Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I've Been 'Tagged'...

My new friend Maliha over at Lightness of Being... has sent me a meme tag. Maliha, I usually hate this kind of stuff, but in the spirit of friendship, good international relations, world peace, saving the whales, and plugging the hole in the ozone layer, I will play along. ;-) I'll need a bit of time to figure out which of my friends to 'tag'. Here goes...

I am?
an outsider, a stranger in a strange land
I want?
to live forever
I wish?
England would win the World Cup; my beloved Boston Bruins would win the Stanley Cup
I hate?
Japanese-style pizza (potatoes and mayonnaise on pizza? gimme a break!); intolerance
I miss?
my father (who never got to meet his grand-daughter); Canada
I fear?
anything bad happening to my family
I hear I am not?
a very nice guy
I hear I am?
a very nice guy
I dance?
only when it's absolutely necessary! (except with my daughter--anytime, anywhere)
I sing?
goofy Bugs Bunny-style 'opera' tunes to my daughter ("Figaro" is her favorite); old Rolling Stones tunes when Japanese friends drag me to karaoke
I cry?
when nobody's watching, about really sappy things
I am not always?
aware that I've acted or spoken unkindly
I make with my hands?
very good sandwiches; a nice, spicy chili; silly play-do creatures with my daughter
I write?
these days about my love/hate relationship with Japan; generally about things that interest me or make me concerned
I confuse?
nobody intentionally, but probably many accidentally
I need?
some time alone (maybe more than most people)
I should?
work a lot harder to improve my Japanese; quit smoking
I start?
umm...what time is it now?
I finish?
umm... when do you need it?

Friday, June 23, 2006

From the Department of the Obvious

In an article in the Japan times talking about the apparent lack of sex in Japan resulting in a declining birth rate, a Japanese researcher says that it's "important for men to have sexual relationships." About half of the world may be stunned by this news... The other half have known it all along...

Monday, June 19, 2006

North Korea--The Global Village Idiot

Not long after I arrived in Japan in 1998, North Korea test-fired a missile, part of which flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific Ocean. Now, according to this Reuters story (you can read about it anywhere, actually), it looks like they're getting ready to test another missile, this one more long-range capable. If the idiots in Pyongyang are true to form, this one will also likely violate Japanese airspace, not to mention all international norms of civilized behaviour. I was quite aware that North Korea was the nutjob of nations before I came here, but living next door to to the global village idiot is enough to raise anyone's level of anger and disgust.
Of course these missiles are relatively harmless without a payload, and it's fairly common knowledge that North Korea has a nuclear weapons program, if not actual possession of one or more nuclear bombs.
From 1977 to 1883 agents of the North Korean government were responsible for the abduction of many Japanese civilians. Most were abducted to teach Japanese language and culture to North Korean spies, some in order to obtain their identities.
For years North Korean spy boats have routinely violated Japanese territorial waters, for the purposes of both espionage and smuggling drugs into Japan.
North Korea can go on ranting all it wants about Japanese war atrocities and the wartime occupation/colonization by Japan, but it doesn't change the fact that Japan stopped throwing its weight around 60 years ago, while North Korea's crimes (and that's what they are) are recent and ongoing. I won't even go into what this pathetic excuse for a government does to its own people.
Given the above, and the relatively recent news that North Korea has been counterfeiting US currency in order to make a few bucks and destabilize the American/world economy, we Kyklopes are tempted to ask our American friends one simple question: what the fuck are you guys doing getting blown up in Iraq?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What are you smiling about?

Apparently a fight broke out after a public screening of Japan's World Cup loss to Australia last night. According to the report, at the end of the match "[...] about 10 Japanese fans began fighting, with some accusing each other of smiling even though Japan lost." Luckily for me, I watched the game at home. Even more luckily, my (Japanese) wife was sleeping...

Monday, June 05, 2006

Odds and Sods

Several Japan-related items have caught my attention recently. I'm sure if I stare at them long and hard enough some sort of pattern will emerge...

As if it weren't enough to have an education system whose only apparent goal is to teach its students how to be 'Japanese,' it now appears that the government wants to teach the Japanese to be patriotic as well.
The proposal to make education more patriotic in Japan signals the determination of conservatives here to combat what they see as a self-obsessed youth culture, characterized by rampant school bullying and juvenile crime, which they say is eroding the nation's vaunted social order.
Under proposed revisions to the Basic Education Law, which are being debated in parliament, teachers would be required to instill in students "an attitude that respects tradition and culture, and loves the nation and the homeland that have fostered them."
The changes alarm liberal critics who worry that a legal duty to teach a love for Japan would override the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of thought and conscience. They argue that mandating educators to teach patriotism echoes the ultranationalism of imperial Japan, which led to the catastrophic error of military aggression and, ultimately, ruin.

Evidently most Japanese support the revisions, "[...] demanding schools foster civic morality and teach students to show more respect." It was also revealed that some schools have already begun "grading students on their level of patriotism" and "love for Japan." Responding to criticism of the plan, Prime Minister Koizumi told legislators, "[we] are not intending a law that would draw us into war," and noted that the proposed revisions would also require teachers to imbue a respect for other countries.

Aside from inducing loud barks of disgusted laughter from reasonable people, the above story might lead us to wonder, 'who the fuck is going to be in school here in 50 years' to study anything, let alone patriotism? More than 20 percent of the population is aged 65 or older, and because of an "abysmally low fertility rate" the population will decrease to below 100 million by 2042. This is not really news, as I have yet to meet anyone here who is not aware of this problem. What makes Japan's population decline somewhat alarming is its apparent reluctance to do anything about it. Western countries, for example, rely on a steady influx of immigrants to offset lower birth rates. This leads us to our next item...

There is, in Japan, a truly radical thinker (at least in Japanese terms). His name is Hidenori Sakanaka, and he believes Japan should allow the entry of 20 million immigrants in the next 50 years. Until recently Sakanaka, a career bureaucrat, was head of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau. From what I've read of him, he seems like a rather interesting chap. Some quotes:
"It is ultimately the Japanese people who will decide this issue, but the problem is that there is no debate. The population is declining and the birth-rate is falling, and there is no way we will solve this just by encouraging more births. Now is our chance to begin talking about it seriously."
"It's almost taboo to raise the issue of mass immigration here, [...] Japan has no experience of this, only of sending people abroad. Modern Japan almost totally shuts out foreigners and the only people who debate the issue are specialists. Nobody is even researching it."
"Here's the problem: The population of the world is over 6 billion, and about half of these people live in Asia. The population of China, India Vietnam and so on is growing very fast at the same time as ours is shrinking. We're a rich country surrounded by developing countries. If we just say we're going to stop immigration completely it will eventually overwhelm us, so we should deal with it now; open the taps slowly to qualified, distinguished people. It's like a dam; we're sitting behind it and a tsunami is coming. What are we going to do about it?"
"The common Japanese view of foreigners is very unsparing at the moment. Twenty years ago, 3 out of 10 people didn't like the Chinese; today it is 7 out of 10. Many Japanese fear foreigners because they think they cause crime. Seventy percent of Japanese are against allowing more tourists. That's ridiculous. Tourists don't cause crime and the overwhelming majority of foreigners are good people. But negative thinking about foreigners here is strong."
"The politicians are afraid that if they speak positively about immigration they'll run up against public opinion. But look: The politicians don't tackle it, the bureaucrats are divided among different agencies, and there is no policy, so who is going to start?"
"Someone should say: Look, there are good and bad foreigners. We won't solve this by ourselves, so let's discuss asking foreign laborers to come here in greater but controlled numbers, and making society easier for them to live. But we haven't even got to the entry point of that debate."

By Japanese standards Mr. Sakanaka is a loose cannon. It's quite refreshing to this gaijin, however, to hear a Japanese speak so frankly and honestly about these issues. There are no doubt many reasons for the negative views Japanese tend to have of foreigners. The media is partly to blame. Any serious crime comitted by a foreigner will be on the front page of every newpaper and the leading story of every newscast. The government is certainly responsible for many policies directed against foreigners, and contains many racist elements. It doesn't help that the American military is still here. Ultimately, though, it boils down to the fact that the Japanese, as a culture, are xenophobic. Anyone who tries to deny this simple fact is either deluded, a fucking idiot, or a liar.
Do I 'hate' the Japanese? Of course not. Should I 'teach' them the error of their ways? Most definitely not. Should I express my opinion? Yes, of course I should. The Japanese should take a look in the mirror once and a while. We can't force anyone to look into the mirror, but there's nothing wrong with holding it up. Here's our final item for today. Mr. Sakanaka is back in this one, although it's a bit older. In this article Sakanaka-san gives us some insight into the problem of human traficking in Japan. I'm not going to comment on it, because I think it speaks for itself.