Monday, October 20, 2014

Two resignations this week, one justified, one kinda...: Justice minister undone by cheap paper fan

Justice minister undone by cheap paper fan

Well, that's too bad.  I get the need for strong election laws governing the ways in which candidates can sway voters.  For example, buying them booze and trucking a bunch of drunks to the polls all over town while letting them vote under a multitude of assumed names is probably considered wrong in some places.  Or simply offering bucks for ballots.  We tend to frown upon political parties who do such things to win elections. 

On the other hand, it's perfectly okay for an auto, insurance, oil or defense company to buy candidates outright even if those companies are wholly owned by people or groups who aren't even citizens of the nation where the elected serve.  There are any number of loopholes to make it seem that's not what's happening.  These are essentially changing the definition to fit the needs of the people with the money and the people with the ability to get laws passed to do so for a share of that money.  In some cases it's not necessary to buy the elected official as it is to do his or her work for her by writing the laws that person will sponsor in parliament or house or senate or diet.  Politicians love when other people do their jobs for them, and this arrangement makes it easier for the people at the top to take a big dump on the people below with a minimum of effort.

However it works out, someone benefits and it's rarely you or me.  In this case, some nice person attempted to provide fans in a country where summers are sweltering.  All kinds of businesses provide fun and helpful fans around the train stations.  If a movie studio does it to advertise the latest Pok√©mon extravaganza, people are happy.  And slightly less sweaty.  That way they're better able to cope with the heat, just like reality television starring bearded mutants helps Americans cope when the local rep proposes a law allowing oil companies to drill for crude in Grandma's brains.  They just wave their colorful advertising fans around the way people back home are increasingly finding ways to talk around the derrick sprouting from Grandma's wig.  Business as usual.

That's why I think this resignation is a bit much considering the crime.  If she'd colluded with Sony and Mitsubishi to change a labor law so that 10-year-olds had to start working 80-hour work weeks with in exchange for their elementary school educations, that would be completely okay.  Give away something useful like a fan and it's "So long, job!"

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Star Wars continues to dominate merchandising of every possible kind: Star Wars English-Japanese Dictionary for Padawan learners

Star Wars English-Japanese Dictionary for Padawan learners

And why not?  While I recently experienced a plethora of Harry Potter goods that offered a more immersive experience for the dedicated fan, there is no escaping the grasp of all things Star Wars.  If you can look at it, hold it or use it in some way (including during those furtive, individualized acts of bodily pleasure), there's probably a Star Wars version of it.  And now Star Wars can colonize the language centers of your mind and transform all thought modes into those of Han, Leia, Luke and possibly Yoda if you can't figure out subject-verb-object sentence structure.

I'm not going to give you any examples of Yoda speak.

Yes, many people in Japan also enjoy Star Wars.  There's already a Darth Vader language book for those who want to speak like a Sith Lord and now here's what I take to be a more generalized Star Wars quote translation book.  "I have a bad feeling about this" is probably more useful than "Send a distress signal, and inform the Senate that all on board were killed," but the latter is definitely more fun to say in Japanese.

It smarts: 26 students stung by hornets in Kumamoto

26 students stung by hornets in Kumamoto

I don't think I've ever been stung by a hornet, but I've survived bee and wasp attacks.  When I was about 8 years old, some friends and I were trying to pull a toy machine gun out of a bush where it was stuck.  We disturbed a bee's nest and out they came, filling the air and stinging us repeatedly while we ran away screaming.  We met up later to compare damage.  I think I came off best, with four stings that weren't all that painful.  One of my friends had six.  Years later I crouched down to pet a bulldog and trapped a wasp in the meat behind my knee.  It stung me once, causing me to stand up rather abruptly and free it to go off and kill again.  That one hurt like a hot needle and left a nasty sore that took a few days to heal.  In the years between, I'm sure I was stung here and there by individual insects but not as spectacularly as either of those.

Large hornets sometimes sneak into our apartment.  The largest hornets I've ever seen.  They look like flying telephone handsets from the coiled cord days.  I can't say I blame them for coming in and trying to make themselves at home.  Our apartment is a comfortable place and we certainly enjoy it.  What I don't like is how they hug the windows and refuse to participate in conversations no matter how we try to engage them.  I'm willing to discuss the sharpness of stingers, flight dynamics, living in bushes.  Whatever interests them.  But since they're a little standoffish, I find it best to shoo them out the sliding glass door on our balcony before feelings are hurt.

We're having a battle with wasps right now.  A few months ago, wasps nested in our mailbox.  The rental company warned us away and hired someone to come remove them.  Now there's a nest on our bedroom window.  My wife found it yesterday and called the office.  The rental company's solution this time is to tell us not to open that window.  Which we rarely do anyway.  Eventually they'll get around to sending someone to kill these wasps or relocate them back to the mailbox.

Going out to our car this morning, we were dive-bombed by several wasps, more than likely from the bedroom window.  Sleek black helicopter-shaped attackers zipped in and around us while we dodged.  I'm not particularly afraid of wasps, but I'd prefer to remain sting-free.  This does not extend to my musical tastes because I have been known to listen to early albums from the Police.

Friday, October 17, 2014

I hope I live long enough to ride this thing: Gov't approves JR Tokai plan to build maglev line

Gov't approves JR Tokai plan to build maglev line

Let's see.  If this goes into service in 2027, I'll be... pretty old.  Okay, not that old.  59.  Not even retirement age.  I'm not sure I'll still be living.  Take nothing for granted.  And if I am, I may not be living in Japan.  Ideally, if so, my wife and I will still be married and bringing the kids back to the mother country that year and we'll be among the first to hop a maglev train in Shinagawa and zip to Nagoya in 40 minutes.  Making the trip in an hour and forty minutes is fast enough for me.  I'm not so impatient I need that hour back, and I enjoy my time on the shinkansen.  But if the maglev train is as smooth then I imagine I'll imagine my shorter time riding it even more.

High-speed train service is certainly one thing Japan does well.  Shinkansen service is 50 years old this year and there have only been two derailments.  One was during an earthquake and the other a blizzard.  No one died in either.  The second year I lived in Japan, there was a horrible accident on a local train in Hyogo.  107 people died.  I tend to take shinkansen safety for granted, but when I'm rocking on a local train I stay much more alert.

Univ student stabs woman to death because he 'wanted to kill someone'

Univ student stabs woman to death because he 'wanted to kill someone'

You don't need me to tell you this story is horrifying.  Where was it in the US not so long ago a group of young guys cited boredom as the reason they killed a guy out jogging?  I wonder about the malaise in people's souls that causes them to harm others then give these nonchalant excuses.  I don't believe their excuses are their real motivation.  These words are translations of some untranslatable feeling or tangle of feelings, a way of speaking the unspeakable.  Or maybe people really do kill simply out of curiosity or boredom and I refuse to believe that because it's the more horrible concept.

Yes, this is another crime in Saitama story.  After reading the comments, I admit I tend to associate Saitama not with crime but with extra-sick crime.  I wrote a very pissed-off blog entry about Saitama after the guide dog stabbing, but at least I pointed out the positive example of the man who collected money for a reward for information leading to an arrest in that case.  I could easily have made him the focus of that entry with an intention to "prove" what a wonderful place Saitama is.

When we read articles about Saitama crime and immediately feel something is wrong there that goes beyond the wrongness of other cities, this is confirmation bias.  Sick crimes happen everywhere, but even that statement is something of an example of bias because it focuses on a supposed universality of wicked behavior.  Crimes do happen, but most people aren't committing crimes at all.  Even the worst "per 100,000" statistics feature tens of thousands of law-abiding people to create their ratios.

The people in the comments who argue Saitama is hardly the worst place for crime in Japan are correct and I'm wrong.  But once a misconception forms, it's hard to get rid of.  We allow stories like this to reinforce our mistaken beliefs while ignoring evidence to the contrary.  Even now I have this irrational dread of Saitama.  I'll try to do better in the future.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Beautiful: Snow falls on Mt Fuji summit 3 days earlier than last year

Snow falls on Mt Fuji summit 3 days earlier than last year

I'm not a fan of winter here in Japan.  Where we live winter is long and windy, but largely snow-free.  It feels colder than it is because I can never get fully warm.  We don't have much, if any, insulation in our apartment walls and central heating and air is almost unheard of.  We leave most of the windows open at work, too.  Walking the hallways here in January and February is like hanging out inside a meat locker.  I can't imagine living up in Nagano or... holy moly... in Hokkaido.  I'd freeze to death.

How do we manage even a little warmth?  We wear layers, we drink hot tea, we eat nabe and miso soup, we sit in the kotatsu.  We think warm thoughts.  I dream of vacationing in Vietnam, Guam, Australia or Hawaii.  Sometimes I set my clothes on fire or sit on a lit blowtorch.  I take baths in molten steel.  And still I spend the winter months with goosebumps and the shivers and feet of carved marble.

But Japanese winter has its beauties.  A snow-capped Mt. Fuji is chief.  We can sometimes see snow-covered mountains along the horizon from our car when we go to the supermarket.  The skies become blue of seemingly impossible brightness and depth.  Skirts and shorts tend to go higher up the thighs.  Holiday illuminations at the station and in the trees downtown.  Festively lit Tokyo on Christmas Eve with young couples walking hand-in-hand as George Michael and Paul McCartney serenade them with two of the most god-awful holiday songs ever written.  Colonel Sanders in a Santa costume.  Families gathering for New Years.  Kohaku and Downtown on television and all the news programs and talk shows with merrily-decorated sets.  The emptiness of Shinjuku on New Year's Day.

I love all of those things.  But once we get past the first week of January, I'm ready for spring again.  After the season fun, all I can think of is sakura time and when will it arrive?  After the first of January, I have no use for winter.

I had no idea kawaii was now an English word: Kimono-clad princesses offer apologies for roadside construction in Kyoto

Kimono-clad princesses offer apologies for roadside construction in Kyoto

I came by that info from this article.  I'm fine with kawaii joining the vast numbers of words English has borrowed from other languages.  Most of them are food words, but there are enough that aren't.  And we use various foreign language phrases at times, too, because they have a certain je ne sais quoi.  That sounds smarter than saying we use them because they have this thing and I don't know what to call it.  It's probably charisma.  Kawaii means cute, but used for a particular form of cuteness as exemplified by Hello Kitty and various manga and anime characters (to use two more borrowed words), it has charisma.

For example, your grandchild is cute.  Your grandchild's Sailor Moon blanket is kawaii.

And yes, to make a general observation, there is a lot of emphasis on kawaii in Japan.  Every prefecture, many cities and practically every company you can do business of some kind with has as a mascot some cutie-pie cartoon character.  And some of these involve sending emissaries in fluffy costumes to do personal appearances.  Even the grotesque and hilarious Funasshi, a parody of these "wild characters," is ultimately kawaii unto itself.  Himself?  Herself?  Our local cute character is Ieyasu-kun, a kawaii-ified version of the guy who beat all comers to unify Japan and set up the Tokugawa Shogunate that then ruled the country as an all-powerful dictatorship for about 200 years. 

It's fun to have your photo taken giving the peace sign and smiling broadly next to a fluffy, round-headed caricature of an iron-willed man responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in battle, plus who knows how many political murders in order to consolidate his rule.  I feel the same way about Ieyasu-kun I do when I see the presidents race at a Washington Nationals game.

C'est la vie!