They’ve been teetering since the party captured a majority in the upper house election last summer. That victory was achieved in part with legal vote buying schemes of the type the LDP once used, but their more sober members have been trying to eliminate. One example is the promise the DPJ made to small farmers to restore the government subsidies the LDP cut in the name of agricultural efficiency and reform.

This week, however, the DPJ fell flat on its face.

Reports in the Japanese press briefly describe a meeting that occurred on the 16th in Tokyo with DPJ President Ozawa Ichiro, DPJ Secretary-General Hatoyama Yukio, People’s New Party boss Watanuki Tamisuke, PNP Secretary-General Kamei Hisaoki, and Urano Osamu, the chairman of Zentoku, or the national conference of postmasters.

The PNP is a splinter group consisting of politicians thrown out of the LDP when they refused to support former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichiro’s plan to privatize the government-run postal, banking, and insurance systems of Japan Post. The mini-party is the political equivalent of a festival street stall and just as permanent. It consists of Mr. Watanuki, the granddad with a belly warmer and plastic fan out on the sidewalk chatting up the passersby, and a few members of the extended Kamei family sweating over the portable stove in the back of the tent.

Messrs. Ozawa, Watanuki, and Urano signed a memorandum pledging to work together during the next lower house election and “reevaluate”–i.e., ditch–the privatization of Japan Post if the opposition forms a government. Mr. Ozawa also said that “reevaluating” the privatization would be included in the DPJ party platform.

That’s all you need to know about the DPJ walking the walk. Privatization of the post office was the final step in the elimination of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. The Japanese post office and its affiliated financial institutions once accounted for one-third of all government employees. Now the bank is the largest financial institution in the world, with one-fourth of all deposits in Japan.

Privatization was such a critical step because all that postal account money didn’t just lie in the vaults unused. The LDP, the bureaucracy, and business interests, particularly those in the construction industry, “borrowed” the cash to finance the public works pork that clogged the arteries of the Japanese government. The ministry and its postal savings system was the symbol and the source of funding for some of the worst abuses of the postwar system.

Taking the postal system private was Mr. Koizumi’s landmark achievement and a bona fide success. Those resources were no longer at the disposal of the types who treated public money as if it were spare change on a tray on their bedroom dressers.

His privatization scheme was wildly popular with the Japanese voters. Mr. Koizumi dissolved the Diet to hold an election specifically on that issue and was rewarded with a veto-proof supermajority in the lower house. Polls at the time showed that his plan was backed by 70% of the public.

So, what reform are the DPJ reformers promising when they form a government? They’re plotting in back rooms to bring back the icon of everything wrong with Japanese politics since the end of the war!

There you have the ultimate irony of contemporary Japanese politics: The DPJ has become your father’s LDP.

There seem to be two objectives for Mr. Ozawa’s strategy. The first is to elbow his party into power, which is always the point of everything a politician does. He hopes to broaden the party’s appeal to voters in conservative areas outside the big cities by leveraging Zentoku’s influence.

The second is that the DPJ is going to have to find a revenue source to pay for all the imaginative promises they’ve made. Access to those savings accounts might not build any more bridges to nowhere, but it certainly would help finance enough of their other bright ideas to prolong their years in power.

What exactly the “reevaluation” would consist of hasn’t been determined yet. Mr. Ozawa, Mr. Watanuki, and Mr. Urano will sit down and talk again in the event the DPJ forms a government before divvying up the swag. After all, deals can’t be cut unless the grifters know how much everyone else is bringing to the table.

Seeing through this charade requires only the patience to read snippets of information on the inside pages of newspapers. More important than the verification of DPJ behavior, however, is the unavoidable conclusion about the meaning of that behavior. With the zombies back in control of the LDP, and the DPJ out trolling for any dime-a-dance romance, reform of Japanese politics and government will be impossible as long as the status quo with the major parties is maintained. Real reform demands a complete political realignment, with parties swapping members like paramecium exchanging nucleic material.

But that would require guts, while the average politician is capable only of gall. They’ve all seen that the coup de grace to former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s career was delivered by the bureaucrats in the Social Insurance Agency when he pushed a plan to privatize that organization. Real political reform means putting one’s livelihood and reputation on the line.

And who has the moxie to do that?

Posted in Government, Politics | Leave a Comment »

What was Kato Koichi thinking?

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 17, 2008

IT IS CURIOUS how otherwise level-headed men can skate so close to the thin ice of irrationality just to embrace indefensible concessions to tyrannical thug-states in the name of diplomacy.

The classic example is Neville Chamberlain and his misguided effort to hold civil discussions with Herr Hitler. A more modern instance has been the Europeans’ insistence on using “soft power”—such a contradiction in terms—to deal with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and that country’s nuclear weapons program.

There are people in East Asia with the same disorder. One politician in Japan exhibits the full-blown set of symptoms: Kato Koichi, a member of the lower house of the Japanese Diet and the former secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

In the face of all evidence and lucid observation, Mr. Kato takes Japan’s previous political leadership to task for its behavior towards North Korea while making excuses for the latter country. No, Mr. Kato is not talking about the annexation/colonization period that ended more than a half-century ago. He’s talking about events that occurred in the 21st century.

He well and truly stepped in it last week. He asserted during a television interview that after North Korea had allowed five Japanese it had seized and held for more than 20 years to return for what was supposed to be a brief visit, Japan should have kicked its own innocent citizens out of their own country and sent them back to their overseas dungeon, willing or not.

The ensuing uproar was not as intense as might have been expected, if only because most Japanese were already aware of Mr. Kato’s delicate condition. The abductees’ parents were livid, of course, and one went so far as to question Mr. Kato’s allegiances.

But that was nothing compared to Mr. Kato’s reaction. In for a penny, in for a pound, they say, so the politician upped the ante by claiming that Jiji Press misrepresented his comments by selectively quoting them. He insisted that everyone would be able to understand the righteousness of his position when they saw the entire context of the interview.

So he uploaded the relevant section of the interview to his website, which Japanese readers can see here. Mr. Kato thought that would exonerate him with the public. If anything, however, it makes him look even worse than the Jiji article did.

The background

But let’s go back to the beginning. The issue involves North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens, mostly on Japanese soil, from 1977 to 1983. The Japanese government officially recognizes 16 prisoners, though as many as 70 or 80 may have been snatched. The abducted Japanese are thought to have been used to teach their language and culture to North Korean agents.

After years of denial, Kim Jong-il finally came clean in 17 September 2002 and said yes, a few of our agents got carried away with themselves and snuck into Japan and brought some people back against their will. He had to cop to it if he expected relations with Japan to improve enough to enable the receipt of food aid and other assistance for his slum nation. The North Koreans also provided death certificates for another eight people, but Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor who worked in that country from 1999 to 2001, immediately spotted them as forgeries. (Pyeongyang later admitted it.)

A month later, the North Koreans allowed five of the abductees to return to Japan for a few weeks on the condition that they be sent back. They were Chimura Yasushi, his wife Fukie, Hasuike Kaoru, his wife Yukiko, and Soga Hitomi.

Once they were home again in Japan, however, public opinion would not allow them to leave. That’s assuming any of them were interested in boarding the return flight, even to see their children. North Korea claimed this violated the terms of the deal, so they cut their nose off to spite their face and refused to continue talks. One of the few diplomatic skills exhibited by that country is their alacrity in walking out of negotiations.

You’d think they’d have figured out by now that no one really wants to talk to them anyway.

But a problem remained because the children of the abductees were kept behind in North Korea. They included the three children of the Chimura family and the two children of the Hasuike family, who were allowed to rejoin their parents in Japan in May 2004. There were additional complications regarding Soga Hitomi’s two daughters and her husband Charles Jenkins, a deserter from the American Army, but they were finally reunited that July and returned to Japan.

Kato’s contention

Here’s the bee in Mr. Kato’s bonnet: He maintains that Japan should have returned the five to the North Korean gulag. He thought that Japan’s broken promise convinced the North Koreans the country was untrustworthy, and sullied its international reputation. He thinks the abduction issue would have been quickly resolved because the North Koreans were afraid of an American attack and were eager to deal.

Wait, there’s more. Here’s how he concluded that part of the television interview:

The six-party talks would have been held in Japan, Japan would have solved Asia’s most intractable problem…a nuclear North Korea–one of the world’s most serious issues–would have been denuclearized, and we could have gotten the world to say, hey, Japan is capable of making things happen too, isn’t it?

Perhaps there also would have been a parade of unicorns down the Ginza and a brace of rainbows festooning the eastern sky.

Let’s hope this disease isn’t contagious. One or two sufferers a generation is quite enough.

How could Mr. Kato be so oblivious of reality as to behave decently toward a country that has never behaved decently for a single day of its existence? The Frankenstein monster created in the northern end of the Korean Peninsula has never abided by any international commitment, yet Mr. Kato thinks Japan was supposed to have stepped on the faces of its own people (one of whom was on the verge of malnutrition) and pushed them back into the cesspool just to keep its own word to Kim Jong-il?

Facts on the face of it

The infiltration of another country by secret agents to kidnap private citizens minding their own business—non-combatants, let’s not forget—and force them to train others to conduct terrorist acts against their own country is an act of war under anyone’s definition.

North Korea denied the abductions for decades while threatening to turn Japan into a sea of fire. To make sure everyone got the point, it launched missiles both into the Sea of Japan and over the archipelago into the Pacific Ocean.

They were afraid of an attack by the United States? North Korea has shared nuclear weapon and missile technology with Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, none of which are stable and most of which regard the concept of world peace as outside the sphere of their national interest. They also ignored the declaration for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the framework agreement with the United States by continuing their nuclear weapons program.

In addition, the North Koreans reap an estimated 100 million dollars annually by counterfeiting U.S. currency, primarily $100 dollar bills. They’ve also diversified their bogus bill portfolio to include counterfeit yen, Thai baht, and euros.

The only reason they’ve never been torched by one of those cowboy American presidents is that their border is so close to Seoul.

That is the country Mr. Kato wants Japan to treat with honor and respect.

But Japan has no obligation to treat with honor and respect a country and its malevolent oligarchy that neither honors nor respects any other country, any of its international commitments, the normal conduct of diplomatic affairs between nations–and any of its own citizens, for that matter.

The alternate reality

Forget for a second Mr. Kato’s delirium about a successful conclusion of the six-party talks under Japanese leadership had the abductees been returned to North Korea. Consider the more realistic scenario:

Public incredulity and anger would have combined to end the life of the Koizumi Administration. That would have been followed by months, and perhaps years, of political turmoil, which would have adversely impacted the economy. The domestic eruption would have rendered the nation incapable of dealing with any other issue. Perhaps that’s what the North Koreans were hoping might happen.

Soga Hitomi for one might well have refused to go back. (She detests North Korea so much she has always refused to speak Korean to her two daughters, both born in Pyeongyang.) It is not so far-fetched to conceive that she would have gone into hiding rather than return.

Now picture the scene of Japanese authorities scouring the country to apprehend her and forcibly send her back.

All this would have been covered every day in meticulous detail by the Japanese mass media. Someone surely would have found a way to film or photograph her being prodded onto an airplane bound for Pyeongyang International Airport.

Then consider: How would Japan then have gone about securing the second return of the abductees, this time with all seven children and Ms. Soga’s husband, Charles Jenkins?

Would Mr. Kato have had his country rely on the non-existent honor of the North Koreans? Did he even imagine the terms North Koreans would have dictated realizing it had the upper hand and knowing that the tenor of Japanese public opinion would have left no choice but capitulation?

Happily ever after

Thankfully, no one had to deal with that nightmare. Instead, the former abductees and their families are living peaceful, well-fed, and anonymous lives in Japan. Even Charles Jenkins was granted permanent residence status earlier this week.

Kato Koichi nearly became prime minister of Japan in 2000. Some people sigh with regret that he never had the chance to lead the country.

Regret? The Japanese should thank their lucky stars they were spared the leadership of a man whose struggles with the Chamberlain Syndrome rendered him so obviously ill-equipped to provide it.

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Posted in International relations, North Korea | Tagged: , | 9 Comments »

Matsuri da! (92): Making the chariots of the gods doubly pure

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 15, 2008

FIVE SHINTO PRIESTS from Kumano Nachi Taisha, a Shinto shrine in Nachikatsu’ura-cho, Wakayama, risked their necks last week to hang a shimenawa, or sacred rope, across the Nachi Falls as a prelude to the shrine’s annual fire festival. The post immediately below this one describes that ceremony.

Yesterday was the day of the fire festival, known as the Nachi no Hi Matsuri, which was held in front of an estimated 7,500 spectators this year. The festival consists of several different events, but the crowd comes out to see the ceremony for purifying 12 mikoshi, or portable Shinto shrines. The mikoshi for this festival are elaborate constructions six meters high built with gold and mirrors, and according to legend, 12 local divinities use them to hitch a ride back to the main shrine for their annual return.

Readers familiar with Japanese customs will spot the similarity with the Bon Festival, a Buddhist observance honoring the spirits of the ancestors who return once a year in mid-summer. Nowadays Bon usually is observed in mid-August, but traditionally it was a mid-July event, the same time the gods go back to Kumano.

Mikoshi are purified with either with fire or water in other Shinto festivals (see here), but down in Nachikatsu’ura-cho they make doubly sure of the purity—they use fire and water both to drive the badness out.

The festivities begin in the morning with Shinto rituals, music, and dance. Then the 12 mikoshi are carried to the Hiryu Shinto Shrine, a branch of the main shrine located near the 133-meter-high Nachi Falls. Accompanying the procession are parishioners carrying 12 pine torches, each weighing roughly 50 kilograms, or about 110 pounds.

After another ritual inside the Hiryu shrine, the mikoshi are lugged down a stone stairway just underneath the waterfall. The procession is met en route by the group carrying the torches, which have now been lit. The torch bearers march up and down the stairs, parading around the mikoshi and chanting Harya! Harya!.

Neither the flames nor water from the falls actually touch the mikoshi themselves—the agents of purification are the smoke from the torches and the spray from the falls. .

Here’s an interesting side story: The Japanese developed the northernmost island of Hokkaido during the 19th century in much the same way Americans developed the old West. Some hardy pioneers from the area near the Nachi Falls were part of that development when they trekked northward to help carve out a settlement in Hokkaido near today’s Biei-cho. That municipality began conducting its own fire festival 20 years ago to commemorate its founders, and this year Kumano sent along six of the torches to enliven the festivities.

Here’s another: The Kumano Nachi Taisha holds an autumn festival that is more artistic and elegant than the summer event. Take another look at that report for a fascinating contrast.

And here’s one more: Festival folk should not pass up the chance to see last year’s report on the Oiyama, the grand finale to the Gion Yamakasa Festival in Fukuoka City. It’s held every year on 15 July, which means the scene in the photo is what you missed by being asleep in bed this morning!

Posted in Festivals | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Don’t look down!

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 13, 2008

IT’S NOT OFTEN nowadays that we see people in advanced industrialized countries risk their necks for the sake of religion, but that’s just what those five Shinto priests in the photograph did last week–and do every year at this time.

The priests are from the Hiryu Shinto Shrine, a branch of the Kumanonachi Taisha in Nachikatsu’ura-cho, Wakayama. The rope they are suspending across the top of the Nachi Falls is called a shimenawa. The ropes are made by twisting strands of rice straw into a bundle. They are used demarcate the sacred from the profane at a Shinto shrine, and hung in front of the main entrance hall, in front of the altar, and across the torii, or main gate.

So why are they hanging the rope across a waterfall? Shimenawa are also used to mark shintai, or abodes of the divine, and the Nachi Falls is itself considered the shintai at the Hiryu Shrine.

The big deal about this event is that no one makes a big deal out of it. The priests replace the shimenawa every July as part of the preparations for the Nachi Fire Festival, which will be held later this week. They’re working just two meters away from the edge of the falls without a net or any other safety equipment, wearing straw sandals. If they slip on a moss-covered rock and tumble over the edge, it’s a 133-meter drop to the bottom.

Try this Japanese-language page for a front-on shot of the falls to get a better idea of the risk involved. It’s the third photo from the bottom.

Is there a better example of trusting one’s fate to divine Providence?

Posted in Shrines and Temples, Traditions | 1 Comment »