Charles Grassley is a Republican Iowa senator, and he’s angry. Angry at AIG execs for paying themselves $165 million in bonuses even after the federal bailout; something even Prez Obama opposes. Instead of trying to paraphrase, let me just quote him:
…the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they’d follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I’m sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology.
Hmmm. Okay. Later, the guy’s spokesperson explained that Grassley didn’t actually want the AIG peeps to commit suicide; he simply wanted them to take responsibility. But he still maintained that the Japanese have a tendency to commit suicide.
There’s a major distinction that Grassley should be aware of here—Japanese execs who fuck up kill themselves when they feel that their shame is too heavy for them to carry on living; in the AIG case, clearly the execs are acting completely shameless even after all the screwing up they did.
Taro Aso’s a lucky guy. He isn’t all that smart, and he barely reads Japanese, but he got to be the first foreign dignitary to meet Barack Obama since he became president. Why do they always take this cheesy happy handshake photo? Click through for a cheesy handshake photo of Taro Aso with Hillary Clinton.
A hilarious new invention by Tokyo start-up Liveware Inc parodies Shoichi Nakagawa’s drunken stupor at the G7 conference in Rome in a silly but addictive cell phone game. The goal is to try to keep Nakagawa awake during the press conference by “poking” him with the 5 key at the right timing so that he doesn’t miss any of the reporters’ questions. If he does, you lose. His approval ratings are displayed in big white print at the top of the screen–I don’t think they ever get super high, but the idea is to try to keep it from falling to zero. Pretty funny, and a quick and witty reaction to Japan’s most recent obsession on the part of Liveware.
Not long after his drunken appearance at the G7 conference last week, ex-finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa set of the security alarm system at the Vatican Museum by stepping over the barrier protecting the famed Laocoon statue, pictured here. Totally embarrassing, and not very strong evidence against his claim that he was not drunk. Would a guy who was so sick that he had to OD on cold meds be misbehaving at a museum with his politician pals just a few hours later? Not so much. He also accosted a few other statues that weren’t supposed to be touched (obviously) in front of museum officials.
The biggest news in Japan right now is finance minister Shoichi Nakagawa’s impressive drunken performance at the G7 meeting in Rome. Of course, the guy claims that he wasn’t drunk—just drowsy from too much cold medicine—but the global shame he amassed led him to resign yesterday, just a week before he was supposed to publicize his proposed budget plan. Here’s a video.
In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter if he was drunk on alcohol or high on cold meds. The fact is, he was clearly unfit to be representing Japan in such a public way that day, and he should have stayed in his hotel room. It’s embarrassing that he thought it would be okay to have his Finance Minister face on in such a stupefied state.
On the other hand, it’s a good thing that these silly old politician dudes are making a fool of themselves. Real change often and only comes after a series of grave errors made by the guys in charge—we know that from looking at the US. Now that the prime minister has proven that he can’t read kanji (he also has a near-record low approval rating of 9%) and the finance minister can’t stay sober, it’s more likely that something good will happen soon. It has to.
Ask anyone who their favorite Japanese author is, and chances are they will say Haruki Murakami. The guy has a penchant for winning foreign literary prizes, the most recent being this year’s Jerusalem Prize, awarded by the Israeli president to the best foreign writer. Murakami pondered whether he should go to accept the award because of all the mayhem in Gaza. But he went, and gave a riveting speech to an international crowd in which he made a cool statement about a wall and an egg. He prefaced the metaphor by explaining his decision to be there—he’s a rumored hikikomori, but he decided it’s better to say something than to say nothing at all—and then said:
“If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg.”
I love this Barack Obama action figure—not just because I love the new president, which I do, but because here he is lounging Japanese winter-style in a kotatsu. A kotatsu, in case you have the misfortune of never having sat in one, is an amazing table-heated blanket hybrid piece of furniture that, until recently, was the centerpiece of almost every Japanese living room. We used to have one when I was a kid. Sometimes there’s even a hole in the floor that you can dangle your legs in. Here, Obama is hanging out with his legs in the kotatsu, and he’s about to eat a mikan (tangerine) and play Super Famicom.
Did you see the inauguration?? So awesome. Here are a couple of additions to all the Obamamania paraphernalia out there. One says “Yo! President! Yes you did!” and the other says “Obama and Ozawa are the new leaders”—Ichiro Ozawa, of course, being the leader of Japan’s own Democratic Party.
Kisha clubs, or Japanese press clubs, are exclusive associations of Japanese journalists from various news organizations. A recent report by NPR’s On The Media reveals the biases and restrictions of Japan’s press clubs. Government entities and corporations have close affiliations with these kisha clubs, allowing members access to press conferences closed off to outsiders. This kind of stuff happens in many countries, but it’s a little different here. For example, organizations have their very own kisha clubs installed right in their office buildings. One other unique characteristic is that members of the kisha club develop deep and interdependent relationships with political figures.
Takashi Uesugi, a former kisha club member, was interviewed in the segment, and I found some of his comments interesting:
Strangely enough, if a reporter started out covering Mr. Aso when he was Foreign Minister, basically the same reporter follows Mr. Aso for the rest of his life. As your pet politician rises up the food chain, so does the reporter who follows him.
If the reporter gets some information about this politician’s rival scheming or something, he would warn him. You see? If your politician has a big downfall caused by a scandal, you have a downfall too, maybe getting assigned to some remote area. Then you can’t write anything.
They like the convoy system; no one should stand out. If you are the only one who gets the scoop, you are given the cold shoulder. If you are the only one who doesn’t write it, then you are condemned by your company.
The full transcript is available here. (by Emily Co)
He might have encyclopedic knowledge of manga, but our new prime minister proved at a recent press conference that he can’t really read kanji. He mispronounced at least four words written in high school-to-college level kanji by his speech writer. "The guy needs furigana (captions deciphering kanji) on all his speeches," one politician mocked. "What an embarrassment that the guy who represents Japan to the world can’t read Japanese!" another rightfully declared.
When approached by a team of reporters on this subject, Aso deflected. "I just misread, that’s all," he said hastily, and then shuffled away from the podium.
Geeks had previously given our manga-loving prime minister the affectionate nickname Taro "Rozen" Aso after his favorite manga, Rozen Maiden. He now has a new nickname, Taro "KY" Aso—Taro "Kanji Yomenai" Aso, or Taro "I-can’t-read-kanji" Aso. (KY is a popular geek term for someone who isn’t in on the joke, like Michael Scott from The Office. You can read more about the concept and take a KY Quiz here.)
Obama’s going to be the new president of the United States, and whole world is super psyched! One little seaside town in Fukui, Japan, is particularly ecstatic because their town name, which means Little Beach, is pronounced "OBAMA" in Japanese. Emily did some research for us and found this awesome video of the Obama dance. She also dug up the following deets:
Their "Obama for Obama" support group are ingenious in a typical
Japanese fashion; creating Obama manju, Obama chopsticks, Obama
kimonos, and even Obama fish burgers. Some of their committee members
are hoping to fly to Washington to attend his inauguration. They’re
hoping that the Obama hula girls will be asked on stage to
perform—unlikely, but hey, anything can happen.
Since today is election day, I’m going to sit at my desk and play Super Obama World. I’ve always loved Mario, but this is even better. The new (maybe) president jumping over pigs and gathering American flags. Whee!
I found these funny manju packages on a street corner last week. The pink one features ex-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi. It’s called "Sayonara Jun-chan Manju" and you see Koizumi waving with a smile. The three guys holding hands in the bottom right corner are his three successors to date, Aso, Fukuda, and Abe.
The package on the left is called "Birth of Taro-chan Manju," ad it features Taro Aso, the current prime minister. He’s sitting on an executive’s chair saying "I will make Japan brighter and stronger!" and if you look closely, you see ex-PM Jun-chan waving goodbye in the background.
A new erotic video game that’s coming out next year called "Love me seriously!" is rumored to have a character modeled after our new Prime Minister Taro Aso. As you can see here, he looks a lot like the guy, and his height (175cm) and hobbies (shooting guns) also match the PM’s profile. I think his job is specified as prime minister, too.
Of course, there’s a disclaimer saying that any similarities to real characters are pure coincidence. Fair enough. But this rumor has triggered a lot of buzz on 2channel, and I think it’s fair to say it surprises nobody that erotic game makers would want to celebrate the anime-loving politician in this way.
In an effort to better connect with the young, apathetic, often non-voting population, new PM Taro Aso is sending out video messages to supporters via email called the "Taro Channel" (quite possibly a parody of Nintendo’s Wii Channel.) The first one was sent out on Thursday with the theme Stronger, Brighter. I wish I could find a copy of it on YouTube, but I’m in the south of France and for some reason YouTube is blocked here—or at least at this hotel.
Yuko Obuchi is former prime minister Keizo Obuchi’s 34 year old daughter. She has an interesting position in Taro Aso’s new cabinet. Her title is Minister of Population and Gender Equality in English, but in Japanese, she is the 少子化相 (shoushika-sou), or Minister of Declining Birth.
Call me crazy, but in my slightly feminist mind, gender equality and declining birth are NOT the same thing. The job title "minister of declining birth" is kind of horrendous—it takes a lot of power out of her hands already by defining what her role as the person in charge of gender is. Women don’t get to choose their path in life, they just need to have more babies. That’s kinda how that title resonates with me.
Ever wonder what your government bureaucrats do on their down time? An internal investigation at the agriculture ministry recently revealed that six of their staffers had been spending hours and hours editing Wikipedia entries about Gundam on their work computers. Apparently they know a lot more about mobile suits than farming, cuz they edited at total of 260 entries related to the popular anime series.
As a consequence, Wikipedia was banned from all ministry computers. When interviewed by CNN, a ministry official had this to say about the situation:
"The Agriculture Ministry is not in charge of Gundam."