Japan from the inside out

Archive for the ‘Websites’ Category


Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Circumstances require that I be away from the website for a couple of weeks. Through the magic of the Internet, I have scheduled posts to appear here during that time, so there will be plenty to read. I just won’t be able to interact with any readers.

A brief battle with a Russian spammer a few years ago required me to take drastic measures for comments. That problem seems to have been resolved, so I have removed those restrictions. Comments should appear more quickly than in the past. Remember, however, that the Akismet software sometimes doesn’t like links.

Be seeing you!

Posted in Websites | 3 Comments »

Soliciting bids

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 28, 2011

SAY IT ISN’T SO: Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is soliciting bids from private sector contractors for a job that some people view as tantamount to monitoring thought crimes on Twitter and the Internet.

No, they won’t be spying on political dissidents guilty of thought crimes as defined by the Peace Preservation Law of 1925, legislation that was abolished on 15 October 1945. One provision in that law was to keep tabs on thought criminals, reform and rehabilitate them, and promote their ideological recantation and return to society. In our more enlightened age, METI will be using public funds to pay contractors to scour cyberspace for nuclear energy dissidents.

This report comes from the Safecast website (English and Japanese both), put together by a group of people who are monitoring radiation levels throughout Japan to provide the public with more “robust” information, as they put it. Here’s their explanation:

“Last Friday, July 15, the Ministry of Industry and Trade (METI), Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, opened a call for bids (tender) regarding the “Nuclear Power Safety Regulation Publicity Project”, for contractors to monitor blogs and tweets posted about nuclear power and radiation.”

Safecast also provides an English translation of the Japanese language bidding specifications. (The original Japanese pdf file is here.):

“The Contractor is required to monitor blogs on nuclear power and radiation issues as well as Twitter accounts (monitoring tweets is essential) around the clock, and conduct research and analysis on incorrect and inappropriate information that would lead to false rumors, and to report such internet accounts to the Agency.
When the Contractor becomes aware of such incorrect and inappropriate information, it is required to publish correct information in Q&A form on the website and Twitter account of the Agency, after consulting with experts and engineers if necessary. The Agency is to be notified of ANY consultant experts and engineers in advance.
The Contractor is required to keep the Agency well informed on the internet accounts and keywords used in the blogs and Twitter accounts that are posting incorrect and inappropriate information. The Contractor is required to maintain (a) sufficient number of personnel for around-the-clock monitoring. The Contractor is required to submit report(s) on internet accounts via CD-R.”

To be sure, it is the legitimate function of government and regulatory agencies to provide accurate information that tempers public hysteria and panic. That’s particularly important for life- and health-threatening incidents, such as those involving the safety of nuclear power plants. Lord knows the news media isn’t about to cool society’s jets; it’s in their financial interest to fan the frenzies and highlight the vapor trails with neon exclamation points.

Even Prime Minister Kan Naoto understood this once upon a time. People still remember that as Health Minister about 15 years ago, he scarfed down a plate of daikon radish greens to reassure the public about food safety during an e.coli scare. (Unfortunately for the nation, he still remembers too; the incident gave him the idea that media grandstanding was the only way to communicate with the public.)

In addition, the Safecast group membership seems to include a few of the eternally vibratory activistas incapable of keeping their hands out of their pants and pressing their proverbial hot buttons. That behavior does tend to attract attention, but only in the way that former Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko once observed that a dog licking its underbelly attracts the attention of passers-by. For example:

“Since March 11, 2011 it has been frequently reported that YouTube videos containing footage or comments unfavorable to Tepco or the Japanese government have been removed within several hours of their posting. Examples of offending YouTube videos include excerpts of TV shows with controversial comments, footage showing smoke emitted from the nuclear reactors, an ex-Tepco employee speaking on his Fukushima experiences etc.

“Also, “agents” would show up in engineers-only internet forums, and interrupt with completely off-base pro-nuclear politically motivated comments. Likewise, Twitter accounts with too much content regarding nuclear power and radiation issues have been disrupted.”

What the author of the post doesn’t mention — or doesn’t know — is that Japanese TV networks are aggressive about forcing YouTube operators to immediately pull excerpts of news broadcasts that wind up on the site. I’ve put up two YouTube links to news reports from Japanese TV in the past, and both were taken down by YouTube within 24 hours. One showed then-DPJ President Hatoyama Yukio in doofus mode trying to explain that the party’s 2009 election manifesto he had unveiled a few days before with the hoopla dialed to 11 wasn’t really the party’s manifesto after all. (They discovered Osaka Gov. Hashimoto Toru didn’t like it). The other was a film clip of anti-Japanese demonstrations in China after the Senkakus incident.

They also provide no explanatory detail on Twitter accounts being “disrupted”, nor even what that is supposed to mean. And let’s not get into that bit about “agents” in Internet forums. Yes, that tactic was often used in 2008 by “agents” of America’s Democratic Party scared shitless of Sarah Palin. Their instructions were to masquerade as conservatives appalled by the Palin nomination as vice-presidential candidate and claim they were going to vote for Obama as a result. (They fooled no one and were the source of much amusement.) Putting that aside, are the Safecasters so sure of themselves they can’t believe a legit engineer in an Internet discussion group would disagree with them?

If so, what would they make of this?

“Japan’s already reeling economy could be crushed by over-reaction to the Fukushima disaster, warns radiation scientist T.D. Luckey in the summer 2011 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.

“Japan should not repeat the mistake that Russia made in the tremendous unwarranted expense of its reaction to Chernobyl. As Mikhail Gorbachev understood too late, ‘The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl 20 years ago…was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.’

“Japan should not act on the false presumption, shared by most of the world’s press, that all radiation is harmful, Luckey states.”

Meanwhile, the current edition of the weekly Shukan Gendai features an article on what that publication charges is the government’s manipulation of information and suppression of debate about nuclear power. While the article may make the same claims (I haven’t read it), that magazine’s distribution is not being disrupted. It’s on sale today at convenience stores, bookstores, and train station kiosks throughout the country.

There’s also this:

“Dr. Onoda is sure that his blog will be blacklisted soon.”

I’m sure his blog, which also promotes his medical practice, will not be blacklisted at all, but if conspiracists talked only about what actually happened instead of the double-secret broadcasts beamed straight to their tinfoil hats by the big-eyed beans from Venus, they’d have to find some other way to fill the frightening silence.

Further, let us not forget the perpetual civil war within Japan for control of the government, fought between politicians and the bureaucrats, with combatants from both sides crossing the lines to fight for their adversaries. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is responsible for government policy at the nexus of the three sectors in its name. Consider: Prime Minister Kan proposed at the G8 Summit that natural energy sources should account for more than 20% of all Japanese energy consumption by the early 2020s, and set as a target the installation of solar panels in 10 million homes. He also wants to Japan to give up its 30% “dependency” on nuclear power. In addition, Environment/Justice Minister Eda Satsuki, who started his career in electoral politics in the same “Socialist Democrat” group as Mr. Kan, “vowed Wednesday (a week ago) to maintain Japan’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020”.

If the Kan/Eda fingerpaintings were to be accepted as real art, it would be the end of the world for Japan’s economy, trade, and industry (as we know it). It would not be surprising if METI is taking steps to ensure that doesn’t happen. Grazers in the Kan/Eda section of the political pasture often champion schemes that lead others to suspect their real motivations are to create a world of glorious global hunter-gatherer arts and crafts villages without the blunt instruments under the stewardship/thumb of an uno mundo international elite. In other words, them.

But just because people and groups of this sort are easily dismissible doesn’t mean their accusation should be easily dismissed. This is Kasumigaseki, after all. METI is the ministry responsible for regulating Japan’s nuclear power industry, but it also contains internal elements actively promoting the use of nuclear energy. In addition, let us not underestimate the bureaucracy’s conviction that it is the real government of Japan, and that from time to time they must undertake the unpleasant task of humoring the performing seals of the political class. All the Kasumigaseki ministries think they have the right to conceal and/or manage information. And while METI and the Kan Cabinet are now at loggerheads over accusations that the former is concealing information on the amount of non-nuclear generated power available, the dreary fact remains that the Kan Cabinet also started lying about Fukushima on the day the accident happened.

Some might argue that the ministry is simply gathering information, but no government or bureaucracy anywhere is capable of stopping itself from crossing the line to malfeasance in the use/abuse of that information. It is one of the reasons the opposition to social democracy is so intractable.

Then there is that inclusion of the word “inappropriate” in the bidding specifications. What is the functional definition of the word in this context, and how does METI define it? Whatever makes them look bad?

The Japanese press is unlikely to bring this up as an issue for sober discussion — surely they already know — if only because of the restrictions inherent in the kisha club system. That includes the anti-nuke Asahi and Mainichi, the latter of which is running a feature this week attempting to tie atomic power to atomic weapons through guilt by association, just in time for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversaries next month. The Asahi is also hawking the idea of a nuclear-free Japan in its own inimitable style, but then again, their support for nuclear power was so strong in the 1970s some people wondered if the industry had bought them off.

Don’t look to the English-language media in Japan for anything serious or sober either. The grand claims of speaking truth to power are only for consumption at media guild seminars, journalism grad schools, and trade publications. They also save it for public consumption when they’re accused of giving the left a pass on the same behavior they crucify the right for. When it comes to walking instead of talking, Weird Japan is all they can manage.

Speaking of weird, here’s the weird part of this story: Safecast could be right even if they’re wrong.

Thanks to Tony for the link.

Live in Tokyo:

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Posted in Government, Science and technology, Websites | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »


Posted by ampontan on Thursday, June 16, 2011

A READER sent in a comment passing along word that he and a friend have launched what they intend to be a group blog called Pacific Rim Shots, which you can find here. They now have two primary writers, one from Sweden living in Beijing, and another from San Diego, who has lived and worked in Taiwan, Shanghai, and several other places in the region. They also say they have new writers lined up in China and Hiroshima. Most of the content focuses on culture, music, and art, but there are a few political pieces too. There seems to be some time lag between individual posts, but presumably that will change. See what you think.

Reader Marellus also sent in a comment pointing out a website post that he discovered. It’s worth reading, if only for seeing how people keep missing the point. Here’s how it starts:

“Japan’s attempt to restimulate the economy through consumer spending (something that has so far failed in the US and everywhere else courtesy of a third consecutive year of global household sector deleveraging) appears to be going horribly wrong. Exhibit A: ‘Japanese safe maker Eiko Co. says sales jumped more than 40 percent after the March earthquake and tsunami, a sign that consumers will hoard more cash at home and restrain an economic rebound…’.”

No, safe sales do not mean that “consumers will hoard more cash at home and restrain an economic rebound”. The temporary increase is one of many event-specific responses to the Tohoku earthquake that is an example of the way people everywhere respond emotionally to shocking occurrences. It won’t be much longer before safe sales return to normal levels, when the memory fades and they again get used to living without catastrophic natural disasters.

In fact, a passage quoted later in the piece explains that the Japanese have always been more likely to stash their cash at home than people elsewhere:

“In the devastated northeastern Tohoku region, safes recovered since the data have indicated the scale of tansu yokin. In Ishinomaki, a stricken city, about 700 are stored at a police station, officer Yoshiaki Fukushima said. Officials there have reports of another 750 missing, claimed to contain an average of about one million yen each.

“’I was stunned by the amount of cash I was seeing,’ said Fukushima, who found as much as 70 million yen ($870,000) in one of the boxes. In another case, he couldn’t get the bills out because they were swollen with water.

“At least 500 are at a police station in Kesennuma city, and one contained as much as 40 million yen in cash, said Hiroki Sato, a local police commissioner…”

Bloomberg explains that tansu yokin is “keeping mattress money”. The phrase literally means “savings in a chest of drawers”.

But the real problem is what other people say in that Bloomberg article:

“While output is bouncing back, weak demand may slow an economic recovery as officials struggle to boost consumer spending after decades of deflation.

“’It’s absolutely essential for Japan to get people to spend,’ said Robert Feldman, head of Japan economic research at Morgan Stanley in Tokyo. ‘Weakness in consumer spending is one of the reasons for the economy contracting — it’s crucial for the government and the Bank of Japan to work together properly to end deflation’.”

Ugh — as in ugly. What does it take for a “head of economic research” to do some research on the failures of the Keynesian philosophy of the government getting the people to spend? You know – the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, the man who disliked thrift and savings so much, he wrote:

“The love of money as a possession -as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life -will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.”

(One wonders how much of his philosophy is derived from a dislike of homo sapiens. He also wrote that eugenics was “the most important, significant, and, I would add, genuine branch of sociology which exists”. But I digress.)

The author of the post linked here, Tyler Durden, starts with the observation that attempts to stimulate consumer spending have failed everywhere. It will never occur to some people that instead of focusing on what is termed “nominal expenditures”, or the amount of money circulating in the economy, attention should be given to the production of goods and services useful to consumers.

Only one factor can be counted on to drive economic growth, and consumer spending ain’t it. Rather, it is private sector net capital investment. Here’s a discussion of consumer spending and the American economy, but it applies just as well to Japan:

“It must be a condition of employment that a journalist who writes about the current recession include in his article the statement, ‘consumption makes up more than two-thirds of the economy’ or ‘consumption spending accounts for 70 percent of GDP.’ This seemingly simple, factual statement, however, is nearly always intended to carry some explanatory weight, and on occasion the writer spells out this explanation by adding a statement such as, ‘unless consumers begin to open their wallets and spend more, recovery from the current recession will be impossible.”… One does not need a Ph.D. in economics, however, to discover that something must be wrong with this way of thinking about prosperity and recession…As every student of the business cycle learns early on, the most variable part of aggregate expenditure is private investment…The ups and downs of the business cycle are obviously driven not by consumption spending, but by investment spending….

“The vulgar Keynesian focus on consumption unfortunately tempts politicians to approve ‘stimulus’ measures aimed at pumping up this part of total spending…Such arguments, however, fail to grasp the true nature of the boom-bust cycle, especially the central role of investment spending in driving it—and, more important, in driving the long-run growth of real output that translates into a rising standard of living for the general public. Politicians, if they truly wish to promote genuine, sustainable recovery and long-run economic growth, need to focus on actions that will contribute to a revival of private investment, not on pumping up consumption.”

This will be ignored by the leadership of both the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party, who would rather promote genuine prosperity by raising taxes. Some of them favor greater governmental cash confiscation because the Finance Ministry’s bureaucratic lobbyists have blown so much smoke in their direction they’ve become convinced it’s the best way to solve Japan’s economic problems — despite one lost decade already — and others because they’re Big Government social democrats, regardless of party label. As we’ve seen before, they’re loathe to let a crisis go to waste, and view the recovery/reconstruction of the Tohoku region as an excellent opportunity to hike tax rates, even though, as we’ve also seen before, there are plenty of good suggestions to fund those efforts without a tax increase. But that would require prying money out of the government’s clenched fist.

Meanwhile, the natives are still restless in China. It does not seem to be as if this will be the Chinese version of the Summer of Love, as this article suggests:

“Beijing remains terrified that the fast-rising tally of localised protests could be linked via mobile social networking and Twitter-style websites.

“Some Chinese academics believe that the true number of protests in the country last year was more than 180,000. After several big clashes in recent weeks the names of half a dozen big towns have been eradicated from the search engines of the country’s most popular microblogging sites.

“One of the ‘disappeared’ cities, Dongguan, is the fourth-largest producer of exports in the country and has a population only slightly smaller than London’s.

“The recent violence, however, has exposed the limits of the government’s ability to control the urban population using internet censorship, (which) party leaders refer to as ‘social management’.”

I’d like to know what term they use to refer to their one-child policy, a close relative of eugenics that would surely have met with Keynes’s approval. (A century ago the fascisto-progressives thought eugenics was an important element of “social control”. “Management” is a more appropriate euphemism for our bathetic age.) But then Keynes also thought that private sector capital investment and government deficits had the same effect.

One more from John Maynard

From John Maynard Keynes’s introduction to the 1936 German edition of the General Theory:

“The theory of aggregate production, which is the point of the following book, nevertheless can be much easier adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state (eines totalen Staates) than the theory of production and distribution of a given production put forth under conditions of free competition and a large degree of laissez-faire. This is one of the reasons that justifies the fact that I call my theory a general theory. Since it is based on fewer hypotheses than the orthodox theory, it can accommodate itself all the easier to a wider field of varying conditions.”

A reminder to readers who want to send in links and story ideas — please keep sending them in, I read them all, but send them to the e-mail address as explained on the right sidebar.

Apropos of nothing, this has got to be in the Global Top 10 of classic music videos. The song is called ส้ม อมรา, and it’s performed by Thai singer Play Girl with rapper Joey Boy. PG can come over to my house and play anytime she wants, or I’ll go over to hers. I’m flexible and I can bring the toys. The first game we could play is rub-a-dub-dub in the tub to see if that tattoo on her left shoulder washes off or is real. If it’s the latter, that won’t be what I’ll hold against her.

If you don’t care for what happens at any particular point in the video, wait two or three seconds. Something else will be happening by then.

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, Websites | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Letter bombs (17): Japan Watch

Posted by ampontan on Friday, May 6, 2011

AN e-mail arrived from the proprietor of an English-language website called Japan Watch. It is a news aggregator that, according to the website, focuses on news originating in Japan not generally available in English. In addition to political and business news, the left sidebar has many links to science and technology articles.

You can find the site here.

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What’s been going on

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Today is the first day I’ve been able to access the site since Friday morning. One of the service people at WordPress explained the reason in an e-mail Friday night.

“As a result of a large denial of service attack directed at servers on Thursday, our upstream internet providers have implemented some filters to prevent malicious traffic from reaching our network. While we tried to make these blocks as specific as possible, it appears that your IP is one of the ones being blocked at the moment.”

Shikata ga nai, it can’t be helped, as the Japanese say. It’s back to business, and thanks for your patience.

Posted in Websites | 2 Comments »

Whither Japan

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, January 18, 2011

STEPHEN HARNER provides professional investment advice services in Japan and China. Mr. Harner was based in Japan for 12 years during the 80s and 90s, but then went to live and work in China. He recently returned, and as a sideline started a blog called Whither Japan, which you can read here. Give it a click and see what you think.

If nothing else, you should find his opinion of Fujiwara Masahiko’s book, Kokka no Hinkaku (The Dignity of the State), intriguing.

Posted in Websites | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Stimulate supply, not demand

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 23, 2010

FOLLOWING LINKS on the Internet can lead to serendipitous discoveries. Getting clicky last night popped up the Super Economy site written by a Kurd/Swede who goes by the name of Tino.

Tino usually focuses on the American economy, but he takes a look at Japan in a post from 23 May this year. The post may be three months old, but don’t let that stop you from reading it–he says what a lot of people in Japan aren’t willing to say, and his advice is not time-dependent. The title is Japan’s Problem is Supply, Not Demand, and Tino thoughtfully includes several charts. His first argument:

Japan has simply not been growing slower than other advanced countries once we adjust for demographic change.

After presenting some statistics, he concludes:

Between 1990-2007, GDP per working age adult increased by 31.8% in the United States, by 29.6% in EU.15 and by 31.0% in Japan. The figures are nearly identical!

Then he takes on Paul Krugman, which these days is like shooting fish in a barrel:

Next, to Krugman’s point that the problem is “policy makers… doing too little” (by which he means spending too little). Japan has been running Krugman-Obama sized deficits averaging about 5% of GDP for a decade and a half…Krugman is simply dogmatic when he claims that Japan’s policy of massive deficits failed because the deficits were not large enough(!)

That leads to his next point:

Krugman is obsessed with demand, and ignores the (usually) far more important factor, which is supply.

(A)djusting for population, Japan has simply not been doing that badly in growth terms. Their problem now is their debt, which they have thanks to Keynesian policies. Capacity utilization is high in Japan, including a low unemployment rate. Stimulating demand just won’t do it when the problem is supply. If Japan wants growth they have to go for supply factors, including hours worked.

He adds in an update:

Japan also illustrates the problem of over-zealous, imprudent Keynesianism. If they had not undertaken massive deficits in the 2000s (when there was no need, and perhaps not even opportunity, for policies aimed at stimulating demand rather than supply) they would have had dry powder now. There is no guarantee that two crises cannot come within a couple of decades. Instead, the Japanese state is immobilized by their fiscal past.

Here are some other ways to stimulate supply:

  • Reducing taxes
  • Reducing unemployment benefits
  • Raising the retirement age
  • Facilitating bankruptcy, particularly of companies that are deemed “too big to fail”
  • Expanding the labor force with large-scale immigration

The idea is to bring down the prices of products purchased with discretionary spending that people usually avoid because they’re too expensive. In other words, stimulating supply ultimately stimulates demand.

The last of the five methods would not necessarily benefit Japan, and might cause serious cultural problems. Very few countries are emotionally equipped to assimilate large numbers of immigrants; places such as the United States and Canada are exceptions. Further, the larger the influx of immigrants, the more likely the immigrants will refuse to assimilate.

This should have been clear from the European example, but short of starvation or immediate threats to their safety, the elites that push immigration will always choose a desktop theory over reality. In this case, the desktop theory is, “Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do…imagine all the people, sharing all the world.”

Prime Minister Kan favors stimulus of demand, and is not at all interested in stimulating supply. His policies (or more accurately, those of his economic tutors) will not succeed in the long run.


The comments to Tino’s post are also worth reading.

Word hasn’t filtered into Japan, but Paul Krugman has become the economist’s equivalent of the bearded nut on the sidewalk. A lot of people are now entertaining themselves with the game of shooting the ideas of a Nobel laureate full of holes, and Mr. Krugman obliges by puffing himself up into a larger target.

Here’s how I stumbled across Tino. The charts alone should be of interest.

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Websites | Tagged: | 14 Comments »

Tune in, turn on, and drop in

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, July 22, 2010

COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS began broadcasting in Japan in 1992 on shortwave frequencies, and there are now more than 200 nationwide. They’re limited in both wattage and broadcast area, and while that keeps their potential audience down, it also allows for more relaxed formats and closer ties to their community. I spend a lot more time listening to the radio than I do watching TV, and most of that is spent tuned into NHK AM and FM with occasional detours to KBC in Busan. The fare on regular AM and FM stations is too aggressively commercial and has too much chewing gum content, making them more annoying than listenable.

But as this article in the English version of the Yomiuri explains, some community radio stations can now be accessed through the Internet at this page called Simul Radio:

Every morning I switch on my PC and access a radio service called Saimaru Rajio (Simul Radio). On the central homepage are listed around 30 such radio stations available across the nation. The service uses the word, Simul, for simultaneous, as they broadcast not only to their respective local areas, but also literally worldwide via Internet streaming.

I tried it this morning, and it works fine. The stations I visited had pleasant music, congenial and uncontrived announcers, and low-key advertising.

There are no instructions in English, alas, but the links are clearly identified.

That got me in a clicking mood, and I found this page (Japanese-language) with a comprehensive list of the websites for these stations around the country. Not all of them broadcast over the Internet, but Churajio in Okinawa does, and it’s not on the Simul Radio list.

Their playlist says they stick to Okinawan music. I’ve been listening for the past 15 minutes, and while they’re telling the truth, most of it falls in the pop-rock range rather than the hard core roots music of Kina Shokichi, the Rinken Band, or Nenez (not to mention Daiku Tetsuhiro). It’s still very listenable, though.

Ain’t the Internet grand? If you were listening in your car, you probably couldn’t pick up any of these stations outside city limits or in certain pockets in town with bad reception. Current regulations limit their broadcast range to a radius of 20 kilometers and an output of 20 watts.

I would have loved this when I was studying Japanese at university. As it is, I’m about to become a regular listener.

Overseas readers: Please send in a comment to tell us about the reception where you are. And if anyone finds a station they particularly like, be sure to let us know!

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Posted in Mass media, Music, Popular culture, Social trends, Websites | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »


Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, June 29, 2010

EVERYONE ENJOYS a change of pace, and that’s why most of the popular website/blogs that focus on serious political or social topics also include lighter posts.

I visited an American website this morning that features articles about American politics and society, but also contains many posts about international affairs. This site too effectively uses lighter stories for a change of pace. The identity of the site in question is not important.

Here’s a partial list of the stories on their top page right now:

* How a ship’s crew was saved from Somali pirates, who had planned to kill them and sell their organs because the owners refused to pay the ransom

* The state-run Norwegian forestry research institute reports that acid rain eliminates pollution and has resulted in 25% forest growth in 15 years.

* Russians are interesting in buying French infantry gear.

* A refutation of the theory that the stock market crash of 1929 caused the Great Depression

* Angry Afghan civilians demand that NATO act more decisively against the Taliban even if it puts them at risk.

* North Korea demands that the US pay them $65 trillion in compensation for six decades of hostility. (Heads or tails on whether that can be classified as a serious or a lighter piece)

* A link to a New York Times article that claims agencies recruit too many Caucasians when hiring models from Brazil

* A poll showing that a plurality of voters opposes President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee

* A discussion of the decision by the West Virginia governor to delay a special election to fill a vacant Senate seat after Robert Byrd died. It would normally be held this November, but 2010 will probably be a very bad year for Democrats, Byrd was a Democrat, and the governor is a Democrat. There is a longish discussion of the West Virginia state constitution

* Posts on the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a Chicago law on guns, and a video interview discussing the effectiveness of gun bans

* A post complaining about how Obama advisors constantly complain about how difficult it is to be President

* Iranian and Israeli sources claim that Israel is positioning equipment in Saudia Arabia for a possible attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, and the G8 thinks an attack might be coming.

* A video of U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden acting like a jerk. Again.

* Venezuela nationalizes oil rigs owned by a U.S. company that the Americans shut down because Venezuela was a year behind on payments.

* A link to a blog post by someone who claims: We (the U.S.) are in a Depression now and have been since 2008. A Depression is defined as a 10% contraction in GDP. But for the government borrowing 11% of GDP and spending it, GDP would have contracted by at least the same amount borrowed and spent.

* A brief article on the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War

* A post about the revelation of a sexual harassment complaint by a masseuse against former Vice President Al Gore. It has the amusing headline: If You Reach Under My Towel There’s a Throbbing Carbon Offset With Your Name On It

There are also several pop culture posts.

They also have one post about Japan, derived from a link to another site.

The website’s political perspective is from the right. Japan still has the world’s second-largest economy, and economic conditions here can affect the rest of the world. Is this post about how a government of the left is trying to deal with massive public debt and deflation by raising taxes and redistributing income?

Is it about how that government is trying to roll back the privatization schemes of the Koizumi/Abe administrations?

Is it about the ongoing debate over the role of the bureaucracy in political governance—the most intense debate of its kind among the advanced industrial democracies?

Is it about how a Japanese government that seeks closer ties to China is also taking a hard line against Chinese behavior in the Western Pacific? Is there anything about how these diplomatic moves are taking place against a backdrop of soaring Chinese tourism in Japan?

Is it about the opening next spring of the Kyushu leg of the Shinkansen—which means that a high-speed rail network unlike anything in the United States will now link the entire archipelago?

Is it about the recent announcement that a Kumamoto University team has created the world’s strongest metal–a magnesium alloy with a tensile strength of 512 megapascals? This is stronger than the duralumin used in aircraft, an aluminum alloy of 505 megapascals.

No. This is what it’s about. Note also the subject matter of the website that is the source of the video.

I am not saying that stories such as these do not have their place. Heck, I’d volunteer to be the man on the sled myself.

I am saying that when the subject is Japan, stories such as these—in addition to the putatively serious stories that are willfully distorted or inaccurate—are the only stories that have any place at all in the media or the Internet.

It’s time again to quote the Jenny Holt article from The Guardian:

I have lived in Japan for nine years, I have a Japanese husband and son, and I can honestly say that the most striking thing about people here is how downright normal they are….This is modern normality, and if foreigners who came here actually bothered to learn the language and find out what ordinary Japanese people think they would appreciate that….The stereotyping also speaks volumes about the western psyche. It suggests that westerners resent and fear successful non-white cultures and that they cope by denigrating and dehumanising them. What Britain chooses to see in Japan says more about its own insecurities than about the Japanese…

Let’s take that last sentence a step further.

What the world’s news media and Internet websites choose to see in Japan says more about their own insecurities, incompetence, ignorance, immaturity, and general laziness than it does about the Japanese.

They choose to focus on the serious side of the rest of the world, but choose to view Japan only as goofy Asian vaudeville.

But then, if what you know about Japan is derived from the English-language news media and Internet websites, then everything you know about Japan is wrong.

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Posted in Mass media, Websites | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

Fukuoka-Busan: The gateposts of the Asia Gateway

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 7, 2009

IT’S A CURIOUS PHENOMENON that the farther people are from Japan and South Korea, the more likely they are to think folks in the two countries get along like dogs and monkeys, as the Japanese say about dogs and cats. If the articles and snide asides that the print media offer as infotainment are to be believed, it’s taken as a given in the West that the Koreans and Japanese can’t stand each other, and it’s mostly Japan’s fault.

But that’s not the picture that emerges in the part of the world where the two countries are closest to each other. It’s a mere three-hour boat ride or 50-minute flight across the Korean Strait separating Kyushu and the southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula. Here in Kyushu, it’s no big deal to eat a leisurely breakfast while listening to a Busan radio station, and then follow that with a leisurely lunch in Busan. In fact, I’ve done it myself.

It’s not as if I’m a trend-setter, either. That trip has become an everyday occurrence for people in both countries. The sister cities of Fukuoka City and Busan know better than anyone that their bread is buttered on both sides, and they’ve been working together to whip up more tempting treats.

That’s why the two cities have embarked on their Asia Gateway campaign for encouraging people in both regions to drop by and set a spell, and in the process drop as much money as they can afford. They took the next step in the campaign today when they launched the joint Asia Gateway website. Their concept for the overall tone of the site is that the two cities are actually “neighboring towns” where people regularly travel back and forth, rather than cities in foreign countries that people visit occasionally for business or pleasure.

Considering the state of modern transportation and the real people I’ve seen traveling across the strait, that’s no exaggeration. For starters, young single women in both countries think nothing of hopping on the boat for a weekend cross-strait shopping expedition.

The website is jointly managed by the Nishinippon Shimbun and the Busan Ilbo newspapers. The homepage is in both languages, and from there visitors can access the separate Japanese- and Korean-language content. The section created in Fukuoka for Koreans contains videos of local attractions popular with Koreans, as well as blogs. There’s also a map of the Tenjin district in Fukuoka City, Kyushu’s largest commercial area, translations into Korean of Nishinippon Shimbun articles, and information on the Kurokawa Hot Springs in Kumamoto, another destination popular with Korean tourists.

The ties between the two areas aren’t PR dreamed up by the respective Chambers of Commerce. Coming soon to the site is an interview with a bi-strait married couple. The husband is Japanese and lives in Fukuoka City, while his wife is Korean and lives in Busan. Now that’s my idea of bisexuality!

Later this month, Busan plans to add more information in Japanese about their tourist attractions and Korean-style fortunetelling.

But you don’t need yuk hak to get a glimpse of the future in this part of the world, and now you’ve got more to go on than the English-language press. Just take a look at the Asia Gateway website and see for yourself.

Afterwords: The interview with the married couple is already supposed to be up there, but I couldn’t find it. Perhaps in the next day or so.

Posted in Foreigners in Japan, International relations, Japanese-Korean amity, Social trends, South Korea, Travel, Websites | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

…to fold, divine

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, December 4, 2008

WHAT DO paper and the gods have in common? In Japan, more than you might think. To begin with, the two words are homonyms in Japanese: kami and, well, kami. For another, the Japanese often use paper objects in religious ceremonies. And starting this Saturday, those people lucky enough to be wintering in Tokyo this year can see those objects in the Paper and Gods Exhibit at the Paper Museum. Of course it’s called Kami and Kami in Japanese!

The museum will display paper products associated in some way with religious worship. Most of the exhibits are of cut paper used for ceremonies in which people communicate with the divine, such as Shinto festivals, weddings, and funerals. These include gohei, a staff with paper strips at Shinto shrines into which the spirit of the divine(s) descend at the invitation of the priests; katashiro, paper images used in Shinto ceremonies used to remove defilements from the human spirit, and treasure ships used as good luck talismans.

The exhibit will last until 8 March and will set you back only 300 yen, which is pocket change. How’s that for a deal–you don’t even have to spend your paper money at the Paper Museum. During the exhibit’s run, the museum will also conduct a papermaking class on Saturdays.

Just think—it’s a shame the Japanese don’t use human hair in religious ceremonies, or they could have called it the kami kami kami exhibit and gotten Boy George to sing the theme song.

And you betcha I added the Paper Museum to the links on the right sidebar!

Posted in Religion, Websites | 1 Comment »

Japanese castle explorer

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Daniel writes in to say that his Kyushu castle website, which I posted about some time ago, has been replaced by a new site called Japanese Castle Explorer. There’s a nice interactive feature for all the castles covered, so take a look and see what you think.

I’d love to have a similar feature for festivals, but that costs money. If you’ve figured out an inexpensive way to do it, Dan, let me know!

Posted in History, Websites | 3 Comments »

National Diet Library photo exhibit

Posted by ampontan on Monday, April 7, 2008

THE NATIONAL DIET LIBRARY is now presenting an e-exhibit of photos from the Meiji and Taisho eras (1868-1925) selected from its archives. Here’s the best part: the explanatory material is in both Japanese and English. The photographs are of sites in the Kansai region, which includes Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto.

If you’re a sucker for historical photos, now’s your chance! You’ll find the English version here.

There’s also a permanent link to the National Diet Library on the right sidebar.

Posted in History, Websites | Leave a Comment »

Japan Navigator

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, February 16, 2008

WHILE SEARCHING FOR SOMETHING ELSE on Google, I stumbled across the Japan Navigator website, written by a foreigner who seems to be based in Kyoto. He focuses on art, business, travel, culture, and food, and makes excellent choices in subject matter. Two of his posts in particular that I would like to have written myself are this one, called “Graves in Kyoto’s Shopping Arcades”, and this one, called “The Shogun’s Mausoleum in Shiba”. That building, reputed to be one of the finest examples of traditional Japanese architecture, no longer exists, but the post reproduces photographs from the 19th century!

Pay the site a visit if you have the time.

P.S.: A (herring)bone to pick–are one-third of all Japanese television shows really “devoted to food”? I don’t know about that…

Posted in Websites | 3 Comments »

Japan-related websites added

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, February 14, 2008

IN ADDITION to the website for the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, I’ve also added links on the right sidebar to the sites for the National Institute of Japanese Literature, the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, University Libraries in Japan, the National Institute of Informatics, the National Astronomical Institute of Japan, and the Oriental Library.

Knock yourself out!

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