Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Japanese-Korean amity’ Category

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 »

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 »

Forbidden fruit

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 6, 2012

Step out of your cave: the world awaits you like a garden. The wind is laden with heavy fragrance that longs for you; and all the brooks would like to run after you. All things long for you.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Most human beings spend their lives making mechanical reactions to exterior challenges. Just press any psychic button and you can make a man respond with irritation or shock or tears or envy. Not developed beyond the mechanical stage, he is the slave of everyone who presses the buttons.

– Vernon Howard

THREE years ago this month, a Seoul blogger visited the “South Korea-Japan Exchange Festival 2009 in Seoul”. This event was inaugurated in 2005 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the normalization of relations between the two countries. It was held simultaneously in both countries that year for the first time.

The blogger’s name is given in the Japanese katakana alphabet and not Chinese characters in the report I read, so I won’t try to Romanize it. He was inspired to write because he saw a presentation of the activities at the Kanto Festival held every summer in Akita and wanted to describe it for his South Korean readers. He added the following.

The festival will also be held in Tokyo this year, and I’ve read that many Japanese will be singing Korean songs at the event. This has been widely covered by the South Korean mass media.

Until the 1980s, I had no contact with Japanese culture at all. But it was not possible to prevent the influx of culture. As was Adam when he ate the forbidden fruit, we were attracted to that culture, particularly the manga, the films, and the music.

Conditions in South Korea today are completely different. But the South Korean government has made little progress in opening up to Japanese culture. For example, we still can’t listen to J-pop on terrestrial radio, or regularly watch Japanese programs on TV.

I hope that a new cultural interaction arises as a result friendship deepens between the two countries. Korean culture is popular in Japan now, and South Korean television programs are shown in Japan. Isn’t there a need for the government to promote an opening and accept more Japanese culture?

(end translation)

Reading this, I was reminded that one of the most popular pieces of classical music during the U.S.-Soviet Cold War era was the Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Nobody cared that both of them were Russian.

It would seem that if rules similar to those in South Korea were applied in the United States at that time, Americans wouldn’t have been able to listen to that music.

Why, it’s almost as if some powerful elements in the South Korean establishment don’t want Koreans to get along with the Japanese…

Meanwhile, the Japan-South Korea Festival 2012 in Tokyo will be held from 29 September to 2 October, and the companion event is still scheduled for 3 October, a holiday, in Seoul.

Speaking of the Kanto Festival in Akita, by the way, it’s no surprise that the South Korean blogger was impressed. It was held from 3-6 August this year, and this is what it looked like. Stick with it to see what they do with those lanterns. They’re said to represent rice plants.

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

Taking flight

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Japan today is surprisingly diverse, which creates a centrifugal force in society. Right-wing voices adorn the mass media, but that does not represent all of Japan. Many people aren’t interested in the Dokdo issue. More than a few feel ashamed about the military comfort women. Thus, we have one more wish. That is for the sound conscience of the Japanese people who would defend that diversity and centrifugal force…Our job is to shout encouragement to them from the side.

– 3 September editorial in South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo, titled “Grassroots Imperialism, Japan”, from their Japanese-language edition

All things that fly and crash have wings. If it is possible to refer to the group intelligence required for calmly considering history as a set of wings, Japan, which will crash from being a major power to a minor country, is wingless.

– Seoul University Professor Song Ho-gun in a 4 September editorial in South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo, titled “The Crash of Wingless Japan”, from their Japanese-language edition

ONE of these days, after the South Korean polity has reached adulthood, Japan will have to thank the Koreans for the favor they’ve done them, albeit unwittingly. If it’s possible for an entire nation to reach a consensus, there is now a consensus in Japan that President Lee Myung-bak stepped over the line with his behavior last month, and his countrymen have blindly followed. As often happens, no one realized the line was there until after it was crossed. Now everyone sees it.

The immediate effect has been to drive home the realization that the considerable Japanese efforts at reconciliation over the past 50 years in general, and 20 years in particular, have had all the effect of throwing water on a hot rock, as the proverb has it. Many in Japan have been aware of the alternative universe that exists on the Korean Peninsula as manifest in the first quote above, but overlooked it to promote better bilateral relations.

The president’s recent Takeshima visit and his statements about the Emperor has concentrated attention on the entire pattern of Korean behavior over decades. The toothpaste is now all out of the tube, and no amount of shouting from the side by the Joongang to the 5% or 10% of the country still listening will reflate it. It will be more water on another hot rock. As one Japanese Tweet had it, “It’s not ‘Oppose South Korea’, but ‘Disassociate from South Korea in Stages’.”

The signs of a new Japanese attitude are both subtle and overt. One of the former is the change in the description of the Takeshima islets now occupied by South Korea. In the past, the Japanese media referred to them as “Takeshima (South Korean name: Dokdo)”. Now it’s “Takeshima in Shimane Prefecture (South Korean name: Dokdo)”. Shimane was the local government with jurisdiction of the islets from 1905 until the South Koreans seized them in the early 1950s.

More overtly, Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko has ditched the “Now, now, can’t we all get along” attitude of his predecessors (other than Koizumi/Abe) and crossed a line of his own by saying the South Koreans are occupying the islets illegally. The change is as significant as it is low-key. Where once there was vagueness there is now an unmistakable position.

Speaking for the Foreign Ministry, Foreign Minister Gemba Koichiro is now saying openly what the government had refrained from saying before. From an interview earlier this week on TBS radio:

“Japan established (Takeshima’s) territorial sovereignty during the Edo period when townspeople received permission from the Shogunate to catch abalone and seals. Because it was Japanese territory, American military forces designated it as a practice target range in 1952.“

He added:

“Many Korean documents (related to their claim to the islets) have inconsistencies, and there are many doubts about their reliability.”

Refer to the two related articles on the masthead and you’ll see that was actually an understatement. He concluded:

“Let’s resolve the dispute fairly and peacefully.”

By that, he means Japan intends to refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice for third-party mediation.

That suggestion was countered by the suggestion in the South Korean news media that the Korean government might end all military exchange programs between the two countries if Japan takes the case to the ICJ.

South Korean Air Force officers were due to visit Japan Monday in an exchange program, but that visit was cancelled. The South Korean government cited Japan’s position on Takeshima as the reason.

Cadets from Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force were to visit South Korea on the 18th, but that visit was postponed. Said a Korean military official:

“We’ve concluded it would be difficult to force through military exchange with Japan in view of the growing anti-Japanese sentiment among the Korean people”

Yes, he said “force through”.

None of this was a surprise — South Korea also cited anti-Japanese sentiment when it cancelled the signing ceremony for an agreement to share military intelligence earlier this summer, 20 minutes before the ceremony was to be held. That was before the current wrangling gave them a better excuse.

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? Was that a glimmer of sense from behind South Korean curtains yesterday when they scaled down a planned four-day drill to defend Takeshima from an “illegal” approach to the islets? From a Yonhap report:

“Previous exercises sometimes involved Marines rappelling onto the islets from helicopters if the weather was right. But this year’s drills won’t include any landing operations, a senior military official said.”

Declared the office of President Lee:

“We came to the conclusion that it wasn’t necessary…President Lee expressed with the utmost strength the political will to never accept the usurpation of our land.”

But they helpfully added:

“(The drill) was not for the purpose of fighting a war with a friendly country.”

That generated both domestic criticism of the South Korean government for showing “weakness toward Japan” as well as some confusion. Today in the Chosun Ilbo:

“It’s very possible that the significance of this year’s drill would have been greater than usual because it had attracted international attention. This is also one reason (it was called off).”

Thus started the speculation that the Americans had suggested they chill, or some in Seoul began to be concerned that a pointless military drill wouldn’t create a favorable impression overseas.

Japan also asked them through diplomatic channels to tone it down or cancel it. That might have been another factor, though it is inadmissable in the court of South Korean public opinion. The president’s office said:

“It is a mistake to say that we scaled down the drill because of Japanese opposition. It is for us to decide whether or not we conduct a drill, or the scale of any drill we do conduct.”

That brings us to the second passage above from Prof. Song about the wingless Japan’s tailspin into oblivion. By Jove, I think he’s got it — backwards. The events of the month have brought several existing currents into a greater focus and convergence that is more likely to result in the rediscovery of their wings.

That process had been underway for a while, but South Korean behavior has accelerated it. Other contributing factors were Chinese behavior during the incident involving the Senkakus two years ago this month, the ill-concealed Chinese designs on Okinawa as well as the Senkakus, the ill-concealed South Korean designs on Tsushima, the Tohoku triple disaster, the local impact of the international economic malaise, and the inability of the National Political Establishment to deal with any of these issues.

A new national resolve is forming which will mark the beginning of the end of the postwar regime. Already on the table as real possibilities are a radical restructuring of the system of governance, a revised Constitution that no longer has a Peace Clause — and indeed, a Japan That Can Say No.

I wouldn’t be too cocksure about any crash of the wingless Japanese. Unobserved by the rest of the world, they’ve lately noticed they still have wings. Thanks to South Korea, they’re starting to use them.


* At the end of July, President Lee Myung-bak apologized on national television for the scandals that have sullied his administration. His brother and two aides were arrested for bribery. Roughly 20 associates have now been indicted or convicted for corruption, including three relatives. He once described his own government as “morally perfect”.

Two weeks after his apology, he became the first South Korean president to travel to Takeshima, opening the current diplomatic breach.

* People in both countries will continue to behave as they always have, regardless of the behavior of their national governments. For example, Fukuoka City-based Kyuden Infocom, a subsidiary of Kyushu Electric Power, the region’s largest utility, said it will expand the services offered by the Kyushuro website it operates for South Korean tourists making reservations at Kyushu hotels and ryokans. It will now offer tourists the opportunity to make reservations at hotels and ryokans nationwide. About 2,000 South Korean tourists use the site every month, and the company expects to double that in three years. This decision was announced about a week ago. The largest private sector company in Kyushu and an active institutional investor does not make decisions such as these on a whim.

Cutting off the country’s nose to spite its face might be an emotionally satisfying vote-winner in South Korea, but the businesspeople in both countries know that’s bad for the bottom line. The growth of cross-strait economic ties in the Busan-Kyushu region could briefly slow, but it won’t stop.

* The translation of these and other selections from Korean newspapers is important, and they should be taken seriously. Knowing what people tell each other when they think no one is paying attention is beneficial for everyone, Koreans included.

Or do you find it uncomfortable that they come off like a sophisticated and educated version of the North Korean news agency?

Besides, it’s hugely entertaining to read an editorial in a South Korean national newspaper assuring their readers that Japan is surprisingly diverse.

UPDATE: More entertainment, this time from Xinhua in China:

South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday summoned a Japanese right-wing activist accused of defaming Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II.

The move came after surviving wartime sex slaves sued 47-year- old Nobuyuki Suzuki last month for defamation for tying a wooden stake to a symbolic statue of a young Korean woman, a monument to the victims of forced sexual slavery.

The statue, erected last year opposite the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul, has drawn protests from Japanese politicians and rightists.

The wooden post read “Takeshima is Japanese territory,”in reference to a set of South Korea-controlled islets at the center of the decades-long territorial dispute between the two Asian neighbors. The islets are known here as Dokdo.

Prosecutors have requested Suzuki, who currently resides in Japan, to appear for questioning on Sept. 18 and plan to seek his extradition in cooperation with the Japanese authorities if he snubs the summon.

Of course they’re going to seek his extradition. Isn’t that what countries always do when an act of terrorism was committed on their soil? From the Kyunghyang Shinmum:

It has been confirmed that the two Japanese men who placed wooden stakes with the words, “Takeshima (Japanese name for Dokdo) is Japanese Land,” at the Dokdo Research Institute and the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum on August 22 left the country shortly after their crime.

On August 28, Seoul’s Seodaemun Police Station announced that the suspects of the “Stake Terror” were two Japanese men, Haruki Murata (61) and Tetsuro Sakurai (38).

“Stake Terror”, eh?

Fly fast enough and it creates a sonic boom.

Posted in International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, Mass media, Military affairs, Social trends, South Korea | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

The Korean hue in Japan

Posted by ampontan on Monday, January 2, 2012

ONE of the guilty pleasures this website provides is the chance to contribute to the disappointment of those people overseas, particularly in the West, who think it is a matter of received wisdom that the Japanese hate Koreans. It would be more pleasurable to think it contributes to their enlightenment, but that would assume they’re interested in being enlightened.

Page 38 of the 1 January edition of the Nishinippon Shimbun (which runs to 40 pages, with page 40 being an advertisement) has an article about the popularity in the Kyushu region of a Busan vocal duo known as Hue. The article reports that the duo, Kim Ji-hyeon (she) and Ryu (or Yu) Mu-yong (he), will make a concerted effort to extend their popularity throughout Japan this year. They’ll start with their first solo concert in the country in Fukuoka City on 6 March.

Once members of the Busan Municipal Chorus, they formed their duo in 2005 to perform what they call popera. Their repertoire seems to consist of pop music that requires sophisticated vocal technique, as well as some opera selections.

Hue’s first Japanese appearance was in Fukuoka City at a Fukuoka City – Busan Friendship Commemorative Concert in 2009. They’ve since performed here more than 10 times, mostly in Fukuoka City. That’s easily arranged, because the city is accessible from Busan by a three-hour jetfoil ship service, or dozens of daily flights that take less than an hour.

They were encouraged to step up their activities in Japan after Yoshida Fumi (56) formed a fan club for them in Fukuoka City. Ms. Yoshida cried when she heard them perform the Japanese song Sen no Kaze ni Natte with Korean lyrics. That’s a translation of the line “I am a thousand winds that blow” from the English-language poem Do not Stand at my Grave and Weep. The song, a tear-jerker suited to a semi-operatic performance, was originally released by the Japanese composer on only 30 privately-produced CDs. It became a national phenomenon in slow motion, however, and eventually inspired a special television drama with that name.

Ms. Yoshida’s fan club, which consists mostly of junior high and high school girls, turned out for Hue’s three Fukuoka City concerts last year, as well as a performance in Busan. Hue returned the favor with an expression of thanks to the club on their newest disc, which was released last fall. They also printed all the lyrics in Japanese and recorded the song Prologue, the lyrics of which are by Ms. Yoshida’s favorite poet, Yun Dong-ju.

Poet Yun studied English literature at two Japanese universities in 1942, but was arrested as a thought criminal by Japanese police and sentenced to two years in jail in 1943. He died in prison in 1945 in — get ready for it — Fukuoka. There’s plenty of information available about him on the Japanese-language part of the Web.

The newspaper report notes that the duo is almost unknown in South Korea.

Now roll all of the above information around in your head one more time and marvel at how amazing life its own self can be.

Here’s a YouTube clip of an appearance they made on Kumamoto television promoting a concert in that city in December 2009. The interview before and after the song consists of the pleasantries you might expect; Ms. Kim (who now has red hair) says she looks forward to seeing the local tourist attractions, such as Kumamoto Castle and Aso. It’s easy to understand why they’re popular. They’re quite talented, though the style of music won’t be to everyone’s taste. But that isn’t the point, is it?

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: They sing in English.

When they’re not singing in Italian, that is:


Speaking of those in the West who either can’t be bothered or are too thick to get it, BBC introduces a Roland Buerk report this way:

South Korea’s K-pop music has overtaken Japanese music as the industry’s most popular genre in the country.

Relations between the two countries have been difficult after Japan’s colonisation of Korea in the first half of the 20th century.

But with the growing popularity of Korean culture, will attitudes to people of Korean origin, who make up a large ethnic minority in Japan, soften?

Let’s see…in the first paragraph, someone writes that South Korean pop music is more popular in Japan than Japanese pop music, but in the third paragraph asks if Japanese attitudes towards the Koreans living in Japan will change. Spit out that gum before you try walking, son.

Buerk even mentions the growing popularity of Korean restaurants in Japan, but still can’t see beyond the end of his nosenetwork’s pre-packaged narrative.

Further, he fails to provide actual statistics for his claim about K-pop dominance. Taking a mass media report on faith has been a suckers’ proposition for decades. Korean music could very well be the Top of the Pops in Japan, but he has to show us the numbers to be credible.

Finally, he still can’t competently pronounce Japanese place names, despite having lived in the country three years this month. Any native English speaker can learn proper Japanese pronunciation in a matter of minutes. Buerk’s failure to do so demonstrates his level of commitment to his assignment.

If you’re interested in seeing the clip, please hit the search engine of your choice. Links around here are reserved for serious journalism.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Japanese-Korean amity, Music, South Korea | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Betting on the bulls now legal

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, September 22, 2011

IN MOST Western countries where bullfighting is performed in front of spectators in the guise of an art form, the fight ends when the matador kills the bull in the ring. (They are killed outside the ring in Portugal after the fight.) Indeed, there are reports that as many as 24,000 of the specially bred bulls are killed every year in bullfights in Spain. The artistry is held to derive from the toreador’s interpretative moves while very close to the bull, which means that he is in danger of being gored or trampled. To minimize that possibility, the bull is tranquilized, weakened by laxatives, beaten in the kidneys, partially blinded by petroleum jelly, confined in darkness before the fight, and stabbed by picadors and other men immediately after it enters the ring.

Bullfighting is also performed in front of spectators in Japan, Korea, and China. There is one significant difference, however — in this part of the world, two bulls face off against each other rather than a drugged and blinded bull charging a bully wearing a funny hat, tight pants, and twirling a cape and a sword. The winner is determined when the other bull backs off and runs away, and both bulls survive the match.

This academic paper (.pdf) offers a brief but informative description of bullfighting in Japan:

Although bullfighting occurs in six Japanese prefectures – Okinawa, Kagoshima, Ehime, Shimane, Niigata and Iwate – it is most popular in the Okinawa islands, in the Amami islands of Kagoshima prefecture and in Ehime. In Okinawa, there are eleven bullrings and thirty games a year in six locations – Okinawa City, Uruma, Ginowan, Motobu, Imakijin, and Yontani. (On the island of) Tokunoshima (Amami), there are thirteen bullrings in Tokunoshima, Isen, and Amagi and twenty games a year. In Ehime, there is one bullring, in Uwajima and five games a year.

This is what happens after a bullfight in Spain:

This is what happens after a bullfight in Japan:

The winning bull’s owner, his family and supporters always spill into the bullring to show their delight by riding on the back of the bull and dancing with hands and legs while singing Waido-bushi.

In South Korea, meanwhile, a bullfighting festival is held every year in Cheongdo:

The age-old tradition of Korean bullfighting is no longer just a simple tournament. While it was once only basic bullfighting, the sport has developed into an international event hosting tournaments such as a national bullfighting tournament, a Korea-Japan bullfighting festival, a rodeo tournament with US Army force participants in Korea, a tournament by world-renowned professional bullfight champions and the national bullfight picture-taking tournament.

The Cheongdo Bullfighting Festival is held for five days in April in that city in the southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula, about one hour north of Busan by train. It attracts roughly 300,000 people, some of whom come from Japan. (The festival website has a Japanese page to facilitate visits.) In fact, bullfighting is part of the thriving non-governmental exchange between Japan and South Korea. Here’s another passage from that academic paper:

There has been an exchange program between Korea and Tokunoshima since 1999 when three Tokunoshiman black bulls were sent to Chongdo and fought against Korean red bulls. The match was named the ‘Korea-Japan match-up’ and attracted an audience of several hundred thousand in Chongdo. After the event, goodwill ambassadors from Chongdo were sent to Tokunoshima. Honorable guests were also sent to the Bullfighting Summit in Japan (the fifth in 2002, the eighth in 2005 and the ninth in 2006).

The bullfighting in Cheongdo isn’t limited to the five-day festival, however. There are matches every weekend throughout the year in a domed ring with a capacity of 12,000. There’s no telling how the bulls will behave, so a 30-minute time limit has been set for each match. Ten matches a day are held in the 31-meter ring.

The spectacle is popular enough in South Korea that, starting on the 3rd of this month, spectators can now wager on the bulls, with the chance to win anywhere from KRW 100 to 100,000. (The max is only about $US 87.00 or JPY 6,644.) It is South Korea’s first public sector gambling operation.

Here’s a look at the Cheongdo bullfighting festival with red bulls:

And here are some scenes from Tokunoshima bullfights with black bulls, though the last features a battle between le rouge et le noir. There’s also a scene of the happy supporters riding the back of one of the winners. The last one on the bull’s back might be about the same age (six) at which some Mexican bullfighting schools accept trainees.

As a rule, my position is that comparisons are odious, particularly comparisons between East and West. This is one of the exceptions to the rule.


The title of the academic paper is Transperipheral Networks. While it is worth reading to learn about Japanese bullfighting, it was written to present a different argument. As so often happens in the social sciences, the argument is trite and already obvious to the average junior high school student:

The Bullfighting and cattle raising networks discussed in this paper show that major centres are not essential to cross-regional networking. In this manner, the seemingly ‘backward’ activity of bullfighting shares aspects with the more general globalisation of information in which every (facilitated) individual in the world can relate to each other through the medium of the internet. The formation of a ‘transperipheral’ network among the bullfighting areas thereby suggests another entrance to the world of globalisation that actively counters the massification and homogenisation of centrally-produced culture in favour of translocal difference.

Ah, well. On the one hand, it gives the three authors something to do with their time and keeps them off the streets. On the other, all the authors are affiliated with Kagoshima University. That’s a national university, which means the professors are paid with public funds.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Festivals, Japanese-Korean amity, Popular culture, South Korea, Traditions | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »


Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 25, 2011

HERE’S the headline for the article explaining Kyodo’s weekend RDD poll on whether Japan should continue to use nuclear power:

70% back Kan’s nuclear tack

Here’s the first sentence of Kyodo’s English report:

A weekend telephone poll conducted by Kyodo News found 70.3 percent of respondents support Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s call for a society that does not rely on nuclear power…

Now here’s the first sentence of paragraph 5:

On Kan’s idea for a society without nuclear power, 31.6 percent expressed support while 38.7 percent expressed qualified support for the idea.

Those 38.7% were responding to a Japanese question that translates nicely to, “If I had my druthers…”

Thus, if the headline writers had any integrity — yes, I know — the headline to this article would have been:

31% back Kan’s nuclear tack

The other 38+% are expressing the reflections from a passing cloud of emotion (as are some of the 31+%). In another two years or so, when they have again become accustomed to steel girders no longer falling from the sky, as Dashiell Hammett put it in The Maltese Falcon, that percentage is likely to be much lower. Indeed, if anyone other than the Kan Cabinet and the Democratic Party were in charge of the cleanup in the Tohoku region, the decline might be evident in fewer than two years (or the numbers might not be that high to begin with). Japanese reports suggest that the group with a growing antipathy to nuclear power consists chiefly of women upset with the amount of time it has taken to get the problems at Fukushima under control.

The downstairs thermometer in our house measuring the air temperature reads 31C / 88F at the moment. That’s a normal reading for Japan during the day in late July. It would be significant only if the reading were the same in late January here in the temperate zone. It is the same for this particular poll.

Give them an inch, and the news media will take it 15 miles into the next county if it suits their agenda, their fancy, or their guild’s membership requirement to exaggerate the gossip they’re paid to pass on.

That would be the real news item behind this particular story, had not everyone gotten wise to the game long ago.

Posted in Japanese-Korean amity, Mass media, Science and technology | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Whale of a good time

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, June 9, 2011

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and remain silent.
– Epictetus

WE’VE ALL seen websites and blogs where people upload photos of food they cook at home or eat at a restaurant. I’ve never done that before — it never looks as appetizing as the bloggers think — but let’s give it a try and see what happens. For example:

Whale chirashizushi!

Whale nikujaga! (stewed meat, potatoes, and onion)

Deep-fried whale skewers!

Whale stewed in citron juice!

Whale tongue stew!

Smoked whale hors d’œuvre! (Meat and hide)

And this unidentified lip-smacker!

Or this!

And this one too!

Some dietary ideologues would never be happy unless they were unhappy that somebody somewhere might be enjoying these dishes, none of which I’ve eaten but all of which I’d try. I’ve always liked the whale I’ve been served, including the meals my wife cooked with whale as the main ingredient.

Some other ideologues wouldn’t be happy unless they were unhappy about those barbaric Japanese butchers cleavering away at the sacred cows of the sea.

Their bad. Those photos come not from Japan, but from Ulsan, South Korea, where the local whale festival was held at the end of May. An annual event more than 10 years old, the festival runs for three or four days and attracts upwards of 250,000 people. (See this previous post on the festival for more information.) The Ulsanians developed a taste for whale during the colonial days, which will make another group of ideologues happy by reminding them of the unhappy days before they were born, but — who cares!

The theme of this year’s festival was a whale cuisine exchange with Kumamoto in Kyushu, with which Ulsan has long had ties. The Japanese were happy to attend.

The woman at right is from Nagasaki, the woman in the center is from Kumamoto, and the two women at left are chums from Hokkaido, whale-chomping centers all. The woman dressed in the traditional chima chogori operates one of Ulsan’s 20 whale restaurants. (It’s not possible to give an accurate rendition of her name because it appeared only as Shin in katakana in Japanese.) In addition to her crimes against humanity by serving cannibal fare, she was also the food coordinator for the internationally successful South Korean television show Daejangeum, known in English as “Jewel in the Palace”. Here’s a summary of the program from the show’s website:

“The miniseries…is based on the story of a real historical figure (Jang-geum) who was the first and only woman to serve as head physician to the King in the rigidly hierarchical and male-dominated social structure of the Joseon Dynasty. Daejanggeum, in English, ‘the Great Jang-geum,’ caught the attention of Korean TV viewers with its unique combination of two themes: the successful rise of a female, which is rarely covered in historical genre, and the elements of traditional food and medicine.”

The series was very successful on cable in Japan, and it has been rebroadcast several times. One of the spin-offs was a cookbook featuring the dishes presented on the program, which the woman in the photo surely had a key role in compiling. The cookbook was also sold in Japan, though it probably contained no whale dishes.

Maybe it should have. The theme of the show was traditional food and medicine, and the red meat of the whale contains the dipeptide balenine, which some athletes now take in supplement form because it improves blood flow and restores resiliency to muscle after workouts.

The Ulsan — Kumamoto connection dates back to the late 16th century when Kato Kiyomasa, the first daimyo of the Kumamoto domain in Higonokuni, participated in Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s invasion of the Korean Peninsula. Kato built a castle in Ulsan (of which a few foundation stones remain) that became the model for the Kumamoto Castle, which he also built. The latter structure was finished in 1607, but most of it was torn down during the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877. It has since been restored and is now a major tourist site.

Some workers from Ulsan helped build the Kumamoto version, and legend has it that the view from the hill on the southwest side of the castle reminded them of home. That’s how the district they spied later became known as Urusan-machi. The area is now part of Shin-machi after a municipal reorganization, but the Urusanmachi name survives as one of the Kumamoto City trolley stops:

Meanwhile, action on the Festivus Balaena front will shift to Japan later this summer, as the folks at the Sumiyoshi Taisha, a Shinto shrine in Sakai, Osaka, decided to revive their own whale festival. Both the facility and the event are as old as the hills, or perhaps in this case, as old as the waves. The shrine is celebrating its 1,800th anniversary this year, and it was already a millennium old when they began holding the whale festival, which dates from sometime in the Kamakura period. That ended in 1333.

The event has been held only sporadically since the Meiji Era (which began in 1868). Once upon a time, it was offered every 20 to 30 years. That’s unusual for Japanese festivals, most of which are annual affairs. This year’s revival, however, will be the first in 57 years. It is held in supplication for sea safety, and originated in a dance to placate the unhappy fisherman who came home empty-handed on whale-hunting expeditions. The Osakans thought it would be an excellent idea to bring it back as a way to help calm the waters after so many people died in the Tohoku tsunami this year. One of the advantages of such a long national history is that when something new is called for, it’s always possible to dive into the past and retrieve something old that most people didn’t know existed.

It’s been so long since the last time, however, that most everyone forgot how to do it. The Sakai municipal government worked with local historians to study photos and jog the memories of festival vets who were around during the last big blow in 1954. The main attraction is a 27-meter-long bamboo and cloth whale float, which is roomy enough for people inside to open and close the beast’s mouth, move its tail, and spurt water. Meanwhile, people alongside will chant the whale chant and dance the whale dance. Megafauna fans in Sakai will get to see all this on 24 July if they visit the shrine, and on 1 August when the leviathan is paraded from the shrine to the city.

Said one historian:

“I’m glad they’re bringing it back. Several generations now don’t know about the festival, but I want them to enjoy the vitality and spirit of fishermen of old.”

And while we’re on the subject of of big game hunting, some of the pretend buccaneer/junior ideologues of Sea Shepherd are in Japan to do what they do best — irritate the hell out of normal people — by traveling to Iwate to take photos of the dolphin hunt. Iwate’s local catch accounts for more than half of Japan’s dolphin and whale industry by tonnage. It is also one of the three prefectures most seriously damaged by March’s earthquake/tsunami. The Mainichi Daily News explains what happened:

“Earlier this month, the members took pictures of a fish market devastated by the disaster as well as fishing boats and posted the photos on the group’s website, triggering anger among some local fishermen over their return to the town.

“A local fisherman said, ‘Dolphin hunting is not done in May. Many boats were swept away due to the quake and tsunami, and the fish market is also in a terrible condition. There is nothing left to take pictures of.’”

We shouldn’t be too harsh on the swabbies — you know they’re determined not to be happy unless they can be really unhappy about whaling or dolphining. If they had something productive to do with their lives, they’d already be doing it. After all, it takes more than a few degrees of eccentric warp to think one is doing the world a favor by getting in the way while the people who suffered one of history’s greatest natural disasters are trying to rebuild their lives and homes.

If it’s pictures they want, I can’t help them with dolphins, but I could send them the link to the Japanese site promoting whale cuisine where I swiped the photos above. All they have to do is ask.


It was entertaining to re-read the comments on my old post to which I linked above. It’s curious how some people aren’t happy unless they aren’t happy that other people are happy about living in Japan.

The Sea Shepherd recruiting song

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Festivals, Food, Foreigners in Japan, Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , | 45 Comments »

White lightning in Northeast Asia

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 3, 2011

IN THE WEST, the primary consumers of sweet alcoholic beverages are usually either young people slightly above or below the legal drinking age, unaccustomed and ill-disposed to the taste of the real thing, or women a few years older. (Southern Comfort was the liquor of choice for the well-known juicehead Janis Joplin.) I’ve never seen an adult male drink a rum and coke. Daiquiris might be an exception, but they’re more tart than sweet. And I’ve never seen anyone drink a mint julep at any time other than the first Saturday of May — Kentucky Derby day.

Sweetness seems to be more to the taste of northeast Asians in their tippling traditions, however. While there are both sweet and dry varieties of Japanese sake, the original beverage was probably sweet. The Japanese version of white lightning, doburoku, is sweeter still. That’s a milky white form of sake that isn’t fully pressed from the fermenting rice solids, which are left floating inside.


Sweet white lightning made from rice is another of the many elements Japanese and Korean culture have in common. The Korean analog is called makgeolli, and it shares several attributes with doburoku: It’s just as white, just as sweet, and just as likely to cause those who consume it to wake up the next morning convinced there’s an axe embedded in their forehead. The background story says it was originally brewed for farm workers to drink instead of water while in the fields, which might be the reason Korea has never been an agricultural superpower. It was originally called nongju, a name that translates as farm liquor. Japanese will recognize it from the kanji: 農酒. Both doburoku and makgeolli are 6-8% alcohol by volume, slightly more than local beers, but less than sake.

There are an estimated 40 different kinds of makgeolli, and rice is not the only farm product used to brew it. When then-Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio visited South Korea in October 2009, President Lee Myong-bak used makgeolli for the toast at the state dinner. That variety, however, was made from a purple variety of sweet potato known in Japan as satsumaimo. The Kagoshimanians of Kyushu use it to make their own hairy-chested version of shochu, which isn’t sweet in the slightest. This particular satsumaimo was created by cross-breeding the Japanese and Korean types. Using that beverage on that occasion was a brilliant idea, and whoever in the Blue House came up with it deserves a toast in their honor.

Most of the doburoku in Japan sits in a corner of the liquor store shelf gathering dust, while the South Koreans have succeeded in turning makgeolli into a popular commercial beverage, as we’ve seen before. Sales have gotten high rather quickly. A year or so ago (there was no date on the article), a Korean outfit called GS25 analyzed liquor sales at 3,700 convenience stores nationwide as of August and found that makgeolli ranked fourth, behind beer, shochu/soju, and whiskey, and one slot ahead of wine.

Those rankings might be a reflection of the type of customer likely to shop for grog at convenience stores. A survey conducted by the Lotte department stores in South Korea of liquor sales at their own outlets for a recent July-September period revealed that makgeolli was in third place behind wine and whiskey, and ahead of beer and Japanese sake. The ranking the year before was whiskey, wine, beer, sake, and makgeolli. Of course, you don’t need to see the stats from the marketing survey division to know that women do most of the buying at department stores. Another factor is seasonal and cultural—chusok, the Korean version of o-bon, falls in September, and makgeolli has become a popular choice for gifts.

Soju distiller Jinro ignited the boom by producing more marketable versions of the beverage. (There’s a good video with details at the link above.) Suntory is trying to do something similar in Japan, as they’ve brought out a slightly carbonated version in a can they call Seoul Makgeolli. It’s safe to assume Suntory thinks the foreignness of makgeolli will hold more cachet for young women than the familiarity of doburoku, the choice of hayseeds.

But before you hard guys snort with derision and reach for something more manly, get a load of this: A team at the Korean Food Research Institute announced last month their discovery that makgeolli has anti-carcinogenic ingredients in quantities up to 25 times greater than beer or wine. Specifically, they mean farnesol, which is also one of the critical elements that add aroma to wine.

The team made a point of examining liquors commonly sold on the market. The amount of farnesol in makgeolli tested out at 150-500 parts per billion, 10-25 times the 15-20 ppb of beer and wine. Their research showed the cloudiest parts of the beverage had the greatest amount of farnesol, so it was best to shake up the sediment before drinking it.

These tidings of good cheer come with the chaser of some bad news, alas. The head of the team said that a real effect would be achieved by drinking three or four cups about twice a week. I had that much one evening in Busan (and a similar amount of doburoku that I bought in Nagasaki and broke out at a party), and I’ll stick to other health maintenance methods. As Voltaire is said to have replied when declining a second invitation by the Marquis de Sade to another orgy after he’d enjoyed the first one: “No thanks. Once is philosophy, twice is perversion.”

That research team seems to have performed their task with single-minded devotion. There’s only a small amount of farnesol in makgeolli, which is 90% water, so it was difficult to extract and analyze. They had to develop new technology just to perform the analysis. Now for the unfortunate news: They used the announcement of their discovery as an opportunity to let their Korean little man complex out of the closet for some fresh air:

“Through this research, we developed for the first time the technology to analyze the farnesol from the traditional alcoholic beverage makgeolli. We thus obtained the basic technology enabling the scientific verification of the superiority of South Korean makgeolli.”

Use your new technology and run the tests on doburoku before you say that, guys. It’s the same stuff, after all.

The Japanese and South Koreans also share a cultural taste for a more sedate beverage — tea, which some of them are using to further cross-strait ties. Chomu-kai (朝霧会), a tea ceremony group in Yame, Fukuoka, (a noted tea production area) last week welcomed the “tea culture research group” Unnim Chahue (雲林茶会) from Gwangju, South Korea, to celebrate 10 years of friendship. The chairman and six members of the Korean group hopped over to Yame for two days of tea parties and planting.

The Yame group was formed to promote interest in local tea using the tea ceremonies of the five major Japanese schools. Bak Guang-sun, the husband of the Unnim Chahue chairman, found out about the group when he taught at nearby Kurume University. He thought hanging out with them would be an excellent way to pursue his study of the tea culture in Japan.

The tea bushes they planted together will take four or five years to sprout drinkable leaves, and when they do they’ll have a friendship party and savor it together. Maybe as the night wears on they’ll switch to makgeolli/doburoku and conduct some research into rice culture while they’re at it!

Those who don’t want to wait that long to conduct their own research can analyze this previous post about a Shinto festival with doburoku, or this one about doburoku ice cream.

Here’s how Jinro is plugging makgeolli on Japanese TV. I’m tempted to buy some and invite the ladies over for a pajama party. That game looks like fun.

Meanwhile, Suntory imported Jang Geun-seok from South Korea to pitch Seoul Makgeolli, as you can see in this ad. The company’s choice in models shows they know exactly which market segment they’re trying to capture. Isn’t he precious? Isn’t that earring just darling? And what an adorable hairstyle!

If you’ve worked up a thirst after all this talk about booze, maybe it’s time to get on the ladder—i.e., go bar-hopping in Japanese—with Sabor de Gracia from Spain as they set fire to a few themselves.

Bar-hop far enough, and you might walk into this joint in England. (That’s a flash file.) Whether you walk out again in one piece is a different matter.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Food, Foreigners in Japan, International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, Science and technology, South Korea, Traditions | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Letter bombs (17): Korean editorial

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 15, 2011

MATT IN YOKOHAMA sent his translation of an editorial that appeared in the 14 March Joongang Daily. I don’t know whether he translated it from Korean or the Japanese edition of the paper, but it’s worth reading. Here it is.

Stronger Than an Earthquake

The whole world has been shocked by the huge earthquake that hit Japan last week. First, the world has been amazed by the immense damage the quake inflicted on the country. At least 2,000 people have died and more than 10,000 are still missing. In addition, the meltdown of a nuclear reactor in Fukushima Prefecture has raised serious concerns worldwide.

But the Japanese government has successfully evacuated about 210,000 residents in the area near the plant and has taken emergency measures to cool the over-heated reactor, which will help avert a much bigger tragedy.

More surprising, however, is the way the Japanese are coping with the huge disaster, as they do not appear shaken, even by fear of death. Japanese citizens escaped from ruins carefully guided by professional evacuation personnel. Even the disrupted bus and subway systems didn’t lessen their will to survive the disaster, as they trudged for hours to reach their homes. And the next morning, people went to work as if nothing had happened the previous day.

The world has often witnessed incalculable confusion and disorder following natural disasters in other countries. Some commentators even say that the looting and violence that come after disasters are more frightening than the disasters themselves.

This was not true in Japan, however. The Japanese people’s calm, orderly reaction to the unexpected crisis deserves our compliments and our envy. TV broadcasts around the world showed hardly any images of crying or screaming Japanese. In the face of nature’s fury, survivors patiently waited in line to receive emergency food.

The Japanese people’s response to the disaster can not be explained only by building designs meant to guard against such disasters. Disaster education and repeated evacuation drills were major factors in their response. It shows that a great nation only proves its character when faced with disaster.

Naturally, the view from Japan reminds us of our shameful response to tragedy – crowds yelling loudly whenever disaster hits. Even when flights are temporarily delayed, we rush en masse to the airline (counter) to complain about it. And whenever some mishap takes place, we prefer to blame the government.

We hope the Japanese people’s reaction will teach us all a lesson. We still have much to learn from Japan, and a long way to go before we become a mature, advanced country.

(end translation)

Thanks, MIY!

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

Posted in Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea | Tagged: | 6 Comments »

Good news, bad news, and no news at all

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

HERE’S SOME good news: More South Koreans are ignoring their jingoist news media and taking the initiative to forge positive ties with Japan. The latest example is the Daejeon Development Research Institute, which signed a research exchange agreement with the Fukuoka Asia Urban Research Center in January. That’s not news for the Fukuoka center, however—it’s their third agreement with an institution from another country. Both cities are located on high-speed rail lines, and the institute in Daegeon wants to conduct joint studies of the use of high-speed rail to promote industry and urban development.

Speaking of high-speed rail, the Kyushu leg of the Shinkansen will be fully operational in a fortnight, and the Kyushuans are getting ready for an influx of tourists from both South Korea and China. Folks everywhere like the hot springs and the potential for year-round golf. The Nishinippon Shimbun of Fukuoka and the Tokyo Chizu Publishing Co. recently published a guidebook of Kyushu tourist destinations in Korean and Chinese for distribution at local airports and hotels throughout the region and at travel agencies overseas. The first print run was 100,000 copies each.

To make sure that those guidebooks get read, the mayors of Fukuoka City, Kagoshima City, and Kumamoto City visited Seoul last month to talk up their cities as tourist destinations. The three mayors spoke at a conference at which about 100 people in the Seoul travel industry attended.

Here’s more good news, if the premise is correct: Eamonn Fingleton uses his own site and borrows James Fallows’s blog space to claim that the conventional wisdom of Japan’s lost decades is a myth and to challenge 10 public intellectuals pushing the stagnant Japan line to debate that subject. While Mr. Fingleton’s posts offer a couple of dubious assertions to go with some excellent points, it’s always good news to see someone challenge conventional wisdom, especially since wisdom is seldom present when the Western bien pensants hold forth on Japan.

What he says that people need to know:

* “(M)uch of what is reported (about Japan) in America’s major newspapers — and even more so on American television — is appalling.”

Repeat play city! If what you know about Japan you learned from the English-language media, then everything you know is wrong.

* “Japan’s surplus is up more than five-fold since 1990, and the Japanese yen has actually boasted the strongest rise of any major currency in the last two decades.”

* “Since the 1980s…the Japanese people have enjoyed one of the biggest improvements in living standards of any major First World nation in the interim.”

* “A story of extraordinary progress by Japanese manufacturing”:

“The reason you don’t hear much about Japanese manufacturers these days is that the best of them have moved from making consumer goods to concentrate on so-called producers’ goods — items that though invisible to the consumer happen to be critical to the world economy. Such goods include the highly miniaturized components, advanced materials, and super-precise machines that less sophisticated nations such as China need to make final consumer goods. The label on everything from cell phones to laptop computers may say “Made in China” but actually, via producers’ goods, highly capital-intensive and knowhow-intensive manufacturers in Japan have quietly done much of the most technologically demanding work.

“America’s current account deficit multiplied five-fold in the 20 years to 2010 and the reason in large measure is because American corporations have exited the producers’ goods business.”

He doesn’t mention that Americans have also abandoned the robotics sector, while the Japanese are one of the world’s leaders, if not the world’s leader in that industry. The only thing most Americans know about Japan and robots is that the Japanese love ‘em and Japanese robot stories provide snicker filler for their newspapers and blogs.

Mr. Fingleton shouldn’t be holding his breath waiting for the Japan hands to accept the challenge of a debate. For one thing, they’re Somebodies and he’s not. For another, having to defend themselves in a debate would expose their ignorance on the subject.

Still, give the man credit for treating them with deference. For example, on his own site he writes:

“I appeal to you — in the interests…of your own reputation for intellectual honesty…”

One of the men he’s calling out is Paul Krugman. The suggestion that Krugman retains any intellectual honesty should result in thick mucous dripping from computer monitors worldwide after the explosion of derisive snorts.

Mr. Fingleton’s post has begotten more good news. Economics professor Mark Perry has two posts with charts on his blog. In one, he notes:

“(W)ith economic growth in Germany and Italy and many other European countries that is comparable to Japan’s growth, we never hear about the “lost decades” in Germany or Italy or the U.K.”

In the other, he writes:

“Compared to 1980, Japan’s real GDP per capita in 2010 was nearly 70% higher, vs. a 66% increase for US real GDP per capita over the last 30 years. Japan had higher economic growth than the U.S. during the 1980s, slightly lower growth during the 1990s, about the same growth during the 2000s, and slightly higher overall growth during the entire 30-year period from 1980 to 2010.”

And here’s some late-breaking good news from the United States:

Consumer Reports has named Honda Motor Co., Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (Subaru) and Toyota Motors Corp. as the best all-around automakers for the third year in a row in its annual auto issue…Chrysler Group LLC had the worst ranking. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and General Motors were also near the bottom…Toyota, which has dealt with massive safety recalls, fared well in the magazine’s top picks for 2011 across 10 different vehicle segments. Toyota had the most with three picks (the RAV4 small sport utility vehicle, Sienna minivan and Prius hybrid).

Chrysler and GM at the bottom, and Toyota near the top? If you can’t lick ’em, slime ’em in the media and sit on government reports absolving them of any blame.

Be that as it may, Mr. Fingleton should be careful about treading on thin ice himself. First, he tends to talk about “Japan” as if it were a monolithic entity. While that’s unavoidable to a certain extent, it only works if one is discussing international diplomacy. In every other context, however, this thing people call “Japan” doesn’t exist. That’s too facile a formulation for the breadth of diversity on these islands, and someone who’s been here as long as he has should know that.

More serious, however is his suggestion that the Japanese government is deliberately underestimating national economic growth to avoid foreign retribution for their trade surpluses. Worse, he offers no concrete evidence—it’s just a feeling he has.

If his assertion is true, it means that everyone in the Japanese government and media are party to history’s largest conspiratorial deception. Not only have they fooled overseas governments—whose experts can analyze economic and production statistics as well as Prof. Perry—they’ve also fooled the rest of the Japanese nation. The entire range of public debate among government officials, the political class, and the commentariat inside media and out is based on the premise of lost decades of low growth. His idea contains echoes of the Western conspiracists of the 80s and 90s who warned that the samurai Japanese businessmen were going to wreak economic revenge on the world for having been defeated in the war.

Speaking of what passes for reporting on Japan and East Asia, Michael Turton at The View from Taiwan takes the AFP news agency to task for its “ethnocentric crap”.

Superstition Still Widespread Across High-tech Asia, AFP reported today in article appearing in the Taipei Times. This tiresome feature reporting has been around ever since westerners first reported on Asia”:

(Quoting the article)
The services of witch doctors remain popular in multicultural Malaysia, while in hi-tech Japan, Shinto priests hold purification rites for new bullet trains and many entrepreneurs are said to seek the advice of palm readers and star gazers.

“Why is this a load of ethnocentric crap? Because you will never ever see a piece from AFP that writes about the west in a vein similar to the paragraph above:

The services of Christian faith healers remain popular in multicultural America, while in hi-tech Britain, Anglican priests bless new stadiums and many movie stars and politicians in both countries are said to seek the advice of astrologers.”

Mr. Turton’s observation is on the mark, but I’ll take it one step further. The F in AFP stands for France, where the news agency is headquartered. We’ll never see the AFP, or any other Western news outlet for that matter, write with such casual disparagement about the beliefs of the Muslims in that country, including the Shari’a punishments for theft, homosexuality, and (for the victim and not the offenders) for rape. Those media outlets won’t even say that Muslims are responsible for what has become an annual automotive auto-da-fe in France. They’ll only go so far as to call the perpetrators “youths”.

Now for the bad news—Foreign Minister Maehara Seiji held forth in Tokyo for some institutional investors, and everything that came out of his mouth should have stayed inside it.

According to the Kyodo report:

“Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara vowed Monday that Japan will carry out fundamental agricultural reforms modeled after the European system of direct payments to farmers to help strengthen the local farm sector’s competitiveness and promote trade liberalization.”

What is this use of the word “reform” to describe pork (or a wealth redistribution scheme) for farmers? Were he serious about improving competitiveness and promoting trade liberalization, he would instead encourage agribusiness to replace the country’s dwindling number of people who farm exclusively for a living.

But then he couldn’t do that—when the LDP took a step in that direction with the Koizumi/Abe reforms, Mr. Maehara’s DPJ used as an election weapon the excessive representation given to rural areas in the Diet by promising to repeal those measures and provide subsidies to individual farming households instead.

What will he propose next—subsidies for every exporting manufacturer in the country to facilitate the import of competing overseas products?

“He pointed out that the direct payment system in the 27-nation regional bloc has “succeeded in achieving two goals at once: bringing benefits to the consumer by reducing high tariffs and making producers more competitive.””

Ben Franklin should have added a third certainty in life to go with death and taxes—a perpetual stream of drivel from politicos. Farm subsidies make farmers less competitive, not more. That system allows farmers to stay in business, but at the cost of reducing the purchasing power of every non-farming taxpayer, which is most of us. Imported agricultural products may be cheaper, but lavishing public funds on farmers means the city consumers will be able to buy fewer of them. As we’ve seen before, the companies in Japan who would operate agribusinesses believe they can be competitive internationally.

“Maehara said Japan needs to study accepting more foreign nurses and caregivers under free trade agreements.

More than a thousand Indonesian and Filipino nurses and caregivers have come to Japan since 2008 under bilateral FTAs, but only a few of them have passed the Japanese national qualification examinations to continue working beyond the initially set length of stay.”

Mr. Maehara seems to think Japan needs healthcare personnel incapable of effective communication with either physicians or the patients in their care, in places where the patients’ lives or quality of life are at stake.

As for a nursing shortage, that isn’t a problem in “Japan”, but rather in a few big cities in Japan. That’s the claim of my family physician, who should know. He’s the chairman of the prefectural medical association this year.

If Mr. Maehara is so concerned about a nursing shortage in the cities and so anxious to use public funds to fix it, he might take a hint from the ROTC program in the United States. The American government foots the bill for the university education of qualified high school students if they spend four years as a military officer after graduation.

Other than a lack of common sense, what’s to prevent the Japanese government from offering free rides to Japanese high school graduates for nursing school on the condition that they work for a certain number of years in medical institutions after finishing school? Everybody wins, and no one has to worry about the language barrier causing a medical accident.

The worst part of the news story is the implication that Mr. Maehara is presenting himself as a future prime minister. That won’t be news to the Japanese: He’s a failed former president of the DPJ, and the failed former Chief Cabinet Secretary Sengoku Yoshito is thought to be grooming him for the job to succeed the failed Prime Minister Kan Naoto. If the party continues to mimic the worst aspects of the old LDP without its redeeming qualities and has Mr. Maehara replace Mr. Kan without an election, it would represent another failure of the DPJ to bring about the change in the conduct of politics they promised.

It also isn’t news that a political party which is doing its damndest to turn itself into a fictional entity would install another lightweight in the Kantei doomed to failure as prime minister.

More bad news: Japan’s lower house passed the FY 2011 budget this morning, albeit with a few defections from the ruling party. That makes two years in power, two record-high budgets for the DPJ.

What happened to all those journos who kept telling us that Mr. Kan was a “fiscal hawk”?

Speaking of Mr. Kan, it will be no news to people who pay attention that he loosed on the public yet another absurdity that calls into question his daytime sobriety. This time he said he’d always doubted the feasibility of what passes for his party’s signature accomplishment—the removal of tax deductions for families with children from 0-15 and their replacement with direct cash subsidies from the government.

After all, a month or so ago he claimed that the adoption of the same policy was “epochal”. A year or so ago, Mr. Fiscal Hawk argued in the Diet as Finance Minister for the inclusion of that budget buster—JPY 5.5 trillion this year alone–in what was then Japan’s highest-ever budget. It was obvious to everyone they couldn’t find the money to pay for it when they stole the idea from New Komeito, and that finally seems to have dawned on even them. DPJ Secretary-General Okada Katsuya on the 28th said the allowance, which expires at the end of the current fiscal year, wasn’t permanent, and that the party might give it up altogether.

Now that’s good news.

Finally, here’s the best news of all: I’ve gotten a handle on a post that I’ve been working on for two weeks. Look for it soon!

This might be good news for beginning and intermediate students of Japanese. I received a note asking that I bring to your attention a website presenting Japanese-language study aids, as well as other observations. Here it is.

There’s no better way to celebrate the circulation of all this good news than by putting the party in the hands of Chico Trujillo, Mr. Popular Music of Chile. Who knew that horn band cumbia and surf guitar would go together as well as green tea and ice cream? Chico knew!

And just wait until you see the man dance!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Agriculture, Business, finance and the economy, Foreigners in Japan, Government, International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, Mass media, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , | 8 Comments »

Still more true facts

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, January 27, 2011

SCROLLING THROUGH the comment section of an American website recently, I read a note in which the author blithely asserted, as if it were common knowledge, that Japanese and Koreans despised each other. There were dozens of other comments on that post, but nobody objected to his. The other readers probably thought it was common knowledge too.

The author of the note knew this, he said, because he lived in Japan for a couple of years. Ah, that explains it. A man of the world.

Meanwhile, here’s some uncommon knowledge about what’s actually been happening in this part of the world, where the Japanese and South Koreans are just a hop, skip, and a 30-minute flight from each other.

So far this month.

* Saga Prefecture and Jeollanam-do Friendship Pact

Saga is a small, largely rural prefecture with a population of about 800,000 between Fukuoka and Nagasaki and next to the Sea of Japan. The prefectural government this month signed a friendship agreement with Jeollanam-do of South Korea. Saga Gov. Furukawa Yasushi called it the first step in the prefecture’s plan to develop greater ties with regional governments throughout Asia. At the signing ceremony, Jeollanam-do Gov. Bak Joon-yung said he believed the agreement will help promote ties between the two countries, not just the two regions. It is Saga’s first friendship agreement with a local government from a foreign country.

* Starflyer Plans Busan Route

Kitakyushu-based budget airline Starflyer announced plans to begin roundtrip flights to Busan in July 2012. There are already many flights between Busan and Incheon in Korea and Fukuoka and Kitakyushu in Kyushu, as well as several high-speed ferries operating between the Port of Hakata and the Port of Busan. Starflyer intends to establish a niche in the highly competitive market with early morning and late night flights.

* Ferry Service Begins between Gwangyang and Shimonoseki/Kitakyushu

Gwangyang Ferry of South Korea will begin ferry service between the city of Gwangyang in South Korea and the cities of Shimonoseki and Kitakyushu in Japan. (Shimonoseki is in Yamaguchi Prefecture, just across a narrow strait from Kyushu.) The ferry will have a capacity of 740 passengers and make two round trips a week to Shimonoseki. It will also sail once a week to Kitakyushu on a trial basis. The operators see the potential for demand from travelers (and freight shippers) from the western and southern parts of the Korean Peninsula to Kyushu. Gwangyang is South Korea’s second largest container port after Busan. Currently, people traveling between the two cities by sea have to go through both Busan and Fukuoka City.

* Fukuoka City Sponsors Educational Homestays with Busan, South Korea

Fukuoka City sponsored 10 first-year junior high school students from Busan, South Korea, for a local homestay for six days through the 17th to provide them with an understanding of junior high school life in Japan. The students attended English and other classes at three junior high schools, and teachers from both countries took the opportunity to get better acquainted. Fukuoka City said its objective is to help foster children with an international perspective.

* South Korea’s Jin Air to Operate Budget Charters to Saga Airport

Low-cost carrier Jin Air of South Korea began to fly regularly scheduled charter flights from Incheon Airport in Seoul to Saga Airport for tourists, which will continue until 1 March. They plan to operate a total of 19 round trips in all. They are the first flights by any low cost carrier into Saga Airport.

* South Korean Baseball Team Shifts Camp from Miyazaki to Beppu

Last year’s foot-and-mouth epidemic among livestock in Miyazaki Prefecture (and the new outbreak of avian flu there last week) could have kept the Dusan Bears of South Korean professional baseball from their annual training camp in Miyazaki, but they came anyway for a shorter session. They’ll move to Beppu in Oita on the 26th.

OK, I’ll cheat. Here’s one from last month

* Record High for Air Busan’s Occupancy Rate

Air Busan, which launched daily roundtrip flight service between Busan, South Korea, and Fukuoka City last March, revealed they had a flight occupancy rate of 83% for the month of November, the highest monthly rate ever on the route. The rate from May to September ranged from the 60th to the 70th percentiles, but the higher yen and lower won began to have an impact in October. The increase came mostly from Japanese passengers.

OK, I’ll cheat again. This one includes China

* Regional Economic Partnership Agreement in Works

Ten cities in Japan, South Korea, and China, the members of a group promoting economic exchange in East Asia, held their fourth meeting in China and signed a memorandum agreeing to create an economic partnership agreement for the Yellow Sea rim region. The group includes four Japanese cities, including Kitakyushu, Fukuoka City, and Shimonoseki; four Chinese cities, including Dalian; and three South Korean cities, including Busan and Incheon. The idea is to create a free trade agreement of their own in the region without waiting for their respective national governments.

We’re going to be reading the inevitable Closed to the Outside World stories about Japan written by the bien pensants in the upcoming months as the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks get serious. Let’s see how many of these stories will be mentioned, particularly the last one.

American journalist P.J. O’Rourke has spent much of his career traveling overseas as part of his work. He once wrote that the best way to improve international relations was to sleep with someone from overseas.

In that spirit…

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, Education, Foreigners in Japan, International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, Social trends, South Korea, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Reprise: The oppressors and the oppressed

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 17, 2010

THE MARMOT HIMSELF at The Marmot’s Hole links to this article in The Korea Times by Prof. Andrei Lankov about Korean members of the tokko butai, or the kamikaze squadron, during WWII. It’s well worth reading, not only for the facts it presents, but also because it leads to other issues that defy facile explanation. For example, here’s a previous post from March 2008 about an article in the Choson Ilbo of South Korea titled, Were Koreans Oppressors in the War, or its Victims? That piece is a review of a book released two years ago in South Korea called A Metahistory of Korean-Japanese Disputes over Historical Awareness. In addition to Korean kamikaze pilots, it also discusses such subjects as the lives of Japanese women who married Korean men during the period of colonization/annexation.

Here’s a passage from the Choson article:

The editors of this book are Kan-Nichi Rentai 21 (Korea-Japan Solidarity 21), a group consisting of Korean and Japanese intellectuals launched in 2004 to seek a new Korean-Japanese relationship appropriate for the 21st century. They are searching for a means to achieve solidarity by examining themselves and achieving a more mature viewpoint that transcends the antagonistic relationship that has arisen between the two countries. In brief, they now want to leave behind the intolerant nationalism with which one party views the other for a closer study of history. That’s why the authors of this book have chosen to step back from knee-jerk nationalism itself and develop a new viewpoint of their own through self-reflection.

Not all of those commenting on the Marmot’s post–which is here, by the way–are interested in leaving intolerant nationalism behind, however.

But then, they also probably wouldn’t be interested in this post about a South Korean history textbook from the New Right, or this post about the dream of Koreans relocating in Japan, or this post about the days when Japan and Korea were one.

Their discomfort is understandable. Crossing a minefield of inconvenient truths isn’t easy for anyone, especially when it contradicts one’s self-created identity.

Add to: Facebook | Digg | | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

Posted in History, International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, South Korea, World War II | Tagged: , | 10 Comments »

Mango makgeolli: Another Japan-Korea love match

Posted by ampontan on Monday, May 24, 2010

Makgeolli is a very healthy drink, it is a good addition to one’s diet, and it has been used by women to enhance beauty.
– South Korea President Lee Myung-bak

IF YOU THOUGHT the mango beer presented in a post last week was an unusual combination for an alcoholic beverage, wait until you read about mango makgeolli!

Makgeolli is a hyper-sweet, milky-looking liquor made from rice that’s traditionally drunk from bowls. Part of its charm is the fermented rice solids floating in it, so it’s usually shaken or stirred before it’s poured. The popular conception of makgeolli has long been one of hooch for hayseeds, and in that sense it might be considered the Korean version of white lightning. Every one of these aspects makes it an analog for the Japanese drink doburoku, which you can read more about here.

Lately, the Koreans have been devising ways to turn makgeolli into an upmarket beverage, and these include adding fruit flavors and pitching it to women. Enter stage left a Japanese businessman from Noshiro, Akita, who worked with a Korean makgeolli brewer to develop a mango makgeolli creation suited for the Japanese market. The entrepreneur, Tsukamoto Tamio, operates a business hotel in Noshiro where he first sold the drink.

It’s 20% pure mango juice, so you can imagine how sweet the combination must be. It contains no artificial coloring or aromatics. Enough people discovered and enjoyed it for him to launch sales on this Japanese-language website since last month. It’s also available at mass merchandisers in Noshiro and Akita City, and eating and drinking places in Noshiro.

The nature of the drink has made it popular among women, and they’re a market segment always appreciates a low calorie count. Mango makgeolli has 19.4 calories per 100 milliliters, compared to 40 for beer, 75 for wine, 110 for sake, and 135 for shochu. Another number that some might appreciate is the 8% alcohol by volume.

It costs JPY 735 (about $US 8.16) for a 750 ml PET bottle, and JPY 420 for a 300 ml glass bottle, which is shown in the photo. The one on the right has been sitting on the shelf undisturbed, while the one on the left has been shaken.

Mr. Tsukamoto is importing it through the Port of Akita, and he’s set up a two-way commercial enterprise by selling local items to South Korea over the Internet. Akita currently enjoys a high name recognition in Korea because it was one of the locations where the big-budget, blockbuster television series Iris was filmed. The espionage thriller was wildly popular last fall in South Korea, and it generated a surge of Korean tourism to Akita. The same phenomenon in reverse had Japanese visiting the shooting locations for such Korean TV dramas as Winter Sonata. (Iris is now being broadcast on Japanese television.)

These two YouTube videos present an interesting contrast. The first is a Korean video in English promoting the new varieties of makgeolli. It’s well done–perhaps too well done in places. One of the supposedly casual customers interviewed on camera is a young woman attractive enough to be a model whose blouse color just happens to match the color of her drink.

The second is a video of a doburoku festival filmed in Shirakawa-go Gifu. The environment is quite different from the first video, but just as fascinating. It’s easy to see the resemblance between the two drinks–even down to the October date of their respective festivals. It also reminds me that I’ve been negligent writing festival posts recently!

The Japanese aren’t adding fruit syrup to doburoku, but here’s a post about a company that came up with the bright idea to make doburoku ice cream.

Notice all the connections between Japan and South Korea in this story? None of them will particularly surprise the people of either country. To quote once again a South Korean speaking in Japanese that I heard on a live NHK radio program broadcast from Seoul a few years ago, the only ties between the two countries that aren’t flourishing are the political.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Posted in Festivals, Food, Japanese-Korean amity, New products, South Korea, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Out of the gate

Posted by ampontan on Friday, April 30, 2010

WHERE WOULD a South Korean jockey of modest abilities go to improve his professional techniques?

Bak Jae-ho came to Japan.

Though he started racing in 2003, the 31-year-old jockey has chalked up a career record of only 37 wins in 684 professional races. With just three wins on 110 mounts last year, he decided to come to the Arao Racecourse in Arao, Kumamoto, for special training.

Mr. Bak was inspired to choose Arao after watching well-known Japanese jockey Nishimura Eiki beat the field by several lengths in an October 2008 race in South Korea. The Japanese jockey, who races frequently in South Korea, recommended that he hone his skills in Kumamoto. After receiving a three-month racing license, Mr. Bak hopped across the Korean Strait with his wife and son. Japan’s National Association of Racing says he is the first South Korean jockey to obtain a short-term license to race continuously in this country.

Said Mr. Bak, who usually works at the Busan Gyeongnam Race Park:

“Horse racing is extremely popular in South Korea right now. I wanted to learn the superior jockey techniques in Japan….I want to become as good as Japanese jockeys.”

One reason for the sport’s popularity on the Peninsula is that the government-operated tracks allow legal gambling. The fans started to attend in greater numbers when a new track was built in Seoul about 20 years ago.

Racing is also more lucrative for the winners in Korea than in Japan. The purses for single races can be as much as KRW 35 million, the Nishinippon Shimbun reports, or JPY 3 million (about $US 32,000). That’s about 10 times more than at Japanese regional tracks. No wonder South Korean jockeys spend their time at home—or that Mr. Nishimura worked about seven months in Busan last year.

Neither is the sport as profitable in Japan, and regional tracks are in the midst of a slump. Arao was once popular among people working in the local coal industry, but the mines closed and the workers have either moved on or can’t afford a ticket at the pari-mutuel window. The track was JPY 1.35 billion in the hole as of March 2009, and there’s talk of closing it down.

Bak Je-ho was scheduled to run his first race at Arao yesterday, but the absence of any news reports on the results suggests his nag finished out of the money again. That might soon change, however. Mr. Bak reportedly gets up at 3:00 a.m. every day to practice. Dedication of that sort is bound to pay dividends sooner or later.

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