Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Foreigners in Japan’ Category

The perpetual whingeing of the outsiders

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 2, 2012

WHEN I first came to Japan, the only publicly accessible opinions in print about the country were little more than pretentious spitballing masquerading as insight. It’s taken some time, but the tide is finally turning.

Noah Smith is an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook who writes an economics blog. Prof. Smith has lived in Japan and liked it quite a bit.

On Friday, rather than write a post about economics, he dealt with a post on another website called Cracked titled 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Living in Japan. (I also read it, but thought it was too puerile to waste time on.) Thing number four was that “foreigners will always be outsiders”. That’s a dead giveaway the speaker/author expected adulation without effort or behavior adjustment and is astonished to find himself on the royal road to obscurity.

Prof. Smith takes apart the conceit very well. He says:

This runs directly counter to my own experience of life as a Westerner in Japan.

He discusses language skills first:

Despite the easiness of the (spoken) Japanese language, many Westerners never bother to become truly fluent. The reason is simple; they can get by in the country speaking simple English and broken, simple Japanese. Of course, as the author of the article above suggests, this makes it difficult to really relate to most of the people in Japan. It makes it tough to form close relationships, tough to be included in social activities, and tough to work productively with Japanese coworkers. But because Japanese culture is generally friendly, and because some Japanese people take it upon themselves to speak English to foreigners, these Westerners can manage a sort of stunted, good-enough social life over there without ever spending the effort to become fluent. No wonder they feel like outsiders! What would you expect?

And culture:

What about the cultural attitudes? The xenophobia, the closed society, the racial homogeneity?

To be perfectly honest, I haven’t seen much of it.

Speaking of his academic work, he says:

(I)f you are at home in a university setting in America, and if you speak Japanese, you will be at home in a university setting in Japan. And never once has anyone there treated me as an outsider.

He includes informal social settings:

(W)hen I lived in Japan the first time, I went to plenty of rock and techno shows. I found the people there to be extremely welcoming and friendly – and not just in a “Wow, look, a white guy came to our show!” kind of way, but in a “Hey, want to hop on scooters go out for a beer?” kind of way.

He also tells some Keynesian harsh truths:

(I)f you spend your life speaking pidgin Japanese and walking around thinking “I’m a foreigner, I’m an outsider,” you can easily fail to realize that Japanese people, despite their vaunted “racial homogeneity”, are just as heterogeneous in terms of their tastes and attitudes and personalities as Americans or Canadians or Australians. As in so many situations, individual differences matter far more than group differences. And if you’re walking around Japan feeling a wall of alienation between you and everyone you meet, chances are it’s due to the cultural prejudices of one specific individual: you.

One factor behind the alienation is the sense of entitlement many Westerners bring with them to the country as if it were carry-on baggage, and the disappointment that results when they realize the people around them are quite content to live their entire lives without interacting with Our Hero.

Some of the commenters to his post beg to differ. I was alerted to the article because I caught a retweet from someone in Japan who read it and agreed with it. Looking at the history of the Tweet revealed that one person thought Prof. Smith’s opinions were “contrary to the evidence and facts”. As evidence he offered a link to the BBC and as facts he provided a link to the Japan Times. By that time I was laughing so hard it was impossible to click on them.

A copy of the Tweet was also sent to Hiroko Tabuchi of the New York Times, for some unfathomable reason. No matter where the people employed at that newspaper were born and grew up, they quickly develop an inability to understand anyone living west of the Hudson River and east of Long Island City. Manhattan is one of the most provincial places in the United States.

I’m in complete agreement with Prof. Smith on this subject, and dealt with it five years ago in this post called What Japanese exclusionism? The myths live on, alas. One of the points I made at that time is equally true today. I suspect the foreigners who do well in Japan communicate on a sub-verbal level that they are willing to accommodate themselves to Japanese people and their customs rather than demand the Japanese accommodate themselves to them. As Prof. Smith says, if you’re having a problem, the problem is you.


It might be that Prof. Smith and I would agree on little else, however. One of the posts on his site is titled “Why I Love Michael Moore”. If I were writing for a website unrelated to Japan, I might title an article “Why Michael Moore is a Transparent Fraud”. He also links to Matt Yglesias, the blogosphere’s version of Michael Moore.

Posted in Foreigners in Japan | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »

All you have to do is look (116)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, November 23, 2012

Judges examining the ring to see if sumo rikishi Harumafuji stepped out with his left foot.

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, Photographs and videos, Sports, Traditions | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Dead to rights

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, November 7, 2012

AN earlier post explained that Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru wanted to eliminate the city’s funding for the Osaka Human Rights Museum. He was able to achieve that objective not long ago. Here’s the report on his success from the Yonhap news agency of South Korea, put into English.

Right-wing Japanese politician and Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru said he will close down the Osaka Human Rights Museum, a comprehensive museum on human rights that includes displays on discrimination of Korean citizens born in Japan (zainichi).

According to the Kyodo news agency, Mayor Hashimoto, the head of the national Japan Restoration Party, announced his intention at a news conference to shut the museum and convert the facility into one providing education on modern history to young children.

Established in 1985, the museum has operated on admission fees, donations, and subsidies from the city of Osaka. The city will end the subsidies this year.

The Osaka Human Rights Museum has discrimination-related exhibits, primarily involving Japan, including those about the burakumin (Japan’s old “untouchable caste”). The comprehensive facility also has displays about discrimination against the zainichi.

Mayor Hashimoto’s view is that the museum could harm Japan’s image now that discrimination of this sort has been eliminated in the country, it is not desirable to continue supporting the museum with city funds, and that the museum has to be eliminated through a structural reorganization.

But residents who live near the museum, citizens’ groups, and people of conscience have objected, saying the decision is a reflection of Mayor Hashimoto’s right-wing views.

In regard to education in Japanese history, Mayor Hashimoto has said that “modern history is very weak”, which is “an evil resulting from having entrusted this education to the Ministry of Education.”

* Yes, this is what the South Korean news agency thinks is a straight news article. “Right wing”. “People of conscience”.

Then again, they’re in plenty of bad company with the Associated Press and Reuters.

* “Right-wingers” presumably aren’t interested in human rights and lack a conscience. That’s only a left-wing thing. Except they’ll self-identify as “moderates” instead.

Perhaps the Yonhappers actually believe this. Perhaps they’re using the functional definition of “right wing” as South Koreans apply it to the Japanese — those people unwilling to eternally prostrate themselves at their feet in obeisance to the Joseon history fun house mirror.

Or perhaps they’re using the functional defintion of “right wing” that most of the world’s mass media use: Society’s new untouchable caste.

* Yonhap couldn’t squeeze into its limited space the information that Mr. Hashimoto’s father’s family were probably burakumin, everyone in Japan knows it, and the people of Osaka voted for him anyway.

* The news agency does not disguise their real interest (apart from general Japan bashing): Advocacy of the zainichi, who, after all, intentionally choose to be foreigners in the country where they were born. Ein volk and all that.

* How hard can it be to report the truth? Today’s Japanese are tired of wearing the hair shirt before the world to atone for behavior they had nothing to do with. Too hard for Yonhap, evidently.

* There is nary a whisper of the fiscal crisis facing the national government and all local governments in Japan. The public sector can no longer afford luxury goods, especially those whose objective is to promote the professionally aggrieved who delight in the opportunity to show us how wonderful they are by showing us how terrible everyone else is and make some money while they’re at it.

Nor do they mention Mr. Hashimoto’s willingness to take on other interest groups and labor unions to bring some sanity to the city’s finances.

That said, a museum of modern history for children is also a luxury good. Mr. Hashimoto would be better off just cutting the funding and establishing his political identity through different means. He’s had no problem finding other ways to do that so far. It’s not his business if the museum is capable of surviving without government money.

* The museum still exists, as does its Japanese-language website. The first half of the top page is now occupied by an appeal for money. That appeal contains a passage worth translating:

“But our response to the complete elimination of the subsidies (asking for financial contributions) is not done in a negative sense. We hope to achieve self-sufficient operation by taking this opportunity to join with everyone to establish our financial autonomy and to devote even more strength to developing the museum in a positive way. In other words, our concept is to have a museum that is supported by people with an interest in human rights.”

By jingo, I think they’ve got it!

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, Government, Mass media, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Ichigen koji (221)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, November 6, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

The Americans’ Yokota Air Base has been a problem from the days I was an assembly member. They’ve got a long runway, but it’s monopolized by the Americans. Whenever you ask anyone in the bureaucracy whether it can be used, they answer, “Whatever you do, don’t antagonize the (American) Department of Defense.”

– Shirakabe Tatsuhisa

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, Government, International relations, Military affairs | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

PSYched out

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, October 27, 2012

SOME people have caught on that the Japanese seem impervious to the delights of the Gangnam Style Youtube video by PSY, which has now become one of the top ten most-watched Youtubes ever. That’s a matter of degree, because the song did make it into the lower level of the iTunes top 30 in Japan. It didn’t mirror the success that it’s had in the United States and Britain, however, or the lesser success in China.

Those folks are puzzled because Japan is perhaps the country most open to South Korean pop culture in the form of K-Pop, television shows, and certain types of movies (i.e., the ones middle-aged women like). Different theories are being offered for the limpness of the interest, but they’re ultimately unsatisfying because they miss another reason for the relative popularity that might be the most important of all.

One theory floating around is that Facebook postings gave a boost to the PSY video in the West, and that with only 30% of Net users, Facebook has a lower penetration in Japan than elsewhere. That might have something to do with it, but the Japanese are just as aware of Youtube and use it just as frequently.

Another theory is that the K-Pop performers regularly release Japanese-language versions of their performances, and PSY’s song is only in Korean (as far as I know). Foreign language pop songs for the teen and early 20s demographic in Japan are unlikely to be much more popular than a foreign language pop song in the United States, for example. There are some exceptions, but all of them are in English, the language everyone studies for six years in secondary school.

As this report points out, however, PSY was slated to release a Japanese-language version of the tune (called Roppongi Style) earlier this year, but his plans came a cropper. That post quotes a translated opinion from someone in the Japanese television industry:

PSY had already begun to be featured on Japanese morning variety news programs back in July, but the reaction from viewers was horrible. This was right around the time when Japanese media were under fire for over-promoting K-pop while attitudes toward Korea were souring, and the reason K-Pop became so popular in Japan in the first place is because Korean artists are known for being beautiful, so PSY looked completely out of place on screen. Even if he debuted in Japan, I don’t think he would have sold very much.

The industry insider raises some important points, and it’s not just the one about beauty. PSY first appeared in July, and the problems with South Korea didn’t erupt until August, but it was natural for those problems to dampen the enthusiasm for Korean pop culture. Lately I’ve been quoting and featuring excerpts here from a book by Tsukuba University Prof. Furuta Hiroshi, who is fluent in Korean. He studied for a time at a South Korean university and had a Korean roommate while there. He later returned to teach Japanese at another South Korean university from 1980 to 1986. He says his hobby is watching South Korean and North Korean movies and collecting them on DVD.

In a current edition of one of the Japanese monthlies, however, Prof. Furuta dashed off an article in which he declares that after the events of this summer, he will not visit the Korean Peninsula again until attitudes there change. The behavior of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, combined with the frothing-at-the-mind articles in South Korean newspapers (which they conveniently translate for their Japanese-language websites) has poisoned the well of Japanese goodwill. A connection has been snapped.

There might be an attempt to start restoring those connections by the end of the year. Every New Year’s Eve since 1954, NHK TV has broadcast live a program called Kohaku Utagassen, which presents the most popular singers in the country. The show’s concept is a singing contest between the men’s team and the women’s team. The results are judged by celebrities, the audience at NHK Hall, and now on the Internet.

While greater affluence and the resultant increase in disposable income and decentralization of culture have lessened the program’s impact, it is still the touchstone for identifying the performers the mass audience most want to see, with demographic differences taken into account. Three K-Pop acts performed on last year’s program. As of last month, it was starting to look as if none would be invited this year. Said one person affiliated with the program’s production team:

“President Lee’s problematic statement about seeking an apology from the Emperor had a serious impact. Many Korean performers do not refrain from shouting “Dokdo is our land” at the top of their lungs. Their appearance would elicit a negative reaction from viewers.”

That now seems to have changed. The question was raised at a meeting of department heads at NHK on Wednesday, and reports say a network official answered: “We are considering this from the overall perspective and will separate politics and culture.” That could mean that some K-Poppers will appear after all.

Given the South Korean predilection with taking everything that happens in Japan the wrong way, an overreaction to the Japanese ambivalence toward the global cultural success of the Korean Nation was to be expected. Some Japanese music bloggers suggested the South Koreans used bots, or automated viewing programs, to pump the Youtube viewing totals. Others started calling the song “F5 Style”, referring to the keyboard key for refreshing a browser window.

Those witticisms detonated a small explosion at the premises of the Korean Wave Research Institute. That organization is a non-profit established in 2010 to conduct research into and promote Korean culture, particularly the pop variety. (They also display the seals of the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Korea Tourism Association on their website, which suggests government funding.)

Anyone in Japan could have scripted the response of KWRI President Han Koo-hyun in advance:

Denouncing the “conspiracy theories” of YouTube chart manipulation, KWRI president Han Koo-Hyun said the “outrageous” Japanese argument was “tantamount to doubting a world record in an Olympics marathon.”

Skepticism about the song’s worldwide popularity on YouTube “should be viewed as a primary school kid’s jealousy and envy”, Han said in a press release.

Not content with defending the success of “Gangnam Style,” Han launched a vitriolic attack on the only Japanese entry in YouTube’s chart of the 30 all-time, most-viewed videos.

Currently ranked 29th with more than 237 million views, the video shows a young Japanese woman engaging in the popular Internet meme activity of dropping some mentos candy in a bottle of diet coke so that it sprays soda everywhere.

Mocking what he described as the “most grotesque and preposterous content” on the entire chart, Han said it was “another lowly example showing the video-related preference of the Japanese.”

And some people would have you believe the attitudes of the Japanese are the biggest obstacle to improved bilateral relations.

“A primary school kid’s jealousy and envy”? I put it down to collegiate spitballing — it’s the Internet, dude. “Grotesque and preposterous” are terms that should be reserved for the continuing Korean ban on Japanese performers on Korean terrestrial TV and radio. If South Korea has a television program resembling the Kohaku Utagassen, Japanese singers are prohibited from appearing on it by law.

The extent of Japanese popularity aside, however, there is another aspect to the intense interest in the video that people tend to reference obliquely. Brian Ashcraft, the author of the piece at the first link cited, wrote:

Online in Japan, however, some seem to think that the idea of a fat Asian guy wearing sunglasses and dancing about is probably humorous to Westerners—hence the song’s popularity.

Last month in the Guardian of Britain, Arwa Mahdawi took that one step further in an article titled, What’s so funny about Gangnam Style? The subhead:

The South Korean pop video taking the internet by storm does little to overturn tired stereotypes of east Asian men

She concluded:

The last time the west laughed so uproariously at a Korean singer was when an animated Kim Jong-il bewailed how “ronery” he was in the film Team America, and how nobody took him “serirousry”. The puppet had a point: popular western media doesn’t tend to take east Asian men seriously – even when they’re brutal dictators. The stereotype of a portly, non-threatening Charlie Chan-type who speaks “comical” English is still very much alive, apparent in everything from hungry Kim Jong-un memes to Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirts. And it’s hard to escape the uncomfortable feeling that this stereotype is contributing something to the laughter around Gangnam Style.

I’ll take that another step further. Consider:

* The only people who understand the social commentary of PSY’s lyrics are the Koreans. Everyone else is working off the music and the video.

* The music, while catchy, is not that compelling. I sent a link of the Youtube video to a friend in England before it caught on there. One of his three income sources is his work as a DJ at pubs on weekend nights and at wedding receptions. (He’s also a big technopop fan and has played piano since childhood.) He thought the video was fun, but commented that the music reminded him of 20-year-old European disco.

* The video features several attractive Korean women. The Japanese are already familiar with northeast Asian pulchritude. But in the United States and Britain, where the video is especially popular, such a free concentrated shot of exotic beauty is seldom seen all at once in the same place.

* PSY is variously described in English-language accounts as “portly”, chubby”, or “dumpy”. He performs a goofy horse-trot dance; a moonwalking Michael Jackson he isn’t. I can see junior high school kids clumsy with the initial rush of puberty trying it out as a joke at a dance party, but that’s less likely for high school students and not at all for college men and women. (If someone did that at a party where I attended university, guys would have either hooted him out of the building or asked where he got the mushrooms.)

* One of the first places I saw the video referenced on the Internet was at an American site for the fans of the baseball team I follow. A frequent poster used the video to create a short gif file to accentuate a humorous reference in a point he was making. He didn’t use the scene with the women covered in feathers or that Korean yogini with the pert and shapely butt. He instead snipped several seconds from the scene near the beginning with a shirtless PSY sitting outside in a lounge chair and a boy doing the dance in the foreground.

There you have it: This video has become an example of Weird Koreana in the same way that Westerners incapable of taking successful East Asians seriously have for years found Weird Japan stories and photos as entertaining as the dickens. I’ve seen English-language websites focused on politics and world affairs whose only links or mentions of affairs in Japan are limited to goofball stories. Now it’s Korea’s turn.

They’re not laughing with PSY. They’re laughing at him. PSY himself may be laughing all the way to the bank, but that doesn’t alter the reason he’s got the cash in hand to begin with.

This is an observation that Westerners do not like to hear. To see how they usually respond, try some of the commenters on Arwa Mahdawi’s article at the Guardian. “What’s the problem with you Guardianistas,” they ask. “This is all in fun.”

My worldview is about 180° away from that attributed to the Guardianistas, but I agree with Ms. Mahdawi. I’ve made the same point about Weird Japan by commenting on one or two Western websites (with less politico-cultural stridency than she uses) and the outraged backlash is the same. Telling people in the Anglosphere to their cyberface that they really aren’t as clever, classless, and free as they like to think they are does not earn hits on the Like button.

I suspect PSY is hip enough to know that he’s seen as a clown in the West, but he’s now so rich that he probably doesn’t care. The question he’ll have to come to terms with is whether he’ll want to work against the typecasting in the future, and, whether he does or doesn’t, if the creators of his video can keep coming up with ideas as striking as the one for his Big Payday.

It’s understandable that the Gangnam Style phenomenon has generated excitement in South Korea about the potential for spreading Korean pop culture worldwide and creating cultural ties where few now exist. I hope they can and do.

It would be most unfortunate, however, if their excitement causes them to overlook the ugly side of the Gangnam Style phenomenon.

The photo above is of the K-Pop song-and-dance team Shojo Jidai. The group has the same name in Korean. They were one of three Korean groups to appear on the NHK New Year’s Eve program last year. This electronic disco number is similar musically to Gangnam Style, and is sung in Japanese (with a bit of English). The Japanese-language version of their song has more than 66 million views on Youtube. So much for anti-Korean childishness.

Other than the language, the differences with Gangnam Style are obvious.

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, Music, Popular culture, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 11 Comments »

Ichigen koji  (209)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 26, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

The question of how difficult life is for the people of North Korea seems not to be such a big issue for the zainichi Koreans (Japanese-born Korean nationals). The problem is that the zainichi who are close to ethnic activist groups and the zainichi community tend to avoid the North Korean issue. They’ve been making the excuse that “the issue will be used by the right wing” for several decades. I’m tired of hearing it.

– Go Ang-gi, on Japanese Twitter

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, North Korea, Quotations | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (204)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, October 21, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

The Japanese government gives JPY 160,000 a month (slightly more than $US 2,000) as scholarships to students from China who attend Japanese universities. The money does not have to be returned. There are about 80,000 Chinese students in our universities. National government scholarships of this type are not given to Japanese students. Therefore, universities are actively soliciting students in China to come to Japan. Is this a desirable state of affairs?

– Tamogami Toshio

Posted in China, Education, Foreigners in Japan, Quotations | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Voter apathy

Posted by ampontan on Friday, October 19, 2012

ONE of the more controversial proposals of Japan’s Democratic Party government is to give people with permanent resident status the right to “participate” in local elections. The assumption they wish everyone to make is that this means voting. But the actual Japanese phrase used is “participation” rather than “voting”. That euphemism contains the implication of non-citizens being allowed to stand for office, which would surely be the next demand. Need it be mentioned that the agitation to further extend the privilege to national elections would start shortly thereafter? We’ve all seen how certain political elements behave once they jam their foot in the door. Indeed, jamming their foot in the door is an integral part of their strategy.

The opposition parties insist the Constitution prohibits this “participation”, and some of them have written proposed Constitutional amendments that would remove any ambiguity about citizenship being a prerequisite for political activity.

To clear up any possible ambiguity: This legislation is not intended to enfranchise people such as me — permanent residents with citizenship in countries outside the region. It is to enfranchise native-born ethnic Koreans who choose Korean citizenship.

The DPJ position is based on several factors. These include political contributions from ethnic Koreans, some DPJ members who have hung their Korean ethnic heritage in the back of the closet, and the antipathy of some in the party to the nation-state concept. A somewhat benign form of that third factor was manifest in former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio’s peculiar claim that the Japanese archipelago did not belong exclusively to the Japanese people. Most of the Japanese archipelagians thought that was errant nonsense. But they knew Mr. Hatoyama was lighter than air, and discounted his notions in the expectation that the DPJ might deliver some of the domestic political reform they promised. That was, after all, the primary reason they were voted into office. It was only a matter of weeks before the voters realized the DPJ promises were lighter than helium.

The political commitment of the ethnic Koreans resident in Japan more closely resembles an inert gas. It would be a simple matter for those born in Japan to obtain Japanese citizenship, but many prefer to swear paper fealty to a country they’ve never been to. And as a recent Yonhap news agency report explains, they seem to have little interest in the privileges of citizenship bestowed by their passport of choice. Here’s the report in English. It’s every bit as entertaining as an article from the horsenbuggy news media from any other country, and short to boot:

There are 578,135 Koreans living in Japan — 461,627 with permanent resident status, and 116,508 without that status. Interest among them is growing in the 19 December presidential election in South Korea.

The South Korean Central Election Committee estimates that 462,509 of these people in Japan, or about 80% of the total, are eligible to vote. This year, South Korean citizens living abroad will be eligible to vote in the presidential election.

The number of registered voters for the National Assembly election held on 11 April totaled only 18,575 people, or 4.02%. Of the registered voters, only 9,973 actually cast a ballot, or 52.57%.

The atmosphere has changed before the presidential election, however. Interest is rising in the possible winner of the the election as bilateral relations are chilled due to the Dokdo controversy. Some ethnic Koreans wonder which candidate will pull Korean-Japanese relations toward stability.

There are also many among those eligible to vote intensely curious about the issue of Korean citizens voting in Japan, and the ethnic education of Koreans there.

As of 1 October, with just 19 days left to register for the presidential election, the number of registered voters in Japan totaled 15,986, or an estimated 3.45% of those eligible. That is 1.7 times higher than the number who registered for the assembly elections in April.

(End translation)

* Yonhap is excited because as many as 3.45% of those eligible in a particular district have done their civic duty at a distance and registered to vote. If the earlier election results are a guide, only about half of these will be able to muster the energy to fill out and mail in the ballots.

Why should it be cause for excitement that the number of overseas citizens interested in a presidential election is 1.7 times greater than the number of the same citizens interested in a legislative election? I’m an American living overseas with a better idea of the positions and accomplishments of both major presidential candidates than a lot of people in the United States. Yet I wouldn’t know who was running for the House or Senate in the four states that I once lived in if they walked up and bit me. If any of these South Korean “citizens” have ever lived in their district of eligibility, and are conversant about the candidates in that district, the number is miniscule.

* Is it possible for a South Korean news outlet to write any article about Japan without mentioning Dokdo/Takeshima, no matter how remote the connection? “With interest in Dokdo rising of late, Typhoon #18 struck the southern coast of Kyushu yesterday…”

* According to Yonhap, some ethnic Koreans wonder which presidential candidate in South Korea will contribute to stability in Korean-Japanese relations. I can answer that question: None of them.

There are two reasons for that. One is that none of them are interested to begin with. The other is that the South Korean polity will, by its nature, ensure that any candidate who might be interested will conceal that interest to ensure his political viability.

* Yes, the phrase “ethnic education” does have a tinge of the ein volk, doesn’t it? But the real issue, which Yonhap ignores, has nothing to do with “ethnic education”. Schools for ethnic Koreans already exist in those areas with a population sufficient to support them. The intense interest is in whether or not parents who send their children to these schools should receive the same government subsidies that parents who are Japanese citizens receive for sending their children to private schools teaching a Japanese curriculum. In other words: Where’s my free money!

Most of the schools for ethnic Koreans, incidentally, are operated by Chongryeon, the local citizens’ group associated with North Korea. Their curriculum is based on the glorification of the Kim Dynasty and the defamation of the country that allows them to operate.

Mindan, the group affiliated with South Korea, offers supplementary Saturday classes in “ethnic education”. Here is Mindan’s explanation for the reason they are disenfranchised:

(D)ue to the influence from the conservative wing, symbolized by ‘distortion of the history textbook’ and ‘worship of the Yasukuni Shrine’, the legislation has been delayed, and the law is still held under its pending state.

On the other hand, more than a few Japanese citizens have an intense interest in answers to their questions: Why should their tax proceeds be used to fund the “ethnic education” of the children of people born and raised in Japan who insist on maintaining Korean citizenship?

And: Why should they allow demi-separatists too lazy to exercise the privileges of citizenship in the country to which they pledge allegiance, to establish ethnic enclaves and vote in elections in a country to which they won’t pledge allegiance?

Other than the demand to satisfy a hypertrophied sense of entitlement, that is.

Posted in Education, Foreigners in Japan, Government, North Korea, South Korea | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Ichigen koji (189)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 3, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Prostitution is the only way for South Koreans to make any money during short term stays in Japan.

– A man named Kim after being arrested by Tokyo police on 26 September for running a call girl ring, called the Oppa Club, in Arakawa Ward. Police said the suspect Kim scouted South Korean women in their 20s and told them they could make JPY four million a month through prostitution (slightly more than US$51,000). He put them up in three different units in a Taito Ward condominium and sent them out on an outcall basis using a unlicensed Korean cab driver. Police suspect he employed as many as 15 women at once, and averaged monthly revenue of JPY 16 million.

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, Quotations, Sex, South Korea | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Matsuri da! (132): Mugi, bakushu, and maekju

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 2, 2012

MOST Japanese festivals are several hundred years old and conducted at Shinto shrines that are usually much older.

But there are exceptions. One is a festival created this year and held for the first time last Saturday by the Koma Shinto shrine in Hidaka, Saitama. It’s called the Festival of Gratitude for Mugi and Prayer for Manju, and that’s a poster advertising it at the top. Mugi is the general term for barley, wheat, rye, oats, and other grains in the poaceae family. It’s been grown in Hidaka and the western part of Saitama for a long time. Manju are buns with a variety of fillings. Most often it’s bean paste, but there are many varieties, including those packed with meat and even cream custard. The first manju was brought to Japan from China in 1341, where they are also still eaten.

The priests offered a prayer for the bountiful sales of mugi products, and they gave a manju to everyone who came for good luck. To help promote those bountiful sales, there were booths offering a selection of delights, including the locally popular kinchakuda manju, made with wheat flour, Saitama’s own bean paste, and chestnuts. Inoue Hiroshi, the head of the Kawagoe (city) cultural treasure protection council, delivered a special address. Mr. Inoue spoke on Japan’s Wheat Manju, Past and Present.

The Mugi Culture Gratitude Festival Committee sponsored the event as one of the first activities to commemorate the 1,300th anniversary of the establishment of Koma-gun. (A gun is roughly equivalent to a county.)

Koma-gun was founded by refugees from Goguryeo on the Korean Peninsula. An ancient Korean kingdom, Goguryeo was the loser in a battle against an alliance of the Korean Silla Kingdom and Tang Dynasty China in 668. Koma is written as 高麗 in kanji, which are the same characters used for the Goryeo dynasty of Korea that lasted from 918 to 1392. Goryeo is the origin of the name of Korea, and is derived from Goguryeo. Koma was also used as a synonym for Korea long ago in Japan.

In fact, the Saitamanians think the newcomers established a Goguryeo court in exile there before giving it up and assimilating. One of the first to arrive was Koma no Jakko, an envoy from the court who showed up in 666. He might have been a member of the royal family known by a different name. His spirit is one of the three tutelary deities at the Koma shrine.

Goguryeo is said to have been a grain-producing area. The theme of the new festival is to celebrate the common food culture between the two areas and to remind everyone of the local grain-based foods.

The shared food culture hasn’t traveled on a one-way street. The Japanese introduced Koreans to another popular grain-based product in the first half of the 20th century: beer. Here’s an excerpt from Exploring Korea, a travel guide:

Beer is called Mekchu (맥주) in Korean. The Germans introduced beer to many Asian countries and helped countries such as China and Japan set up breweries and develop brewing techniques. When the Japanese colonized Korea they introduced beer and opened breweries to produce beer for the local elites.

Considering the wealth created on the peninsula and the increase in incomes over all social levels, I don’t know about that “elites” part, but let’s continue. The site has capsule summaries of the three South Korean mass market brewers. Here’s one:

Hite Brewing Company was founded in 1933 and was originally under Japanese ownership during the occupation of Korea. When the company began it was called Chosun Beer but later changed to Hite after gaining independence from Japan.

Chosun Beer was a subsidiary of Dainippon Beer (大日本麦酒株式会社), and was half-owned by local interests. Dainippon was created in Japan in 1906 through the mergers of the companies that made what are now Asahi, Sapporo, and Yebisu beers. It was split into separate units again after the war. Hite was founded in 1933, but didn’t start shipping until 1934.

The reason I provided the company name in characters was to show this part: 麦酒. That seems to have been pronounced biiru in the Dainippon name, and it literally means mugi liquor. The characters themselves were already in use for an older form of proto-beer in Japan and pronounced bakshu in that application.

The characters are also the source for the Korean word maekju, which is the Korean reading of bakushu. The Chinese call beer 啤酒, which is pijiu in Mandarin and bijiu in Cantonese. These days they often dispense with the second character. The first seems to have been a new creation/coinage when beer arrived in China. It’s a combination of 口, or mouth, which is used as a classifier, and another character also known in Japan that means low, base, or common.

OB is the second of the Big Three beer companies in South Korea. That brewery was founded in 1952 by what is now the Doosan conglomerate, but the company had already existed in a different form as Showa Beer, whose major shareholder was Kirin.

Koreans enjoy getting worked up over what they perceive as the faulty Japanese awareness of history and lack of recognition of their contributions to Japanese culture. The case could easily be made, however, that the opposite is closer to the truth. No one in Koma-gun, Saitama, is ignoring history, and one of the Korean county fathers is venerated in the local Shinto shrine. That’s not an isolated example, either: They do the same in Arita, Saga, to honor a key figure in the ceramics culture.

For contrast, allow me subject you to this Wikipedia article called Beer in Korea. Either some boy needs to do his homework, or his teachers gave him bad homework assignments. My guess is the latter.

The Japanese still make bakushu in special circumstances, such as proto-beer festivals at Shinto shrines. Here’s a look at one held annually at the Soja shrine in Koka, Shiga. They started in 1441. The shrine makes three types, and the captions in the video say they are sweet.

Posted in Agriculture, Festivals, Food, Foreigners in Japan, History, Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (179)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 22, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

The Ministry of Education doesn’t conduct these hair-splitting investigations of other schools for foreigners the way they do for Chongryon schools. It’s just sophistry for them to keep saying they’re still conducting an investigation. We’ve been liberated from Japanese colonial rule for more than 60 years, but they deny us our schools. We will not permit the repudiation of our children as Koreans.

– The head of the liaison group for the mothers’ associations of Chongryon schools in Japan. Chongryon is The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, and it is affiliated with North Korea. They operate schools in Japan with pictures of the Kim family dynasty on the walls and a curriculum that glorifies the juche system.

They’re complaining because they don’t receive the same financial subsidies from the Japanese government that other schools do.

The mothers’ associations are called omoni-kai. Kai is the Japanese word for an association, while omoni is the Korean word for mother.

Speaking of omoni, in April this year the Chinese wax museum honoring great persons in history and the CCP donated a wax statute of Kim Jong-suk, the Great Mother (of Kim Jong-il), to North Korea’s International Friendship Exhibition House. The wax figure of the Great Mother is wearing a uniform of the anti-Japanese guerilla army and is placed next to azaleas with Mt. Paektu in the background.

In this video, the director of the Chinese museum, Zhang Molei, gave a speech in which he “bitterly grieved over the demise of leader Kim Jong Il, saying it was their wish to successfully represent the wax replica of Kim Jong Suk so they could please leader Kim Jong Il. Expressing the will to do more things to contribute to the building of thriving socialist nation in the DPRK, he expressed belief that the Korean people would overcome difficulties and win great victory under the leadership of the dear respected Kim Jong Un.”

The video is worth watching to see how services are conducted in the state religion. All you have to do is look.

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, North Korea, Quotations, Religion | 3 Comments »

An island still occupied?

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 10, 2012

I think he’ll be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature.
– Shakespeare, Coriolanus, Act 4, Scene 5

SOME people in medieval times believed the osprey caught fish by mesmerizing them. Once they fell under the sea hawk spell, the finsters floated upside down to facilitate their flop into the osprey belly. That’s what Shakespeare was referring to in the passage quoted above.

The fish weren’t turning belly up at the Ginowan Seaside Park in Okinawa yesterday, just a few minutes as the osprey flies from the Futenma air base. The Okinawans already felt betrayed by Hatoyama Yukio’s false promise of three years ago to have the base moved either outside the prefecture or outside the country. Now it gets even worse: The arrival of the Osprey VTOL aircraft that has crashed or suffered other accidents several times throughout its development and deployment. The most recent incidents occurred in Morocco in April and in Florida in June. That would be dangerous enough at an Air Force base or an aircraft carrier, but danger is part of their job description. The Futenma base, however, is smack dab in the middle of a 19.7 square-kilometer island and the city of Ginowan, with a population of nearly 100,000 people.

The various party caucuses in the prefectural assembly and the prefectural federation of local chambers of commerce and industry formed an executive committee to hold a demonstration against the planned October shift of 12 Osprey from Yamaguchi to Futenma. Another demonstration in a different part of the prefecture was organized by representatives from 36 municipalities.

Naha Mayor Onaga Takeshi delivered the opening address as the committee’s representative. He said:

“The behavior of the Japanese and American governments, which are pushing through deployment against this degree of opposition, is not at all different from the forced seizure of land by bayonet and bulldozer after the war.“

As for the degree of opposition, an estimated 101,000 people showed up yesterday. Organizers are known to exaggerate crowd sizes, but you can use the following video to make your own estimate. It’s also worth watching to see how the Okinawans behave in comparison to the Occupyans.

UPDATE: An Osprey had to make an emergency landing in North Carolina over the weekend, and reporters asked Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu about it at a news conference today. That the government is forced to answer questions about individual incidents concerning an aircraft under the control of another country on the other side of the world indicates the state of mind of much of the Japanese public.

(Photo and video from the Asahi Shimbun)

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, International relations, Military affairs | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (158)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, September 1, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

When I asked my Chinese husband what he thought of all these territorial disputes, he answered, “My grandfather on my father’s side is Chinese, my grandfather on my mother’s side is Korean, my grandmother on my mother’s side is Russian, and I’m married to a Japanese. You can call me “Mr. Territorial Dispute” or “The King of Territorial Disputes”.

– The Japanese Tweeter known as Moth

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, International relations, Quotations | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

On the offensive: Continuing adventures in East Asian hegemonism

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 27, 2012

THE state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua has observer status at the twice-daily news conferences conducted by Japan’s chief cabinet secretary. They seldom ask questions, but the Xinhua reporter asked questions today — seven of them in rapid succession.

They were in reference to Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s statement that he would consider dispatching Self-Defense Forces to the Senkaku Islets.

The reporter asked:

* “In your response to the Senkakus, are you considering diplomatic efforts to avoid military disputes?

* “Some people say that the activities of a few local governments and politicians in Japan are having a negative impact on Japan-Chinese relations. (What do you think?)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu replied:

“There is no doubt that historically and under international law, the Senkaku Islets have always been an integral part of Japan (固有の領土).”

That expression is not easy to translate directly into English; in addition to “an integral part of”, other possibilities are “is rightfully a part of” or “has always been a part of.”

The Xinhua reporter immediately followed that up with: “What is your definition of “an integral part”?”

Meanwhile, down in the South China Sea, the Chinese government created a new city by fiat with the name of Sansha on Yongxing island, which is 350 kilometers from Hainan Island. Sansha translates as “three sandbanks”, so it is unlikely that urban sprawl is a pressing issue for the city fathers.

The island is half the size of New York’s Central Park and has a population of 1,100 who get their fresh water delivered by freighter from China. It’s a 13-hour trip.

It seems to be one of the designated specks on this map:

You might not have known about it, but the Chinese people certainly did:

Official broadcaster China Central Television aired Tuesday morning’s formal establishment ceremony live from Sansha, with speeches from the new mayor and other officials.

Xinhua was Johnny-on-the-spot here too:

The official Xinhua News Agency reported earlier that Sansha’s jurisdiction covers just 13 square kilometers of land, including other islands and atolls in the South China Sea around Yongxing, but 2 million square kilometers of surrounding waters.

Part of the territory that China claims is another submerged reef, which is not allowed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The Cabinet approved Sansha last month to “consolidate administration” over the Paracel and Spratly island chains and the Macclesfield Bank, a large, completely submerged atoll that boasts rich fishing grounds that is also claimed by Taiwan and the Philippines.”

This report says the city has 45 deputies in a people’s municipal congress, all for a city of 1,100. Now that’s representation. The delegates account for slightly more than 4% of the population. If the same proportion were applied to the national population, China would have 53.3 million people sitting in municipal congresses. City Council meetings would become the new spectator sport.

Speaking of city fathers, the reports say the new mayor was “elected”. Perhaps Sansha is also a laboratory for budding Chinese democracy.

But simple fisherfolk aren’t the only folk there:

“Xinhua also says China’s Central Military Commission has approved the formation of a Sansha garrison command responsible for “national defense” and “military operations.””

The news outlet (VOA) provided an “expert” to tell us what we already know:

“(W)hen you look at it in the broader subset of Chinese coercive diplomacy and how they’re using exhibitionary military moves to show their resolve and they couple that with political moves, it seems that they’re making a very significant leap forward in what they’re trying to accomplish in the area.”

Yeah, sure seems that way, doesn’t it?

Wonder if the expert read the China Daily account?

The Ministry of National Defense on Thursday announced the appointment of major officers to the Sansha military garrison, saying China’s military establishments in its own territory are irrelevant to other countries.

Students of diplomacy might compare and contrast that with Fujimura Osamu’s statement.

The China Daily is up to speed on the journo game of finding analysts to quote:

“Analysts said China will continue to strengthen control over Sansha to ensure its lawful interests and rights amid maritime disputes.”

The new garrison is not the first military facility on the island. They already have a naval facility there. It’s almost as if they were looking forward to expecting trouble of some kind.

China Central Television has an English-language news report that you can see here.

Turnabout is fair play, don’t you think? Wouldn’t this be a good opportunity for one of those speak-truth-to-power types to pepper the press secretary of either the Chinese president or premier with some questions? Such as:

“In your response to the Spratly Islands, are you considering diplomatic efforts to avoid military disputes?

“Some people say that the activities of some politicians and military officials in China are having a negative impact on relations between China and Japan/Vietnam/The Philippines/Brunei/Malaysia/Taiwan. (What do you think?)

And of course:

“What is your definition of “an integral part”?”

But we already know what the answers would be.

And the people with the eyes to see already know what is going on.

Sansha might be a city Leo Kottke would like:

Posted in China, Foreigners in Japan, International relations, Military affairs | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (111)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 17, 2012


– A person who has something to say about everything

The Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party have agreed through discussions to raise the consumption tax. As expected (LDP head) Tanigaki’s demand for a Diet dissolution and a general election are gone with the wind. The results of these discussions show that the LDP has joined Noda’s DPJ on the road toward a tax increase, and so they are helping him extend the life of his government. The LDP is now no longer an opposition party, but a wretched group that is devoted to becoming part of the ruling party.

The LDP went into the opposition after its 2009 defeat, but it seems to be over for them now.

Meanwhile, the Noda DPJ has completely abandoned its manifesto and has clearly become the #2 LDP. This development is extremely easy to understand.

At any rate, there will be a general election by next summer. It will give the electorate a clear choice: either the Noda + Tanigaki “DPJ-LDP”, or other groups.

Both the LDP and the DPJ are on the same page with their aversion to dissolving the Diet. Tanigaki, who insisted on a dissolution, has become a clown. Their fear of a dissolution is proof that they think they’ll lose. But the hands of the clock have moved, and they can’t be turned back.

So at this rate, the consumption tax will rise, electric bills will rise, companies will move overseas, and the economy will grow worse. Overseas interests will buy up the few remaining blue chip companies, they will be managed by foreigners, the number of regular employees will decline, and they will be staffed entirely by temporary employees. New university graduates will have just as much difficulty finding a job as their European counterparts.

The next election will be the last chance to put a stop to this.

The strength of SMBEs is their extraordinary ability to develop new products. That should allow them to survive, but foreign capital will become aware of them and buy them up. People will suddenly notice that the company president is Chinese, and there are many Chinese everywhere you look. That will become the new normal.

A lot of people say they hate political crises, but this is really about the lives of the salarymen. To say “enough of the political crises”, as if it were someone else’s affair, is a symptom of the terminal stage of the “boiled frog syndrome”. You suddenly become aware that you’ve been boiled.

I cordially request those people who say they don’t know anything about the “boiled frog syndrome” to boil until they turn a bright red.

– Newspaperman and author Hasegawa Yukihiro

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, Foreigners in Japan, Government | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »