Monday, March 27, 2017

Side Project

I have been thinking a lot about the whole "Contract Marriage" concept from that Japanese drama Nigehaji. I believe the concept might have some legs as a side business.

The basic concept in the show is that two people agree on a marriage contract at the start of their relationship. This way expectations are clear up front and a productive courtship can begin. I think a marriage-focused dating site that operates from this premise could find an audience.

Of course marriage-focused dating sites are not a new thing. I looked around and found some Japanese Konkatsu sites that are somewhat similar. Most are just expensive matchmaking services that try to get a whole lot of information about your preferences and concerns. They are not bad but none of them just let users cut out the middle man and match up with one another based on desired marriage lifestyle.

Most dating sites either focus on some small community or are too open-ended. Sites like Match, Plenty of Fish, and EHarmony all try to match people based on personality and interests. While this definitely works for some people I do not think it is the ideal way to find a marriage partner. What happens too often in relationships is you spend years getting to know someone in hopes of teasing out their desired marriage lifestyle, all while hoping they are on the same timeline as you for things like kids and career. A Contract Marriage site could let users get all that info at the start.

In some ways the idea is similar to Seeking Arrangement. Seeking Arrangement has millions of users. The site is controversial because "Sugar Daddy" dating is, to many, not very different from prostitution. Whatever your feelings about that, I think the success of it stems from the benefit of having expectations defined up front. The women know exactly how much money to expect, and the men know what they will get from the women in return. There is no ambiguity unlike most online dating sites.

Contract Marriage could be a less shady version of that. Users can create their ideal marriage agreement and find someone who likes what they are offering. It solves the problem I described in my earlier post about men not feeling an incentive to pursue marriage because they don't see any benefit. "What is in it for me?" a man might ask. Contract Marriage answers that question explicitly. Men can see in writing exactly what benefits their future wife will provide in terms of financial contribution, companionship, homemaking, etc. The same is true for female users. A woman seeking marriage can spell out exactly what she wants from her future husband. That could be a more traditional breadwinner husband to allow her to be a stay-at-home mom, a supportive partner to help her pursue a career, or something in between.

The idea has been in my head for a few weeks now and I've already laid some of the ground work. I'm going to take the next few weeks to try to hack something out and see if I can find an audience. I know absolutely zero about business so I may need to seek help or a co-founder or something.

Lots of other software developers have side projects. I figure why not give it a shot.

Friday, March 24, 2017

日本の人口統計に関しての危機考

昨年の時点において、日本の人口は公式に減少している。

これまで長年の間、日本の出生率は人口置換水準以下(女性一人当り2.1人以下の出生数)である。 移民入国者数の少なさと相まって、この数字は高齢化社会を招いた。日本の中央値年齢は47歳で、世界二位の高さである。程なく平均的日本人像は、50歳超えになるだろう。

これがなぜ問題なのか? さて、ある人は、「それは問題ではない」と議論する。またある人は、「日本は比較的小さい国だから、その人口密度は限界に達していて、出生率の減少は理にかなっている」と言うだろう。多くの人は、日本(あるいは全世界すらも)は単に人口過多であると信じている。 

私はその考えは買わない。日本は人口密度についてはインドより低く、40位にランクされている。インドの出生率は、人口置換水準より申し分なく上である。もし日本より高い人口密度の国が人口置換水準より以上の多産性を維持できるとすれば、日本の問題は人口密度ではなく、むしろ文化かもしれないということになる。

公平を期すために言えば、日本は極めて山地が多いため、利用可能な国土面積についてはインドとの比較が適切ではない。しかしながら、人口密度についてもっと普遍的に考えれば、基本的な論点は有効であると思う。例えば、日本の人口を4倍すれば、その人口密度はニューヨーク州クイーンズ区の約半分となる、と考えてみてほしい。私はそこに住んでいたことがあるが、そんなに悪いものではない。素敵な公園や郊外らしい一帯、広々とした空間が豊富だ。日本はその技術レベルをもってすれば、少なくとも10倍規模の人口を維持できるのではないか。当国が単に人口過多であるとは、私は同意しない。

また、この星が人口過多であるとも同意しかねるし、例え同意したとしても、日本人がより少なくなることが解決策だとは主張しないだろう。日本人はこの世で最も生産的で、温和で、IQの高い人間の一種だ。少なくではなく、もっと多くの彼らを我々は必要としている。もしも本当に人口増加制限を望むならば、我々は開発途上の世界にフォーカスするべきだ。まさしく我々は環境、クリーン・エネルギーへの転換や地球温暖化との戦いへの取り組みを優先的に行う必要がある。しかし、最も効果的あるいは道徳的な解決策が、豊かな国で(あるいはどんな国でも)低い出生率を奨励することだとは、私は同意しない。

日本の出生率もまた、深刻な問題だ。若い労働者人口の少なさは、公的年金があっさり名誉にはならない傾向を引き起こした。その恩恵は劇的に大幅カットされていくため、人々ははるかに遅く退職することを余儀なくされる。高齢化社会の経済的結末は、1980年代末の日本の崩壊以来、明白だ。数十年にわたり、彼らは鈍い成長に甘んじてきている。

更に話を進めて、低い出生率は文化の沈滞と退廃を意味すると論じたい。それは人々が自身の未来を計画し形作ることができなくなったことを示唆する。家族の価値が切り下げられたことを示唆する。家族は自由な公民的社会の礎なので、この現状は私に言わせれば危険なことだ。個人のみによって形成された社会は、簡単に扇動政治家やペテン師に操作される。家族は、国家に対してより以上に忠誠であるべき何かを個人に与える。家族を持つことで、人は数世代にかけての考えを巡らし、また決定の長期にわたる影響を熟考する。良い主張は、家族を持つ人々に投票を限定することで得られるかもしれない。

それでは、日本の出生率の解決策はどのようなことか? 答えは、何をこの問題の原因と特定するかによる。日本人に質問すると断然、最もよく聞くスケープゴート(言い逃れ)は、経済だ。生涯保証雇用が過去の遺物となったことで、人々は結婚して子供を持つことがただ高くつくように感じている。政府は子持ち家庭に補助金を出して援助しようと試みているが、あまり助けにはなっていない。

私は経済という説明には、多くの理由でいたって懐疑的だ。私には、貧しい第三世界の女性が5人の子供を難なく育てられるならば、豊かな日本の人々は数人の子を育てられるはずに見える。その上、急激な出生率減少は、日本の名高い成長と経済的ミラクルの真っ只中である1970年代に始まっている。つまり経済が繁栄している時でさえ、人々は子をより少なく持つことを選んでいたのだ。

日本はいろいろな意味でその成功の犠牲者だったのではないか、と私は感じている。多くの人々は繁栄が永遠に続くと考え、家族を持つことを延期して、非現実的な生活水準に慣れた。その文化は結婚や子どもをより低く見積もるように変わった。より多くの女性が働いたり、大学に行くこともまた大きな要因のようだ。

しかしながら、この問題は、女性やフェミニズムに主に起因するものとは思わない。確かに、日本の女性は選り好みしがちではある。今人気のドラマ ”東京タラレバ娘”は、結婚しようと奮闘する30代女性たちの話であることから、その性向を少し実地踏査している。それでも、大多数の日本女性は結婚したいと望み、かなり高い割合で主婦になりたいとも望んでいる。現在の事態に関しては、男女ともに責められるべきだと思う。私の観察では、日本における男女の社交の世界は非常に独特だ。デートや女性にまるで関心がない多くの男性が存在する。彼らは「草食系」として知られ、専門的には草食動物を意味するが、単に女性に対しての積極性の欠如を言い表している。この種の男性にとって、それは女性嫌悪でも、政治的表明でもない。彼らは文字どおり、女の子にどう声をかけたらいいかわからないだけなのだ。従って、より多くの結婚を促進するベストな方法は、より多くの縁組を可能にするような、社会的交流を切り開く方法を見つけることだと思う。ある種の箱の外思考( 異なる方向からの新しい解決法)が必要とされている。

短期的には、日本は少なくとも多少は労働需要を満たす移民を増やすべきかもしれない。過去に彼らは、高齢者人口をケアするフィリピン人女性看護師のような、特定産業でのアジア人熟練移民に集中してこれをやっていた。この種のことが増えるのは、悪いアイディアではない。フィリピン人、ベトナム人、そしてより貧しい東アジアの国々からの移民は、一般的に吸収に熱心で、とても働き者だ。女性たちはしばしば結婚を手に入れようと求め、ついには日本名を得る。それゆえに、これは移民による僅かな文化的妨害の奨励すべき形態である。狙いを定めた移民の増加に伴い、政府は間違いなく支出を減らし、資格付与について統治するべきだ。

長期的には、もしも出生率が改善しなければ、うまくいけばオートメーションが究極の修繕策になるだろう。すべての産業がロボットで運営されれば、単純に日本はそう多くの労働者を必要としなくなる。男性はより少なく働けばよく、女性は子供とともに家にいられる。(ママはロボットにとって代わられるべきでない数少ない仕事の一つだ)これはそう酷くはない未来像である。

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Bad Argument



Very occasionally I still catch The Daily Show. It is a shadow of its former self of course, with John Stewart gone. However I did see the interview Trevor Noah did with Tomi Lahren. It did not do much to raise my opinion of either of them, but made for a nice diversion. Lahren, though clearly quite young and not the greatest thinker, held her own for the most part. She seemed like a clear rising star for the Fox News crowd.

So I was surprised to learn that she was being suspended from her position at The Blaze, Glenn Beck's media outlet. I caught a tweet about it and it turns out it was because of her appearance on The View. She stated that she was pro-choice during her interview there.

Now, that in and of itself is enough for any conservative outlet to distance themselves from her since a strong majority of republicans are pro-life. However when I actually watched the clip and heard her reason for being pro-choice, I immediately knew that Glenn Beck was right to suspend her.

Lahren claimed to be pro-choice because she supports small government. That was her reason; "Stay out of my guns and stay out of my body." This is an impressively stupid argument. The abortion issue is not about scope of government. It is about the definition of life. To a pro-lifer she is basically saying that stopping the murder of babies is not a legitimate function of government.

If she were smart she would have just taken the standard liberal position and said, "I do not believe an undeveloped fetus is equivalent to a baby." She could have put it nicely with some qualifiers. Instead she tried to be clever and make a "conservative," argument for abortion. This sort of reasoning is risky because it can anger people in your ideological camp. I have heard intelligent liberal arguments against Obamacare, and conservative arguments for gay marriage. Bill Maher has done this well as a lefty attacking PC culture. For an emotionally charged issue like abortion, it is not a good idea to try to oppose your own side with their own philosophy. It is doubly bad when your argument is laughably deficient.

Lahren's argument goes beyond being simply bad and is actually offensive. She is betraying a cornerstone tenet of conservative ideology and simultaneously attacking conservatives for not agreeing with her. She's essentially saying, "If you guys were REAL conservatives, you would be pro-choice." You need some serious intellectual gravitas to try something like that. Lahren is out of her depth. Beck made a very understandable decision. This whole drama is a teachable moment on the risks of bad arguments.

And no, her suspension is not "censorship." Her employer, The Blaze, has every right to reprimand someone they think does not represent them well. Organizations have a right to set and enforce standards. If a Catholic school just so happens to only want to hire Catholic teachers, that is their right. If Glenn Beck's wants his organization to support an official position on abortion, that is his right too.

As for the abortion issue I of course have my own view but do not feel inclined to discuss it in this writing. Another time perhaps.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Marriage, Japan, and Manga


I recently started watching the Japanese drama Tokyo Tarareba Musume. It is a show about three women in their 30's who are desperate to get married before the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. The show is what some in the alt-right would call “red-pilled” in that it shows how hard it is for women to quickly find a suitable husband after partying away their 20’s. The show’s protagonist, Rinko, suffers a number of indignities as she learns that she has hit “The Wall,” and cannot attract high status men as easily as she once could.

When Rinko is in her early 20’s, her moderately successful male coworker, Hayasaka, asks her to start a relationship with him. She turns him down quickly because he is not terribly stylish and she figures she’ll find a much better man eventually. In the show’s present, the 30-something Rinko still works with Hayasaka, who has now been promoted to the level of Producer and is still single. Rinko is still a relatively low level script writer with a career going nowhere fast. Rinko now dreams of Hayasaka asking her to marry him and start a family. Instead Hayasaka takes Rinko out to dinner only to ask her advice on how he can start a relationship with a much younger girl who works in the same office. Rinko is of course crushed and briefly considers suicide.

While it is a bitter pill the show is still basically a comedy. I could not help but compare it to Nigehaji which I recently reviewed. Both shows I think have good social messages because they present marriage in a generally positive light and encourage women to be realistic. The best way to see this is to contrast the attitudes of the two female protagonists.




Rinko is a typical spoiled city girl who greatly overestimates her own talent and attractiveness. For this reason she dismisses perfectly decent men for trivial reasons. In fact we see her dismiss a handsome bar owner later in the series because he asks her to change her hairstyle. Her attitude toward men is basically, “How is this guy not perfect? Where is there a flaw I can use to disqualify him?” Her resulting loneliness is her own fault. We may even experience some schadenfreude when men now choose to casually dismiss her the same way she dismissed them.


Mikuri from Nigehaji has the opposite attitude. When she works for Hiramasa as a maid she has numerous reasons to dismiss him as a potential mate. He is nerdy, antisocial, cold, kind of skinny, and generally unmanly. Yet instead she comes to see all of his good qualities – his earnestness, his intelligence, his suppressed desire to love and be loved. Hiramasa is reluctant to start a relationship, even suggesting Mikuri find her own boyfriend at one point saying it is her “free choice.” Mikuri is annoyed with this, eventually throwing the words back in his face and making him decide to either start a romantic relationship with her or not. Mikuri did not want to be free. She wanted Hiramasa to claim her and she convinced him to do it with a lot of patience and work. While Rinko never considers for a moment that maybe she isn’t entitled to better than her respectable coworker, Mikuri works hard to prove her worth to her geeky employer.

In Tarareba, Rinko eventually does start a relationship with her coworker Hayasaka. While a lot of men might not love this (Yay! The girl who dissed me ten years ago is now ready to let me wife her up! Lucky me!) I think since this is a story written by and for women, it is a reasonable development. Rinko has been humbled by her experiences and is rewarded for her self-knowledge. Ultimately it is meant to advise women on the danger of being overly picky. Not all women can expect their Hayasaka to still be waiting for them.

Hayasaka and Hiramasa are representative of typical Japanese guys. Neither is rich or especially handsome, but they have ordinary virtues – maturity, diligence, and kindness. In a healthy society guys like this have no trouble getting married. So why are Japanese men struggling? Sure, the ladies might be pickier but by and large they want to get married. Childless after 30 is still frowned upon in Japan, even if it is becoming more common. So while fastidiousness is an issue on the ladies’ side, I think another big factor is lack of incentives for men.

The character of Kazami in Nigehaji has a great quote about why men ought to avoid marriage: Nakute komaranai mono wazawaza kau? It means, “Why go out of your way to buy something you can live without?” He’s basically saying that men do not actually need women, especially not in the age of casual sex and abundant internet porn. He perceives marriage as nothing more than a loss of autonomy. And that’s not even considering the legal risks which are even worse in the western world. Women have limited fertility. Marriage grants them children, a provider, and higher social status, in most cases. What is in it for men?

Both Nigehaji and Tarareba put some effort into answering this question, particularly the former. Keep in mind that both are stories written by women. In Nigehaji we see not only the practical benefits of having a housewife (spotless house, healthy home-cooked meals, etc.) but also the love and companionship that invigorates Hiramasa’s life. Furthermore the role of husband is presented as something respectable and honorable. Both Rinko and Mikuri (and I’d argue most Japanese women) are seeking a leader more than an equal partner. They want the man whose babies they produce and whose last name they take to be someone they admire. I’d wager most men want to feel that from their wives – gratitude, respect, admiration. Contrast that with American TV, where often the role of husband and father is presented in a very negative fashion.

While in theory there may be good reasons for a man to get married, it ultimately comes down to finding the right partner. With the existing social systems that is a tall order. One thing that did occur to me though is that Nigehaji’s idea of a ‘Contract Marriage’ could be a good solution. The contract forces Mikuri and Hiramasa to be up front about their expectations for their married life together. Both the man and woman know exactly what they are offering and exactly what they are getting. This might be a good paradigm in a society like Japan where people by and large still want marriage. I think if more Japanese guys could see the benefits clearly enumerated in writing we would see more of them giving it a shot.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Random Thoughts II

On Jews

I have spoken with a few Alt-Right people about the "Jewish Question." I don't buy into the conspiracy theories but I think there is something we can observe about tribalism.

As Thomas Sowell pointed out there are many kinds of “Jews” throughout history. What we are talking about is really just the phenomena of a small minority enjoying disproportionate success and influence within a country. It matters not whether they are an immigrant minority, an ethnic minority, a religious minority, or any other type. In all cases they outperform the majority population, winning influence in the professions, the legal system, the schools, the media, etc.

Is this OK? Is this fair? Is this to be stopped? My immediate thought is that it is a problem of degree. When you have this small minority having slightly more success, it isn't a big deal. After all, the Jewish guy with the corner store making money is only successful because people willingly trade with him. It becomes a problem when they start openly screwing over the natives – start manipulating the government in their favor and controlling entertainment and news media. Some argue this is happening in America today. The fear is that you end up with a situation where a minority becomes able to tyrannize a majority.

What is preferable? Tyranny by a majority or tyranny by a minority? Ideally you get neither, but if I had to pick I would say tyranny by a majority is preferable. Fewer victims.

Cheating at Video games

I shake my head when I read about hackers ruining online multiplayer in FPS games, or editing config files to get unlimited secret keys in an RPG. I feel like these people are missing the point of video games. A video game is not a problem that you try to solve; it's recreation. The fact that you have to earn those secret keys - that you have to practice to be able to aim well - these are parts of the game. I understand the hacker mentality of trying to find exploits as it is relevant to my work. The discovery can be very satisfying. But then proceeding to play the hacked game with zero challenge knowing that it signifies nothing about your own skill? I don’t get it. It’s like playing solitaire but arranging the cards in order before you start to ensure victory. What is the point?

An Interesting Plot for Wonder Woman

I'm a big comic fan and I love Wonder Woman. Someone challenged me to come up with an interesting plot for her since she doesn't have as many classic stories as Superman and Batman. Here goes:

Diana (Wonder Woman) and the Amazons have lived for thousands of years. They have seen mankind evolve technologically. In the near future they become worried about the latest inventions - human augmentation and A.I. Diana learns from the Moirai that humanity is approaching its Great Filter. Without divine intervention, humanity is destined to destroy itself in the next decade or so. Diana and the Amazons are told they must leave Earth and find a new home. However Diana does not want to abandon humanity and her friends in the Justice League. She considers the qualification in the prophecy ("without divine intervention") and realizes that humanity can be saved if she can convince the Olympian gods to rule humanity as benevolent overlords. All of this would be revealed very gradually with the other Justice League heroes eventually opposing her. I like the dilemma though; slavery vs. death. Which is worse? I wouldn't have a cop out third way either. Probably I'd write both endings.

Japanese Cultural Chauvinism

I saw a funny program on TV the other day. It featured various masters of Japanese culture – an expert sushi chef, a renowned Taiko drummer, etc. They are each sent to different parts of the world where non-Japanese people are practicing the same craft. In every case, the non-Japanese are ‘doing it wrong’. To twist the knife, they force the Japanese master to pretend to be an amateur and get instruction from these people. For example we saw the Taiko drum master forced to practice with a particularly incompetent all women group in the American mid-west. It ended nicely though when he revealed himself and taught the women how to properly play Japanese drums.

What struck me about it though was the inherent chauvinism. Americans in particular likely do not care about recreating elements of foreign cultures correctly. Americans have such a mongrel culture that they would probably dispute the notion of ‘correctness’ and insist that traditions are meant to constantly evolve (effectively meaning that there are no traditions). But obviously the Japanese do not see things this way. To them there absolutely is a right way to make sushi, a right way to perform Taiko, etc.

Jason Bourne

I saw the most recent movie and was not at all impressed. What irks me about the franchise is that they never dig into the most interesting aspect of Bourne's character: David Webb. David Webb, the man who became Jason Bourne before losing his memory, was actually a brave and compelling individual. He volunteered for the Treadstone program. He was an educated and talented man willing to make difficult moral choices. He was a patriot who, as Tommy Lee Jones says, saved lives with the choices he made. “Jason Bourne” is just a guy with Amnesia. As a result, he experiences his own history out of context and ends up standing in judgment of the programs that trained him, ultimately choosing to expose and destroy them.

David Webb would not have wanted this. Jason Bourne adopted a far more conventional moral position. “The government was doing bad stuff. It doesn't matter if that bad stuff was for a good reason. It was bad. Therefore I have to stop them.” Because of the consequences of Bourne's actions, I completely sympathize with the assassin who goes after him in this most recent movie. Bourne is a naive traitor. Webb is actually an interesting character. It strikes me that if Bourne now "remembers everything," would he not experience remorse for betraying his country and fellow operatives? We should have at least seen him wrestle with that more throughout the series.

Collective Identity

I read Ayn Rand when I was in high school. I used to be a hardcore libertarian. Individualism appealed to me. I still recommend people read her stuff because she's thought-provoking. It's just now that I have traveled a lot and learned more about human evolution I realize the flaws in her ideology. Tribalism is the foil of Individualism. Individualism only works if everyone practices it. In a multi-ethnic society, the groups that do not act as a tribe are disadvantaged in relation to those who do. This leads to the somewhat paradoxical conclusion that ethnically homogeneous societies have a greater opportunity for individualism (though even there individualism could ultimately disrupt and undermine the society).

I am wary of all forms of collectivism. I agree with much of Rand's essay on racism. It is indeed often a refuge for mediocrities, and the very idea of taking pride in something one did not choose seems silly. Being proud of being black / white is much like being proud of having curly hair. It is absurd. Perhaps maybe the issue is just the specific word pride. I have friends who are proud to be Japanese. However I think their pride is more focused on their culture and not their ethnicity. Pride in culture is not necessarily absurd, since culture is something in which one actively participates. Yet race is a fundamental part of Japanese identity. So maybe there is an appreciation for the Japanese race and a pride in cultural achievements.

I'm tying myself in knots...This needs its own essay.

An Obvious Double Standard - Futurama Amazons

One of the funniest episodes of Futurama involves a group of Amazons who capture the team. There are a number of gender-based jokes in that episode, but perhaps the most memorable is the "death by snu-snu," bit. Here the Amazons intend to kill their male prisoners by endlessly having sex with them. It isn't just threatened either; we see them actually begin carrying this out in the show as different women go in and out of the rooms. We are literally watching men being raped to death. And it's hilarious. Now try switching the genders. And just like that, you can see why gender equality is such a hard thing to actually believe let alone achieve.

Only God Forgives

Saw this movie a few nights ago. It was...interesting. I understand why it was divisive. It is not easy to make sense of it right away. On its face it is a simple story of revenge and loyalty. It is just directed in such an odd way. Lots of explicit atmosphere building – long shots with characters framed deliberately by light in specific ways. Lots of spooky music and random interludes with a character singing karaoke.

Overall I enjoyed it. I dig the vibe and I loved the character of Chang, the all powerful cop. One thing I enjoyed was the scene where Change fought Julian, Ryan Gosling’s character. It was nice seeing Julian get his ass handed to him. It was a great change of pace from what we usually see with foreigners in Asia in the movies. Whether it is Karate Kid or Tokyo Drift, there are a thousand movies with Americans going to Asia and mastering some ancient local skill in a single training montage. It was nice to see the Thai cop just completely wipe the floor with the dude.

On Revenge

There are four levels.

1. Direct and Immediate: You walk up to the target, punch him in the face, and scream at him for what he did. He knows what he did wrong.

2. Direct and Patient: You wait a long time before getting back at them in some creative way. The target knows you did it and knows why.

3. Indirect and Patient: You wait a long time and arrange for some bad thing to happen to the target. The target does not know you are involved. The target does not even know that they are being punished. From their perspective they are just having bad luck. You smile to yourself in secret.

4. Invisible: The target does not even experience anything bad. You just secretly arrange things so that they miss out on some great opportunity. The target’s life is worse off than they will ever know. You can smile at them easily now.

Beauty and the Beast Gay Controversy

Had a conversation with a Japanese guy about this online. I told him that I did not really see the big deal about Beauty and the Beast having a gay character. He said that a kids' movie in Japan would not do that. Playing Devil's Advocate a bit I asked him, "Well why is it OK to show heterosexual couples but not homosexual ones? If the issue is sexuality shouldn't we avoid letting children see either?" He responded simply, "Sure, but heterosexuality is the norm." This was actually somewhat convincing to me. I think you could argue that children don't need to be exposed to every type of sexual minority. The argument that "gay people are out there in the real world, so kids have to know about it!" Doesn't really work for me. Dendrophiliacs and serial killers are real too. Doesn't mean kids need to be exposed to them. Childhood is supposed to be innocent. (and no, I'm not equating gays with serial killers; just pointing out the flaw in the argument)

The idea of a cultural norm is interesting to me. I think we often don't realize that there is a cost when we change norms. It isn't always an obvious objective good. Whenever we normalize something, be it miscegenation, homosexuality, single motherhood, or transgenderism - there are inevitably unintended consequences. Unlimited tolerance isn't free. Society pays for it in all sorts of ways. For that reason I respect Russia's decision to bar children from seeing the new Beauty and the Beast, even if I don't personally agree with it. They are choosing their own norms.

My real problem with making a character gay actually pertains to something I wrote in my last "Random Thoughts" post: I don't like when adaptations make these sort of changes to classic stories. I prefer more faithful adaptations. I want to experience the history and unique culture of classical literature; I don't want it to just try to cater to modern sensibilities. It reminds me of this quote from Thoreau:

"Every generation laughs at the old fashions but follows religiously the new."

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

レビュー:逃げるは恥だが役に立つ




テレビ番組はただ単に私たちを楽しませてくれるだけではない。人々を感動させることもできる。これが単純に良い番組と素晴らしい番組との違いだと思う。この基準からすると、逃げ恥は素晴らしい番組に当てはまるだろう。

逃げ恥のストーリー設定はとてもわかりやすい。主人公のみくりはやる気はあるが無職の若い女子。とあることから彼女はオタクなプログラマー、ひらまさの家でメイドとして働くこになった。ひらまさは次第に仕事のできるみくりを頼るようになる。ある日、両親の引っ越しにより、住む家を失いかけたみくりは、ひらまさに「契約結婚」をして同居をしないかと提案した。その提案では、二人は結婚をし、周囲にも夫婦のようにふるまうが、実際にはプラトニックな付き合いでメイドとしての仕事は継続し、みくりはひらまさから給料を受け取るというものだった。

大方の予想通りストーリーは展開する。みくりは真面目で大人なひらまさに恋に落ちるが、彼はいわゆる草食系男子だった。日本では女子や恋愛に興味がないオタク男子を草食系男子と呼んでいる。このため、みくりの恋愛感情は一方通行の片思となってしまう。

最終回までのストーリーはとても良いペースで進んだ。始め、ひらまさとみくりの関係の展開にややじれったさを感じたものの、最終的にはそのゆっくりなペースが物語を楽しむ要素。となった。ゆっくりとしたストーリー展開は登場人物たちの個性を育て、彼らの恋愛感情がナチュラルに表現されていた。このドラマを見ている男性は、ひらまさがなぜみくりにこんなにも魅かれたのか理由がわかるだろう。彼女は明るくて優しく、ひらまさの人生をよりよいものに導いてくれた。また、女性たちはなぜみくりがひらまさに恋をしたのかわかるはずだ。彼は真面目で賢く、辛抱強さも持ち、そして何よりも自身の殻を破り自分を成長させてくれるみくりとの日々に感謝をしていた。逃げ恥は男女がお互いのために協力し、より良い家庭を築くという、シンプルながらも理想的な結婚を再現しているのだ。

男女の登場人物に皆が感情移入できるということから、逃げ恥は日本で大ヒットを記録し、最終回放送後には巷に番組終了を悲しむ人々であふれていたとニュースになるほどだった。ひらまさは大人で頭が良いが、ありえない程の天才ではなく、またみくりは可愛いけど、ビクトリアシークレットの下着モデルたちのようなずば抜けた美人でもない。そう、彼らは共に普通の男女。互いを尊敬し、やさしさ、勤勉さを持ち、二人の手の届く幸せを探している。それはよくテレビの中で目にする非現実的なものではなく、視聴者の私たちの日常にも起こりうるような身近なものだった。

彼らを演じた俳優たちの力も大きく影響している。新垣結衣はみくりの個性を十分に表現し、ひらまさ役の星野源もしっかりと適格に役を演じきった。しいて言うならば、ひらまさの自由な独身男性の生活の描写を充実させてほしかった。

俳優陣の演技力に加え、ドラマのストーリーがおもしろかったことも大きい。各回に日本の人気番組のパロディーを加えていた。私のお気に入りは、第四回のエバンゲリオンのパロディーだった。特に古田新太の演じる、ひらまさの同僚沼田は一風変わったシニアエンジニアで、一番ユーモアにあふれた面白い登場人物だった。逃げ恥はサイドストリーもうまく加え、みくりとひらまさの関係を築いていた。

ほとんどのサブストーリーは本筋に対してのうれしいおまけのようなもので、例えば同性愛者の同僚のサブストーリも面白く、締めくくり方もかわいいものだった。みくりの叔母とひらまさと同僚風見のサイドストーリーでは、恋愛感情ではないものの二人の気持ちがしっかりと描写され、よく考えられたものだったと思う。そして、ヤッサンのサイドストーリーも忘れられない。ヤッサンはみくりの古い友人で、夫に浮気されたのちに離婚をするのだが、この部分では従来の結婚の形がどのように行き違い、壊れていくのかを表現することが意図されており、うまく視聴者にも伝わっていたと思う。個人的にはドラマ内に出てくることのなかった、ヤッサンの夫視点でのシーンも加えてほしかった。彼らの離婚が娘の成長過程に父親の不在を与えてしまう難しい選択であったことを描写するのみでとどめられていた。

一番の残念な点はドラマの最終回、特に最後の終わり方だった。エンディングのネタバレはしない程度に説明したいと思う。みくりは気持ちの中でひらまさとの関係に変化を感じるようになる。二人が契約結婚の内容を大幅に変更しようとする際、みくりは仕事とプライベートのライフバランスをうまく取れなくなってしまった。おそらく、ここは彼女にとって、自分について再認識し、ひらまさに対する感謝を強めるための重要なシーンなのだが、問題はこの大きな変化を表現するのに、最終回の後半部分のみという限られた時間しか残っていなかった点だ。最終回までの十話でじっくりと組み立てられてきていたものたちを、最後の最後で慌てて終了に持っていかれてしまったような残念な気持ちになってしまった。

ドラマは期待通りのハッピーエンドを迎える。最後の10分は面白くて、期待通りだった。なにより、今までのストーリの内容を崩さない。伝えるだけではなく、見せることが素晴らしいドラマだったと思う。逃げ恥は身近に私たちにも起こり得るような、魅力的なラブストーリーを見せてくれる。結婚というものの中にある、男女の役割、それぞれへの敬意をユーモアなタッチで表現し、視聴者を引き付けていたのだろう。このドラマはコメディータッチのドラマが好きな外国人の方にもおすすめだ。

逃げ恥は今時の日本の恋愛模様をうまく表現している。人口の減少など、日本の家庭生活を皮肉るものが多い中、逃げ恥は私たちにポジティブな印象を吹き込んでくれるようだった。不自然な設定が本物として表現されている、TrainwreckYou’re the Worstのような西洋のザ・ラブコメをたくさんみてきた私には、自然とお互いに優しくなれる人々の関係を表現してる逃げ恥というドラマが、目新しく感じられた。

数えきれないほどあるアジア諸国の恋愛ドラマの中でも秀でたものがあり、一度は観る価値のある作品である。

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Review: Nigeru Wa Haji Da Ga Yaku Ni Tatsu



Television can do more than simply entertain us. It can inspire. This is the difference between a good show and a great one. By this standard, Nigeru wa haji da ga Yaku ni Tatsu (逃げるは恥だが役に立つ, affectionately known as 'Nigehaji') is a great show.

The setup is straightforward as ever. Mikuri is an enthusiastic unemployed young woman who ends up working as a maid for a nerdy programmer named Hiramasa. Mikuri is good at her job and Hiramasa comes to depend on her. When Mikuri's parents decide to move far away, the soon to be homeless Mikuri asks Hiramasa if she can live with him under a 'Contract Marriage.' The two would marry and present themselves publicly as a couple, but in reality their relationship would remain platonic with Mikuri continuing to work as a maid and receive a salary.

You can see where this goes. Mikuri over time becomes smitten with the mature and diligent Hiramasa. Unfortunately, Hiramasa is what is known as a 'Soshokukei Danshi', or 'herbivore' man. In Japan this basically refers to very nerdy guys who have no romantic interest in women. Thus Mikuri's affections are generally not returned without a lot of prodding on her part.

The pacing of the show is superb, at least until the last episode that is. The gradual evolution of Hiramasa and Mikuri's relationship feels slow at first but ultimately it makes each milestone more satisfying. The story takes the necessary time to develop the characters – to make the romance feel natural. Men watching the show understand why Hiramasa comes to care deeply for Mikuri. She is a thoughtful, bright, competent young woman who makes his life better. Women watching can understand why Mikuri falls for Hiramasa. He is hardworking, smart, patient, and most importantly, willing to grow and break out of his shell thanks to his experience with Mikuri. Nigehaji demonstrates a simple and ideal marriage: a man and woman working together to make a great home for one another.

This is why the show I think struck such a cord with Japanese society that news channels reported on mass depression when the series ended. It is just such a down to Earth story. Hiramasa, though smart and mature, is not some one in a million supergenius. Mikuri, though attractive, is not a Victoria’s Secret model. These are two ordinary people whose ordinary virtues – respect, kindness, hard work, conscientiousness – ultimately win them happiness in each other’s arms. Unlike much of what we see on TV, this truly is something we can all aspire to achieve in our own lives.

It helps that the lead performances are quite strong. Yui Aragaki shows great range and spirit as Mikuri. Gen Hoshino's portrayal of Hiramasa is also solid. He works as a great 'straight man' playing off of the energy of other characters. The only thing that felt lacking is that I wish the show had done more to flesh out his dedicated bachelor lifestyle.

It also helps that the show is just really funny. Every episode features some kind of parody or reference to another popular Japanese show. My favorite was the Neon Genesis spoof in episode four. Much of the humor comes from Hiramasa’s coworkers who offer some snappy comedic dialogue. Arata Furuta is absolutely hilarious as an eccentric senior engineer. Nigehaji includes a number of side stories that add context to Mikuri and Hiramasa’s relationship.

Most of these subplots are just icing on the cake. There is a running motif about an allegedly gay coworker that provides some humor and ends sweetly. There is the will-they-won’t-they relationship between the much older Yuri, Mikuri’s aunt, and cool guy Kazami, Hiramasa’s coworker. Their relationship feels sort of like fangirl shipping. Still, it has emotional weight and is well-developed. Finally there is Yassan, Mikuri’s housewife friend who ends up divorcing her cheating husband. Yassan’s story arch I believe is meant to serve as a foil – a demonstration of how things can go wrong in a traditional marriage. On that level it works. Personally I think it could have used more screen time as we never get the husband’s perspective. At the very least, they do not present Yassan’s decision to make her daughter grow up without a father as an easy one.

My biggest criticism of the show concerns its ending. I did not love the last episode or the last scene of the episode before it. Without spoiling too much I will just say it concerns Mikuri having a sudden change of heart about her relationship with Hiramasa. The two renegotiate their contract quite drastically and Mikuri ends up struggling to balance outside work and home duties. This period is perhaps necessary for her character as she ultimately comes to understand herself better and ends up appreciating Hiramasa even more. The problem is that they only had about half of an episode to process this huge change in their relationship dynamic. After 10 episodes of very deliberate, deliciously paced romance, this section felt rushed and awkward.

Ultimately the show ends in just as sappy and upbeat a way as you would expect. The last ten minutes of the series are charming and fun, if not exactly how I would have liked to see things end. More importantly, it does not ruin all the good that was built up in all the prior episodes. Great television is about showing, not telling. What Nigehaji shows is an enchanting and believable love story. It portrays marriage and gender roles in a way that shows respect to both men and women, with enough humor to keep the former entertained, and enough drama to keep the latter engaged. It is also a great show for non-Japanese looking for a light and accessible comedy.

Nigehaji is picturesque representation of contemporary Japanese romance. Given the declining population, there is much reason for cynicism about family life in Japan. However Nigehaji with its infectious optimism is a breath of fresh air when compared to western romantic comedies like Trainwreck or You're the Worst. Having watched hundreds of western shows where ugliness is presented as “being real,” it is a welcome change to see a story where people are just generally decent to one another, with no ironic post-modern snear behind it.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Thoughts on Japan's Demographic Crisis

As of last year the population of Japan is officially shrinking.

For many years now Japan has had a birthrate well below replacement level (~2.1 babies per female). Combined with low immigration this has led to an aging society. Japan’s median age is 47, the second highest in the world. Before long the average Japanese person will be over 50.

Why is this a problem? Well, some argue that it isn’t. Some would say that since Japan is a relatively small country, its population density has hit a limit, and it makes sense for birthrates to decline. Many people believe Japan (or even the whole world) is simply overpopulated.

I do not buy this. Japan ranks 40th in population density behind India. India’s birthrate is well above replacement level. If a nation with a higher population density than Japan can sustain above replacement level fertility, it follows that Japan’s problem is likely not population density but rather culture.

To be fair, Japan is quite mountainous, so the amount of usable land might make India a poor comparison. However I think the basic point stands when we think more generally about population density. Consider for example that you could quadruple Japan’s population and the density would be about half as much as Queens, NY. I used to live there and I can tell you it isn’t that bad; plenty of nice parks, suburbs, and open space. With its level of technology Japan could likely sustain a population at least an order of magnitude larger in size. I do not agree that the country is simply overpopulated.

I also do not agree that the planet generally is overpopulated, and even if I did I would not argue that the best solution is having fewer Japanese people. Japanese are some of the most productive, peaceful, high IQ humans on Earth. We need more of them not fewer. If we really wanted to curb population growth we should be focusing on the developing world. Certainly we need to prioritize taking care of the environment, switching to clean energy, and combating global warming. But I disagree that the most effective or moral solution is encouraging low fertility in wealthier countries. (or any countries)

Japan’s birthrate is a serious problem too. The lower number of young workers has created a public pension liability that simply cannot be honored. Benefits are going to have to be slashed dramatically and people will be forced to retire much later. The economic consequences of an aging society have been clear since Japan’s crash in the late 1980’s. They have had sluggish growth for decades.

I would go further and argue that low fertility signifies cultural malaise and degeneracy. It suggests that people have become unable to plan and shape a future for themselves. It suggests that family has become devalued. To me this is dangerous because families are the cornerstone of a free and civil society. A society made up solely of individuals is easily manipulated by demogogues and charlatans. Family gives a person something to which they are more loyal than the state. Having a family forces you to think across generations and consider the long-term consequences of decisions. A good argument could be made for restricting voting to people with families.

So what is the solution to Japan’s birthrate? I think the answer depends on what we identify as the cause of the problem. By far the most common scapegoat when I ask Japanese people is the economy. With lifetime guaranteed employment a thing of the past, people feel like getting married and having kids is just too expensive. The government has tried to help by offering subsidies to families with children, but this has not helped much.

I am very skeptical of the economic explanation for many reasons. It seems to me that if poor women throughout the third world can raise five kids without trouble, wealthy Japanese people should be able have a few of their own. Furthermore, the sharp decline in the birthrate actually began in the 1970’s, right in the heart of Japan’s massive growth and economic miracle. So even when the economy was booming people were electing to have fewer kids.

I suspect Japan was a victim of its success in some ways. People thought the boom would last forever so many deferred starting families and got accustomed to an unrealistic standard of living. The culture changed in a way that made people simply value marriage and children less. More women working and going to college was likely another big factor.

I do not think the problem is mainly due to women or feminism though. It's true, Japanese women can be picky. The current popular drama "Tokyo Tarareba Musume" explores this a bit as it is a story about women in their 30's struggling to get married. Still, the vast majority of Japanese women want to get married, and a high percentage want to be housewives too. I think both men and women are to blame for the current state of affairs. My observation is that the world of men and women is just so different in Japan. There are lots of men who simply do not care about dating and women. They are known as “Soshokukei,” which technically means ‘herbivore’ but really just refers to their lack of assertiveness with women. It isn’t misogyny or any sort of political statement for these guys either; they literally just have no idea how to even talk to a girl. Therefore I think the best way to encourage more marriage is to find a way to hack social interactions to enable more coupling. Some outside of the box thinking is needed.

In the short term Japan might have to boost immigration at least a little bit to help meet demand for workers. They have done this in the past by focusing on skilled Asian immigrants for specific industries, such as female Filipino nurses to help care for the aging population. More of this sort of thing is not a bad idea. Filipino, Vietnamese, and other east Asian immigrants from poorer countries are generally eager to assimilate and are very hard workers. The females are often sought for marriage and eventually take Japanese names. Thus it is the least culturally disruptive form of immigration to encourage. Along with targeted immigration boosts, the government is definitely going to have to cut spending and reign in entitlements.

In the long term, if the birthrate doesn’t improve, hopefully automation will be the ultimate fix. With whole industries run by robots, Japan simply won’t need as many workers. Men can work less and more women can stay home with their kids (‘mom’ is one of the few jobs we should not replace with a robot). It’s not a terrible vision of the future.