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Japanese man self immolates himself in apparent protest to Abe’s collective self-defense law changes

Yesterday afternoon a Japanese man, apparently in his 60′s, wearing standard salaryman attire, sat on some girders near the busy Shinjuku Station.  With a blow horn he  announced that he would immolate himself in protest to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s controversial collective self-defense law changes.

man shinjuku south exist self immolate burn death protest abe shinzo collective self defense law suicide death

(Image from Japan Trends)

According to the blog Japan Trends, he cited government actions to “involve Japan more in war,” droned on for 30 or so minutes protesting Abe and his government and then proceeded to poured several bottle of brown liquid onto himself and eventually making good on his claims by igniting himself.  There is a YouTube video of the actual suicide moment.  The footage is graphic, so viewer discretion is advised.

Here’s more at Japan Times and Al Jazeera.

Open Thread: the Monday edition


Sunrise over Yangsu-ri

Sorry for posting this so late—had a very long and very busy weekend. It happens.

Evangelical Baptist Church fugitives use evil foreign app to evade justice

News1 reports that the Evangelical Baptist Church members accused of helping Yoo Byung-eun escape justice have been using Viber—an American application similar to KakaoTalk—to communicate with one another.

Because Viber’s servers are overseas, it’s hard for the authorities to bug them, and local investigators can’t conduct search and seizures.

Interestingly enough, Viber became famous in Korea because then-presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo—himself a cybersecurity expert—used it to communicate with his campaign folk, citing security.

The church folk are apparently changing their USIM cards, too.

The PM fiasco: it’d be funny if it weren’t so serious

Is there really anything anyone can say about this?

President Park Geun-hye on Thursday retained Prime Minister Chung Hong-won, a sign that underscores the difficulty in finding a qualified nominee for the country’s No. 2 job.

Chung offered to quit in April following a deadly ferry disaster, but Park turned down his resignation offer and asked him to keep his job, said Yoon Doo-hyun, the senior presidential press secretary.

Park took the step as she “could not leave the situation as it is” at a time when the country is divided over a series of issues exposed by the process leading to a parliamentary confirmation hearing, said Yoon.

Over 50 million people in a country that leans markedly center-right, and Park can’t find a half-way decent suit to fill the PM position?

And in case you’ve forgotten how we got to this point:

To help resolve the manpower problem, Park is bringing back a presidential secretary position in charge of personnel management; the position had been done away with by President Lee. There’s a lot of politicking and attempted blame-shifting going on, too, particularly by the right, which would like this to be about anything else BUT President Park’s questionable personnel choices.

Social media, meanwhile, is expressing its frustration with this fiasco. These tweets by Chin Jung-kwon sums up the “WTF” mood best:

Paris Baguette and Caffé Bene. Will they play in Peoria?

Ah, Paris Baguette.  The ubiquitous Korean bakery, with the strange name, serving Asian inspired and decidedly non-French pastries everywhere from the plush streets of Gangnam, to the shigol to even the doomed Sewol.  They, along with Caffé Bene and Tom N Toms,  are expanding into ‘Murica.  Their foray into the land of the free and the home of the brave is highlighted in this recent Fast Company article:

Three of South Korea’s biggest coffee shop chains, Paris BaguetteCaffe Bene, and Tom N Toms, have all embarked on American market expansion over the past several years….  Bene and Paris Baguette, especially, play down their Korean origins–and are planning to ramp up even more U.S. market expansion over the next two years. In a vivid example of 21st-century globalization, both chains are bringing South Korean-style customer service and corporate organization to the United States–except they are serving French- and Italian-style pastries and sandwiches instead of Korean food. 

Surprisingly, there are already 35 Paris Baguette locations and 99 Caffé Benes in the States.  Here are some boots on the ground reviews:

No word on if “A Twosome Place” (투썸플레이스) would be making the Transpacific plunge.  If they did, one would most certainly think they would have to consider a name change.

GOP rampage suspect captured, but questions remain

The soldier who went on a rampage at his DMZ guard post in Gangwon-do has been caught—alive, no less—but the story is by no means over.

The Ministry of Defense is saying there are a lot of potential problem soldiers in the military. How many, you might ask? This many:

Speaking at a June 23 morning briefing on a recent incident in which a soldier identified by his surname Lim fatally shot five colleagues, ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok explained, “The 22nd Infantry Division [where Lim worked] has around 1,800 troops listed as ‘requiring special attention’ in the three categories of A, B, and C, or about 20% of all troops.”

Kim went on to say, “They’re not all clustered in the 22nd Division. There’s just generally a lot of soldiers that require attention.”

When asked by a reporter if the issue extended throughout the military, Kim said, “I believe the rate is similar [around 20%] for the military as a whole.”

Lim was one such soldier:

According to the Army, Lim enlisted in December 2012 after his freshman year in college and was assigned to the 22nd division in February 2013.

However, he was sidelined from performing patrols at the border in April last year following the outcome of a military-conducted personality test, which showed that he required special attention.

Lim’s test results put him in the highest Level A, indicating that he needed extra supervision and was mentally unfit to perform the border patrols. Level C is for those who just joined the Army less than four months ago or are deemed too weak to perform their duties.

But just seven months later, the sergeant was downgraded to Level B, which enabled him to perform border patrol duties, a task that carries a high risk. One military official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Lim’s unit downgraded his personality assessment because he had shown improvement in his character in the time since.

The problem, both military and non-military folk say, is that the army’s chronic manpower shortages—which won’t be getting any better—make it necessary to put “soldiers of interest” on the DMZ for guard duty. One army captain who lead a platoon on the DMZ told Newsis that in some platoons, half the guys are “soldiers of interest.”

Meanwhile, the military response to the incident is being criticized for being something of a clusterfuck, with poor communication between the military and the police, belated orders to evacuate civilians, and a friendly fire incident in which one trooper almost got his head blown off.

As for why a guy with only three months left in the service would go postal, it appears he was just a very introverted guy who did not get along with his fellow soldiers and, on a practical level, may have been treated lower than his actual rank.

UPDATE: Great, if somewhat disconcerting, photograph from the standoff:

Must be God’s will, I guess

Moon Chang-keuk is hanging them up after all:

South Korea’s prime minister nominee withdrew his name Tuesday amid mounting criticism of his alleged pro-Japanese views, in what is seen as a fresh blow to President Park Geun-hye’s efforts to contain the fallout from a deadly ferry sinking.
[...]
“I agree with President Park Geun-hye’s words that she would reform the root of this nation,” Moon said in a hurriedly called press conference held at a government building near the presidential office. “I also wanted to contribute with the little strength I have to (Park’s) words that she would lead the divided nation to unity and reconciliation.

“However, following my nomination as prime minister, this nation fell into greater confrontation and division. It worried me that this kind of situation would become a stumbling block to the president’s future running of state affairs.”

With Moon out of the way, I’d say attention is about to focus on Chung Sung-keun, President Park’s nominee for minister of culture, sports and tourism. Noted legal scholar and SNU professor Cho Guk is accusing the former TV news anchor and Arirang TV CEO of tweeting that Cho, Father Park Chang-shin of the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice, writer Gong Ji-yeong and Kim Yong-min should go and live in North Korea. A list of some of his better tweets can be found here.

Open Thread: June 21, 2014

Have a good weekend, folks.

Japan’s Statement on the Kono Statement

Within the past hour Japan issued its statement on the Kono Statement.

Issued in August, 1993, the Kono Statement acknowledged for the first time “the then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women.”  In a contemporaneous news article,  the New York Times reported on South Korea’s reaction:

South Korea, where most of the women were seized, expressed qualified approval for Tokyo’s admission. “We appreciate the fact that in its latest report, the Japanese Government now acknowledges that coercion was involved in the entire process of recruiting, transporting and managing ‘comfort women,’ ” the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We also appreciate the fact that the Japanese offered an apology.”

As late as June 17, 2014, Seoul’s Foreign ministry reiterated (according to Yonhap News) “that Japan’s 1993 statement acknowledging the Japanese imperial army’s mobilization of wartime sex slaves was made based on Tokyo’s own investigations and judgment.”  From the cited Yonhap News article,

The Kono statement was written based on Japan’s own judgment on the issue, (foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said in a briefing), adding that the Korean government made clear that it is not a document needed for prior consultation or agreement with another country.

Arirang News released the following,

Japan announced in its findings today that according to latest Japanese reports the review says the Korean government also played a role in the wording of the Kono statement. Japan’s Jiji News Agency reports that Seoul and Tokyo held discussions on what the statement will look like, under the condition that their dealings be kept a secret. This will definitely trigger heavy criticism from South Korea.

All this leaves observers asking “why?

UPDATE:   In addition to the statement that the Korean government played a role in the wording of the Kono Statement,  Japanese media is reporting  the report claims the Japanese government did not verify the validity of testimonies given by 16 Korean comfort women who were the basis of the Kono Statement.

UPDATE 2:  Although Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference  that Japan will continue to uphold the statement and not seek to revise it or change the government’s official stance, China’s Shanghai Daily connected the dots:

In essence, the panel has suggested that the findings were inaccurate, if not fallacious, and the final statement itself unsubstantiated, in a move that quickly drew the ire of the South Korean Foreign Ministry who blasted the Japanese government saying its action were “deeply regrettable” and a “contradictory and pointless act.”

Unfortunately, I agree.  Japan’s panel’s 21 page report on the Kono Statement seems to have pulled much of the punch behind the Kono Statement by questioning the validity of statements, findings, and testimonies underlying the Kono Statement.

Korea’s Joong Ang Daily reported that Japan’s panel found “in the drafting of the Kono Statement, ‘there was intensive and detailed mediation with the Korean government’….”

The Japan Times, which described the crafting of the statement as a “tug of war”, went into more of the contentious details of the negotiation.  Among them, “the report further states that Seoul indicated that if Japan did not comply with the revisions, it would not accept the Kono apology in a positive way” and “the Korean side told Tokyo that ‘it has a policy not to seek financial compensation.’ ”

From a practical standpoint, I find Japan’s panel’s finding that Korea had significant input credible for the simple reason that Japan could not risk issuing a statement that Korea would reject; however,  I find Japan’s revelation of such nonetheless duplicitous.

Regardless of the extent of Korea’s input, Japan signed it.

UPDATE 3:  For those straining to hear the voice of reason and the  supposed silent majority in Japan, The Japan Times published an editorial on its English website, Stop Undermining the Kono Statement.  The following is an excerpt:

If the government is to uphold the 1993 statement, as it says it will, then the Abe administration needs to do what the statement says Japan will do and make proactive efforts to settle the long-running dispute, instead of repeatedly attempting to play down the nation’s responsibility for the ordeal of the women forced into wartime sexual slavery.

…Following the release of the review’s outcome, the Abe administration repeated that it would not change the Kono statement. If that’s the case, then the administration should wholly commit itself to what Japan said in the statement, and seek to repair ties with South Korea that have been strained at least in part by its attempt to question the stance of past Japanese governments on this matter.

Korean first pitches apparently a thing

I think it probably started with the rhythmic gymnast and tae kwon do first pitches (let’s throw in Clara’s for good measure too) going viral in the summer of 2013, but ceremonial Korean first pitches are becoming something of a thing.

Here’s the latest via CBS Sports:

Moon Chang-keuk won’t give up, and other crap I read: June 20, 2014

Moon’s got balls. I’ll give him that.

Despite a second call by Rep. Suh Chung-won for him to step down and even signs Cheong Wa Dae wants its pick back, Moon Chang-keuk shows no signs of throwing in the towel:

Prime Minister nominee Moon Chang-keuk said Thursday that he would press ahead with preparations for an envisioned National Assembly confirmation hearing.

“My position has not changed. I will do what I can do now to prepare for my confirmation hearing,” Moon said.

His remarks put more pressure on Cheong Wa Dae.

For what it’s worth, Moon’s now saying all the right things about the Comfort Women, the Kono Statement, his historical heroes (Ahn Jung-geun, Ahn Chang-ho) and Dokdo. I still think he’s screwed, though.

If you read Korean—and come on, you know you do—there’s a pretty good take-down of Moon’s historical views in NoCutNews. In particular, Moon is criticized for focusing almost exclusively on negative depictions of late Joseon, particular by early nationalist and later Japanese collaborator Yun Chi-ho, while ignoring positive depictions of late Joseon by observers like Isabella Bird Bishop. Mind you, even in the world of online historical debate, this is a frequently seen tactic.

I’ll also say that while I don’t know Moon personally, I suspect his historical views are very much a product of how his generation was taught. Even after the Japanese went home, colonial historiography continued to impact the way Korean history was understood and taught for quite some time. His generation viewed pre-modern Korea, and the late Joseon Dynasty in particular, as weak, corrupt, faction-ridden, superstitious and, in a word, backwards. Basically, everything the Japanese told them they were. It’s not a coincidence that Korea’s post-war political elites—many of whom, like late President Park Chung-hee, were Japanese educated and trained—launched a war on Korea’s very own traditional culture as part of their modernization efforts. Throw in the Jesus factor, and then it’s no surprise Moon has a serious hate-on for his own country’s history.

More people disapprove of President Park

On a related note, a poll by Gallup Korea shows that the Moon Chang-keuk fiasco has helped drive President Park’s approval rating below her disapproval rating for the first time ever.

The president’s approval rating stood at 43%, while 48% of respondents disapproved of the way she was running the joint. Of the people who disapproved, 39% cited her personnel choices, nearly twice the number from the week before.

Interestingly enough, support for the Saenuri Party was 42%, while support for the opposition alliance was 31%.

Gov’t strips KTU of legal status

Well, this is interesting:

A Seoul court ruled yesterday that the country’s second-largest teachers’ union cannot maintain its legal status, rejecting its claim that the government’s decision to outlaw it violated basic labor rights for teachers in the group.

The ruling yesterday by the Seoul Administrative Court, which handles challenges to government administration, effectively stripped the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union of its legal status and will allow the government to take further action, including stripping it of its collective bargaining rights and requiring teachers working full time at the union to return to their schools.

Last October, the government banned the union because it refused to expel nine union members who were dismissed from their schools.

In case we can’t recall why those teachers were fired:

The decision to strip KTU of its legal status was made after the union accepted nine fired teachers as members. By law, groups cannot accept fired workers as members. KTU has about 600,000 members.

According to association, two of the nine fired teachers were dismissed after protesting school corruption or overall policy. Six were fired for illegal campaigning, accruing donations for a liberal candidate for the 2008 Seoul superintendent race.

Another was fired after preparing material for a seminar with other teachers using a North Korean textbook. All nine teachers lost in their legal bids to return to their schools.

The Chosun Ilbo notes that the union could regain its legal status if it just kicks out the sacked teachers, and warns that if the union continues to fight, it will only harm the kids ™. The Hankyoreh complains that the court focused too much on the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit, and noted that both the ILO and even Korea’s own human rights body have called for the letter of the law to be changed. It also points out that in the last election, progressives won 13 out of 18 regional school superintendent races, and of those 13, eight winners were KTU. Lastly, it warns that if the government and ruling party continue their war against the KTU, it will only harm the kids ™.

My guess is that the Hani has a point, but my view is clouded by my own not-entirely-positive views about the KTU. To be sure, I’m sure the bulk of their members are well-meaning, dedicated teachers and if you think the Korean education system has got problems—and if my comment section is anything to go by, many of you do—then the KTU is probably your best and perhaps only ally. That said, I’m also sure that a significant number of union members see the classroom as the front line in the revolutionary and (pro-North Korean) reunification struggles, which I find abhorrent. I suppose the trick for the government is to find a way to isolate the troublemakers without completely antagonizing the entire union. How they do that, I haven’t a clue.

How NOT to succeed as an Asia-based expat

At Sweet Pickles and Corn, Mr Motgol has posted a pretty entertaining satire/warning and how NOT to succeed in Asia. Read it on your own—here’s just a sample:

[S]ome of my fellow expats have it the other way around. They come to Asia, and THEN implode. Whether they blow all their cash, burn their bridges, or just piss the wrong people off, I’ve seen more than my share of expats unravel here. With their tail quivering between their legs they grab what they can, stuff it into their bags, and crawl onto that first plane home. The rest of us shake our heads and wonder how can this happen in Asia, where–at least for us pampered, spoon-fed Westerners–things are just so damned easy. How is it possible to ASS OUT in a land where Westerners are generally given a berth fit for a cruise ship?

Hyundai does well in latest JD Power survey of initial quality

The annual JD Power & Associates survey of automotive initial quality places the Hyundai brand 4th, the highest non-luxury brand in the survey.

The rankings are below:

jdp-iqs-survey-1

(Photo from egmcartech.com)

Hyundai’s ranking in initial quality has gone up and down over the last decade, peaking at #4 in 2009, but spiking to has high as #25 the following year (2010).  According to this graph from the JoongAng, Hyundai’s ranking has improved for three year’s straight:

Hyundai scored number one in three product categories: small car (Accent), compact car (Elantra) and midsize premium car (Genesis).  It scored number two in two categories: midsize sedan (Sonata) and midsize SUV (Santa Fe).

Who else did well?  Kia, surprisingly at #7, ahead of BMW and gasp, Honda.  Chevy also did well at #4, welcomed news I’m sure given GM’s tough year of mass recalls and Congressional inquiries of potentially life threatening defects.  Bringing up the rear?  Fiat.  How does a car so small have so many problems?  Yes, I’m sure YangachiBastardo would be proud.

How do Koreans handle a foreign work environment?

Here at TMH we often get “colorful” commentary on what foreigners think about their Korean places of work and their bosses.  With that in mind, I’ve often wondered how the rank and file Korean felt about working in foreign owned companies and with foreign bosses.  Would Koreans be happier in a Western work setting vs. a Korean work environment?  Conventional wisdom may indicate that a Korean might be less stressed in Western work culture where there could be less emphasis on leadership hierarchy, expectation of face time, and perhaps the ability to exercise a bit more creativity and/or independence.

According to the JoongAng Daily, employment website Job Korea surveyed 942 Korean workers in both Korean and foreign owned (i.e. mostly Western) companies and government agencies with questions on their job satisfaction.  The results were not as clear as the expectations may be and point to there being a fair amount of stress and frustration for Koreans at foreign companies.

Unlike people working at Korean companies, who said their jobs caused them stress because they were concerned about their future and job stability, those employed by foreign companies said that they felt stress when senior workers gave them too much work and had unreasonably high expectations.

The survey results are ironic because many first-time job seekers consider foreign companies their top choice because of good benefits and a horizontal corporate culture.

“In Korean corporate culture, senior workers become a guardian when a junior first joins the team,” [Jung Joo-hee, a spokesperson for Job Korea] said. “Even though they nitpick or scold the juniors .?.?. the seniors have the intention to guide them to learn job tasks more efficiently and to help them become part of the team quickly.”

She explained that the absence of such guidance, which puts full responsibility for a task on a junior worker, may make Koreans feel even more pressured and isolated.

Here’s a summary of the findings:

(Source: JoongAng Ilbo)

Interesting.  Everybody got the same number 2, however foreigner bosses appear to be piling it on more than the others (32.1% vs. 28.9%, 28.7% and 27.4%).  Relationship ambiguity with their foreign seniors also appears to be scaring the crap out of Koreans.

Police crackdowns and other crap I read: June 19, 2014

Gee, you don’t say

The Hankyoreh complains about the disproportionate use of force to contain/put down protests. Now, as anybody who has been here for a while will tell you, this is by no means a new phenomenon, and I don’t have statistics from protests during previous administrations with which to compare, but still, the numbers presented by the Hani are truly astounding.

Even Yours Truly has noticed. This was from the June 10 protest (6,400 vs. 100).

Photo 2014. 6. 10. 오후 7 09 37

Seriously, I didn’t know if they were protecting Cheong Wa Dae or preparing to invade Gaul. And the odd thing was, I think I saw, at most, maybe two protesters…in the entire Gwanghwamun area.

I get that overwhelming numbers may dissuade would-be ne’er-do-wells from engaging in bad behavior, but the heavy-handedness can backfire, too. Mostly by pissing everybody the hell off. People live and work in and around Gwanghwamun (including your Uncle Marmot), and when the neighborhood goes on lockdown, it can become real pain-in-the-ass, and for no real good reason.

PS to cops: Look, I know you guys gotta do what you’ve gotta do, but if you’ve just gotten done violently carting old folk away, commemorative photos are probably in poor taste:

Well, self-reflection is important

So, a well-known Korean restaurant in New York is apparently being sued by several former employees for forcing them to, among other things, “work 18-hour shifts without overtime, attend church before work on Sundays, and “volunteer” their time picking vegetables at a farm outside the city.” (HT to Todd). Get a load of this:

Waiters also testified about having to spend their days off picking cabbages and chili peppers at a farm in New Jersey owned by a friend of the owner, essentially gathering ingredients for the kimchi that the restaurant serves and sells. Song Jong Hyep, a young waiter participating in the lawsuit, recalled being notified of this obligation via fliers posted on the restaurant’s bulletin board.

“The flier said, ‘Let’s go on a picnic and eat barbecued meat together!’” he said in an interview. “But we’re not in the 1960s—it’s not like we can’t eat meat these days. We knew we were only going to have to work for free on our day off.”

For Song and other waiters who declined to pick vegetables, their refusal came with a price. According to Song, the owner told everyone who hadn’t worked on the farm to drop on their knees and beg for his forgiveness, or leave. Song didn’t work for four weeks. Others were denied work for longer than that and effectively fired.

More crap

- Does this mean Moon Chang-geuk’s nomination is dead?

- The incoming US ambassador to Korea is talking about getting Seoul and Tokyo talking. Good luck with that. The new guy is just 41 years old, but he’s apparently well-respected by the Korea policy folk.

- Here’s your primer to Korean cults.

Education minister nominee accused of plagiarism

Hey kids! Here’s one way to get to the top. Granted, that doesn’t mean you won’t be toppled once you get there –as looks to be the likely case for President Park’s nominee  for education minister, Kim Myung-soo. 

The nominee for South Korea’s education minister is suspected of having plagiarized a thesis written by one of his students while serving as a professor, an opposition lawmaker claimed Tuesday.

President Park Geun-hye nominated Kim Myung-soo, a professor at Korea National University of Education, last week as the new education minister, who will also double as deputy prime minister for educational, social and cultural affairs.

Rep. Park Hong-geun raised the issue of Kim’s suspected plagiarism, claiming that a considerable part of his paper published in June 2002 overlaps a thesis written by one of Kim’s students identified only by his surname Chung.

Works Cited in this Post:

Education Minister Nominee Accused of Plagiarism. Korea Herald, 17 June 2014. Web. Accessed 18 June 2014.

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