January 2007

I now have my own office at Meiji University. Until now I’ve been working at a desk in a shared office in the “Academic Commons” building. For the next two months I’ve got an office a couple of doors down from Murata-sensei, my host and principle collaborator. We’re finally getting down to the detailed work on the first piece of research – a comparison between the Japanese and UK/EU Data Protection legislation. We started at just past 14:00 and ran through until after 17:00, as we had done last week as well. At 17:00, once again, the PA system throughout the building, including in the offices, played a soulful little number just to remind people that it was going home time. Weird!

Nice Piled Higher and Deeper cartoon about sabbaticals.

Lots of things are very different in Tokyo. The food is definitely one of those things. Some familiar name brands are available, such as Twinings Tea. These provide something of a comfort value in general, providing something familiar at least. It’s sometimes a bit disconcerting, though, to find unfamiliar products from familiar brands. Food manufacturers, of course, adjust their products to local tastes. Thus in Japan we not only have the traditional British McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive Biscuits, but we also have the unfamiliar “Bitter & Cocoa” digestive biscuit. This is a digestive biscuit with cocoa in the biscuit mix itself and relatively bitter dark chocolate half-coating.

They’re quite nice, although I can see where they might not fit the UK market’s sweet tooth. The Japanese tend to go for less sweet confectionery on the whole. The downside is that they’re sold in boxes of twelve split into four packs of three. Better for my waistline I suppose, since I’m less liable to eat half the packet in one evening, but it makes them pretty expensive.

Quite a long time ago in the UK,  food manufacturers moved mostly away from the “tetrapak” system for milk, juice and such-like. These days milk comes mostly in plastic bottles and juice comes in card packs with a small plastic pouring spout with a screw-on cap. In Japan they’re still using tetrapak for milk and juice. This might be something to do with recycling (card packaging can be burnt whereas plastics release some horrible chemicals when you burn them).

Japan has been held up as a paragon of recycling in the past, but I’m wondering if they haven’t been overtaken by some Western European countries recently. In most areas of the UK we now have kerbside recycling collections of a range of packaging possibly including card, paper, tin cans, drinks cans, PET plastic bottles and glass. Certainly recycling stations in major towns have stations for the recycling of these things even if they’re not (all) collected from the house. Some places, such as the Meiji University building where I’m working, do quite a lot of separation of rubbish – into “glass, plastic and cans”, “burnable waste” and “non-burnable waste”. There seems to be little effort to recycle paper and card (it goes into the burnable waste section). At the Guest House, however, there’s only recycling of tin cans and bottles. Everything else is put in together.

Wired’s blog is reporting that the insecure.org website’s DNS registration was suspended recently by GoDaddy following a complaint by MySpace that one of the mailing list archives on the site contained a file of passwords from a cracking attack on MySpace. Reports differ as to how long GoDaddy tried to contact the site’s maintainer Fyodor (they claimed they gave him an hour to respond, but his email logs suggest it was one minute). Leaving aside the question of how long they should have waited, the big question here is whether any registrar should be getting involved in such censorship. Removing DNS registration is a horrendously blunt instrument to be allowed to be employed in responding to complaints of inappropriate material hosted on a site. In particular, a complaint regarding a single file held on a site containing in excess of 250,000 pages, should not be subject to complete blackout.

There are procedures that have gradually developed for dealing with complaints about the content of a site and they involve contacting the abuse team of the ISP providing the connection (and possibly the hosting) of the site. If the material is indeed something that either violates the T&C of the ISP, or is illegal, then they should be able to selectively block the material rather than to take down an entire site. The only thing a DNS registrar can do is remove the entire site from domain name visibility. (more…)

This evening I went to dinner with my old friend Hirai Hirohide-san (Jack) and his wife Chizue-san. They live in the Eastern part of Tokyo, though not too far out. It’s easy to remember where to go on the train because the nearest station is Hirai on the Sobu (local) line past where I go to work via Ochanomizu station.

Hirohide-san and Chizue-san live in a new government-developed area of Hirai about fifteen minutes walk from the station. The local government bought up a bunch of land and put up high rise “mansions”. Despite the English (or should that be Engrish) name “mansions” are poured-concrete apartment blocks. The block Hirohide-san and Chizue-san live in is fourteen storeys high and they live on the top floor. It’s more expensive to live up there, but they don’t have to listen to people clomping about upstairs. As with all fans, their apartment is full of stuff. Lots of books and lots of stuffed toys. Chizue-san is a soft toy nut, and was very intrigued by my description of a beeblebear. I remembered I had a photo of BWNN on my laptop so booted up to have him pronounced Kawaii (cute). They’ve bookmarked the ZZ9 website and Chizue-san definitely wants one from Hirohide-san for her upcoming birthday.

It was raining when it came time for me to depart so they gave me a lift back to the station. They mostly only use their car on holidays (quite a few people who live in Tokyo own very nice cars but use them very little) so they don’t mind that they’ve got the lowest bunk on a three-car high storage lift in the car park outside the apartment block. Each space in the car park has a car lift which drops into the ground so that the uppermost one can drive off. If you want to get the lower two out the car lift rises up to bring it to ground level. If there’s a power cut or a flood, the lower ones might be in trouble (actually, if there was an expected flood, say due to a typhoon, they’d probably raise the lifts in preparation of the problem. Wouldn’t help the guys on the more expensive top layer, though.

Bigots in various Christian sects and some in other religions, have been campaigning in the UK against legislation which outlaws discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexuality. Their claims are that:

  • Christians who run guest houses may be forced to provide homosexual couples with a double bed;
  • Adoption agencies (apparently Catholic agencies place most of the third of children with significant problems who are therefore most difficult to place) will be forced to place children with homosexual couples.

Well, except within the confines of the religious institutions themselves, we don’t allow them to discriminate against women or the disabled or on the grounds of race. Sexuality is no different here. This is another example of exactly what the Pope railed against as “the rise of secularism” in Western Europe. Well, speaking as a secularist, I think that the separation of religion and public life is the only way we can have a multi-/no-faith society. If we allow private religious beliefs to be expressed in public life in this way, then we allow anyone to claim exemption from any law “for religious purposes”.

I have no problem with your personal religious beliefs, if you want to be a bigot, then you must find a job in which you don’t encounter anything which arouses that bigotry. You have freedom of speech and may espouse your beliefs but you may not put them into practice any more than those who believe that cannabis should be legal can import, process, sell and smoke it. They may campaign for a change in the law, but they may not violate it.

It’s quite awkward not having a mobile phone (keitai denwa in Japanese). OK, so people got by without them for many many years, but most people these days expect to be in contact and so making very firm arrangements about exactly when and where to meet tends to be less of an issue. You just assume that you can call on the way or when you get there and find each other.

Knowing this in advance, and knowing that my UK mobile phone wouldn’t work in Japan (which has a different set of frequencies and protocols to both Western Europe and the US) I expected to buy a pre-pay mobile phone once I got here. I tried that in the first full week I was here but then discovered that in order to buy a pre-pay phone I have to have my “resident alien” certificate. To get a  contract phone, I’d have to have a bank account and this probably (I haven’t checked) would also need this certificate. This requires me to attend the local “Ward Office”. So, I had to wait to get a phone until I had the certificate. (more…)

You have to admire a country that has some of its priorities so right. Coming home late last night I realised that the small bookshop near the Ikuta rail station was still open after 11pm. Being a bibliophile myself, although not good enough at reading Japanese to make use of small stores which unsurprisingly don’t carry English language books, I have to salute this.

OK, so I’m English and I am therefore fascinated by toilets. Well, at least that’s what Kate Fox reports in her book “Watching the English” (amongst many other insightful comments about the English). Apparently, many Westerners in Japan go to the loo only to come back and dig their cameras out of their luggage. I’ve resisted this urge and you won’t find photos of toilets on my gallery. However, there are some very strange things about toilets in Japan which I feel compelled to share.

Along with the Italians, the Arabs and a number of other nationalities/ethnic groups, the Japanese have long used “squat over a hole” toilets rather than “sit on a hole”. These have evolved in Japan, unlike many of the other places where they are still just holes in the ground, albeit often now with a flush capability. Japanese squat toilets are an inset bowl in the floor rather than just a hole. In many places where there are multiple cubicles you will find some squat toilets and some seat toilets.

At the Atami Onsen where I was at the weekend the rooms had seat toilets. Unfortunately, these had obviously been retrofitted in rooms designed and plumbed for squat toilets. This led to a rather bizarre arrangement whereby there was a space of about 8-12 inches behind the toilet with the clean water pipe across it, and about three inches between the front of the seat and the wall. This made it really interesting to adjust clothing in both directions, if you see what I mean. One of the other Westerners remarked that he was always concerned about braining himself on the wall when standing up.

Now, that is all understandable and apart from occasional failures to buy the right plumbing (there are toilets that would fit in the space better than those at the onsen). What is a lot stranger is the electric toilet seat.


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