Nanjing

In Japan, the glossing-over of atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) during the Pacific War (and the Second Sino-Japanese War in particular) is sadly neither new nor uncommon. Outright denials that such events occurred are thankfully much rarer, but it often seems that men with such extreme views end up in positions of political power giving their views undeserved attention.

This week Takashi Kawamura, the mayor of Nagoya, made headlines both here and in China for his denial of the Nanking Massacre, in which the IJA raped and murdered hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians in the winter of 1937. These atrocities were shockingly brutal. Kawamura’s father was stationed in Nanjing in 1945.

Nagoya and Nanjing established a sister-city relationship in 1978. Kawamura, showing his complete ineptitude for diplomacy, chose to make his remarks to a visiting delegation of Nanjing city officials. Nanjing has since suspended its city sister relationship with Nagoya.

Even after 70 years, Japan’s continued inability to unequivocally acknowledge and honestly reflect upon the events of the Second Sino-Japanese War has been a major contributor in preventing the warming of Sino-Japanese relations, both at diplomatic and personal levels.

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The Relationship Between Hubris and Sloth in PHP

WordPress has kindly informed me that I’ve reached 50 moderately absurd posts. I will now set a public target of 100 posts this year – just so that I can miss it and be publicly humiliated. 🙂

As I recently commented to a friend, I only post in accordance with the following programatic statement:

// PHP Blog Posting if/else statement.
if (Hubris > Sloth) {
    Write New Blog Post ;
}else{
    Drink beer;
}

Peak Japan

Japan’s rapid development following its humiliating defeat in the Pacific War has been well documented. During the boom years of the 1970s and 1980s the country’s infrastructure developed at an unprecedented rate and to a very full extent. Highways and bridges were built servicing areas with no need for them. Airports were constructed in remote, lightly-populated areas to fly vegetables to the cities. (Have you ever bought a radish that has its own Air Miles?) Unused concert halls and empty art galleries were built in the smallest of hamlets. Railways were expanded to every corner of the country and sprawling subways (underground railways) were built under most of the major urban centres. While current residents enjoy the fruits of this investment, they are increasingly having to shoulder the burden of maintaining it all.

On NHK news last night there was a story about the increasing cost of maintaining Japan’s now ageing public infrastructure such as roads, highways, bridges, and municipal public buildings. Maintenance costs for public infrastructure have been increasing year on year for the last half-century, and last year, for the first time, more money was spent maintaining current infrastructure than building new stuff. In the last couple of decades Japan has been stuck in a cycle of deflation, so these increases in costs are real, not inflationary.

This would all probably be OK if the economy was growing (it’s barely moving), the population was increasing (it’s declining), the number of taxpaying workers was going up (it’s not),  there was little public debt (it’s now at a whopping 220% of GDP), and there were no other budgetary surprises (it is now forecast that decommissioning and decontaminating Fukushima will take 40 years). Living in Japan in 2012 really feels like living in a post-developed economy that is just starting to go into gradual but terminal decline.

So what’s the solution? On the news story last night NHK looked at how the municipality of Hamamatsu was dealing with the problem. Their solution is a public fire sale. Assets that can be sold will be sold, and the small amount of money raised will be used to demolish assets that have no value. The national government is currently pursuing legislation to increase sales tax. Further tax increases along with cuts to social services and the national pension scheme are inevitable.

Unless some other radical step is taken (such as opening the country to mass immigration) I think that residents of Japan in 2030 will look back to 2012 as the end of a golden era for Japanese public services, taxes, and infrastructure.

Dying for some Lamb

Last week we ate lamb at home for dinner. This is the first time I have eaten lamb in Japan because it is generally expensive and not widely available. We were able to enjoy chowing down on some succulent sheep as a direct result of one of Nicewife’s (distant) relatives passing away.

Let me explain. When one attends a funeral in Japan it is customary to give a sum of money to the deceased’s family. The amount depends how close one’s relationship is to the deceased, but can be as much as $400 AUD for close relatives. Some of this money is used to pay the exorbitant funeral bill, some is kept by the family, and a proportion is returned to the giver as an obligatory thank you gift.

A common way to deal with this “thank you” gift is to purchase a catalogue for a fixed amount (price unmarked) and send this to the giver. This catalogue is a high-quality glossy publication full of merchandise and luxury items of food, and the giver can use the enclosed order form to pick something which is then delivered for free. Nicewife’s parents’ house contains an assortment of goods (a casserole dish, an umbrella stand) that have been obtained in this manner. This time they chose some lamb.

I find this whole concept interesting because generally the Japanese go to great lengths to superstitiously avoid any incidental associations with death, but will quite readily eat food and keep items obtained through these funeral catalogues.

Stripped-Down Shinto

Yesterday morning as the sun rose over Inazawa (the town neighbouring ours) in central Japan it was a crisp minus 3 degrees and there was unmelted snow lying in shady areas. Thousands of local men clearly thought, “What a beautiful day to dress in nothing but a loincloth and walk around for hours exposed to the elements as a participant in the Inazawa Hadaka Matsuri (Inazawa Naked Festival)”. I make this ridiculous claim only because yesterday I saw with my own eyes thousands of men dressed in nothing but loincloths walk around for hours in the chilly north wind, as willing participants in the Inazawa Hadaka Matsuri.

Small Group
It starts like this, with small groups of local men congregating outside of houses and community centres near their homes.

This is just one of a number of “naked ” festivals across Japan, which are said to have originated in the Nara Period (710 to 794 AD).

Early in the afternoon, groups of local men in loincloths started to appear outside houses and community centres, drinking saké, chanting together, jogging on the spot, and generally looking cold and embarrassed. After spending some time cutting circuitous routes through the backstreets they then slowly converged at the entrance to Konomiya Shrine. By this time their bodies had warmed up due to an unusual combination of alcohol and exercise, and cold water was sprayed on them in order to prevent skin rash as the crowd of semi-naked men became increasingly thick and uncomfortably close.

This festival centres around one man – the Shin-okoto (literally “god man”), who is incidentally the only participant who is actually naked (apart from those unfortunate middle-aged men who could occasionally be seen having “wardrobe malfunctions” midway through the festivities). Shinto traditionalists believe that touching the Shin-okoko cleanses one of sin, evil and other general misfortune. I don’t know how much traction this gains amongst the majority of younger Japanese – who are basically superstitious secularists – but in Japan once something becomes a tradition the fact that it has become so is reason enough to continue to do it. Towards the end of the festival the Shin-otoko basically crowd-surfs his way up to a small door in the shrine building, in which, with the loss of any small amount of remaining dignity, he is involuntarily inserted.

Larger Crowd
Groups all converge on the route to Konomiya Shrine.

This isn’t moderately absurd. This is completely nuts.

Kounomiya Jinja
This is Konomiya Shrine - the final destination of the Shin-otoko. Notice the VERY SENSIBLE amount of winter clothes being worn by the spectators. A few hours later and one will have to fight for the air to breath is this arena.