This is too cute.

Receptionists at the Sekumiya Hotel in the city of Obama in Fukui prefecture
© AFP Shaun Tandon

Obama, Japan, roots for accidental namesake

OBAMA, Japan (AFP) – Obama, Japan, is rooting for candidate Obama, hoping that if he becomes the US president he will put this ancient fishing town of 32,000 people firmly on the tourist map and, just maybe, choose it for an international summit.

Supporters in Obama — which means “small shore” in Japanese — have held parties to watch election results, put up posters wishing the senator luck and plan a special batch of the town’s “manju” sweets bearing his likeness.

“At first we were more low-key as Hillary Clinton looked to be ahead, but now we see he is getting more popular,” Obama Mayor Toshio Murakami said.

“I give him an 80 percent chance of becoming president,” the 75-year-old said with a proud grin.

Murakami sent a letter last year to Obama, enclosing a set of lacquer chopsticks, a famous product of this town on the Sea of Japan (East Sea) in Fukui prefecture’s Wakasa region.

“I will present you the chopsticks of Wakasa paint and I am glad if you use it habitually,” Murakami said in the English-language letter. “I wish you the best of health and success.”

Murakami noted that Barack Obama’s birthday, August 4, happens to be “Chopsticks Day” in the city.

The manager and recptionist of the Sekumiya Hotel in the city of Obama
© AFP Shaun Tandon

Obama, who is also a hero in his father’s native Kenya, has been gaining in a neck-and-neck race with Clinton, in part by winning over voters in states that rarely back members of their Democratic party.

Murakami is now preparing another package for the candidate that will include a good-luck charm from the local Obama Shrine.

“For the first letter I found his address on the Internet, so I don’t know if he got it,” Murakami said. “But this time I asked the (US) embassy for his exact address, so I’m sure he’ll get it.”

Lest cynics find the city’s efforts naive, it was Obama himself who first drew attention to the connection.

Obama, speaking to Japan‘s TBS network in December 2006, said that when he flew once to Tokyo, an officer stamping his passport told him of the town.

“He looked up and said, ‘I’m from Obama,'” the senator said.

A professor saw the footage and contacted the mayor, who insists that his support for Obama goes beyond just his name.

“It seems to me that President Bush isn’t aggressively addressing global warming, but Obama would. And I like how he opposed the Iraq war,” he said.

Murakami also hoped a President Obama would sign a peace treaty with North Korea. It is no small issue in Obama, one of the seaside towns where agents from the communist state kidnapped Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, setting off a long row between the countries.

The election is being closely followed by many in 1,500-year-old Obama, a port nestled by snowy hills that in ancient times supplied food to the emperor when he lived in Kyoto some 75 kilometres (40 miles) to the south.

“When you look in Obama’s eyes and hear his voice, he’s very impressive,” said resident Rieko Tanaka.

“Hillary is a bit old-fashioned and she’s the wife of Bill Clinton, so I think a new person should lead the USA,” she said.

Tomoyuki Ueda, 40, a company worker dining at a restaurant serving the town’s celebrated mackerel, said it would be healthy for the United States to elect its first African-American president.

“I think both Obama and Hillary are qualified, but if Obama becomes president he could correct problems of racial discrimination,” he said.

Seiji Fujihara, a head of the local tourism board, said he has only met a black person once, but believed Obama’s election would make the United States “more equal” on racial issues.

Fujihara started a club for self-styled Obama supporters in the city and plans “I love Obama” T-shirts.

“We know we can’t vote. But if we send out a message, we can help push him to victory,” he said.


It has been a long time since I’ve blogged about Sudan.  Most folks who read this blog probably know, China (and Russia) are often blamed by the West for much of what has happened in Darfur. People say that the government of Sudan could not arm the Janjaweed (government covert-sponsored militias), if they were not getting weapons and revenues from oil sales. Much of the West believes that China and Russia should use their clout to pressure Sudan into stopping the violence in Darfur. I’m not sure about Russia, but I know that China has cooled to Sudan’s government somewhat. They have even sent peacekeepers. This is interesting because both China and Russia have long held a policy of non-interference. The reason being that both nations do questionable things in their nations, especially in regard to minority groups. They do not want to set a international precedent of interference in domestic issues by international bodies due to humanitarian concerns. Its seems that China has softened its stance somewhat.

Sudan welcomes Chinese peacekeepers

By ALFRED de MONTESQUIOU, Associated Press WriterFri Feb 1, 3:01 PM ET

Their clocks are set on Beijing time, they use state-of-the-art equipment and — most of all — they are welcome by the Sudanese government. In just about everything, the Chinese peacekeeping contingent in Darfur is strikingly different from the rest of the U.N. mission here.

The 140 Chinese engineers and troops deployed in Darfur were among the first reinforcements sent by the United Nations, which took over peacekeeping in the western Sudanese region in January. The Sudanese government quickly approved the Chinese contingent, even as it vetoed contributions from other countries because they were not African — including a Scandinavian engineering corps.

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I wrote a few times about the changing family dynamic in Japan and the rise of the woman worker. Despite Japan’s shrinking and aging population the article makes clear the crime rate is low, unemployment is very low for a developed nation (less than 4%) and the country is still quite middle class. It does not sound like a crisis, it sounds like Japan is going the way of some less dynamic and mature European countries. It is becoming what I like to call a “museum country”, it is stagnating.

So what can Japan do? Further deregulate and import more foreigners? That might be a long term solution, but I’m not sure the social cost outweigh the benefits for most Japanese people.

I believe one of the key problems in Japan is how decisions are made. Japanese people, since the Late Tokogawa Period (and likely before) have be very high on consensus. They do not tend to like strong independent leaders making controversial and difficult decisions. They do not like this in CEOs and they especially do not tend to like this in Prime Ministers, therefore these positions are historically weak. Some of the issues that plague Japan need a strong leader, but due to the way the political and economic establishment has been historically structured this individual or “new generation” of leaders is unlikely to manifest.


For Japan, a Long, Slow Slide

Declines in Productivity, Population Combining to Stifle Economic Growth
By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 3, 2008; A17

TOKYO — As the United States frets noisily about a recession, Japan is quietly enduring a far more fundamental economic slide, one that seems irreversible.

This country, which got rich quick in a postwar miracle of manufacturing and alarmed Americans by buying up baubles such as Rockefeller Center, is steadily slipping backward as a major economic force.

Fifteen years ago, Japan ranked fourth among the world’s countries in gross domestic product per capita. It now ranks 20th. In 1994, its share of the world’s economy peaked at 18 percent; in 2006, the number was below 10 percent.

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This is an interesting article about the role of age and fame in modern Japanese politics.


Celebrity rises to power in Osaka
By Purnendra Jain

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KYOTO – While celebrities-turned-politicians in Japan are nothing new (and prone to disgrace), an outspoken 38-year-old lawyer and TV advice show host recently elected as Osaka prefecture’s governor is raising hopes even beyond his electoral base.

Toru Hashimoto’s landslide victory this week with more than 1.8 million votes thoroughly trounced rival Sadatoshi Kumagai, who received a little less than 1 million votes. When Hashimoto takes office in early February after the four-year term of incumbent Fusae Ota ends, he will be the youngest of Japan’s 47 governors.

He also largely owes his success to female and young unaffiliated voters who frequently watch his TV shows where he discusses legal options for people with marital and financial issues.

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Africa: Africans Stuck With EU Deals – Europe attempting to screw Africa economically again. Wow, big shock.

Ghana 2008: Who Benefits from the $ One Billion ACN Merchandise Sales? – The spending boom in Ghana with the African Cup at its epicenter benefits China the most? Benin Mwangi thinks so and I have to agree. It is an interesting that this trade boom is being lead by African women who are outsourcing production to Asia! That is just amazing, in a bad way. Then again they may have no choice due to Ghana’s poor infrastructure it might not be possible to manufacture the amount of product they need faster and cheaper than it is to import it.

Ma ‘never intended’ to hide green card – Apparently the new big scandal in Taiwan. I suppose if I was voting for a president to lead my nation and he was a permanent resident in another nation that would disturb me. I would think he was not completely loyal or was looking for a back door to exist quickly if things started to fall apart. Not good Ma Shensheng.

Permanent mechanism to close urban-rural gap – More ideas on that harmonious society that the CCP has been talking about since the the 17th Party Congress. As I mentioned before, the Chinese government is in a race against time to secure the future stability of China. This article focuses on investments in rural infrastructure as an attempt to improve the economic condition of the hinterland.

Ordinary citizens seeking a place at the decision-making table in China – This is a very interesting article about a grassroots political movement. The Chinese government response was interesting. It usually happens this way, if they can’t suppress the movement they negotiate. The problem is every time this happens they attempt to clamp down more to prevent this type of movement from every getting off the ground. The article seems to suggest it is a “democratic movement”, but I do not think so. These people were just trying to protect their capital investment.

Ethnic violence spreads in Kenya, with no sign of respite –  I’m not sure what to say about this now.  The two opposing sides met and came to no conclusion.  The solution is obvious.  Have a new election with serious international monitoring, but Kibaki likely thinks he will lose so will not go that route.  He figured possession is 9/10 of the law and he just needs to wait it out…while his countrymen continue to kill each other.

Stock markets see another ‘black Monday’ – I wonder how many Chinese Billionaires are there now? From what I know most of them are rich off the stock market and for some reason centered around Wenzhou.

Japanese sushi lovers shrug despite high tuna mercury levels – This is quite odd to me.  Japanese people, IMO, are quite anal about freshness and purity of food.  Tuna is a key stable of the Japanese diet and the dismissive response to mercury levels is quite odd.  I am going to consult with my wife over this later.

Military balance tilting toward China – An interesting article on the military balance between China and Taiwan.

This is not shocking, I’ve seen many test results that show Northern Chinese tend to group with North East Asians (Japanese and Koreans) and Southern Chinese tend to group more with Southeast Asians. The populations also have distinct (but often overlapping) appearances. Many of my Chinese friends have told me it is due to diet and climate. I do not think so.

The early genetic research (The History and Geography of Human Genes, 1996) of Dr. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza showed that Northern Chinese could be grouped with other Northeast Asians (Koreans, Tungusic groups, Japanese) and that Southern Chinese grouped more with Southeast Asians, making the Han Chinese aggregate an intermediate population between the two, which matches their location geographic location. This new report gives us some detail as to the way this population cline occurred.

Based on what I know of Chinese history, Southern China was settled by the Han much later than the North and the people in the South were considered “barbarian” referred to as the various types of “Yue” (known as the 100 Yue) in later times. Eventually the people region that became Guangdong and North Vietnam were referred to as (Nan Yue, or South Viet). Most of these people were likely Austroasiatic speakers in origin (like present day Vietnamese and Cambodians). Since Northern Vietnam (Annam) was part of China on and off for over 1,000 years; and the south, by the end of Chinese colonization was controlled by Champa, a Malay people (Austronesian).

As far as I know there was a massive influx of Han Chinese into the region during the Song Dynasty due to Barbarian pressure in the north. I know assimilation was fairly complete by the Tang Dynasty as Cantonese speakers often call themselves “Tong (Tang in Mandarin) People” and talk of giving their children “Tong names”. They also still refer to their province and themselves as “Yue” to this day. I’m guessing by the Late Tang, the Sinization of the area was complete, but for Annam. Vietnam became independent from China after the disintegration of the Tang, since the “Viet or Yue” people lived in what is now Guangdong as well, I’m guessing by that time the people in Guangdong were mostly Sinized, and considered themselves Han Chinese, but most of the people further South did not.

Also, “South,” in China is the area from Shanghai down to the border of the Southeast Asian nations of Laos and Vietnam.

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Rice Rebukes Bush Envoy Who Criticized Policy on North Korea – Jay Lefkowitz, President Bush’s special envoy on North Korean human rights said the current Bush Admin policy will not solve the nuclear issue in North Korea before Bush leaves office. Well, he is right, that is obvious to someone of the meanest intelligences.

Roadblocks on the Great Asian Highway – Interesting article about overcoming infrastructural barriers between Thailand, Laos, and China to create more efficient trade; and some immediate negative externalities for the local Laotian people.

Corruption-fighting Vietnamese granny gets award – Transparency International awards Vietnamese grandma for fighting the good fight for 25 years against death threats from local government officials. This woman is 150 cm (4’11” inch) tall and 40 kilograms (88 lbs) and has more “balls” than 99% of the politicians in Washington D.C., unfortunately for us Americans.

China closes 44,000 pornographic websites in 2007 – The Chinese government is not fond of “adult entertainment”. This is part of the increasingly common crackdown on various facets of the sex industry in China. I’m sure shutting down 44,000 websites has kept the thought police quite busy.

Science with Africa: Accelerating Science and Technology in Africa – Information on a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 3 to 7 March. The themes of the conference will be science and innovation policy, science themes and innovation and will consist of plenary sessions and workshops.

Africa: ‘U.S. Recession a Threat to Third World Exports’ – There has been a recession fear going through North America, Europe, and East Asia lately but any economic downturn for the United States will also significantly effect some of the world’s poorest nations, which are already on the margin. This will not just hurt trade but also aid revenues.

Reforming the university system in S.Korea is a good thing, especially as it relates to research and development; as economic issues have long been on the mind of South Koreans, due to stagnant wages and weak aggregate growth. Technological innovation could lead to Korea developing lucrative specialized niche markets.

This kind of jumped out at me: “When I was a student here in the mid-1980s, some students stopped before the national flag at the library in the morning and observed a moment of silence, vowing to dedicate ourselves to the nation’s industrial development,” said Cho Byung Jin, a professor of electrical engineering.”

The underlying problem, as pointed out, is that the same Confucianist work ethnic and respect for hierarchy that helped South Korea develop at such a rapid clip has now brought them to a point of diminishing marginal returns. To reach a higher level they must be creative enough to innovate. “Outside the box” thinking and military style conformity for big “push” initiatives usually do not mix well. This has been a problem in Singapore and Japan in recent years, as both nations have tried to promote creativity and “relax” cultural constraints, to varying success.


South Korean science prepares to take on the world

DAEJEON, South Korea: In Professor Cho Dong Ho’s laboratory at Kaist, South Korea’s top science and technology university, researchers are trying to develop technology that could let you fold a notebook-size electronic display and carry it in your pocket like a handkerchief.

It’s too early to say when something like this might be commercially available. But the experiment has already achieved one important breakthrough: it has mobilized professors from eight departments to collaborate on an idea proposed by a student.

This arrangement is almost unheard of in South Korea, where the norm is for a senior professor to dictate research projects to his own cloistered team. But it’s only one change afoot at this government-financed university, which has ambitions to transform the culture of South Korean science, and more.

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Desperately seeking students (Japan) – What is interesting about this is that Japan’s government is fully aware of the increasing student shortage and will allow the market to decide which schools stay open. This is something Americans should let happen with HBCUs.

Bloggers push China to prosecute beating death – What is most interesting about this is that the Internet was instrumental in pressuring the government to adhere to the rule of law. This is a powerful tool for public outcry, that despite government efforts; they really can not effectively control.

Asia: ‘Internet forces’ in China and Taiwan step up cyber attacks – Last time it was Chinese hackers attacking South Korea, now it is Taiwan v China. This article is a little different from the one I read on the South Korean attack. It goes into a lot more detail about the nature of the attacks. The United States and German governments also appear concerned as well. The article also mentions that due to security measures Taiwan is less vulnerable to cyber attacks than Japan, the U.S., and EU.

Japan asked China to tone down Nanjing Incident exhibits – This is somewhat shocking to be honest. I have said all I have to say on Japan’s WWII issues here, but I do not think it is wise for Japan to make statements like this.  Instead they should demand for a international panel of historians from China, Taiwan, South Korea, and the United States to decides what occurred during WWII and in its aftermath once and for all and have high ranking government representatives sign it and agree to abide by the findings.  As I said before I do not think China would ever agree to that, for reasons obvious to me.

West Africa: Food Prices Still Climbing, Crisis Feared – This is not good at all.