Posts Tagged 'Japan'

Hello 2009: Looking Back, and Forward

ferry

SEOUL — THE FERRY PITCHED AND ROCKED in the dark waters of the Tsushima Strait. Foamy white caps spun off the tops of waves outside as attendants rushed wobbly-legged around the cabin, passing out sick-bags left and right to passengers appearing in need. The engine of the hydrofoil shuddered to a stop and then started again as the captain negotiated the rollers. An older, heavyset woman stumbled to the back row looking pale and queasy before she was escorted to first class to lay down on top of a blanket. I looked across the aisle at Janice; her eyes were shut tight and her hand cupped around her lips. Things were not looking good.

It was an unfitting end to what had been a calm, even enlightening trip to the southwest of Japan. Our initial voyage to Fukuoka from the South Korean port city of Busan had been smooth: we knocked out soon after we hit the seats, thanks to the Dramamine. Since then we had rocketed to Kyoto aboard the Shinkansen Hikari bullet train, meandered peacefully from temple to temple and soaked in the public baths of our ryokan. We had strolled the Blade Runner landscape of Osaka, ate tacoyaki along its famed Dotonbori and watched the last sunset of 2008 from the top floor of the Umeda Sky Building.

Our journey (what I say was “Honeymoon Part I,” with promises that “Part II” will involve beaches and hammocks) also gave me the opportunity I had been craving to evaluate the raft of changes that have taken place in my life. Looking back on the past six months I saw transformations in myself with which I am uncomfortable, mostly relating to my attitudes towards work and my ambitions as a writer and to how I’ve (not) settled myself in Seoul. But orienting oneself on the map is only the first step; the next is determining the heading.

One of my major regrets is allowing my posts to this blog to become so infrequent. I feel confident that the quality of content still maintains a high standard, but I aim to make the site flower over the next few months to the tune of my new mantra: substance first, then style. Expect to see more, if not truly daily, writing here in the near future — beginning with a thorough travelogue of my adventures in Japan and unfolding into what I hope will be an insightful look at the complex nation in which I now reside.

I wrote when I moved here that this site would not become a Korea blog, a vague term I used to encompass the lot of blogs run by expats here: those both shallow and incisive, aimed at keeping in touch with family back home, venting about the maddening aspects of this society or following and dissecting its news. While I still aim to keep The Daily Transit cosmopolitan and travel-oriented, it seems foolish to avoid publishing my observations or leave unexplored issues into which I now have a unique window.

Cheers to you readers who have stuck with me and best wishes in the New Year.  Stay tuned for the full chronicle of our Japan journey, and safe travels.

A Different Tack: Winter in Japan

Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. Photo by oudodou.

Golden Pavilion, Kyoto. Photo by oudodou.

SEOUL — IT ALL STARTED WITH a warning about leech socks. My wife and I were beginning to plan a long-overdue honeymoon and were taken by the notion of going someplace less conventional. So when I hit upon the idea of going to Borneo, we got excited. I bought a Lonely Planet and a Malay phrasebook, and eagerly skimmed through passages describing Sarawak’s primate-inhabited jungles, dreaming of riverboat rides to Iban villages as I rode the train to work.

Then I passed LP off to Janice, who — being a much more methodical person than myself — started reading from the beginning. Only a few minutes had passed before she brought the aforementioned warning to my attention, raising a skeptical eyebrow as to whether our honeymoon should involve insidious crawlies used to bleed people in the middle ages.  Leech socks (actually thigh-length leg guards made of durable fabric) were highly recommended when trekking around any of Borneo’s mystifying national parks, our guidebook told us.  And with a few more Google searches on the likelihood of getting vampired, my wife was recommending we go somewhere else.

A trip to Bangkok and Koh Samui was our next idea. A heavy shift towards the typical honeymoon, perhaps, but it would still bring us to a part of the world we had never seen. We did extensive research, feeling the pressure build for “the perfect trip” and then watching our options dissolve as it became clear we would be arriving in the eye of the 30-day peak tourism season. Hotel rates, even for those with “meh” reviews, were ludicrously high. Flight availability was also drying up. It began to appear as though we would be draining our savings for a vacation that would ultimately feel like work.

We dumped the plans and went back to the drawing board. And reading the news this past week, we’re glad we did.

Meiji lantern. Photo by Abrilon.

Meiji lantern. Photo by Abrilon.

Japan should have come to mind sooner, but our pursuit of a warm beach had kept the idea outside the realm of our travel imagination. Only after I gave some thought to the ease of heading somewhere so nearby — if we took the ferry to Fukuoka, we wouldn’t even have to step foot on an airplane — did it become clear that this was the trip we had been seeking. With barely a month left before my wife’s vacation time, we kicked planning into high gear.

Making arrangements was not as simple as I had envisioned. With the autmn leaves mulch on the ground and cherry blossom season a long ways off, I figured booking a room in a traditional Kyoto guesthouse  for five nights would be a cinch. I had, of course, failed to take into account the hubbub New Years might bring to the ancient capital. But Janice and I manuevered around this mostly without panic, locking in three nights at a mid-range ryokan and then opting to head towards Osaka to ring in 2009.

The process has brought home a couple of travel truisms: planning is half the battle, and “the perfect trip” is most elusive when sought after. Also, keep your eyes open to destinations in off-peak seasons. (The New York Times did a great piece about Prague last Februrary.)

We’re extremely excited about our upcoming jaunt, and we’d be lying if we said we didn’t have any expectations. But we are also, ideally, determined to just roll with how it unfolds, in the mode of the planning process itself. It’s a state of mind we hope to retain, for use when we finally decide to trek through the wild of Borneo — donning a pair of leech socks.

Japan Opens New Tourism Office, Will Ease Screening Procedures

Autumn in Kyoto. Photo by El Fotopakismo.

Autumn in Kyoto. Photo by El Fotopakismo.

SEOUL — AS ASIAN ECONOMIES SWIRL in a hot mess tipped off by the collapse of Wall Street’s monoliths, Japan is looking to travelers in hopes of stimulating local business. Backpackers and camera-toting gawkers may not save the Nikkei, but if the island nation achieves its goal of 20 million visitors annually by 2020, that can’t hurt.

To achieve such ambitious figures, the government announced yesterday the launch of the Japan Tourism Agency, according to the Daily Yomiuri. The agency is to serve as a directive towards breaking down “bureaucratic sectionalism” and attracting visitors by easing screening procedures. The Daily says that latter bit may create friction with the country’s National Police Agency and Justice Ministry.

Japan’s visitors totaled 8.35 million in 2007. The year before, the country ranked seventh in Asia in terms of overseas tourist arrivals.

United States citizens can visit Japan without a visa for a period of 90 days for tourism purposes only, and travelers must have an onward/return ticket. Visitors from the States who have old-fashioned passports should still be admitted under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which South Korea recently joined. Japanese and Korean citizens, however, must have chip-embedded documents.

Important fun-fact? Citizens of VWP-member countries still require a visa if entering the U.S. via land or sea port, according to a Q&A from Korea’s Donga Daily.

Looking West: Britain’s Revised Immigration Policy

London in movement by fabbriciuse

London in movement by fabbriciuse

SEOUL — IT’S TOUGH BEING UNWANTED, especially when you’ve fallen out of favor with a major Western power. Britain’s migration advisory committee published a list Tuesday (local time) reducing the number of skilled jobs open to non-EU migrants to 700,000 from 1 million. Effective November, the fields of medicine, secondary education and social work will be closed to those from outside the European bloc, along with 300,000 other jobs. Whether this is a sign of growing economic protectionism or a simple case of discrimination (or both) depends on your perspective. But it seems clear that in an increasingly borderless world, some parties are still trying to hold the line.

They have, of course, left some channels of immigration open — notably to sheep shearers and ballet dancers (Guardian via FP Passport):

It is thought the changes will cut the level of skilled migration to Britain from outside Europe by between 30,000 and 70,000 people a year.

The main list of shortage areas identified by the group of labour market economists is headed by construction managers involved in multimillion-pound projects, civil and chemical engineers, medical consultants, maths and science teachers, and ships officers to staff a newly growing merchant navy.

It also includes unexpected occupations such as skilled ballet dancers and sheep shearers. The experts heard evidence from the Royal Ballet that very few British applicants had the required level of artistic excellence or aesthetics.

The other exception will enable a group of 500 Australian and New Zealand shearers who travel the world working on up to 400 sheep a day to continue to operate in Britain, where they shear 20% of the UK flock.

The MAC acknowledged that one way to address these shortage areas, aside from turning to “low-paid immigrant labour,” is to increase pay rates for those positions. Citing budgetary reasons, they said such a solution is off the table for now. Another answer might be to both raise wages and allow people from outside the EU to compete — leveling the playing field, allowing immigrants to improve their lot and potentially giving the economy a boost. That idea didn’t seem to occur to the committee.

Having just moved to a nation where the word “foreigner” is used in wide brush strokes and where finding work as an outsider in anything besides teaching English is often prohibitively difficult, I can perhaps say based on anecdotal evidence that such closed economic policies are not only the result of buried nativist tendencies (Korea for Koreans, Britain for the Brits) but have the effect of perpetuating such notions. A blunt example is Japan’s refusal to grant suffrage to the over 600,000 ethnic Koreans living in the island nation, many of whom are second or third generation — a policy that pokes at the still-gaping wound of colonial history.

If migrants, expats and other such folk are regulated out of having a full role in their adopted society, they are also shut out in more emotional ways. Tension bubbles, leaving rifts in a culture that could otherwise be rich in mingling hues. It is a backwards step in a globalising world, and one that Britain should consider carefully.

U.S. Pushes Japan to Expand Defense Budget (Hello, Military Industrial Complex?)

THE RECENT PUSH FROM U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer for Japan to “consider the benefits of increasing its own defense spending” should be viewed as highly suspect. His suggestion that the nation — whose military forces were restricted to a self-defense role following WWII — invest in new fighter jets with equipment that is compatible with U.S. weapons systems should draw even more scrutiny.

Schieffer, who was an investment buddy with George W. back in 1989 when they and ‘Rusty’ Rose bought the Texas Rangers Baseball Club (ref. State Dept), at best seems more interested in the U.S. defense department’s bottom line rather than in respecting a 1960 agreement which states that both nations will provide mutual support in the event of attack. At worst, Schieffer seems to be looking out for the interests of U.S. weapons manufacturers.

His supposed reasoning? That the Asian nations surrounding Japan are boosting their defense spending. According to the AP article linked above, Schieffer said that China has increased military expenditures by an average of 14.2 percent annually in the last 10 years, while South Korea’s defense budget has grown 73 percent. And that may well be true, but those numbers are out of context. China itself has grown exponentially over the past decade, and South Korea is taking over military operational control from the U.S. in 2012.

If the U.S. is truly interested in Japan bearing more of a load in its own defense, then it needs to consider scaling back its own military presence in the country — a move which many have been calling for in the wake of a sexual abuse case involving a US Marine, only the latest installment in a string of embarrassments. An even better move would be to advocate that all nations in the region curb military spending, taking a proactive approach to averting future tense situations.


Welcome to TDT. This blog is no longer active. Read about it here.

Required Reading

Affliations


Post Calendar

April 2014
M T W T F S S
« Mar    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
282930  

Categories


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.