"Japan's antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers"

Reuters: “Exclusive: Japan’s antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers - sources

Both the headline and the lede are greatly misleading. The second and third paragraphs contradict the promised premise:

In a report published last month, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said that NTT Docomo, KDDI Corp and Softbank Group were refusing to sell older surplus iPhone models to third party retailers, thereby hobbling smaller competitors.

Apple was not named in that report, but two senior government sources told Reuters that regulators were also focusing on Apple’s supply agreements with all three carriers.

The carriers are almost certainly responsible for any shadiness in the deals because this only benefits them, not Apple. We’ll probably never actually find out, but I’m pretty sure the reason iPhones are not still exclusive to SoftBank is probably because Apple finally gave in to carrier demands for special concessions.

KDDI and DoCoMo are late-comers to the party. In 2008, SoftBank was the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, and it benefitted greatly. Three years later, SoftBank was still experiencing incredible growth, which was credited in large part to its still-exclusive deal with Apple. KDDI started offering iPhones in 2012, with DoCoMo finally deigning in 2013 to offer iPhones after years of steadily bleeding away customers, primarily to SoftBank.

SoftBank went from a distant third-place player in the market with about 18% share, to near-parity with second-place major carrier KDDI between 2008 and 2013, when all major players, including DoCoMo, finally offered iPhones on their networks. Without SoftBank’s runaway success, KDDI and DoCoMo might still be resisting Apple’s entry into the Japanese market even now.

The existence of business practices that shut out secondary players are an open secret. There is a very limited secondary market for unlocked phones because the vast majority are sold SIM-locked to a carrier. There are only three major players in the market, all of whom lock their handsets and in practice never unlock iPhones even after the handset is paid for and the typical 2-year contract is up. Discount carriers never even have a chance due both to carrier collusion and Japanese market rules.

The carrier that set the lock is the only entity legally allowed to unlock handsets. SoftBank has never offered SIM-unlocking. There have been persistent rumors of the other carriers offering SIM-free (i.e. unlocked handsets) for years, but reportedly neither KDDI nor DoCoMo will unlock iPhones still. Despite being required as of May 1, 2015 to offer SIM-unlocking, the carriers have been allowed to set their own timeline, and apparently their estimate on when they’ll do that for iPhones is somewhere between “#^¢* you!” and “We’ll get around to it … someday”.

Blaming Apple for customer-hostile business practices on the part of the carriers, and laggardly-enacted toothless laws that do virtually nothing to open the Japanese market is absurd. That the present situation favors Japanese incumbents is no coincidence, and past protectionistic behavior is the only element that lends credence to this report that Apple might be investigated in the future. The chance of Apple being found of wrongdoing in anything resembling a fair hearing is extremely slim, in my opinion.

'Smooth Criminal' Arranged for Koto and Shakuhachi

This has been posted in a few places. I tracked down the original upload and my link goes straight to the account for what I believe is the original video creator.

[Update: the original has apparently been removed, so here’s a link to the Digg version. I’d rather support Digg than the other people who freebooted the video in the first place.]

Two things immediately struck me: the arrangement for the instruments is superb, and Jackson’s original melody is so strong that it holds up under extremely divergent treatments.

Alt-metal band Alien Ant Farm did a cover in 2001 that was obviously a less drastic change from the original than this. I can easily imagine an orchestral version being made someday.


琴(箏):伊藤江里菜) Koto: ITÔ, Erina (personal blog, links to professional sites)

尺八:辻本好美 Shakuhachi: TSUJIMOTO, Yoshimi (official site)

十七絃箏:渡部祐子 17-string koto1: WATABE, Yûko (official site)

Criminally, the original video has (at this writing) only 3,821 views on YouTube. The Digg imbed that brought it to many people’s attention, and whatever source they linked from — which is definitely not the original given the watermark on Digg’s version of the video — must have many times that by now, if not hundreds of times more. It’s terrible that the original creators of content that goes viral often don’t get properly credited.

  1. A traditional koto has 13 strings. The much later variant “bass” 17-string koto added strings and construction elements for a different pitch, and has a different playing style.

Baby Hair Brushes

No, not brushes for brushing your baby's hair. Calligraphy brushes made out of your baby's hair. More practical than bronzed shoes, you have to admit. Akachan (赤ちゃん) translates as "baby" and a fude (筆) is a brush for writing kanji characters.

Oh, and for the few regular readers who still think Japan is high-tech, the catalog is a PDF of a print catalog. The way I found this was through a flyer left in my mailbox. They used their phone number as the referral URL, which resolves to the link above. If you're interested, you can order by phone or fax, and if you call the toll-free (in Japan) number, you can get a catalog sent to you by mail for free!

Open Voluntary vs. Minimum Mandatory

Mathias Meyer at Paperplanes: “From Open (Unlimited) to Minimum Vacation Policy”:

I was horrified reading this, and it dawned on me how wrong we’ve approached our internal vacation policy. This text sums up exactly what’s wrong with an open vacation policy. People take less time off, and it’s celebrated as a success of giving people more responsibility.

Uncertainty about how many days are okay to take time off can also stir inequality. It can turn into a privilege for some people who may be more aggressive in taking vacations compared to people who feel like their work and their appreciation at work would suffer from being away for too long.

From my experience living and working in Japan, this would be viewed as a feature — not a bug — in most Japanese workplaces. Quitting time and time off are both on an invisibly-adjusted sliding scale, modified by seniority and other opaque social cues. The result is that you are never sure about when you can go home from work. You are never sure about how much time you can take off. You explicitly have only a maximum amount of time you can take off. No one wants to violate social norms and be considered a selfish piece of shit, so no one ever, ever takes all of the time off they are theoretically entitled to.

I honestly would consider killing for a job where the people in charge of the company thought like this:

Starting in 2015, we’ve implemented a minimum vacation policy. Rather than giving no guideline on what’s a good number of days to take off, everyone now has a required minimum of 25 (paid) vacation days per year, no matter what country they live in. When people want to take time off beyond that, that’s good, and the minimum policy still allows for that. But it sets a lower barrier of days that we expect our employees to focus on their own well-being rather than work.

This policy is not just a guideline for our employees, it’s mandatory for everyone, including the people who originally founded the company. As leaders, we need to set examples of what constitutes a healthy balance between work and life rather than give an example that life is all about the hustle.

… instead of the normal Japanese model, where you are expected to show your dedication by working more than everyone else, taking less time off, working longer hours, and do all that extra work without demanding any overtime pay.

"Japan complains after China says 300,000 died in Nanking Massacre"

Kyodo News via Japan Times

[President Xi Jinping] called on Japan to own up to responsibility for the tragedy, saying that acknowledgment of the countries’ shared troubled past is crucial to improving relations between them.

The Japanese government told China via a diplomatic channel after the speech that the figure is “different from Japan’s position” and that it is “difficult to determine the concrete number of victims,” according to the sources.

What an utter surprise. This kind of thing has never happened before.

Japan's Creep toward the Right

The Japanese election results were worrisome. Turnout was poor, which reflected both the apathy of the public, and the short lead-up to the elections. The one bright note was that a few right-wingers like Ishihara lost their seats. However, Abe will be continuing in his position as Prime Minister and because of that, Japan will keep steadily shuffling toward rightist nationalism.

It remains to be seen how successful his economic policies will be, but we already know how Abe’s right-leaning orientation has affected the political sphere in Japan and Japan’s relations with the rest of Asia. In an article from 2012, “Abe sticks to 1995 statement on WWII apologies, may review ‘comfort women’ acknowledgements”, Abe and his cabinet did not go so far as to retract acknowledgement for Japan’s responsibility for all of its wartime acts, but he did say that he doubted some of the claims of Japanese war crimes; specifically the forced abduction of women from invaded territories for military brothels. Since then, he has reiterated that position and provided tacit support for conservative groups who are even more outspoken in their denialist beliefs.

In US-centric terms, having Abe in office as prime minister is like having a president who has expressed Holocaust denial beliefs in public and meets with KKK-friendly politicians. A guy like that wouldn’t come right out and say that the thing with the Jews [1] was just a big misunderstanding, but he just can’t believe that all of the camps were death camps. Some of them were just work camps, and heck, the kapos were even volunteers(!) so how bad could it have been?

This is why, despite multiple apologies over the decades, many Asians from countries that Japan invaded during WWII — particularly Koreans and Chinese — have been consistently critical of Japan. Official acknowledgements of responsibility for Japanese actions during the War have been consistently inconsistent. In contrast to the German approach in educating its youth about the Holocaust and Naziism, Japan wavers between glossing over and completely ignoring its misdeeds. Overall, Japanese education tends to emphasize Japan’s status as the victim of the atomic bombs that led to Japan’s eventual surrender.

I’ve written about some of these issues before, most extensively in a post about “comfort women”, and briefly concering texbook references to one of the disputed island territories about a month before that.

In the Japanese middle school and high school textbooks I’ve seen, the Nanking Massacre (more luridly, The Rape of Nanking) — or as it’s often bloodlessly known in Japanese, 南京事件, the “Nanking Incident” — is relegated to nearly footnote status — if it’s included at all — and the language is riddled with weasel-words. If you read Japanese, you can pick up a handful of history texts from the library or a bookstore to verify this. If you don’t read Japanese, you still don’t have to take just my word for it; the Japanese author of a BBC article talked about her experience of the education system’s lies of omission in “What Japanese history lessons leave out” published last year.

Japanese history texts are shallow on all topics. The layout of the texts that I’ve seen is similar to a magazine, with the exception that there simply are no in-depth multi-page pieces. Everything, everything is broken up into 200–500 word articles organized around a larger topic, covering perhaps a total of one page for each major topic. The whole of WWII — and I’m being generous by including the 1931 invasion of Manchuria as the beginning point — is covered in 14-and-a-half pages of the more extensive of the two texts I have at home. There is no room for analysis in the text, and there is very little (if any) analysis or explanation that takes place in class either. In context with history texts as a whole, the short blurb on Nanking is not atypical, it’s depressingly normal.

Contrast that shallow gloss with the full-chapter excerpt of tear-jerking pathos from “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” that I have seen in nearly every middle-school English textbook from the major publishers. Sadako’s story is so well-known that folding paper cranes became The Thing to Do when someone is in the hospital (I received a set in my first year in Japan when I was in the hospital due to an injury incurred at a school) and has made it into, of all things, an English-language Bathroom Reader.

In brief, this is how the Japanese education system addresses these three topics:

  • Girl dying of leukemia: a full chapter with 3–5 class hours dedicated to studying it in English over the course of a week or more, plus an extensive treatment of the atom bombings and aftermath in every history book I’ve ever seen.

  • Hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians shot and bayonetted to death, women gang-raped, children butchered: a 250 word blurb with non-committal language buried at the bottom of a page in only some history text books, that might be briefly mentioned in class, if the teacher isn’t too uncomfortable and doesn’t just ignore it.

  • Women from invaded territories captured and forced to whore for the military: whiplash-inducing statements from politicians over the decades, with “more study necessary” being the perennial favorite, as the numbers of the surviving women dwindle from old age and they still wait for unambiguous acknowledgement from Japan of what was done to them when they were still barely older than the girls who doubtlessly shed many tears over the plight of Sadako during their English class studies.

Expect Japan under Abe to move further right, even though some far-right members of minority opposition parties lost their seats. The overall tone of Japanese politics has already been shifting to the right (the increasing number of visits to Yasukuni shrine by politicians are an indication of this) and Abe provides an aegis for more open nationalism. Earlier last year, his cabinet already effectively abrogated the constitutional provision against war, Article 9.

You can expect an official-official, un-retracted acknowledgement of full responsibility for ianfu around the time the last of the grandkids (or maybe the great-grandkids) of the afflicted women’s generation die off. In other words, you’ll probably die of old age yourself before that happens. Assuming there isn’t another war with Japan in the meantime.

  1. … and the homosexuals, and the disabled, and the Roma, and the other estimated 5-million-plus “undesirables” who seem to get left out in the holocaust count.

Sweden to Test 6-hour Workday

How will that work out in productivity? Probably pretty damn well. Sweden’s GDP per capita is better than Japan’s. If you were to divide by hours worked — even by the official numbers, which are bald-faced lies — Sweden’s economic efficiency would look even better.

Meanwhile, in Japan: Unpaid overtime excesses hit young, a Japan Times article from last year. (Spoiler: nothing has changed in a year. Shocker.)

This bit is particularly quote-worthy:

It is also hard to get a realistic grasp of the abuse because workers often fail to log their OT for fear of being penalized by their employers, who are leery of exceeding the 80-hour limit and risking litigation.

Bullshit. Workers are explicitly told by their employers not to log their overtime hours, or they are on salary with no overtime provisions and their hours are not actively tracked. I have no source of inside information to draw on, but this absolutely could not happen on such a widespread — nearly universal — scale without government collusion. In my native US, the companies would have been shaken down by the IRS for blatantly cheating on their taxes if for no other, more humanitarian reason.

In addition to forced unpaid overtime, many companies are increasingly using contract workers (契約従業員 keiyaku jyûgyô-in) in lieu of hiring regular employees (正社員 seisha-in) because they can pay them less, and can quickly cut their workforce whenever they feel like it by simply not offering a new contract at the end of the term. While karôshi abuses were typically suffered by regular employees who had loyalties to the companies to exploit, as well as the Damoclean sword of a pension to hold over them, “black companies” are using the dynamics of the job market and the active lack of enforcement of existing labor laws to vigorously and enthusiastically fuck ahem, exploit an entire generation of Japanese in a way that is arguably even worse than the previous generation was abused.

It’s really no wonder that many young Japanese, particularly men, are actively turning their backs on having a career and instead are viewing contract and part-time jobs as a minimal investment to pursue a solitary and frugal life, without the pressures of attempting to gain anything resembling the previous generation’s mostly-illusory promise of lifetime employment. Sôshoku-kei don’t have ambition, families, or a pension as a handle for their employers to exploit, and they’re apparently completely uninterested in acquiring any of those accoutrements of traditional Japanese society.

I Took off My Hijab

I never questioned that I was being given less respect and love, or that I was not as accepted. I always thought that the type of treatment I was exposed to was just how the world was. I didn’t know people could be nicer…

I pray one day, and soon, that people will be familiar enough with all other cultures and beliefs that they are not afraid or have reservations, and that the thing that stands out to them is not the wrap around my head, but the smile on my face.

If you wear hijab, some people (particularly men) are probably unsure how to interact with you, because they don’t know what the cultural differences are and are afraid of giving offense. Some people may be truly prejudiced and won’t interact with you normally because they don’t like you as a representative of whatever twisted image they have of your culture. Regardless of the reason, by adopting an unusual form of dress, you are choosing to be visibly different, and in virtually every human culture differences draw attention and unequal social treatment.

Wearing hijab, Hasidic hairstyles, bindi, or a cross of ash on your forehead means that you are choosing to send intentionally visible cultural signals. The discrimination faced by those who send such signals is self-created. That doesn’t mean that the discrimination is justified, but it is unquestionably directed toward you due to a choice you have made.

In contrast, someone who has a different appearance often cannot change that. If you are a minority race, have unusual coloring or size, or are in some other way intrinsically different from those around you, you sometimes wish that you could look like everyone else.

I’m an American of mostly European extraction living in Japan. I can’t take off my “hijab”. The difference between me and the people around me is as plain as the (rather prominent) nose on my face. I get treated differently by nearly every single person I come in contact with. I am pointed at, remarked upon, noticed everywhere I go. I have been followed by police who often eye foreigners as potential troublemakers, little old ladies who comment to themselves on what I buy at the supermarket, and groups of little kids who call out, “Hello, gaijin-san!” or “Uwaa, gaijin da!” (Wow, it’s a foreigner!) like I’m a particularly interesting species of animal they’ve only seen at the zoo before. Expats encountering another foreigner also often give some gesture of acknowledgement; a sometimes welcome, sometimes intrusive sign of solidarity.

I don’t complain about these things that often because I know that — in part — I receive such treatment because of a choice I have made: I don’t have to live in Japan. I could, technically, pack up my family and move to the US or another Western country where I wouldn’t be an individual of a tiny 1% expatriate minority in a highly homogenous population. Unfortunately, that is what it would take for me to be treated as everyone else.

I wish Japanese society was much less driven by uchi and soto[1] distinctions, but after more than a decade here, I know I’m not going to change it. All I can do is make personal connections, so that at least some people don’t treat me as a gaijin, but rather as a person who just happens to be non-Japanese.

I wish that the key to being respected, accepted, and treated equally was as simple as choosing not to wear hijab.

  1. 内; uchi inside. 外; soto outside. Uchi carries the added meaning of being part of the group, soto is everyone outside of the group; i.e.: “us” and “them”. A scholarly treatment of the linguistic implications available here  ↩

Using it Wrong

Our previous intranet was bad. This year’s is worse. A single representative example: This button breaks the intranet.

Click here to make sure no one else can read this…

Click here to make sure no one else can read this…

Before, you could mark a memo as “read” without causing problems. It wasn’t perfect, but at least the conceptual model was appropriate to the technology. My main gripe with the old one was that you had to “create” a file to access and delete a previously-created group message, which is nonsensical to anyone but, apparently, a Japanese engineer.

The new system is based on the traditional Japanese office model of circulating information: A cover sheet with a list of the relevant people’s names is attached to the circular. Each person checks off their name when they’ve read it, optionally filling in a read-date. When you’ve read it, you pass it on to the next person. The last person to receive and read it returns the circular and cover sheet to the originator.

In this picture, the ESC button reads “End” or “Close” in Japanese. The F8 button is, “To the Next Person”, and the last is, “Cancel Circulation”. The problem? That button is enabled for everyone, not just the originator. It’s right next to the also inappropriately labeled “Next Person” button, which functions as a read/receipt acknowledged button, so it’s easy to click by mistake.

Nearly 9 months after this system was introduced, someone still occasionally clicks on that button by mistake, or just because it seems like a reasonable action. Everyone has been told — multiple times — not to click on the 回覧中止 button because it removes access to the file. Yet it has happened even in meetings. Maybe half the people haven’t opened the file yet, but one early bird opened it, glanced through the contents, and then clicked the Forbidden Button. Everyone who tries to access the file after that either doesn’t even have an entry in the menu, or gets an error message, and then the originator has to re-upload the file and re-send a link message to the appropriate group list.

If people are “using it wrong” it’s often because you designed it wrong.

There are at least three very simple ways this particular problem could have been avoided:

  1. Don’t have the button there at all. The conceptual model doesn’t fit the use case. Allowing an end-user to stop access to a file that everyone can access independently or simultaneously is Bad Design With Big Fucking Blinking Red Letters Set In Goddamn Comic Sans.
  2. Disable that button for everyone but the originator of the message. If you insist on putting a Global Thermonuclear War option on the main message-receipt page, the least you could do is keep people from starting WWIII by accident.
  3. Don’t honor that instruction until everyone has sent a read/receipt token to the server. Having the button present and enabled is still piss-poor design, but at least you’re not letting the first person in a circulation prevent all other users from accessing it, or even knowing of its existence.


Ryan Surdick for the Japan Times, “There is more to my son than the fact he’s a ‘half’”:

In this context, it’s taken me quite a while to work out what exactly it is about the usage of the word “half” in Japan that bothers me. Though I know people don’t mean any offense by it, there is still a twinge of repulsion when I hear the word. For a long time, I assumed it was just the English connotation influencing my perception of people’s meaning.

However, I’ve come to realize there’s more to it than this. The real problem I have is not with the word itself, but rather what it signifies about the user’s thinking. It’s often one of the first things people say when they meet my son. “Half” immediately becomes the defining characteristic of him to anyone he meets in Japan. And along with this comes a whole host of assumptions.

The problem is that “half” is as far as most Japanese think about it. There are lots of TV-famous “half” tarento, but if you ask what the other half is, most people don’t know. “She’s half Japanese …” and something else.

This is the “other” trap that almost all Japanese fall into simply because they’re not used to dealing with anyone who isn’t Japanese. Where Americans — used to a much more varied population ethnically — would use hyphenated-American, Japanese just leave it at: half-Japanese, half not-from-around-here.

Japanese assumptions toward someone who looks foreign lead them to believe that the person who looks Asian is more capable of speaking Japanese, even after a few exchanges should have made it apparent that the Asian-looking person doesn’t, in fact, understand Japanese at all. I had this exact experience when having dinner with a Chinese-Canadian friend several years ago.

I am asked all the time whether my son speaks Japanese. Of course he’s a native Japanese speaker. He’s growing up in a country where everyone speaks that language exclusively. Because he looks partly foreign, the expectation of most Japanese people is that he doesn’t speak Japanese. This makes no sense if you know even the first thing about languages. I’m actually worried about preserving his English when everyone he encounters outside his home only speaks Japanese. Culture and language are acquired from the people around you, not through inheritance. Unfortunately, many Japanese believe otherwise.

Cultural expectations regarding Japanese ancestry have even affected public policy. The invitation to nisei (二世 second-generation[1]) and sansei (三世, third-generation) Japanese from South American countries — mainly Brazil and Peru which have had strong historical ties to Japan — to come and work in Japan was extended under the assumption that even grandchildren of Japanese would be less disruptive to the wa[2] than bringing in “real” foreigners from Southeast Asia or China. It’s an extension of the same kind of kooky nihonjinron ideas that led to widespread credence in telling personality by blood type, except that usually horoscope reading doesn’t affect something as important as immigration policy (just the President’s schedule) and doesn’t have undertones of racial prejudice.

The belief of the government apparently was that some amount of Japanese blood would make the immigrants more Japanese — even if, in the case of sansei, the closest they had been to Japan was visiting grandparents who had been living abroad for most of their adult lives. Even nisei are culturally less Japanese than I am, since they grew up entirely in another country; at this point, I’ve lived more of my adult life in Japan than in the US.

This policy understandably ended up causing all kinds of problems since, culturally, these people were Brazilian or Peruvian, not Japanese. There were clashes over lifestyle, cultural expectations, and language. Some apartment owners refused to rent to non-Japanese (this kind of discrimination is still a gray area under Japanese law) which led to a certain amount of ghettoization since this limited the places they could live. If anything, the problems were exacerbated by the expectation that nisei “should” act more Japanese because they had Japanese blood.

The Japanese thinking about mixed-ethnicity children bothers me in much the same way it bothers Surdick. Between worries about bullying[3] when my son starts school, and the limiting mindset of the “half” label that will be attached to him his whole life if he grows up here, I’ve given a lot more thought to taking my family back to my native US than I would have if the unconscious discrimination was only directed at me. I can handle it. I’ve been dealing with being a gaijin for a long time, and I started dealing with it as an adult who grew up in a country with a relatively mature attitude towards race-relations. I’ve got a pretty good idea of how to stand up for myself without being a jerk about it, know how to pick my battles, and the maturity not to let the discrimination negatively impact my self-esteem too much.

If we stay in Japan, my son will have to face constant attention and discrimination (both positive and negative) because he looks “different” which will make it much harder for him to be bilingual and bicultural. From what I can see of his personality so far (he’s still only 3) I think that he’s strong enough to adapt, but the more cosmopolitan attitude in the US toward mixed ethnicity would make it almost a non-issue, instead of the overarching facet of his social interactions, the way it would be in Japan.

  1. There’s some ambiguity in English between what constitutes first and second generation immigrants. In Japanese, issei (一世) or “first generation” are always the ethnic Japanese who immigrate to a foreign country, nisei (二世) are the children of issei who are born in that country.  ↩

  2. 和 is one of those nearly untranslatable terms loaded with cultural significance. In a dictionary, you’ll find it translated as “harmony” or “peace”. Ostensibly meaning: being in accordance with your place in the world, it’s also strongly associated with the cultural expectations of group harmony, conformity, and consensus in Japanese society. For far more than you ever wanted to know about wa and other Japanese cultural concepts, read anything by Takie Lebra, who literally wrote the book on many of those subjects and coined terms that are still widely used in Japanese cultural anthropology.  ↩

  3. Ijime is usually translated as “bullying”, but that simple false-equivalence misses the unique flavor of bullying in Japan. Ijime is endemic to all levels in Japanese society. While it has recently become a buzzword in schools and government, I expect the results of any reforms to be about as effective as the reforms to English education, in no small part because of that old adage about fish not realizing that they swim in water. I have personally been witness to so many incidents of physical and verbal abuse perpetrated by Japanese in nearly every level of society that I’ve come in contact with, that I literally can’t remember them all. But I doubt that most Japanese would have counted more than a handful as actual abuse by their standards.  ↩