Japan from the inside out

Posts Tagged ‘Fukuoka’

All you have to do is look (137)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, December 14, 2012

Kego Shinto shrine and Kego Park in the Tenjin district of Fukuoka City. (Photo by Ray_go)

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

All you have to do is look (73)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 11, 2012

A scene from the Nakasu outdoor jazz festival in Fukuoka City

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All you have to do is look (68)

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 4, 2012

Taken at the Sunflower Festival in Asakura, Fukuoka, last month. There were about 160,000 sunflowers in the field. Clicking on the photo enlarges it nicely.

Posted in Photographs and videos | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

All you have to do is look (62)

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 28, 2012

The city of Kitakyushu last week became the first municipality in Kyushu to begin the large-scale disposal of rubble from the Tohoku disaster. They intend to dispose of 62,500 tons by March 2014.

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

Java jive

Posted by ampontan on Monday, September 24, 2012

SOMETIMES it’s the observation of small matters that leads to the recognition of big differences. The contrast of those big differences sometimes leads to a recognition of the nature of that which is being contrasted.

As an example, here’s a post from the Beijing Shots website. Some people in China are seriously wrinkled over the presence of Starbucks in their country, and some people are cranking themselves into righteously indignant knots about a new Starbucks near a monastery:

The American giant Starbucks has caused heated discussion in China over whether it is appropriate for the world’s largest Western coffee shop to set up in the Lingyin Temple, a Buddhist monastery in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province.

The Sina Weibo account of the company’s stores in Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces announced Friday that it would open a shop in the monastery on Saturday. The news was reposted over 4,000 times with many biting comments about the odd combination of the modern commercial shops being set up in ancient temples.

Here’s the problem — particularly the parts after the comma:

A Weibo user said it creates an odd juxtaposition to drink coffee in a setting meant for meditation, as Starbucks symbolizes foreign culture and Lingyin represents traditional Chinese culture. Another user complained that even religious sites are not immune from the invasion of foreign culture.

Starbucks defends itself:

“The new coffee shop is located outside of the central scenic area requiring a 20-minute walk,” a staff member surnamed Wang with the management office of the temple told the Global Times, adding that Starbucks has met all the strict requirements the management office sets for commercial establishments.

But that’s not good enough for an on-call academic:

“The scenic spot’s management office should do its research before opening a foreign brand store at a cultural heritage site,” Zhang Yiwu, professor with the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Peking University, told the Global Times, adding that finding a balance between Chinese culture and commercialism is critical.

They’ve also forced Starbucks out of the shop it opened in the Forbidden City seven years ago. The company removed their sign from the window two years ago, but that wasn’t enough for a CCTV news reader:

“The Chinese people did not have the taste or tradition for drinking coffee, but Starbucks has turned China into its second largest global market. This is an admirable commercial success. But there is something that is disappointing: there is a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City. I and numerous Chinese and foreign friends believe that it is incongruous to have a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City, because it is ‘obscene.’ I don’t know if Starbucks has any plans to be present at the Taj Mahal Palace in India, or the Pyramids of Egypt, the Buckingham Palace in England and other world cultural treasure and miracle sites, but I ask you to get out of the Forbidden City.”

– Rui Chenggang @ Yale CEO Summit Conference

Do you think this is starting to read as if it were a clinical case study of terminal ethnocentrism? Wait until you read what the Beijing Shots editor wrote:

Editor’s note: In addition to being a huge waste of money, Starbucks is seen by many traditional Chinese as being a culturally invasive. In case you were born yesterday, Chinese people have always drank tea, NOT coffee. It would be a shame for China’s beautiful tea culture to disappear and be replaced by a less sophisticated, coffee. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if Starbucks coffee weren’t so darn expensive.

If China’s several millennia of beautiful tea culture were to be supplanted by the invasion of that crude and barbaric beverage because there are now more than 570 Starbucks outlets in a country of 1.3 billion, it might be because more people wanted to drink coffee than tea. It also might be because Starbucks saw the opportunity to create a new market and took advantage of it. Odd how little confidence the editor has in China’s cultural resilience, despite the confidence he has in its superiority.

And the price of Starbucks products is a matter between the company and its customers. If they’re too expensive or culturally insensitive, drink all the tea in China instead. That’s how free markets work.

There’s more. The editor quotes a foreigner writing on another site who praises something else Mr. Rui wrote: “An essay about Japan that every Chinese person ought to read”. Said the unidentified foreigner:

(It) should indeed be required reading by every Chinese for its poignant and critical analysis of Nationalistic pride and misguided views about Japan. It should also be read by foreigners to de-jade them of the opinion that all Chinese think using a sliver of the perspective that the world at large holds.

Here’s the de-jader:

That bitter part of Sino-Japanese history is just one shadow cast in the two-thousand-year history of Sino-Japanese relationship. It is not everything. The future will be even longer.

We cannot keep repeating that the Chinese language is the ancestor of the Japanese language, wanting the Japanese people to be the descendants of the 3,000 boys and girls that could not find the magical eternal-life potion for the First Emperor of Qin, or forgetting (or even being totally ignorant) of the contributions that Japan has made towards China.

Admitting someone else’s good points does not mean that you are deprecating yourself. On the contrary, it is an expression of self-confidence.

That sets the editor off about the foreigner, not the Chinese news reader:

The attitude from the western multinational corporate mouthpiece reminds us all that Starbucks must in fact be boycotted, otherwise this kind of arrogance, and hostility will continue, as these writers cannot survive without funding from western multinationals. If you consider yourself a person with honor, you ought to also boycott websites such as danwei, and imagethief. and inform others of their malicious agenda….Maybe the time has come to stop whoring out our land, and put heavy restrictions on western multinationals. If we want to protect our culture, then Mcdonalds, KFC, Carefour, Jack Jones, Uni Qlo, all must be limited, not only Starbucks. If the corporate mouth pieces insist on slandering the Chinese people, Chinese culture, and the Chinese government, then it is certainly fair game to turn up the heat on western multinational corporations. What goes around, comes around.

Why yes, they do want to exact revenge on everyone who mistreated them for the past 150 years. Didn’t you know?

What they don’t know is the concept expressed by the economist Tyler Cowan in his book Creative Destruction, and quoted by Don Boudreaux at Café Hayek:

Trade, even when it supports choice and diverse achievement, homogenizes culture in the following sense: it gives individuals, regardless of their country, a similarly rich set of consumption opportunities. It makes countries or societies “commonly diverse,” as opposed to making them different from each other….

Cross-cultural trade does not eliminate differences altogether, but, rather, it liberates differences from the constraints of place.

To which commenter Yevdokiya Zagumenova added:

….and gives the natives who don’t appreciate the loss of illusory control in a world they no longer understand something to rail against with charges of “American Cultural Imperialism” (for example).

The editor at this site isn’t an outlier, if that’s what you’re wondering. The Chinese expressing views such as these in English have become a presence on the Internet.

Now for the contrast. Here’s what I wrote about a new Starbucks that opened in Japan last December:

Starbucks Japan announced they will open a shop on the sando, or approach path, to the Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shinto shrine on the 16th. It will be the first Starbucks shop at a shrine or Buddhist temple.

The Tenman-gu shrine is a large facility with gardens containing 6,000 plum trees in addition to the buildings. A Shinto shrine was first built there in 905, and the current building, registered as an important cultural property, dates from 1591. It was built on the grave of Tenjin, the deification name of Sugawara no Michizane, renowned for his erudition and learning. They’re opening the Starbucks at just the right time, too, as tens of thousands of people will visit the shrine for New Year’s. The visits will continue into January as students make the pilgrimage to ask the deity for a blessing to pass their high school or university entrance examination. Another attraction, the Kyushu National Museum, is within walking distance nearby.

The location demands that this shop not resemble the typical shopping mall Starbucks. It was designed by University of Tokyo architect Kuma Kengo, known for his work on the Suntory Museum of Art and the Nezu Museum. That design combines the traditional and the modern with natural materials, primary among which is 2,000 pieces of Japanese cedar obtained by thinning out forests. It will also have two gardens, one in front facing the sando and one inside with more plum trees. There will be 46 seats in the interior and 10 on the terrace.

The post includes a photo of the interior and a 10-minute YouTube video of the street where the shop is located and the grounds of the shrine itself.

The Dazaifu shop opening was a news item on the day it was announced, but people have since forgotten about it. If anyone complained, it escaped my notice. Starbucks Japan has 955 shops in Japan, according to their website. Yet Japan’s beautiful tea culture is still thriving. Even young people, mostly women, practice the tea ceremony. They have clubs in high schools and colleges. And when they open a Starbucks near a Shinto shrine, they make sure it harmonizes with the neighborhood.

Some people are adaptable and are the stronger for it. Some people are rigid and are the weaker for it.

Some people in the West get all warm and fuzzy and why-can’t-we-get-along about the Chinese. Some, such as the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, are openly envious of their political and social systems.

Which part of those systems, exactly?

As their own name for themselves indicates, these folks believe they’re the flower in the center of the world.

You know what that makes us.

The website says there are 200 Starbucks outlets in China. There were 570 as of May. Mr. Rui said China was the second largest global market. There are more than 955 outlets in Japan.

There’s no need for me to make pithy comments when I know you’re thinking plenty of pithy thoughts on your own.

Whoops Mr. Moto, I’m a coffee pot.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, China, Popular culture, Shrines and Temples, Social trends, Traditions | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

All you have to do is look (30)

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 27, 2012

Some of the 600 wind chimes at the Nyorin-ji Buddhist temple in Ogori, Fukuoka. The chief priest, Haraguchi Genshu, started hanging them five years ago. Worshippers pay JPY 500 and attach a written wish to the chime. They’re moved inside the temple at the end of September.

Photo from the Asahi Shimbun.

Posted in Photographs and videos, Shrines and Temples | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Power grab

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 26, 2012

OLD Ma Necessity has come for an extended uninvited stay in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident and the subsequent idling of most of the country’s nuclear power plants. That’s spurred some inventive Japanese scientists to attack the problem of renewable energy power generation.

Lens windmills

One of the most ambitious plans is part of a project now being conducted by a team led by Kyushu University Prof. Oya Yuji in Hakata Bay, off Fukuoka Prefecture. They’ve developed what they call a lens windmill whose design triples the amount of power a conventional windmill can generate.

In Stage One of the project, which started last December and will run for a year, the two 3 kW lens windmills shown above have been placed on a floating platform with solar power cells and a large storage battery. They’re calling it a floating maritime power farm. They plan to eventually add equipment that generates power from tidal currents and waves. Prof. Oya thinks the lens windmills would be practical if they could be made larger.

One of the advantages of maritime windmills is that the wind is stronger over the sea. Also, renewable energy power generators require a large surface area, and Japan has a limited amount of surface area for equipment of this type. They’ve got plenty of sea all around them, however.

Stage Two of his project is to place an interconnected floating platform in the Korean Strait with five 200 kW lens windmills. His team is already working on a design for 1,000 kW models.

An intriguing aspect to the plan is the idea of using the platforms as small fishing ports. Sweden and Denmark both operate maritime windmills, and they’ve discovered that fish like to hang out nearby for reasons that no one can explain. Fishermen are unanimous in their belief that this is an excellent idea for an experiment. There are even suggestions that fish farms could be created below the platforms.

Several problems remain. One is that the production costs for the lens windmills have to be lowered. Another is the space requirement. Even when commercialized, it would require 230 windmills to produce the output of the #1 generator at the Fukushima plant alone.

Seawater temperatures

Several companies are working with the Okinawa Prefecture Deep Sea Water Research Center in Kumejima-cho, Okinawa, on an ocean thermal energy conversion project that will run until next March. The idea is to use the difference in the ocean water temperature at the surface and that at greater depths. A temperature differential of 20 degrees (I assume centigrade) is required for this to work, so that means the tropics and the subtropics are the ideal location. That’s Okinawa!

In this process, the difference in water temperatures is used to gasify ammonia and other substances with low boiling points, which rotates a turbine. The power output is only 50 kW, but this is a trial, after all. The center says it is the world’s first trial using this process with the objective of commercialization.


They’re ready to go commercial at a ryokan, or Japanese-style inn, in the hot springs resort town of Yufuin, Oita. Starting in December, the ryokan will use a 70 kW generator that Kobe Steel put on the market last fall to generate electricity using the hot springs on the site. Not only do they expect to cover their own energy needs, they also plan to sell the surplus power generated to Kyushu Electric Power under the system for the sale of renewable energy at a fixed cost that began in July. Kobe Steel says that if the power is sold at 20 yen per kW, the ryokan could recover the costs by 2015.

That highlights another problem with these systems. It costs Kyushu Electric JPY 10 yen per kW for the power generated by nuclear plants. These costs in the aggregate will be passed on to the utility’s consumers. In other words, the government scheme amounts to a renewable energy tax.

And they’ve already gone commercial throughout Japan in the use of processed sewer sludge — yeah, that — as a biomass fuel for power generation. Kumamoto City plans to commercialize an operation in 2013, and Kitakyushu is planning to do the same in 2015. Construction work started on the plant in Kumamoto City in January. When it begins operating next January, it will have the capacity to process 16,000 tons of the sludge, roughly half the amount produced in the city. That will be converted to 2,300 tons of fuel for use at power plants.

Here’s an idea: Create smaller models of this equipment and place them in the buildings that house national and sub-national legislatures. We wouldn’t have to worry about nuclear energy or lens windmills again.

Seeing as how Okinawa came up in the discussion, here’s Okinawan Natsukawa Rimi singing an island song.

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

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 »

Females, food, and fertility rites: Is there a finer combination?

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 17, 2012

SCANNING the back pages and far corners of local Japanese newspapers, either in print or online, has been a delight for the past month. It’s rice-planting time in Japan, and that means hundreds, if not thousands, of ceremonies are held throughout the nation honoring the tradition of wet paddy cultivation, each one a spectacular in miniature.

The priests of the proto-religions in some cultures sacrificed their young virgins to appease the volcano gods and other sullen spirits. Man, that’s just screwy, and I’ll bet it didn’t make the gods any happier than it made the young men of the tribe. In Japan, they keep those precious young virgins alive for more productive endeavors. One of those activities is to serve as miko (Shinto shrine maidens), who dress in colorful costumes, sing, dance, get barefoot, and snork rice seedlings into the mud by hand. They’re sometimes accompanied by the Shinto priests, who get down and get dirty right alongside them.

If you want to know what it looks like without getting out of your chair, you’ve come to the right place.

The local branch of the national agricultural cooperative pitched in to help plant a sacred paddy at the Dewa Sanzan Shrine in Tsuruoka, Yamagata, shown in the first picture. (That shrine link is in English, by the way.) The ceremony is held in supplication for a good harvest, which in this case will be turned over to the shrine itself. It started with a procession of 70 people to the site and continued with a Shinto ceremony conducted by the priests. That was followed by a dance performed by the miko and the planting itself in a 17-are paddy. (An are = 100 square meters or 0.0247 acres, and 100 ares = a hectare)

The home in the background is that of the Wada family in Ogi-machi, Shirakawa-mura, Gifu, and has been designated an important cultural property of the nation. It’s one of a settlement of homes that constitute a UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama.  The name for the architectural style translates as “prayer hands”, which is particularly effective for dealing with the area’s heavy snows. The houses were home to extended families on several floors, who usually worked in the sericulture industry.

Reports say that the 20 girls at the Wada family paddy were singing while they worked, which makes me wonder if I should have been a farmer instead.

Yeah, they grow rice in Tokyo too — technically in Chofu, a municipality within the Tokyo Metro District. This ceremony was conducted at Jindai-ji, a Buddhist temple, which is not surprising considering the mix-and-match approach of the Japanese to religion. There’s been a temple on this site since at least 733. The ceremony was conducted jointly with their sister city in Kijimadaira-mura, Nagano.

In addition to planting the seedlings in this paddy, the seven farmerettes passed out some to the spectators to grow at home. One later said, “It was a lot of fun to be able to experience something I don’t normally do.” If you think she was just being polite, look at that sweet smile in the photo above. Girls who are ready for a new experience, even if it means manual labor while sloshing around in the mud, will always find shelter from the storms of life at my place.

This short video of the temple grounds is well done, by the way.

One intriguing aspect of a country with nearly two millennia of traditions is the frequency with which some of those traditions disappear and then reappear. For example, the folks associated with the Izumo Daijingu Shinto shrine in Kameoka, Kyoto, haven’t conducted this ceremony in 84 years. It was last held to coincide with the ceremony marking the formal installment of the Showa Tenno. Last spring, the shrine recovered some land it had leased out, so they decided to use it this year to put in some sacred rice. Sixty people in all participated, including the high school girls who served as the miko in the 500-square-meter plot. There was also a gagaku dance performance, which goes together with these events as well as peaches and cream. Gagaku is the music associated with the Imperial household, as are shrines with the –jingu suffix.

This shrine knows a lot about tradition, too. It dates from 709. They think.

The rice planting festival conducted by the Mikami Shinto shrine website in Yasu, Shiga, was also held every year to coincide with the Showa Tenno ceremony in 1928, but they skipped it last year due to a shortage of participants. The Shigans decided not to let that happen again, so a woman who’s been involved in the event for more than 20 years organized a group of 50 to take care of business this time. There was singing and dancing and planting in time to the beat of the taiko drums. When it was done, the woman said her hips hurt, but it was worth it. Try this website for more photos, including some black and white shots from a more pastoral age.

They didn’t have any problem finding enough women to carry the mikoshi in May 2010 at that same shrine’s Hyozu festival, however. The festival features a parade of at least 35 mikoshi (portable shrines transporting the shrine deity), two of which are carried by women only. This one’s called the Ayame, or iris. How can anybody not love sweaty shouting girls with cool clothes and hair?

Another intriguing aspect of a country with nearly two millennia of traditions is how relaxed people can be about those traditions. Look at those costumes: Centuries worth of convention from their hairstyles to their ankles. Below that, they’ve wisely updated to sports shoes.

The Takase shrine in Nanto, Toyama, goes out of its way to plant koshihikari seedlings, reputed to be the best variety of rice in the country. Five girls from ages 14 to 20 got 500 of the seedlings started on a 25-meter-square paddy. After the rice is harvested in mid-September, some will be given to the Takase shrine, and some to the Ise-jingu, also associated with the Imperial household.

The Tozawa shrine in Shinjo, Yamagata, doesn’t have the tradition of other institutions — it’s been around only since 1893. They talked 13 girls into planting the rice here, and they certainly seem to be enjoying themselves. The same ceremony is conducted in turn by 11 branches of the shrine in the region that are members of the Association of Shinto Shrines, and you really ought to click on this link to see their headquarters building in Tokyo.  The reports didn’t say what they’d do with the rice harvested in late September or early October, but somebody somewhere is going to eat it.

For a rural extravaganza, try the Mibu no Hanadaue in Kitahiroshima-cho, Hiroshima, which is both an important intangible cultural property of the nation and registered as a UNESCO intangible cultural property.  Two groups of 74 musicians jam while the miko sing and plant rice on an 87-are plot, assisted by 14 bulls.

Did you think I was exaggerating when I said extravaganza?

What the heck, one more update. This ceremony was held on the grounds of the Sumiyoshi Shinto shrine in Fukuoka City’s Hakata Ward, which means it’s one of those downtown paddies. They only had room for 280 seedlings in the nine-meter-square paddy, planted by 10 miko and shrine parishioners after a procession that consisted of 20 people. They expect three kilograms of rice later on this fall. Said 18-year-old Tachibana Yui, who became a miko in April, “I was nervous because it was a religious ceremony, but I’m looking forward to the fall harvest.”

Washing all that rice down requires some sort of beverage, and the finest beverage for that is green tea, which is now in picking instead of planting season.

This tea was planted on a 10-are plot during an event conducted by the Kumano shrine in Tanabe, Wakayama, with prayers for better quality product and the prosperity of the industry.

Wouldn’t you know it? This shrine is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

Last month, two miko and five members of the shrine’s women’s association harvested the first batch of otonashi tea, which was sent to the area from Kyoto about a thousand years ago during the Heian period.  The district has 40 households growing tea on seven hectares, and they produce about 18 tons a year.

The first batch went to the Imperial household, and the second will be picked at the end of this month.


I eat rice nearly every day, and 95% of it is brown.

Posted in Festivals, History, Religion, Shrines and Temples, Traditions | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The man in the Japanese street

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, June 3, 2012

THE Fukuoka City-based Nishinippon Shimbun conducted a questionnaire survey of opinions on political conditions from 17-22 May. The location of the survey, the persons surveyed, and the questions asked make the survey results essential reading for anyone interested in the mood of the Japanese electorate.

First, they limited the survey to those people who voted for the Liberal Democratic Party in the lower house election of 2005, and who also voted for the Democratic Party of Japan in the lower house election in 2009. In other words, these people voted to support the Koizumian reforms and Japan Post privatization, and to repudiate the LDP after the party had repudiated the work of Mr. Koizumi.

Thus, the survey focused on independent voters whose primary interest is in systemic reform, which was the primary issue in both of these elections. The DPJ victory had little, if anything, to do with the content of the party’s election manifesto other than their promise to implement real reform. The voters just as quickly repudiated the DPJ when they discovered that promise (and everything else they said) was nothing more than campaign shouting.

Two of the areas covered in the survey were the respondents’ current political preferences and their views of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru and his One Osaka reform movement. It was therefore a quick and dirty indicator of what people in Kyushu’s largest city thought of the Osaka-based phenomenon.

One question asked what sort of government the respondents would like to see after the next election. Because this was a survey of 100 people, the absolute numbers also represent percentages. Here are the answers:

A new framework after a political reorganization: 49

A DPJ-led government: 4

An LDP-led government: 11

Don’t know: 29

Among the reasons cited by the people in the first group were: “There ain’t a dime’s worth of difference between the DPJ and the LDP”, and “All (those two parties) do is try to trip each other up.”

Among the reasons cited by the people in the last group were: “There are no real politicians in Japan now,” and “I might not vote in the next election”.

Here are their answers to the question of which political party or group they supported:

None: 64

One Osaka: 12

DPJ: 6

LDP: 5

That tends to confirm the results of the Jiji news agency polling since the early 2000s that “non-aligned” is the default position for a majority of Japanese voters. (Jiji’s polls are conducted by their market research arm, and are considered more accurate than the other media polls, which use random digit dialing.) This group starts gravitating toward a party or candidates shortly before an election, and gradually reverts to their independent position after an election.

Finally, the survey asked whether they had positive expectations if One Osaka and Mr. Hashimoto were to establish a national presence. Of the 100 people surveyed, 74 answered yes.

A female office worker in her 30s gave a reason that would resonate in other areas of the country too:

“He’s a bit extreme, but nothing will change without an approach like that.”

Those opinions are of course subject to change at a moment’s notice. A male office worker in his 30s observed:

“It is not possible to make a judgment by looking at Mr. Hashimoto alone. I don’t know what One Osaka would do as an organization.”

To be sure, this poll was unscientific; the newspaper admits upfront it was conducted on the street.  But it doesn’t take science to realize that the super-sized political tsunami rolling towards Nagata-cho is going to turn the political careers of quite a few people into flotsam and jetsam.


The voice of the man in the street in Jamaica:

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

Hauling ash

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 29, 2012

LAST SUNDAY we had a post that dealt, in part, with a mini-sit-in held at the entrance of a refuse incineration facility in Kitakyushu that was to conduct a trial burning of 80 tons of debris generated by the Tohoku disaster. The demonstrators held up the process until the police removed them from the premises.

The incineration went ahead as scheduled, the city measured the radioactivity in the fly ash collected in the smokestack filters, and the results were announced yesterday. The national government’s minimum standard for landfill is no more than 3,000 becquerels per kilogram. As I noted last week, the city is known for its rigorous environmental standards, and their target for the fly ash was a much lower 330 becquerels per kilogram.

One of the incineration sites measured 19 becquerels, and the other measured 30.

The city’s standard for the bottom ash (the ash that never left the incinerator) is no more than 100 becquerels per kilogram. They detected none at either location. The mayor will announce the city’s decision next month on whether to continue the incineration, and these results make it more likely that they will.

It is of critical importance that other regions help with the incineration.  The Tohoku earthquake disaster created 29 million cubic meters of debris. Most of it has yet to be disposed of, though it has been organized into piles. Preventing that disposal is a combination of hysteria, willful ignorance, and the Not In My Backyard phenomenon:

“We think the debris is contaminated with Caesium and we do not trust the government tests,” she said. “There has been a lot of misleading information from officials so it is difficult now to trust any directive from above.”

Mrs Aki, who conceded that the city was probably evenly split for and against the decision, suggested that the waste should remain in the tsunami zone, and perhaps be stored in the exclusion zone around the stricken nuclear plant, which will be a dead zone for decades.

In other words, out of sight, out of mind. One foreigner on Twitter recently asked an open question (in Japanese) of the protesters: Do you really think the government is making all this up? Is this man betraying the public trust?

“We have tested all of our rubbish and not found any radiation,” said Sato Yoshinori, a spokesman for Ishinomaki council. “The amounts we found were background levels. So it is a shame that people perceive there is danger in a place like Ishinomaki, that does not have any radiation. It is a shame they do not see that.”

Ishinomaki is the source of the debris incinerated at Kitakyushu.

As to be expected, the usual concerns remain, and some of them are on the legit. The Nishinippon Shimbun quoted someone identified as being in the “agricultural and maritime industry” as saying:

“No matter how often the government insists that it is scientifically safe, it is possible that the reputation of our products will be harmed if that is not fully understood by the consumers.”

Then there was this from Saito Toshiyuki:

“It is a fact that radioactive material was detected in the fly ash, and the city’s target figures themselves are unclear.”

Mr. Saito is an attorney and an anti-nuclear power activist, but you probably guessed that already. The patter and the pattern are universal. That includes the implication that it’s a terrible, terrible outrage if everything everywhere isn’t absolutely perfect and pure and socially just at all times, and there are no leaky faucets in anyone’s lives.

Meanwhile,  a citizens’ group in Tokyo called (roughly) “National Referendum on Nuclear Power: Let’s All Decide Together”,  asked the metro district government today to pass a law to allow a local referendum.  You’ve also probably guessed what their preferred outcome would be.

That cranky old fart xenophobic right-wing nationalist creep Ishihara Shintaro, the metro district governor, replied briefly and to the point:

“That is a judgment the national government should calmly make.”

He has the ear and political friendship of Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru, who has emerged as the national leader of the nuclear hysteria faction. Perhaps Mr. Ishihara would consider playing the role of wise old uncle and lay some wisdom on him.

It has not escaped the notice of some Japanese that one man is behaving like an adult and the other is behaving like a child.

N.B.: For reason #21,947 demonstrating why I bang on so often about the lackwits assigned by the overseas English-language media to write about Japan, look carefully at the linked Telegraph article. On this website, I use the Japanese (and Chinese and Korean) custom of writing family names first and given names second. Most English-language media outlets, however, reverse them into the Western order. The names of the two people provided to the Telegraph’s correspondent were in the traditional Japanese order. That would be obvious to anyone who has spent about a month in Japan and gotten accustomed to people’s names.

Not the journo at the Telegraph, however. He refers to the woman as “Mrs. Aki”. That’s the equivalent of calling someone “Mrs. Debbie”. A closer look at that page shows that he is identifed as a “foreign correspondent” and Tweeting from China. There is no mention of whether he packed his Burberry trenchcoat for his grand East Asian adventure.


Let’s continue the theme from the previous post, titled Cultural Notes.

The situation in the Tohoku region is bad enough, but it’s much worse in Haiti, more than two years after its earthquake. The emphasis is mine.

But two years later, over half a million people remain homeless in hundreds of informal camps, a majority of the tons of debris from destroyed buildings still lays where it fell, and cholera, a preventable disease, was introduced into the country and is now an epidemic killing thousands and sickening hundreds of thousands more. Haiti today looks like the earthquake happened two months ago, not two years.

Haitians ask the same question as the US Congress, “Where is the money?”

The authors think they have identified the problem.

The effort so far has not been based a respectful partnership between Haitians and the international community.

But the New York Times thinks real progress is being made:

Haitians have seen real progress in the last two years. About half of the 10 million cubic feet of quake debris has been removed from Port-au-Prince and other areas. More people have access to clean water in the capital than before the quake. With investment from a Korean garment maker, an industrial park is being built in the northeast, with the promise of 20,000 jobs.

They have a suggestion for speeding up the process:

A United Nations analysis showed that while many nations have been generous, particularly the United States, Brazil, Canada, Spain and France, almost all the money has gone to nongovernmental organizations and private contractors. To build Haitian capacity, that will have to change, and the commission can help — by giving guidance to Haiti’s ministries and monitoring their efforts.

But oddly, in the next paragraph, we see the answer to the charge that there’s hasn’t been a respectful partnership, and the reason the money isn’t going to the government:

President Martelly is a more engaged leader than his predecessor. In the fall, he announced a plan to house 30,000 residents of six tent cities with rental subsidies and new construction. More than a half-million Haitians remain in camps and it is not clear if he will take on powerful landowners to free up the land needed for rebuilding. He needs to abandon his focus on building an army. What Haiti needs is a professional, accountable police force.

If this president is more engaged, even though his focus is on building an army instead of cleaning up the rubble, we can only imagine what his predecessor must have been like. (Perhaps the threat of invasion from the Dominican Republic is greater than we realized.) We also can imagine the behavior of the local police.

Ah, but the human spirit remains triumphant in the face of all disasters. Here’s a glowing report on the response of some Haitians:

The metal figures standing like sentinels in the middle of an exhibit of contemporary Haitian art are created from a mishmash of scrap metal and found objects: nails, marbles, old shoes, bed springs, tire treads, hub caps, pieces of fans and other discards.

…The figures created from found objects were sculpted by Guyodo, Andre Eugene and Jean Herard Celeur, three members of the group Atis Rezistans, an artists’ collective living and working in downtown Port-au-Prince. The group has showcased its artwork and creative process in a mash-up of high art-meets-the developing world called “Ghetto Biennale,” which opened a month before the earthquake and returned last month.

Their work in “Haiti Kingdom of This World” exemplifies the exhibit’s theme of celebrating Haitian artists’ creativity and resourcefulness while challenging viewers to look beyond Haiti’s reputation for disorder, poverty and failure.

If I were so challenged, I’d return the challenge and ask why they thought it was so important to stage an art exhibit created from earthquake debris instead of temporarily suspending their artists’ collective after the earthquake and organizing volunteer groups to drag and drop into piles the crap that remains where it fell, enabling the NGOs and private contractors to get at it while Monsieur Le President is reviewing the troops and the police are busy shaking people down.

It’s worth reading that piece, by the way, if only for entertainment purposes. It contains enough adjectives, adverbs, and artsy-fartsy platitudes to choke a museum curator.

The Haitians do have one advantage over the Japanese, however. I doubt any of them are complaining about the environmental hazards of the cleanup operation or holding sit-ins in front of incineration sites.


The Huffpo culture critic missed her chance to really impress her readers when she used the term “found objects” instead of the official Art jargon of objets trouvés.

Speaking of finding things, I found this video on YouTube of a performance by the son of my favorite Haitian singer, Coupé Cloué. Everything seems to be spic and span in his neck of the woods. His father chose that stage name, by the way, because it combines two French words used in Haiti as slang for the sexual act.

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

The wolf is at the door

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, May 27, 2012

IT was almost the Aesop’s Fable in reverse: Officials have for so long been so little forthcoming with real information about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, some people wouldn’t believe them even if they were to tell the truth that the shepherd boy is warning about a fictitious wolf.

Other people, for reasons that are not clear, seem determined to create a situation which will manifest that wolf and bring him to the doorstep.

Most of the 30 (or 40, or 50, depending on the account) people who showed up for a good, old-time sit-in on Tuesday in the city of Kitakyushu were expressing honest, albeit uninformed, concerns. They came to block six trucks hauling 80 tons of debris created by last year’s disaster from Ishinomaki, Miyagi, for a trial incineration at the Hiagari facility. The demonstrators plopped down in front of the gates to prevent the trucks from entering, which they successfully did for more than eight hours. One even crawled under a truck. The police finally dispersed them, arresting two in the process. That cleared the way for another 21 trucks to arrive later that evening.

Officials said the first burning of the debris over three days at two locations in the city went ahead as scheduled. It was packed in 140 plastic bags each measuring two meters in diameter. The announced radiation count was less than 100 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram. The health ministry’s lowest acceptable limit for radioactive cesium is 200 becquerels per kilogram of drinking water and 500 for vegetables.

The debris was mixed in a one-to-nine ratio with ordinary municipal refuse and incinerated in a method the city claims will remove more than 99.9% of the toxic material, even that contaminated by radioactive cesium. The city will then measure the radioactivity of the trucks and the equipment after the work is completed, and decide by mid-June whether to allow full-scale incineration to continue. If they agree, they will be the first municipality in western Japan to do so.

The small number of demonstrators is significant for two reasons. First, Kitakyushu was once a heavily industrialized city with serious pollution problems, but has won international recognition for converting itself into an “environmental city”. As a result, most residents do indeed trust them in matters of this sort. One 34-year-old woman griped about the demonstrators: “These people have a narrow viewpoint and think only of their immediate surroundings.” The city admitted, however, that they were negligent in promptly explaining the procedure to citizens’ groups and focusing on agriculture and fishery groups instead.

The low number is also significant because the Japan Revolutionary Communist League, AKA Chukakuha, wasn’t able to round up any more than that for the demo. Chukakuha is a revolutionary/terrorist outfit that arose in the late 60s/early 70s, when that sort of thing was in vogue. More than a hundred of its members have been arrested for murder (sometimes of themselves), assault, and homemade bomb production. They’re still around, though less active and with less coverage than before. One member fired a mortar at the guest house for heads of state at the 1986 Tokyo summit, and others set fire to the homes of public sector employees in Chiba in 2002/3. Here’s the JRCL English-language website, which gives you an insight into their avocation. Japanese-language ability is required to read one member’s report boasting of how they held up the incineration, however.

It’s said to be an “open secret” that Chukakuha were behind last year’s Energy Shift Study Conference, attended by then-Prime Minister Kan Naoto. Mr. Kan is no dupe, by the way; he’s hung out with people of this sort since his own days as a student demonstrator, and has spoken more than once of his sympathy for Zenkyoto’s “cultural revolution”.  Another fellow traveler is one of Japan’s leading punitive leftists, the head of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, Fukushima Mizuho. She and her unofficial husband have given legal advice to Chukakuha members, spoken at conferences organized by their members, supported some of their activities, and were (jointly) named as one of the most 100 influential people of the world last year by Time magazine for their anti-nuclear energy crusade. What, you hadn’t heard?

The news readers in this clip don’t offer any more information than you already know, but it’s worth watching to see how things went down. Where else in the world do policemen dressed in freshly pressed white shirts and neckties drag off demonstrators to the pig box?

Whistling for the wolf

While a certain amount of public hysteria about a nuclear power plant accident is to be expected, professor/author/alphablogger Ikeda Nobuo charges that the mass media in general and the Asahi group in particular are deliberately provoking it and making it worse. The Asahi group operates both a newspaper and a television network, and their political/social views are roughly similar to those of the New York Times in the U.S. and The Guardian in Britain.

Prof. Ikeda is scathing in his criticism of the Asahi, not for their general philosophy, but for their readiness to reverse their positions to enflame public opinion and benefit in the form of higher circulation/ratings. Once a strong editorial supporter of nuclear energy in the 1970s, the newspaper has shifted its stance over time and became a nuclear-free advocate after the Fukushima accident. He asserts that the newspaper’s approach is typical of behavior stretching back decades, and is reminiscent of their editorials and articles written to whip up martial spirit during the war. He quotes from an Asahi editorial written on 14 August 1945.

“There is no question that the atomic bomb has considerable power. Nonetheless, while all new weapons have power in the beginning, historical fact bears out that their power suddenly wanes when measures are eventually established against them….the opportunity for revenge on the enemy’s atrocities will arrive when first, the belief of the people burning within their breasts becomes a ball of fire that quietly hardens and bursts at once into flame.”

Note that the editorial was published after the two atomic bombings and Japan had already agreed to surrender unconditionally, but the newspaper was still talking about “revenge on the enemy’s atrocities”.

After Japan’s surrender the following day, the Asahi wrote an editorial saying that the country must establish “a nation of peace”. Since then, they have trumpeted the necessity to “defend the Peace Constitution”.

Prof. Ikeda then presents for comparison an editorial written by the newspaper’s Ono Hirohito calling for a nuclear power-free society that reverses their pro-nuclear stance:

“Isn’t declaring that we should examine whether or not to give up nuclear energy the same as saying the accident of 11 March didn’t occur? We should first make up our minds whether or not we should give up nuclear energy, and then confront the subsequent challenge of whether or not we are able to give it up. The Fukushima accident compels us to change our thinking in that way.”

Says the professor:

“It is eerie how closely this resembles the editorial of 14 August 1945. What they have in common is the approach of proclaiming a hardline policy based on an ideal without considering whether or not it is possible. During the war, they pandered to Imperial Headquarters, and after the defeat they reversed themselves and pandered to the GHQ. During the period of rapid growth, they pandered to the power companies and supported nuclear energy, and after the accident they reversed themselves and support a nuclear-free Japan. For the Asahi Shimbun, the Fukushima accident was the second defeat in the war.”

He deals with the behavior of the television network in a separate blog post:

“It is a simple matter to cast off a sense of shame, pander to fools, and boost ratings, as Asahi TV has done. It is the same as the Asahi Shimbun boosting its circulation during the war by writing of the “explosion of the ball of fire that is the people” to enflame public opinion.

“This is the fateful dilemma of mass society. Democracy is based on the premise that the people are wise, but in fact the people are emotional and short-sighted. In a national referendum, they would likely vote to give up nuclear energy and reduce taxes to zero. The people who believe that is true democracy have the intellectual facilities of a junior high school student.

“A consensus can be created by emotion, but results cannot be changed by emotion. The losses incurred by stopping nuclear power generation have exceeded JPY six trillion, which is already more than the damage from the accident at Fukushima reactor #1. Any large power blackouts that occur will likely cause immense human damage far greater than that of Fukushima. When that happens, one wonders if Asahi TV will align itself with the victims and strike the anti-establishment pose.”

The Asahi isn’t the only Japanese newspaper responsible for spreading paranoia. The EXSKF site (which enjoys a bit of paranoia itself) demonstrates how the Yomiuri Shimbun’s mishandling of technical information — beyond the comprehension of the average journo — has created the false impression that the Fukushima nuclear contamination is four times worse than that at Chernobyl. It isn’t, and the poster at the site provides and explains the correct calculations:

Cesium-137 released from Fukushima: 400,000 terabecquerels

Cesium-137 released from Chernobyl: 3,400,000 terabecquerels

Kansai Electric’s Oi nuclear reactors

Media wolf whistling is bad enough, but downright despicable is the use of nuclear energy as an issue by politicians and their associates who already enjoy broad public support. It is difficult to see how they can benefit from pandering. Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru has galvanized attention as the symbol of serious, bottom-up government reform in Japan, and his rise has ignited a renaissance of dynamic criticism and debate, particularly among those under the age of 50. Yet he has chosen over the past few months to detour into a call for a nuclear-free Japan with emotional appeals characterized by the absence of proposals for replacing the lost energy source. In particular, he is speaking out against resuming operations at the Oi nuclear power plant in his neck of the woods. Here’s an example of his rhetoric:

“If you say you’re putting peoples’ lives first (the slogan of the ruling Democratic Party), putting the peoples’ lives in danger by restarting the nuclear plants would not be possible.”

Kansai Electric Power, facing the worst potential power shortfalls of the country’s utilities if the plants are not restarted, has warned that it will have to raise rates otherwise. Osaka Prefecture Gov. Matsui Ichiro, Mr. Hashimoto’s primary political ally, retorted by threatening wolf-like behavior to oppose a rate hike:

“Mayor Hashimoto Toru and I can only resort to holding a sit-in in front of their offices in opposition.”

Kansai Electric says their thermal power fuel costs (oil, coal) were JPY 500 billion higher than last year (to compensate for the shutdown of the nuclear plants), and will amount to another JPY 400 billion this year. Their total fuel costs are double those of 2010, and they are warning of insolvency.

The City of Osaka is the largest single stockholder of Kansai Electric. Thus, the man who represents that ownership stake is behaving as if he would bankrupt the company. Ah, but one of his advisors has a solution. That would be “energy scientist” Iida Tetsunari, a member of various institutes, recipient of various government appointments, founder of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, and a promoter of the idea that Japan can go 100% renewable energy by 2050:

“At this rate, Kansai Electric will go bankrupt next year. The government should offset the fuel expenditures. That way they won’t have to raise rates.”

Save the facepalm — It gets worse. Former Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry high-flyer Koga Shigeaki, a University of Tokyo graduate, former principal administrator for OECD, radical reformer of the bureaucracy, and another key Hashimoto advisor has started dancing with the wolves.

Not so long ago, he knew better. Last year, he said that the biggest problem with nuclear energy was how to dispose of the fuel. Now he too wants to shut all the reactors down.

He attended a recent meeting of the Municipal Energy Strategy Council in Osaka and started an argument with a representative of the national Agency for Natural Resources, who was there to advocate restarting the nuclear plants.

Koga: “Just what is the reason you are thinking of restarting the reactors?

NRA rep: “At the minimum, we have confirmed their safety is such the reactor core would not be damaged to the extent of that which occurred during the Fukushima accident.”

Koga: “Don’t you understand any situations other than Fukushima?


Koga: “METI’s ties with the power company are too close, so they are lenient. Your whole argument is based on the assumption that they will be restarted.”

NRA rep: “It’s harassment when you talk about close ties.”

Then they got emotional.

Still not time for a facepalm — That’s not the half of it. Here’s what Mr. Koga told the viewers of the Morning Bird TV program on the Asahi network on 17 May:

“I can only think that (Kansai Electric) will create a state of “power outage terrorism”. They’ll intentionally cause an accident at the thermal power plant, or stop operating it if an accident does occur, to create a panic due to a large power shortage. They’ll say their only choice is to restart the nuclear power plants.”

Over-the-top rhetoric in Osaka must be contagious. Another Hashimoto aide, former Finance Ministry official Takahashi Yoichi, also plays with fire in this excerpt from a column in Gendai Business Online:

“It has gotten difficult for the DPJ government after Mayor Hashimoto’s declaration that he and One Osaka will bring them down. The best chance for cutting him down to size, regional devolution, is already beyond their capability. In the end, the concern would be, though it is difficult to imagine, Kansai Electric suicide terrorism by creating an insufficient power supply during the peak period of summer use. What crosses the mind is the response of the Social Insurance Agency during the Abe administration when the subject of their privatization was broached. The agency released a stream of information that was fatal to the Abe administration (loss of pension records that occurred a decade before). The falsehoods of the “suicide bombing” of the Social Insurance Agency circulated at the time.

“Kansai Electric is a private sector company, and the company would collapse if they really did something like that. I don’t think it’s possible, but it is a fact they can control the supply of power, and there is a touch of uncertainty that rolling blackouts are not out of the question. That subject already has arisen. If the situation continues in which they have no measures for dealing with peak load (they probably can’t), then it is perhaps possible they might consider a little shock therapy, though I really don’t want to think about it.”

What some people really don’t want to think about is that these people are creating a wolf from a figment of their imaginations. Try this from Bloomberg:

“The highest reading reported on the health ministry’s website so far has come from a sample of spinach collected on March 18 from Hitachi city, 97 kilometers (60 miles) south of the plant. The spinach, which didn’t enter the food chain, contained 27 times the safe limit of radiation for I-131, according to the health ministry.

“The spinach contained 54,100 Bq/kg of I-131 and 1,931 Bq/kg of cesium. That means consuming 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of fresh spinach would yield a radiation exposure of 1.2 millisieverts, or half the average annual natural exposure from soil and cosmic rays, based on Bloomberg calculations using a formula posted on the website of Japan’s Food Safety Commission.”

Some of the wolf whistlers would probably accuse them of hiding something. Maybe a UN scientific committee is hiding something too. From Nature magazine:

“Few people will develop cancer as a consequence of being exposed to the radioactive material that spewed from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last year — and those who do will never know for sure what caused their disease. These conclusions are based on two comprehensive, independent assessments of the radiation doses received by Japanese citizens, as well as by the thousands of workers who battled to bring the shattered nuclear reactors under control.

“The first report, seen exclusively by Nature, was produced by a subcommittee of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) in Vienna, and covers a wide swathe of issues related to all aspects of the accident. The second, a draft of which has been seen by Nature, comes from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and estimates doses received by the general public in the first year after the accident. Both reports will be discussed at UNSCEAR’s annual meeting in Vienna this week.

“The UNSCEAR committee’s analyses show that 167 workers at the plant received radiation doses that slightly raise their risk of developing cancer. The general public was largely protected by being promptly evacuated, although the WHO report does find that some civilians’ exposure exceeded the government’s guidelines. “If there’s a health risk, it’s with the highly exposed workers,” says Wolfgang Weiss, the chair of UNSCEAR. Even for these workers, future cancers may never be directly tied to the accident, owing to the small number of people involved and the high background rates of cancer in developed countries such as Japan.”

Or even MIT:

“A new study from MIT scientists suggests that the guidelines governments use to determine when to evacuate people following a nuclear accident may be too conservative.

“The study, led by Bevin Engelward and Jacquelyn Yanch and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that when mice were exposed to radiation doses about 400 times greater than background levels for five weeks, no DNA damage could be detected.

““Clearly these studies had to be done in animals rather than people, but many studies show that mice and humans share similar responses to radiation. This work therefore provides a framework for additional research and careful evaluation of our current guidelines,” Engelward says.

“It is interesting that, despite the evacuation of roughly 100,000 residents, the Japanese government was criticized for not imposing evacuations for even more people. From our studies, we would predict that the population that was left behind would not show excess DNA damage — this is something we can test using technologies recently developed in our laboratory,” she adds.”

Apart from the temporary inconvenience and discomfort in Japan’s ultra-sultry midsummer heat, keeping the nuclear power plants idle would also lead to the creation of an economic wasteland resembling the remains of the Fukushima facility — all due to the popular delusion of crowds encouraged by the self-aggrandizing behavior of wolverine media outlets and politicians disguised in Granny’s clothes.

It will take six weeks to get the Oi nuclear power plants running again in the Kansai area, where the shortage will be the most critical. That means it’s very close to being too late. Rather than find a secret air-conditioned room to hole up in, the editorialists and the politicians will more likely put on a show of making a virtue out of hardship. They did that in 1945, too.


Got to watch out for those wolves. They sure can be sneaky.

Posted in Business, finance and the economy, History, Mass media, Politics, World War II | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Japan’s back pages

Posted by ampontan on Friday, May 4, 2012

THE Japan that emerges in stories printed below the fold and in the back pages of newspapers, or on less frequently accessed news websites, is a different place than that presented in the industrial mass media. Here are some stories that demonstrate why.

Water business

The phrase “water business” in Japan is usually a euphemism for the enterprises conducted in entertainment districts at night, particularly drinking establishments.

But most people outside the region are unaware that Japan is a global leader in another sort of water business — that for the technology used in water supply and sewage systems. In fact, a paperback was published a few months ago with the premise that Japan is the global leader in water technology systems. Whether that claim is true or not, several entities in the country have established a reputation for expertise in the sector, and they are working to expand their operations.

For example, the Fukuoka City government recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, for joint research in water supply and treatment.

The Kyushu city developed the technology for reusing waste water from the necessity to deal with its own chronic water shortages. They became so successful that they now want to make a paying business of it. Fukuoka City was also the first municipality in Japan to process waste water for use as water in the toilet, and they also are known for building a network of tunnels that carry off the water from the heavy summer rains to prevent flooding.

Meanwhile, the growth of the economy and the population in Vietnam strained that nation’s water systems infrastructure, and they chose to look to Japan for help. In fact, the city of Haiphong is already working with the city of Kitakyushu, Fukuoka City’s neighbor, to prevent leakage from their water supply systems.

Kitakyushu has been active in this sector in Cambodia for some time. As of last December, they were serving as the technical consultants for water technology in nine Cambodian cities, and last month they began helping two other cities in that country to expand their water supply systems.

Fukuoka City is also involved in the water business in Burma. The Water Department dispatched a technician to Rangoon last month to conduct surveys and provide guidance, and they’ll send a full team later. The Burmese government also sent one of their technicians to Fukuoka City for training.

Apart from altruism, one objective is to increase the opportunities for local businesses to receive contracts from the Southeast Asian countries for infrastructure improvements. The Fukuoka City project in Burma is being conducted in tandem with the UN Habitat Fukuoka office. That organization is particularly interested in water purification and desalinization systems.

Rare Earth

The temporary Chinese suspension of rare earth metal exports during the standoff over the Senkakus in the fall of 2010 certainly got the attention of Japanese industry.  They wasted no time to start looking for new sources for the metals that couldn’t be used as a political weapon. For example, it was announced earlier this week that imports of rare earth metals would soon begin from India. Also, Mitsui Mining and Smelting Co. and Kurume-based Shibata Sangyo have teamed to launch the world’s first business for recovering and recycling the rare earth metal tantalum from discarded electronic products. Tantalum is used primarily as a material for condensers in PCs and Smartphones, but all of it is imported. The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry estimates that recovering the tantalum from products discarded in Japan in a year would yield about 64 tons, accounting for 14% of the amount used here annually. Fukuoka Prefecture and Mitsui plan to commercialize the recycling technology and to create a structure that enables electronics parts manufacturers to procure the metal without concerns of interrupted supply.

More than a year ago, Japanese researchers announced they had produced the first artificial rare earth metal, an alloy similar to palladium. That metal is essential for making electronic parts, and is also used as a catalyzer to clean exhaust gas. While their method is not feasible for the commercial production of palladium, the researchers intend to apply it to create other alloys as rare earth substitutes. They say they’ve begun joint research projects with automobile manufacturers, but are keeping the details under the hood for now.


A ryokan, or Japanese-style inn, in Yufuin, Oita, will generate electricity from the hot springs on the site using a 70 kW generator that Kobe Steel put on the market last fall. They plan to sell some of the power generated to Kyushu Electric Power through the system for the sale of renewable energy at a fixed cost that will begin in July. Kobe Steel says that if the power is sold at JPY 20 per kW, the spa could recover the costs by 2015.


Japanese astronomers using a Hawaii-based telescope said last month they had discovered a “proto-cluster” of galaxies 12.72 billion light-years away from Earth. They claim that’s the most distant cluster ever discovered, which would also make it one of the first structures formed by the Big Bang.

“This shows a galaxy cluster already existed in the early stages of the universe when it was still less than one billion years into its history of 13.7 billion years,” the team of astronomers said in a press release.

But the discovery may already have been superseded.

Researchers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have previously announced the discovery of a possible cluster of galaxies around 13.1 billion light-years from Earth, but that has not yet been confirmed, the Japanese researchers said.


What Japanese women call with a smirk the “bar code” — the hair style created by follically deficient men, otherwise known as a combover in the English-speaking world — may, along with toupees and implants, be obsolete a decade from now:

Japanese researchers have successfully grown hair on hairless mice by implanting follicles created from stem cells, they announced Wednesday, sparking new hopes of a cure for baldness.

Led by Professor Takashi Tsuji from Tokyo University of Science, the team bioengineered hair follicles and transplanted them into the skin of hairless mice.

The creatures eventually grew hair, which continued regenerating in normal growth cycles after old hairs fell out.

The process has the potential for applications greater than flattering oneself in the mirror, however:

Tsuji and his researchers found hair follicles can be grown with adult stem cells, the study said.

“Our current study thus demonstrates the potential for not only hair regeneration therapy but also the realisation of bioengineered organ replacement using adult somatic stem cells,” it said.

Stop the snickering, ladies — before long another recent discovery in Japan might produce more satisfying answers when you interrogate the mirror about the fairest of them all.

Two different teams of university researchers have found the gene that causes freckling and skin blotches after exposure to the sun. One team was from Osaka University (working with cosmetics manufacturer Kanebo), and the other team, using different methods, combined researchers from Nagasaki and Kumamoto universities.

Both groups focused on ultraviolet hypersensitivity, a rare condition of which only five cases are known in the world. The condition was first identified in 1981 in Japan, but little effort was put into treatment because the only problem it causes is sunburn. The Osaka-Kanebo group inserted mouse chromosomes in the nuclei of cells from two patients with the condition to determine which would provide better protection to ultraviolet rays. Exposure to the rays would prevent multiplication of the cells, which would die after six weeks, but cells with the new chromosome were resistant to ultraviolet rays.

Crab computing

Here’s a story that made a lot more sense after spending the past week trying to make sense of the functions on my new PC:

A team of scientists from Japan and England have built a computer that uses crabs as information carriers, to implement basic circuits of collision-based computing.

The explanation:

Researchers at Japan’s Kobe University and the UK’s University of the West of England, Bristol, found that when two swarms of soldier crabs collide, they merge and continue in a direction that is the sum of their velocities. This behaviour means that swarms of crabs can implement logical gates when placed in a geometrically constrained environment.


The swarms were placed at the entrances of the logic gates and persuaded to move by a shadow that fooled them into thinking a predatory bird was overhead. Results closely matched those of the simulation, suggesting that crab-powered computers are possible.

The experiment builds on a previous model of unconventional computing, based on colliding billiard balls.

That set the author of the article to wondering:

The paper’s authors did not say whether public money was used to fund their experiments.

Regardless, it doesn’t seem as if the experiment would be so expensive that a university couldn’t fund it on its own. The author might be suggesting that futzing around with crab-powered computers is a frivolous enterprise with no apparent application, but there might be some there there.  Explains Josh Rothman:

What’s the point? Increasingly, computer scientists are interested in the ways that natural systems solve computing problems. Often, they do so in surprising (and surprisingly effective) ways. Other researchers have investigated the ways in which honeybees compute the most efficient route through a field of flowers (see a well-reasoned take on that research here); one of the crab-computer researchers, Andrew Adamatzky, has been exploring the possibility of slime-mold computing. Future generations of computers, they argue, may well be inspired by nature.


The Moji Customs Office in Kyushu reports that the value of beer exported through the Port of Hakata in 2011 totaled JPY 1.225 billion, an increase of 6.3 times from the previous year. The volume of exports totaled 10,960 kiloliters, a year-on-year increase of 9.2 times. That set a record, and it was the first new record in 10 years. South Korea accounted for 57% of the exports, and there’s a story behind that. Premium Japanese beer has become popular in that country, which is closer to the Port of Hakata (also in Kyushu) than to Tokyo. Sapporo also established a sales company in South Korea last June. And don’t forget that the Japanese built the first breweries on the Korean Peninsula to begin with when the two countries were merged a century ago.

Does this mean tastes are changing in South Korea? The mass market beer in that country may be even weaker and thinner than the adult soft drink that pretends to be beer in the United States. That’s perhaps due to the robust and hearty nature of Korean food, with its industrial grade spices. It would make sense that people preferred something less intense to wash it all down with.

Hand grenade hotline

To conclude, here’s something I’ll bet nobody expected. The Fukuoka police became the first police department in the country to institute a hot line for tips on hand grenades. They’ll pay JPY 100,000 for each hand grenade found or confiscated as a result of a tip.

Concerns have been growing lately over the use of hand grenades to attack companies or in gang fights. Hand grenades were used in six incidents in the prefecture last year, the most in the country. Rewards will also be given for the discovery of homemade bombs. They’re serious — the police have printed 2,000 posters and 5,000 flyers.

They’d better be serious if gangs are bringing grenades to a gunfight.


This clip of an English-language news report provides further info on the changing Joseon tastes for beer. They mention that 60 brewpubs have been established (by then) in South Korea since laws were relaxed in 2002. Pardon the goofiness with the Youtube link.

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Considering (a) that microbrewing had already taken off in Japan at that time, and (b) the substantial but largely unacknowledged influence that Japan still has on Korean culture, it is quite possible that the Korean laws were changed after the Koreans sampled some of the Japanese beverages.

Not that they’d ever admit it.


Here’s another change: When I arrived in Japan in 1984, most funerals were still conducted in the home of the deceased. Now, however, they’re usually held in funeral parlors.

I attended a funeral in one of those establishments a week ago today for a pleasant man who passed away at the age of 86. I’ve been to enough of them by now to be familiar with the customs, but I was intrigued when I recognized the song the pianist was playing just before the service started: Hana (Flower), by Okinawan roots rocker Kina Shokichi. It is interesting to reflect on which things eventually become accepted as part of the common culture. No English translation can do the lyrics justice, so I won’t even try, but the song works in that context.

Here are three different versions spliced into one video.


Posted in Business, finance and the economy, International relations, New products, Science and technology, South Korea | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Back to front

Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, January 4, 2012

ALL of the following stories appeared yesterday in the back pages of newspapers or the less well-traveled sections of websites. All of them present aspects of a reality quite different from the narrative of major news media outlets outside the region.


The National Institute of the Korean Language conducted a survey of the Korean language ability of foreigners in South Korea married to Koreans, based on the results of a language competence test conducted from 10 September to 20 October. The highest score possible for the test was 100.

The institute broke the results down by nationality and found that the Japanese had the best results, as 62.8% of that group scored 90 or better.

They were followed by Chinese of Korean ancestry at 55.7% and Mongolians at 45.6%. In last place were natives of The Philippines at 21.3%.

They also broke down the results by region of residence. (They do things like that in East Asia.) Foreign spouses in Daegu did the best with 45.5% scoring over 90 points. By province, Gangwon was at the top of the table with 40.8%, closely trailed by Gyeonggi at 40.0%.


Speaking of Daegu:

Daegu City and Yeungjin College jointly launched an investment seminar on Dec. 8 for 11 invited Japanese-member companies of the Technology Advanced Metropolitan Area (TAMA)….

The investment seminar catered to 14 to 19 attendees representing a total of 11 Japanese companies. In addition, officials from Japan’s Kanto Economy and Commerce Department attended the event, with the number of participants estimated at 20. Another 30 local companies from Daegu participated in the seminar, providing one-on-one consultations with Japanese companies on technology and business partnerships.

The participating Japanese companies are located near Tokyo and specialize in electronics and mechanical metal parts. The participants were able to look forward to possible exchanges and cooperation with established auto- and machinery-parts manufacturers in Daegu and the North Gyeongsang Provincial region. According to Daegu City, the occasion paved the way for some Japanese companies to consider entering the Korean market.

The governments of Japan, South Korea, and China are talking about having talks about a free trade agreement, but local governments and the business sectors in both countries aren’t futzing around. Similar articles appear nearly every day in the middle or back pages of the Nishinippon Shimbun, with reports of South Korean and Chinese businesspeople coming to Kyushu for discussions and signing business agreements. Governments and business associations in Kyushu, the southern Korean Peninsula, and Northeast China have been working together for several years to create a de facto free trade zone.

Oh, and if you hit that link, you’ll see a photo of cherry blossoms in Daegu.


Seoul-based Harmony Cruises has begun sales of cruise packages to Kyushu that will call at Fukuoka City, Beppu, Nagasaki, and Kagoshima (as well as Jeju) from home ports in Busan and Incheon. The initial sales are for 19 cruises between February and April. The company plans to offer almost 100 cruises per year. The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport says they will become the first South Korean company to operate cruises to Japan.

There’s also been a sharp increase in the number of Chinese cruises to Kyushu over the past five years. They already call on six Kyushu ports 118 times a year, and more are planned. The Kyushu Economic Research Center says the economic effect for each city of each port call for each cruise is JPY 44 million.

There are plenty of things to do and see in Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Kagoshima, ranging from theme parks to historical and cultural attractions. Beppu is famous for its hot springs, and many Koreans like to come to Kyushu to play golf.


Low-cost carrier Jeju Air of South Korea announced plans to inaugurate regularly scheduled daily flights between Fukuoka City and Seoul this year, beginning sometime after March. The number of flights and their times are undecided, pending authorization by South Korean authorities. (If the project has gotten this far, however, they’ll get the authorization.) Jeju Air has been operating three flights a week between Kitakyushu (Fukuoka City’s neighbor) and Seoul since March 2009.

Said a Jeju Air spokesman:

The Fukuoka Airport has many users from both Japan and South Korea, and it has excellent access because it is close to the city center. (It’s 10 minutes by subway.)

Jeju will be the second Korean LCC to operate flights to Fukuoka; the first was T’way, which also flies to Osaka and Nagoya.

And that’s in addition to the Japanese LCCs and the major Japanese and Korean airlines flying the same route.

Read the primary articles in the English-language media about Japan-South Korea relations, and you can’t get past the second sentence without them dipping into all the bad blood. Oh, it’s there all right, kept at a boil and stirred by the politicos and their Greek chorus in the commentariat and academia.

But read the newspaper back to front and you see that it’s a different story altogether on the ground.


The Daegu story is a couple of weeks old, but I found out about it yesterday in an e-mail alert from the Korean Herald.

Happy New Year is a Matsutoya Yumi (“Yuming”) song, but here she performs it in a duet with Suga Shikao

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Posted in Business, finance and the economy, Language, Social trends, South Korea, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »