Archive for November, 2008


phillipeNew, fairly self- satisfied post up on If it has a name know it: Watashi wa kore ga tsuite nanka to itte imasu demo, chigaimasu.

I still don’t really have a proper tagging regime for either of these blogs, so even if WordPress could support cool stuff like the Wowzio tagcloud, it would be a pretty sparse cloud. At least, that was the case before Wowzio let you configure the widget to cloud words by text occurrence and not purely by tags. All the homebrew WordPress cloud formats just do it by tag, so without a lot more tagging discipline it would be useless.

After all, the only two tags I have preset for this blog are ‘culture’ and ‘technology’, and the vast majority of posts could only be accurately tagged with both. If I do say so myself.

Maybe it’s that kind of thought-dump indulgence I should be cutting down on. But then, this is a blog. Over on If it has a name know it, the only two really relevant tags would be ‘griping’ and ‘Japanese’.

not now, I’m entertaining


Read Full Post »

eurionsvg2Drinking: Kirin Strong 7

Reading: The Seagull

Listening: The Columbia Broadcasting System Presents: Suspense

(I went through a period in Uni of being barely able to sleep without listening to online archives of old radio shows, mainly episodes of the Goon Show, which ultimately found its way into my undergraduate thesis and which I could probably quote verbatim.)

I went into the magazine office today to interview two flamboyant Italian wine dealers, and went to dinner with my editor/CEO. He told me a bit about what’s been holding up the reforms of the website which I’ve been trying to push through, which is really pretty crappy backroom skullbuggery. Our current designer is in the process of slowly defecting, and is already working on various freelance projects which borrow to a greater or lesser extent from new ideas that the office has been working on, in its own deliberate way, for months. One such project is set to undercut the release date of our big tourism project by about a month with a more streamlined, “hip”-specific rag model. Which is pretty rubbish.

Editor is locked in, not only because he may need to find a new designer but also because the current one is responsible for the design and upkeep of the current site, and hence its reliance on the relatively arcane language Ruby. We have no idea of how idiosyncratic his code is, how easy it will be for another designer to pick it up, and we still don’t really know if it will be possible to properly integrate a Ruby forum client like Beast into the site as it stands and host it on our current office server.

SO before we get pipped to the post again, we’re just going to call shenanigans and launch a forum. Editor has long been convinced by the idea -he’s actually pretty savvy, having run an early BBS back in the nineties- and finally decided to just go for it when I pointed out that we could just launch a forum with a a third-party hoster, with a slim design but under our name,  and call it an indefinite beta.The important thing is to get area conversation happening under our auspices, before it becomes entrenched somewhere else.

So we will have a forum. We will seize it before someone else does. Or, more likely, before any of the area-specific no-name forums which probably already exist become big enough to attract notice. We will attract ire with amateurish guerrilla marketing posts on fuckedgaijin forums and JET Facebook groups. It will be mayhem. There will be nutters, we will ban them, they will sign up with new accounts, and life will go on.

I think our tolerance for this, the organic process by which the internet happens, was increased the other day when a fairly personable but very odd bloke walked into the office with an 800-word “opinion piece” on chemtrails in Japan. I love a good conspiracy theory, but I was also the one to argue that these particular two cents might discredit our new opinion column before it really got off the ground. So he’ll be getting an indefinite postponement and a “thanks for making us aware of this!” email tomorrow.


So, along with a LOT of magazine business, this weekend will be a process of sorting through the litter of information and phony third-party reviews on subscription forum systems to find one with high uptime, a good design toolkit and so on. I was mildly rattled by the level of consumer hatred directed towards Sitegrounds when you dig just a little under their very shiny shell sites, so I am going to be looking as carefully as I can. Maybe Hostmonster.

I turned a tangent on ARGs into a bit of a rant over dinner (Sri Lankan: my curry capacity has gone way down and I’ll have to get into practice before India over Christmas). But Editor was interested, and said he’d had an idea to do some sort of Game connected with the website, but hadn’t thought about it for years. I had visions of having to work up a redundant online Sudoku or something every month, but he actually meant a real-life treasure hunt with an online component, maybe a challenge to our Japanese readers to get a photo taken with a Gaijin, with a prize at the end. I talked about Geocaching, maybe using the now-ubiqitous QR codes:


Electronteering! Unique codes on stickers with the magazine logo, posted all around the city , and you have to catch-em-all using the reader built in to every mobile phone camera. Urban info-scrumping!

Suffice it to say, I got a little carried away with ideas of questionable legality, but the concept is sound.

More soon. Also, Wowzio widgets.

this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

Read Full Post »

n1708278_30464745_3993I’ve been thinking a lot lately about divergence, about how modern communications technology gradually makes cultural artifacts more fragmentary.

Like, say, my Dad, you can know all there is to know about a subject which almost no-one cares about. That’s always been possible. But now, speaking proportionally, something can be legitimately considered “famous” which almost no-one has heard of.


I have said, with a confidence that I don’t feel is unwarranted, that no news story on the scale of Prince Harry’s service in Afghanistan can ever be kept a secret again, because newswriters and newsmakers alike will know that whatever you offer, someone will figure they can make more money by breaking the story on their own. It’s the same principle by which the stock market works (or used to): there is always someone who will buy a crashing share.


Drudge broke the Harry story, and now the American election has retired Drudge in favour of a plethora of more openly-ideological sites in the same style. There may well never be another news site in the “insider” mould with the reach and influence of Drudge, because as his haegemony dissolves his users will go their seperate ways to new sites, based on past experience or word-of-mouth. Or, more likely, they’ll fill the gap left by Drudge’s nadir with several sites which together provide a similar sense of coverage.

When tv-links went down, it was international news, albeit page 4 stuff. Similarly with Pirate Bay. The users scattered, and many sites stepped into the freed niche. There will never be, for instance, another Napster. Limewire, Soulseek, whatever it is the kids use today: they haven’t followed one another in natural technological generations, but the staccato progression of indie popularity: people migrate out of one program because another one has become “the” place to download”

And in filesharing programs, or anything which encouraged community, such shifts are incredibly, mathematically obvious. They’re probably still updating Limewire: I could probably re-install and load it up and there might be 500,000 people online, yet it’s still fair to call it irrelevant. I would consider Achewood and ninjavideo.com and Nathan Fillion popular, even famous, but the perfectly normal and pleasant people with whom I live probably wouldn’t have heard of any of them. This is all nothing new, but I’m arguing that the effect is only to get moreso. As is often said, in the 17th Century is was at least possible to know more or less everything about everything known. Now it is mathematically impossible for anyone even to watch every video on YouTube.


Heroes are heroes to a few. Even “everymen” are specific men. Look at Dilbert.

There may never be another technology battle as vital as the late 90’s Console Wars or, say, VHS vs. Betamax. Probably no technology will ever again be as ubiquitous as Windows or the iPod. It is still possible to determine what will be “the toy” for a given Holiday Season, or “the film” for a holiday weekend, but these increasingly are only marketers’ terms for sale spikes that are diminishing and puddling into the Long Tail. This is what happens to conventional capitalism when endowed with some form of wacked-out supercommunication.

One problem about this continuous multifarious branching is that since there is so much to choose from, “taste-makers”, the cornerstone of modern marketing theory, will become ever more influential on the individual’s decision-making; but also ever more multifarious and scattered, and consequently harder to “recruit”, to influence or predict.

The Dark Knight had by far the best ARG campaign yet devised, but it would be presumptuous to mark out any of the movie’s sales demographics as sale-dependent on the ARG. I.e., the campaign may have been a huge exercise in preaching to the choir. The type of person who would research, get hooked and go and pick up a Joker Cake is the sort who would see the film anyway.


I believe in the ARG as a medium for storytelling, but since up to now it’s been essentially nothing but an experiemental marketing technique of uncertain cost-effectiveness, the medium as a profession might die in its infancy. There will be more and more ARGs, of course, and great things coming out of them, but history has shown that the more you mak it possible for people to make things in their bedrooms, the more great-but-obscure things you get.

Now, if this means that more people make a living creatively, and large publishers and other middlemen corporations have to work harder for lower margins, then so be it. The change to the average creative person’s income will likely be little.

In the past “all boats rising” has been a pretty misleading allegory, never more so than today. But with the radical democratisation of attention,  industries like entertainment that are dependent on Attention might well find that the same amount of “leisure” money is spread around a little more evenly or, dare I say it, deservingly.


My brother once said, with a tipsy seriousness not entirely unwarranted, “Molten Core man, Molten Core… It’s our generation’s Vietnam.”

Well, that may be so. In twenty years’ time my brother will still be able to make the reasonable conversational gambit of mentioning Ironforge or Epic Sets or damn Paladins getting nerfed in 1.7, and if it pays off he will be able to have an effortless conversation for hours with a total stranger about their shared experience. Because of the sort of people I hang out with I see that sort of thing all the time, but never before has it been true of eleven million people. And it never will again.

I pray that there will never be another generation’s Vietnam. It’s not totally unreasonable to hope that the 2004 Asian Tsunami will be the worst thing, numerically speaking, to happen in my lifetime. There may never again be another shared experience of trauma as widespread as incinerating the Weighted Companion Cube. There will probably never be “another Snakes on a Plane”. The argument that people are thematically scattering has always been my defense against the argument that the internet causes them to polarise. It remains to be seen which is worse. The future’s not ours to see.




I mean honestly, what kind of a world is capable of making a dumb-looking film of Watchmen, but a film of Max Payne which looks far cleverer and more entertaining than the game?

Maybe films just wear “parodic” better.

then you shoot him in the back of the face

Read Full Post »

Stop watching

A new Watchmen trailer is doing the rounds, and I have lost all faith.

All the 300’s come out in it. It’s going to be all shitty frame-clotting “action slowdowns” and rubbish dialogue. They’ve made it Rorschach’s story and managed to make him boring somehow. Instead of the glimpses of his mania you get in the book, the drama of the film (in the trailer at least) comes from an uncritical adoption of Rorschach’s ‘Nam-addled, Superhero-buddy-team mentality, except now the character is hopped up with slo-mo wall-running sequences which won’t give him actual superpowers, but which will do its damndest to look like it. And which will look idiotic in the process. In the words of Yahtzee, he’s supposed to be just an ordinary dude, albeit one who kicks rich amounts of ass because he just doesn’t give a shit. That’s what’s terrifying about him: not because he’s some bullet-time melodramatic jackass with a firm jawline going on under his mask.


Pretty much every character except Dr. Manhatten has to look faintly stupid when in costume, as would anyone who dresses up like an animal or a mute and roams the street attacking criminals. But the production couldn’t bring itself even to do brilliantly-designed lame for the big screen, even with the costume for “Ozymandias” for goodness’ sake.

The only exception is The Silk Spectre, who provides more than enough meaningful female characterisation for the book but who in the film is reimagined as a tyre advert in a car magazine for people with low self-esteem. Hollywood’s competent and imaginative remaking of superhero costumes for its own purposes began and ended with X-Men 1, and even then it was with a line generously injected by Joss Whedon whose other contributions were largely rejected as too “out there”.

And it will still be better than The Spectre.

You were expecting maybe yellow spandex?

Read Full Post »


metropolis41[Note: Sumo videos will go up tomorrow as they take an age to upload on my connection.]

The Japanese word for “write” is the same as the word for “scratch”: kakimasu. For many here it seems like writing is therapeutic, a release. Following on from yesterday’s stuff about political and fiscal disillusionment among Japanese youth, one of this year’s great revivals was Kanikosen, “The Crab Cannery Ship”, a novel from Japan’s 1920s Proletarian Literature period. Neojaponisme has a good article about how an old story of oppression below decks seems relevant to a generation of temporary workers jammed onto the bottom rung of employment by laws designed to encourage temp work during the “hiring ice-age” of the recession to 2003.


Now marooned by extant temployment laws the “lost generation” are Haken-shain, agency temps whose companies are reluctant to make them permanent.  Or they’re freeters, stuck in a succession of dead-end jobs because their qualifications are a generation behind and they never got into the increasingly-mythical cocoon of Lifetime Employment. These are people in their late 20’s and 30’s, and they currently are being walled into their temp cubicles or behind their convenience store counters by the recent graduates that companies are eager to hire.

The “lost generation” is not so much misplaced as passed over. They’re still young, in Japanese proportion at least. But without maternity leave, job security or any confidence in a pension further down the line, they’re contributing little to Japan’s already tiny birthrate. And in a society that still looks on career “failure” as a symptom of individual laziness, maybe it’s not the youth hazer gangs we should be keeping an eye on. We should be expecting some kind of “Falling Down” scenario rather than “Battle Royale”.

Especially BR2,which was terrible.

The kids at my university, by turns painfully fashionable and scruffily grizzled, were probably all born within recession and have come of age with their allowances rising out of it. But with years more of recession officially now hoving to, they might well see opportunities that were open even to their elder siblings disappearing before their eyes. They might well find, for instance, that spending roughly 40% of their income on clothing isn’t a viable long-term lifestyle choice.

To read about the shift in debating style going on in Japanese monthly magazines, you’d think it was these youngsters who had the most to complain about right now. Our supervisor was chatting about the Toshio Tomigami scandal, in which the Chief of Air Force Staff has been forced to resign following his publication of an article which claimed Japan’s actions in continental Asia during WWII were “benevolent”. Our super rightly pointed out that a) it’s worrying that the guy was not only a product the Air Force College educational system but was in charge of deciding its syllabus, and that b) it’s worryingly reminiscient of something or other that Diet MPs can say in all seriousness that a government employee has a duty to not publicly deviate from the government’s version of history.

He also said that the newspapers tend not to bring any close analysis to bear on stories like this, and that we’d only see thoughtful analysis in the low-circulation political magazines at the end of the month. Well, there’ll be one publication short, since Asahi Shimbun’s monthly “Ronza” was discontinued with it’s October edition due to poor circulation. The magazine seems to have gained a reputation for bringing (or sometimes forcing) two opposing viewpoints together to have it out, but impassioned debate doesn’t draw the crowds it used to. Fuckedgaijin sets this alongside Kamagawa Publications’ new biannual “Lost Generation” magazine.

Called “Rosu Jene” in katakana, the self-claimed ultra-leftist magazine comprises debates on the themes of anguish, unease and the absurdities the young people of today face in everyday life…The e-mail magazine “a–Synodos” is distributed twice a week. “Synodos” is the Greek word for forum. The e-mail magazine calls into question the standard way thoughts are formulated and conveyed among the public. “a–Synodos” editor Chiki Ogiue, 26, said: “When a youngster says he or she dislikes South Korea, for instance, most established opinion magazines tend to brand such a person as a ‘rightist youth’. The youths, for their part, can hardly figure out why such a linkage has taken place”…

“Lost Generation” editor Daisuke Asao, 38, said: “Most widely read magazines are only venues of debates for university professors. [These types of magazines] fail to produce any language that could be conveyed directly to young people in various sectors of society…This sense of discomfort among the younger generation may be a major reason for the drop in circulation of Ronza.”

[From Yomiuri]

Concurrence, not debate. Current Affairs whose political alignment you can pre-select. Writers given the opportunity to scratch away in the same grooves instead of surprising themselves and their readers. At least Yakushiji acknowledges “We welcome the new generation crafting a new dimension in public debates, but we’re also concerned that their style of discourse could form another trench closed to the the rest of the world”.

When I started this blog I intended to answer the question of which seemed more distant: five years in the future or Japan. Suddenly it’s Japan’s future I’m not at all sure of, especially when its past is still such a fluid thing, subject entirely to political expediency. For some it’s not just ‘face’ but the soul of Japan that’s at stake, its aesthetics and codes of behaviour: while some see these as the glorious products of a Confucian/Imperial Order, others are extremely reluctant to acknowledge the origins of Japan’s most revered practices among a hopelessly detached and privileged gentry. It’s no wonder confrontation often clamours over debate.

With a new movie of Kanikosen due out next year, I reckon it won’t be long before, say, Ghibli-style speculative anime starts to turn its technicolour gaze away from its evergreen subjects like the environment and meditations on the individual, towards radical social structure.



The majority of you watching this broadcast… are my sworn enemies! –Koichi Toyama, 2008

Read Full Post »

Notability Wars

[Note: bed now, school tomorrow. Will add video and fix links tomorrow.]

In case you were wondering what a particularly dramatic sumo match looks like, here:

And, for comparison, one with a dramatic buildup and a slightly dull finish. This is the Lithuanian Baruto (who I believe is the only rikishi in the history of the sport to wear a blonde topknot) vs. the remaining Russian (after the two others got kicked out because the police found a joint in a man-bag one of them had lost).

I really don’t know enough to comment on the theory put forward in Freakonomics that Sumo is inherently tolerant of a level of “strategic losses”, but this did seem like a lay-down from where I was sitting.

Also, it has come to my attention that my mum sometimes casts her eye over this blog, so you may rest assured that “pentacle rex” will never be discussed again, as a cultural phenomena or otherwise.


I don’t want yesterday’s post to go unqualified, and because of the backwardsness of the blog as a medium I can qualify it now and it’ll be retroactive. So, though they don’t exactly share my vocabulary of reference the people I’m living and working with are all a thoroughly decent sort. I had an interesting conversation with Jenny while we both stared, mesmerised, at fat but surprisingly nimble men run into one another on Sunday night. We were talking about books in translation, and I mentioned writers who I really admire for translating their own books, or who write and publish in more than one medium: Haruki Murakami, Gunter Grass. Only those with a similar level of fluency will register the sutbtle tone changes between translations, and only the author themself know exactly what the difference is between the two books.

Sometimes another language can be a means of invoking a style: characters in Gundam tend to drop into English to be flippant, or to reel off pseudoscience or a mishmash of philosophies. Beckett wrote his plays in French -initially at least- because he said “ces’t plus facile d’ecrir sans style” (it’s easier to write without style). But Joyce said that good writers should be fluent in at least one other langauge than their native, because it gives insight into a completely different way of thinking.

With Jenny I was wondering aloud whether I would still call myself a writer, or be any good at it, if Japanese was my native language. After all, being good with Japanese is an utterly different skill to being good with English. Jenny pointed out rightly enough that all this assumes I’d still be “me” if I was born in Japan, and that this assumes that what I like is playing with words, not communicating ideas. Sometimes I wonder.


Languages and technology force you into modes of expression, but can be exploited either to create a strange effect, or an eerily familiar one, especially if the medium in question is usually used for the mundane. Keitai Shousetsu or Cell Phone Novels had their third national awards a few weeks ago, with the prize of 2 million Yen going to Atashi Kanojo (I, Girlfriend).

The first page (or screen) looks like this:


It’s become notorious for its staccato grammar: there’s even a spoof website where you can enter a url and it will be translated into Atashi-grammar, complete with meaningless interjections. I can just about follow this first page, but the following translation is from FumiJP:





Well this year 24



Of course

I have

I mean

Why not?



is ordinary


I’m dating him

Making literature out of a workaday medium is nothing new: the Japanese language is based on a simplified form of Chinese developed among Nara-era aristocratic (read: bored) women, and the hiragana syllabary originally referred to “women’s writing”. Maybe it’s the form of address that’s startling about this text novel: you download it from a hub site (with millions of hits and a supposedly 80% female userbase) and it arrives like a text message, which we normally expect to be extremely personal in the way only a really mundane thing can be.

But this isn’t like making a shopping list poetry, it’s like hearing a voice talking to you as if you’re not there, hearing it answer questions you haven’t asked yet. Hence the personal but flippant tone of the first page: the voice is receding into irrelevence or unreferentiality even as it asserts itself. “I don’t know this person”, you’re thinking. Do desho? “What is their deal?”

Imagine a novel that you signed up for, that was told in emails arriving in your inbox, at different times, from different people. Well, that’s essentially an ARG, and though in this economy I wonder who’ll be willing to invest in an experimental marketing technique with an unproven cost-effectiveness, maybe that’s the excuse ARGs needed to get out of being purely commercial entities and into storytelling.


Given to the times

A lot more up-to-date is the news that Das Kapital is going to be made into a manga, with big things predicted for its success and its resonance with a population undergoing its second recession in seven years. The angry and ill-spelled but entertaining and insightful Truth about Japan is a good example of a general sense of disillusionment with market capitalism in general, and because of a general lack of cut-and-thrust in parliamentary politics I’ve heard some say that without the Communist Party Japan would barely qualify as a de facto party democracy.

What I find particularly noteworthy, and which news sites haven’t so far reported as much more than a curiosity, is that Das Kapital is to be digested into comic form. You might as well put on a stage show of Das Kapital. Manga might, I suppose, allow charts and pie graphs or whatever to be provided in expression of economic theory, but the comic format is an almost inherently fictionalising medium. The “format which Japanese adore digesting their information from” [Leo Lewis, The Times] is sequential art, which demands visual storytelling, panel-by-panel. It demands if not character, then definitely drama. That may lend itself to sympathetic expression, to Les Miserables, but not necessarily to theory.

The ambitious comic rendering of Das Kapital is designed to parcel the
complex economic theories of Marx’s hefty original in a format which
Japanese adore digesting their information from; it will also be
compressed into a size that can be slipped discretely into a Chanel
evening bag, or slid into the top drawer of a desk when the bosses are
looking. [Lewis]

I recently came across Tintin: Breaking Free, an anarchosocialist piracy parody, in hard copy in our library: it’s socialist wish-fulfillment, thoroughly entertaining and, in its crappy art and bland prejudice, not a million miles from some genuine examples (a hard copy of which was on display in the library of a Primary School where I work, but which has since thankfully disappeared). It’s like Les Mis in Brixton, and it’s rabble-rousing and visual stereotyping is likely to be closer to the technique of Das Kapitaru Doki Doki than painstaking economic policy.

In Japanese the word for ‘sing’ is the same as the word for ‘state’ or ‘express’. I reckon that readers who operate in such a language, and who are accustomed to the visual medium with its easy prejudices, will know a good story when they see it, a story with lessons worth taking away. But they won’t be as ready as some Nationals seem to think to convert to a complete dogma the instant it’s presented in a ‘pulp’ format. Most Japanese people think the Public Service Broadcaster NHK’s bland presentation reflects its lack of political bias, but they’re bombarded day and night with fiction and fact-presented-as-fiction, all with something to sell.



Finally, of course, there are no Capitals in Japanese. The People are just the same as people. And the Kanji for ‘population’ is jinkou, a mouth next to a person. Which always makes me think either of vox populi or of Coriolanus, for whom the Roman populace are one giant mouth, obscene in its neediness. With that kind of rich symbolic ambiguity in your language, what would you take at face value?

soured on beer and given to Claims

Read Full Post »

eurionsvg1One of the strangest experiences of life in Japan is the ongoing surprise I feel at how few stereotypes of Japan I share with the other people on my team. Capsule hotels, we were all expecting. That’s National Geographic stuff. Bikeshares, yeah. An orderly culture. But when I had to explain not just the mechanics but the basic concept of tentacle sex I realised that the people with whom I worked had a fundamentally different frame of reference to me.

I suppose I’ve been spoiled, in a way. I and my brother grew up so nerdy we practically have a private language, composed entirely of references to Wayne’s World and extra-canon Star Wars. We have little in common except the things that we love, so we make the most of it. And it so happens that most of my close friends have at one time or another ended up in the same odd corners of the internet as me. They know about Harry-Draco slash, they know about hentai tree sex, they know about weeaboo and the death of Chewbacca. They could sit down and play a pick-up DnD game and know all the archetypes and have a fair idea of the rules. They don’t have to be “into” these things, but they know what I mean when I mention them.

I am a literature nerd but I curb that: I don’t expect people to get my Thomas Peacock jokes, so I don’t make them. But how do you even talk to someone who doesn’t know what a TIE Fighter is?

It’s the blister that lets you know your boots don’t fit.

there’s no place I can’t be

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »