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Japan Times interview with Alex Kerr, Dogs and Demons author

Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan, Alex Kerr's tough-love analysis of how Japanese bureaucrats have worked tirelessly over the past few decades to destroy their own country, is one of those books that qualifies unambiguously as essential reading for anyone who's spent time in Japan.

That said, you have to time it right. Don't do what I did: read it on holiday in the UK, finish it on the plane back to Narita, and then spend the entire train ride back into Tokyo staring glumly out of the window, watching the seemingly endless stream of cramped apartment buildings, ugly concrete and all-pervasive advertising hoardings sprawl past you, thinking, "Shit, he's absolutely right. This place is fucked."

I recovered from that, obviously, else I wouldn't still be here, but it was a bad month or two. Every street corner I turned, every news report about corrupt politicians and shiny new concrete mountains I saw, resonated with what I'd read in the book. To this day, I won't let my girlfriend read it, as I know it'll depress her too much. Planning to save it for a leaving present.

Anyway, the Japan Times has a recent interview with Kerr where he talks about September's election and postal reform (promising), the Aichi Expo (pointless), Hello Kitty (distressing) and Debito Arudou (too combative).

His comments about Arudou in particular are worth reading, I think:

Well, somebody has to do it. I'm glad that there is a whistle-blower out there. But, I am doubtful whether in the long run it really helps. One would hope that he could do it another way. He's not doing it the Japanese way. He's being very gaijin in his openly combative attitude, and usually in Japan that approach fails.

I fear that his activities might tend to just confirm conservative Japanese in their belief that gaijin are difficult to deal with.

It's a good point, and he may be right, but I'd like to think that Arudou's directly confrontational methods might eventually bear at least some fruit, even if it's only disabusing Japan-panglossists of their misplaced notions that this place is some kind of postmodern paradise. Perhaps Japan needs both approaches, the Kerr manifestos and the Arudou exposés?

Anyway, Kerr's consistently got interesting things to say about Japan, so go check it out. More Debito Arudou at the Japan Times here.

[Link via - thanks, Gen]

Posted by chris at 08:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Laughing lawmaker laps up lolly

Bleargh. I'm off sick from work and have been sedentary on the couch all day, wrapped in a blanket, eating waitrose peanut butter-smeared crackers and moaning gently to myself. I don't do ill very well.

Fortunately there's always WaiWai to raise my spirits: Effusive freshman lets politicians' pretty-sitting kitty out of the bag reports on newly elected LDP lawmaker Taizo Sugimura, who made the news recently for his effusive exposé of the plush perks granted to pampered politicos picked at the polls (sorry):

"I looked up how much a Dietman makes a year - 25 million yen!! And on top of that they give you another million yen a month to pay for communication fees!! I thought it was a million a year, but it's a million a month! I wouldn't know how to use a million a month."

The young man, Taizo Sugimura, may have been a total unknown and arguably the Liberal Democratic Party's biggest surprise winner in the Sept. 11 House of Representatives. But in the weeks since winning, he's made himself one of the country's best known politicos, mainly because of the sheer excitement he's showed while rattling off the list of perks he picks up as a member of the Diet.

"They say I get a three-bedroom apartment in the Diet members lodge," Shukan Shincho quotes the 26-year-old newly minted politician as saying. "I can't wait!!"

There's more: "I've heard that Diet members can ride Japan Railways trains for free as much as they want. And it's all first class travel. First class travel!! I've never traveled first class in my life."...

Bunshun says that Sugimura was surfing the Net at work one day a few months back and noticed that the LDP was advertising for candidates to run in upcoming elections.

"Oh wow. Oh boy. They're looking for candidates. Oh wow, wow, wow. Jeepers," Sugimura recalls his reaction for Shukan Bunshun.

I swear, the guys who do the translations for these articles have the best job in the world. It must be like writing for The Onion but, like, for real.

What I find quite amazing is that this guy was able to apply to become an official candidate just by filling in a form and writing a short "Why I shud B a politishun" essay. Thanks to the marvels of proportional representation, he got in - literally just to make up the numbers. With rigorous candidacy requirements like this, it's no wonder that many Japanese are so thoroughly disillusioned with politics.

Here are some other jobs that I think should be made available via postal ballot:

  • Astronaut
  • President of the United States (c'mon, we all know we could do a better job of it than the current guy)
  • Air traffic controller, preferably somewhere really busy
  • Nuclear submarine commander
  • WaiWai editor
  • Steve Jobs

Time to dust off the CV, methinks.

Posted by chris at 04:58 PM | Permalink

Get your war on again

Remember how everyone linked to get your war on back in October on the strength of their excellent first two pages of cartoons?

Still going; still great.

Posted by chris at 12:51 AM | Permalink

Get your war on

more good satire: get your war on (via

Posted by chris at 10:40 AM | Permalink

13 Questions for Bush

13 Questions for Bush about America's Anti-terrorism Crusade. (via

Posted by chris at 01:56 AM | Permalink

My TV is sitting at a funny angle

My TV is sitting at a funny angle on the table.

I shifted some furniture around last week, realising only after reconfiguring the entire flat that the aerial cable didn't reach from the wall socket to the relocated TV. So I left it un-aerialed, connected instead to my PlayStation - I use the set more for DVDs than actually watching TV these days anyway.

It got hurriedly connected again at 10:15pm on Tuesday evening (9:15am the same day in New York), minutes after Swerd (Jon) messaged me from his flat in the East Village to tell me the world had changed. The aerial is stretched taut over the back of the sofa towards the TV, which I had to slide to the other end of the table and rotate in order to get the back of the set those vital few inches closer to the wall.

And that's how it's been for the last three nights; me at my desk, e-mailing, IMing, reading news feeds and some amazing personal accounts of the disaster, awkwardly craning my neck round every few minutes to catch the unrelenting, horrifying TV footage, making frequent grabs for the remote and my English-Japanese dictionary.

I haven't really felt like posting recently, but you'll be disappointed to hear that I'm starting again. I'm not ready to say how I feel about this quite yet - in any case I doubt it would make for very interesting or profound reading. I think probably the only vaguely interesting angle that I, personally, can bring to bear on the whole affair is by commenting on my perception of events via the Japanese media, so that's what I'll stick to. Just assume that I'm as shocked and dazed as everyone else, and I'll get on with the foreign correspondent stuff.

*After* I've got some sleep, that is.

Posted by chris at 12:26 AM | Permalink

Blog sources

I'm sure there's nothing I can say that hasn't already been said, so I'll leave it to others. Meg at has a good list of relevant voices, to which I would add and

Posted by chris at 03:26 PM | Permalink

Fictionsuits discussion

Metafilter is busy with traffic on the relevant threads, but you can expect running commentary on this over the next 24 hours or more on Fictionsuits as well, seeing as most of the contributors and audience actually live in NY. Metafilter posts mention more hijacked planes and a 747 crashing (shot down?) outside of Pittsburgh. I can see I'm not going to get any sleep tonight, and I'm cursing my barely adequate command of Japanese. Not that the media here seems terribly up to date; I'm getting things on IM way earlier than from the TV.

Posted by chris at 12:21 AM | Permalink

Missile shield? Useless much?

And now, according to my NY source, a car bomb explosion outside the State Department building (since proved to be a false alarm). How many more can we expect? Is this a one-off day, or are we seeing the beginning of an era of terrorism on American soil?

It all throws Bush's plans for a missile defence system into sharp relief, anyway. I'm sure he'll see this as an excuse for a more comprehensive shield, when if anything it chillingly demonstrates the futility of deploying missile-intercept technology against bombs in suitcases or pistols smuggled onto 767s.

Posted by chris at 11:59 PM | Permalink

WTC destroyed

My god. It's a terrible feeling to realise that you're watching history, not just news, being made.

Both towers of the World Trade Center in New York have now collapsed, about an hour after being hit by two aircraft (one each). A third plane crashed into the Pentagon shortly afterwards, and some / all of the planes are thought to have been hijacked. A Palestinian group is claiming responsibility for the attacks (since disproved), and I think we're just seen any chance of a US-brokered peace deal in the Middle East go up in smoke. (I'll retract that last statement. It's way to early to say anything other than "..." and I didn't mean to sound so premature.)

And I really wish there weren't news services referring to this as a "kamikaze" attack; sensationalism, never mind inaccurate sensationalism, is the last thing we need right now.

Posted by chris at 11:39 PM | Permalink

BBC / CNN sites overloaded

Well *that's* no good: both cnn and bbc servers are nonresponsive - flooded by demand, I suppose . Find yourself a TV NOW.

Posted by chris at 10:41 PM | Permalink

WTC attacked

Holy f**king christ - the World Trade Center in NY has just been bombed.... trying to decipher the Japanese news bulletin as I type... more later.

Posted by chris at 10:20 PM | Permalink

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