Friday, December 14, 2012

Japan News Roundup: Elections This Weekend, N. Korea's 'Sucessful' Launch, Japanese World's Healthiest People

N. Korea's missel trajectory over Okinawa. Via.

• “Japan's voters go to the polls on Sunday in elections that look set to deliver a painful setback to the governing Democratic Party of Japan, only three years after it ended decades of nearly unbroken rule by the Liberal Democratic Party” (BBC). Some call it “one of the most complex and confusing general elections in the country's history” (NBC), in which “a circus-like myriad of parties spans a spectrum of views from the super-patriotic, calling for a more hawkish Japan, to those linked to the grass-roots movement demanding an end to nuclear power, a call that has grown following the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant meltdowns last year” (AP). Though “voters appear more disenchanted with all parties” (Economist), the most important issue for all seems to be “how to jolt Japan out of its 20-year economic slump” (AP).

The Washington Post explains Japan’s election process: “The election is largely local, with the country divided into 300 constituencies and voters in each district selecting their preferred candidate. The remaining 180 seats are filled proportionally, based on each party’s share of the vote. The party that controls the lower house — the more powerful of the chambers in Japanese legislature, called the Diet— then installs its party president as prime minister.”

Ahead of elections, citizens from areas ravaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami ask for leaders to “put together a faster and more robust reconstruction effort” (Kyodo News). “According to government figures more than 320,000 people remain in temporary housing across the affected region” and a recent report said “of the nearly 24,000 housing units set to be constructed in three prefectures, only roughly 13,700 will be completed by March of 2015. That's four years after the tsunami hit” (CNN).

Complicating matters for candidates, self-censorship on Twitter and other social media platforms “stems from a 1950 law that lays out—in great detail—what candidates for public office can and can't do in the official campaign period before election day” (WSJ), though ‘rad’ manga campaign posters offer a solution (Kotaku). Among the many candidates are a sprightly 94-year-old (Yahoo), a vocal environmentalist (Deutsche Welle), and ‘flamboyant’ fringe politician Shintaro Ishihara, who once opposed diplomatic ties with China in a pact signed in blood, and who “published a book at the height of Japan’s economic power that lectured his countrymen on the need to end what he considered its postwar servility to the United States” (NYT).

• Days after announcing a delay, North Korea fired a long-range rocket (TIME):
The launch, which allowed Pyongyang to test its ballistic-missile capability in defiance of U.N. restrictions, angered the U.S. and its Northeast Asian allies. The White House called the launch “a highly provocative act that threatens regional security.” South Korea Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan called the launch “a threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula and around the world,” the Yonhap News Agency reported, while Japan called it “intolerable.” The U.N. Security Council passed resolutions banning North Korea from such launches after its nuclear tests in 2006 and ’09.
Considered a 'success' by North Korea, the launch sent the missile over Okinawa into sea (Japan Times). A chronology of North Korea's missile programs (AP).

Japan scrambled jets to intercept a Chinese military surveillance plane over the disputed islands in what the ministry is calling the “first known violation of Japanese airspace by a Chinese plane since it began keeping records about 50 years ago” (NYT). The U.S. is eager to stay out of the dispute, even as it “sends aircraft carriers to reassure its allies and develops an ‘AirSea Battle’ doctrine aimed at defeating China” (AOL):
"We don't take sides anywhere in the world on these things," said Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear, repeating the administration's mantra in a talk to the Asia Society during his visit to Washington last week. That said, he went on, "I don't think these [conflicts] are going to go away, and we have to figure out how to get through them without miscalculation, without bringing warships and warplanes in."
• “As Japan gropes for a way to deal with its problems—a prolonged recession, a leaderless political system, the fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and a rapidly aging population that the economy struggles to support—the photographer Shiho Fukada has been looking at the symbiotic relationship between Japan’s current political turmoil and its unemployment crisis.” (New Yorker)

• “No one knows whether it’s their great diet, good health care or just great genes, but after two decades Japanese citizens are still the healthiest people in the world, according to a decades-long study on population health published today.” (ABC)

• After pleading guilty, Okinawan authorities sentenced U.S. marine to four years in prison for molesting and assaulting a woman in August. (Kyodo)

“The U.S. Navy in Japan says it will ease one of its new behavioral restrictions Wednesday, letting sailors once again drink alcohol at home after 10 p.m…. Sailors are still prohibited from consuming alcohol outside their private residences or off-installation between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., regardless of leave or liberty status.” (Stars and Stripes)

A 1400 year-old warrior was found still wearing his armor during an archaeological at the ‘Pompeii of Japan’. (io9)

• “How Japan's murky underworld became the patron and power broker of the ruling party that intended to clean up politics.” (Foreign Policy)

Huffington Post will partner with Japan’s major newspaper Asahi Shimbun to launch its first effort in Asia. (AllThingsD)

• Oscar-winning Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's (Spirited Away, Ponyo) is working on his first film in five years. Based on one of Japan’s oldest novels, Taketori Monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter), the film will be released in 2013. (Telegraph)

• With artists as teachers and fans as students (and an industry that generates 400 billion yen per year domestically), manga studies become more prominent in Japanese colleges. (Yomiuri)

• Though lessons “are potentially quite thorny”, the Washington Post asks what the U.S. can learn about gun control from Japan, which had 11 gun-related murders in 2008 when America had over 12,000.

• Why the ‘Fukushima 50’—actually hundreds of workers who stayed at the crippled nuclear power plant to bring the reactors under control—remain largely unknown. (BBC)

• Scientists believe Japan's samurai caste may have been toppled by women’s makeup.

• Actor Jeremy Irons speaks out for the world's longest-serving death row prisoner, a Japanese boxer on death row for 44 years. (The Guardian)

“Gold” chosen as 2012’s Kanji of the Year; runners up were were “ring” and “island.” (WSJ)

• “The average score of Japanese elementary school students in global achievement tests in mathematics and science last year showed a marked rise from the previous survey in 2007.” (Japan Times)

• “Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae visited the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism on Nov. 21, within one week of his arrival in Washington, D.C. He paid his respects to the Nisei who died in U.S. military service during World War II and to the 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated in internment camps.” (Rafu Shimpo)

• “Japan's mythological account of the world on the brink of annihilation is in a class by itself. Other stories of its kind are tragic, terrifying. Japan's is comic, even bawdy.”

The Guardian caught up with Mariko Mori just before her exhibition Rebirth opened at the Royal Academy. ArtInfo has a slideshow.

• Tis the season: Japan’s snow monkeys head to the onsen. (Windsor Star)


UPDATED: 12/17/12

Friday, December 7, 2012

Japan News Roundup: North Korea Missile Launch, Election's 'Third Force', Japan’s Only Male Geisha, Kobe Luminaire

Kobe Luminaire commemorating victims of the 1995 earthquake. Via.

• A major tunnel collapse near Mt. Fuji saw “about 270 concrete slabs each weighing 1.4 tons fall and cause the deaths of nine people” (BusinessWeek), after which "Japanese officials ordered the immediate inspection of tunnels across the country” (WSJ). BBC recaps reports from major Japanese media, with Yomirui writing the tunnel "has been inspected every five years” and officials saying “'no problem was found with the ceiling panels' during the last inspection between September and October.”

• Campaigning kicked off this week in “nuclear crisis–hit Fukushima, where more than 100,000 people remain displaced from their homes" (AP). With with polls showing more than 40 percent of voters are undecided, the Wall Street Journal gave a rundown of the political players, and, in separate article noted "a record number of parties—12 in total—are expected to register more than 1,400 candidates to compete for the 480 seats in the lower house" with 'third force' minority parties possibly tipping support from the larger conservative LDP and democratic DPJ parties. The nationalistic impetus of some popular candidates “could give not only Asian neighbors but also Washington cause for concern” (Reuters).

• In addition to the economy, a major platform this election is energy. The ruling party wants to “end Japan’s reliance on nuclear power by the 2030s, using a combination of energy conservation, a shift to renewable energy sources and greater use of cogeneration, which captures heat emitted as a byproduct of electricity generation.” The country is also "pushing ahead with ambitious smart city plans." (Financial Times)

A 7.3 earthquake struck northeastern Japan--an area still recovering from 2011--injuring several people and “generating small waves but no immediate reports of heavy damage.” (L.A. Times)

• “North Korea is proceeding with plans to test a long-range rocket this month in defiance of international condemnation that included Japanese warnings to shoot it down if necessary" (BW). Japan issued a shoot-down order and “called for close cooperation with the U.S., China, South Korea and Russia in preparation (WSJ). The U.S. Navy began moving ships into the western Pacific in preparation for the planned launch of a long-range rocket by North Korea (SCMP).

• The Senate unanimously amended the 2013 Defense Authorization Bill, committing the U.S. "to defend Japan should the Senkaku Islands come under attack by a third country" (Washington Times). Noting the “Chinese navy and military presence is expanding day by day” around the islands, the Globe and Mail bigs a bird’s eye view of the proverbial chess game unfolding:
The Japanese surveillance plane is an hour into its flight when it spots the first Chinese flags of the day… [the] craft are mere pawns, pushing forth in groups to test the response from the Japanese side as Beijing tries to assert its claim to a quintet of islands, and their surrounding waters, that Japan has controlled for decades. Later that day, the rooks and knights appear – China Marine Surveillance craft, sent nearly every day to police the area as if it were Beijing’s to patrol. They are cautiously matched ship for ship by boats from the Japan Coast Guard, the two sides often closing to within 100 metres of each other but never – yet – colliding.”
• U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka and Representative Colleen discussed why remembering Pearl Harbor matters 71 years later. (Morning Sun)

• "Japan wants to encourage the world’s two biggest emitters [China and the U.S.] to take part in a global climate-protection system that would be agreed to before 2015 and to include both developing and industrialized nations… The nation will pursue voluntary policies rather than binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol beginning in 2013." (Bloomberg News)

• An essay debate wages over at Council on Foreign Relations: Is Japan in decline?

• "For years Yoshinori Watanabe (aka ‘Mr. Gorilla’) ran Japan’s most powerful and successful yakuza group. Jake Adelstein on his mysterious death over the weekend—and his legacy of modern and ruthless management of the crime syndicate." (Daily Beast)

• Helping to bring kabuki to contemporary audiences around the world, actor Nakamura Kanzaburo died this week at age 57. His 100-strong all-male company Heisei Nakamuraza troupe is “noted for productions that respect kabuki's centuries-old heritage yet burst with contemporary energy and humor that are evocative of the early days of kabuki theater in the 17th century.” (Japan Times)

• With the passing of jazz legend Dave Bruebeck, some pick his "Jazz Impressions of Japan" as a top album--"a kind of musical journal of the Dave Brubeck Quartet's tour of Japan"

• “Eitaro is Japan’s only male geisha who performs in the role as a female dancer. He is the master of an ‘okiya,’ a geisha house in Tokyo’s Omori port district.” The articlenotes: “In modern Japan, geisha performers have become a rarity… One hundred years ago, there were over 80,000 geisha in Japan. Today the number of working geisha is estimated to be around 1,000.” (Daily Mail)

Fast Company posted some incredible images from MoMA's Rise of Tokyo Avant-Garde exhibition, noting "the show has an auspicious (and telling) relationship to the architecture housing it, designed by Yoshio Taniguchi, an architect who came of age in Tokyo during the same period. Taniguchi’s restrained white walls couldn’t be more different than the sometimes frightening surrealism and utopian fervor of his one-time peers." The Wall Street Journal shared highlights of some 70 Japanese films of the period screening in conjunction with the exhibition.

Winner and runners up from this year’s annual Japanese mascot Grand Prix. “6,500,000 votes were cast to rank the 865 official mascots who entered." (RocketNews24)

The Kobe Luminarie is under way--a 12-day light festival that commemorates victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 (BesuDesu). More images from Getty Images here.

• From bottles to boxes: how to giftwrap Japan-style. (ChopsticksNY)