23 March 2011
Harrowing tales from North-East Japan

If you are feeling worryingly happy, as if life’s going just a bit too well; Top Tip: switch over to NHK’s tsunami coverage.  That will solve your over-exuberance in an instant.  While our MSM is beginning to pack up its bags, Japan’s journalists have no choice.  So we get gems like:

  • The mother who told her daughter to “run over there” only to see her swept away.
  • The old woman who returns to where her house once was to find that her only recoverable possession was a solitary shoe.
  • The woman who all very sensibly toddled along to the disaster shelter.  The tsunami flooded the shelter almost up to the ceiling.  She only survived by clinging on to a curtain rail.  Almost everyone else in the shelter died.
  • The model tsunami defence system that took 30 years to build and turned out to be completely useless.
  • The hospital which flooded up to the fourth floor (of five).  Two thirds of the occupants died.

I’ve just seen a piece on the convenience store, Lawson’s attempts to stock their shops in the disaster zone.  They can produce the stuff but can’t get it there.  The roads are out and the airplanes are full.  At the other end I’ve heard stories that the banking system is up the spout so no one has any money to pay for this stuff anyway.

In comparison, the news from the Fukushima nuclear plant - by the way, as best as I can work out Fukushima means “Happiness Island” (I jest not) - is good.

The combined confirmed death and missing toll is now about 18,000.  Just by way of comparison the British death toll on the first day of the Somme was 19,000.

15 March 2011
Could this Japanese earthquake be a black swan event?

I mean Japan is going to collapse at some point so why not now?  My understanding is that the one thing propping it up is its inhabitants’ propensity for buying government debt.  But what if they no longer have the money?

Losing 25% of your electricity generating capacity.  That sounds a lot.

13 March 2011
Earthquake damage in a Tokyo library



12 December 2007
At the frontiers of science…

...just asking why people drink, as Squander Two points out, just won’t do.  No, at the cutting edge, the art lies not in finding answers but in finding questions.  Like what happens if you take one of these:


And make it the same size as a human being?

Or, what happens if you hit a journalist with a shovel?

12 September 2007
Too easy to turn off the alarm?

Then try this:

What will they think of next?

The alarm clock that rolls round the room, forcing you go to get up…

...and switch it off and go back to bed.

30 August 2007
Things that really matter in life

Japanese pen tricks!

(Hat-tip: Japan Probe)

02 May 2007
This is a public information film

The hidden dangers of threadbare clothing

(Hat-tip: Japan Probe)

30 April 2007
Many readers will be aware of the story currently doing the rounds about the conman who managed to convince thousands of Japanese women that sheep were in fact a rare breed of poodle.

It's a hoax.

But the fact that it has been taken up so widely - including, I might add, by the BBC's Have I Got News For You - does serve to illustrate that when it comes to Japan people in the West will believe anything.

19 April 2007
Business goes bust - after 1,400 years. They must be feeling like a right bunch of charlies …link
28 January 2007
Weekly Round-Up

There was no round up last week due to that sodding talk which took up rather a lot of my time.

  1. Laban reprints Paul Dacre’s Hugh Cudlipp Memorial Lecture.  I am far from a fan of Dacre’s Daily Mail but anyone who points out that:
    ...when The Times’s Ms Sieghart, the very embodiment of modern free-thinking women, holds forth on feminism, she does so courtesy of the topless girls in the still vastly profitable Sun.
    ...can’t be all bad.
  2. At risk of turning this into a Crozier-Micklethwait Appreciation Society I would recommend that you take a look, if you haven’t already, at Brian’s first piece (there will be more) on the French anthropologist philosopher Emmanuel Todd.  Anyone who, in 1975, predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade or so later deserves attention.
  3. “Anti-Americanism has acquired the status of Western Europe’s lingua franca.“According to The Chronicle. To paraphrase Fred Boynton: I think it’s well-known that anti-Americanism has its roots in impotence, at least in Europe. (Hat-tip: A&L Daily)
  4. It would be far better to lower - rather than raise - the school leaving age, argues Theodore Dalrymple.  ‘Nuff said.
  5. Don’t learn Japanese.  No really.  I can say this from personal experience.  It’s as mad as a box of frogs.  (Hat-tip: Rob Fisher)
  6. Can we really compare Iraq’s insurgents with the Werewolves, the Nazis’ attempt to start an underground campaign against the Allies?  Michael Ledeen thinks we can.


28 February 2006
If you are in the early stages of a Mishima infatuation, my advice is to quit now

I was struck by this book review (via A&L) by Victoria James.  She says:

For most of 1998, I read nothing but the works of Yukio Mishima. The following year, having consumed everything available in English translation, I moved to Tokyo to learn Japanese, the better to read the rest: 40 novels, 20 volumes of short stories and almost that number of plays. I stayed in Japan for five years, as did Christopher Ross, the author of Mishima’s Sword.

Some thoughts:

  • I may not have gone quite that far but at about the same time I did pick up a fair number of his novels.  I eventually came to the conclusion that his writing was pretty much worthless.
  • I think there are all sorts of reasons why so many are fascinated by him in the West.  Mainly due to the manner of his death.
  • We probably shouldn’t be so fascinated.

So, who is this Mishima guy?

  • Japanese novelist and playwright.  On 25 November 1970, he and four colleagues entered the headquarters of the Tokyo garrison of Japan’s Self-Defence Force, taking its commander hostage.  Having failed to induce the garrison to rebel, Mishima and a colleague committed suicide by ritual disembowelment (seppuku)

So, why are so many fascinated by him?

  • I think it is largely the nature of his death.
    • Western democracy is (thankfully) rather dull and predictable.  Those who think they can inject some drama into proceedings (Tejero is another example) are few and far between.
    • He committed ritual suicide.  That takes a lot of guts (so to speak) - especially when you don’t have a superior or some sort of code of honour to encourage you.  One tends to think he must have meant something by his actions.
  • He also managed to inspire a great movie

  • I can’t help but think that the date of his death is in some way significant.  1970 was the year the Sixties ended, culturally as well as numerically.  Idealism was giving way to disillusion.

So, did his death have meaning?

  • I’m sure he meant something by it but that doesn’t mean he was right.  History is littered with the corpses of men who were both brave and wrong - Adolf Hitler, Patrick Pearse, Guy Fawkes, Mohammed Atta just to name a few.

By the way, what did he want?

  • Difficult to say.  He didn’t exactly leave behind a detailed manifesto.  It was something about Japan regaining its soul.  Anyway, it may not have been an entirely political act.  One of his worries was growing old and ugly.  He may just have wanted to check out before it was too late.
03 January 2006
Rikugien, Tokyo - 3 December 2005


17 May 2005
They don’t make Japanese the way they used to

Mark Ellott has been reading up on the Amagasaki rail crash:

Whatever errors there are in our management systems in the UK, at least we do not require drivers who make mistakes, such as overrunning platforms or even passing signals at danger to undergo what the Japanese Railway calls “day-shift education” where senior staff berate the employee and where they are made to write reports reflecting on their errors. This is nothing more than ritual humiliation and several members of staff apparently have been so demoralised they later committed suicide.

The implication being that the driver in the Amagasaki crash preferred to take a ludicrous risk (one that ended up killing him and 100 others) rather than face “day-shift education” again.

But there’s something rather odd about this.  As Mark says this is “prehistoric”.  In other words it’s been going on for some time, probably decades.  But (to the best of my knowledge) nothing like this has ever happened before.  When Brian Micklethwait and I had a chat about this the other day he concluded that: “They don’t make Japanese like they used to”.  Which tends to corroborate a story I linked to the other day plus bits and pieces of anecdotal evidence I’ve picked up over the last couple of years.

Japan is changing.

[Incidentally, I think after JR West and others have gone in for their usual heavy-duty navel-gazing, we’ll see a massive effort to introduce the sort of technology that is already being used on the Shinkansen bullet trains and which automatically slows a train that is travelling too fast.]

16 May 2005
The Japanese are getting ruder and ruder - some of them are even using umbrellas to practise golf swings. Tsk, tsk (via A&L Daily) …link