Odds and Sods

June 5, 2006

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.


Tomb of Christ: Next Left

May 29, 2006

Now this is something I didn’t know. According to this aricle in The Times, the village of Shingo, in northern Japan, claims to be the final resting place of Jesus Christ.

According to the account in the Christ Museum next to the tombs, Christ arrived in Japan at the age of 21 and learnt Japanese before returning to Judaea 12 years later to engage in his mission and preach about the “holy land of Japan”. The official Shingo history is that Jesus’ place on the Cross was “casually” taken by his brother, leaving Christ free to return to Japan. On his return he fell in love with Miyuko, a local girl, and lived happily with his family among the rice fields until dying aged 106.

The Times’ article is a bit skimpy on historical details, but a quick Google search of japan christ’s tomb brings up a long list of links with more ‘information’, including one of my personal favorites from Learn the Bible, which calls the entire notion a “blasphemous heresy”. Here you’ll read about more “false” and “blasphemous” stories of Christ, from the “African Legend” to the “Mormon Myth” to “The Da Vinci Hoax.” “Here is the question to ask yourself,” the author says. “Which one is true? The answer is clear ? they can’t all be true. They are all false.” Well, I can’t argue with logic like that…


May 26, 2006

I’ve never quite been able to figure out what to do with this blog; I haven’t been able nail down a certain writing style or even any sort of vaguely thematic content. Yeah, the Japanese angle is certainly ripe, but my feelings about Japan are so damn ambiguous at this point that I don’t have any confidence about writing coherently about it. In many respects Japan is a shithole when I compare it to Canada. Yet there’s no doubt in my mind that coming here was the best thing that could possibly have happened to me. My wife and daughter are daily reminders. After eight years I still don’t know what to make of this place that has given me so much. And that’s the essence of my problem–it would be unseemly to make fun of a place in which I’ve become, well, successful, but it would, at the same time, be remiss not to talk about all the fucked-up things I see here. My own ambiguous feelings are mirrored in how I’m perceived by the Japanese who know me. I’m neither an insider nor an outsider. I occupy some limbo-like region of social existence that I haven’t quite come to terms with. It would probably help if I put more effort into my Japanese language studies, but there’s a creeping fear: the more familiar I become with the language, the more obvious it becomes that the Japanese don’t have anything to say–at least not anything I’m interested in. To be fair, that is an as yet unproven hypothesis…
Anyway, I haven’t given up on this blog yet. Actually just writing this post has given me some ideas for a new approach. In the meantime, I’ve started a new blog about something I love: rock n’ roll. It’s called Rocklops, and you can find it here.


May 14, 2006

It occurred to me tonight, after several beers and while listening to Opeth, that I’ve become too polite. Obviously a symptom of living in Japan for the past 8 years, this ‘politeness’ is, in fact, not a true reflection of the ‘real’ me. I’m not talking about open-the-door-for-little-old-ladies, common-decency-to-your-fellow-man, “sorry-I-stepped-on-your-foot”- type of politeness. No, I’m talking about the insidious type of politeness that keeps you from saying what’s on your mind for fear of offending someone.
Fact is, I think that 99% of what goes on in the world is shit. It goes without saying that I only interest myself in the 1% of things that happen in the world that are, well, interesting. You may not like Opeth, but I don’t really give a shit. I’m quite pleased that, at the age of 47, I can listen to a good death/prog metal band and enjoy them. Beats the fuck out of Eric Clapton Unplugged or Queen with Paul Rodgers or whatever.
I’m generally a left-wing type o’ guy, but speaking of Japan, I think it’s time they renounced that pathetic, peace-loving constitution of theirs. Let’s get real here, how can Japan participate in world affairs if their ‘soldiery’ can’t go and be killed in foreign countries while ‘keeping the peace’ wearing the blue beret of the UN? Permanent Security Council seat? Up to now all Japan has done is pay protection money, they have not shown that they’re worthy to have a permanent seat on the Security Council (the notion of ‘permamnent seat’ itself is worthy of another post…). I pay taxes in Japan, I pay into the social security system here, and my wife and daughter are Japanese citizens. I think I have the right to speak about these things… (and I will in my next post…).

Clash of the Titans

May 1, 2006

This recent headline caught my eye: Ice Hockey: Japan powers past Israel in Group A. Not exactly the Olympics or the NHL Playoffs, but it is Division 1 of the International Ice Hockey Federation, which means that the winners of this tournament will move up (however briefly) to play against traditional powerhouses like Canada, Sweden and Russia at World Championships next year. I had no idea that they played hockey in Israel, prompting me to dig a bit deeper into this story. The Israel Ice Hockey Federation was established in 1989 by emigres from the Soviet Union and Canada (my heart is beginning to swell…). It joined the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1991. There are three skating rinks in Israel–one Olympic facility and two smaller rinks, one of them at the Canada Center in Metula (my heart is bursting with pride…). The current head coach of Team Israel is none other than Jean Perron, who coached Team canada in the 1984 Olympics and led the Montreal Canadiens to a Stanley Cup championship in 1986. It’s fair to say that, given the short amount of time Israel has had a hockey program, it’s quite remarkable that they are now playing competitively in Division 1. I started this post thinking to make some kind of joke (as the title might suggest), but it lead me to an unexpected place. Good luck to Israel and Japan at this year’s tournament!

Daily Smile

April 25, 2006

Mmm… I wonder what my buddies over at the Korean Central News Agency of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are up to these days (from April 24)…

Ahh, apparently some South Koreans like America: “It is a disgrace and tragedy that there are such traitors within the nation who hit upon the abominable idea, after licking the boots of the aggressors, running the whole gamut of flattery.”

On whether or not US sanctions against North Korea are linked to resumption of the six-party talks: “The hypocritical nature of the U.S. oft-repeated assertion has thus been fully revealed by its self-contradictory statements.”

The headline says DPRK Will Never Allow U.S. to Dare Provoke It:“They are grossly mistaken if they calculate they can wrest any concession and compromise from the DPRK by whiling away the time through sanctions and pressure.”

Take that, America!!: “If they ignite a new war despite our repeated warnings, the army and people of the DPRK will mobilize all potentials to wipe out them to the last one so that they may not be able to go back home safe.”

Drive-By Truckers

April 24, 2006

As if my simple recommendation weren’t enough to bestow greatness upon them, my friend Pierre over at Loser’s Guide has asked me what it is that I like about the music of Drive-By Truckers…
Umm, well, they have a cool name, don’t you think? And they’re from the South (Alabama, I think), and boys from down there have always made some good shit-kickin’ rock ‘n’ roll. These guys make some damn good rock ‘n’ roll, too, but there’s a little more going on than simple shit-kickin’, Old Glory-waving southern rock. It took me a few listens over a few years to realize it (actually I had an epiphany a couple of weeks ago while listening to the album Decoration Day after drinking about 10 beers), but Drive-By Truckers have a lot of interesting things to say about being from and living in the South and about life in general. I don’t usually pay too much attention to song lyrics unless they’re really good or really bad. These guys have very good, intelligent and thoughtful lyrics. They sing about, for example, the “duality of the ‘southern thing'” (pride and shame), economic hardship and the divide between rich and poor, and personal relationships. Their lyrics, I think, are always life-affirming and heavy with themes of reconciliation and redemption. (Note to self: don’t mention Faulkner or readers will think you’re showing off…) Musically, Drive-By Truckers sound like a hybrid of Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd spiced with some Stones and a bit of punk.
As a young guy growing up in a small town in Nova Scotia, me and my buddies listened to a lot of southern rock bands. The Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd saw us through many a drunken evening. We paid for our beer with hard-earned unemployment cheques. The Atlantic provinces are the ‘poor’ part of Canada. But it wasn’t always like that. The Maritimes used to be the ‘civilized’ part of Canada. I wouldn’t go so far as to make a direct comparison to the American South (for many obvious reasons), but it’s no mystery to me if the songs of some good southern rock bands somehow resonate within me.


April 8, 2006

Please go buy any and all albums by Drive-By Truckers.

Not in My Backyard

March 31, 2006

This from the CBC: Minuteman volunteers to patrol Canada-U.S. border for illegal migrants. I guess things are falling apart in Canada, forcing some sort of mass refugee-like exodus. According to one of the Minutemen volunteers,

“Where I live, there are six adults living in houses. There’s more and more garbage. The hospital is losing money. We are trying to help stem the tide, but what we really need is the National Guard along the southern border and at key spots along the northern one.”

This guy must live in Los Angeles or Florida where, so I’ve heard, filthy, uneducated, lazy Canadians clutter the scenery like cigarette butts in a gin joint urinal.

Is There a Zealotry-Enhancing Steroid?

February 18, 2006

There’s nothing more obnoxious than a zealot, and new types seem to be springing up daily. Take IOC anti-doping czar Dick Pound, for example. He’s made it his personal mission to sniff the piss of anyone involved in any sport anywhere in the world. Yes, he’s on a mission. Today the first athlete was tossed out of the current Winter Olympics in Torino (this NY Times link will likely soon go stale). Olga Pyleva, a biathlete from Russia, was banished from the games for testing positive for the banned stimulant carphedon. Russian team officials claimed that the substance was in an over-the-counter medication Pyleva had taken for an ankle injury, but that the banned substance was not listed in the ingredients.
Before we continue, I’d just like to say that, personally, I’m not very sympathetic to cheaters, and I think intentionally taking drugs to enhance one’s performance in a sporting event is cheating (taking them to get wasted is another thing altogether…). We’ve heard excuses like Pyleva’s a hundred times before, but Dick Pound can’t even accept the possibilty that someone might have ingested a banned substance by accident. Pound said he was skeptical of this excuse:

I should start a collection of the different excuses I hear, like, ‘I got it from sitting on a toilet,’ or, ‘My evil twin gave it to me’ […] We don’t want to hear any of that. We just want the word to get out that if you’re cheating, you’re not welcome here.

Yeah, Dick, like anyone has ever given one of those excuses. It’s probably more verifiable that Dick Pound is more of a liar than many of the athletes he’s banished to obscurity. But then empirical evidence is not exactly the province of the zealot. Later in the same article Pound talks about the 12 cross-country skiers he suspended for having high levels of hemoglobin in their blood.

I think everybody would have a gut feeling that the odds of this happening in this size of a population are about one in three million […] So we do suspect something going on there.

Talk about pulling numbers out of your ass. According to the Times article, while high levels of hemoglobin may indicate doping, they could also be caused by dehydration or training at high altitudes (or using hyperbaric tents to simulate high altitudes). It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me that skiers might train at high altitudes, in which case the only surprise might be that all skiers didn’t test for high levels of hemoglobin. I don’t mean to suggest that nobody’s cheating. I do mean to suggest that ‘signs’ of cheating do not neceesarily mean that someone is, in fact, cheating.
Pound’s tendency to ignore empirical evidence probably first became manifest a few months ago when he claimed that up to a third of National Hockey League players were taking some form of performance enhancing drugs. Again, did Pound offer any evidence for this claim? Not that I’m aware of. Perhaps he was thinking of Montreal Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore, who recently failed a drug test because he uses a hair-growth stimulant? This is almost a joke to anyone who watches hockey. Do NHLers look like they use steroids? What exactly would be the benefits of using steroids for a hockey player? Hockey players look like soccer and basketball players. Compare players of these sports with baseball and football players (for general size and ‘bulkiness’). Sometimes, Dick, all you have to do is use your eyes. But then just eyeballing something is a form of empiricism, isn’t it?