Saturday, 26 January 2013

THE KING'S LIP-SYNC SPEECH (AKA 'shuddup and pass the sushi')



Hello,

I'm Our Man. in Abiko, the host of this blog. Far be it from me. To denigrate another's attempts to speak. Another language. It is very tough to do. Especially if your voice coach is an iPhone. And you only do Android. But it was a native app. Ha Ha, but siri arsely, "all the leaders from the assin' nations" (0.26) are happy that "democracy is on the wax among assin' nations" (0.41). Thank. You, and bon appetite.

xxx

Ourmani Q. Nabiko

Vid smuggled out from Davos in a doggie bag by TokyoWoods.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

SWEET NIGHTMARES ARE MADE OF THIS

Pyongyang: A Journey in North KoreaPyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Recently, I feel compelled to read, write and think about North Korea. I'm not quite sure why. I suspect it is something to do with it being the antithesis of everything we know of our cosy liberal world. The rule of law, the rights of man, democracy and even religion, are mocked, distorted and abused in the warped mirror of the Kim family fiefdom. And we're practically neighbours. Anyway, after tweeting about the excellent Sophie Smith goes to Pyongyang article doing the rounds on Twitter, a chance recommendation from a trusted follower led me to this witty graphic novel memoir of a couple of months spent in Pyongyang by a Western animator a couple of years ago.

It's by no means a definitive description of North Korea's horrors, but I can't think of a better way to introduce the embodiment of George Orwell's 1984 nightmare than through the stark, sometimes absurd, black and white sketches that illuminate one man's point of view. Is the author qualified to report on the country? I don't know. All I can say is I couldn't put the book down this morning at breakfast. And two hours later, when I'd finished it, I felt exhausted but relieved to be alive, so grateful to live here and not there, and so sorry for the people of North Korea who must live in this nightmare believing it to be a dream.

View all my reviews

BREAKING... for a more considered and critical review of the book, try here.

Friday, 18 January 2013

BEST THAT MONEY CAN BUY




Hot on the heels of Scientologygate, in which The Atlantic prostituted its good name at the altar of a fast buck earlier this week, I can confirm that Our Man in Abiko has received two offers to do similar in the last couple of days, though the Johns were only offering free copy in exchange for a quickie link. Am I being puritanical in thinking such deals compromise my good name? I gave them short shrift, but it makes me wonder. Doing it for money doesn't seem so bad, as long as everyone knows up front there's no love involved.

But then what would be the point? 

Sorry, what was I talking about again? Oh yeah. These two emails and my responses, reproduced for your pleasure here:




Secret handshake to Warped Gaijin for the video of more corporate journalism fun. Carry on. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

SELF-PORTRAIT

I finally got round to writing an About page for this blog. It's only taken me five years, ahem.

Friday, 11 January 2013

HOMELAND SECURITY


Thanks to China, my wife is sound asleep.
She hasn't been sleeping well at night ever since the burglary early this week. But over the last few days we have been taking preventative measures to guard against further incursions into our sovereign territory.
Chief among them are the dozen made-in-China window locks we picked up from the ¥100 shop. Come nightfall, the lights go on all over the bunker. Having no sons, I don't have a cricket or baseball bat to hand, but I thought better of tackling future home invaders armed only with my daughter's badminton racquet. So I've taken to sleeping with an umbrella beside my bed. Until the weekend at least, when we have time to rearm, any invader will face the wrath of me and my brolly.
I can admit to myself that if I'm truthful, that probably didn't set my wife's mind at ease. But that and the cumulative power of a dozen small changes have. We don't forget to lock the doors and windows every night. We always close the outside window shutters now. And we pay attention to who is walking around the neighbourhood. Our strongest defence is openness — we tell what we know to anyone who will listen. The whole neighbourhood now knows what happened a few days ago, and because of this we learnt there was another break-in an hour before our home was raided. As a result, everyone is looking out for each other.
And the prime suspect.
The cops reckon he's in his 20s or 30s, is 160cm tall with 24cm-size shoes. They are pretty certain he's in the building trade because he's so neat and tidy. And there have been sightings of a young stranger walking around the neighbourhood with orange shoes. I saw him myself a week ago.
But I'm not so sure.
Remove the urge to make assumptions and other possibilities spring up. There's another word for a man who is short, neat and tidy with dainty feet:
A woman.
But whether it's a man in the building trade, a chap with orange shoes, or a woman: we're ready this time.
We're shuttlecocked and loaded.  

***

While I was splashing out on one-off home defence measures, the prime minister was too. Although Shinzo Abe's measures come in at considerably more than ¥1,260 ($15), which is what I paid for my window locks yesterday. The government is going to spend ¥180 billion ($2 billion) on missiles, fighter jets and helicopters as an emergency economic measure, according to my morning copy of the Japan Times.
This was in response to Chinese incursions into the Japanese held Senkaku islets, the most recent of which was a few hours before my home was invaded.
Abe's ¥180 billion also buys ¥16 billion of "antiquake and tsunami measures" for the Self-Defence Forces. That's presumably concrete. Sounds like an awful lot of money for very little to me, but of course it's also "to stimulate the economy," according to a defence ministry official. Of course it is. Everything is to stimulate the economy, just as long as someone else pays for all that stimulating. And unless there's a concrete factory around here, I doubt the Abikan economy will be much stimulated, but what would I know?
I can't help thinking of how many window locks Mr Abe could buy with that kind of money, although he probably won't be buying them cheap from China now.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

CRIME SCENE ABIKO


Everyone was still in bed this morning when I realised something was wrong.
I'd gone downstairs to put the toaster on for the eldest's breakfast. Odd. The downstairs was freezing cold. Cold was not particularly noteworthy in our uninsulated, undouble-glazed bunker, but I can't ever remember seeing my own breath. A sliding door to our front room was open that is always shut. The curtain was half open. The bug screen was lying neatly on its side against the persimmon tree. The sliding window was wide open. Odder still, a triangle of glass the size of a hand or elbow was missing from the pane of glass. An earthquake? Couldn't be. A burglary? But nothing seemed to be missing.

***

Inspector Ichinose of the Chiba Prefectural police was the first to arrive at the crime scene. He strode purposefully around the garden to where the window had been broken. He adjusted his Los Angeles Fire Department baseball cap on his head and got straight down to it.
"This is the window?"
"Yes."
"This is the bug screen?"
"Yes."
His partner arrived with a hard, square briefcase. From it he retrieved a feather duster and began dusting the window.
The inspector turned to my wife.
"May I look around the house?"
"Of course."
The first break in the case came minutes later. The inspector lay prone and took out a clear plastic sheet, taping it to the floor. A footprint in the middle of the room? Odd, we always wear slippers.
He seemed happy to hear that.
"This has an interesting tread mark, a pair of shoes, maybe?"
"Looks like my new slippers," my wife said.
In fact, the tread matched exactly.
The inspector's shoulders sagged.
"I'm sorry," my wife said.
He sat down on our youngest's child seat at the dining table and began filling out a form. We gave him our names, ages, and timeline for the home invasion. We'd gone to bed at midnight, reading till maybe 1am.  The only other thing we knew for sure was that at some point in the night our youngest had clambered out of her bed and gone to the toilet upstairs before climbing into our bed, nestling in next to mum.
"I see."
The inspector took this all down, then when he realised I wasn't the official head of household as he had assumed, he had to take it all down again on the right form with my wife's name as head of household.
Never assume anything.
As he wrote, a cop in uniform, Nakamura-san, introduced himself and asked if he could wander around and draw a plan of the house.
"Sure."
I had put the coffee on, but now with three policemen in the house, I was doubtful whether there was enough for everyone in the pot.
Then a fourth officer popped his head round the genkan entrance hall. He was the youngest of them all. He took his shoes off and tip-toed dramatically along the edge of the dining room in his socks, while being filled in by Inspector Ichinose. I nodded at the clipboard ninja and my wife fought back laughter.
The other detective was in the front room now and was kneeling on our sofa dusting for more prints. He found two. I said that was good, but the room was frequented by dozens of people, it being used as a classroom most days. There then followed some discussion between the two sleuths. They decided to print our fingers and palms. My wife's wedding ring was too tight to remove. After further discussion, they decided we didn't have to remove our wedding rings to be printed.
But it was all academic. They knew who the burglar was.

***

"We know who the burglar is," the cop said over coffee. The inspector and his partner had gone back to prefectural headquarters and now the only police presence was Nakamura-san and his sock-wearing junior, both of Higashi-Abiko department.
"He has size 24cm feet, is 160cm tall, is in his 20s or early 30s."
"Wow. How did you deduce that?"
 Nakamura-san doodled random crosses on the back of a report form and drew a single circle around them all, then marked a bold cross in the centre of the circle.
"Well, we've been looking for him for a while. This fits his MO. He's neat. The bug screen, placed by the tree. And the glass from the window, he took that with him. We think he works in the building trade."
"What did he want to steal? The Nintendo DS and iPhone were left on the table."
"What do they all want? Cash and jewellery, that's it. Everything else is traceable or too much trouble to explain away. But he's a coward. He must have been disturbed or heard a noise and then ran away."
I sipped my coffee.
"So, our seven-year-old going to the toilet in the middle of the night saved our lives?"
Nakamura-san laughed.
"You can tell her that I'm sure she did."

Monday, 7 January 2013

KYU KYU

I've enlisted the children in the never ending war of attrition to conquer the Japanese language. For me, every tiny step forward can easily turn into a rout. But I'm full of awe at kids able to hold on to every new piece of territory gained without seeming to get their hands dirty.
These thoughts crossed my mind as I watched my youngest the other day doing the washing up.
"Dad, you know what this is?"
"It's a plate."
"No! Listen."
She put the clean plate in the sink next to the washing-up bowl and rubbed the tips of her little fingers up and down the middle of the plate.
"That's kyu kyu!"
"That's what we call squeaky clean."
"That's what I call worth ¥100."
"Ask your mother."

Thursday, 3 January 2013

ALL OF THE ABOVE


It's not often that folk actually pay to read what I think, and rarer still when they post a considered comment about what I've written, so I'm doubly honoured to have received the following thoughts tonight on a post that was included in the book Guts Pose in which I made a throwaway statement that Japan had suffered "Atomic genocide"…
First up, let me say I enjoyed this diary immensely. I bought it on Amazon and read it on New Years Eve whilst the in-laws were engrossed in the dreary annual Kohaku performance (yes, my wife is Japanese).
That said, I wish to raise a point of order. I take strong issue with your reference to "atomic genocide".
What exactly is it about the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that qualifies as "genocide"?
A tragic waste of human life? Without question. But more Japanese died during the March 9th, 1945 conventional bombing raid on Tokyo. Was that also a "genocide"? And if so how should we view the entire air war against the Japan homelands? Should that be classed as "genocide" in it's entirety?
Bear in mind that the city of Kyoto was spared from bombing during the war as it was considered a city of extreme cultural significance to the Japanese nation. It is a strange kind of genocide that spares the cultural icons of a target nation, wouldn't you agree.
Rather, I suggest to you that the air war INCLUDING the two atomic bombings, whilst horrific to the victims, should be seem as ultimately forcing the Japanese High Command to face reality, thereby averting the further deaths of potentially 10 million Japanese civilians. 
Alternative history doesn't get taught in schools so very few people know that possibly the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War was the one that was never fought — Operation Downfall — the Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands. The Imperial HQ was readying children, women and old men to banzai charge American machine guns and tanks armed with nothing more than sharp bamboo sticks.
In short, I believe that characterizing the atomic bombings as "genocide" is inaccurate, unfair to the people who actually fought during those times, and demeans the experience of peoples who actually HAVE suffered real genocide such as the Jews, Armenians and Rwandans.
This is my opinion and I sincerely hope that it is published, not as a criticism, but to put perspective on an important historical event which gets misrepresented so often by Japanese and the Japanese media.
Thank you.
Saitama Steve 
On reflection, I agree "genocide" was a poor choice of word. I was trying to find the right one to describe the enormity of the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in one moment. Genocide is the attempt to eradicate a race or nation, and that was not what the Allies were about. And I take what Saitama Steve said about potentially averting millions more casualties that the mass killings of civilians presumably prevented. That was presumably true.

So, what is the right word to describe all that? I'm really not sure.

No disrespect to Saitama Steve, whose argument is entirely reasonable and valid, but stacking up the horrors of war as being less horrific than what might have happened had those horrors not been perpetrated makes my head hurt. Such arguments seem to me to be more political calculations than moral ones.

Had a sniper been able to kill the Connecticut nutter before he had killed the 26 school kids and teachers, of course the only clear moral thing to do would be to take the bloody shot. The morality gets a bit foggier if in taking that shot you knew you'd also be killing five kids in the line of fire. Is taking the lives of five innocents worth saving two dozen? How about 12 innocents? How about 26 innocent lives to save 26 others? What if the good guys were not armed with a sniper's rifle but a Predator drone? How many Pakistani wedding party guests is it moral to kill in pursuit of one terrorist? Or an alleged terrorist? When does the pursuit of alleged terrorists become terrorism itself?

I don't know.

The political answer is the ends justify the means. And that's good enough for most questions. I'm not smart enough to figure out if that is a good enough moral argument, I suspect it isn't. Had Japan won the war, would the Rape of Nanking be justified as an unpleasant but necessary oppression that by hastening the subjugation of a country saved countless millions of lives of civilians in the future? Seems absurd. And yet rational. We destroyed this village to save it.

What's the right word? Horror? Tragedy? Pragmatic Morality? Atrocity? Politics?

All of the above.

More from me about all this from three years ago in this post and comments.

Carry on.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

THREE RESOLUTIONS

1. Read more.
2. Write more.
3. Eat less.