TOKYO -- Early last month, a dog allegedly bit Seoul cabbie Choe Pyong Gil in the leg. It was just one of the many news stories we missed during three years of trying to cover Korea and Japan.
Of course, an axiom of this business is that man-bites-dog is news, but dog-bites-man is not. Yet surely we dropped the ball when we failed to report this one.
The hapless Choe was patronizing one of Korea's notorious dog-meat restaurants when he opened the door to what he thought was a toilet -- only to be assaulted by the next night's dinner, still very much alive and biting.
According to the Korea Herald, which jumped on the story more alertly than we, Choe, 43, then assaulted the restaurant owner, who refused to compensate him for his injury. (Choe reportedly doubted that his assailant had received a rabies inoculation; apparently eating a rabid dog wasn't a concern.) Choe was booked for assault at the local police station. No word on the dog.
And then, after writing countless news stories about trade and trade disputes, each more forgettable than the last, how could we have missed this one? While officials in Washington were beating up on the Koreans to import more U.S. beef, Korean imports of other livestock products soared in the first quarter of this year: animal bile imports, up 988.2 percent; buffalo horns, up 188.8 percent; seal genitals, bear gall, tiger bone, all up. Even ox bezoar imports increased (You can look it up in the dictionary.), and still U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills was complaining -- perhaps because we weren't doing our job.
According to -- once again -- the Korea Herald, prices in Alaska were soaring for antlers, bear gall and "seal parts," thanks to the Korean belief that such "tonic food" might have restorative or aphrodisiac qualities when mixed in traditional medicines. One doctor at Seoul National University drew the line at raw frogs and snakes, citing a patient "whose brain was riddled with worms" from eating them, but another urged a more open-minded approach. "The stress many Koreans suffer from their daily lives, which often feature excessive working hours, may be the reason they feel so enervated and need to eat something special," this physician said.
In Japan, we tried to keep up with the latest technology and the ever-widening array of consumer goods marketed to a newly wealthy population. Yet somehow we didn't pay enough attention to the introduction of remote-control, microcomputer-operated, $1,200 toilets that spray warm water at the touch of a button, thereby performing most of the work of toilet paper.
"It won't be long before every household is equipped with such a toilet," a spokesman for a leading toilet-maker said. Yet we slighted it, as well as Sanyo's new hot rug ("combines the esthetic qualities of an authentic Persian rug with Japanese technology providing remote-controlled heating").
We wrote about life in this crowded society, but failed to report on Fujita Corp.'s solution: a miniaturized golf course that provides the same enjoyment as a full-sized. This triangular course of the future has three fairways, each with three tees and three holes, providing different views and challenges each time a player comes around. "Meanwhile, in order to ensure player safety, a centralized computer system informs players when they can hit and keeps golf carts at a set distance apart," the Japan Times reported. Sounds like good, spontaneous fun.
We also missed the latest hazard for golfers: possible explosions of methane gas bubbling up through a golf course built atop an island of trash in Tokyo Bay. Smoking will be banned on the course, which hasn't yet opened, but with 18 million tons of raw garbage generating 30,000 cubic meters of combustible gas a day, even a duffer might count on a bang-up game.
And where were we during the great leaking-Walkman controversy, our editors may well ask. While New York subway riders might worry about boom boxes, here in polite Tokyo, commuters were upset about faint traces of noise leaking from the headphones of portable cassettes. "It is becoming a social problem," the Daily Yomiuri reported with alarm. Indeed, last October police arrested a college student who allegedly pummeled a middle-aged man who had lifted the student's earphones to request a lower volume on his portable stereo player. (About 60 passengers were on the subway car but none intervened while the student broke the man's jaw.)
Japanese industry responded with predictable speed, prompted by what the newspaper called "a growing sense of crisis." Matsushita and Aiwa promised 40 percent less noise leakage with their new headsets; Sony's new Walkman countered with a 50 percent reduction.
Nor was the subway assault the only crime news we missed in this low-crime nation. Just the other day, the chief priest of a famous shrine in Nikko was accused of -- dare we say it -- boulder-rustling. The priest, who wanted some rocks to decorate his Japanese-style rock garden, apparently took them from the Daiya River without a proper license. As the Mainichi Daily News explained, "Gathering stones and boulders from the beds of rivers without permission is against the law in Japan."
And how about trends in gourmet eating? The good news, for example, that deaths from eating blowfish sashimi -- which is poisonous if not prepared just right -- declined from 33 in 1970 to only a half-dozen a year. And perhaps it's not too late to give you some of the recipes we should have provided along the way, such as for the newly popular raw-chicken sashimi.
Take one chicken. . . . But wait. Maybe we should leave some news for our successor.