Problematic damashii

When I was last in Japan I wrote a series of blog posts on foreign reporting about this country. (1, 2, 3) At the time I was interested in the rather mundane matter of how individual reporters or their sources might spin a real problem and selectively exclude inconvenient facts. But after I left Japan in mid-2013, the problem of spin very abruptly ceased to matter.

I don’t really mean that it ceased to matter to me. Certainly, I’m still annoyed with one-sided reporting. But there is now a much larger problem at hand. The daily petty crimes against journalism on the streets of Öffentlichkeitburg have rather lost their relevance as the city is being actively destroyed by Godzilla. Or, to be really precise in my metaphor, a kind of katamari thing that keeps getting bigger and bigger and rolling everything else into itself. The poor people it sweeps up may try as hard as they can to put both feet on the ground, but it is no longer possible. They are not putting a spin on the world; they are the ones being spun.

With that rather ambitious prelude, I have a new Japan reporting story to tell. I don’t know how many of my readers have heard about the Japanese guy who spent over a year living entirely off contest winnings, so if you aren’t familiar, check out the story of Nasubi. This was an interesting story when I first read it around 2004, but 2014 has a very different take.

To be specific, he was made the subject of an episode of This American Life. Act One. I Am the Eggplant.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: September 8th, 2015 | Res pueriles

A whale of a tale

Ahoy, me hearties! Are ye ready for a sail on the S.S. New York Times? Come with me through the colorful Sea of Invented Trend Stories, avoiding the Rocks of Outright Fabrication by a treacherous journey through the Straits of Distortion!

Surely you can’t have forgotten our last encounter with New York Times Japan reporting. Well, here’s a little flashback to 2002, when they declared, “Yuk! No More Stomach for Whales“.

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan, May 24 — High on a bluff in a city park here stands the Whale Museum, a whimsical creation where children once clambered up white-painted steps into the tail of a concrete blue whale, passed historical exhibits, then peered through a Moby Dick-sized mouth at a port once busy with ships returning with whale hauls from Antarctica.

But the museum is now padlocked. The company that donated the museum in 1958, a year when whaling supplied one-third of the meat consumed in Japan, has changed hands. The new owner did not want to finance a project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals.

Okay, now before you read what actually happened, look over those two paragraphs. What common sense conclusions can you make? Was there a museum devoted to whaling in Shimonoseki? Is there still such a museum? Did the owner change his mind about his support for whaling?

Here’s what actually happened in Shimonoseki, which the Times never saw fit to report on. Spoilers ahead!

  1. The structure being referred to was not a “Whale Museum”. It was an aquarium! Specifically, the shuttered institution was called the Shimonoseki City Aquarium下関市立水族館. The popular nickname for one of the buildings at the aquarium was the “Whale Building”くじら館, because it was shaped like a whale — duh.
  2. The donation occurred in 1956, not 1958. The “company that donated the museum”, that is, the local business that donated a whale-shaped building housing an emperor penguin exhibit to a city aquarium, was a seafood operation called Maruha Nichiro Seafoods, Inc. At the time it had several different fishery and whaling businesses going, but a giant salmon probably would not have been a very exciting addition to the aquarium.
  3. The aquarium is not “a project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals.” It is the Shimonoseki City Aquarium. I regret to inform the New York Times that whales are too large for aquariums.
  4. The aquarium is city property and has nothing to do with Maruha which since 1956 has relocated to Tokyo and no longer has an office in Shimonoseki. Note the very careful wording of these three sentences: “The museum is now padlocked. The company … has changed hands. The new owner…” They strongly imply that the new owner of the company has control over whether the aquarium is open or closed, when in fact, it is a public aquarium in Shimonoseki that has nothing to do with a private business in Tokyo.
  5. Maruha turned over its whaling operations to the Institute of Cetacean Research following international law on the matter, but the company was still canning whale meat when the story was written in 2002, so its “owner” could hardly be opposed to whaling. I am guessing, given the deceptive way the sentence is constructed, is that he actually “did not want to finance” a public aquarium in his corporation’s former headquarters hundreds of kilometers away from his office, which is far from obvious from the wording given.
  6. All that deception builds up to this revelation, which reflects horribly on the heartlessness of the journalist who fabricated this story: The aquarium is not “padlocked” because nobody wants to fund it anymore. It was destroyed by a typhoon in 1999.
  7. The article implies that the aquarium does not exist anymore. Actually, in 2001 the exhibits were moved to the Shimonoseki City Shimonoseki Aquarium, which is also shaped like a whale.

In summary, here are those same two paragraphs, annotated.

SHIMONOSEKI, Japan, May 24 — High on a bluff in a city park here stands the remains of the Whale Building of what was once the city aquarium, a type of structure which a lunatic might call a Museum. This building, which housed one of the exhibits of the aquarium, was a whimsical creation where children once clambered up white-painted steps into the tail of a concrete blue whale, passed historical exhibits, then peered through a Moby Dick-sized mouth at a port once busy with ships returning with whale hauls from Antarctica.

But as the result of a non-political, freak disaster which caused animals to die and which anyone with a soul would call unfortunate, the ruin of the former aquarium which only a moron could confuse for a museum is now padlocked not due to any lack of interest from the local public, but owing to the unwanted patronage of a typhoon which tore it up; this information need not grace the ears of our readers. Thankfully a new aquarium also shaped like a whale has opened in its place; but we see no need to tell you this, either. Rather, we would like to share, although it is completely unrelated and irrelevant, that the company that donated the building shaped like a whale to the former aquarium which we continue to refer to as a museum in 1956, a year some have been known to confuse with 1958, a year when whaling supplied one-third of the meat consumed in Japan, has changed hands and locations, although it continues to process whale meat. Wasn’t that enlightening? The new owner lives in Tokyo, so he did not want to donate to, or “finance“, the Shimonoseki city aquarium, understandably. But this is unrelated to whaling, and he had no control over the typhoon, nor did his company ever have control over the opening hours of either of the aquariums, which we will happily conflate into one and the same “Whale Museum”. We will also happily slander both institutions, which have educated children about the city’s most important industry for over 60 years, as a single project associated with hunting the world’s largest mammals and nothing else, although such an inaccurate characterization of two aquariums was clearly irrelevant to the “owner” of the Tokyo company, since his company continued to process, can, and sell whale meat to customers across the country as of press time.

What did you think, everyone? Did the New York Times accurately report the tragedy of a beloved city aquarium destroyed by a typhoon?

Are you getting your news about Japan through the New York Times? Well, you should stop doing that!

Posted: May 27th, 2013 | Japan, Res pueriles

The Conversation

For the record, I don’t really have an opinion about gun control. But this article about the respectful silence and self-reflection in the pro-gun lobby following the recent school shooting contains a really revealing quote:

Sensing a pause from pro-gun rights groups and individuals, gun control advocates like Huffington Post columnist Robert Cavnar, a licensed gun owner, noted that “the conversation has finally begun.”

I have never seen such an explicit statement of how a “conversation” works in American politics.

Posted: December 17th, 2012 | Res pueriles 4 Comments »

Nobuo Ikeda: “Idiots On Parade”

This translation of Nobuo Ikeda’s blog post is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license. I stole some of the text from Amptontan following the terms of this license.

Photo: A nuclear protester’s sign, “we know you have enough electricity, stop hiding it from us!”, reveals the secret conspiracy of by Japan’s electric companies to drive themselves to bankruptcy.

It seems like an anti-nuclear protest rose up in front of government offices last night. I had thought that these kinds of classical mass movements were already finished in Japan, but perhaps they were revitalized by social media in the manner of Occupy Wall Street in the United States. That in itself isn’t bad, but the objective of stopping the resumption of generation at the Oi plants is nonsense.

The authorization has been issued and restarting work has begun, so according to the Electric Industry Law, it can’t be stopped without an order for technical improvement. Protests won’t stop it. If the protest was to keep other nuclear plants off-line, the economic hit from their idling would continue to grow from the 5 trillion yen ($62 billion) already lost. In other words, the demonstration was held to make Japan even poorer.

The health risk of nuclear power is lower than that of steam power, so stopping plant operation doesn’t even increase safety. If the plants stay offline in this way, in a few years not only TEPCO but other electric companies will become insolvent. The only way to avoid that is to transfer costs to the consumer. If we imagine this as a consumption tax increase, it would be a 2% bump. Essentially, protesters have given themselves a totally different problem.

The most serious crisis facing Japan now is the threat of becoming poorer tomorrow than we are today. The working population declines by 1% every year, while government debt grows by 50 trillion yen at the same rate. Nominal GDP last year was the same as it was 20 years ago, and the growth rate may soon turn negative. So, the lifetime disposable income of an average child born today will be more than 100 million yen ($1.25 million) less than that of an aged person who retires today.

The manufacturing industry is rushing to move overseas to prepare for power outages this summer. Consumer electronics manufacturers and semiconductor makers are already drowning in debt. Talk to businessmen working in the manufacturing industry and the conversation turns to how long they will be able to stay in Japan. A protest clamoring, “stop our energy supply!” during such a time will likely be remembered as the final episode of stupidity in a once-prosperous Japan.

Top comment by Takashi Aoki:

The Communist Party has been putting up contradictory posters reading “Stop the nuclear plants, jobs for the youth.” This is ridiculous. If we keep the nuclear plants shut down, industries seeking cheap and reliable energy will be forced to move production overseas. I don’t see how  young people could find jobs at all in that situation.

Posted: July 1st, 2012 | Res pueriles 9 Comments »

I guess “Misguided” wasn’t a strong enough word

Ann Coulter, 2011

There’s not much to say about the format of this book, so I’ll breeze over it and get to the tally of good vs. bad statements. The book is about 30% insightful and 70% lost in the mist of ideology. Part I is an extended political blog, by which I mean a commentary on current affairs, with a bit of injection of a book the author has been reading and a few excursions to past political battles. Ann Coulter belongs to that rare class of people who get paid to produce blog posts. In this case she is trying to make the point that liberals are populists who call for democracy as mob rule, while Republicans represent the heritage of America’s intellectuals and never appeal to the mob. It’s kind of a disingenuous argument, but maybe a thoughtful one: we constantly see in this book liberals supporting random, unjust mob violence while conservatives support formal warfare with a named enemy. The conservative approach to force is more regimented and targeted. Liberals like to think they can avoid force, organization, or targets. I don’t think that means Republicans have never been populist, though.

Part II is a history of the French and American Revolutions as told by Ann Coulter, which is exactly what you think it is. There’s not much worth quoting from this part of the book. However, it’s a fair antidote to anyone who claims Coulter lacks a grasp of political regimes and ideologies. She also gets a swipe in at hippies, and Martin Luther King. I think her point against King is pretty poignant–people who remember with excitement the 1963 Civil Rights March cannot really say they did anything there other than show up and be part of the mob. But, because it’s Ann Coulter, this is framed badly, as part of an ideological argument rather than a measured analysis.

Part III discusses the segregationist left and the Central Park Jogger case to explain how liberals always appeal to the mob. The information here is mostly just the facts, attempting to contribute to the “mob rule” theory. In Part IV, we delve into an attack on the Lamestream Media and a passionate defense of CNBC analyst Jim Cramer and Sarah Palin that leans towards bizarre.

Then we learn that the New York Times proudly carries an award in its office that one of its reporters received for covering up the death of 15 million Ukrainians in the Holodomor, and refuses to give it back despite the pleas of many intellectuals. Also, they backed Mao Tse-tsung over Chiang Kai-shek. Also, “Senator John Kerry (D-MA) dismissed Republican arguments [against Pol Pot] as ‘anti-communist hysteria.'” (265) And Noam Chomsky still supports Pol Pot. (266) Juicy stuff.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: July 20th, 2011 | Res pueriles 3 Comments »

In which I discuss the disgusting behavior of the Sea Shepherds as if someone cared

The short version: If you support one of the corporations on this list you are giving aid to a group of professional bullies who pretend to care about whales but are actually solely interested in harassing villagers.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted: April 5th, 2011 | Japan, Res pueriles 3 Comments »