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By which I mean "reading the news". It's not an interesting life, but it's all mine.

On, frankly, racist comics in Japan

Ugly Images of Asian Rivals Become Best Sellers in Japan
By NORIMITSU ONISHI

TOKYO, Nov. 14 - A young Japanese woman in the comic book "Hating the Korean Wave" exclaims, "It's not an exaggeration to say that Japan built the South Korea of today!" In another passage the book states that "there is nothing at all in Korean culture to be proud of."

In another comic book, "Introduction to China," which portrays the Chinese as a depraved people obsessed with cannibalism, a woman of Japanese origin says: "Take the China of today, its principles, thought, literature, art, science, institutions. There's nothing attractive."

The two comic books, portraying Chinese and Koreans as base peoples and advocating confrontation with them, have become runaway best sellers in Japan in the last four months.

In their graphic and unflattering drawings of Japan's fellow Asians and in the unapologetic, often offensive contents of their speech bubbles, the books reveal some of the sentiments underlying Japan's worsening relations with the rest of Asia.

They also point to Japan's longstanding unease with the rest of Asia and its own sense of identity, which is akin to Britain's apartness from the Continent. Much of Japan's history in the last century and a half has been guided by the goal of becoming more like the West and less like Asia. Today, China and South Korea's rise to challenge Japan's position as Asia's economic, diplomatic and cultural leader is inspiring renewed xenophobia against them here.

Kanji Nishio, a scholar of German literature, is honorary chairman of the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, the nationalist organization that has pushed to have references to the country's wartime atrocities eliminated from junior high school textbooks.

Mr. Nishio is blunt about how Japan should deal with its neighbors, saying nothing has changed since 1885, when one of modern Japan's most influential intellectuals, Yukichi Fukuzawa, said Japan should emulate the advanced nations of the West and leave Asia by dissociating itself from its backward neighbors, especially China and Korea.

"I wonder why they haven't grown up at all," Mr. Nishio said. "They don't change. I wonder why China and Korea haven't learned anything."

Mr. Nishio, who wrote a chapter in the comic book about South Korea, said Japan should try to cut itself off from China and South Korea, as Fukuzawa advocated. "Currently we cannot ignore South Korea and China," Mr. Nishio said. "Economically, it's difficult. But in our hearts, psychologically, we should remain composed and keep that attitude."

The reality that South Korea had emerged as a rival hit many Japanese with full force in 2002, when the countries were co-hosts of soccer's World Cup and South Korea advanced further than Japan. At the same time, the so-called Korean Wave - television dramas, movies and music from South Korea - swept Japan and the rest of Asia, often displacing Japanese pop cultural exports.

The wave, though popular among Japanese women, gave rise to a countermovement, especially on the Internet. Sharin Yamano, the young cartoonist behind "Hating the Korean Wave," began his strip on his own Web site then.

"The 'Hate Korea' feelings have spread explosively since the World Cup," said Akihide Tange, an editor at Shinyusha, the publisher of the comic book. Still, the number of sales, 360,000 so far, surprised the book's editors, suggesting that the Hate Korea movement was far larger than they had believed.

"We weren't expecting there'd be so many," said Susumu Yamanaka, another editor at Shinyusha. "But when the lid was actually taken off, we found a tremendous number of people feeling this way."

So far the two books, each running about 300 pages and costing around $10, have drawn little criticism from public officials, intellectuals or the mainstream news media. For example, Japan's most conservative national daily, Sankei Shimbun, said the Korea book described issues between the countries "extremely rationally, without losing its balance."

As nationalists and revisionists have come to dominate the public debate in Japan, figures advocating an honest view of history are being silenced, said Yutaka Yoshida, a historian at Hitotsubashi University here. Mr. Yoshida said the growing movement to deny history, like the Rape of Nanjing, was a sort of "religion" for an increasingly insecure nation.

"Lacking confidence, they need a story of healing," Mr. Yoshida said. "Even if we say that story is different from facts, it doesn't mean anything to them."

The Korea book's cartoonist, who is working on a sequel, has turned down interview requests. The book centers on a Japanese teenager, Kaname, who attains a "correct" understanding of Korea. It begins with a chapter on how South Korea's soccer team supposedly cheated to advance in the 2002 Word Cup; later chapters show how Kaname realizes that South Korea owes its current success to Japanese colonialism.

"It is Japan who made it possible for Koreans to join the ranks of major nations, not themselves," Mr. Nishio said of colonial Korea.

But the comic book, perhaps inadvertently, also betrays Japan's conflicted identity, its longstanding feelings of superiority toward Asia and of inferiority toward the West. The Japanese characters in the book are drawn with big eyes, blond hair and Caucasian features; the Koreans are drawn with black hair, narrow eyes and very Asian features.

That peculiar aesthetic, so entrenched in pop culture that most Japanese are unaware of it, has its roots in the Meiji Restoration of the late 19th century, when Japanese leaders decided that the best way to stop Western imperialists from reaching here was to emulate them.

In 1885, Fukuzawa - who is revered to this day as the intellectual father of modern Japan and adorns the 10,000 yen bill (the rough equivalent of a $100 bill) - wrote "Leaving Asia," the essay that many scholars believe provided the intellectual underpinning of Japan's subsequent invasion and colonization of Asian nations.

Fukuzawa bemoaned the fact that Japan's neighbors were hopelessly backward.

Writing that "those with bad companions cannot avoid bad reputations," Fukuzawa said Japan should depart from Asia and "cast our lot with the civilized countries of the West." He wrote of Japan's Asian neighbors, "We should deal with them exactly as the Westerners do."

As those sentiments took root, the Japanese began acquiring Caucasian features in popular drawing. The biggest change occurred during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905, when drawings of the war showed Japanese standing taller than Russians, with straight noses and other features that made them look more European than their European enemies.

"The Japanese had to look more handsome than the enemy," said Mr. Nagayama.

Many of the same influences are at work in the other new comic book, "An Introduction to China," which depicts the Chinese as obsessed with cannibalism and prostitution, and has sold 180,000 copies.

The book describes China as the "world's prostitution superpower" and says, without offering evidence, that prostitution accounts for 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product. It describes China as a source of disease and depicts Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi saying, "I hear that most of the epidemics that broke out in Japan on a large scale are from China."

The book waves away Japan's worst wartime atrocities in China. It dismisses the Rape of Nanjing, in which historians say 100,000 to 300,000 Chinese were killed by Japanese soldiers in 1937-38, as a fabrication of the Chinese government devised to spread anti-Japanese sentiment.

The book also says the Japanese Imperial Army's Unit 731 - which researched biological warfare and conducted vivisections, amputations and other experiments on thousands of Chinese and other prisoners - was actually formed to defend Japanese soldiers against the Chinese.

"The only attractive thing that China has to offer is Chinese food," said Ko Bunyu, a Taiwan-born writer who provided the script for the comic book. Mr. Ko, 66, has written more than 50 books on China, some on cannibalism and others arguing that Japanese were the real victims of their wartime atrocities in China. The book's main author and cartoonist, a Japanese named George Akiyama, declined to be interviewed.

Like many in Taiwan who are virulently anti-China, Mr. Ko is fiercely pro-Japanese and has lived here for four decades. A longtime favorite of the Japanese right, Mr. Ko said anti-Japan demonstrations in China early this year had earned him a wider audience. Sales of his books surged this year, to one million.

"I have to thank China, really," Mr. Ko said. "But I'm disappointed that the sales of my books could have been more than one or two million if they had continued the demonstrations."

On the Return of the Cube

The Cube, Restored, Is Back and Turning at Astor Place
By COLIN MOYNIHAN

Last March, when the familiar cube at Astor Place vanished abruptly, residents and visitors alike were bewildered. Some offered dark speculation about the disappearance. Those who crossed to the traffic island where the cube had stood for decades found three metal barricades and a notice from the Parks Department assuring viewers that the artwork formally known as "Alamo" had not gone missing, but had merely been taken away for repair.

Yesterday morning, the cube was back in its rightful place, a neighborhood totem on a traffic island that has long served as a meeting point and as a big toy that passers-by stumbling out of nearby bars could spin.

The refurbished cube was unveiled at a ceremony attended by Adrian Benepe, the city's parks commissioner, whose agency is in charge of the cube's upkeep; Iris Weinshall, the city's transportation commissioner, whose agency paid for the restoration; and Tony Rosenthal, the artist who created the sculpture nearly 40 years ago.

"There was a big hue and cry," Mr. Benepe said of the cube's removal. "All sorts of conspiracy theories were floated."

Initially, he said, the cube was to return after 60 days, but extra repairs were needed because of damage caused by the elements. One disappointing problem: The cube could no longer be spun as easily.

"We thought it just needed cosmetic surgery," Mr. Benepe said. "But it really needed internal surgery."

Shortly after 11 a.m., several dozen people assembled next to the cube counted down loudly from five. A gold parachute draped over the sculpture was hauled away amid cheers and cries of "Remember the Alamo!"

Mr. Rosenthal, 91, said he was happy to see it back.

"It's a very friendly object," he said. "There's a lot of love for it in the neighborhood."

Mr. Rosenthal created "Alamo" in 1967 as a temporary installation commissioned by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, but its stay became permanent after local residents petitioned the city. It is made of six eight-by-eight-foot panels of Cor-Ten steel and weighs about 1,800 pounds. Its surface features geometric indentations and grooves, and it turns on a pedestal.

The cube was first called "Sculpture in Environment," but the artist's wife, Cynthia Rosenthal, renamed it because its size and mass reminded her of the Texas fortress.

In March, the cube was taken to Bethany, Conn., where Versteeg Art Fabricators, which designs, makes and restores sculptures and architecture, cut a small entryway in one panel. Workers climbed inside and found that water had collected in the corners. They removed rust and coated the interior with coal tar paint and epoxy.

They unclogged tiny interior channels and drainage holes that allow water to escape from inside the cube, then covered the outside with weather-resistant paint and a clear lacquer that makes it easy to erase graffiti.

The base of the cube was also reinforced with cross beams.

Over the years, the cube has become a cherished neighborhood symbol. It has been listed in travel guides and has been a sort of giant rabbit's foot that people rotated for good luck. Skateboarders and afternoon tipplers have congregated there.

"It was a meeting place for tourists and for drug dealers," Ms. Rosenthal said. "People came and talked to it."

Once, she added, the cube was covered with colored panels so that it resembled a Rubik's Cube.

The author Rick Moody wrote a play that appeared in the summer 2002 issue of The Paris Review called "Alamo: A Radio Play," in which a cast of local characters reflect on the cube.

Last spring, shortly after the sculpture was taken away, Mr. Benepe said, someone replaced it with an imitation one made of PVC pipes.

"It kind of floated in space like the ghost of the cube," Mr. Benepe said of the copy, which remained for a short time before falling apart.

Not long after yesterday's unveiling, two architecture students from Cooper Union ran up to "Alamo" and began rotating it.

"I've always heard about this humongous cube," said Seth Barnard, 18, "but I've never actually seen it and touched it."

His friend James Hamilton, 19, said he had missed the cube during its absence.

"This is a place to stand again, not just a place to run away from traffic," he said. "With the cube here, you can hang out and not look like a vagrant."

On early sex ed

Sex Ed for the Stroller Set
By JODI KANTOR

THIS September 3-year-old Halley Vollmar of Bellmore, N.Y., was having her annual checkup when her pediatrician paused. "I'm going to check your peepee now," he warned, and tugged down her underwear. But Halley protested. "Mommy, why he call my vagina a peepee?" she scolded, telling the startled physician he was a "silly doctor" before allowing him to proceed.

Last week Kristin Hansen, Halley's mother, recounted the story to several other women with a satisfied laugh. The gathering in Wantagh, N.Y., was something of a reunion. Over the summer the mothers had convened weekly for lessons in how to educate their toddlers about sex, a program they found so necessary they are already planning to reconvene next year.

Halley may be surprisingly articulate about her private parts, but she is in excellent company. Like many other parents and educators, the mothers chatting over lemonade and coffee cake in Susan Vartoukian's toy-strewn home maintain that sex education - once and mostly still an awkward fixture of the pubescent years - should begin early. And when they say early, they mean it: preferably from birth, or if not that, from toilet training age. "Parents don't have the luxury of silence anymore," said Nanette Ecker, a sex educator at the Nassau County chapter of Planned Parenthood, who led the group.

For most adults, knowledge of intercourse came as a distinct moment of revelation: an "aha" moment in the schoolyard or the living room when the mysterious connection between body parts and babies was made suddenly and shockingly clear. But now children who are practically babies themselves are learning how babies are made.

According to this approach, toddlers should learn words like "vulva" at the same time they learn "ears" and "toes," benign-sounding myths about storks and seeds constitute harmful misinformation, and any child who can ask about how he or she was created is old enough for a truthful answer.

"People have been told by experts that there's a right age" to learn about intercourse, said Dr. Justin Richardson, a assistant professor of psychiatry at Cornell and Columbia medical schools and an author of "Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask)," one of a number of recently published guides that advocates early tutelage.

"If you're talking about how babies are made, there's no age at which it is harmful to learn that the penis goes into the vagina," he said. "Yes, it's true that exposing a child to sexual stimulation is harmful. But telling a kid how babies are made is very different."

The general cultural environment has become so vulgar, the early-approach advocates say, that sex education has become a race: parents must reach children before other forces - from misinformed playground confidantes to pubescent-looking models posed in their skivvies - do. "We need to get there first," said Deborah M. Roffman, a sex educator and the author of "But How'd I Get in There in the First Place? Talking to Your Young Child About Sex."

If not, these advocates warn, children will gather their impressions anywhere and everywhere: from prime-time television jokes about threesomes, Internet pop-up ads for penis enlargement pills or even more explicit Web sites. When the Rev. Debra Haffner's son typed "Katrina images" into Google's search box for a school project, he ended up staring at photographs that had nothing to do with the hurricane, said Ms. Haffner, a Unitarian Universalist minister and the author of "From Diapers to Dating."

"When parents say to me, 'But my child is too young, I want to keep them safe and innocent for as long as I can,' I say, 'Do you take them grocery shopping?' " Ms. Haffner said, referring to the naughty poses and headlines featured on magazines at the checkout counter.

Early sex education is a small and hard-to-measure movement, but it's a growing one, with advocates like Ms. Roffman, Ms. Haffner and Dr. Richardson writing books and conducting seminars for parents, preschool teachers and day care providers. Many chapters of Planned Parenthood offer workshops on the topic and so do some evangelical Christian churches.

"The classic approach in religious circles has been, shield their innocence for as long as you can, until they're 13, then give them The Talk," said Stanton L. Jones, a professor of psychology and the provost of Wheaton College in Illinois. Dr. Stanton and his wife, Brenna Jones, wrote "The Story of Me," a sex education book for 3-to-5-year-olds. (The book emphasizes God's contribution and traditional gender roles, and says less about intercourse than many of its secular equivalents).

Lately the Joneses "have found a lot of acceptance" for starting sex education early, Mr. Jones said; pastors teach their approach at conferences on family life, and the book is sold by the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family.

Robie H. Harris, a leading author of sex education books for children, started on the topic in 1994 with "It's Perfectly Normal" for preteenagers. (There are now 400,000 copies in print in the United States and more than a million worldwide.) Since then she has found herself addressing progressively younger audiences: first with "It's So Amazing," geared to 7-year-olds and up, and now "It's Not the Stork," due this summer, and intended for children as young as 4. In 2008 she is to publish a volume aimed at 2½-year-olds. Her steady downward demographic shift, she said, is purely in response to parental demand. "Everyplace I would speak, I would hear, 'I don't know how to talk about this,' " Ms. Harris said.

On the whole, early sex education has attracted little organized resistance. While Ms. Harris's "It's Perfectly Normal" often appears on the American Library Association's annual list of most frequently challenged books - critics object to its references to homosexuality, contraception and masturbation - her work for younger children has drawn less attention. Perhaps this is because early sex education is a matter of parental choice or because the materials tend to concentrate on basic biology and safety.

Rather, the resistance comes from parents who cannot imagine initiating a conversation about sex with children who cannot read a book or ride a bicycle, and haven't yet displayed any curiosity about the matter. Rachel Wolman of Chevy Chase, Md., said she "would definitely not" sit her 3-year-old daughter down "for a birds-and-bees discussion."

"I'm guessing that kids wise up pretty quick by the time they get to 5," she added, "but even at that point, I'm not prepared to have a sit-down to run through how things work."

Jaymi Offir, a mother in Caldwell, N.J., said that introducing the topic to her daughter, Zoe, nearly 4, "would only confuse her."

"Being proactive at sex ed would be more appropriate for 9- or 10-year-olds," she said.

But even if parents of kindergarten-age children aren't prepared to discuss intercourse, early-childhood sex educators urge parents to abandon the usual litany of babyish names for private parts: the rather insulting "weenie" for boys, the murky "down there" for girls and so on. (A 1997 study in the journal Gender and Psychoanalysis showed that fewer girls are taught names for their genitals than boys, and that while girls learn the names of male genitals, the reverse is often not the case.)

When showing children their eyes and noses, "we don't say 'blink blink' or 'blow blow,'" said Ms. Ecker of Planned Parenthood.

Instead some toddlers are learning startlingly specific, biologically correct terms that even adults tend to confuse. "It's Not the Stork" includes a drawing of the vas deferens (the tubes that carry sperm); many educators emphasize the difference between the vagina (the tract that connects the uterus to the outside of the body) and the vulva (a collective term for all of the external female genital organs).

Early childhood sex educators also caution parents about never - no matter how mortifying the question - lying to children. Or feeding them benign-sounding half truths. Or even distracting them. "Kids have a right to have this information," Ms. Harris said. "If we ignore it, then the myths and fears start coming in."

The solution, they agree, is to give correct but simple answers. Parents have a tendency to blurt out more than what's needed: answering a question about nipples, say, with a flustered, halting lecture on sexual pleasure.

"If a child holds up a tampon and says, 'What's this?' " said Bill Taverner, the director of education for Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey, "the best answer may just be, 'that's a tampon.' Having a name for something is sometimes enough."

The early education approach has exaggerated the already wide disparities in what various kids know, and some arrive at school so fluent that they fluster their teachers. (Though some public elementary schools do teach sex education, especially HIV awareness, it's a scattered affair, varying enormously not only by state but by district and even classroom.)

Take Mr. Taverner's son Rob, whose first-grade teacher refused to hang on the bulletin board a drawing on which the child had scrawled, "Sex is when two married people join the egg and the sperm."

Even parents who have embraced this kind of frankness seem somewhat taken aback by it. Back in Wantagh, Diana Lee shook her head over the difference between the rich sexual education her daughter, Alexandra, already had, and the skimpy one she received as a child.

"I was surprised I had to tell her so much at 3 years old," she said. "I'm still waiting for The Talk," she added of her own parents' silence on the matter.

"It's a fun time at dinner now," Ms. Vartoukian, the host of the Wantagh gathering, said, gesturing at her two small boys. "We have The Talk every single night."

And the letters in reply

Are the Birds and the Bees Right for the 3's? (3 Letters)

To the Editor:

Re "Sex Ed for the Stroller Set" (Thursday Styles, Nov. 17):

The need to teach children to protect their bodies is just as important as a matter-of-fact response to toddlers' curiosity about their bodies and where babies come from.

These conversations between parents and children are also the time for proactive education to prevent childhood sexual abuse.

In addition to teaching young children that their genitalia have names and functions, we must also teach them that their genitalia are private, that no one else is allowed to touch them (even family members), and that if that happens, they must tell a parent.

Julia L. Hecht, M.D.
Albuquerque, Nov. 17, 2005
The writer is a pediatrician.


To the Editor:

Thank you for the not-so-amusing "Sex Ed for the Stroller Set" (Thursday Styles, Nov. 17).

Surely these advocates are joking when they say that "kids have a right to have this information" when referring to teaching 3-year-olds the proper medical terminology for their private parts or graphically describing how babies are made!

In my opinion, these people are promoting only one thing: the loss of innocence in children who are at an age when they have no interest in the concepts of sex, intimacy or reproduction.

How sad that there are parents and educators who feel the need to rob children of the bliss that comes with the childhood mind, unencumbered by the complexities of a more adult world and ideas that have not yet popped into their impressionable minds.

Deidre Taneman
Nashua, N.H., Nov. 17, 2005


To the Editor:

Re "Sex Ed for the Stroller Set" (Thursday Styles, Nov. 17):

How is sex a secret when we're all born into the world as a result of other humans having sex?

Sex is a reality from the moment we start breathing.

"Sex ed for the stroller set" makes sense, because the birds will not stop singing and the bees will not stop buzzing just because we want to keep them a secret from the youngest of our young.

Jeremiah D. Braunlin
Ulster Park, N.Y., Nov. 17, 2005
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