Sunday, October 26, 2008

Japan's Entrenched Discrimination Toward Foreigners

Examples of Discrimination
Originally uploaded by 神酒 Coal
Spent Saturday afternoon localising a scan of a comic found in the Japanese edition of the Asahi Shimbun showing common examples of discrimination in Japan. This was at the request of Debito Arudou to accompany the article he had translated for Japan Focus.

See the article here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hey Google!

Thanks for letting me know that I had to change the CNAME setup at my domain in order to not suddenly have my blog go down for the last two weeks.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Truisms in Legalese

I've been noticing a lot of truisms in legalese these days. For example, any Xbox or Xbox 360 game disc you happen to own will be imprinted with the following legend:

Do not make illegal copies of this disc

Note how it neither says "do not make copies of this disc" nor "it is illegal to make copies of this disc". Instead it limits its prohibition to acts of copying that happen to break the law, without being in the least bit specific about which acts of copying that may apply to. At a more general level, the prohibited nature of an illegal act is inherent in its illegality, so the words "do not" and "illegal" effectively cancel each other out, leaving us with the much more positive sounding message" make copies of this disc". If you insist Microsoft.

Another legal line you often see on game packages is as follows:

Unauthorised copying, reproduction, rental or broadcast of the information contained on the accompanying disc is a violation of applicable laws.

Applicable laws?! So in other words, "in such circumstances that there is a law prohibiting certain acts, then such acts would violate said law." Well no shit Sherlock! Again, it doesn't specify that such unauthorised acts are indeed illegal, and should such an act violate any law, it further doesn't specify which laws apply to which acts. All it really says is that "unauthorised copying, reproduction, rental or broadcast of the information contained on the accompanying disc may or may not break a law, we don't honestly know and never really thought about it."

Then we get onto warranties. The game I have on my desk at the moment contains this little gem in the manual.

Any applicable implied warranty, including warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose, are hereby limited to 90 days from the date of purchase and are subject to conditions set forth herein. In no event shall (company name) be liable for consequential or incidental damages resulting from the breach of any express or implied warranties. The provisions of this limited warranty are valid in the United States and Canada only. Some states do not allow limitations on how long an implied warranty lasts, or exclusion of consequential or incidental damages, so the above limitation or exclusion may not apply to you. This warranty provides you with specific legal rights. You may have other rights that vary from state to state.

Don't even know where to start untangling that mess of legalese, but if we strip away the fat, we get the more general meaning that "any warranty that you may or may not have is limited in nature unless it isn't. You only have the rights we say we told you you have (the ones that may not be true), unless you turn out to have some additional rights we failed to tell you we told you." Or to put it more simply still, "um..."

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Nationality and Social Identity

And why my social identity didn't suffer a crisis when I renounced my British citizenship in order to become a Japanese citizen.

I had a very interesting conversation on this topic recently, which encompassed such things as "I could never give up my nationality - it's my identity", the nature of the "monkeysphere" (AKA Dunbar's Number), and whether somebody that hails from a European country can ever really be "Japanese." This got me thinking about things in a way I hadn't really crystalised before, so I decided to get them down while they were fresh.

To me, my identity has always been defined by my moral compass, the decisions and mistakes I've made, who I choose as my friends/enemies, how I behave when I think nobody's looking etc. Knowing that changing the colour of my passport would have no effect on these things was how I was able to do so so easily. However it came to light that in addition to this "private" identity there is also a "social" identity which it seems is far more important to a great many people, or at least that's their impression. This all supposedly ties very much in with this concept of nationality, that the colour of their passport in a very real sense defines who they are.

Well, that may work for regular folk who never leave their home towns their whole lives, or not for any significant period of time anyway. After all, social identity is really a combination of upbringing, socialisation, cultural history, customs, language etc. and where these remain reasonably constant (insofar as a country's society doesn't naturally change over the course of a lifetime), making one's nationality representative of the culmination of all these things is a very convenient shortcut or abbreviation that makes sense to most people.

However the cracks in this shortcut start to show when people become mobile and relocate to other lands where the customs are strange. At first, it's often comforting to cling to that national identity, as exclusion from the host country's ways can be unsettling. After some acclimatisation though, when people start to adopt the language and norms of the host country, their nationality by itself no longer really does their social identity justice. For a while, it's easy enough to say "sure, I'm a citizen of country X, but I'm also partially socialised in country Y".

Add a few more years onto the stay, and a couple of quick visits back to country X though, and people start to discover that not only are they forgetting the social norms of country X, but country X is also forgetting them and moving on without them. This can often be a painful realisation. When it gets to this stage, one cannot honestly define one's identity as being a citizen of country X, because although it may be true on paper, it it's no longer an accurate reflection of what defines the person. At such times it's necessary to take a step back and try to separate the concept of nationality from upbringing, cultural history, language, customs etc. Thinking of one's social identity as being a hybrid of a dominant upbringing in country X with the later aquisition of rudimentary socialisation in country Y, paints a far more accurate picture than simply saying "I am a country X person".

So for me personally, at the time I decided to take Japanese citizenship, I was a British citizen with a British upbringing, native English skills, advanced Japanese skills, and a hybrid socialisation in both countries (I'd estimate 65% British, 35% Japanese). After getting citizenship, I was then a Japanese citizen with a British upbringing, native English skills, advanced Japanese skills, and a hybrid socialisation in both countries (I'd estimate 62% British, 38% Japanese - 18 months had passed in the interim...). My social identity hadn't changed, because there was nothing to warrant it changing.

It's just another reminder of the tendency in man's eternal struggle to exert less and less effort, to give catch-all terms greater significance than the concepts they're supposed to define, and often in ways that compromise understanding of said concepts.

/Random thoughts

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

More Works Published

Originally uploaded by 神酒 Coal
This picture together with another night shot of my local temple Honmonji (本門寺)has just been published as part of a piece on Honmonji and the O-Eshiki festival (October 11th-13th) in the ACCJ (American Chamber of Commerce Japan) Journal, October 2008 edition.
(Contents page and pages 45-46)

I'll be organising an FTPS photoshoot on 12th, which has the most active festivities and draws the most crowds during the three day event. If you're likely to be in the vicinity and fancy coming along, then by all means drop me a mail and I'll add you to the list.