Monthly Archives: January 2006

"Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day"

“…I think we are entering the arena of the unwell.”

I’ve had a cold for a couple of days now. I’d put it down to a combination of bad food, bad booze, bad sleeping hours, bad working hours and bad eating hours, which all come together to make up what one philosopher once referred to as “the good life.” Hopefully my stockpile of Lemsips that I brought from the UK will last me through it, as decent over-the-counter medicine is hard to get in Japan (unless of course you’re planning to poison a family member … ’nuff said).

I’ve started almost all my classes by now. Japanese Level 4 seems to be alright, obviously needs a little more commitment than Level 3, but nothing that I can’t handle. I’ll post more about my classes as they go on, as I’ve only had the introductory lessons so far.

I’ll leave you with this story about Japan’s homeless, who are being forcibly evicted from a park in Osaka that “will be the site of the World Rose Convention 2006 from May 11 to 17.” Sounds a little like a non-lethal form of the “social cleansing” practiced by police and paramilitaries in Latin America. Trying to keep the problem out of sight, but drawing more attention to it as a result.

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Leaders of the Free World

With the standoff over Iran’s nuclear development still dragging on, an article in the Asahi Shimbun highlights a truly horrifying consequence of the situation:

Iran’s publicly stated intention to advance its nuclear technology threatens a key element of Japan’s energy strategy–development of the Azadegan oil field … If Tehran does not alter its position, Japan could lose its rights to the field.

Am I the only person thinking that nuclear weapons in the hands of a religious maniac who has publicly stated that “Israel must be wiped off the map” is a slightly bigger danger than a first-world nation losing out on some choice oil fields? As I recall, that was what got us into that whole mess over Iraq.

It’s true that Japan has long been a net energy importer, and most of this takes the form of oil from the Middle East (its cultural history means it has no stake in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and can therefore do business in the region easily). Still, you’d have thought that with another putative nuclear rogue state living practically next door, the Japanese would be a little less sanguine about this sort of thing.

(4:30 pm)

UPDATE: Mutant Frog have posted regarding this in response to a comment I left there and cleared up a few things. I recommend you read for the full story.

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Blatant plugging

A few of my friends back in Cambridge make short films under the moniker of Illimms Productions. I’ve been privilieged to star in a few of these. Their website has recently been relaunched, with all the films available to watch for free. So get on over there and see mathematical comedies, mockumentaries about German goalkeepers, free-jazz buddy movies, foul-mouthed historical cartoons, and much much more!

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Kill smoking – before it kills you!

A random blog post on the perils of smoking reminded me of similar signs I’d seen in front of Lawson convenience stores out here. So, here is the latest anti-smoking campaign, Japan-style. If I convince one person to give up by posting these, I’ll have done my bit.



Considering the size of the thing, if your smoke did hit someone an apology would certainly be in order.

(6:27 pm)

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More China links

A report from the Guardian on China’s growing consumption of resources, and what can be done to maintain growth and improve the lot of people in the developing world without devastating the planet. It’s inspiring stuff, and worth a read. For our part, Britain is ranked fifth best in the world at tackling domestic and global environmental problems, in the first global league table of its kind.

Less positively, Google has agreed to accept Chinese government restrictions in order to set up a Chinese version of its search engine. I was privileged to hear a talk on China’s internet censorship at Kansai Gaidai last semester, and learned that the regime has developed an ingenious system for suppressing dissent, based in part on offering companies access to China’s enormous (and profitable) market, on condition that they help censor the Internet. Google’s latest move is another nail in the coffin of the theory that the Internet will help spread democracy and transparency througout the world. George Monbiot has written brilliantly on the flaws in this argument.

(5:07 pm)

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Interaction: it’s over-rated

I’ve been living in dorms for three days now, and I’m bored. The flat structure of Seminar House 3 means that you only really see those people you share a kitchen with (which is a laugh in itself – you’re not allowed to cook anything for the first week, so eating out or living on instant ramen are the options), and out of those my roommate is the only person I talk to regualarly. There is a miniature colony of Dutch people (by which I mean about 2 or 3) who do nothing but watch films on their latops in the communal area (very loudly) when other people are trying to sleep. There’s also a guy who is always in the communal area tapping away on his laptop. Out of all of them, he seems the least objecttionable. I talk to him on occasion because I myself have little to do apart from sit around reading. Still, I wonder what on earth the impetus (or lack of such) is to make him stay in the same spot all day?

In other news, the Arctic Monkeys’ album release looks like becoming the fastest-selling debut ever. Good for them, but I’m generally suspicious of bands with too much hype surrounding them, as it sets them up for the inevitable abandonment by the media, who move on to the ‘next big thing’ around second-album time. I managed to pick up my copy at a Tower Records in Kyoto a couple of days before the UK release date (heheheh), and can say that the hype doesn’t mean a thing and would count against the band if it wasn’t for the one thing the album has in spades: solid-gold tuneage.

A BBC report on Chinese migrant workers heading back home for lunar New Year and not returning. A Chinese academic quotes a survey of 800,000 migrant workers in Shanghai:

“Most migrant workers, when they first arrive in Shanghai, work in factories,” he says.

“When they have made enough money, they will either take that money home to build a house, get married and return to farming or they will set up their own small businesses here in the city because it pays better.

“If the factories want to keep this second group of people they will have to offer them more money.”

The article ends with the line “Many are beginning to realise that China’s legendary low cost labour is not as low cost as it appears.” That ending misses the point of the above quote. Surely less penniless migrant workers relying on the largesse of their bosses and more prosperous farmers and small businessmen is a good thing, and part and parcel of a developing economy? Then again, on the other side of the picture, this growth can’t be maintained if urban-rural inequality increases along with it.

(1:00 pm)

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Oh, the places you’ll go

Two posts in one day is a lot for me, I know, but that last one was kind of an update on getting to Japan and my stay in Kyoto. I would have posted about it earlier, but I am too cheap to pay for internet access and so waited until I could use the facilities in my dorms. I’m based in Seminar House 3 for orientation week, after which I’ll move into Sem 4, which I know from last semester’s orientation week (It’s a classy prospect, believe me). Sem 3 is constructed slightly differently to the other dorms, as it’s organised around flat-type areas where 8 people share a kitchen and showers. For some reason, the university demands you pay more if you stay here, although as you’re allocated to dorms randomly, it seems a bit of a rip. Flats are only worth paying more for if you have some control over who you’re living with, and at Kansai Gaidai, whether you’re in dorms or homestay, it’s all out of your hands, chum. Witness the people in my flat. Granted, quite a few haven’t arrived yet, but those that have aren’t really the kind of people I’d want to rub up against for a whole semester. Just as well I’m moving out, really.

The other thing is, all the seminar houses have an impersonal modern design. Each floor looks very much like another. As long as you can remember which number your room is, you’ll be alright. I was wandering back from a trip to another floor, and breezed into the flat. My roommate was at the table, tapping away at his laptop, next to a group of girls who I hadn’t seen before. They all looked up and said hello, and I believe I said something cool, as befits a globe-trotting man of mystery such as myself (hem hem), as I carried on into my room.

It took a few seconds of looking at the shelf where I was going to put the umbrella I was carrying before I realised that my personal possessions were missing from the shelf. And the surrounding shelves. And the desk below it. It was then I remembered that walking through the room, I hadn’t noticed anything of mine or my flatmate’s. I walked back out and announced that I was in the wrong flat to the girls, who promptly burst out laughing.

(Acknowledgements to the Fake Doctor for both the post title and a somewhat related story. Visit his blog, right after you bask in the warm glow of my humiliation.)

(9:55pm Japan time)

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