Friday, September 24, 2010

Japan arrests Chinese fishing boat captain...Japan releases Chinese fishing boat captain

Early this month there was an incident near the disputed (and uninhabited) Senkaku islands between China and Japan. Japanese Coast Guard vessels first collided with and then impounded a Chinese fishing boat fishing within Japan's self-declared territory around the islands.

At first the fishing boat fled the scene of the collision, forcing the Japanese vessel to pursue and board the Chinese ship, and assault the crew with samurai forces.

Ok, I made up the samurai bit.

So the Japanese Coast Guard arrests the captain and crew. The crew were quickly released, but the Chinese captain was detained for the next 17 days.

Unleashing a hellfire shitstorm.

In China the islands are known as the Diaoyu islands and considered to be Chinese. In fact one of the interesting aspects of the affair is to read newspaper editorials from either side of the China Sea- or is it the Japan Sea. In Chinese newspapers the islands are "indisputably Chinese from ancient times." In Japanese editorials, however, "there is no question at all that the islands belong and have always belonged to Japan".

Which allows me to make one obvious point, a point that has not been made by the media of either country: there is a dispute and there is a question about the ownership of these islands.

So anyway in China the issue becomes a patriotic and nationalistic flashpoint. There are demonstrations outside the Japanese embassy. Internet forums explode with abuse. Several thousand people cancel tourist trips to Japan. A Japanese group is forced to pull out of a cultural dance exhibition because of security concerns. The Chinese suddenly cancel joint mineral and resource exloration plans for the islands. The Japanese ambassador is summoned repeatedly for official complaints. And just yesterday China announced the beginning of trade sanctions against Japan starting with the suspension of rare earth exports, necessary for the production of cars, mobile phones and other electronics. Chinese news reports are full of coverage of the "illegal and immoral detainment of the patriotic Chinese fishing captain."

So just today the prosecutors in charge of the case in Japan announce that the captain is to be released without charge or further prosecution of the case.

Well, to me this is

1. Very obviously the best thing to do, and

2. Very obviously due to the pressure from China on the Japanese government.

So the issue is set to dominate Japanese politics for some time. The opposition parties are saying it shows Japan to be weak-kneed and that the decision compromises its national security. They say that the decision is 'very regrettable'.

Which is easy for an opposition party to say. They don't have to deal with the second most economically powerful nation in the world, feverously nationalistic and rabidly anti-Japanese at the best of times, howling with fury just across the water and launching trade sanctions faster than you can say 'Nanking massacre'.

The funniest part of the whole business is how Japan has handled the inevitable. Even I noticed that in the last couple of days the media has been emphasising the negative aspects of detaining the Chinese captain: pictures of empty hotel rooms, frantic company employees calling rare earth suppliers in China, videos of protestors in Beijing. They were telegraphing the punch.

So when the Secretary General of the governing DPJ announces with a straight face that the decision to release the Chinese captain was 'the result of investigations and not political', well, you just have to smile at the attempt to save face.

Because if you believe that, well, maybe the Nanking massacre didn't happen after all.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

In which I am a guy and about 80 years old

According to Urlai at

I am between 66-100 years old.

In terms of cynicism perhaps.

A guy, and most upset.

I guess they got that right

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Japan's Missing Centenarians

In a country famous for its long life expectancy, the dark side of longevity is emerging.

Many of Japan's oldest people, 100 years old or older, are missing.

People are officially registered as alive until proven otherwise, and with Japan's Byzantine family register system and the limited investigative powers of local governments, it is often not possible to determine if somebody is dead or alive.

At last count there were over 350 missing centenarians.

The growing scandal around the true fate of Japan's centenarians began in July when a visit by ward officials to the house of Sogen Kato, a Tokyo man believed to be 111, led to a police search of the house which revealed his mummified remains in his bed.

According to family members, about 30 years ago he had declared he wanted to become a 'living Buddha' and had retired into his room. His family had not heard from him since.

A possible explanation for the apparent lack of interest on the part of the family in the well-being of their elderly member may be related to the fact that they were drawing on pension funds that continued to be directed their way, to the tune of over 110 thousand dollars over the decades.

Kato's family are now under investigation.

No kidding.

The discovery led local government officials to search for and generally attempt to verify the existence of centenarians all over Japan.

Since then there have been nightly reports on the drama. The remains of a Tokyo woman believed to be 104 were found stuffed into her son's backpack, where they had been for more than a decade. Rumours abound of sticking grandma in the freezer so her pension can be collected.

Local media are blaming the false records of living centenarians on sloppy bureaucratic paperwork.

Among other centenarians still registered as living are a 186-year-old man in Yamaguchi prefecture.

Officials said: 'He may be dead.'

Indeed. Love the Japanese penchant for caution. After all, he may be alive, which would make him 70 years older than the second oldest living human, as old as Japan's last shogun.

Friday, September 03, 2010

New PM for Japan?

Well, the revolving door prime ministership continues for this great country.

On September 14th the Democratic Party of Japan has a presidential election, with incumbent Naoto Kan (already the fifth prime minister in 5 years) facing challenger and party heavyweight Ichiro Ozawa.

Nobody seems to know why Ozawa is doing this. Monumentally unpopular and rotting black with funding scandals, Ozawa nevertheless is the most powerful man in the party and a good chance to win and thus become prime minister.

Naoto Kan has had four months, and has gotten in strife merely for mentioning the possibility of raising the consumption tax. Not that more consumption tax is needed...Japan's budget could be easily balanced if they stopped concreting the countryside. Weird but true.

Ozawa is an old school bureaucratic tool, desperate to rewind the Japanese postal services privatisation process, and in general further the slide into stagnation and cultural death.

Just thought you should know.