Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ra Men

A result of my occasional observations on the foibles of the Alliance Managers is that I will never have an opportunity to return to Japan. The free trips to Japan, envelopes of cash for 10- minute speeches in Tokyo, and the fees for attending conferences at onsens are Japan's rewards for American good behavior.

I behave badly.

My manners are fine and I am even in Washington's Green Book, the social register. But I do not suffer the fools graciously and I ask too many questions. This is compounded by my apparently being the only source in Washington that can advise members of congress on Japan's history issues, on how American POWs were treated by Japan (and continue to be badly treated), and on the complexities of Japan's continuing inability to abide by international norms. No one else would dare risk their relationship with Japan to do so. Currently, Congress is transfixed by the issue of parental child abduction to Japan.

Working on any of these issues, as the Alliance Managers know, has no financial reward and will confine you to a Japan purgatory. Mofa and other Japanese organizations avoid you and tell their friends to do as well. One Japan expert who continually complimented my work, pulled his organization's support last week. It was only $500, but substantial to a small operation like mine. Although well-funded (this coming week alone he will probably bring in tens of thousands of dollars in speaking engagements in Japan and Washington), he clearly got the message from his Japanese friends to stop all forms of support. Indeed, he directed his secretary to do this while he was in Okinawa at the behest of a Japanese foundation.

There is no foundation, association, corporation or individual that is interested in funding research and education on Japan's history and social issues as they related to politics and security. There is plenty of need for this, but those who need the information and help do not have the means to pay for advice nor any thought that they should. Congress does not pay for advice, for people to come give testimony, or any of the books and documents given them for background.

This sense of entitlement allows support for Washington's think tanks to be a curious form of corruption. Most of the research is second-rate and intellectually dishonest. There is also serious plagiarism and logrolling. Most important they represent a particular point of view. None of this matters. These "experts" are in Washington and available.  Being here is most important.

 I do not have the personal means to travel to Japan and no offers to visit Japan are likely. So I travel to Japan vicariously.  This Sunday's New York Times helped. The entire front page and two interior pages of the Travel section was devoted to eating ramen in Tokyo. One Noodle at a Time details the joys of modern ramen eating, places to go, and learning about ramen. I simply turn wistful.

The only ramen shop in Washington is in Bethesda (a suburb on the metro) and only recently opened. It is Ren's Ramen, and is located at Daruma, an over-priced Japanese grocery. So far the reviews have been good, albeit folks find it a bit overpriced. My interns loved the adventure up there and enjoyed the experience.

Photo of dish at Ren's Ramen from this blog, which has some nice photos of Japanese food in the Washington area.

Later: The Washington Post on 2/24 ran a small, favorable review.


  1. A disappointing picture you paint! (intellectually and culinarily). I have found some degree of release on the culinary side of things by moving out my own insular,prattish but thinks (too) highly of its self and its citizens capital city of a few hundred thousand people, and found decently cheap and good Japanese food in a real city. Who knew that you could pay less than $20 (NZ$ - but we have low incomes so it is probably like paying US$15)for Ramen! Anyway, keep sharing - I see a bunch of countries including our respective own called upon Japan again to address the child abduction issue, so encouraged a little!

  2. Being right has its own rewards, though rarely monetary, as Our Man's bank account testifies everyday.

  3. Hi, interesting blog, will be nice to see how it develops. Sort of a etiquette thing: I'm glad you liked the my photo, but I'd prefer if you linked to my post instead of using the photo directly on your blog. Thanks so much!

  4. very Washington of you. If you actually read my post you would have noted that I did link to your blog and described it.

    But as we all know in Washington, if you are not mentioned in the first paragraph why bother to read more. Busy, always busy.

  5. Sorry, must be a disconnect. I'm not some Washington type, I'm a person with a preference how my photos are borrowed. You're a scholar, you're familiar with the process of asking to use someone's material. I did read your whole post and if you read my original request I objected to your using my photo directly (credited or not). I realize it's inconvenient, but it's my preference. I'm sorry that this couldn't lead to a better exchange since you seem like a interesting person. Best wishes.


If I am unamused, your comment will not be posted.