Japan from the inside out

Archive for July, 2012

Marquee attractions

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 31, 2012

KABUKI theaters, being theaters, require marquees in the same way as the halls of London’s West End, New York’s Broadway, or the burlesque joints in the 400 block of East Baltimore St. — The Block — in Baltimore, where I grew up. But as with everything else, the Japanese have their own approach to the whole business of marquees.

The photo above shows 78-year-old Kawakatsu Seiho and the 54 maneki (literally, invitations) he drew with the names of the performers of the season’s dramas staged at Kyoto’s Minami-za this year.

Mr. Kawakatsu had just finished a special ceremony called the manekigaki (writing the invitations) at the Myoden-ji Buddhist temple in Kyoto (established in 1477) before the performance of Kichirei Kaomise.

There’s more to tradition even if it does meet your eye. The style of calligraphy is unique to maneki of this sort, and is called kanteiryu. And because this is a special occasion, sake was mixed with the ink. That isn’t just for the heck of it — they say it adds luster to the ink on the boards.

Don’t miss a trick, do they?

The maneki are 180 centimeters long and 30 centimeters wide and hung above the theater entrance. If you want to see what they look like in place, try the following amateur video taken three years ago at the premiere of the same drama at the same theater — Japan’s oldest, founded in the early 17th century. The cameraman could have been more relaxed, but the video provides excellent views of the exterior and interior both.

Posted in Arts, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

All you have to do is look (3)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The dance club from the Hitorizawa High School in Yokohama, selected as one of the participants in the 5th National High School Dance Club Championships

(Photo from the Sankei Shimbun)

Posted in Arts, Photographs and videos, Popular culture | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (125)

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 31, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Looking at the various responses to (Osaka Mayor) Hashimoto (Toru), what stands out are the people who say, “The writers and voters who support Hashimoto are just as bad as he is because they overlook his drawbacks as a politician and his mistaken policies.” I have the feeling that those same people who also support the anti-nuclear power demonstrations are capable only of factional or anti-establishment views.

The people who say things such as, ‘Those voters who support Hashimoto and his mistaken policies have some screws loose,” should reflect on just how elitist, condescending, and dictatorial their way of speaking is.

The type of people who say that Hashimoto is a dictator probably don’t know that the decision-making process in One Osaka is surprisingly decentralized, and closely resembles the Liberal-Democratic Party system. They also probably don’t know there is a faction-like subgroup within One Osaka that tends to keep Hashimoto at arm’s length.

I have different problems with some One Osaka policies, but I also think it is extremely dangerous to make these excessively factional, subjective, and bullying statements about One Osaka before conducting policy debates. At this rate, I can see only unproductive results, regardless of whether One Osaka wins or loses (national elections), with democracy suffering the greatest harm.

– The Tweeter writing (in Japanese) as “I Believe in Me”

Posted in Politics, Quotations | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Shocking the black bass

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, July 31, 2012

SOME people amuse themselves by introducing different species of fauna to new places, inadvertently causing havoc among the native inhabitants. The Maritime Products Division of the Shiga Prefecture government is anxious to disintroduce the non-native black bass from Lake Biwa because they feed on the locals. A lot.

The Shigans hit on the idea of shocking the little devils to make it easy to scoop them into nets for disposal. So as not to ruffle the scales of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Ichthyoids, they just juice them with 1,000 volts for less than a minute, which knocks them unconscious. They then float to the surface along with the other stunned sea creatures, but only the aliens are scooped. The black bass spawn from April to July, so the prime shocking time is just coming to an end. The technique is reportedly effective because it also jolts the hard-to-reach finsters lurking in the rocks.

How effective? Last year they shocked and scooped 1.8 tons of black bass, as well as 81 kilograms of blue gills, another maritime invader.

The specially outfitted ship is capable of inserting electric terminals into the sea from the bow. Prefecture officials borrowed a boat last year from the National Federation of Inland Water Fisheries Cooperatives and conducted 19 trials. The ship is named after the god of thunder (or lightning, both work in Japanese), and it operates out of the Port of Otsu.

The system worked so well, they bought their own boat this year!

Here’s what Real Fish sound like when they take up musical instruments and form a band. The school decides to head in a different direction about 1:30 in.

Posted in Food, Science and technology | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

More votes are in

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 30, 2012

The public’s will is not the commotion in front of the Kantei, but demonstrated in the procedures of democracy. For a person to run for governor by shouting about the minor issue of abandoning nuclear power is nonsense. Mr. Hashimoto (Osaka mayor) had the judgment of an adult (when he agreed to the resumption of operations at the Oi power plant)…Even former comedians can win local elections. The anti-nuclear power movement has less strength than show business personalities.
– Ikeda Nobuo

DOUBTLESS you have read either the articles or the headlines trumpeting the story of the thousands of people who surrounded the Diet building on Sunday to protest the restart of nuclear power plants in Japan. The RSS feed coughed up more than 30 articles on the subject yesterday and today. One image the journos particularly liked was “anti-nuclear protestors form human chain around Diet building”. There was no mention of the other productive activities they engaged in, but shouting loudly was probably one of them.

You’ll have to dig a little deeper in the English-language media to find articles about the real demonstration of functioning democracy yesterday in regard to the issue of nuclear power, however. Here’s a hint: They weren’t playing ring-around-the-rosie in Tokyo.

There have been two gubernatorial elections in Japan since Prime Minister Noda authorized the resumption of nuclear power generation, and both times one of the anti-nuclear power candidates tried to turn the balloting into a single-issue referendum. The first was held earlier this month in Kagoshima, where the anti-nuke challenger lost by a 2-1 margin. The second was held yesterday in Yamaguchi.

That election attracted much more media attention, both in Japan and overseas. The interest was due in part to the participation of Iida Tetsunari, the founder of the Institute for Sustainable Energy policies. Mr. Iida is one of those fellows whose priority is to keep his eye on the main chance, and he’s leveraged his slippery ambition into public prominence for his anti-nuclear energy positions and theories. He likes generation using biomass materials, the sun, and the wind.

The Yamaguchi election presented the opportunity of an excellent platform and bully pulpit. The current governor was stepping down after four terms, and the early favorite was the uninspiring, 63-year-old ex-Land, Industry, and Transport bureaucrat Yamamoto Shigetaro. Chugoku Electric Power plans to build a new nuclear plant at Kaminoseki in the prefecture. Mr. Yamamoto supported the idea, so that set up the perfect confrontation. He was backed by the bad old Liberal Democratic Party, now in the opposition, and their New Komeito allies. In contrast, Mr. Iida is 10 years younger, 10 times more photogenic, a media sweetie, and had the support of Sakamoto Ryuichi and other show business personalities.

The initial construction on the new Kaminoseki plant stopped after the Fukushima nuclear accident. The issue of finishing the construction became the proxy for the current national debate on nuclear power. The noise from that debate and Mr. Iida’s candidacy caused Mr. Yamamoto to declare that he would “freeze” work on the plant. On the day he made his official announcement, he said:

“It is natural to disconnect ourselves from a dependence on nuclear energy. It is the people’s wish (for Japan) to become a nation that, to the extent possible, does not depend on nuclear energy.”

The qualifications and exit ramps in that statement are obvious, but in any event, he seldom addressed the issue during his campaign. He concentrated instead on promises to revive industry and create employment by building ports, roads, and other infrastructure.

In contrast, Mr. Iida talked about little else, though he did try to tie that to a program of overall reform. He also came out strongly against the deployment of the MV-22 Osprey aircraft to a U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Yamaguchi. That deployment created strong opposition, both in Yamaguchi and nationwide, because of safety concerns about the aircraft and the planned low-level training flights.

In other words, he had the wind of the media and show business culture at his back, and he chose to sail on the tide of opposition to controversial policies. Another factor worth noting is that Elmer Fudd Yamamoto had 27 Twitter followers while Iida the Cool Guy had more than 60,000. Twitter is used more frequently in Japan than it is in the United States to disseminate political messages.

It appeared an upset might be in the making.

The election was held yesterday. Here are the results:

* Yamamoto Shigetaro: 252,461 47.5%
* Iida Tetsunari : 185,654 35%
* Takamura Tsutomu: 55,418
* Miwa Shigeyuki: 37,150

After all the whiz-bang and pixel shooting, Mr. Iida’s 35% of the vote was roughly the same as the now-forgotten anti-nuclear energy candidate in Kagoshima. The people are speaking, but some other people don’t want to hear what they’re saying.

Also of interest are the results of an exit poll that asked voters what they considered the primary issue to be. They were:

* The economy and employment: 31.0%
* Energy policy: 15.3%.

Thus, the man who framed the debate in Yamaguchi was Yamamoto Shigetaro. If Iida Tetsunari could not turn nuclear power generation into the National Vibration with all that free PR and show biz mojo, it’s not going to happen.

The dogs that didn’t bark

Incidentally, the man who finished a distant third, Takamura Tsutomu, was a lower house MP from the ruling Democratic Party who resigned his seat to run for the office. (Another election must be held by next summer, and many DPJ MPs know it’s time to start thinking about a career change in anticipation of being relieved of their duties.) Mr. Takamura was also one of the 28 members of the small faction headed by Prime Minister Noda, but neither the prime minister nor any other DPJ bigwigs came to Yamaguchi to campaign. They knew it was pointless.

Most interesting was that two of Mr. Iida’s former associates also failed to make the short trip to Yamaguchi to stump for him. They were Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and Osaka Governor Matsui Ichiro, both of the One Osaka group. Mr. Hashimoto is known for having a Kitchen Cabinet of prominent advisors on his payroll, called “brains” in Japanese. Iida Tetsunari was his energy policy advisor, and was perhaps influential in the mayor’s initial opposition to the resumption of operations at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui.

Shortly after Mr. Hashimoto changed his mind and agreed to the plants’ restart, Mr. Iida resigned to run for Yamaguchi governor. Many wondered whether the mayor cut him adrift after he had served his purpose, or whether Mr. Iida saw the kanji on the wall and split while the splitting was good. Everyone was interested in watching what help Mr. Hashimoto or Mr. Matsui might provide to their former associate. It’s fewer than three hours by Shinkansen from Osaka, were they inclined to visit in person. They might also have offered remote support with a video hookup of the sort Sakamoto Ryuichi used, as shown in the photo above.

Neither man came to Yamaguchi or appeared live on video. That’s because neither man endorsed him.

The Iida negatives

Perhaps one reason for the cold shoulders is that Mr. Iida is more controversial, and the subject of more legitimate criticism, than the English-language media knew existed. Ishii Takaaki, a freelance journalist who writes about science and technology, has explained the reasons for the controversy and criticism in detail.

Mr. Ishii has followed the Iida career closely and has interviewed him several times. He said that he once respected him for his views — until 11 March last year. He has referred to Mr. Iida as a “trickster”, a good public speaker adept at presenting black-and-white frames for his policies, but who also spoke out of both sides of his mouth – one side for government officials, and the other side for anti-nuclear power radicals.

In a column published last night, Mr. Ishii dismissed the candidate and his campaign as revealing the limits of “typical citizen activism”. He noted that while no power industry reform is going to happen without the cooperation of the power companies, Mr. Iida spent most of his time bashing them to win media applause. He charged that a favorite Iida technique was to spread false rumors among the public, creating greater confusion. He also added that “people involved with energy-related issues” knew of the energy advisor’s negative influence on Osaka policy, and that his extremism caused (unexplained) difficulties on the Kansai-area committtees of which he was a member.

He had sharp words for Mr. Iida on policy grounds as well. The candidate wrote a book several years ago praising the policies of some North European countries that allow citizen groups to work out arrangements with the government and power companies to promote renewable energy. This was offered as “the path for Japan”, which Mr. Ishii thinks naïve. He noted that Sweden retains its nuclear power plants, and Denmark, a country of 5.5 million, imports “solid fuels” (read coal) for 21% of its energy needs. It also uses domestically produced oil for 41% of its power generation. (The idea that Japan should adopt the policies of small European nations, when Japan itself has a much larger population than any European country, is not uncommon here.)

The journalist also dismissed outright many of Mr. Iida’s statements as “clearly mistaken”, including:

* In the near future, nuclear energy will be supplemented by natural energy.
* Japan has sufficient energy now.
* There is a conspiracy of the nuclear power interests.
* Europe is the ideal.
* There is a lot of “hidden energy” in Japan.

Another indication of the forked Iida tongue was a brief flap over his membership in the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals as a research fellow since October 2009. Prominent members of that think tank include the former news reader Sakurai Yoshiko and freelance journalist Yayama Taro. They are conservatives who think Japan should actively pursue its national interests internationally, including the TPP negotiations. They are also not the sort of people the Asahi Shimbun editorial staff or Sakamoto Ryuichi would want to hang out with.

When it was brought to his attention that his name was on their Japanese-language website, Mr. Iida denied that he had ever been associated with the group. The institute quickly responded with a statement that said it was not possible they would accept anyone without their consent. Mr. Iida then remembered that it had slipped his mind.

Behind the Times

Little, if any, of the foregoing will be fit to print in the New York Times. Here’s why: Last week, Hiroko Tabuchi wrote an article on the Yamaguchi election remarkable for a tone of condescending snottery exceeding the level that is customary for the overeducated spitballers, particularly when Japan is the subject. While Tabuchi didn’t write the headline:

“In Conservative Japan Enclave, Antinuclear Candidate Gains Ground”

She did write the first sentence:

“In ordinary times, an election for governor in this rural corner of Japan known for puffer fish and tangerines would hardly be worth much of a mention in the national press.”

Didn’t waste any time jumping into their narrative, did they? Opposition to nuclear power is such a powerful issue that it’s even beginning to appeal to the inakappe who make a living by putting food on everyone else’s table.

The veil covering the superior attitude slips with the use of “enclave”, which has the meaning of a group or area different from its neighbors, either politically or ethnically. It most often describes territory that is alien to its surroundings. It’s unlikely that Tabuchi has spent much time there, unless she took an expense-paid trip to hear an Iida speech.

The newspaper missed an opportunity to unload another dump on the place when they failed to mention that the largest city, Shimonoseki, is home to Japan’s whaling fleet. Speaking of ports in this enclave in a rural corner of Japan, Shimonoseki is also one of the terminals for two separate ferry lines to South Korea (a three-hour trip) and China both.

But then:

“(N)early a year and a half after Japan’s nuclear disaster, the election is making news as it evolves into an informal referendum on nuclear power’s place in the country’s future.”

As we’ve seen, Mr. Iida failed to turn it into that referendum, but if they insist on viewing it that way, the votes are in.

“The vote Sunday pits a leading figure in the nascent antinuclear movement, Tetsunari Iida, against a former bureaucrat who was considered a shoo-in in a conservative prefecture that has long been a loyal bastion for his party. But polls have shown Mr. Iida, an independent and a political novice, rapidly gaining on Shigetaro Yamamoto, 63, who in many ways epitomizes Japan’s old guard.”

This was followed by a long paragraph of LDP bashing and explaining their role in nuclear power plant construction. While predictable, it’s also pointless: the demonstrations were touched off by the current DPJ government’s moves to restart the generators.

It is true that the Yamaguchi vote was an old guard election in many ways, however. Mr. Yamamoto is that kind of a guy, and Mr. Iida used the classic version of the old Japanese guard opposition tactic, “We oppose everything you say!”

“Mr. Iida’s campaign has taken off in part because it has attracted more than 1,000 volunteers who are working the phones, staging rallies and walking the prefecture’s sleepy towns and cities to spread Mr. Iida’s message.”

Sleepy, eh? Bright young energetic man with progressive ideas shakes awake the denshakan (田舎漢) and brings them into the 21st century. With all the snot in this piece, Tabuchi must have had a cold when she wrote it.

If his campaign “took off” so explosively to reach the 35% level in voting, Yamaguchi’s sleepy ones must have been the anti-nuclear power forces.

“He was little known before the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, but his media savvy helped him become a go-to commentator on environmental issues as the country dealt with the world’s second-worst nuclear accident.”

She doesn’t mention who was doing the going-to, and after today, she never will. The compulsion to corral stray college profs and self-declared experts to act as media mouthpieces and cite them as “go-to” sources is closed-loop self-absorption, not news reporting.

The obvous lesson is that the objects of contempt are the true reality-based community the sophisticates presume themselves to be. They know what works and what doesn’t because their survival depends on it. The fashion statement of “Split wood not atoms” isn’t a survival choice, and hoping the wind blows and sun shines won’t be for some time yet.

Many nuclear energy critics like to say that “lives are more important than money”. Perhaps they should be given an enclave of their own to see how life goes when they don’t have any money.

The driver of the anti-nuclear energy movement is emotion — actual facts are unwelcome. All emotional issues tend to wane with the source of the emotional stimulation. As the memory of Fukushima recedes, and normalcy is once again defined by the absence of once-in-a-millenium disasters, so will the movement.

In the meantime, it is possible that some of the politicians bandwagoning on this issue — Hatoyama Yukio, Ichiro Ozawa, Your Party — will recede from the movement themselves now that they’ve read the election returns. It will be left to the radicals to carry on.


* Perhaps now the election results and the comparison of the number of Twitter followers for the two primary candidates will help debubble the froth about the triviality that has been exalted with the term “social media”. Well, that and the Facebook IPO flop.

* The Mainichi Shimbun released the results of a recent poll that are fascinating. They asked whether people felt sympathy with the demonstrators, and the results were evenly split at 47%-47%. Even more interesting is the age breakdown. Here are some percentages for age groups that felt sympathy for the demonstrators:

People in their 20s: 37%
People in their 50s and 60s: More than 50%

In other words, opposition to nuclear power in Japan is a Gray Panther issue.

The Mainichi poll also shows that support for the Noda Cabinet is the lowest they’ve recorded at 23%. That rate’s been in the 20s for a while, so nuclear power is not the reason for those numbers.

* One of the few DPJ politicians who openly endorsed Iida Tetsunari was Diet member Hiraoka Hideo, who was also the Justice Minister for all of four months until January. He was replaced in a larger Cabinet reorganization, in part because it was revealed that he chose as an aide a man with a criminal record. Mr. Hiraoka represents a district in Iwakuni, where the Marine Air Base is located.

He is also the only Diet member to have attended a graduation ceremony of a Chongryun school, the zainichi group affiliated with North Korea. He wants to legalize pachinko gambling, a business which has significant zainichi participation. He also criticizes the laws on foreign contributions to political campaigns, claiming that it is stricter than in other advanced countries. (Not the U.S.; it’s very much against the law there too, but that didn’t stop the Obama campaign.)

In other words, he might as well be wearing a sandwich board proclaiming his ethnic heritage (or, at a minimum, his political funding sources). That says quite a lot about Mr. Noda’s choices for Cabinet, designed in part to balance the party’s internal factions rather than select quality people. It also says quite a lot about the DPJ itself.

Mr. Hiraoka, incidentally, won his Diet seat outright in the last election. You never can tell the sort of people the hayseeds in backwater enclaves might vote for.

Iida Tetsunari wasn’t one of them.

Speaking of energy flows, here’s Sakamoto Ryuichi letting his fingers do the talking instead of his mouth.

Posted in Government, Mass media, Politics, Science and technology | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

All you have to do is look (2)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 30, 2012

Shopping for yukata in a department store. The summer kimono/robes are said to be the origin of Hawaiian shirts.

(Photo from the Sankei Shimbun)

Posted in Photographs and videos, Traditions | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (124)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, July 30, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Whenever I say nuclear waste should be exported to Mongolia, I am hit with a barrage of criticism. I wonder why that would be. Mongolia, a poor country, would assume the expenses for disposal, and they have plenty of places to dispose of it. Japan and the United States could remove nuclear wastes from their countries, and it would be cheaper than spending the trillions of yen on disposal facilities. It would be profitable for both sides. Why do people have such an aversion to the market?

– Ikeda Nobuo, professor, non-fiction author, blogger

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Quotations, Science and technology | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

After School Midnighters

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 29, 2012

CARTOONS sure ain’t what they used to be: The anime feature After School Midnighters, directed by video creator and Fukuoka City native and resident Takekiyo Hitoshi, will premiere in about 100 theaters next month in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.

The anime is a comedic film about a human anatomical model and some mischievous students at a night school. It was produced with computer graphics, and it employs motion capture technology, in which the recorded movements of people are used to create digital character models in computer animation. The movie’s creators filmed a drama troupe in Fukuoka for the motion capture. Fukuoka City resident Komori Yoichi, the man behind the popular Umizaru manga series, worked on the script.

Screening begins in Japan on 25 August. Here is an interview with the director, who says the film is a feature-length treatment of a six-minute short that was picked up by Canal+ in France in 2007. Mr. Takekiyo also explains how it’s no longer necessary to live in Tokyo or other big cities to do important work.

And here is the official site in Japanese with the theaters showing the film and official trailers. Residents of South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore will have to check local listings!

Posted in Arts, Science and technology | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (1)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 29, 2012

Former Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio visits a festival in his election district in Hokkaido. Mr. Hatoyama has increased his weekend visits to the district because of concerns he will not survive in the next lower house election.

(Photo from the Asahi Shimbun)

Posted in Photographs and videos, Politics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (123)

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 29, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

* This is not the time to be saying, ‘The students are bad, the teachers are bad, the board of education is bad, the parents are bad.’ Everyone has to conduct themselves properly.

– Koshi’ishi Azuma, head of the Democratic Party delegation in the upper house, and former primary school teacher and official in the Japan Teachers’ Union, on the suicide of a junior high school student who had been bullied by his classmates.

* That statement beggars belief. A precious human life has been lost. There must be a thorough inquiry to determine the problem and the responsibility, and prevent a recurrence. This seems to me as if Mr. Koshi’ishi’s statement is to protect his colleagues at schools and the board of education, and to cover up the problems with the Japan Teachers’ Union, whose education in human rights is extremist.

– Yagi Hidetsugu, professor at the Takasaki City University of Economics and director of the Organization to Revive Japanese Education

Posted in Education, Quotations | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Heat beating

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 29, 2012

WHEN the heat begins to strain the limits of tolerance in east coast cities of the United States, municipal officials sometimes turn on the fire hydrants to let children frolic in the spray on the sidewalks and among the muck in the gutters.

The Japanese have a similar custom, but take a different approach. Summer heat here can be quite intense, particularly after the rainy season ends, as it did last week in Kyushu. I’ve often thought it would be a good idea to import the custom of early afternoon siestas, starting at my house.

The local solution is to dress up in yukata, line up on the streets, and splash them with water using the small bucket/scoops that are an essential part of the bath. Events such as these are conducted in cities throughout the country, and on the 25th it was held at 30 locations in Fukuoka City. Media attention focused on the splashing in the Tenjin commercial district, Kyushu’s largest. It started late in the afternoon at City Hall on a day that reached 33.9° C (93° F), and they splashed in a relay, moving from block to block. As many as 200 men and women participated at Tenjin, and shop clerks, staffers, and passersby also got into the act.

Other attractions included entertainment, stands selling sno-cones (that’s shaved ice for the linguistically fastidious) and other cooling refreshments, and ice sculptures. Greenbird Fukuoka, the NPO sponsoring the sprinkling, said the objective was to promote energy conversations, but that’s the sort of thing an NPO says out of a sense of duty. Everyone knows the real point is to have fun and create a shared experience while forgetting the thermometer at the same time.

The effect is more than psychological. The evaporation of water also eliminates heat, and reports say temperatures in the splashed districts fell two degrees by the time it was over.

Here’s what it looked like in Tokyo’s Ginza district four years ago. That boy who dumps some water over his own head halfway through has the right idea!

Posted in Popular culture, Traditions | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Ecumenism and equanimity

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 28, 2012

THE scene in the photograph above contains what today are incongruous elements, as Japanese will immediately recognize. But in another sense, the scene is neither new nor incongruous at all.

At the upper right are Shinto priests from the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu shrine in Kamakura, Kanagawa, conducting a Shinto service in front of the Great Buddha in the Todai-ji Buddhist temple in Nara. Todai-ji dates from 728, while the Tsurugaoka shrine is the junior institution, having been founded in 1063.

The story of the relationship between the indigenous proto-religion Shinto and the continental import Buddhism is too long and complex to examine here. Relatively speaking, they are separate and equal, but were more closely connected at times in the past, with some buildings used as both shrines and temples. The Meiji-era government ended all that by decree.

They came together again to conduct a joint Buddhist-Shinto ceremony at Todai-ji on the 21st to pray for the souls of those who died in the Tohoku disaster and for the recovery of the area. It began at 6:30 a.m. with a Buddhist memorial service in which 300 people participated. Monks read from 600 scrolls of the Maha Prajna Paramita Sutra.

The delegation from the Kamakura shrine included about 100 people, and their part of the service started with a Shinto prayer. Shrine maidens (miko) performed a kagura (Shinto dance) to pray for peaceful seas. There were eight dancers in the group, a larger number than usual, and this is what it looked like. (Again, the image of miko in front of the Great Buddha is an incongruous sight nowadays.)

Finally, the Junior Chorus Ensemble, consisting of 20 junior high and high school girls from Minamisoma, Fukushima, performed the well-loved classic Furusato, or Home Town. It was composed in 1914 for children to sing in school.

The two institutions also have a long relationship. The tutelary deity of the shrine is one of the early shoguns, Minamoto no Yoritomo. He provided assistance to the temple after it was destroyed during the Siege of Nara in 1180. The smaller Taira army overwhelmed a larger group of warrior monks in established defensive positions in Nara to burn down much of the city, including all but one of the Buddhist temples. The Heike Monogatari describes the original Great Buddha statue at Todai-ji melting in the heat of the fire.

The performance of Furusato probably sounded something like this.

Here’s an excerpt of the kagura dance, Urayasu no Mai. It’s not as old as you might think. This dance was created in 1940 as part of the national celebrations commemorating the 2,600th anniversary of the founding of the Imperial line.

Could one of the reasons the Japanese were not overcome by hysteria during the Tohoku disaster be a certain perspective and equanimity inculcated over many centuries as a result of the vicissitudes of history, snippets of which are described above?

Do I read too much into it all? Perhaps.


* That’s an unfortunate choice of words in the book review at the link:

…(L)ike Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, (Japan) embraced reactionary modernism.

Nothing “reactionary” about them at all, unless you were a Stalinist. Fascism was a progressive movement, as even the progressives — such as FDR — recognized. The term was coined in 1984 by Jeffrey Herf.

* My sister gave me a print of this illustration of Minamoto no Yoritomo as a gift not long before I started studying Japanese. She had no idea who it was, but she said it reminded her of me.

Posted in Festivals, History, Music, Religion, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Ichigen koji (122)

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, July 28, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

I want you to visualize the face of Haraguchi Kazuhiro (Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications in the Hatoyama administration). His face looks as if it were drawn with a crayon, and it’s not possible to trust it at all. It’s the face of a person everyone would warn you about if he lived in the same neighborhood.

Base people have base faces. Villains have the faces of villains. Yamaoka Kenji (Ozawa Ichiro’s closest political associate) has the face of a con man. From Koshi’ishi Azuma to Sengoku Yoshito and Kan Naoto, the people in the Democratic Party look perfectly suited for those prisoner’s uniforms with the horizontal stripes.

– Tekina Osamu, non-fiction author and philosopher

The following short video has a clip recalling that Hatoyama Yukio said he would retire from politics after the next election, and then abruptly changed his mind. After the scenes with Mr. Hatoyama, it contains two quotes by Haraguchi Kazuhiro. The first is:

It’s heart-rending for us to vote aye on a motion of no-confidence from the opposition, but it is the best way now to prevent 100 years of regret.

The second is from a day later:

To begin with, casting a vote for a motion of no-confidence from the opposition is heresy, and that way no longer exists.

A man I knew well, now deceased, was one of those who encouraged Mr. Haraguchi to pursue a political career. Had he been buried instead of cremated, I’m sure he’d be spinning in his grave.

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On the offensive: Continuing adventures in East Asian hegemonism

Posted by ampontan on Friday, July 27, 2012

THE state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua has observer status at the twice-daily news conferences conducted by Japan’s chief cabinet secretary. They seldom ask questions, but the Xinhua reporter asked questions today — seven of them in rapid succession.

They were in reference to Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s statement that he would consider dispatching Self-Defense Forces to the Senkaku Islets.

The reporter asked:

* “In your response to the Senkakus, are you considering diplomatic efforts to avoid military disputes?

* “Some people say that the activities of a few local governments and politicians in Japan are having a negative impact on Japan-Chinese relations. (What do you think?)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura Osamu replied:

“There is no doubt that historically and under international law, the Senkaku Islets have always been an integral part of Japan (固有の領土).”

That expression is not easy to translate directly into English; in addition to “an integral part of”, other possibilities are “is rightfully a part of” or “has always been a part of.”

The Xinhua reporter immediately followed that up with: “What is your definition of “an integral part”?”

Meanwhile, down in the South China Sea, the Chinese government created a new city by fiat with the name of Sansha on Yongxing island, which is 350 kilometers from Hainan Island. Sansha translates as “three sandbanks”, so it is unlikely that urban sprawl is a pressing issue for the city fathers.

The island is half the size of New York’s Central Park and has a population of 1,100 who get their fresh water delivered by freighter from China. It’s a 13-hour trip.

It seems to be one of the designated specks on this map:

You might not have known about it, but the Chinese people certainly did:

Official broadcaster China Central Television aired Tuesday morning’s formal establishment ceremony live from Sansha, with speeches from the new mayor and other officials.

Xinhua was Johnny-on-the-spot here too:

The official Xinhua News Agency reported earlier that Sansha’s jurisdiction covers just 13 square kilometers of land, including other islands and atolls in the South China Sea around Yongxing, but 2 million square kilometers of surrounding waters.

Part of the territory that China claims is another submerged reef, which is not allowed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“The Cabinet approved Sansha last month to “consolidate administration” over the Paracel and Spratly island chains and the Macclesfield Bank, a large, completely submerged atoll that boasts rich fishing grounds that is also claimed by Taiwan and the Philippines.”

This report says the city has 45 deputies in a people’s municipal congress, all for a city of 1,100. Now that’s representation. The delegates account for slightly more than 4% of the population. If the same proportion were applied to the national population, China would have 53.3 million people sitting in municipal congresses. City Council meetings would become the new spectator sport.

Speaking of city fathers, the reports say the new mayor was “elected”. Perhaps Sansha is also a laboratory for budding Chinese democracy.

But simple fisherfolk aren’t the only folk there:

“Xinhua also says China’s Central Military Commission has approved the formation of a Sansha garrison command responsible for “national defense” and “military operations.””

The news outlet (VOA) provided an “expert” to tell us what we already know:

“(W)hen you look at it in the broader subset of Chinese coercive diplomacy and how they’re using exhibitionary military moves to show their resolve and they couple that with political moves, it seems that they’re making a very significant leap forward in what they’re trying to accomplish in the area.”

Yeah, sure seems that way, doesn’t it?

Wonder if the expert read the China Daily account?

The Ministry of National Defense on Thursday announced the appointment of major officers to the Sansha military garrison, saying China’s military establishments in its own territory are irrelevant to other countries.

Students of diplomacy might compare and contrast that with Fujimura Osamu’s statement.

The China Daily is up to speed on the journo game of finding analysts to quote:

“Analysts said China will continue to strengthen control over Sansha to ensure its lawful interests and rights amid maritime disputes.”

The new garrison is not the first military facility on the island. They already have a naval facility there. It’s almost as if they were looking forward to expecting trouble of some kind.

China Central Television has an English-language news report that you can see here.

Turnabout is fair play, don’t you think? Wouldn’t this be a good opportunity for one of those speak-truth-to-power types to pepper the press secretary of either the Chinese president or premier with some questions? Such as:

“In your response to the Spratly Islands, are you considering diplomatic efforts to avoid military disputes?

“Some people say that the activities of some politicians and military officials in China are having a negative impact on relations between China and Japan/Vietnam/The Philippines/Brunei/Malaysia/Taiwan. (What do you think?)

And of course:

“What is your definition of “an integral part”?”

But we already know what the answers would be.

And the people with the eyes to see already know what is going on.

Sansha might be a city Leo Kottke would like:

Posted in China, Foreigners in Japan, International relations, Military affairs | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Ichigen koji (121)

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, July 25, 2012

– A person who has something to say about everything

Everyone seems to like NHK specials. I’ve made NHK specials, and I don’t watch them because they contain no information you can’t read in a newspaper. They might be useful for people who don’t read newspapers because they summarize information in an easy-to-understand manner.

– Ikeda Nobuo, non-fiction author, university professor, blogger, and former NHK producer

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