Thursday, January 29, 2015

Very Kind Of Them #41, #42 And #43 - The Videos

A tidying up post, thanking some folks who were so kind as to ask me to express myself on camera.

The first is one Temple University Japan, which allowed me to give a public address on January 9, exactly one calendar since my last testing the bounds of good taste and common sense. It was a chance to redeem myself or at least make fewer glaring errors in projection.

Yes I know, I do suffer from intense stage fright. What gives it away?

Seriously, I look like one of the cheetahs in the glass enclosure at Tama Zoological Park.

The Slideshare slideshow for the presentation is seriously spare but possibly provides important visual anchor points.

Further back, just before the election, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan teamed me up with the insider's insider, Toshikawa Takao, in a pre-election prognostication fest. My performance is typically annoying and tame but Toshikawa-san offers a highly quotable, hair-on-fire predictions about Abe Shinzo after the election.

Yes, the hair-on-fire thing would not work for me.

Finally, Stephane Carrer produced a news segment on the results of the December 15 election Stephane Carrer who has a series Pianeta Giappone on the Il Sole 24 Ore website, wherein he catches me in the hallway at the FCCJ. Luckily, Carrer includes in his report less visually distressing bits with Gerald Curtis, Okumura Jun and Sebastian Maslow offering their always intelligent commentary.

Hmmm...I am no great shakes in the looks department under normal circumstances, but wow, I even more scarily unattractive when viewed from below.

Thanks to all for forbearance and for an opportunity to speak.

Later - Many thanks to Italian reader Massimo for the correction in the above.

Monday, January 26, 2015

My First Hate Tweet

Over the weekend, non-Japanese media sites published a number of articles and opinion pieces on the proliferation and dissemination over Japan's Internet of hundreds of altered images of the Islamic State hostage video. The authors of the pieces found the images "hilarious" or even thrilling, exhibiting sense of nonchalant defiance of the IS attempt to terrorize the Japanese people.

If only.

Anyone with even a smidgeon of knowledge of Japan, seeing only a handful of the images being rebroadcast and interpreted by these authors (the images are horrible -- I will not provide a link to them but this Japan Times article does) would know in an instant what these things are.

They are not humor.

They are not admirable defiance.

They are the products of the diseased, restless minds of Japan's worst racists.

We have seen all this poorly executed garbage before. Where the black-clad figure of the knife-wielding militant now stands, we have seen a multitude of modified images of South Korean president Park Geun-hye (and Lee Myungbak and Roo Moo-hyuun before her) and of Chinese president Xi Jinping (and Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin before him). The nation's league of sick hatemongers have just taken a slight detour into territories in which underinformed non-Japanese find their bretheren in prejudice and ignorance.

Consider the alternative explanation: Japan's heretofore non-hate spewing, non-image altering masses have suddenly taken on the habits of the habitual hatemongers for just this one hostage crisis.


Ticked off at the misapprehension of Japanese society I tweeted an irritated conjecture:

I should not have been surprised -- but nevertheless was -- that within the hour, a Twitter user posted a hate tweet in response, one that creatively alludes to the decapitation of Yukawa Haruna, the Korean consumption of dog meat and the supposed fates of folks like me who look under the rocks of this blessed land to see what is lurking beneath:

Really attractive, no?

I do not enjoy being right in my guesses about how low the human spirit can sink. I must, however, admit a certain intellectual satisfaction at having guessed the origins of the current grotesquery.

As for anyone seeking to follow up on this morning's entertainment via a malicious email, don't bother. Some soul sent me wonderful malware last year hoping to set my computer to melting or burning. To him or her, be it know that my laptop was a Toshiba. So it ran fine. Incredibly HOT but fine -- right through a Tokyo summer.

To anyone who might wish to emulate that charitable contribution to my computer's software, I no longer open my mail on an any device I would feel sad to lose.

So thanks again "jjjj" for confirming this morning that I may not be entirely wrong in being cautious.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

One Man Dies

It is a quiet morning in Tokyo, the sky clear, the air cold.

I went down to the mailbox to pick up the morning paper (yes, here in this blessed land, we keep to 20th century habits). Oddly the box was empty, save for some real estate adverts.


Granted, this was 4:15 in the morning on a Sunday...but usually the delivery comes at around 4:00.

I went upstairs, checked my emails -- hmmm, someone is forwarding me a lot of Ministry of Foreign Affairs press releases. "Probably about the comfort women issue or the Nanjing massacre or Japan's POWs," I thought to myself -- because that is what usually pops in at about this hour.

Checking through my open tabs, I reviewed The Japan Times article where Michael Penn acidly and acutely reframes the video of IS hostages Yukawa Haruna and Goto Kenji. (Link)

"Hmmm, I wonder where the situation stands."

So I checked the Yahoo! Japan news feed. I read the top headline.

"Oh. Guess that explains why no paper in the box and the MOFA emails."

* * *

Yukawa Haruna, strange creature that he was (Link) is dead. (Link)

He may have been dead for some time. Japanese video analysts have been all over the inconsistencies and discontinuities in the initial video. The analysis indicates the image is a composite of different recordings knitted together by a crew of technicians who could clearly teach the North Korean central news agency a thing or two about faking images.

Yukawa, whose self-mutilation and gender identity issues have not been discussed in the domestic mainstream media (or been the major subject of titillated comment) condemned himself by carrying a gun and pretending to be a gonzo journalist and a military affairs expert in Syria, of all places. That he was neither must have dawned on his captors fairly soon...which immediately begged the question, "What do we do with this, this...person?"

The thought that he must be worth something, that he might indeed someone the Japanese government would want to save or ransom, must have surprised Yukawa. That he in fact was not -- that he was just the latest of a procession of inadvertently Japanese celebrities coughed up by post-1945 Japan's sheer innocuousness, shooting stars of the mediaverse that baffle the rest of the planet in their simply not representing anything -- was the reason why heroic journalist Goto Kenji had to try to rescue him instead.

With Yukawa dead, the game gets real. Goto Kenji is likely alive and is indeed worth something, both to his country and to the world. That a bidding war has seemingly broken out over what exactly is the price of Goto's life (Link) indicates that the prevailing narrative about Islamic State -- that its members are indiscriminate, reactive, ethnocentric, Sunni lunatics who kill all that are unlike themselves -- is wrong. Goto alive and Yukawa dead proves that Islamic State militants do discriminate and that not all humans unlike themselves are equally worthless to them.

It should be noted that the government of Abe Shinzo is learning the hard way that the seemingly cheap ride of a proclaiming a doctrine of "pro-active pacifism" can in fact be costly in terms of Japanese lives. Abe Shinzo cast into shadow Japan's noble gift of help to refugees fleeing the latest convulsions of the region. He should not have ever called it Japan's contribution to fight on terror, whatever his needs to please Washington...and definitely not during an official visit to the Mideast.

As the videos of IS make clear -- in their taking the anonymous high-altitude, video-recorded killing of modern anti-terrorist warfare and the off-the radar holding without trial of Islamic militants in Guantanamo Bay and torture of Islamic militants elsewhere and putting to the West via its technology the mirror view  -- on the ground, up close, hyper-real and intensely personal (for to kill a man with a knife you must hold him) -- how you frame the image of your actions really matters.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Month Away

Been away...doing things...and not doing things too.

Much has happened in the interim...and in at the same time, not much, aside from world spot oil prices (huge shifts there) has changed.

Two items of note:

1) Abe Shinzo did not go to Yasukuni Shrine in the 2014 calendar year.

He may have done so in secret. Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi supposedly paid a secret visit in 1992. Current Education Minister Shimomura Hakubun supposedly paid a secret visit sometime in 2013, proving that the trick can still be pulled off.

By not publicly paying his respects at Yasukuni, Abe has betrayed the revisionists and the mawkish sentimentalists, those who have been the rungs on the ladder he has climbed to prominence within the Liberal Democratic Party and ultimately into the premiership. It is fitting: what one does with rungs is step on them.

In not visiting Yasukuni, Abe has also shown he is playing a very long game indeed in terms of being a mover and shaker in East Asian politics, sacrificing immediate political and psychological advantages for a bigger political payoff later.

2) Anti-government conservative forces triumphed in the Saga gubernatorial election.

A Japan Agriculture (JA)-supported candidate defeating the LDP-Komeito supported candidate. Most analysis focuses on the supposed black eye suffered by the Abe administration, a third embarrassment after last year's humiliations in Shiga and Okinawa -- and on the supposed red flag the victory portends for the Abe Administration's hopes to reorganize Japan's agricultural sector -- both for growth and to facilitate the completion of Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations.

What is less talked about is the implications of the victory of a non-LDP supported conservative for the basing of U.S. forces in Japan. Since his victory, the new governor of Saga has been desperately trying to reverse the agreement the prefecture has with the national government to host Self Defense Forces V-22 Ospreys at Saga Airport. As a special Socialist Party project team noted in 2009, Saga Airport boasts a very, very long runway, is not very, very far from Sasebo and its U.S. Navy homeported amphibious strike group, and is surrounded on three side by hectares of hectares of rice paddies, with narry a dwelling in sight -- the perfect place, really, for a Futenma replacement facility (FRF). The already agree-upon SDF deployment, with the ancillary development of the infrastructure to host Ospreys, is an open door to deployment of U.S. Marines Ospreys at the same dedicated facility.

How Pyrrhic a victory JA's triumph over the Abe government will appear in retrospect -- and how clever the administration -- if Saga Airport becomes a supplement to, a second, or in the extreme a replacement for the fraught Henoko FRF.