Night Trains in Japan: A Video

Populism, the Future of Jobs and the UBI

An automated bartender pours your beer at Narita airport, Japan

Here is how populism works, in Ian Buruma’s crisp description: “Resentment feeds off a sense of humiliation, a loss of pride. In a society where human worth is measured by individual success, symbolized by celebrity and money, it is easy to feel humiliated by a relative lack of it, of being just another face in the crowd. In extreme cases, desperate individuals will assassinate a president or a rock star just to get into the news. Populists find support among those resentful faces in the crowd, people who feel that elites have betrayed them, by taking away their sense of pride in their class, their culture, or their race.”

“This has not happened in Japan yet,” he says, where “self-worth is defined less by individual fame or wealth than by having a place in a collective enterprise, and doing the job one is assigned as well as one can.”

For example, “People in department stores seem to take genuine pride in wrapping merchandise beautifully. Some jobs – think of those uniformed middle-aged men who smile and bow at customers entering a bank – appear to be entirely superfluous. It would be naive to assume that these tasks give huge satisfaction, but they offer people a sense of place, a role in society, however humble.”

This is one reason Japan has skirted some of the problems of neo-liberalism, he thinks, along with some other less savory reasons like “corporate interests, bureaucratic privileges, and pork-barrel politics….”

Removing any sense of community in the name of efficiency, Buruma believes, has been the road to neo-lib perdition. (His example: “Thatcherism has probably made the British economy more efficient … by crushing trade unions and other established institutions of working-class culture.”)


Buruma ties populism (in Japan, at least) to job satisfaction, and while debate over populism rages everywhere on the internet these days, talk about jobs seems to come (as it ever was) mostly from the left. What once was a debate centered narrowly on the loss of jobs due to automation has now opened up to include the very future of work. It’s a subject that has caught my imagination. I’ve compiled a list of relevant articles and websites below the fold, in case you’re interested.

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Lunch, Japan Air Lines


Transit Time is Good for You. Builds Character.

Snowy in Chicago. Rainy at Narita. Foggy in my head.




Here in Tokyo they have those only-in-Japan self-serve beer machines in the JAL lounge that tilt back on the push of a button then straighten at the proper time to provide the proper foamy head. Need one of these at home.





How much is just too much for a Japanese budget wonk? 10,000 free airline tickets, apparently.

In an effort to relight the fire under travel to Japan after the Fukushima disaster, the Japan Tourism Agency submitted a budget request for money enough to give away 10,000 tickets. The budget was to have been aproved and applications were to be received by about April this year. To apply, you'd send an essay describing why you'd like to visit and where you'd go.

Just found this on the Tourism Agency web site. It was posted while we were away for the holidays:

"The project titled Fly to Japan! (to offer flight tickets to 10,000 foreigners with high potential to communicate Japan’s attractions), which had been covered in a number of media in autumn this year, was not approved as a governmental draft budget of FY 2012."

And I already had my essay written in my head.


Japanese Nuclear Propaganda


An article in the current New Yorker tells us about about the frightening Little Pluto (for plutonium) Boy, a cartoon used to indoctrinate children about the benefits of nuclear power. Here's a clip on You Tube.

Unlikely Holiday

Spike Japan takes a Holiday in Fukushima: To the zone of exclusion.

Refusal to Enter Japan

"Feng Zhenghu has been living in the grey zone between arrival gate and immigration for nearly two weeks" at Tokyo's Narita airport, according to the Financial Times.

Mr. Feng says he was physically forced back onto an ANA flight to Tokyo by authorities in Shanghai after being denied reentry to his home country of China. 

The FT: "Asked about the incident, ANA said its staff had needed to use "just a
little bit" of force to ensure Mr Feng was on the flight, since it was
an hour late and Shanghai authorities had made clear it could not
depart until he was on board. Shanghai police declined to comment."

Mr. Feng told the FT, as they put it, during an interview in a Narita corridor, "I refuse to enter Japan. For a Chinese to be kidnapped and taken to
Japan like this is a humiliation for me and a humiliation for China."

The Standard in Hong Kong reports that at least Mr. Feng has enough to eat: "Christine Chan, a pro-Tibet student campaigner,
took one week's worth of food supplies to Feng Zhenghu, who has sat on
a couch in front of the exit immigration checkpoint at Narita
International Airport since November 4."

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Making Old, Lackluster Photos More Respectable

Shinjukunonhdrsmall  ShinjukuHDRsmall

You can spruce up those old, lackluster shots from years ago using HDR and tone-mapping techniques, even if you weren't shooting in RAW way back then.

Consider: The raw material is a snapshot, taken while hurrying across a street at dusk in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo in 1992. It was originally a slide, scanned to jpg, and it's dark and not much to work with. In Photoshop CS3, we went to Image -> Adjustments -> Exposure and saved a file over-exposed to +2, a file under-exposed to -2,  combined them with the original image and tone-mapped the result in PhotoMatix, a program downloadable for $99.

Chances are you won't win any awards, but you can't beat it as a way to resurrect those old, borderline photos and make them a pleasure to see again. Check out larger versions of the original and then the rehabilitated photo, after the jump.

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