Sunday, March 20, 2005

Dokdo or Takeshima Islands?

Yet another argument has slowed the pace of burgeoning business ties between the nations of South Korea and Japan. A set of rocky islands between the two countries (geographically closer to Korea) have been claimed by both countries.

Right now there's a lot of saber-rattling going on, and very little is being articulated about each side's historical stake in the matter. The situation as it sits now is that the islands are occupied and watched over by Korean citizens. Shimane prefecture has upped the ante by declaring a 'Takeshima Day' starting next year. Protests in Korea have been particularly emotional: several people have cut off fingers, and at least one person has lit himself on fire, in public condemnation of the acts taken up by the government in Japan. The Korean protesters liken 'Takeshima Day' to yet another invasion of their country. The citizens of Japan don't seem to be protesting very much, and the Japanese media seems a little less prone to publishing facts about their claim to the group of islands.

One important point is that the islands are surrounded by some rich fishing waters. Furthermore, the seabed beneath that area is said to be rich in natural gases. As you can see, these things usually come down to money.

At this point in the game, the South Korean government is holding a commanding lead. Aside from forcibly removing the armed guards from the islands, and sinking the patrol ships that circle the area 24 hours a day, there is little that Japan can do to gain control of the situation. As usual, we would all benefit from a whole lot more talking.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

Hay Fever

I'm a little bit under the weather right now myself, but I'm not suffering from what so many others have fallen prey to. Hay Fever is the big nasty around here. Pollen from Japanese Cedar tress ('sugi') bathe the Tokyo metropolitan area each spring. The result is about one in five people wearing a surgical mask every time they leave the house, and lots of puffy, watering, bloodshot eyes.

The government did a decent job of replacing all the trees that were felled in the name of industry. They found a tree that grows quite quickly, and is quite friendly to the construction sector. Unfortunately, that very same tree plunges the masses into fits of sneezing and whining. The government has now come up with a replacement for the Hay Fever tree from hell, but we won't be able to enjoy lower pollen-counts for a couple of decades.

Meanwhile, Matsumoto Kiyoshi (one of the larger drug store chains in the Kanto area) continues to chime in the new year with ominous sales on masks, medicine and goggles.

I have a cold, by the way, and my bottle of imitation NyQuil seems to be doing the trick.


Saturday, March 12, 2005


I just completed my second full year at Waseda University International. I plan to sign on for a third year in the near future. We had our end-of-the-academic-year party last night, and all of the full-time staff headed to Yokohama for some sightseeing and a nice, 11-course, Chinese, all-you-can-eat/drink bonanza in Chinatown.

The final stop on the tour was Landmark Tower in downtown Yokohama. We took the express elevators to the 69th floor (it's the tallest building in Japan), but the view was literally nonexistent. The fog and mist effectively erased the famous nighttime views! We all circled our way around to the bar, and had a beer on the management as a consolation prize.

Despite the rain and mud, it seemed like everyone had a lot of fun. I didn't have my camera with me, so I don't have any photos to post, but I noticed a lot of smiles from the teachers who tend to keep to themselves. There were a lot of people there--close to 70 I believe. Another 40-some-odd instructors are signing on this April, so I'm sure that we're in for some madness this year!