Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I often feel like Tokyo is abnormal !?

When I was working in Osaka, I'd find businesses there difficult. I'd realize that compared with Tokyo, Osaka was just rural despite it being the second largest city in Japan. Although the Japanese economy wasn't that bad at the time, Osaka still had difficulties luring business. When I first started living in Tokyo about 15 years ago, various things surprised me (I hadn't expected that because I was raised mainly in Osaka, the large city). The packed commuter trains were crazy. There were still many people in downtown Tokyo even at midnight. I'd have a hard time getting on the last train around 1 am because it was filled over capacity. Houses were built close together. The rent of tiny apartments was relatively high, although it depended on the area. On the other hand, I felt like there was nothing you couldn't get in Tokyo. I felt that Tokyo was an exciting city only for the rich.

The situation hasn't changed a lot. Everything is still overly concentrated in Tokyo. It's been pointed out for many years that this situation has caused and continues to cause problems. Nevertheless, there is still no sign that the government is attempting to deal with it seriously. Perhaps due to the prolonged recession, I feel like the concentration has even been recently growing. As a matter of fact, whenever I go to Osaka, I realize that Osaka is more stagnant than when I was working there many years ago.

By the way, various issues related to nuclear power plants have been emerging since the Fukushima accident. These issues used to be covered up because ten major electric power companies in Japan, which are in a virtual monopoly (please see Note below), have strong connections to big names in both politics and business. At least, the inconvenient and unsavory information wasn't widely reported on TV because all of the ten companies are major sponsors of commercial TV stations.

Recently, NHK, the public broadcasting network, reported that cities (or towns) where nuclear power plants are located can obtain large contributions from the aforementioned major electric power companies. The fact that these cities receive large subsidies from the central government has been widely known, but I don't think that the contributions are known among the public despite it being legal. I didn't know about the contributions until I saw the report. According to NHK, the contributions are non-transparent and convenient for the cities. In the Sendai/川内 city, Kagoshima prefecture (where the Sendai nuclear power plant is located), when the city had a tight budget, it would ask for the electric power company that owned and operated the plant to contribute funds. NHK discovered that the city has already received 2.7 billion JPY (34 million USD. 1USD=80JPY) in total in contributions, although it is unclear whether that number is truly high enough.

As I mentioned before (please click here), there is a tendency that once cities get used to relying on money related to nuclear power plants, they can't escape that dependence. There are many things that the cities have to change. On the other hand, there are a lot of cities and towns which have been having a very hard time boosting their own economy and activating themselves because of the over-concentration in Tokyo. Fundamental problems have been emerging since the 3/11 earthquake.

Japan is divided into ten regions for electric power suppliers and there are ten major electric power companies. In other words, each region has only one electric power supplier. Although the law was relaxed about 15 years ago and other companies started supplying power mainly to office buildings, the ten major companies are still in a virtual monopoly. I'm living in the Tokyo area. I have no choice but to make a contract with TEPCO. I don't have any choice for electric power suppliers.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas is when people make greeting cards for the new year !?

There are no national holidays for Christmas in Japan. However, the 23rd of December is a national holiday because of the emperor's birthday. This year, the 24th and 25th are on the weekend. Because of this, many workers have three days off in a row.

According to the weather forecast, a strong cold front is predicted to hit Japan around Christmas. So in many places, we'll probably be able to enjoy a white Christmas, which makes us feel more romantic. However, upon thinking about the 3/11 earthquake victims living in temporary housing which forces them to struggle against the cold, the white Christmas becomes an unwelcome event. Unfortunately, the tsunami and earthquake-stricken areas are already covered by snow.

Around Christmas time, many people are busy making greeting cards for the new year (The cards are called 年賀状/nengajyou ). We usually make the cards with regular-sized plain postcards "年賀はがき /nenga-hagaki " issued by the Japan Post Service. 年賀はがき /nenga-hagaki are specially designed for the new year's greetings. Each of them costs 50 yen, and a 50 yen stamp is already printed on the front where you are supposed to write someone's address. Because of it, you can send the postcards to anywhere inside Japan without putting on stamps. (When you send a regular-sized postcard to somewhere in Japan, you have to put on a 50 yen stamp ). On top of that, each card has a lottery number printed on the front. Lucky numbers are announced on the 15th of January.

Anyway, we usually draw pictures and write something on the back (the back is plain). It's a little time-consuming, although computers make it easier. If you post the cards between the 15th and 25th of December, they are sure to be delivered on the 1st of January (It means that they won't be delivered until the 1st of January). Because of this, many people are busy making the greeting cards around Christmas time.

The 3/11 earthquake has made us realize that we can't live without others. A lot of people have been trying to build ties with others. The word 絆/kizuna (ties or bonds) has become very popular, and was recently selected as one Kanji (Chinese character) best describing the Japan of 2011. Under these circumstances, it's expected that people will send out more 年賀状/nenngajyou than usual.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I enjoy the Christmas lighting in town, but it reminds me of our serious problem.

In Japan, Christmas is highly commercialized. A lot of people see Christmas as an event just for children and young people. Because of this, many Westerners find Christmas in Japan weird. If you want to know about Christmas in Japan, please see my previous blog articles (Please click here).

As for me, I enjoy the Christmas lighting in town every year. This year, Christmas lighting makes me feel especially warm inside because some lights have been turned off to save power in the wake of the Fukushima accident. Although I've heard that much of the lighting is well designed to save power, the lighting is still controversial. I'm torn. In order to keep struggling against the current crisis, we need things that can cheer us up and boost the economy. On the other hand, we have to make further efforts to cut power consumption.

Speaking of power saving, it's been necessary across Japan since about six months ago. Specifically, this winter, all the people and companies in Japan are required to save as much power as possible. This is because only seven out of 54 reactors are operating due to the Fukushima shock. In a few days, one more reactor will be closed for maintenance. In Japan, the law requires reactors to be closed for maintenance once a year.

Two months after the Fukushima accident, the government urged Chubu Electric Power Company/中部電力 to shut down all three of its reactors in the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka prefecture because it's been said that the area has the highest chance of being hit by a massive earthquake in the near future. The company complied with the request. As for other reactors, the government intends to restart them after regular maintenance. However, both central and local governments have been having a very hard time persuading local people to agree with the restarting. Since the Fukushima accident has shown that a nuclear accident causes serious damage to a wide-ranging area, both residents and local governments of cities relatively near nuclear power plants are putting up more of a fight against the restarting of reactors. On the other hand, towns where nuclear power plants are located have mixed feelings because they depend on the plants economically (subsidies from the central government and employment). At any rate, if the reactors aren't reactivated, then next spring, all of the reactors in Japan will stop working. Under these circumstances, we are required not only to save as much power as possible, but also to think about how to strike a balance between our economy and the risk of nuclear power plants.

I wish you a merry Christmas, anyway.

Omotesando in Tokyo is a popular spot for Christmas lights. You can see some pictures in the link below.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New major issues related to radioactive contamination have emerged in the Tokyo area.

A few days ago, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan declared an end to the most critical phase of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. However, many members of the public, including myself, think that the situation is far from being stable. I think that anything could happen. If another strong aftershock hits the plant, it will surely bring us to an unimaginable situation. I'm wondering what ulterior motives the government have. Anyway, whether or not the landmark accomplishment rings true, I appreciate that a lot of workers at the crippled plant have been striving to regain control.

In this declaration, the term "state of cold shutdown" was used. However, since the term was defined in July as a milestone in the process of regaining control, what the term "state of cold shutdown" indicates is different from what the general term "cold shutdown" indicates. Because of this, it has been pointed out that the term "state of cold shutdown" may give an exaggerated impression of stability. As it's pointed out in a NY times article in the link below, it seems that the government is expected to use vague terminology in order to give itself some wiggle room.

Anyway, in the Tokyo area, new issues have emerged. Due to the hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima plant, bewildering quantities of radioactive substances were released from the crippled plant in March. Specifically, radioactive cesium 137 (30-year half life. In other words, it takes 30 years for cesium 137 to decay by half) and cesium 134 (2-year half life) are always on the table to discuss. These two kinds of cesium have been widely spread out. The cesium is washed away by rain, but won't disappear. It means that the cesium just travels from place to place.

In the Tokyo area, there are some areas where soil contamination levels of the cesium are relatively high. The contaminated areas have a large population. Almost all the roads are asphalted there. In the newly developed areas, urban drain systems are well designed. Unfortunately, these factors have created highly contaminated spots. Specifically, the cesium on asphalted roads is easily washed away by rain and the well designed drain systems effectively transfer the cesium to one specific spot, and as a result, the cesium ends up being concentrated there. Another major issue that has emerged is highly contaminated incinerator ash. In the Tokyo area, many incinerators are well designed to reduce the amount of incinerator ash. The high-tech incinerators have produced highly contaminated ash because they end up concentrating the cesium in the process. The ash is temporary stored in the incineration plants so far. However, it's predicted that the plants will be over capacity soon for the ash. The issue of how to deal with the ash remains unsolved.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Herbivorous men! Bacon-wrapped asparagus men ! Stuffed cabbage men !

Have you heard of the Japanese phrase "草食系男子/soushoku-kei-danshi (herbivorous men) " ? The phrase became very popular a few years ago. It indicates a certain group of young Japanese men. If you don't know about it, please first read my blog article in the link below.

In the link, I described the characteristics of "草食系男子/soushoku-kei-danshi (herbivorous men)", but they were ambiguous from the beginning. As time goes by, the meanings change. However, we always use the phrase when we want to refer to men who have less interest in or are bad at finding girlfriends and dating, and don't want to take the initiative in a relationship.

In contrast with "草食系男子/soushoku-kei-danshi (herbivorous men)", another phrase "肉食系女子/nikushoku-kei-jyoshi (carnivorous women)" became popular (If you want to know about what the kanji character "肉/niku" in the phrase implies, please see the link above). The phrase indicates women who try to enjoy their relationships. They approach and make passes at people they like. It seems that they are often forward and take the initiative in a relationship, although some of them say that they are forced to do that because many younger men don't want to.

Other than that, these days, we sometimes use ”肉食系男子/nikushoku-kei-danshi (carnivorous men)" and "草食系女子/soushoku-kei-jyoshi (herbivorous women)". I think you can guess what these phrases indicate. If you can't, please ask me. However, these two phrases are not that popular. I hardly ever hear "草食系女子/soushoku-kei-jyoshi (herbivorous women)"

Now, I can finally move on to the topic which I want to talk about here.

A few weeks ago, I learned two newly coined phrases which are popular among young people. One is アスパラベーコン男子/asupara-becon-danshi (bacon-wrapped asparagus men). The other is ロールキャベツ男子/ro-ru-kyabetsu-danshi (stuffed cabbage men). In the two phrases, the asparagus and cabbage imply "草食系/soushoku-kei (herbivorous) " because they are vegetables. The bacon and meat in stuffed cabbage imply "肉食系/nikushoku-kei (carnivorous)". The term bacon-wrapped asparagus men indicates those who are seemingly ”肉食系男子/nikushoku-kei-danshi (carnivorous men)", but in reality, they are "草食系男子/soushoku-kei-dansshi (herbivorous men). The term stuffed cabbage men indicates men who are the opposite.

The two terms "草食系/soushoku-kei(herbivorous) and 肉食系/nikushoku-kei(carnivorous)" are very popular. Even elderly people who generally have difficulty catching up with new words often use them when they describe people.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's been nine months since that day. Are people becoming desensitized to the serious situation?

I'm determined to remember what I thought about in March on the eleventh of every month, although I know that human beings have an ability to forget in order to overcome difficulties. I feel that I should remember how I felt on the 11th of March since the word "death" first went through my mind and I realized something I hardly realize under ordinary circumstances (At the time, I was in Chiba far from the epicenter. Still, I felt several massive earthquakes). Immediately after the earthquakes, I very much thanked the shop staff at a super market near my house who worked as usual. Their anxiety and fear were written on their faces. They seemed to ease their fear by focusing on their jobs. All in all, I found happiness in small things which I generally don't care about.

Anyway, it's been nine months since the disaster happened. It's been reported that progress is slower than expected at tsunami-stricken areas in Miyagi and Iwate prefectures where many towns were completely washed away. Although there are many reasons pointed out, the main one is clear. The Fukushima disaster has complicated matters further.

I often hear people say that they are not surprised by whatever reports come out on the crippled power plant and radioactive contamination. I've also realized that I'm becoming desensitized to our serious situation, although I've been paying great attention to the plant and radioactive contamination. I often feel that people are getting used to the serious situation like this way. Needless to say, there are many reports on new findings showing that the crippled plant is likely to be more critical than expected or that radioactive contamination is more serious than expected.

Only after the Fukushima accident, I realized that many nuclear-related TV programs had been already aired especially on NHK, the public broadcasting network in Japan. Recently, I saw some of them when they were rerun. These programs show how a lot of people worldwide have been struggling against diseases which were most likely caused by radiation exposure (For example: The victims of the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The victims of the Chernobyl accident in Ukraine and Belarus. The victims of nuclear testing in Marshall Islands. Some residents near the plutonium production reactor in Hanford site in the US).

Recently, there have been many reports on decontamination plans. It seems that our central government gives priority to decontamination work. On the other hand, some specialists have been skeptical about how well decontamination work will go. They have insisted that the government and some people expect too much of decontamination work. They have pointed out that since there are many mountains near contaminated areas, unless the mountains are decontaminated, decontamination work won't go well. Like the outlook proves right, it has turned out that rice crops in fields near the contaminated mountains tend to be more highly contaminated than ones in other fields, even though both fields have the same level of soil contamination. It's been said that water coming from the contaminated mountains likely causes it. I've heard America, Ukraine and Belarus have been having great difficulties decontaminating soil. I think that both the government and Japanese people need to change the way of thinking.

Decontamination work

Contamination map

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The top 10 words describing the Japan of 2011--Final

Today, I can finally finish talking about the top 10 winners of the buzzwords and new words of 2011 contest. If you are interested in my explanations of the ones I already covered, please see the links below.


どや/doya is a word (or a phrase. I'm not sure if どや/doya is a word or a phrase) in the Osaka dialect. It means the same thing as どうだ?in standard Japanese. どうだ(douda) means, "I'm right, aren't I?" For example, say A and B are arguing over something. Both of them stand strong and don't give an inch. If it turns out that A is right, A will say triumphantly, "どうだ/douda?". As you can see, the word is usually used when you want to brag about the fact that you are right. Personally, I think that doya in the Osaka dialect sounds stronger than douda in the standard Japanese.

顔/Kao, the latter part of どや顔, means face. Can you guess what どや顔/doya-gao means? どや顔/doya-gao means a smug look on your face or a facial expression indicating that you are bragging about your triumph. This year, the phrase has become very popular. I don't know why though.


It's an abbreviation of スマートフォン/smartphone. This year, smart phones have become very popular in Japan. It's been reported that the 3/11 earthquake also inspired people to buy one. During the summer, smartphone sales accounted for over half of the total sales of cellphones.


When Japanese Prime Minister Noda assumed power in September, he likened himself to a loach/weatherfish in his first official statement. Because of this, his administration is referred to as dojyo-naikaku (どじょう/dojyou means loach or weatherfish. 内閣/naikaku means cabinet or administration). It's been reported that PM Noda likened himself to loach in order to highlight his determination that he would do his best in a solid (or honest) way. Personally, I don't understand why the phrase was selected.


In Japan, comedians always appear in TV shows. Some short performances done by comedians often become very popular. They are so simple that a lot of children try to copy these performances, and it often makes them very popular. ラブ注入/love tyunyu is one of them which has become very popular this year. Please see the attached YouTube video. In the video, a few seconds after starting, a tall man appears and does a sort of short performance. During the performance, he says love-tyuntyu while making a heart shape with his hands.

ラブ means love (Love is written "ラブ” in Japanese). 注入/tyunyu means injection. I don't know exactly what he intends to say with the phrase " Love-tyunyu", but I guess that love-tyunyu means that he'll inject his love into your heart or something like that. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

The top 10 words describing the Japan of 2011--Part 3: Everybody knows that phrase.

Today, I'll continue to talk about the top 10 winners of the buzzwords and new words of the 2011 contest. I'll explain about one of them. If you are interested in what I talked about them before, please see the links below.

Part 2

★こだまでしょうか/kodamade syouka

Immediately after the devastating earthquake hit Japan on the 11th of March, all the regular TV programs were cancelled. Instead, special programs to report on what was going on in Japan were broadcast for the next two weeks. Even after this, regular TV commercials remained disappeared because their contents were seen inappropriate to the terrible situation. However, it seemed that commercial breaks were necessary in commercial broadcasting services, so several TV commercials created by Japan Advertising Council in 2010 were aired. These commercials were created to promote morality or enlighten the public about things they should know.

At the time, a lot of people left the TV on to get detailed information on what they cared about. Every time the commercial breaks came, people saw the substitute TV commercials. Since there were only several TV commercials created by the council, they were on the air in turns over and over. Even if people didn't intend to see them, they inevitably caught what was being talked about in the commercials. On top of that, some phrases used there were so catchy that many people blurted out the catchy phrases.

"こだまでしょうか/kodamade syouka" is one phrase used in one of these commercials. こだまでしょうか means that is this the echo to repeat anyone's words? Actually, in the commercial, a poem written by Misuzu kaneko (金子みすゞ)is used. I mean that all the phrases in the commercial are from her poem titled "こだまでしょうか/kodamade syouka". Misuzu Kaneko is a poet who was born more than 100 years ago. I've heard that the poem was written about 85 years ago. The frequent broadcasting of the commercial made her very popular. Then, her poetry book hit the bestseller list. Admittedly, the poem used in the commercial is thought-provoking.

Another phrase ”ぽぽぽぽ~ん/popopopo~n” has also become very popular although it wasn't selected as the top 10 winners. The phrase is from another TV commercial which was also created by the council and was frequently broadcast. The phrase doesn't have any meaning. I don't know why it has become very popular.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The top 10 words describing the Japan of 2011--Part 2: We cannot describe the Japan of 2011 without that event.

A few days ago, the top 10 winners of the buzzwords and new words of the 2011 contest was announced. In the last post, I talked about なでしこジャパン/Nadeshiko-Japan, the word which won first prize. Today, I'll talk about some of the rest.

★3.11/san ten ichi ichi

In Japan, the September 11 attacks are referred to as 9.11 ( kyu ten ichi ichi). Everybody knows what 9.11 indicates. Coincidentally, just nine and half years after the September 11 attacks, terrible events happened in Japan and had a great impact on our nation. Because of this, the 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster are referred to as 3.11. Although I don't remember who first used the word, according to the announcement, the then chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano first used it in his official statement.


帰宅/Kitaku means to go home. 難民/nanmin means refugees. On the 11th of March, even in the Tokyo area, we felt the massive earthquake too, despite the area being far from the epicenter. I thought that I was going to die in Chiba next to Tokyo. All the train services were suspended immediately after the massive earthquake happened at about quarter to three in the afternoon. Some services were resumed about six hours later, but many of them remained suspended until the next morning.

In the Tokyo area, there are many train and subway services (even Tokyo people often carry a train map with them). People generally commute by train. Over an hour's journey to work by train is very common. The daytime population of the downtown Tokyo is huge. Because of this, a large number of people wandered around the streets due to this long suspension. We refer to these people as 帰宅難民/Kitaku-nanmin. Before the earthquake, it was predicted that Kitaku-nanmin could be a big problem if a massive earthquake hit the Tokyo area. On top of that, the issue of how to deal with Kitaku-nanmin was often discussed and some measures were already taken. However, it was the first time to see how Kitaku nanamin were doing and created problems. We've learned a lot.


The disaster which happened on the 11th of March has made us realize how many people have supported us and we cannot live without others. We have been very much encouraged by huge support from people worldwide since then. We appreciate for the support very much.

Before the earthquake, there was a tendency that people had been becoming indifferent to others especially in large cities. However, the disaster changed the situation. It's been reported that the 3/11 earthquake made many couples decide to get married. As a matter of fact, wedding businesses have been recently enjoying good sales.

All in all, people have realized how important ties to others are. 絆/Kizuna means ties among human beings.


風評/huhyo means rumors. 被害/Higai means damages. Huhyo higai means damages which rumors without reasonable grounds caused.

Partly because a lot of people didn't know about radiation, partly because the issue of how much radiation exposure will be harmful in the future is always controversial, and partly because the lack of clear information about radioactive contamination, there have been a lot of rumors and information spread since the Fukushima accident. I've found it very difficult that you distinguish reliable information from rumors without reasonable grounds.

Under these circumstances, some people from Fukushima prefecture were or have been mistreated based on the wrong information or just because of the great fear of radiation. Crops from some areas tend to linger on the market. Some insist that this is 風評被害/huhyo-higai because people believe rumors and the wrong information. On the other hand, some insist that this is not 風評被害/huhyo-higai because some specialists question provisional radioactive safety limits on food set by the government, so they want to protect themselves based on their own standards. Some insist that the government and the mass media use the word " 風評被害/huhyo-higai" to blame people who try to buy crops free from as much radioactive substances as possible in order to protect their children. Anyway, the word has become very popular since the Fukushima accident.

The top 10 words describing the Japan of 2011, Part 1 --Can Japanese women make a breakthrough?

Every year around this time, the top 10 winners of the buzzwords and new words of the year contest are announced. When the result is announced, we feel that this year is going to end soon. We look back at the year while thinking about why these words were selected.

A few days ago, the result of the 2011 contest was announced. Although many words related to the 3/11 earthquake and the Fukushima accident were nominated about a month ago (60 words were nominated), なでしこジャパン/Nadeshiko-Japan, the name of the Japanese women's national soccer team, won first place.

In July, at the Women's Soccer World Cup in Germany, Japan had some amazing victories and won the cup. The unexpected success lifted our nation rocked by the 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster. Since it was widely known that unlike men's soccer players, it was very difficult even for talented women to make their livings as soccer players, the considerable achievement captivated a lot of people, encouraged them to struggle to overcome the difficulties and made them feel that they could do anything. People admired the players, saying that they were real なでしこ/Nadeshiko (As for the meaning of the word, please see Note 1 below). People seemed to remember how much Japanese women had inner strength. Even some conservative men who hardly appreciated women said that women could make a breakthrough. Put simply, the players gave hope for us.

When the grand prize of the contest was announced, these explanations were mentioned as the reasons why なでしこジャパン/Nadeshiko-Japan was selected as the grand prize.

*Note 1
Nadeshiko means dianthus (a type of flower), but people often think of 大和なでしこ/Yamato-nadeshiko from なでしこ. Yamato-nadeshiko is used to describe Japanese women who have traditional Japanese beauty, kindness and inner strength. Although people portray different images of these women, it's usually used in a positive way or as a complimentary word.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Lady Kaga has appeared in Japan!

About three years ago, a lot of Japanese people were attracted by President Obama's speeches although many of them weren't able to understand English. This was because his speeches were strong enough to give hope for Japanese people who didn't understand English, which showed that they strongly expected the Japanese Prime Minister to deliver his clear messages. The magazine "The speeches of Barack Obama"(which was published for English-learners, provided in both English and Japanese and was accompanied with a CD-ROM) surprisingly hit the bestseller list. After that, many businesses jumped on the bandwagon, and then pictures of President Obama was very easy to find. The two phrases "Yes, we can" and "Change" became very popular.

Under these circumstances, Obama City, Fukui prefecture, Japan (福井県小浜市) took advantage of the Obama boom. The city tried to promote itself by appealing to the public that the name of the city is the same name as President Obama. The city showed its support for President Obama although I think that it was meaningless and rather bothersome to him.

Anyway, the youtube video "Lady Kaga (not Lady Gaga)" has been recently drawing considerable attention (Please see the youtube video). This is a promotion video made by Kaga hot spring area, Ishikawa prefecture (which is next to aforementioned Fukui prefecture). In Japan, Lady Gaga has been recently very popular not only because her worldwide popularity but also her big support for the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami like her 10 days stay in Tokyo in June. Because of this, Kaga hot spring area (加賀温泉郷) has taken notice of the fact that Kaga sounds very similar to Gaga in Japanese and takes advantage of Lady Gaga's popularity. In the promotion video, ladies in various businesses in Kaga who offer hospitality to tourists appear with the intro of the popular song "Poker face" which is being played on Japanese traditional instruments.

I'm wondering if people in the Hokuriku area (both Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures belong to the area ) like puns more than in other areas.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I hope that a lot of people worldwide can keep paying attention to what is going on in Belarus and Japan and learn a lot from it.

After the Fukushima accident, Akira Sugenoya, the mayor of Matsumoto city (a major city in Nagano prefecture, Japan) has been asked frequently to give lectures, because in addition to being mayor, he is also a well-known leading surgeon who has performed many operations on children in Belarus who were suffering from thyroid cancer caused by the Chernobyl accident in 1986. In 1996, ten years after the terrible accident, he resigned from the hospital he was working for and went to Belarus in order to treat the children because his specialty was thyroid cancer. He stayed there for about five years.

When he recently gave a lecture for the residents of Fukushima City (the capital of Fukushima prefecture, which has been considerably contaminated even though the city is about 60Km from the crippled plant), he said, "When I came back to Japan from Belarus in 2001, I insisted that such terrible accident could also happen in Japan. I implored the Japanese people to take the accident very seriously and think about it hard. However, at the time, nobody saw the accident as a wake-up call. Everybody seemed to believe that such accidents could never happen in Japan. In this sense, everybody bears some responsibility. Considering the current situation in the contaminated areas in Belarus, I think that the Japanese central government should evacuate all the children in Fukushima city to safe places. Many parents will have to live apart from their children. They will have to accept the situation to protect their children from radiation".

Since the Fukushima accident, some facts have been emerged. Some scientists pointed out the disaster risk and vulnerability of old reactors in the Fukushima plant some years ago. However, nobody took their opinions seriously. I think that nobody wanted to accept the scientists' opinions. On top of that, their warnings weren't widely announced or reported because it's been said that the government wanted to promote nuclear power plant projects. As you can see, general indifference towards nuclear power plants, ignoring warnings and covering up inconvenient information on the part of the government and people involved were indirect factors responsible for the Fukushima accident.

I really hope that a lot of people worldwide can learn from our terrible accident and think about nuclear power plants seriously. Actually, the more I know about energy problems and nuclear power plant projects in the world, the more I find them complicated. I don't intend to elaborate though. All that I want to say here is that I want all the people worldwide to see exactly what is going on in Belarus and Japan, and then think about whether or not to build nuclear plants in their own country.

I recently found the link below on Twitter. This is a blog written by a young Japanese man. He took a bus tour to areas very close to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in September. In the blog, he writes about how he felt there as an ordinarily Japanese man. According to the blog, when he visited a museum commemorating the accident, he saw a lot of Japanese writing. First, he thought that this was because of the Fukushima accident. After a while, he realized that it was because of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the terrible accident happened 25 years ago, the victims of the atomic bombs sent messages and tried to help them. On top of that, doctors who had experience in treating the victims of the atomic bombs went to Ukraine and Belarus to help other victims there. When I read the blog, although I know that atomic bombs and nuclear power plants are different, I still had mixed feelings.

The blog is written in Japanese, but there are many pictures.

Pictures of the Fukushima plant

Sunday, November 13, 2011

This is a part of reality in Fukushima

Although I always try to pay attention to the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima, I sometimes realize that I forget that the plant still remains in a dangerous situation and something serious could happen there. On top of that, there are a large number of people who are striving to get the plant back under control. All the workers are still required to wear radiation protection suits because radiation levels are still considerably high in the site. 

On the 12th of November, eight months after the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, the press was finally allowed to take a bus tour of the crippled plant and film it. It was the first time that the press were allowed into the site since the horrible accident. All the journalists were required to wear radiation protection suits and shoot the site through the bus windows for safety reasons. After the bus tour, a reporter from NHK, the Japanese public broadcasting service, said, "Even though I saw videos of the crippled plant so many times after the accident, when I saw it for myself, I was so shocked that I was at a loss for words. The plant was more devastated than I had expected. I've visited nuclear power plants many times for coverage. I can't believe that such substantial buildings have been devastated." His words convinced me that there is a tremendous situation in the crippled plant.

In the link below, there are a lot of pictures of beautiful scenery posted by the Japanese journalist Hiro Ugaya. In late October, he visited Iidate village and took them. The village is contaminated by radiation. The residents were required to evacuate their homes. Because of this, the village is becoming a ghost town, although the residents often come back their village in turns to see if there is anything wrong with any of the homes. The scenery is so beautiful, but nobody is able to enjoy it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Unexpected things are likely to be detected in the Tokyo area as a result of many citizens trying to detect radiation.

It has been almost eight months since the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Although many of the victims are still struggling to find a way to stand on their own feet and there hasn't been much progress in many of the tsunami-stricken areas, it seems that public concern about these harsh circumstances is fading over time. This might be largely because successive events which have had a great impact on many people (such as the fragile situation in Europe, the criminally expensive Yen and the Thailand's devastating floods) have been inevitably drawing considerable attention, and then these topics tend to get more press than the continuing aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. Anyway, we shouldn't forget that there is nothing more cruel than indifference as Mother Teresa insisted that the opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. It's important for us to show the victims how much we care about them.

Having said that, however, there is one thing from which no event can distract the public. On the contrary, the concern about it is growing. It is the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima and the issue of radioactive contamination. Since the issue of whether or not low levels of radiation are harmful is controversial among specialists, the general public, especially mothers, have been skeptical about health and food safety guidelines established by the government after the accident. They have been wondering whether or not announcements on radiation levels made by both the local and central governments are accurate. They have been criticizing the government's inability to act quickly. Mothers insist that the governments should give first priority to protecting children, although they understand that there are a lot of issues to be dealt with. Many mothers have prepared themselves to do whatever they can do to protect their children according to their own standards, not government standards.

In many areas, including the Tokyo area (it's been reported that the radiation levels of the Tokyo area are normal), some citizens and citizens' groups have already purchased very expensive radiation detection devices. I've heard that a reliable one costs at least 100,000 Yen. They have been trying to detect radiation in their local areas to find where radiation levels are abnormally high (we call these places hot spots). It turns out that ditches and places where rain water or dead leaves gather are likely to become hot spots. Some specialists warned about this possibility immediately after the Fukushima accident. Thanks to groups and individuals who are trying to detect radiation with their own Geiger counters, hot spots have been detected. However, there are two hot spots where the high radiation levels cannot be attributed to the Fukushima accident. In one hot spot, radiation levels were caused by bottles of radium-226 found under the floor of a home. The other spot is still under investigation, but a bottle of radium- 226 was found yesterday, which proves there is no relation to the Fukushima plant. 

It's still not clear why bottles of a dangerous chemical were found in residential areas. However, it's been pointed out that radium-226 was used as a luminous paint when Japan was a developing country, and bottles of radium-226 may have been left due to insufficient regulations and inspection systems at the time. I'm wondering if more unexpected things will be detected in the Tokyo area.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The interesting Arabic TV show about Japan "خواطر /改善/thoughts"!!

About a week ago, I watched an interesting TV show on NHK (which is a Japanese public broadcasting network). According to the show, Japanese traditions have become very popular in the past few years in Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia. Can you guess why? This is because a 30-episode TV show about Japan was aired in 2009 on MBC (Middle East Broadcasting Center). In not only Saudi Arabia but also other Arab countries, the show had an great impact on a lot of people and enjoyed high ratings although it was broadcast every evening during Ramadan. Since people are very busy preparing for dinner that time, the ratings of TV shows around the time are usually low. Because of this, the high ratings were surprising. It indicates how much attention the TV show drew.

The title of the show is خواطر /改善. 改善/Kaizen is a Japanese word and means improvement etc. Since I don't know Arabic at all, I don't know what خواطر means. However, I found on multiple websites that the English title of the show is "thoughts". The show was created by MBC and was aired to improve manners of people in Arab countries by means of comparing Saudi Arabia and Japan. In the show, a Saudi Arabian man visited Japan and reported on how ordinary people there were doing things in daily life. Then, the show suggested things that people in Arab countries could learn form Japan. For example, it reported that at elementary schools, all the children took off their shoes and put them in shoe boxes at the entrances, and then suggested that you could learn something from that, showing many shoes scatted around the entrance of a mosque in Saudi Arabia (Please see the first youtube video). Again, I don't understand Arabic at all, so I can't understand what the show exactly indicates.

I've heard that the episode on how elementary school children clean up their classrooms drew considerable attention (Please see the second youtube video). The fact in itself that school children clean up their classrooms seemed to astonish many Saudi Arabians although students have done that for many years in Japan. When I was a student, I did that without question why I should do that. In the aforementioned NHK's show, it was told that students don't clean up their classrooms in many countries.

The MBC's show titled خواطر /改善/thoughts intrigued me since I could learn what MBC and Saudi Arabians found interesting. Because of this, I watched many episodes of the show on Youtube although I can't understand Arabic at all.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

This is Japanese culture: silence, evanescence and simplicity

When I went to Meiji-jingu / 明治神宮 (a well-known Shrine in Tokyo) with my Slovak friend two months ago, we came across a sort of wedding parade. The bride and groom, who wore traditional Japanese bridal clothing, and their relatives were walking in a line. Shinto priests(神主/kannushi) and female attendants (巫女/miko) were leading them (Please see the attached picture). They were heading to the main hall where their wedding ceremony was going to be held. My friend was very excited and asked me why there was no music. I told her that silence is an important part of Japanese culture. She just said "I see.......". Actually, although there was no music around the people, I heard  "雅楽/gagaku" traditional Japanese music (Please see the Youtube video), coming from the main hall. I thought that it must have sounded so solemn and feeble that she wasn't able to catch it. I was sure that the sound was totally different from what she expected.

As you may know, Japanese people love 桜/Sakura (cherry blossoms). In March or April, regardless of age and gender, people pay great attention to when and where cherry blossoms will bloom since they usually last only about a week. It's been said that people find cherry blossoms more beautiful and valuable because of their ephemerality. As I wrote in my last post, we traditionally think that everything is constantly changing, and nothing lasts forever. Actually, this way of thinking is reflected in the Buddhist teaching of "諸行無常/shogyo-mujyo (Everything is evanescent)", but I don't think people are aware of that fact. They just naturally think that way because it's Japanese tradition. Anyway, this traditional way of thinking can explain why Japanese people love cherry blossoms.

When you eat popular Japanese food, you'll find much of it very simple. Let's use Sashimi/刺身 as an example. I think that many people would say that Sashimi is just sliced raw fish. However, it's been said that cooking simply is the most difficult way of cooking, and if you don't have enough skill and don't devote enough time and care, you can't prepare simple foods. It's been thought that seemingly simple Japanese food doesn't make you realize that a great deal of time and care have been devoted, and it can make the food more valuable.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Japanese people live with natural disasters based on the rooted concept "諸行無常/ shogyo-mujyo"

After the 3/11 earthquake, many people in Japan offer a silent prayer for the victims on the eleventh day of every month. In tsunami-stricken areas, people usually face the sea which took many lives and washed everything away, and then pray for the victims. When a well-known American who has been living in Japan for many years saw this, he said that if they were Americans, they wouldn't face the sea because they would think of the sea as being dreadful and hateful. Although I was not sure if his view was common in America, I found it very interesting.

Actually, living in Japan means living with natural disasters. Traditionally, Japanese people live knowing that earthquakes and typhoons will very likely hit where they live. We try to protect ourselves from natural disasters, but we don't try to fight against them. On the contrary, for a long long time, we have been subconsciously thinking about how to get along with natural disasters and deal with them well. For us, natural disasters are an inevitable part of life. Needless to say, if we suffer losses due to natural disasters, we'll surely be filled with great sadness and it will take some time for us to get back on our feet again. Still, we try to live harmoniously with nature without thinking of it as being dreadful. We do know that nature has enriched and will continue to enrich our lives, and natural disasters are a necessary part of nature. As a matter of fact, many fishermen who lost everything due to the 3/11 tsunami smile and say that when their businesses go back to normal in a few years, the sea will become more bountiful than ever.

We have been living with natural disasters forever. Partly because of this, it is traditionally thought that everything is always changing and nothing will exist forever. This concept is reflected in the Buddhist teaching of "諸行無常/shogyo-mujyo" (Everything is evanescent).

Since the 3/11earthquake, it's been said that powerful earthquakes could happen anywhere across Japan because the plates moved a lot on that day. As a matter of fact, there have been a lot of earthquakes including strong ones in the past six and half months. The frequency has grown dramatically. To make matters worse, this summer, powerful typhoons have damaged Japan more seriously than usual. Under these circumstances, the concept of "諸行無常/ shogyo-mujyo" often comes to mind. At the same time, I'm wondering if we can overcome the current crisis based on that concept the same way we had in the past. This is largely because we've been struggling agaisnt the man-made nuclear disaster in Fukushima, which will cost a lot to overcome.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Women over 40 in Osaka have significant characteristics !?

People in different areas of Japan have different characteristics. Please think of when the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami hit Tohoku, the northern part of Japan. At the time, a lot of people worldwide seemed to wonder why the victims were able to stay calm in such a dire situation. It was widely reported that they were very endurable and tolerable. I've heard that the Japanese word "我慢/Gaman" was widely introduced in newspapers (Gaman is defined as the ability to endure the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity). It's been said in Japan that people in Tohoku (northern Japan) have greater endurance than those in other areas.

Anyway, women over 40 in Osaka are referred to as 大阪のおばちゃん/Osaka-no-Obachan, and are well-known as middle-aged women who have significant characteristics. Unlike a lot of Japanese people, they usually speak out whatever they think of, and they speak loudly and quickly . When they are asked for their opinions, they are very outspoken. On top of that, they are very good at making their stories funny. They always try to haggle for bargains. They tend to stick their noses in others' businesses. Because of these characteristics, some from other areas say that women over 40 in Osaka are meddlesome and impudent. On the other hand, some say that they are friendly and dependable. Other than that, they like outfits which make them stick out whereas similarly-aged women in Tokyo like outfits which make them blend with others. You can find these characteristics in all the people in Osaka, but women over 40 are the most distinctive among them.

Although I currently live in Chiba next to Tokyo, I grew up mainly in Osaka. Because of this, I'm familiar with these characteristics. Rather than that, I had assumed that I was familiar with them until when I heard a woman talking at the locker room of a gym a few weeks ago. The woman looked in her 30s. Her accent and way of speaking immediately made me realize that she is from Osaka. Although the locker room was noisy, her voice stood out to the point where everybody there could hear what she was talking about. She was very talkative and didn't give others any chance to interrupt her. When I returned to the locker room after working out, she was still talking. The two listeners seemed a little tired. I thought if they were Osaka people, they could stop her. I realized how strong characteristics of Osaka people are " in areas other than Osaka".

In your country, is there an area where people have significant characteristics?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pandas from China love Japanese food !?

A few weeks ago, one of major Japanese newspapers, the Asashi newspaper, uploaded a video about two giant pandas at Ueno Zoo in Tokyo. In the video, the cute pandas are eating with gusto (Please see the Youtube video). The caption says that the pandas are becoming overweight because they eat too much.

These pandas came to Japan from China in February. At the time, it was a controversial matter since the annual rental fee for them, "about 950,000USD (78,000,000JPY)," is supposed to be paid for by tax money (The zoo is run by Tokyo prefecture). However, the 3/11 massive earthquake seemed to sweep the criticisms away. As a matter of fact, in late March, they started playing a more significant role than expected because a lot of children, not only in seriously-damaged areas but also in the Tokyo area (where all the people were shocked by the huge quakes), needed things which could cheer them up.

As you may know, on the 2nd of September, Mr. Noda was inaugurated as Prime Minister. In his address, he likened himself to weather loaches (which are very popular fish in Japan), saying that he knew he looked dowdy. He insisted that he was a weather loach, not a goldfish, so he would work his fingers to the bone in his own uncool way. I'm sorry I can't translate the statement into English well. We hope that the weather loach will do well, cheer us up and last a long time in office.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Twitter is more popular in Japan than in America !?

I recently heard that Twitter was more popular in Japan than in America. I found this statement so intriguing that I checked it out on the internet and found some interesting data. According to the data shown below, in December 2010, the Netherlands ranked first in having the highest percentage of visitors to Twitter, with a percentage of 22.3%. Japan ranked fourth with 20.0%. Surprisingly, the US didn't rank top 10. Given that Twitter has been drawing considerable attention in Japan as a useful tool to get information about the 3/11 earthquake, the current percentage in Japan may be even higher.

In China where Twitter is blocked by the government, Weibo/微博 has become very popular in the last year. As far as I know, Weibo is very similar to Twitter. It's been said in Japan that Weibo is the Chinese version of Twitter. A single statement is limited to 140 characters. It's been reported that public opinions which are created on Weibo started having power. About a month ago, it seemed that Weibo played a significant role in running arguments over the collision of the two high-speed trains.

I've been on Twitter for about two years. I've found Twitter helpful in getting information as long as you are vigilant about seeing which information on Twitter is reliable. As a matter of fact, since the 3/11 earthquake, Twitter has been the best way for me to get information on radioactive contamination. I think that 140 Japanese characters can deliver much more information than 140 English characters. On top of that, this limitation inevitably makes statements brief and specific, but it sometimes causes misunderstanding. I think that the practicality partly helped Twitter become very popular. As for the amount of information 140 characters allow you to deliver, the Chinese language is more helpful. A well-know Chinese man who has a good command of Chinese, Japanese and English says that 140 English characters are equivalent to 80 Chinese characters and to 100 Japanese characters.

How popular do you think twitter is in your country, anyway?

As Twitter has become very popular here, I've realized how many people easily believe unfounded rumors and information without representing its sources. We have to always keep in mind that we are required to develop information literacy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

437,500USD for a man. 18,750USD for a woman.

Can you guess what that title indicates? This is an incentive bonus for the Soccer World Cup Victory which is stipulated by the Japan Football Association (The JFA). If the men's national team wins the World Cup, each member can receive 35 millions JPY (437,500USD. 1USD=80JPY). On the other hand, for the women's national team, each member can receive only 1.5 millions JPY (18,750USD). When this fact was widely reported, immediately after Nadeshiko Japan won the victory at the Women's Soccer World Cup in Germany, a lot of people questioned the huge difference between men and women, insisting that 1.5 millions JPY was too low whatever reason. In response to this, it's reported that the JFA is considering increasing the incentive bonus to 5 millions JPY (62,500USD).

Other than that, it's been widely reported how difficult it is for women to make a living as soccer players in Japan. In the national team which accomplished a great achievement at the right time and lifted a nation rocked by the disaster, there are only five "professional" players among 16 members who belong to club teams in Japan (Some belong to club teams in other countries). Others are amateur players. Although some of them are allowed to devote themselves to play soccer with a salary, many of them work during the daytime and practice playing soccer in the evening after work.

Speaking of women's club teams in Japan, some reports on the team "TEPCO Mareeze" are still fresh in my mind. The team was forced to break up by the nuclear disaster because it was run by TEPCO, which has been struggling to get the crippled nuclear power plant back under control. I've heard that the team was based in an area where the crippled plant is located, and many of the term members worked for the plant during the daytime (All the members were employees of TEPCO). As I wrote in the last post, the victory at the Women's Soccer World Cup inspires women to be persistent in what they want to do and live up to their dreams even if their goals aren't traditionally associated with women. Then, it will widely open the door for women in many fields. To support both women's soccer players and women who are struggling in other fields, I want to go to watch a regular women's soccer game.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The considerable achievement at this Soccer World Cup becomes more meaningful in Japan because it was made by women

The phenomenal final game at the Women's Soccer World Cup in Germany sticks in my mind. I'm sure that it is something indelible. Words like excitement, jubilation and amazement are not enough to express my feelings. I was captivated and inspired to carve out a new future.

When the US scored both the first and second goals, a lot of Japanese people supposed that the game was over, appreciating the amazing success of the " the silver medal". Contrary to the expectation, however, none of the Japanese players seemed to feel rushed or be in despair. They were playing as usual. They were undaunted. When Sawa, a well-known 32-year-old leading player who is a pioneer of women's soccer in Japan, equalized with a goal at the last minute, I realized how much she stuck to the championship. Her goal made me imagine her tough life and the very long journey here. At the penalty shootout, impressive performances made by the Japanese players, especially the goal keeper, made me think about many things.

Many English newspapers point out that the Japan team was playing on the shoulders of the nation devastated by the 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster, and it made the team become stronger and helped it gain the victory. As they said, I'm sure that all the Japanese players really wanted to encourage the victims and the nation by showing great performances because I often hear Japanese athletes saying that the best thing they can do for the victims and disaster-struck areas is giving impressive performances. However, more than that, I think that the strong passion of the Japanese players for soccer led to the championship.

In Japan, when the 1st Women's Soccer World Cup was held in 1991, soccer was considered as a sport for men and women's soccer players were hardly appreciated. Speaking of 1991, it was a few years after the so-called bubble economy was burst in Japan and it became necessary to make a dramatic change of the male-dominated Japanese society. It was at this time that women finally started taking important roles in society, as if to respond to the requirement. Since then, women have been struggling for 20 years to reform stereotypical images of women's roles and to obtain more lifestyle choices. Because of the background, I've noticed that many women identify themselves with the women's soccer team "Nadeshiko Japan" and are encouraged to be persistent in what they want to do or their beliefs. On top of that, since it's widely known that unlike men's soccer players, it's very difficult even for talented women to make their livings as soccer players, the considerable achievement at the World Cup captivates a lot of people and triggers a review of their lives. Even some conservative men say that women can make a breakthrough for Japan's stagnation. I'm not sure if women can play this role, but I'm sure that a dramatic change is necessary.

When Nadeshiko Japan left for Germany, nobody except a few staff members saw off the team at an airport. No reporters were there. In contrast, yesterday morning, a large number of people and reporters were waiting at the airport to offer a warm welcome to the impressive team. All the team members were stunned by the big change.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nadeshiko Japan! Do you know what the Japanese word "Nadeshiko" means?

At the Women's Soccer World Cup in Germany, Japan had some amazing victories and eventually reached the final game. The unexpected success has lifted the nation rocked by the devastation of the 3/11 earthquake, tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster. The impressive performances made by the Japanese players have encouraged a lot of people to struggle to overcome difficulty and inspire them to make greater efforts to reach their goals. On July 17, Sunday (on July 18, Monday at 3:45 a.m. in Japan), Japan will play against the US for the championship. Fortunately, since that Monday is a national holiday in Japan, a lot of people will watch the very early morning final game live on TV in the hope that a miracle will happen. Actually, Japan has never beaten the US in soccer.

Anyway, the Japanese women's national soccer team has been referred to as "Nadeshiko Japan" since the Athens Olympics in 2004. Since women's soccer was unpopular, to make people aware of it, the team was given a name. Although I don't remember when the name became widely known, I'm sure that the fourth place finish in the Beijing Olympics enabled the name to be recognized. Now, I think that everybody knows what "Nadeshiko Japan" indicates.

Since Japan beat Germany at this World Cup, the meaning of Nadeshiko has been gaining the attention of reporters from other countries. Do you know the meaning? Nadeshiko means dianthus, which is a type of flower. However, nadeshiko implies yamato-nadeshiko/大和撫子. I bet that a lot of Japanese people think of yamato-nadeshiko from Nadeshiko Japan. What is the meaning of yamato-nadeshiko? Yamato-nadeshiko is used to describe Japanese women who have traditional Japanese beauty, kindness, and inner strength, although since people portray different images of these women, it's difficult to define them. However, yanmato-nadeshiko is generally used in a positive way and is often used as a complimentary word. I think that a lot of people still consider traditional Japanese beauty, kindness and inner strength (which yamato-nadeshiko implies) as characteristics which Japanese women shouldn't lose even if the times have changed.

In Japan, it's been said that traditional Japanese women have inner kindness and strength. They sense what somebody expects them to do, and then they usually do things for the person and back up the person not to be realized by the person that they do that for. In a good way, they are persistent in what they have decided to do and can keep struggling to reach their goals, although they often look fragile.It's been said that these inner feelings make them more beautiful. In my opinion, these women are described as yamato-nadeshiko. As the team name "Nadeshiko Japan" shows, the Japanese women's national soccer team often makes us think of these women.

Culturally, we often place more value on a single unknown flower which is blooming strongly amid the weeds than well-known beautiful flowers which always enjoy people's attention. Thus, we find the single flower beautiful. I hope that the explanation on yamato-nadeshiko has helped you understand something new.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Traditional things are coming back into our lives to beat the blistering heat in eastern Japan.

A few days ago, it was announced that the rainy season was over in eastern Japan and a blistering summer started much earlier than usual. Since power plants in eastern Japan were seriously damaged by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, major companies there are officially required to reduce electricity consumption by 15% and others including households are strongly advised to cut back to avert a massive blackout due to over capacity. To beat the blistering heat without relying on air conditioning, traditional things are being brought back into our lives. For example, I feel like the sound of Japanese wind chimes "Furin/風鈴”is heard more than last year (When we hear the sound, we feel cool, although I don't know how non-Japanese feel. Please see the YouTube videos and tell me how you feel). In my condo, a lot more windows have reed screens to block strong sunshine. It's reported that mosquito nets have been selling so well that there is a production bottleneck. Our traditional folding hand fans "Sensu /扇子" have been having good sales, as well. These things were necessary to beat the heat when air conditioning wasn't popular. 

Other than that, sutetekos/ステテコ, a sort of Japanese traditional underwear, have been drawing considerable attention. They were worn over underpants and under trousers. They'd relax in sutetekos and a sort of t-shirt, since the style was the best to beat the heat when air conditioning wasn't common in homes. However, with the popularity of air conditioning, wearing a suteteko in itself came to be viewed to be unfashionable, mainly by younger generations. Sutetekos became less popular.

However, in response to the requirement of cutting electricity consumption, fashionable sutetekos have been going on sale and are being offered as comfortable, casual pants for men, women and children. It's been said that basically, decent sutetekos are made from breathable and absorbent fabric to adjust to the hot and humid summer in Japan, so they don't stick to the skin. To test how comfortable they are, I bought one to try. Nothing makes me feel more comfortable and cool than sutetekos made from traditional fabric. Unfortunately, cheap ones made of other fabrics are not good.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Can you guess what they are for?

In Japan, early July is the time for summer sales. When I was having a look around to grab a bargain, certain products like the one in link #1 below caught my attention. Then, I realized that these things had become more fashionable, and I wondered why they had been very popular in Japan for a long time. After a while, I remembered what some non-Japanese who were living in Japan had said on a TV show. They insisted that they totally didn't understand why Japanese people love these things. They also said that they hadn't known how to use them when they first saw them in Japan. Anyway, can you guess what the stuff in the link #1 below is for?

Link #1

In that TV show, to test how well non-Japanese people knew about the stuff, a Japanese interviewer asked non-Japanese passersby what it was for. Some said that it was a towel. As far as I can remember, some other answers were a hat and a neck warmer. Nobody was able to identify it.

It's actually called "Hara-maki/腹巻. It can be translated as belly warmers. You put it on around your belly (Please see link #2 below). Generally, we put on belly warmers under our shirts to conceal them. When we put on fashionable ones, we sometimes wear them as a part of fashion. In Japan, letting your belly cool isn't good and can cause you to have a cold, although I don't know whether or not it's true. Because of this traditional idea, a lot of Japanese people care about keeping their bellies warm by wearing belly warmers. Mothers often put them on their small children. Even during summer, some people prefer to wear them while they are sleeping (Belly warmers for summer are made of cotton, and ones for winter are made of wool or acrylic fibers). School girls who want to make their uniform skirts short often wear belly warmers during winter.As you can see, belly warmer are used regularly and habitually by a lot of people, regardless of gender and age.

Link #2

You can also see the popularity of belly warmers from a very popular Japanese movie "Otoko-wa-tsuraiyo/男はつらいよ” (please see link #3 below) and a popular manga "Tensai-bakabon/天才バカボン” (Please see link #4 below). Many years ago, since many fathers wore belly warmers, old-time, everyday fathers in movies and mangas were portrayed this way.

Link #3


Saturday, July 2, 2011

A legal restriction on the use of electricity has been just imposed in eastern Japan

Yesterday, on the 1st of July, the government imposed a legal restriction on the use of electricity in eastern Japan where almost all the power plants were seriously damaged by the 3/11earthquake and tsunami. The legal restriction was the first since the 1973 oil shock. Because these power plants haven't fully recovered yet, companies which use more than a certain amount of electricity are officially required to reduce electricity consumption by 15%. If they fail to meet the requirement, they will have to pay a fine. Other than those companies, no obligations have been imposed but everyone is strongly advised to cut electricity consumption by 15%. Since small companies and households consume about two-thirds of the total electricity used in the area, their efforts are also a key to avoiding sudden blackouts due to over capacity.

In eastern Japan, great efforts to cut electricity consumption have been constantly made since the 3/11 earthquake. Because of this, the restriction requires everybody to make further efforts in order to get through summer. In shopping malls, more lights than ever are off to keep air conditioning on. Although I'm already used to the dimness, to be honest, I was a little surprised by the darkness when I stopped by a shopping mall today.

Actually, to avoid sudden major power outages, it's also important to level electricity consumption. From this viewpoint, operations in some factories have been shifted mainly to night. Automobile industry announced about a month ago that their days off would be shifted form Saturdays and Sundays to Thursdays and Fridays, and then the shift was implemented the day before yesterday. The industry is so huge and has such a great influence on a lot of companies that it's expected that the shift will be effective in the leveling of electricity usage. On the other hand, a lot of workers who have days off on weekends and have to do with the industry can be forced to work during their days off. Some of my friends who are managers say in a resigned voice that the shift will surely deprive them of their days off. Since managers are usually not labor union members, they are often required to cover extra duties on special occasions. My friends complain that when they were young, they were forced to work long hours without fully getting overtime payment because of the Japanese working culture. Now that they are managers, they are required to work harder to cover duties of younger workers who are protected by their labor unions since companies are required to comply with the law more strictly than when they were young. Although they find it unreasonable, they tend to bow to the inevitable since it's very difficult for them to find a better working environment.

Anyway, in both April and May, I succeeded in reducing electricity consumption at home by 33% compared to the same month last year. I've realized how much I'd waste electricity.

Posters -Saving power-

This is the TEPCO electricity forecast, which I check:

Friday, July 1, 2011

Now is the time for Japanese people to strengthen their body functions?

Not only because of global warming, but also because of the urban heat-island phenomenon, recent summers in Japan are much hotter than many years ago and the searing heat is becoming unbearable. However, the cause of the phenomenon can't be attributed to external factors alone. I think that our body's ability to beat the heat has diminished due to our economic development. As I wrote in my previous post, some doctors say that this summer is a good opportunity to strengthen your weak body functions (During this summer, all the people are required to cut electricity consumption due to the serious damages of power plants caused by the 3/11 earthquake).

When I was a child, air conditioning wasn't popular among ordinary families. Although some had one at their homes, they usually turned it on only when their guests came. As for me, I didn't have one at home until I myself bought it a few years after I started working. My mother always insisted that it was not good to rely on air conditioning, and she never intended to buy one. I agreed with her, but my hectic life caused by long working hours inspired me to buy one. Thanks to her, I think that I can bear up under the hot weather better than others. Because of this, until last summer, I often had to struggle with offices and public places which I felt that were overcooled by air conditioning. I don't need to worry about the overcoolness this summer because of the official requirement to cut electricity consumption.

When I was studying Mandarin at school in Guangzhou, China, I'd fight with Thai classmates over the temperature setting of air conditioning in our classroom. All the nine Thai classmates liked a very cool environment. In contrast, European classmates and I weren't able to stand the cold ( I could say the cold). Since we didn't have a common language to communicate well, I didn't get to know why the Thai classmates were very impatient with the heat despite them being from a tropical country. Given that they all were from affluent families, I guessed that they had spent all the time in overcooled rooms since they were born. When I lived in Malaysia, a French mother told me that her three-year-old daughter often caught colds because she had difficulty adjusting to a new environment; in contrast, her one-year-old baby girl had never been sick. The mother said that this was because her baby girl was born in Malaysia. These facts have proven that human beings have great abilities to adjust themselves to environments, and it's not good to hamper the development of the abilities.

Overeating and a lack of excises enabled by affluent lifestyles can often cause serious diseases. It's been recently said that skin-care products tend to diminish your body's natural healing ability and even damage skin. I think that now is the time when Japanese people review their lives.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Can we beat the heat without relying on as much electricity as we did ?

Since the 3/11 earthquake, all the people in eastern Japan have been required to cut electricity consumption because not only the Fukushima plant but also other power plants have been seriously damaged and many of them haven't fully recovered yet. Because of this, we hoped that this summer wouldn't be very hot. We don't want to imagine that this summer will be as hot as last summer. As far as I remember, I felt that 33℃ wasn't hot during last summer. Temperatures in a lot of places throughout Japan often trumped tropical countries.

Contrary to our hope, heat waves have unexpectedly come to Japan despite it being June. It's been reported that in June, more people than usual have been taken by ambulance to the hospital because of heat stroke. It seems that both great efforts to cut electricity consumption and the sudden surge in temperatures have caused the increase in heat stroke patients. Given this situation, I'm wondering how we can beat the heat without relying on as much electricity as we did.

Companies located in Tokyo and some prefectures where TEPCO supplies electricity have been struggling to find ways to cut electricity consumption since they are officially required to reduce the consumption by 15% at least. If they fail to meet the requirement, they will have to pay a fine. To maintain competitive power in the global market, some drastic changes will be necessary. To make matters worse, there will be a shortage of electricity in a large part of Japan if the government and electricity companies can't persuade local people and governments involved to agree with resuming the operation of nuclear power reactors which were shut down for annual regular maintenance required by the law.

Under these circumstances, all the people are required to seriously think about their lifestyles. On top of that, a doctor says that now is a good opportunity to strengthen your weak body functions. According to him, since people usually live in a comfortable environment, not only grown-ups but also children have fewer opportunities to sweat than years ago, which has weaken perspiration function which is important in preventing heat stroke.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

There are old ways which we shouldn't have forgotten or shouldn't forget.

When I was a child, more than three decades ago, my grandparents' house in Osaka had things that are no longer seen in Japan. At the time, Osaka was already a large city, and old, traditional things were disappearing from many houses there. However, they existed in my grandparents' house and gave me thrilling experiences and a glimpse of the old times.

Going to the toilet in their house was a big deal for me. I was scared to use the traditional Japanese style non-flush toilet (Please see the attached picture. It's similar to the toilet in their house). I first had to open the lid of the toilet stool and put it aside. Then I stood over the toilet stool. Although I was very familiar with Japanese-style toilets since almost all the toilets were Japanese-style ones at the time, I wasn't very used to traditional non-flush toilets. I was vigilant not to drop my large slippers which I had on my feet (At the time, a pair of slippers exclusive for the toilet room is provided. They were usually for adults, so they were too large for children). On top of that, I was sometimes forced to struggle with the foul smell when I opened the lid. I still clearly remember when a vacuum truck was removing human waste from their house because the trucks had never come to my house.

Whenever I was at my grandparents' house, my grandfather would call me at dusk. He would tell me that I needed to collect all the trash baskets there and bring them to the backyard. Can you guess why? To prepare a bath for his family, he would build a fire with paper waste, wood waste, twigs and things like that. Although they had electricity and gas in their home, they still used a traditional bathroom with a traditional cast-iron bathtub. Under the bathtub, there was a space to burn things. You could throw things from the surrounding area into the space (Please see the the 9th and 10th pictures in Link #1 below). I still remember that my grandfather would ask me from the backyard how the bath water was. I loved taking a bath there, but I was nervous about whether I could go into the bathtub because I had to get on a round board which was floating on the bath water (Please see the last picture in Link #1 below). Since the bottom of the bathtub was hot, I needed to get on the board and put it on the bottom. However, I was so light that it was not easy for me.

Anyway, when I read the article in link #2 below, about a month after the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, somehow I remembered the aforementioned memories. In the disaster-stuck areas, the old ways are inevitably necessary. Even in Tokyo, since the earthquake, we have been forced to be pay more attention to some of the old ways to cut electricity consumption and beat the heat. I feel like the disaster has warned us to not forget old ways and to learn from the past.

Link #1

Link #2