Brimful of Asha

I once drank a pinchful of vibhuti, sacred ash, dissolved in a cup of water at the insistence of a crazy white guy I met in Japan who was a follower of Sai Baba. He told me great things about Sai Baba and how he conjured this ash from nothingness.
Now, I am fascinated with India and always have been – it’s high on my “to experience” list – but this one point regarding the ash always gnawed at me. I mean, really, why ash? Why not something useful like powdered milk to feed the hungry masses or graphite powder for lubricating squeaky rickshaw axels? The guy didn’t offer an explanation as to what kind of ash it was but it smelled like sandalwood. Maybe it was the feathery ash of burnt incense ground down to a fine powder. Either way, this guy insisted that I would pretty much feel a warm healing power streaming from my chakras as soon as I downed this cup of ash-water. Well, some did get stuck in my teeth and tasted gritty, kind of like a faceful of sandy water when you play in heavy surf at the beach and get tossed around, but the waves of energy simply did not appear. It was not for lack of effort, I really wanted to feel the rush as described, but it just did not happen.
I think Sai Baba should implement a Quality Plan and get ISO certification if possible. I think I got a bad batch of ash that day.
Update: There may be some image problems to work out, too.

Free Blog Comparison Link (Japanese)

Found this link for a site that compares free Japanese-language blogging services:
Muryo Blog Hikaku (Free Blog Comparison)
My moblog on yapeus is still getting a lot of traffic and links from other Japanese sites, as is the old version of this blog. I never archived the contents of the old blog here like I wanted to and I’ve been thinking of moving some of the posts I liked here one by one… we’ll see. I often find myself wanting to do stuff I never actually get around to doing.

Japanese Troops in Iraq

“We, the Japanese people, acting through our duly elected representatives in the National Diet, determined that we shall secure for ourselves and our posterity the fruits of peaceful cooperation with all nations and the blessings of liberty throughout this land, and resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people and do firmly establish this Constitution. Government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people, the powers of which are exercised by the representatives of the people, and the benefits of which are enjoyed by the people. This is a universal principle of mankind upon which this Constitution is founded. We reject and revoke all constitutions, laws ordinances, and rescripts in conflict herewith. We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world. We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want. We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal; and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations. We, the Japanese people, pledge our national honor to accomplish these high ideals and purposes with all our resources.

– Greatly-debated preface of The Constitution of Japan
(emphasis is mine)

“Today, based on the Law Concerning Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq, the Cabinet has decided to dispatch the Self Defense Forces (SDF) to Iraq, in order to engage in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities in Iraq.”

– Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister of Japan
(from press conference on Dec. 9th, 2003 )

It’s hard to imagine the kind of weight riding on the shoulders of the advance party for the JGSDF (Japan Ground Self-Defense Force), as well as the troops that will follow them – there’s just so much controversy and media coverage (more here). Ironically, the tight-lipped policy of the GSDF may be fueling speculation and demand for fresh info regarding the troops. I wish them well. Whether you are for or against the decision to send them, I hope you can wish for their success and well-being. Because there are people who definitely want them to fail.
From the coverage I’ve seen on the Japanese news channels, it seems there are a lot of those who want to yank the troops if they suffer any casualties at all. The sheer idiocy of this thinking is beyond commenting on and Shigeru Ishiba, chief of the Defense Agency recently stated that the troops would not be pulled if targeted by terrorists. This is because self-defense against terrorist attack is not considered an act of war and is therefore compliant with the Humanitarian Relief and Iraqi Reconstruction Special Measures Law .
Chief Ishiba’s announcement is comforting because one of the the worst possible scenarios in my mind is if the mission were hobbled by beaurocracy from the start. Yes, this is a controversial subject and the first deployment of Japanese troops to a warzone since WWII probably stirs up mixed feelings in everybody, regardless of political orientation. I for one initially felt kind of strange seeing the Hinomaru (rising sun) badges on armed soldiers in a foreign land. The dark, shameful parts of Japan’s past history are to blame for these feelings. The Japanese people around me say much the same, and perhaps there are unspoken feelings of shame to the extent that I have never personally met an outspoken supporter of this troop deployment. If so, this is a shame, but I can understand it in this cultural context. (For those who do not know my background, I am an American working at a major electronics manufacturer in Japan.) I have asked around my workplace and the general consensus here is that the Japanese support the troop deployment but there are many reservations regarding the safety of the troops, as well as the political motivation behind the deployment.
The first concern, regarding safety, is of course valid. These are soldiers going to assist in potentially hostile areas, and I suspect they will seem like soft targets to terrorists. And let us not forget the brave souls who have already sacrificed their lives for the greater good there (BTW, their murderers are still unknown). Rules of engagement to be followed by GSDF troops are a concern and have not been made clear, although there are interesting bits here (very unspecific regarding this point but worth reading) and here (suspicious source but comments are interesting). While there is undeniable risk in this troop deployment, I think the benefits to be gained by this action greatly outweigh them. I say this because there will be positive effects for US-Japan relations, (and in time, perhaps for the collective Japanese psyche or national identity as well) as a direct result of Japan putting troops on the ground.
Regarding the political motivation, I profess my ignorance, but I always get the feeling that Koizumi can see the world stage quite clearly while many of his contemporaries don’t even try.
I’d like to share some more interesting links on this issue:
– An Outline of the Basic Plan regarding Response Measures Based on the Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq
The Basic Plan in full, PDF format (right click to save to disk) – The outline I linked above is rather anemic and the full version contains figures and specifics that are well worth reading (for example, main GSDF troop force will be limited to 600 men and 200 vehicles – I personally want to see some GSDFMegacruisers lined up with US Army Hummers)
– A statement by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (regarding the Basic Plan)
– The Japan Defense Agency statement regarding the future of Iraq and recent “peace and cooperation” duties performed in the Middle East as well as other major humanitarian relief and reconstruction works
– An announcement regarding Emergency Grant Assistance for Iraq’s Reconstruction (My tax money paying for Iraqi cop cars… That’s much better than it being used to prop up dying Japanese banks!)
(Credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Shoutout to Korea Blogs

A friend has asked me to point out some good Korea-related blogs in English.
Cosmic Buddha is a fairly avid reader of Korea blogs. My interest stems from KAL stopovers and short visits, including one 2-day stop on the way back from the states this year. I started my exploration into the Korean Blogosphere sometime last year with the Marmot’s Hole and Incestuous Amplifications, following their exodus from Blogger to Blog City (and in the Marmot’s case the final move to TypePad), and eventually started branching out to others:
Seeing Eye Blog (Writer for the JoongAng Daily who “lives in and savors Seoul’s sleazy foreigner ghetto of Itaewon.”)
Goldbrick in Seoul (This post was responsible for the UV-resistant coating of milk sprayed on my monitor last year.)
Cathartidae (Who, with his GF, and only after some discomfort, has opened Korea’s first internationally owned and operated board game cafe, Universalis.)
Drambuie Man (Who I unintentionally stood up on a Korea Blogger night he scheduled to accommodate us at his shop, hubble bubble. Sorry! Make that multiple drinks I owe you, next time!)
Korea Life Blog (Many good photos. ’nuff said.)
Budaechigae (Adding a GI’s perspective to the Korean blog scene. Recently posted about the movie there were ads for everywhere in Seoul last week, Shilmido.)
Big Hominid’s Hairy Chasms (If my nearly defunct band [Cosmic Buddha – It’s a Band! A Blog! And a Buddha!] ever changes its name, “Anger Poultry House” is a sure contender.)
Flying Yangban (Fellow Clavell fan; I wonder if he likes Michener, too?)
Ruminations in Korea (Pretty much mirrored one of my brother’s spoken thoughts about Shanghai.)
Kyungnam to Kyunggi Journal (Apparently leaving Korea soon – Good luck!)
Blogs above are listed in order of white blood cell count of authors. There are many deserving others who I have not mentioned above; I have to do some work on Mondays or they lock me in the leaky mainframe room with the other slackers and non-purebloods (“muggles” in Pottspeak).
A comprehensive list of Korea blogs written in English is maintained at the Korean Blog List.
I plan to post pics from my trip after I have the chance to review them, but for now I’ll just say that it was a shock, even though it was expected, to step off the plane into the Korean winter after spending weeks in the sunshine back home. And everybody told us it was unusually warm for that time of year!

Shopping Advice

I wrote about the art of bargaining (never say “haggle”, it sounds like a scavenging sea bird with Barbara Streisand’s face) in Japan in this post last year, and I’ll be drawing from the same vein here, the shop smart vein.
I really enjoy chasing down good deals on the net when there’s something I need. The majority of my online purchases are computer parts, books, music CDs, and movie DVDs. The latter 3 are often bought on Amazon, the inception of which has saved many a gaijin from the ridiculous cost of English language books in the few Japanese bookstores that actually have an English language section. For those of you living in Japan who can read Japanese, there are a few tips for online shopping I can share that can potentially save you a lot of money when compared to buying at a store.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of advantages to buying in stores, such as being able to actually run your greasy fingers over the products, talking to the staff, and having a physical location (instead of an address in cyberspace) to return to if things go wrong. Actually, the average floor staff member is pretty useless for answering technical queries so if you want details you are best off looking for a geeky staff member who can be goaded into talking about various pros and cons of the products. You know, the kind of guy who gets absorbed in computer magazines while dropping crumbs on himself during lunch break. There’s at least a few of these guys in every electronics store around the world, it’s just that they can be hard to spot because they sometimes herd together and hide from the customers. In this case, you can often find them either near the service counter or repair desk, or in the back room nursing sick appliances back to health and having rubber band wars. Also, some are known to hang large numbers of keys from their waistline, perhaps to attract a mate, so if all else fails, stop and listen for the telltale jingling as they pace their territory.
Note: When I was in the states over the holidays, I actually saw a subspecies of staff-geek (s. geekus minor) at Fry’s Electronics sporting a wrist watch calculator (the true staff-geek, s. geekus major, is born with a dedicated computation device in his shirt pocket, the type of which varies by region; interestingly, it can be dropped as a decoy to confuse attacking predators – and will grow back with time)! He was feverishly moving boxes around the shelves and mumbling softly to himself, and I made a mental note to work him into a post somehow. To the anonymous geek at the Fry’s in Fountain Valley: this one’s for you (BTW, please get your ass behind the returns counter – that goddamn line was so long, I swear there were people waiting to return Pong – and that was before Christmas!)
Site recommendations:
The de facto price comparison site for electronics in Japan is So far, the only one of its competitors that is worth a damn is These are sites to go to when you want to find the cheapest price for a specific product. I have been doing extensive testing for various items on both these sites recently and would say that they should be used in conjunction because Kakaku is more accurate (there are less listed items with input mistakes) and is fuller-featured, but Coneco sometimes has cheaper listings and a better interface for doing certain searches.
One of the best features on Kakaku is the BBS (bulletin board) for each individual product where you can ask others for reviews or advice. It’s nice because a lot of people actually use it and you can scan for information or ask questions. Another Kakaku feature watches the price of a specific product and will send you e-mail if it reaches a price you designate. I’m not linking to anything I mentioned here because the pages are product-specific. Go to the main page and you will find everything I described plus a LOT more as you get deeper into the site and look up specific products.
Coneco allows shops to list “display” or “floor” models which are sometimes very good deals. My favorite thing about this site, though, is how quickly you can search for the cheapest item in a category. Visit the full category page here, click on a category, let’s use Laser Printers as an example, rearrange the listing order to “By price; descending” by clicking in the appropriate column, and POW! there it is ( just for the record, today’s cheapest laser printer is a Canon LBP-1120 being sold for 17,980 yen with an average price of 21,838 yen for the 38 stores that are selling it ). Sometimes you can get great deals this way by trolling the categories.
Another place to troll for deals are the bargain pages on sites listed on Kakaku here or Coneco here. On the front page of each site there is usually a link for daily specials or campaigns that are being held. This is how I scored my $2,500 VAIO for $1000 last year, by clicking a random link one day. Actually, if you have read this far, you deserve the keys to the kingdom, here. The links on that page go straight to the bargain pages. Now go forward, grasshopper, and shop righteously.
Amazon-specific advice:
If you ever order products through’s Japanese site that require shipping from the US, look up the price on the US site first. Depending on exchange rate and shipping fees (actually very cheap for small items), as well as campaigns, discounts, and other variables, it can sometimes make a big difference. I saved about 25% overall on DVD box sets I purchased last year (Region 1 versions of 24, The Sopranos, and Alias – ) by ordering through rather than Also, I suspect that shipments arrive much quicker doing it this way – I’ve never waited more than ten days for a shipment from, but sometimes takes up to two months to ship me items they originally claim they can ship in 2-3 days. And they take an equally long time to tell me when the item I ordered is out of stock and not scheduled for restocking, but would I like to order something else instead (this greatly irritates me; it feels a bit like false advertising). I suspect this time lag when ordering through the Japanese site is due to extra steps involving intra-company checks and balances, but who knows, it may be furry little creatures in the warehouse that go apeshit and delay my shipment out of spite when they discover the importation of western corruption into this virtuous nation of harmony, tradition, and respect. And tentacle porn.
Disclaimer: The accuracy of the site information here will probably change quickly (such is the nature of this great gift that Al Gore bestowed upon us.).