Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘I couldn’t make this up if I tried’ Category

La vie en choco

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 16, 2012

THERE is an abundance of elegant and flavorful hors d’oervres and appetizers that make a perfect food companion for wine. In addition to the many varieties of cheese, one cannot fail to mention foie gras, caviar, spring rolls, vegetables with hummus, crab dab, artichoke and parmesan-filled wonton cups…

And Choco Pies!

Stay your condescending laughter, lest you contradict the opinions of the experts and professionals assembled by the Lotte Co. to celebrate their new Choco Pie product.

Lotte is a large multinational conglomerate with its business fingers in all sorts of pies. Named after the character Charlotte in The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, the company was founded by Shin Kyeok-ho in Tokyo in 1947, and now has more than 60 business units. One of their enterprises is the production and sale of mass market confections, and the slogan of that unit is, “Sweetheart of your mouth”.

Their Choco Pie product hit the market 30 years ago next year, and it quickly became a popular snack. The company decided to create a new pie recipe and enhance their brand image for the anniversary. To promote the improved Choco Pie, they held a trial tasting yesterday in Tokyo for 30 people. The large group of 30 was divided into sub-groups of five people each by occupation, and included patissiers, sommeliers, and female college students.

The experts were unanimously complimentary of the new product’s “refined flavor”. Said the representative of the sommelier group:

“There is an aroma of fragrant cacao, a light, puff-like texture that melts in the mouth, and a body resembling a hidden flavor in the sweetness.”

If that wasn’t enough incentive to head over to the nearest convenience store, he added:

“It is suited for pourriture noble wines (literally noble rot, meaning wine made from grapes with a deliberately cultivated gray mould), or, for red wines, an Amarone or other sweet variety.”

All five sommeliers agreed the Choco Pies had become more delicious. While reports did not include the discriminating judgment of the female college students, the sommeliers’ opinion was seconded by actress Kawashima Naomi, whose husband is patissier Yoroizuka Toshihiko. That’s the epicurean couple in the photo above.

Ms. Kawashima is something of a wine expert, or at least she is reputed to be so. She has said in public that her body is made out of wine, and that wine flows in her blood. Here’s a photo of her getting a transfusion, or perhaps a transmutation.

She also vouched for Choco Pies:

“I think this absolutely would be suited to wine, particularly champagne.”

I’m not sure even Lotte expected what came next:

“I think it also has a fragrance that makes it a perfect match for grain shochu.”

Then again, she also likes cigars.

Sales of the downmarket delicacy began on 21 August, and to this point Lotte has enjoyed a 117% year-on-year increase in shipment value since its release. The company has also created and is selling special seasonal Choco Pies. A videomaker named Shitemita introduces one here, which is advertised as having a slightly bitter taste. Shitemita is impressed that it’s made with vanilla beans from Madagascar.

So am I, come to think of it.

Posted in Food, I couldn't make this up if I tried, New products | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (72)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Modern Chinese statuary:

At Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, a statue of the philosopher Laozi and someone/something else. Which one is which?

And another at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu

Posted in China, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Photographs and videos | 1 Comment »

No, I don’t understand it either

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, October 9, 2012

THE reason more people don’t write geopolitical satire is that they’re incapable of creating fiction that would surpass anything national governments already produce.

In July, we had a post about a brouhaha between China and South Korea over national territory of the imagination. It isn’t possible to claim it as territory, but what’s the bagatelle of international law to these two?

China and South Korea also have a dispute about some isolated bit of maritime territory, this one in the East China Sea. It’s so isolated, in fact, it’s 4.6 meters below sea level. That’s the sunken reef known as Ieodo, Parangdo, Suyan Rock, Socotra Rock, or That Thing Down There, depending on your perspective.

Located 150 kilometers southeast of Jeju, the Underwater Treasure is closer to Japanese territory than to Chinese territory. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea states that no country can claim submerged reefs, but that hasn’t stopped these two. In fact, the Koreans did what they do best in situations of this sort — they built a pointless facility on the rock.

That’s the facility in the photo above. From the Korea Times:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) plans to call in senior diplomats of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul today to protest Beijing’s claims of jurisdiction over Korea’s southern reef territory Ieodo, a ministry spokesman said Sunday

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that any coastal state has the rights to claim an EEZ that stretches up to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) from its shore, except where there is an overlap with a neighboring country’s claims.

In short, South Korea bases its claim to this mini-Atlantis on an international agreement that says they can’t make the claim.

No, I don’t understand it either.

South Korean sources say the existence of Ieodo was “confirmed in 1984”, and their Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries established a “scientific base” there to study the seabed topography and tides in the area. But:

The issue has drawn public attention in South Korea recently following media reports that Liu Xigui, the chief of China’s State Oceanic Administration, claimed in an interview with Beijing’s Xinhua news agency that Ieodo is in waters under Chinese control and is part of areas patrolled by Chinese vessels and aircraft.

The same article quotes President Lee Myung-bak as saying it “is not a territorial matter”, yet also calls it an “islet” a few paragraphs later. On 23 September, however, the Chinese government announced that it would conduct a simulation of a remote maritime monitoring system using drones. Some South Korean newspapers reported some Chinese newspapers as saying Ieodo would be among the territory subject to periodic monitoring:

China recently denied the report and said they wouldn’t claim Ieodo. In response to Seoul’s query, China has recently clarified that those reports do not represent its official position and reflect only “a personal opinion” of the official quoted, the sources said.

The Chinese official just “mentioned the extent of the surveillance organization’s work from a technical aspect,” the Beijing government said in its reply to Seoul, according to the sources.

But then the Chinese have been objecting to Korean behavior there since 2006, and conducted aerial surveillance of the site five times in 2005.

China objects to Korea’s “unilateral” activities in the region. Beijing and Seoul held several rounds of negotiations on the demarcation of the EEZ between the two countries, but the Chinese government objected to Korea’s establishment of a maritime observatory complex on the island, Quin said. He described the Korean government’s unilateral action as “illegal” but added the two countries never had a territorial dispute over the island.

A South Korean journalist specializing in military matters (name not provided in Chinese characters) told KBS TV in South Korea:

“Ieodo is next after the Senkakus. China is moving to create a territorial dispute…China will demand that South Korea remove its maritime science base.”

That’s the backdrop for the South Korean government seeking negotiations with Japan to relax its rules for the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). Ieodo is within the Japanese ADIZ, which means that South Korean aircraft and ships must provide information on their planned course and destination, usually to an air traffic controller, before entry. South Korean military sources say that the pseudo-islet was not included in the South Korean ADIZ by the United States Pacific Command in the early 1950s, but was inside the ADIZ established by Japan in 1963.

KBS TV reported that Japan was not warm to the idea.

So: South Korea ignored the terms of the peace treaty ending the Second World War and seized Takeshima by force from Japan when they knew Japan would be unable to stop them. They have since employed the islets as a symbol of hyper-chauvinism, one manifestation of which was an athlete running amok at the London Olympics with a non-Olympian banner only Koreans can read. If Japan suggests taking the dispute to the International Court of Justice, Korean politicians and the mass media indulge in a national revile-a-thon, and some break out their paper hats and striped paper noisemakers to charge that the Japanese far right is getting ready to march back onto the Korean Peninsula again. All of this is reported in the Japanese-language editions of South Korean newspapers, which many Japanese read.

And the Korean government actually thought the Japanese government might do them a favor when they get on board the Yellow Submarine to visit their land beneath the waves, because they think that, tabun maybe perhaps desho, the Chinese aren’t telling the truth?

No, Japan was not warm to the idea. I wonder why?

Aa, Wakaranai = Ah, I don’t understand it.

Posted in China, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

In beauty, there is no east and west

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 23, 2012

PEOPLE have been formulating standards for the dimensions of a perfect woman for a long time. Here, for example, is a page taken from the 19th century Woman’s Own Book of Toilet Secrets.

The proprietor of Chateau Heartiste was good enough to type out the explanation for easy reading:

The dimensions of a perfect woman are: Five feet 5 inches in height, weight 128 pounds. Arms extended should measure from tip of middle finger to tip of middle finger just 5 feet 5 inches (the height). The length of her hand should be a tenth of that, her foot a seventh, the diameter of her chest a fifth. From her thighs to the ground she should measure just the same as from her thighs to the top of her head. The knee should come exactly midway between the thigh and the heel. The distance from the elbow to the middle finger should be the same as from the elbow to middle of the chest. From the top of the head to the chin should be just the length of the foot, and the same distance between the chin and the arm-pits. A woman of this height should measure 24 inches around the waist, 34 about the bust, if measured under the arms, and 43 if measured over them. The upper arm should measure 13 inches; the wrist 6 inches. The calf of the leg should measure 14½ inches; the thigh 25; the ankle 8.

Westerners aren’t the only ones to conduct structural analyses of the female form. There were several reports from China earlier this month that Model of China, a model training website, created their own standards from Internet research. They were used as the criteria for the acceptance of applicants in a beauty contest in Hubei conducted to select the top ten college students in that city. They plan to extend the contest nationwide.

The breakdown of the overall standards for selection was 40% for appearance, 40% for intelligence, and 20% from online voting.

Some of the standards for appearance focus on proportions rather than precise measurements:

* The distance between the eyes should be 46% of the distance between the ears.

* The distance between the mouth and the eyes should be 36% of the length of the face.

* The length of the nose should be one-third of the forehead length.

* The thickness of the upper lip should be roughly eight millimeters, and that for the lower lip nine millimeters. For this category, they magnanimously allowed that every individual is different.

* The width of the mouth should be roughly the same as the width of the eyes.

* The height should be 7.1 times the length of the head.

* Compared to the height, the measurements of the bust should be x .51, the waist x .34 and the hips x .542.

But they preferred more precise measurements when creating standards for the breasts. Oh, they did start with a general statement of principles:

* Breasts should be full, perky, balanced between left and right, and not droopy.

But they continued with these:

* The distance between the nipples should exceed 20 centimeters.

* The diameter of the lower part of the breast should be 10-12 centimeters.

* The height of the breast should be 5 to 6 centimeters.

Reports say they also had standards for the size of the nipples and areola, but those were unreported. Slipshod journalism of this sort is inexcusable.

People in Japan who know their way around the Chinese Internet say this is not an isolated phenomenon. In fact, another website seems to have even more precise standards.

Those of you interested in volunteering their time and their steady hand on the calipers in the service of Aphrodite, Freya, and Kichijoten — and that includes me — should be aware of another factor in contemporary China. Here’s the headline from Want China Times: Self-help society: China’s first masturbation club.

No, don’t be silly, guys don’t do stuff like that:

China’s first female masturbation club was established in September by three bold university students, according to Phoenix Net, the website of the Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV.

Club members assert that masturbation is a normal practice and reject conservative social values that cause people to feel uneasy about the act of self-love.

They have “tenets”, as the website refers to them. Here’s one:

The benefits of celibacy:

“Men just want to be with you so they can enjoy the ‘physical benefits’ of the relationship. If they really liked you, they would not be in such a rush to make love. Many of my friends say that the actual experience of sex is not as magical as books describe, so it is best not to attach yourself to another man. I would rather enjoy a sex life with myself!”

Rather than a tenet, that sounds like the rationalization of a woman who doesn’t measure up, so to speak. It also sounds as if her friends need new friends of their own.

This tenet is easier to understand. In fact, it’s an excellent demonstration of cause and effect:

“I have been with my boyfriend for two years and previously we were perfect together in every aspect except for our sex life. I would tell him how to do it and he would get upset when it did not work. Finally, through his persistence and my increased understanding, I am able to enjoy making love with him.”

The subhead to this tenet is labeled, “Perfectionism”. That isn’t the word I’d use to categorize that approach. Some people might suggest that it’s love. That’s one possibility. Another is that she might be one of the friends of the first woman who doesn’t believe in magic.

Isn’t international exchange fun? Maybe we could form a committee and petition the ISO to create a new category. Sure beats anything they’re doing at the UN.

And isn’t it time that Western journalists pay more attention to contemporary trends in Chinese society? We’ve seen this one before, but here’s another.

Mick could get his rocks off only when he was sleeping.

Posted in China, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Social trends | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (180)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 23, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

The Japan Restoration Party led by Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru has been launched as a national party. Its logo shows Takeshima as Japanese territory. Hashimoto is the type who utters such absurdities as “There is no evidence that the Japanese army forcibly coerced the comfort women. If there is, South Korea should present it.”

The Japan Restoration Party is expected to win a substantial number of seats in the general election that will be held before long. It is possible they will work with the Liberal Democratic Party to take control of government. If that happens, the voices of the extreme right will grow that much louder.

Even if the Democratic Party were to retain control, the previous absurdities will become an established fact. It is likely there will be no withdrawal, even if more absurdities emerge. The territorial dispute with China is a product of the extreme right. As soon as Tokyo Metro District Gov. Ishihara announced his plan to purchase the islets, the Japanese government produced JPY 250 million as if they had been waiting for it and nationalized the territory. The state and far right politicians are now a group of plotters up to no good.

We ask the 120 million people of Japan: Will you only watch as Japan brings the extreme right to the forefront and you plunge to the level of a third-rate country? Will you forever miss the opportunity that the victims have allowed you?

– Bang Hyeong-nam, Dong-a Ilbo, 15 September

Bonus points to anyone who can find the Takeshima islets in the logo.

Posted in I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Quotations, South Korea | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

All you have to do is look (55)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 21, 2012

Patriotic model prepares for an appearance at the Nanjing Auto Show.

From the Beijing Shots website. This might be part of a larger trend, and not an outlier.

Heck, even the girls say it about themselves: All they want to do is have fun. In China too.

Posted in China, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Photographs and videos | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

In their heads

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
-Oscar Wilde

THE terminally serious sitting at their cubicle desks of respectable discussion are missing the point with the intellectual skirt chasing of gravitas and erudition. They’d find it more productive to apply some good old-fashioned Buddhist detachment to the goofiness, mythomania, and triple-digit loon factor of the global gutter press and dumpster-dive right into the middle without holding their noses. The immediate benefit would be a wealth of entertainment superior to most vaudeville of either the 20th or 21st centuries. The payoff would be information more useful and an education more practical than that to be found in their learned periodicals of choice better suited to their class prejudices.

If you think I’m red-lining it on the loon meter myself, follow this trail and watch where it leads.

Let’s start with Tokyo Sports, a daily tabloid of the type that prints all the news that isn’t fit to print, extensive coverage of sports news with huge headlines, and speculation on the physical characteristics of the sexual organs of female celebrities.

Here’s an excerpt from their 23 August edition.

“It would be a good idea to ban the Korean Wave, or even K-Pop. That would include Girls’ Generation and Kara. Korean consumer electronics and other products make their way into Japan, but I think there will definitely be a boycott. (Person connected with the Liberal Democratic Party).”

That’s Square One: A solitary unidentified guy in an unidentified party position biting into the red meat of the sort that people chew whenever there’s an uproar between two nations. The Korean Wave is no more likely to banned in Japan than French fries were to be renamed Freedom Fries in the US a decade ago during the runup to Iraq War II.

Now for Square Two: Someone from enews, “The Voice of Korean Entertainment”, read the article and gave it to Erika Kim to translate and Lee Kyung-nam to put into publishable form. Here’s their treatment.

“One official from the leading opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, has even told the Japanese press that Japan should ban any Korean wave related content and K-Pop… According to a Japanese newspaper, Tokyo Sports, the official said, “We need to ban the Korean wave, K-Pop, everything. Girls’ Generation (SNSD) and Kara are also out of the question. Korean electronics make their way into Japan, but a boycott will definitely arise soon.”

See how quickly they upgraded to “an official” telling “the Japanese press” that they “need to ban” the Korean wave, K-Pop, “everything”?

Square Three followed shortly thereafter. MTV Iggy picked up the enews story and ran this headline:

Japan Wants to Ban Korean Media Over Dokdo Islands

We’ve gone from an unidentified someone to the entire country in a virtual blink of the eye. Using the enews story as a basis, Janine Bower reported:

“Right now, Japanese officials are working to place a ban on all forms of Korean media.”

Bower wanted to give the site’s readers some background, but research and reading comprehension do not seem to be her strong points:

“It all comes down to a fierce territory dispute between what are called the Dokdo Islands to the Koreans, and the Takeshima Islands to the Japanese. Japan believes that the islands belong to them because the US government abolished Korea’s ownership of them during World War II.”

Janine must have been playing with her i-Pad during class. In addition to the rules for preposition use, she doesn’t know that Korea never had “ownership” of the islets until they seized them in 1954, so the US government couldn’t abolish anything. After World War II, the Americans upheld the Japanese ownership of the islands that dated from 1905 and rejected the Korean claim through the peace treaty.

And now we fly off the board entirely and into the world of the vernacular South Korean news media, which always has one foot in the gutter and every columnist is Drama Queen for a Day in drag. Lee Jeh-yeong got a whiff of the story and wrote a column for the Korean site Ajunews. Lee is being the pundit, so here’s how he starts:

“I visited Japan in 1990. One evening, I asked a young man in the subway for directions. He was true to the famous Japanese reputation for kindness by giving me very detailed instructions. But he kept repeating the same words in clumsy English two or three times. I thought this was strange, and wondered if he was being too kind. Just then I realized what was really happening. This young Japanese man, who had alcohol on his breath, somehow wanted to show off to his Japanese friends that he was good at English.”

That’s one possibility. Another is that alcohol had loosened the man’s tongue at the expense of briskness. We’ve all seen it happen. Yet another is that Lee’s English isn’t very good, and the Japanese man wasn’t sure that he understood. A fourth is that the Japanese man lacked confidence in his own English and was trying hard to convey the information to Lee. Finally, maybe he was just being kind. Everyone else in the world who visits Japan thinks their kindness to befuddled strangers is delightful. Lee complains about it and looks for ulterior motives.

Then again, the idea of being kind to foreigners struggling with the language might be a foreign concept for Lee. I was once lashed with a torrent of verbal abuse from a young female clerk in a Busan supermarket because my very rudimentary Korean wasn’t good enough to understand her instructions on where they stocked the instant kalguksu I wanted to buy and take back home. I have no idea what she said, but she was behaving as if I had tried to slip my hand up her dress. It was all I could do to keep from laughing in her face. Finding similar stories on the Web is easy to do.

After ranting for a few paragraphs, Lee concludes:

“The Japanese themselves will probably never admit it, but they have now developed an inferiority complex towards the Republic of Korea (大韓民国). They’ve added a “Korean complex” to their “White complex”, and Japan’s far right has been overcome by a profound dread. They’re anti-Korean and anti-Korean wave. If they take one more step, they’ll be shouting for all the foreigners to get out of Japan.”

See what you would have missed if you hadn’t gone dumpster diving?

The key passage came in the middle, however:

“Mass culture is like the water of a river. It isn’t possible to stop the flow of the river through artificial means. In the past, we indiscriminately banned Japanese culture, but at the time, many Koreans thought Japan = First Class and were infatuated with Japanese culture. During the colonial occupation, and then until the 1990s, our inferiority complex towards Japan drove a hostile reaction toward Japan, the Japanese, and Japanese culture. Now, however, our national brand is ranked #7 and the Japanese national brand is ranked #27. They fear Korea and are rushing headlong into anti-Korean sentiment and banning the Korean wave.”

I’ve always thought mass culture more closely resembled chewing gum than the waters of a mighty river, but we can let that pass. After all, many people outside of South Korea enjoy their version of disposable television programming and music. More important is the selective amnesia that Lee shares with his readers.

Japanese pop culture was prohibited entirely in South Korean until 1998 — only 14 years ago. Deregulation began that year on 20 October. The government permitted manga to be sold and award-winning movies from international festivals to be shown in theaters, but not on television. There have since been three more deregulations.

* As of 10 September 1999, concerts were permitted in venues with 2,000 seats or fewer, though the prohibition on CD sales and broadcasting remained. More movies were permitted, still in theaters only.

* As of 27 June 2000, international award-winning film manga could be shown in theaters only. The restriction on the number of seats in halls for musical concerts was lifted, but CD sales and broadcasting was still forbidden. Some electronic games were allowed to be sold, except television games such as Nintendo. Some sports, documentary, and news programs could be broadcast on television.

* As of 1 January 2004, the screening of all movies and manga was allowed in theaters only, music could be sold in shops, and television dramas were allowed on cable channels, with age restrictions.

As far as I can determine — Koreans aren’t forthcoming about this — it is still illegal today to broadcast Japanese television dramas, films, cartoons, and concerts on regular television, or Japanese music on the radio.

South Koreans also seem to be as hazy on history as Janine over at MTV Iggy. Even the academics, as Prof. Ishii Ken’ichi demonstrates. He starts by citing a passage in Media Asia:

Japan and Korea, both of which had blocked the importation of each other’s cultural products, have opened their media markets in recent years. Since 1989, the Korean government has gradually lifted the gate for several cultural products, such as Japanese pop music records, limited films and television programmes and animation. Korean television dramas traditionally limited their portrayals of Japanese to those who participated in Japan’s colonization of Korea. Meanwhile, Japan permitted, for the first time, the broadcasting of Korean music on the air in June 2000. (Dal Yong Jin, “Regionalization of East Asia in 1990s”, Media Asia, 29(4), p227, 2003)

Note that Dal gives the Koreans credit for lifting some of their restrictions first before the Japanese eliminated their imaginary ones. But Prof. Ishii quickly sets the record straight. The emphasis is his:

“Media Asia” is one of the most prestigious academic journals on media and communications in Asia. Also Dal Yong Jin is a Korean Ph.D. candidate majoring in media and cultures, who will probably become a professor in media and communications. However, the above quoted paragraph is based on a completely wrong belief. In fact, Japan has never prohibited any foreign cultures (including Korean ones) on TV. Thus, it was impossible for Japan to “permit for the first time the broadcasting of Korean music in 2000”.

Prof. Ishii is generous and calls it a misconception. It’s also possible that Dal either made the story up, or took the word of someone else who made the story up.

Why would someone from a country with these Taliban-lite broadcast restrictions, both past and present, foam at the cybermouth about Japan adding to its White Complex with a Korea Complex and being on the verge of driving all the foreigners out of the country?

The likely answer is, to use a common sports expression, that the Japanese and the Japanese presence are “in their heads“ in a way that the Koreans never have been, aren’t now, and never will be in Japanese heads. Articles with this sort of content and language about South Korea do not exist in Japan outside of a dumpster. It’s difficult to find anything remotely similar to this even on the “far right” sites they like to complain about. Perhaps the best explanation is to be found by consulting Stedman’s Medical Dictionary or a psychiatric journal.

Because this is South Korea, there is also the aspect of plagiarism. Keeping the locals from seeing the original enables South Korean industry in general, and the media industry in particular, to snatch it for themselves without royalties or attribution. For example, here’s a comparison of Japanese originals with the South Korean knockoffs. (I’ve seen another in Korean shops myself.) Just yesterday, a thread popped up on the Korean Internet complaining that the opening scene to a music program hosted by the singer HaHa was ripped off from a Japanese commercial for Softbank, a telecommunications and Internet company. Here’s the Softbank ad:

And here’s the HaHa intro:

Finally, a third reason is green old envy. Any Japanese success internationally causes the gnashing of Korean teeth domestically. When the sanctions on Japanese culture were first partially lifted in South Korea in 1998, the Japanese government sponsored a series of events for Japan Week. One was a concert by Japanese singer Sawa Tomoe, whose mother is Korean and who spent some of her childhood in that country. She sang songs in Korean and English, and the South Korean government gave her permission to perform two songs in Japanese. One of those songs, as this article describes, was “’Kokoro’ (Heart), in which she put to her own melody a famous Korean poem that her grandfather–a renowned Korean poet himself–had translated into Japanese.”

Ms. Sawa wanted to sing another song in English, but decided against it after the Koreans made it clear they were displeased with her choice. The song the South Korean government didn’t want their countrymen to hear a woman of partial Korean heritage sing, even in a third language, says all you need to know about how deep the Japanese are in their envious heads.

The lyrics were neither politically nor socially controversial. Rather, they are about a lonely man trying to cheer himself up and give himself encouragement. Here it is in the original Japanese with the original singer.

UPDATE: Reader Avery M took the trouble to translate the Japanese Wiki page on Korean media censorship into English, and sent us the link. Thanks, Avery!

Posted in Arts, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, Mass media, Music, Popular culture, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 10 Comments »

Ichigen koji (166)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 9, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

* One of the Japanese words for “you”, kimi, is actually derived from the Korean family name Kim.

* A man named Bak (Park) came to Japan from the Korean Peninsula and established the Yamataikoku settlement near Osaka. His name is the origin of one of the Japanese masculine words for “I” (boku).

* A man named Kim also established a settlement in Kyushu.

* After some time, this settlement came to control all of Japan, and the Japanese emperor’s name became Gimhae Kim (the name of a clan on the Korean Peninsula).

* The Kimi ga Yo of the Japanese national anthem (very roughly) means “The king’s (emperor’s) domain. But because Kim was the ruler of Japan, and the progenitor of the Emperor’s family name, the title really means “Kim’s (kimi) domain”.

– An etymological argument presented by Lee Nam-gyo of Kyungil University, in a column in the Maeil Shinmun, about the origin of the waka poem Kimi ga Yo, written (perhaps as a love poem) during the Heian period (794–1185). The lyrics later became those of the Japanese national anthem. The location of the Yamataikoku is still a matter for serious debate in Japan.

Prof. Lee reportedly also thinks the words wasabi (Japanese horseradish), Christ, Santa Claus, and Big Bang are also of Korean origin. His photo is at the top of the post.

Posted in History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Imperial family, Quotations, South Korea | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

How sporting of them

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 2, 2012

THE above photo showing a taxicab with the warning that the driver will refuse to accept Korean passengers was taken in Taiwan.

Unseen by the media eye in Japan and the West — but not in the Sinosphere — is that anti-Korean sentiment is ablaze in Taiwan. It’s become so heated that President Ma Ying-jeou has asked his countrymen to keep the cool head.

There’s been a long-simmering irritation in Taiwan with the behavior of Korean athletes and judges in international sporting competitions. It’s based on the widespread perception that the Koreans play and judge dirty. There is also irritation at Korean media and Net user behavior when they’re displeased by unfavorable results in those competitions. This being East Asia, there are additional complications, and one of them is the charge, even in Taiwan, that pro-PRC Taiwanese use the Koreans as a target to redirect anger from the mainland.

Emotions started to boil two years ago when Taiwanese representative Yang Shu-jun was favored to win a medal at the Asia taekwondo championships, and you can see where this is leading. The dispute arose when Ms. Yang was in the process of trouncing her Vietnamese opponent. The judge disqualified her mid-match for having one sensor too many on the backs of both her shoes. The sensors detect strikes of the opponent, and the extra sensor might have made it easier to score points.

Ms. Yang was told to remove the sensors during a pre-match inspection. After she passed the mandatory formal inspection, a judge spotted the sensors again during the match, which caused the disqualification. That touched off a Youtube link battle with videos of the match and Internet combatants insisting there was nothing extrasensory about her footwear at all. The Taiwanese were also upset because the decision was made without giving their side a chance to explain. That the match judge was a Filipino citizen of Korean ancestry and the World Taekwando Federation secretary-general is Korean made it all the more entertaining for everyone.


The most recent Taiwanese explosions started with Korean complaints of unfair judging during the London Olympics.

One incident involved South Korean fencer Shin A-lam, who lost a match against a German opponent after a dispute over whether there was a timekeeping foul-up. The South Koreans appealed and lost that too. Ms. Shin stayed on the floor waiting for the result of the appeal, because leaving would have meant that she accepted the ruling. The English-language media described this as a “sit-in protest”. She was finally led away before the decision was announced.

The call of All Hands to Battle Stations went out in the South Korean media, whose scribes make the lads of Fleet Street look like choirboys, the tabloids included. The Kyunghyang Shinmun complained that the South Koreans were a target of the judges, and they began to refer to the Olympics as the “Oshimpics”. That’s a bilingual pun using the Korean word oshim for judging mistake. (The Japanese know the same word as 誤審, or goshin.) The newspaper added:

“England is said to be the country of gentlemen, but it is being criticized for having none of the characteristics of gentlemen at all. The errors in judgment are concentrated against Koreans.”

Others pointed out the reason for all the mistakes was that the 2012 Olympic mascot had only one eye.

This being South Korea, they were most upset at three decisions in which their worthies came out on the short end in matches involving Japanese athletes. One in particular that brought forth gale-strength gusts of hot air was a judo match between Ebinuma Masashi of Japan and Cho Jun-ho of South Korea. Mr. Cho was declared the winner, but members of the Referee Commission of the International Judo Federation immediately intervened to point out that Mr. Ebinuma was not given credit for a successful attack. The decision was reversed and the victory awarded to the Japanese athlete. From the South Korean news media:

* “This favoritism for Japan was obvious.”

* “Was Japan the reason for the reversal?…Cho’s opponent was from Japan, the judo colonial power, and unseen pressure overturned the judges’ decisions.”

Yes, they said “colonial power”.

* “Overturning the decision was unprecedented. What we can understand from this is that unimaginable power was exerted by Japan, the country where judo originated…The entire world should support the victory of our South Korean nation.”

There were also complaints that a Japanese judge was responsible. No Japanese names were among the several judges and commission members mentioned in the British newspaper reports I read.

The reaction in China

This behavior piqued the interest of Chinese sports fans. A column on the Sina news network said the Koreans should stop complaining because the adverse decisions were the result of “cause and effect”. The author added that Koreans did nothing but complain and looked at things only from their perspective.

A thread on this topic began on the bulletin board connected to the Baidu search engine in China. Here’s a sample of the comments as reported in the Chinese media.

* The South Korean surefire method of victory when they lose is to blame it on the judges.

* This again? Koreans are Koreans, I guess. Frogs at the bottom of the well.

* The only thing the Koreans know how to do is blame judges.

* In other words, what they’re saying is they would have won if the judge were Korean.

* This is really tiring. Why don’t we just save ourselves all the trouble and let the Koreans win everything?

* Before long the Korean media will be saying that the Japanese winner really has Korean blood.

If you’re keeping score at home, this is touché times six.

Thus began a new game on the Taiwanese Internet: Let’s see how we can take the piss out of the Koreans by redesigning their flag. Here’s one example.

Another included replacing the blue and red circle in the middle with two pigs embracing, and yet another replaced the disc with a steaming pile of dung. More diversions were provided by launching a cyber-attack on the website of the office of the South Korean president, burning Korean flags, and throwing eggs at Korean schools. That’s when both President Ma and Yang Shu-jun asked everyone to settle down.

Little of this, as far as I’ve seen, has appeared directly in the Japanese mass media. I found most of it on the websites that offer direct Japanese translations of articles from the Chinese media and websites.

One Japanese news aggregator picked up a survey conducted by Yahoo! South Korea, which found that 62.2% of the Korean respondents thought the South Korean government should get involved to actively oppose the desecration of the national flag. They knew their readers would be amused to see the Korean response once the shoe was stuck on the other foot. After all, the Japanese have seen plenty of these photos:

Meanwhile, the South Korean news media started chewing on some bloody shirts of their own in their flag featurettes. They scrutinized KBS film from the Japan-South Korea soccer match at the Olympics until they found this one shot:

That fully unfurled the anger of the South Korean New Daily news website. They were upset because FIFA declared the Bak Jong-soo pitch trot — which they referred to as “the Dokdo ceremony” — to be political, and therefore out of bounds. New Daily agreed that what one fan does in the stands isn’t the same as what an athlete does on the playing field, BUT:

“This flag, which is strictly prohibited by the international community, was overlooked by FIFA, which thought that a reference to Dokdo of the Republic of Korea (大韓民国) was political. These people are are true Japanese sympathizers. These London Olympics have shown that FIFA has zero diplomatic ability in sports.”

That the flag in question is “strictly prohibited by the international community” will come as news to the international community. Incidentally, accusing someone in South Korea of being a Japanese sympathizer in the current climate is the rough equivalent of claiming that they read a chapter of Mein Kampf every night before bed.

That’s created some synergy with the local dish of histrionics du jour:

As always, the Japanese mass media is the epitome of sang-froid when incidents such as these arise. You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s a clip from the Japanese broadcast of the women’s basketball match between Japan and South Korea in Ankara in June for a berth in the Olympics that Japan won 79-51. Japanese language ability isn’t required to understand the tone of voice when the play-by-play announcers watch the Korean team deploy their “boxing out” techniques. South Korea is in black and Japan is in white.

Posted in China, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, South Korea, Sports, Taiwan | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

All you have to do is look (25)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This photograph and the overlaid diagram appeared on a South Korean message board and was picked up by the Joongang Ilbo, a daily newspaper, on 20 August. It is an aerial view of a fountain and plaza at a train station in Goyang, a city of nearly one million people in Gyeonggi Province.

That someone went to the trouble to create this picture, and a national newspaper printed it, says more than I ever could. All you have to do is look.

The Joongang article concluded with the following:

“This (flag) is recognized as a symbol of Japanese imperialism and militarism. Its use was outlawed in 1945 when Japan was defeated in the Second World War.”

If it was outlawed in 1945, the prohibition didn’t last long. It is in use by the Maritime Self-Defense Forces today.

Posted in History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Photographs and videos, South Korea | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

All you have to do is look (23)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 20, 2012

This is a scene from the Tenryo-san Festival held earlier this month in Oda, Shimane. One of the events of that festival is the use of these traditional clay roof tiles, distinctive to the area, in a game of domino knockdown. The event was revived this year for the first time in 14 years.

Thirty people took two hours to set up 1,500 tiles in a line that stretched for 200 meters down the main street of town. It took about a minute for the line to topple.

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

Status quo vadis?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 19, 2012

Most people who look at the above photograph of a Japanese gymnast from Getty Images might think it was a striking shot of the competition from the recent London Olympics, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Most people who live outside of South Korea.

Bak Yong-Sung, head of the South Korean Olympic Committee, testified at an emergency meeting of the Korean National Assembly’s Committee on Culture, Sports, Tourism, Broadcasting & Communications on Friday. He said:

“After consultation with the attorneys of the (South Korean) Olympic Committee, we have decided that rather than deal with this alone, we should work with all the countries that were (Japanese) victims in World War II. We will work with the government to study which methods would be the most effective to oppose this.”

By oppose this, he meant the gymnastics uniform. The reporter for Asia Economy, the Korean-language site where the article ran, explained:

The point at dispute is the “rising sun flag” that represents militarism….The gymnastics team appeared wearing this uniform with those associations, but they were not subject to special restrictions by the International Olympic Committee. Rather, the IOC recognized that it was within the bounds of (legitimate) expression. The IOC prohibits uniforms that have associations with Nazi designs, but they did not uphold the regulations they formulated themselves.”

The reporter continued by complaining that this violation of Olympic rules was worse than the Korean soccer player’s pitch trot with the Dokdo banner. That’s because the Japanese offense was premeditated and the Korean act was on the spur of the moment.

Now do you see what I mean by “arrested development”?

The Japanese flag with all the rays, by the way, is based on symbols used for centuries to denote auspicious occasions and on samurai family crests, particularly in Kyushu. In modern Japan, it has been used only as a naval flag. It was the flag of the Imperial Navy, and it is still used by the Maritime Self-Defense Forces.

Meanwhile, this poster calling for demonstrations against the Japanese popped up all over China this weekend.

The first two large red characters at the left are those for the city of Nanjing, where this demonstration was held. The first words at the left in the inscription under the large, full-width photograph say, “Slogan: Smash Small Japan!”.

Yeah, it does say “small”. How thoughtful of them to save people the trouble of thinking up slogans on their own. (There’s another slogan to the right of that one.)

But here’s the real news: With only a change in place names, the identical posters calling for demonstrations also appeared in Jinan. And Hangzhou. And Qingdao. And Dalian. Nanjing is down in the south, and Dalian is up north.

It must have been one of those spontaneous outpourings of emotion by the Chinese people that occurs from time to time.

The Northeast Asian status quo…where did it go?

Nobody has any idea what this incipient Cold War will lead to, but one thing is certain. Quite a few people in this part of the world are going off the rails, and none of them live in Japan.


But don’t expect the foreign news media to catch the drift. As reader Yankdownunder commented earlier, they have a peculiar narrative.

An article from Reuters that appeared today is a case in point. It is credited to Linda Sieg, who’s represented that photo-doctoring organization in Japan for a few years now. It isn’t possible to say whether she’s only following the template created by her Reuters paymasters, or whether she enthusiastically supports it. What is possible to say is that her product is third-rate journalism, even by contemporary standards.

The first sentence:

Several Japanese nationalists landed on Sunday on a rocky island in the East China Sea at the heart of a territorial row with Beijing, a move all but certain to fan anger in China and worsen ties between Asia’s two biggest economies.

Followed by:

Tensions flared last week after seven of a group of 14 Chinese activists slipped past Japan’s Coast Guard to land on one of the uninhabited isles and raise a Chinese flag.

When the nationalists go ashore on their own territory, it is sure to fan anger and worsen ties. On the other hand, the act of provocation was just some activists who caused tensions to flare…by deliberately entering a foreign country without authorization and with the intent of causing a diplomatic incident.

The islets have never been in Chinese possession and there is no record of any Chinese ever having lived there. They are now in Japanese possession and the original owner of the property operated a business there for 45 years, with his employees on the site. The Chinese recognized them as Japanese territory until the potential for seabed natural resources was discovered circa 1970.

Who are the nationalists, and who are the activists, eh Linda?

Wait, I’ll answer that second question myself. The activists are Reuters reporters worldwide.

And the guild wonders why the news consuming public thinks so little of them.

Maybe, to steal a line from Fawlty Towers, it’s because their minds are like Swiss cheese. “Hard?” asked the Major. “No,” replied Basil. “Full of holes.”

Posted in China, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

Ichigen koji (140)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 15, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Do you know what day 15 August is? That’s right — it’s the day the Kirin Challenge Cup 2012 starts! There’s also the Kampai Goal, in which participants can win a case (24 350-milliliter bottles) of Kirin’s Ichiban Shibori. We’re now testing it, so give it a try!

– Kirin Beer advertisement from last week

15 August is the date of the Japanese surrender in the war, which even the youngest schoolchildren know.

Posted in I couldn't make this up if I tried, Popular culture, Quotations | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Flying hoop and weirdness alert

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 15, 2012

THE literal meaning of the Japanese expression taga ga hazureta refers to a barrel from which the hoops have been removed. The tension of the metal rings around the barrel provides it with structural integrity. Take off the hoops, however, and the whole thing falls apart.

Barrels of that sort are seldom used anymore, but the expression is still used in Japan and applied to analogous situations in life. It’s been used quite a bit lately to describe South Korean behavior since President Lee Myung-bak choppered over to the Takeshima islets last week.

The blogger writing as Ryoko 174 thinks the South Koreans have allowed three “own goals” during the series of incidents. (She uses that name because she’s employed at a major financial institution and feels more comfortable expressing her opinions anonymously.)

The first is the Korean application of the logic of their “actual control” to the circumstances of Takeshima, a point I raised here yesterday. If actual control legitimizes possession, then Koreans have no justification for continuing to ask for compensation for the period of annexation from 1910 to 1945. (The 1965 treaty restoring relations also means they have no justification, but treaties don’t stop Koreans from doing what they want. Observe the Kim Dynasty’s attitude toward agreements about their nuclear program in Pyeongyang.)

The second own goal was scored by Bak Jong-soo, the soccer player who paraded around the pitch in London with a Korean-language sign that read “Dokdo is our land” after his team beat Japan in the bronze medal match.

Koreans insist there is no territorial issue. But Ryoko 174 notes that people don’t conduct demonstrations holding signs that read, “Seoul is our land,” or “Tokyo is our territory”. The need to hold up a sign about Dokdo at an international event, and the hometown support Bak received for it, shows that the Korean nation most definitely thinks there is a territorial issue.

The third own goal was scored by Mr. Lee himself. He provided the local media with two justifications for his Takeshima trip. The first was that it was nothing more than a tour of the outlying regions of his country, so how could the Japanese possibly object? The second was that it was “a diplomatic measure”.

This, as Ryoko 174 observes, is a contradiction. Simple trips to the countryside are not diplomatic measures. It would seem that Mr. Lee also thinks there is a territorial issue.

Rhetoricians everywhere will want to study the formal refusal they’ll send to the request for third-party resolution by the International Court of Justice.

South Koreans are worried that FIFA or the IOC might strip the soccer team of the bronze medal as punishment for the Bak pitch trot. The media and the Korean Football Association are defending him by saying that it was a spur of the moment act inspired by post-victory jubilation. The photograph above suggests otherwise. The sign the man in the first photo above is holding is identical to the one Bak flashed around the world. The photo below shows that he might be an official of the Korean Football Association.

He isn’t the one who actually handed over the sign to Bak, but they’ve got a picture of the guy who did. Some Japanese immediately accessed the KFA website to scan the photos of the board members, and they think they’ve found a match. I didn’t think it was possible to say one way or the other, but the man was able to score a ringside seat at an Olympic soccer match, after all. The FIFA will want to find out for sure.

Objections and rationalizations aside, the Koreans know they stepped in it. The Korean Football Association sent an e-mail in the name of their chairman, Cho Chung-yun, to the Japanese Football Association. JFA Chair Daini Kuniya told the Japanese media the mail contained an “apology” and a statement that they would ensure something like that would never happen again. Mr. Daini told the press that he was content to leave the disposition of the matter to the IOC and FIFA.

The mere thought of Koreans apologizing to Japan over a matter of national honor caused several more barrel hoops to snap over on the peninsula. Here’s an excerpt from an English-language report in the Korean media showing how quickly the KFA had to cover their tracks at home:

Kim (Joo-sung, KFA secretary-general), said “the email was sent to explain that Park’s acts were not intentional and the word ‘apology’ was not inside the mail.”

The KFA has insisted that Park had acted “in the heat of the moment” and said Park seized the sign from a fan, stressing that the incident had not been pre-planned.

“Fan”, eh?

On their website, however, the KFA said the Japanese mass media was clearly mistaken about an apology or “anything like that”. (Note how they were careful not to say that Mr. Daini was mistaken.) What they did, they explained, was express their “regret”. They also said the e-mail contained the sentence, “Let’s work together in the future so that a problem such as this doesn’t arise again.“

The part about working together was superfluous. That’s not how the Japanese behave at sporting events, international or domestic.

Internationalism is a wonderful thing. People get to learn all about other cultures and countries. What they usually discover is the fun and fascinating stuff. But sometimes the big old moss-covered cultural rocks are lifted up to expose the ugly little slugs underneath. Every country’s got ’em.

That’s what happened when the Joongang Ilbo released an exclusive interview with IOC Chairman Jacques Rogge. In the process of asking a few questions, they inadvertently exposed the creatures under a rather large Korean rock themselves.

Be prepared: If you’re unfamiliar with the Korean mindset, you might have to pick your jaw up off the keyboard when you read what they asked. The Japanese won’t have to. They’re used to it.

The first question was whether Korea would be stripped of its medal. But then they tacked on this:

“Public opinion in South Korea strongly supports Bak.”

Mr. Rogge said he would wait for the FIFA decision. He added that even if there were “special circumstances” in South Korea, the rules are to be upheld.

He refrained from saying, “So what?”

The Joongang followed that up with a statement, rather than a question. They tried to create an equivalency with the 1968 incident in the Mexico City Olympics when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised gloved fists in a Black Power salute.

Mr. Rogge wasn’t having it. He said the two situations weren’t comparable, and that the Smith/Carlos demonstration was rather a statement about the social problem of racial discrimination worldwide. Even then, he noted, their act was still, strictly speaking, a political statement.

He concluded by saying it was not possible to deny that the fact that Bak’s act was a political statement about a territorial issue directed at one country.

Now get ready for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Joongang: Doesn’t the rising sun emblem on Japanese uniforms have a political element?

Rogge: This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say there was a problem with the Japanese uniform.

No, they didn’t let it drop there.

Joongang: Does that mean there isn’t a problem?

Rogge: There isn’t a problem in the IOC.

There will also be no problem with Bak receiving an exemption from the mandatory Korean military service, according to the government minister responsible.

South Korean athletes are exempted if they win an Olympic medal. The IOC didn’t give him a medal, but the South Korean government said he was on the team, so…

When President Lee tries to justify his behavior, the barrel hoops fly off the entire stock at the Korean cooperage. People were ducking for cover yesterday.
At an unrelated event, Mr. Lee went out of his way to say:

“The (Japanese) Emperor seems to want to come to South Korea, and we told the Japanese that he can come if he sincerely apologizes to the independence activists who died (during the annexation period)…When President Roh (Tae-woo) visited in 1990, he expressed his ‘deepest regret’. If that’s what he’s going to say, he shouldn’t come.”

This caught Japanese Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro off guard when he was asked about it, and he quickly deflected the question. It’s understandable that he wouldn’t know how to respond. The Emperor hasn’t said anything lately about visiting South Korea, there are no plans for him to go, and the two governments aren’t even discussing a visit. Mr. Lee pulled it all out of the ether.

In fact, then-President Roh was pleased with his visit. Not only did he like the expression of regret, he also was said to have been impressed with the Emperor’s dinner table discussion of his partial Korean lineage. When he returned home, Mr. Roh told his countrymen, “We must build a new age of friendly relations with our neighboring country.”

Perhaps the wheels are coming off in addition to the hoops. It was the political and diplomatic equivalent of footballer Bak’s sign at the Olympics.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry source told the Mainichi Shimbun:

“That’s an unbelievable statement. It is likely to have a negative impact on (bilateral) relations for several years.”

Mr. Lee’s term ends in February, so that means the new South Korean president will be starting off behind the eight ball as far as the Japanese are concerned.

Other Japanese quickly, and logically, reframed that as a Korean demand for an Imperial apology to independence activists as a condition for a visit.

Fancy that. Just two years ago, during the 100th anniversary of the Japanese annexation in 1910, the South Koreans were anxious for the Emperor to come. The idea was to have him get down on his knees in Seoul in the same way that West German Chancellor Willy Brandt kneeled in front of the monument to the Warsaw ghetto uprising during his 1970 visit to Poland.

Give them credit for vividness of imagination. Now if they could only get comfortable with the concepts of moderation and self-restraint. Not to mention historical awareness.

Apart from Foreign Ministry sources, the general Japanese response seems to have been: Who do you think you are, pal?

Kobe University Prof. Kimura Kan, whom I’ve quoted several times here lately, suggested the Koreans enjoy this particular tactic. The theory goes that they know the Japanese respect the Emperor, so they intentionally leverage that respect to get everybody upset. He says it’s happened to him several times in South Korea.

See what I mean about arrested development?

There might be more to Prof. Kimura’s idea than you think. Years ago, I read Flying Visits, a collection of non-fiction pieces by the Australian Clive James writing for The Observer in Britain. Each article presented his experiences and observations during a visit to a different country, and one of those trips was to South Korea. Mr. James described a demonstration by Korean workers at an American-owned plant. They stormed the offices, threw out the foreign employees, broke all the windows, and placed the American flag on the floor in the lobby at the entrance, all the better to tromp on it when they entered in their muddy boots.

The management of the American company thought this meant the Koreans didn’t like them very much, so they closed the plant and went home.

The Korean demonstrators were flabbergasted at the withdrawal. “What’s the matter,” they asked. “This is just a demonstration.”

Internationalism is a wonderful thing. People learn all about other cultures and countries.

One of the things they’re learning is that the people who live on the Korean Peninsula are more insular and cloistered than people in some island countries, such as Japan.

To be fair, not all South Koreans are happy with this behavior. Anonymous members of Mr. Lee’s Saenuri (New Frontier) Party think the president has been unwise. The government (i.e., bureaucracy) has postponed indefinitely plans to build a marine science research center near the Takeshima islets, lest they upset the Japanese more than they already have.

But they seem to be in the minority. Today, 15 August, is national liberation from the Japanese day in South Korea. Enjoying some summer holiday fun is natural, as is a bit of patriotism. But if we go by form, we’re more likely to be treated to a three-ring circus than a festival of ecumenical sobriety. Time to break out the popcorn.

I don’t care, let it all hang out. The Koreans will.

Posted in History, I couldn't make this up if I tried, International relations, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Thanks for nothing

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.
– Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon

IN retrospect, the election and formation of a government by the Democratic Party was the best thing that could have happened for the development of the political consciousness of the Japanese public. Not because they’ve been successful — Good God Almighty! — but because they allowed the public to see how certain elements of the political class behave when in power. Namely, them.

The records of videoconferences held by Tokyo Electric Power during the Fukushima crisis have recently been released, and one involves a conference held on 14 March to discuss the planned rolling power blackout in the Kanto area.

It was to start early in the morning of the 14th in part of Tokyo’s 23rd ward and part of Yokohama. There was a “strong request” from the Kantei (executive branch) that it be postponed, however.

Very early in the morning of the 14th, Tokyo Electric Vice-President Fujimoto Takashi told a meeting that Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuyama Tetsuro, and Ren Ho, then in charge of energy saving awareness, demanded that the blackout be put off.

Mr. Fujimoto did not reveal which of those three made the following statement:

“You will kill the people using artificial respirators and heart-lung machines at home. If you go ahead (with the plan) knowing that, we will call you to account for murder.”

The word used for the pronoun “you” by the executive branch was “omae“, which is extremely crude (and rude) in this context.

It’s a toss-up which one it could have been. Mr. Edano was a lawyer associated with radical labor groups, so perhaps some of the faux tough guy attitude rubbed off. Waseda grad though she is, Ren Ho’s ceiling in government would have been service as someone’s aide were her electability not been enhanced by a prior career as a photo model and television MC. She wouldn’t be the first female pol to combine a light resume, a sense of exaggerated self-importance, and the need to talk as if she were in a locker room to prove she can hang with the boys. I know little of Mr. Fukuyama other than that he is the chair of the upper house Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense. Wouldn’t that be just ducky if it were him?

In view of the government’s “request”, Tokyo Electric postponed the blackout. The reason they gave the public was that power demand was less than supply.

It is a fascinating phenomenon. In a modern democracy, it is always the politicians of the left who think this is how people in leadership positions are supposed to conduct themselves. (After spending some time working in the service industry, I discovered that it is almost always people aligned with this group that abuse the help too.)

Then again, what is to be expected from people whose politics consist of 50% resentment and 50% fashion statement?

Sometimes moving forward requires a retreat. By demonstrating their incompetence, utter lack of character, and 19th century solutions to 21st century problems, the DPJ has done the nation a service. Now the country will be able to get on with the business at hand without them.

In the meantime, we’ll just have to find some shelter until the next election.

Posted in Government, I couldn't make this up if I tried, Politics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »