Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Struggling Sony

Sony stocks are down on the earnings report a day earlier that showed, as with most things in life, if one things goes right, then another thing won't, especially in a sprawling empire of a company like Sony.
Startup costs for the PlayStation 3 are sending gaming operations into the red, and countered the positive effects from a recovery in electronics on its flat-panel TVs.

Sony Earnings.

Sony Earnings again.

More Gaming Woes?

Woes 2

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Girl Talk

Women can talk about anything from handbags to sex to perfect desserts and makeup and teething in babies and politics and social change and global warming without having to prove who's on top.
This is because in this sexist world, women have learned that communication is not about power or about who rules vs. who gets to grovel in the mud.
What is being said is not important.
What is being communicated is this: I care about you.
I read an interview once with Dustin Hoffman when he played a man masquerading around as a woman in the movie "Tootsie" about how he envied the way women can talk to each other.
In this sexist world, girl talk about fashion, let's say, is looked down upon as proof that the person who is doing the talking is dumb.
For a long time, I didn't realize this was happening (... and that's why smart women feel they have to look ugly, wear no makeup and show they are above such trivial girl talk concerns.)
Next time you hear giggles in the office and women oohing and aahing over new boots, thank God for the gift among women to find in such simple joys a way to give love.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Horiemon in Tears 2

The chances for an innocent verdict are very small for any trial in Japan.
But it is also unusual for a defendant to have the kind of money that Horie does to hire the best lawyers.
It is also unusual for a defendant to plead innocent. Most defendants sign confessions, sometimes acknowledging wrongdoing to try to get a lighter sentence.
It makes sense that the judges will at least consider the possiblity that Horie may really be innocent if he withstood three months of incarceration at the Tokyo Detention Center and tortuous grilling by prosecutors _ and came out still proclaiming innocence.
It's at least something he (and Japanese society) must consider as he weighs everything to hand down what he sees as the just verdict, including whether it will be a suspended sentence or a prison term.

My one-on-one interview with Horie


My earlier interview with Horie's lawyer


AP Story by Yuri Kageyama about SpongeBob in Japan

My story again and another photo


The problem that SpongeBob (or any marketing) faces in Japan is that cycles come and go so quickly it's almost impossible to be hip and mass at the same time. This goes against the stereotype that Japanese are conformist and do everything everyone else does and is hence by defintion always "mass." Being ahead of the crowd plays out as a cutting edge version of conformity. It's hard work to be cool.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Horiemon in Tears

My AP Story on today's closing arguments 1

My AP Story on today's closing arguments 2

My AP Story on today's closing arguments 3

Courtroom drama: Livedoor trial.
List of Characters:
Takafumi Horie, 34. The naughty cocky kid in trouble. He looks bored much of the time. Well, a Japanese trial IS boring. Prosecutors and defense attorneys alike read from their documents, sometimes at lightning speeds and often inaudibly. (They don't need to play to the jury. There is no jury.) But today he got choked up telling the judge that he feels he has been targeted unfairly by prosecutors who are out to get to him. He stood out too much, and he is now being made an example of. He cried, wiping off a tear with a flick of his hand. Reporters began taking notes viciously. It was unquestionably the most dramatic moment of today's session. Horie had his back to us, standing at the podium, and it's unclear whether he thought tears will bring empathy from the judge. When NHK reported a raid was going to happen at Livedoor, Horie was stunned, he told the judge. His PR person called the prosecutors to ask if a raid was going to happen, and she was told it wasn't true. But the TV cameras had assembled at Roppongi Hills so the raid could proceed on televised news a few hours later. He said it was frightening. Yes, it is easy to imagine how frightening it must have been. Suddenly, they were out to get him, scrutinizing every shady deal in his company's books, not even bothering to question him to slap a fine or demand a correction, but determined just to destroy him and arrest him.
Yasuyuki Takai, the chief defense attorney, sits down after he speaks and looks up at the high ceiling of the courtroom, looking almost half-asleep. But when he speaks, he is forceful, arguing that the case is a frameup. This is such an unsual case. Is this going to fly? It's hard to read the judge, but it's clear he isn't all that convinced Horie is as guilty as the prosecutors seem to think he is. Horie clearly isn't your typical criminal. At one point in an earlier session, the judge asked Horie if he felt any remorse for the damage that he had caused. Horie couldn't come out and say he was sorry, as that would be too much like admitting guilt. But what is the just punishment? Is it a crime, or is it a civil lawsuit of damages to the investors who lost money, duped by his claims about his company? A new kind of person starting a new kind of business needs new kinds of regulations and perhaps a new kind of justice. The judge surely has a tough job. The verdict comes March 16.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hiroko's blog

Hiroko Tabuchi is someone of similar heart and mind also commenting on the passing of time in the same city that we live in.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Flower Children

Take a walk around Harajuku, and the mood feels like Haight Ashbury.
The youngsters are mellow.
They wear hippie-like clothes, a bit shabby, shirttails untucked, skirts flowered, big hats, sunglasses, dangling jewelry.
They're saying: We aren't into being square.
No one is in a rush.
Soft giggles. Smell of sweet food. Music.
Always music. From stores, iPods, street performers.
Japan's young people are more interested in expressing themselves and being friends with everyone than in gaining materialistic wealth and social status.
It's not even about dropping out.
Japan has been peaceful and conformist and harmonious for so long there's never been any dogged drive for competition.
At a time when the government is intent on powering up the nation's military, and the main platform for the next election is revising the pacifist Constitution, the kawaii culture of Harajuku is comforting.
These kids will never go to war.
They are good kids.
Maybe some adults are worried about the future of Japan because of freeters, apathy and diseducation, but these are good kids.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fujiya fiasco

Fujiya, the candy-maker of Peko-chan fame, is in deep trouble after acknowledging it had used old milk and other ingredients in its products.
The employees in charge of media act confused and disorganized.
That just adds to their bad image (irresponsibility/incompetence.)
Today, they weren't sure if a Fujiya plant was being investigated by prefectural officials.
We have yet to confirm the reports, they said.
It was faster to just get the facts from Saitama Prefecture.
The latest is that the company didn't tell the public about food-poisoning in 1995, merely filing a report with the local heatlh authorities.
I wonder why wrongdoing highlighting the lack of corporate ethics, Mitsubishi Motors, Snow Brand, etc. just keeps happening, although each time the public is outraged, and the outrage is genuine.
Change seems so slow in coming in Japan.
People continue to buy Mitsubishi cars and trucks.
Snow Brand lives under a different name Megu Milk.
And the Fujiya fiasco will be forgotten/forgiven. People will go back and buy Peko-chan cakes.
There's so much "akirame" in Japanese culture.
Outrage serves merely as an outlet for emotions.
It never quite seems to serve as the engine for change that it should be.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Japanese tell a different story

Japanese stories end a chapter before they would end if they were written in English.
A Chikamatsu play ends with the spectacular double-suicide of star-crossed lovers (climactic death/immediate curtain).
There's no pretense at an explanation/resolution like the feuding-families-finally-make-up ending that comes in "Romeo and Juliet," the ending that should reassures us of Truth, Progress and hope for Justice.
In Japan, life and art aren't about Rationalism/Renaissance-style Da Vinci genius.
Beauty Japanese-style is devoid of Reason.
It is so pure and explosive and mad there's no logic.
This is what is so deep about being Japanese but also what is so frustrating.
Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo observes how the ending comes abruptly in "Musume Dojoji."
The woman turned serpent tells her life story (she is a young maiden, she falls in love, etc.) and suddenly she climbs on top of a giant bell in a sheer horrific rage.
Her story is so absolute, he says.
Why do we need that obligatory explanation about how her revenge toward the man who spurned her will be inevitably punished by a Just God?
Tonight, I saw a movie of the duet-version of that dance by Tamasaburo and Onoe Kikunosuke.
The movie allows stunning close-ups that show the nuances of their facial expressions, as well as of their different, but equally convincing, character interpretations and dance styles, all of which you can't experience with the stage version.
I was so taken in by the piece, sitting in the dark half-empty theater (instead of the more well-lit, more croweded Kabuki theater) the hogaku music during the closing credits sounded like funk to my ears.
I am proud to be Japanese.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Sexual harassment

Japan is the nation that produced geisha and maid cafes.
Need we stop to say the concept of sexual equality isn't quite as widespread in Japan as it is in the U.S.?
But there's one area women here are asserting their right to do unto men as it has been done unto them _ sexual harassment.
Men still tend to hold positions of power more than do women.
But power is relative.
A senior student in a classroom, the older person in an informal club, the office worker who just happened to be employed there first _ so rigidly strong is the idea of hiearchy in Japan it doesn't take much to be in a position of "power" in this society so fanatically driven by shame and conformity.
As women stay single longer and enter the work force by droves, sexual harassment is rapidly growing sexually equal.
Aggravating the situation is the fact that men may be embarrassed to speak up about being victims of sexual harassment.
Or they may not be aware they are being sexually harassed (an alien idea to the macho mind).
Sexual harassment means someone uses his/her position of power to make sexual advances to another person, make sexual comments or actions to another person, or single out someone in some way because of his/her sex.
Such advances and comments may turn out to be welcome.
But it is advisable that a person in power (any power) NOT bother to try because it's too late to find out after the fact that the advances weren't welcome at all.
It is sexist to assume that only women can be victims of sexual harassment.
Experiences with sexual harassment tend to be very traumatic.
Victims sometimes end up leaving their jobs/school because the discomfort/fear of being in the same place with a harasser is demeaning and demoralizing.
The bad news is that the position of power the harasser holds means that he/she can punish the victim _ by demotion, ostracism, unfair grading, or more harassment.
Almost every informal Japanese company gathering is an exercise in sexual harassment.
If you think that's an exaggeration, I challenge anyone to have sat through a go-kon or karaoke outing that did not include a single case of sexual harassment as we know it by Western standards.
Instead of speaking out against sexual harassment, Japanese women are rapidly _ and sadly _ growing thick skins about sexual harassment and opting to simply join the team.
Having endured centuries of Tale of Genji docility, Japanese women can even hope to exploit the stereotype of playing the perpetual vicim to get at least something out of a rigged game.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

I am a Poet

Common widsom is: Fiction and journalism don't mix. A reporter getting carried away with make-believe while on the job will end up in a lot of trouble.
I have always kept that side of me that is a poet separate from my work.
Poetry is so private and touches that deep core inside of you that's nowhere objective enough to be acknowledged by someone who is a dedicated reporter.
My first poem to get published (and that was some time back when I was still a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley) was a totally politically incorrect piece titled "Big White Bitch."
A couple of my other poems:

Loving Younger Men

Only the bodies of young men aroused her;
the pure innocence in their wide dark eyes,
the wild still animal strength in their muscles,
the smoothness of their skin, so shiny, stretched
out over their boy-like shoulders, flat stomachs,
abdominals rippling gently, their thick thighs
that could thrust forever into the night, their
soft moist lips, where their tonges, so delicious,
dwelt, which darted against, into her vagina,
making her moan with joy, forgetting everything,
which felt so strong against her own tongue at one
moment, yet another, seemed to melt like caramel
in the back of her throat,
their dry fingers, that touched her in the most
unexpected and expecting spots,
their penises, half-covered by their black curls,
seemed smaller, less developed, less threatening,
yet as their shoulders strangely widened
when they held her, their penises filled her,
pointed against her deepest uterine insides,
hurting her with a pleasurable pain, as though
she could sense with her hand, their movements
from outside her belly. Her father beat her as a girl.
She ran from him, crying, please don't hit me! please
don't hit me! No, rather she stood defiant, silent,
silent tears drunk down her chest, till he, in anger
or fear,
slapped her again and again, once so hard she was
swung across the room, once on her left ear so
that she could not hear for three weeks. She
frequented bars, searching for young men who desired
her. She sat alone drinking. She preferred
the pretty effeminate types _ perfectly featured,
a Michelangelo creation, island faces with coral eyes,
faces of unknown tribal child-princes. To escape
her family, she eloped at sixteen, with an alchoholic.
who tortured her every night, binding her with ropes,
sticking his penis into her mouth until she choked,
hitting her face into bruises, kicking her in
the stomach, aborting her child, his child.
The young boys' heads, she would hold, after orgasm,
rocking them in her arms. She would kiss the side of their
tanned necks, breathe in the ocean scent of their hair,
lick their ear lobes and inside their ears. When they
fell asleep, sprawled like a puppy upon her sheets,
their mouths open, she would lie awake watching,
watching, watching, admiring their bodies, how so
aesthetically formed, balanced, textured. What
she enjoyed the most was their fondling her breasts,
suckling, massaging the flesh, flicking the tongue
against the nipple, biting, sucking till her nipples
were red-hot for days. She could come just by this,
without penetration.
When she is alone, she cries. In the dark, she reaches
upwards, into the air, grabbing nothing.

Cooking Poem

sizzling chopped garlic
minced ginger
nearly cut bok choy
shrieking sesame oil
a giant spoon
scraping the wok
his arm from behind hugs her stomach
he kisses her ear
"how's your day?"
the shoyu turns greens into black
he tells her the latest occurrences
the spoon bangs
the bok choy
gnarled and wilted
"dinner is ready"
steam from the dish
reaches the ceiling

My book of poems, "Peeling," can be ordered, by the way, at or from I. Reed Books in Oakland:

and from me in Tokyo:

c/o The AP
Shiodome Media Tower 7th Floor
1-7-1 Higashi Shimbashi
Minato-ku Tokyo

Japanese poet Shuntaro Tanikawa gave me some nice words to put on the backcover. He says my poetry is seeing "through the anguished eyes of a half-breed the boundless universe in everyday life."

Poet, essayist and novelist Ishmael Reed, who published my book, was a literature professor at UC Berkeley when I met him.
He has written wonderfully delicious books like "Mumbo Jumbo" and "Yellow Back Radio Broke Down." He is now retired from the university but busy as ever writing.
He recently won the so-called "genius award" MacArthur Fellowship.
He came to Tokyo to read his poetry with musicians at the Blue Note jazz club. A CD version of the performance "Conjure Bad Mouth" made No. 4 on the Village Voice's Jazz Vocal list.

The bottom line is: Poetry is everywhere, if we stop to listen.
What makes life worth living are the poetic moments.
The infinite color of the sky, the rattle of the Tokyo commuter train, the way love hurts in your chest, even the cheap bounce of singsong words on a billboard.

Friday, January 12, 2007


One of the biggest stories to watch for this year is Toyota's almost-certain-to-happen rise to the top, beating General Motors as the world's No. 1 automaker in annual global vehicle production (and sales).,2777,DRMN_23916_5250509,00.html

And there's Sony. Sony needs to perk up its image (after the embarrassing massive recall of lithium-ion batteries). And the new year has started with everyone talking about the iPhone instead. Sony has so much riding on how the PlayStation 3 and Blu-ray disk fare this year. Maybe we need to even watch for takeover attempts and management shuffles?

Japan hopes to lead the world in robotics, and robots are constantly in the news here. Stories about robots make for a fun read (and fun reporting), partly because Japan views robots as cute nearly human companions _ a contrast to the view prevalent in the West of robots as tools.

An important development to monitor this year is Japan's defense business. Japan is growing more assertive on the international stage, and the government has made no secret of its ambitions to beef up defense. The nuclear threat from North Korea has encouraged public support for the changes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Telling a story, you'd think, is about the facts. But so often a story is more about the person who is telling it. Visitors to the lotus pond that inspired the dreamlike visions in Claude Monet's paintings are disappointed to find an undistinguished, rather shabby garden in real life. They discover the magic was in the artist's mind, heart and eyes, even as he was going blind. The story behind the story may be just as valid as the story itself. As the storytellers in Ryunosuke Akutagawa's story remind us, perhaps there are as many stories as there are people who're trying to tell it. I cover the news in Tokyo, a vibrant city undergoing constant change, and I write many stories. But there are so many more stories to tell.