Archive for Opinion

Japan’s view of whaling


With the ongoing whaling by Japan being generally supported by the Japanese public, this perhaps sums up Japan’s official stance. It was Masayuki Komatsu of the Fisheries Agency who made that famous statement on minke whales being the cockroaches of the sea.

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Japan’s most decisive battle in World War 2

Japanese soldiers approaching NomonhanSince I’m being slightly off-topic this evening, here’s an interesting article that was passed to me from Andy at Siberian Light about a little bit of history that perhaps not many Westerners are familiar with (it was news to me), but which holds a pivotal role in shaping both the war in the Pacific and the Eastern Front.

The battle is of Khalkhin-Gol, or the Nomonhan Incident as it is known in Japan, which took place in 1939, just a few weeks before Hitler invaded Poland, and was sparked off by an incident along a disputed portion of the border of the Japanese and Soviet puppet states, Manchuria and Mongolia, near the town of Nomonhan, close to the Khalkhin-Gol river, thus the two names for the battle.

After much skirmishing and even aerial attacks by the Japanese, Tokyo eventually issued an order to expel the invaders and reclaim the ground lost to the Mongol and Soviet forces. On July 1st 1939, Japan attacked and drove back the opposing forces, but a counter-attack by the Soviets with a force of 450 tanks soon saw off the thrust, and on July 5th the Japanese withdrew. Another assault by the Japanese was also repelled, but before the Japanese could regroup for a third try, the Soviets counter-attacked on the 20th of August with 50,000 men, 498 tanks, and 250 planes. By the 31st the Japanese were encircled, and bar a few units who managed to break out, they refused to surrender and chose instead to fight to the death, and the Soviets duly obliged, with the battle finishing on the 1nd of September 1939.

As we all know, just a day later Hitler invaded Poland.

Official statistics report just over 17,000 Japanese total casualties, compared with around 9,000 Soviets, but some historians claim that Japan lost more than 45,000 men, versus Soviet losses of 17,000 men.

How Khalkhin-Gol changed Japanese military thinking

Realising that the Soviets were tactically superior, one reason being that the Japanese forces valued samurai-like ethics (for want of a better word) on the battlefield, Japan decided to curb its desire for expansion into Soviet territory, so even when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 the Japanese chose not to open a second front, enabling the Soviets to concentrate on the threat from the West.

Thus, to satisfy its expansionist desires, the far-flung (from the European perspective) colonial outposts in South-East Asia were richer pickings. Thus, thanks to that defeat in Mongolia, perhaps Pearl Harbour became to be seen as a softer target, and the rest is, as they say, history.

If you enjoyed this short history lesson, please don’t forget to read the full story at Siberian Light.

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The history of whaling in Japan

My mother sends me clippings of the Economist regularly, and in this month’s batch was a very interesting article on how 200 years ago it was Westerners, mostly Amercians, who were encroaching Japan’s sovereignty – rather than today when Japan fishes (or should that be mammals, if that noun is verbable) in Australia’s self-declared sovereign region – to take whales, with at the peak 550 ships sailing around the still-closed country picking off the local cetaceans.

As for whaling around Japan, vestigial echoes reverberate. Every northern winter, Japan faces barbs for sending a whaling fleet into Antarctic waters. And why, asks the mayor of Taiji, a small whaling port, should Japanese ships have to go so far, suffering international outrage? Because, he says, answering his own question, the Americans fished out all the Japanese whales in the century before last.

Just to tie this into surveys, here’s a story from this time last year on an opinion poll regarding Japanese attitudes to whaling.

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Immigration will cause loss of unique identity: poll

According to a poll recently conducted on behalf of the national broadcaster, when asked if without immigration would the nation’s economy suffer, almost half (49%) of the people of this island nation bravely trying to hold out against the inevitable forces of globalisation thought that it would not suffer without an influx of foreigners, versus 46% who thought it would suffer.

When asked if all these incomers would affect the unique identity of the nation, 62% agreed whereas only 35% disagreed; almost twice as many think assimilation is not possible, perhaps indicating some longing for past glories where it was their unique culture that was imposed on other countries.

In other news, 65% of Japanese wants to see more immigration, even at the unskilled level, to address labour shortages. The backward, xenophobic, racist nation described in the first two paragraphs is actually the UK.

Note that of course the Japanese and UK situations are in no way comparable, and there are other surveys that indicate, for instance, that 55% of the Japanese public blame a decline in public order in foreign crime, versus 36% in the UK, but it does show that nihonjinron is not a uniquely Japanese disease, and that Japanese public opinion is perhaps not such an outlier when compared to other nations. Having said that, Japan is an outlier when it comes to media and state reaction to racism and allegations of such, although I do not paint as black a picture as others.

Sources: UK survey from the BBC (pdf); Japan survey from the Mainichi via Japan Probe.

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Candidates for Word of the Year 2007

I was going to post on this myself, but Mari beat me to the punch. Pop over and see her selections from the candidate list of 60 trendy words and phrases.

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:-) turns 25, but how old are Japanese emoticons (?_?)

You may have heard the news that 25 years ago on the 19th of September 1982, there was the first recorded use of western smileys on usenet. However, that got me wondering as to how old horizontal Japanese emoticons were. With a little investigation, I came across this Japanese page on the evolution of smiley marks in Japan. I’ll now present a summary translation of this history of the Japanese emoticon.

First up is a nuclear scientist claiming to have invented (~_~) and others round about the same time as ASCII Net (a Japanese online service) started in May 1985, although he says he wasn’t the first, he was just following the patterns of others.

Next up was someone claiming that when he attended Hokkaido University the first Japanese emoticon he saw was from Master Koala with (^O^) in fj.jokes, inspiring him to invent the following:

(^.^) – laughing
(;.;) – crying
(-.-) – sleeping, shocked
(_ _) – apologising, lowering one’s head
; – sweat mark, eg (^.^;)
* – red-faced, eg *^.^*

These were coined between May and July of 1988 and used on JUNET, the Japanese University Network.

Now, we get to a usenet post from January 13 1998, indirectly archived by Google Groups (but with broken encoding). In the message we can see the following marks:

(^O^) – Master Koala smiling
(-O-) – Master Koala sleeping
(*O*) – Master Koala shocked
(@O@) – Master Koala looking sideways
(=O=) – Master Koala squinting through narrowed eyes
(>O<) - Master Koala surprised (dOb) - Master Koala neutralNow we get a very interesting post, suggesting that the classic (^_^) was invented in Japan, but perhaps not by a Japanese. A Kim Tong Ho claims that in the first half of 1986 he signed posts to ASCII Net with the above-mentioned emoticon, with one example from 20th of June 1986. However, he doesn’t have confidence to claim to be the very first person to come up with a Japanese emoticon that doesn’t require head-tilting to read. Around the same time a person with the handle “binbou” (the nuclear scientist mentioned above) used (~_~), but as to who was first, it is rather difficult to say.

So, there we have it; the Japanese emoticon is at least 21 years and a few months old, perhaps even 22 and a bit years old.

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Debito on the recent Cabinet Office human rights survey

Just a short note to say that Debito has published a detailed look at the recent survey on human rights, including bits from my translation and other more traditional news sources.

He gives an interesting summary, and adds a few of his own opinions, so head over there and check them out.

Thanks for the link back Debito – I hoped I could tempt/taunt you into replying and perhaps spark some debate on the topic.

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USA Today tries to understand the iPhone and Japan

I saw this story on Japanese eager to get hands on iPhones, and whilst I am somewhat irked that USA Today did not choose to interview me on the subject, I did get a hearty laugh at this comment:

Culture. “The iPhone’s broad and easily accessible screen could actually be a liability in Japan,” says Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. Japanese are “accustomed to doing more in smaller spaces — and keeping things to themselves. The (pornographic comics) you download on the subway may be all too visible to your neighboring commuter” if you’re using an iPhone.

As anyone who regularly commutes on Japanese trains will tell you, everyone from youths to suited businessmen freely read manga of varying degrees of sauciness, and I’ve never seen anyone make any effort to hide the fact that they are studying the adult entertainment sections of the sports newspapers complete with not just topless women, but even the occassional pornographic image, although edited to hide any naughty bits.

Secondly, there is quite a large market in privacy screens, polarising filters for mobiles to stop people glancing sideways at your mobile, although with the iPhone being able to be viewed in both landscape and portrait orientation, there might be a slight technical issue here.

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Pose a question to Tokyo’s Governer, Shintaro Ishihara

I happened to notice on YouTube that an offline and online Tokyo news broadcaster Tokyo MX is currently copying CNN’s YouTube presidential candidates debate idea, by gathering questions for everyone’s favourite politician, the great internationalist Shintaro Ishihara. They are looking for 30 second questions to pose to him at some as yet unannouced date, and I suspect that questions from foreign residents might have a good chance of getting through, especially given the quality of the other two posts to date!

If anyone makes a contribution, please let me know and I’ll add it to this page.

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Apple’s iPhone: Japan will love it, Japan will buy it

Although I started out as somewhat of a skeptic about the iPhone, mainly in reaction to the blanket news coverage it has been receiving, reflecting on the situation I now consider that the iPhone has what it takes to be big in Japan; indeed to become the very first foreign mobile phone (Sony-Ericsson doesn’t countas foreign!) to be a success in Japan’s rather insular market. There are, however, a small number of additions and modifications that I propose Apple must make to the hardware, software, and design before they can consider selling it in Japan.

iPhone: Japan’s carriers

Looking at the market image of the three big mobile phone carriers, namely NTT DoCoMo, au by KDDI, and SoftBank, the most natural fit would be au, as according to many surveys they have the strongest image for being on the leading edge and for supporting music playback on their phones. However, if a bidding war starts, SoftBank may be prepared to lay the most cash on the table as they are most desparate for customers, and with Cameron Diaz and Bradd Pitt pushing an American image of talking on the phone for SoftBank, SoftBank’s president Masayoshi Son may see the iPhone as a natural extension of his brand. Therefore, I predict there will be a SoftBank iPhone on the shelves early next year.
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