Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cutting Back

Measured against the signpost to his right,
 Wa-kun seems smaller than he was in 2011.

It seems as if Abenomics, the fiscal policies of Japan's right-wing prime minister Shinzo Abe, have forced people across the country to cut back. Even our local mascot, Wa-kun ("Lil' Al"), seems to have suffered a drastic cutback. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Sacred and the Profane

Two Shrines

One sacred the other profane, I automatically bow at the shrine on the right (he's the Boss, or so it's written).

Forgotten post: Where Sacred Meets Profane

Friday, September 25, 2015

Resting Places

When you can't tell the difference between
 a bus stop and a bulk garbage pickup point.

It's a mystery as to who placed these chairs here and there, but bus stops across Temple Valley are the final resting place for these worn out seats where tired travelers rest their weary feet.

Related post: Bus Topped

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Just Thoughts

Originally published September 19, 2015 on the OpEd News website as Japanese Democracy and Pacifist Heart Dead on ArrivalThe demise of Japan's pacifist constitution and its implications for the U.S.


When Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, visits President Obama in Washington later this month, he will come bearing a special souvenir from Japan. It will be a death certificate, one that reads "Japan's Peace Constitution R.I.P." Despite overwhelming public opposition, at around 2 AM Saturday morning Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party rammed through legislation designed to unleash the nation's military might.

The "gift" is likely to bring a smile to Obama's face. Over the past few decades American officials have lamented the constitutional constraints that have tied Japan's hands in providing the US with military support. Beating at the pacifist heart of Japan's constitution is its Article 9 which states, "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes." That Article 9 has continually stopped Japan's defense forces dead in their tracks whenever it has come to joining U.S. forces with boots on the ground.

That all changed in the wee hours of Saturday morning when legislators hastily passed new laws skirting that provision. Japan's fighting forces now have the green light to battle shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. in armed conflicts potentially anywhere around the world. That should come as good news to the U.S. as its military gets stretched thinner and thinner in an ever widening war on terrorism. While Americans might be happy to dance on Article 9's grave, we ought to give pause for just a minute and think about what has passed.

Essentially drafted and imposed by a victorious U.S. in the wake of WWII, the Japanese constitution is "one of the few if any alien documents that have ever been as thoroughly internalized and vigorously defended," writes historian John Dower. No ordinary document, you could say this set of laws was penned with the blood of over a hundred thousand American GIs who died in WWII's Pacific theater along with countless Japanese soldiers and citizens.

Outside the Diet Building(Sept. 18, 2015)
Today the emotional attachment to that unique American document is visible on the faces of tens of thousands of Japanese citizens, both young and old, who have been pouring into the streets surrounding Japan's national Diet building in opposition to the new laws. In the week before the laws were passed there had been a constant tide of people flowing through the capitol in peaceful protest to the Abe administration's bulldozing of a foundation of peace that has stood for nearly three quarters of a century. The massive outpouring is but a small representation of the majority across this island nation that is squarely opposed to what have been dubbed "the war laws." According to a recent poll by the Asahi newspaper, one of Japan's top three dailies, the country is unevenly split with 54% against enactment of the laws and a mere 29% for it. Numbers don't lie but they appear to be no match for political machinations that trump the machinery of democracy.

While time has healed the wounds of WWII for most Americans, memories of that bloody conflict remain raw in the Japanese psyche. Forged by a burning desire for peace in the smoldering fires of that great conflagration, Japan's democratic government is being quickly dismantled before the public's eyes. The question now is: when Mr. Abe hands President Obama his special gift, what will be his response? Will our leader smile in appreciation as he stands in the shadow of the graves of the brave men and women who died for American as well as Japanese democracy on the battlefields of the Pacific not that long ago? Perhaps those departed souls are owed more than that for their sacrifice. Maybe we should start paying down the debt we owe by refusing to stand in silence as Japan's ruling political party drives democracy into the ground.

While casting his "no" vote in Japan's Upper House, one opposition party member shouted out in defiance, "the fight has just begun." Today a battle that began more than seven decades ago seems to be far from over. The difference is Americans now have a chance to stand with the majority of Japanese citizens who are standing up for democracy. It would be a shame to let them down now after all these years.

Monday, April 27, 2015

If the Belt Fits...

In college I took a class in karate, Okinawan Kenpo to be exact, to fulfill part of the school's phys ed requirement. On the first day of class the sensei, an honest-to-God living legend in the world of martial arts (he was in Fist of Fear, Touch of Death for gosh sake - it said so on his business card), presented each and every one of us with a brand-spanking-new, starch-white, plastic-wrapped karate gi that he pulled from this ancient and mysterious-looking brown corrugated box. 

I can still sense the excitement that filled the air that afternoon. When the last kid in line got her hands on the last gi in the box, she begged our new martial arts master to ink her "Japanese name" on the accompanying white belt, the color belt worn by all karate greenhorns. 

He gladly obliged with a smile on his face and then with a twinkle in his eye proceeded to brand each and every one of the belts belonging to about fifty or so students with their own "Japanese name" to brandish about their waists. Penned with broad sweeping strokes, the indecipherable Japanese lettering transformed my most ordinary of names into a thing of beauty. It had to have been the pinnacle of my educational career up until that point. 

It was just sooo cool! I wore my karate gi like all the time, around the house mostly but on occasion outside the home. It was on one such occasion, a few months down the road, that I was informed by someone more erudite than myself that the inscrutable word penned so stylishly on my belt said "STUPID." While I was sure the master meant it as a compliment, I soon grew out of the belt anyway. Thanks largely to a steady intake of pizza along with barrels of beer, a common diet fad among my peers at the time, I was forced to eventually hang the belt up for good.

The funny thing though is that now, a lifetime later, I live in Japan, where people, more often than not, refer to me by my same old "Japanese name." I guess the belt still fits. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Minimal Pair

A minimal pair

English can be a tricky business for second language learners and a lot of it has to do with the "art of perception."  

I met a Japanese guy the other day who said he worked at an “ass fart” company. “You make ass farts for a living?!” I cried out in disbelief (it sounded like easy work for which I was well qualified). “For the street,” he said. Then it hit me. He worked for an asphalt company. He made asphalt!

Here in Temple Valley and across Japan the difference between an ass fart and asphalt is minimal at best. In the end, the thing that separates an "ass fart" from "asphalt" all boils down to a matter of perception. That is what Japanese second language learners make of the English "r" and "l" sounds and how native speakers perceive those folks when they hit the streets and it all gets mixed up. 

Related post: Watch Your A's

Friday, January 9, 2015

Imagination Building

[This compilation of Twitter tweets about a story appearing in the other Times comes via the Times Mistaken blog ]


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Looks a Little Like Xmas

[Editors note: This photo was taken well before Christmas. These little guys were all long gone by December 26th.]

Happy Little Christmas!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Let's All Get Along

 Among Japan's favorite New Year's Eve pastimes, including eating, overeating, drinking, drinking more, and praying, there is  something called Kohaku Uta Gassen ("The Red and White Song Battle"). The annually televised singing competition, featuring some of the country's top performers, has taken center stage at many a family's New Year's Eve celebration for the last sixty five years. 

This year viewers tuning into the NHK (that's Japanese for public television) special got a glimpse of something rare on a TV station believed by many to be in bed with the nation's current administration. They witnessed criticism of the government. 

In a pre-midnight attack, Southern All Stars singer/song writer, Keisuke Kuwata, took the battle to Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Microphone in hand, the group's front man belted out a dynamic rendition of his song dubbed "Peace and Hi-lite," a composition inspired by a Tokyo anti-hate group's fight against local ultranationalist xenophobes. It was a definite swipe at the conservative leader's attempt to shift the country further to the right and revive age old battles with its international neighbors. 

While the Red and White Song Battle has subsided, the echoes of dissidence continue to reverberate. It's a catchy tune. Let's hope Abe finds a new groove and hums along so we can all get along in perfect harmony.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Racism in Black and White

My letter to the editor of the Japan Times published in the paper on December 31, 2014 (misspellings corrected here):

In a recent Japan Times article entitled “Kick out the touts who rule Roppongi” (Foreign Agenda, Dec. 3), Gregory Clark pens a tale of his experience walking through Tokyo’s untamed Roppongi district. In the second paragraph Clark bemoans the fact that “little has been done about the blight of the mostly African touts that infest the area.” Now if that line alone doesn’t send up red flags signaling ethical problems ahead, just read on (and don’t miss the part about his disappointment over the fact that the police, “armed with pistols and handcuffs,” fail to heed his suggestion about checking the immigration status of these men of color committing no crime, just for good measure). 

The headline for this basically racist rant could have just as easily read “White man vexed Japanese cops won’t follow his orders to harass black man.” Then, of course, I might not have read it and discovered the lesson in civility these Japanese police officers could offer law enforcement in New York City and other places where a gun-toting constabulary might be all too willing to follow Clark’s charge against unarmed black men not doing anything illegal. 

While a number of readers have voiced their objections to Clark’s commentary on similar grounds, The Japan Times lacks any specific official channel for addressing their concerns. If anyone needs policing here, it’s the paper itself and there would be no one better to do that than a public editor armed with a pen, paper and the ability to make a sound ethical judgment.

In retrospect: I was beginning to think that The Japan Times was kind of a crappy paper. Now that the editor has printed my letter, I don't know what to think.