So what are your favorite blogs for keeping up with events in a particular area or nation?
Probably the best one I know of is Ampontan , about Japan. With the year anniversary of the Triple Disaster (i.e., Fukushima) coming up next week, there will be plenty of vacuous Economist -grade quick commentary pieces out there for your consumption, but for real analysis of what the disaster has revealed about Japan’s people and politics, you’ll want to be going to Ampontan. The writer, Bill Sakovich, is a professional translator of Japanese to English who’s lived in Japan for two decades or so, who married a Japanese woman, and who just loves Japanese culture in general—in many of his cultural posts, for example, he suggests that the more typical Japanese approach to religion, while seemingly shallow, contradictory, and form-obsessed, makes a lot of sense to him, and indeed, is superior to Western ways. So this guy is seriously in love with the culture, while well-tuned to its variety, its dark sides, and its sides that continue to baffle him after all these years.
He is certainly no-nonsense about Japan’s politics—his instincts there are broadly conservative, and in any case he reveals where the real fault lines are, something you seldom seem to get from other Western news commentary.
His writing is fantastic too, even if his quote-studded posts are often too long to maintain the non-specialist’s interest(so says the writer of 3,000-word posts about why The Bangles were better in 1983 than in 1987!). Here’s a taste from a recent commentary on the tensions between Japan and China over some small islands:
“Occasionally the well-meaning superficialissimos of the Western mass media and thinktankeria get nosey and parade their wonderfulness by advising the countries involved it would be so much better if everyone got along and shared the wealth of the sea near the Senkakus instead of fighting about it. The Japanese have always been amenable to that. Now to get the Chinese to match their behavior with their words . . . ”
And his take-downs of what he calls drive-by journalism on Japan, with the NYT (of course . . . ) and Walter Russel Mead (aren’t you glad to know Mr. Mead isn’t as astoundingly perfect as you thought?) being recent recipients of this treatment, are spot-on and in the long tradition of bloggers checking the sloppiness of professional journalists and pundits.
One of the things about Japan that matters, I’d say, is how we see liberal democracy working itself out in a decidedly non-Western, yet otherwise very modern, nation. The signs have not been so good of late—major California and New Jersey like dysfunctions at work, a serious birth dearth, etc. But signs of push-back, particularly against bureaucratic bloat, are there also—they’re worth keeping tabs on, even while more dramatic world news events dominate our screens.
So give Ampontan a try—you know you won’t learn about this stuff anywhere else, unless you’re one of those BBC-watchers/listeners who likes to delude yourself into thinking that their international coverage gives you real knowledge about the world scene.
Any other blogger-labors-of-love out there that give in-depth insight into foreign nations?
P.S. Here’s the link to the take-down of Walter Russel Mead, among others, for seriously reporting that studies show that the Japanese are now “turning away” from sex.
P.P.S. No word yet about whether the Japanese are now “turning away” from Ron Paul.
P.P.P.S Arrghh!!! The sex story I linked is NOT the one where he takes down Mead. Memory fail on my part . . . if you scroll up, the Mead take-down is a peice concerning Japan-Russia relations.