Monday, October 29, 2012

I can't help but pay attention to Tommy Lee Jones and that white dog. I don't know why.

If you talk about white dogs with Japanese people, many of them will first think of a white dog which always appears in a very popular series of SoftBank cellphone TV commercials. This series is so interesting and funny that it has been very popular for more than five years. It has a storyline that revolves around the Shirato/白戸 family consisting of a girl, her brother, her parents, and her grandmother. Aya Ueto/上戸彩, a very popular actress, plays the role of the daughter. Both her mother and grandmother are played by two well-known actresses. Her bother is played by an American. Interestingly enough, a white dog plays her farther. He is a white dog in appearance, but he thinks and speaks like standard Japanese fathers do. Other family members treat the dog as a normal father. I've heard that a company, which has been creating the series since the start, wanted to use a popular actor as the father, but the budget wasn't enough, so the company reluctantly used the white dog instead. Because of this, the company didn't expect the series to become that popular. No one knows what will turn out to be lucky, right? Anyway, in the series, a new episode appears very frequently, and it always captures a trend and portrays the family as humorous. So, a lot of people, regardless of gender and age, like the series.

Speaking of a very popular series of TV commercials, the series of Suntory canned coffee commercials where Tommy Lee Jones appears is still continuing. Surprisingly, he has been playing the role of an alien in the commercials since 2006. Have you heard of it ? Since the series also portrays Japanese society with humor and irony, I've found it interesting. I've been wondering why Tommy Lee Jones has been doing a sort of comedy as an alien in the commercials for such a long period of time. Does he enjoy the role? Is it for a lucrative endorsement contract ?

About two months ago, the aforementioned two companies, Softbank and Suntory, started collaborating in promoting their products. About two months ago, the aforementioned two companies, Softbank and Suntory, started collaborating in promoting their products. These episodes in the commercials are ridiculous, but I can't help but pay attention to them. I don't know why.

Is there a series TV commercials which has been popular for a few years in your country?

A SoftBank cellphone commercial with English subtitles. This is old.

A Suntory canned coffee commercial with English subtitles. This is also old.

The new collaboration TV commercial.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Let's go to Akita and see beautiful Japanese women!!

Have you heard the Japanese phrase " Akita-bijin / 秋田美人" ? Akita/秋田 is a prefecture in the northern part of Japan facing the Sea of Japan. Bijin/美人 means beautiful woman. So, Akita-bijin/秋田美人 means beautiful women from Akita, implying that there are many beautiful women in Akita. I'm not sure whether or not Akita has more beautiful women than other prefectures.I don't know exactly when the phrase became very popular, but it was already popular many years ago, when I was a child.

It's been said that women in Akita have beautiful skin. The other day, I saw a TV show about beautiful skin on NHK, the Japan's national public broadcast station. The show introduced women at a town in Akita as those with beautiful skin. Admittedly, many of them had fair and beautiful skin. Four of them over 70 (years old), even without makeup, were amazing. Their facial skin was really beautiful and fair without flecks and with very few wrinkles. Their skin made them look much younger. Can you guess why the women in Akita have beautiful skin?

According to the show, Akita has the shortest annual hours of sunlight in Japan. And the four elderly women with beautiful skin have been living in the town since they were children. They worked indoors for many years. It proves that people who have fewer chances of being subjected to sunshine tend to have beautiful skin. As you may know, ultraviolet are harmful to the skin. It causes not only skin cancer but also flecks and wrinkles which make people look older. As a matter of fact, elderly people who always work outside tend do look older than they actually are.

I think that beautiful skin is one of the most important elements of beauty. Also, I feel that as one gets older, beautiful skin grows in importance. After seeing the show, I've understood why the phrase Akita-bijin/秋田美人” was coined and became so popular.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Professor Yamanaka gives Japan chances and suggestions !!

It has just announced that the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 was awarded jointly to Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent". I'm very glad to hear the news not only because Yamanaka is Japanese but also because I've been impressed by his background and words which were introduced in a documentary on his findings. The documentary was broadcast when he began to draw considerable attention in Japan a few years ago.

According to the documentary, Yamanaka tried to become an orthopedic surgeon immediately after his graduation. However, he wasn't able to become a "normal" surgeon. He usually took much longer to do an operation than others. For example, he took about two hours to do an operation which takes 20 minutes on average. He was so unskillful that he was called jyamanaka/邪魔なか(His name is Yamanaka/山中. The nickname "jyamanaka" sounds very similar to his name, but jyama means disturbing others or bothering others). While struggling to improve his skill, he often encountered the fact that surgical procedures aren't very helpful to patients with intractable diseases. Eventually, he decided to change his career from orthopedic surgeon to researcher mainly because he wanted to find a way to help patients with intractable diseases. A few years later (maybe), he sent his research papers to many universities in the US in order to continue his study. One of them welcomed him. After that, he often had difficulties in his study both in the US and Japan. Well, I'll stop talking about his background.

In the documentary, he was interviewed. Many of his words impressed me. I'll talk about some of them. He said, "When I was at the university in the US, nobody cared about my past. Prominent professors often spoke to me. They were friendly to me. In Japan, it's unlikely to happen. In the US, people often change their careers when they find something more interesting, so my background wasn't strange to people there. I was really saved by this academic research environment and atmosphere in the US. In Japan, people tend to try to go straight to and work hard toward their goals. This attitude is considered to be good in society. I think that the attitude is not bad, however, it's likely to limit potential."

Other than him, I've heard that Takeshi Kitano/北野武, who is well-known as a movie director in the world, points out similar things (He first succeeded as a comedian in Japan. After that, he started making films). He said on TV, " In France, people admire me for having succeeded as both a comedian and a movie director. In contrast, in Japan, I'm often told that I'm a successful comedian, so it's too much and even intrusive for me to make films (His words and their nuances are hard to translate into English).

There are many things that we can learn from their words. They have shown how Japan should change. I do hope that Yamanaka's win of the Nobel Prize will make more people realize what we should learn. At the last press conference, he said, "I want to express my sincere gratitude to my family and fellows, at the same time, I greatly feel responsible. I have to work harder so that our findings will enable patients with intractable diseases to be cured as soon as possible. I think that the pace of research in my field is much faster than expected. I hope that discussions on the law and ethic issues will be promoted". Japan often can't make a quick decision and change things. It usually takes some time to do that. I do hope that Japan won't miss this chance because of its poor support.

Monday, October 8, 2012

This is currently the most popular tourist spot in Japan!?

 I often pass through Tokyo Station. I found it annoying that many parts of the station were covered for about five years due to the renovation. I hoped that the renovation would be completed as soon as possible.On the 1st of October, the station was finally revealed with a more fascinating appearance. As I mentioned in my previous entries, the appearance of the station was restored to its original state which was designed in 1914 (click here and here).

A few days ago, I tried looking around the station. Although all the annoying construction covers were gone, I felt like a lot of people gathered and covered the impressive appearance of the station instead, which was also annoying. Having said this, however, I fully enjoyed the restored station.

I'll attach some pictures of the station which I took at the time. I hope that you can enjoy them. The first picture attached is the restored Station. You can see how many people were there. The second one is a special doorway for VIPs. It's located in the central part of the station building. The doorway is usually closed. When I took this photo, the doorway was closed, but when I returned to the station a few hours later, the doorway was open. On top of that, there were many security officers and people near the doorway, and a few helicopters were circling around above. I assumed that an important dignitary was coming out of the station. A few minutes later, a black car with the Emperor and Empress passed in front of me. They were lit by the light in the car and were waving in the unstable position so that people along the route could see their faces, which made me realize how hard their duties are. I don't know much about the Imperial family. However, I'm often impressed by what the current Emperor and Empress do. Also, their behaviors and facial expressions in the news often make me realize that they have good personalities. 

The third picture is the illuminated station. I don't think that the picture can convey the beauty.

The below ones are pictures of a vaulted ceiling of the station. I also took these pictures. The vaulted ceiling is also worth a look. It's impressive that this was designed and built in 1914.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pink! Pink! Pink!

On the night of the 1st of October, 2012, the Sky Tree, a newly-opened landmark tower in Tokyo, sparked in pink. Not only the outstanding tower but also some other landmarks throughout Japan turned pink (click here). As you may know, these pink lights are for breast cancer awareness. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. When I saw the pictures of Japan landmarks with pink lights in this link, I thought that Japan is making efforts for breast cancer awareness campaigns. However, when I found photos of London landmarks which turned pink (click here), I realized again that some Western countries pay more attention to the campaigns.

According to an official announcement, one in every sixteen women actually has breast cancer in Japan (I've heard that one in every seven women has it in the US). The number of its patients, especially the number of those between 45 and 55, has been sharply increasing in Japan. It's been said that one of the main reasons is a surge in women who don't have a birth experience or have their first babies late, which increases the risk of having breast cancer. 

Nonetheless, compared with some Western countries, breast cancer screening has been much less popular in Japan. It's been announced that only about 20% of women in Japan had the screening in 2007, although I think that the current rate of it is slightly higher. Considering the fact that the rate in some Western counties is above 70%, it's clear that Japanese women have to change their attitudes toward the screening. Pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness has become very popular in Japan, however, it hasn't yet made many women realize that they are strongly advised to have the screening.

In Japan, the local government gives us coupons for free or very low-cost breast cancer screening. However, many women still seem indifferent about it. Actually, the government has been also having difficulties encouraging women to have uterine cancer screening. In Japan, the 2009 rate of uterine cervix cancer screening is 21.3%; in America, the rate of it is about 83%. I'm not sure why women are unwilling to have these screenings, but I often hear them say that they hesitate because these screenings are very embarrassing and uncomfortable.

Statistics have shown that, in Japan, one in every two people has suffered from cancer. On top of that, one in every four men and one in every six women die of cancer. If you just take women in their 40s and 50s who died of cancer, you'll find that the largest percentage of them died of breast cancer. It's been said that if you regularly self-examine your breasts, you will be sure to notice something wrong. Is pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness popular in your country? Do you and your friends regularly have breast cancer screening?


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tokyo Station is a symbol of the restoration of Japan !?

As I mentioned in my previous post, Tokyo Station, which was designed by Tatsuno Kingo, has been fascinating people since it was built in 1914 because its appearance is unique and impressive. However, some parts of the station were burned down during World War Ⅱ, and were rebuilt in different forms. Not only to make the station more earthquake resistant but also to restore its appearance to its original state, the station had been under construction since 2007. On the 1st of October, the renovation was finally completed. The station is expected to attract more people.

The other day, I happened to see a TV program about this renovation of Tokyo Station on NHK, the Japan's national public broadcast station. An episode which was introduced on the program was very impressive, so I'll talk about it here. First of all, could you see the last picture of Link #1 below or the attached picture? This is the central part of Tokyo Station which was restored to its original state. The black roof is made of slate tiles (click here).

When the station was built in 1914, the roof was made of the slate tiles from Ogatsu town, Ishinomaki city, Miyagi prefecture (宮城県石巻市雄勝町). Because of this, it was decided that the rood would be restored and renovated by using slate tiles from this town. The town accepted the order, mined slate and manufactured slate tiles. On March, 2011, packed slate tiles were stored in a warehouse. The town was waiting for them to be shipped.

On the 11th of March, 2011, as you may know, a massive earthquake hit Japan. The town was washed away by a huge tsunami (Please see the fifth picture from the last in Link #1). When the people involved found that the warehouse had been washed away, they were sure that the slate tiles had been also washed away or smashed. Contrary to their expectation, many of the packed slate tiles remained there and seemed undamaged. They strongly hoped to use the slate tiles for the roof restoration of Tokyo Station if these tiles were OK. They wanted to make it a symbol of the restoration of the town seriously damaged by the tsunami.

About twenty-thousand slate tiles were picked out from the rubble. The people involved and many volunteers carefully washed mud off the tiles one by one in the tsunami-stricken area (Please see the third picture from the last in Link #1). After that, the tiles were checked to see whether or not they had cracks and if they were usable. Then, the ones that were fine were used for the roof restoration of Tokyo Station as planned. I didn't know this until I saw the TV show. When I pass by the station, I want to look up at the roof while thinking of their thoughts.

By the way, the station withstood a massive earthquake which hit Tokyo in 1923. As I mentioned above, during World War Ⅱ, some parts of its exterior and many parts of its interior were burned down. Right after the end of the war, the damaged parts of the station were rebuilt in different forms. I've heard that, at the time, the station became a symbol of the postwar reconstruction and encouraged people.

Last year, the station could withstand that massive earthquake again during the renovation. Then, the entire renovation was finally completed yesterday. The station has regained its original appearance and has become more attractive. I do hope that the station will become a symbol of the restoration from the catastrophic disaster which happened on the 11th of March, 2011.

Link #1

Monday, September 24, 2012

Tokyo Station is awesome!?

There are many railway lines in Tokyo. They are so complicated that people, even those living in Tokyo, always wonder which route is the best to get to their destinations. I often check the best route on the Internet. Since these railway lines cover a large part of the Tokyo area, office workers in Tokyo commute by train ( Companies in downtown Tokyo usually require their workers to commute by train) . People are very familiar with train stations. Major ones are always busy

Given these circumstances, there has recently been a tendency to open great shops inside train stations (Please see Note #1 below ). These shops are referred to as 駅ナカ/Eki naka", and have been drawing considerable attention. If you stop by major train stations in the Tokyo area, you'll wonder if they are actually stations since they look like department stores. JR Tokyo Station, one of the largest terminal stations in Japan, is awesome. Shops selling premade food inside the station always attract people. I am certain that you will find the station interesting and enjoy shopping there (See Link #1 below).

A major redevelopment project has been going on for more than 20 years around the station.  As a part of the project, Marunouchi/丸の内 area beside the station has become very popular. Tokyo Station has been under construction since 2007, not only to make it more earthquake resistant but also to restore its appearance to its original state (click here). Since Tokyo Station is unique in appearance, it has been fascinating people since when it was built in 1914, although some parts of the station were burned down during World War Ⅱ and were rebuilt in different forms (I think that the originality and uniqueness remain nonetheless).Needless to say, original form is better.

A few months ago, the restored station was finally unveiled (Please see the attached pictures I took). On the first of October, the final stage of the renovation of Tokyo Station is due to be completed. To celebrate the accomplishment, an event was held on the 22nd and 23rd of September. An impressive 3D projection mapping show ran on the new station building. I didn't have time to go see it, but somebody has already uploaded it on YouTube (click here. Also, please see the YouTube video below).

Note #1
In this context, "inside train stations" indicates places within the ticket gates. In Japan, companies, for their regular employees, buy a commuter train pass for the route between their home and their company. Commuter train pass holders are allowed to get into and out of any station on their routes ”freely". Do you understand what I'm saying? 

The 3D projection mapping show.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Why do many people use violence to express themselves?

Massive protests are going on worldwide. Anti-US protests have been spreading mainly across Islamic countries for more than a week because of that You Tube video. Anti-Japan protests have broken out all over China. Sadly, some of these protests have turned violent. I totally don't understand why some people readily use violence to express their protests. Some rioters even appear to enjoy vandalism and venting their anger, which always makes me feel uncomfortable. Regardless of what reasons one may have, no one has the right do destroy another's property or harm others. Nobody is allowed to rationalize these behaviors. I think that these actions violate the law in many countries.

The other day, there were many photos relating to anti-Japan protests in China on Twitter. To be honest, some of them really shocked me. In Changsha, a Japanese department store, 平和堂/heiwado, was totally destroyed by a riot. It's been reported that many protesters broke into the store and rampaged. They broke everything down and stole the store's products. In Tsingtao/Qingdao, a Japanese supermarket, Ieon/Jasco has suffered major damage. Some Japanese factories like Panasonic were set on fire. Countless Japanese cars have been destroyed throughout China. I do know that a large part of Chinese people frown on that violence. As a matter of fact, on the Internet, I've heard them say that they don't support such protests. However, in China, a small percentage of the population can become a huge number, and there are likely to be people who try to use the protests and frustrated people. On top of that, some people held high many photos of Mao Zedong/Tes-tung and banners with slogans not relating to anti-Japan issues. These things have made me feel the protests could turn into something I don't want to imagine.

Recent many events, both in Japan and China, make me feel that despite economic growth, these two counties haven't changed in the past 100 years (I don't intend to discuss it here, so please don't ask the details). I do hope that the situation won't become worse, although it's been reported that the tension between the two is already very high.

Japanese people don't pay much attention to the anti-US protests mainly because they are preoccupied with the tension between Japan and China. However, the situation is becoming very serious. I really hope that it won't result in something I don't want to imagine.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

This is the most popular tune in Japan!?

When I was an elementary school student many years ago, during summer break, many children with cards hanging from their necks walked to the nearby park every morning around 6:20 throughout Japan. I remember that my mother woke me up around 6 am so I could go there. At 6:30, when a popular tune started being played on the radio, all the people in the park started doing something. Can you guess what they were doing?

In Japan, the tune which is very familiar to all the Japanese has been played on the radio around 6:30 a.m. every morning for more than 50 years, and has helped Japanese people build better health. The tune is for "ラジオ体操/Radio Taiso", which is an exercise program consisting of a variety of simple and rhythmical movements. The exercise is so simple that everybody can do it but, if you do it properly, you will find the exercise harder than expected.  I've heard that this calisthenics program was created in Japan to promote health based on "Setting up exercise", which was broadcast on the radio by MetLife in America many years ago.

I'm not sure exactly when I first learned the calisthenics, but I remember that I was often asked to do the calisthenics before starting doing sports in PE classes at school. Because of this background, I still remember how to do the calisthenics, although I haven't recently had opportunities to do it. At many factories and some offices, it's still common that workers are required to do the calisthenics every morning before starting their jobs. It's been said that doing the calisthenics has helped workers protect themselves from danger at work. I've heard that some non-Japanese workers in Japan complain about this custom, saying that it's so strange that they can't get used to it.

Anyway, as I described above, during summer break, school children went to the nearby park every morning, whether or not they were willing. This was a sort of summer event. These days, however, there aren't many school children who attend the summer event. I've heard that many parents don't want to let their children walk alone to the nearby park for security reasons. In addition, it seems that many school children go to bed late because they are busy taking lessons at cram schools and so on during summer break, so 6 o'clock in the morning is too early for them to wake up. Under these circumstances, the summer event has become less popular among school children.

Nonetheless, many parks have been recently busy around 6:30 every morning during summer break. Actually, this phenomenon can be always seen regardless of season. Can you guess why? This is because a lot of elderly people go to the nearby park every morning to do the calisthenics not only for good health but also to meet their peers. It's been said that the every-morning calisthenics at parks has been playing a great role in creating communities for elderly people.

Yesterday (the third Monday of September) was Respect-for-Senior-Citizens Day in Japan. Because of this, it's been reported that the number of people over 65 is 30,740,000, which makes up 24.1% of the total population in Japan. Both the number and the rate are the highest ever.

The video below is the calisthenics "ラジオ体操/Radio Taiso". 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Japanese young women really like ordinary men !? 三平女子/sanpei jyoshi

In the 1980s, Japan lost sight of reality because of the bubble economy. Many people weren't down-to-earth. They painted a rosy picture of Japan. Under these circumstances, many young women liked men with a high academic background (高学歴/kou-gakureki), high salary (高収入/kou-syunyu) and high stature (being tall, 高身長/kou-shincho) since they considered these three conditions to be the key to lead a happy married life. As you can see, these three words (conditions) include the same kanji character "高/kou (it means being high in this context)". In this sense, the word "三高/san-kou" was coined (三/san means three) to denote these three conditions. This coined word became very popular. With the economic downturn, however, the word has become obsolete, but it's still sometimes used as a symbolic word for the bubble economy.

These days, another coined word, "三平女子/sanpei jyoshi" is becoming popular. 女子/jyoshi means women, so 三平女子 indicates women who want to marry men meeting three conditions. Like the aforementioned word "三高/san-kou", 三平/san-pei comes from three adjectives including the kanji character "平/hei". If you are Japanese language learners, please guess what these three adjectives are. The answer is that 平凡な/heibon-na(being ordinary), 平穏な/heion-na(being calm or peaceable), and 平均的な/heikin-teki-na(being average) . More specifically, young women are willing to marry ordinary- looking (平凡な外見)and calm (平穏な)men with average salary (平均的な収入). It's been said that, as young women have been struggling with the sluggish economy since they were born, they always want their lives to be stable and secure.

I'm wondering what word will be coined to describe popular men in twenty years' time.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is this a longevity crisis? I have mixed feelings about longevity.

It's been reported that the average life expectancy of Japanese women has given up the lead to Hong Kong women for the first time in 27 years. In this report, two major reasons are pointed out. The one is that many people died from the massive earthquake and tsunami which happened about a year and half ago. The other is that the number of women in their 20's who committed suicide has increased. When I first heard of this news, I remembered that in the Tokyo area, for a while after that earthquake, trains were often delayed because of people jumping on to the rail track from the platform. Sadly, this kind of "accident" often happens in Japan, but during that period, my friends and I felt that train delays happened more often than usual due to people attempting to take their lives. I wondered why such many people were in a rush to die under the circumstances where tens of thousands of people had been washed away by the massive tsunami. I'm sure that these victims didn't want to finish their lives that way.

Japanese people, especially women, are known to live long. However, I've been wondering how many of them enjoy their lives without any medical support. I've heard that the longevity of Japanese people is questioned because they tend to be overly dependent on advanced medical treatment. As a matter of fact, the issue of what kind of medical treatment patients over 70 or 80 with a fatal disease should get has been controversial. More people than before frown on medical treatments for these patients just to prolong their lives. I think that this tendency has also put downward pressure on the average life expectancy of Japanese people.

I think that I know about pension, medical and nursing care service for elderly people better than others because of my mother-in-law with dementia. The more I know about that, the more I realize these services are on the verge of collapse due to the rapidly growing number of elderly people. On top of that, my experience has brought home to me taking care of elderly family members with dementia at home is a tough job. It's been reported that the number of people who were forced to quit their jobs to take care of their family members has sharply increased. It's very hard both mentally and financially to deal with these issues.

Every time I hear about the longevity of Japanese people, I have mixed feelings.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Confusing signs at train stations in Osaka.

How have you been? It's been a while since I last posted a blog article. Are you excited about the London Olympics ?

Anyway, about a month ago, I visited my parents' house in Osaka. It had been more than one year since I last went there.This time, I discovered some things I had never noticed before. I'll talk about the most surprising one. First of all, please see the attached pictures. Can you guess what these signs are for? I took the first picture at a platform of JR Osaka station, a central terminal train station at Osaka. When I found the sign in the second picture at another train station, my eyes were glued to it and wondered exactly what it indicated. I bet that the confusing sign shows JR, a large train company, has been having difficulties educating Osaka people. As you can guess, these signs are explaining how to queue for trains.

I was raised mainly in Osaka. I would say that Osaka culture had a lot of influence on creating my character, although it's been many years since I left Osaka and I'm currently living in the Tokyo area. Because of my background, I assumed that I was familiar to Osaka culture and custom. When I went to Osaka about a month ago, however, I was surprised to see how Osaka people got on a train. Every time I waited for a train at the station in Osaka, I did try to stand in line as I do in the Tokyo area, but it was hard to see which line was one to wait for a train. Some passengers tried to queue up, but some (sometimes many) didn't care about the line. Since some were eager to rush into a train while others were getting off, a peaceful station inevitably turned into a sort of battleground. In the Tokyo area, this seldom happens.

Actually, Osaka people are notorious for bad manners in Japan, although I often hear that people from other countries say they like Osaka more than Tokyo mainly because Osaka people are more friendly and good at expressing themselves among Japanese.

What do you think about these signs on the platform?


Friday, May 18, 2012

Asakusa/浅草 and idobata-kaigi/井戸端会議

Have you ever heard of Asakusa/浅草, Tokyo? Many tourists, regardless of nationality, like to visit there since the area has an old town atmosphere. If you walk around there, you will be able to get a glimpse of ordinary people's lives and customs which have been handed down especially from the Edo Period (1603-1867) or the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Tokyo has been the capital of Japan since the start of the Edo Period in1603, although Tokyo was called Edo during this era. I think that you'll find the area more interesting if you visit during the sakura/cherry blossom season.

In Tokyo, the Imperial Palace is one of the best sites to view Sakura.Sakura trees there are well laid out, gorgeous, and fabulous because of historical reasons (Click here). Every time I see them, I'm overwhelmed by the beauty. I feel like they are what we really appreciate and a sort of work of art. The sakura trees always take center stage. In contrast, the sakura trees along the Sumida River in the aforementioned Asakusa area, another best site to view sakura, allow you more freedom to enjoy them. You can have parties/picnics under sakura trees if you want. Since Tokugawa Yosimune(徳川吉宗), the eighth shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo Period, planted these sakura trees so that ordinary people also would be able to enjoy viewing sakura, I feel like that these sakura trees are there to make ordinary people feel happy. Needless to say, the sakura there are very beautiful, but I feel that rather than the sakura, ordinary people are the focus of this site. Could you please see the pictures below?

As for the 5th picture, it reminds me of old days and the expression "idobata-kaigi/井戸端会議”. 井戸/Ido means water well, and 端/bata means beside. 会議/Kaigi means meeting or conference and so on. In the Edo Period, although the waterworks system was built in many areas of Tokyo, needless to say, ordinary houses didn't have any water supply. Ordinary people used public water wells near their houses. Women spent a lot of time beside the water well to wash things and so on (Click here). They always made small talk while doing housework. Because of this background, 井戸端会議/idobata-kaigi means that women gather without purpose and make small talk or gossip.

The tall tower in the last picture is the Tokyo Sky Tree with a height of 634m, which is one of the world's tallest. The tower is located near Asakusa and will open on the 22nd of May. Although the Asakusa area has attracted many tourists for many years, it has recently become less popular especially among Japanese people because young people prefer modern places like Shibuya. Because of this, the area expects the tower to draw more people.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Now is the third turning point for Japan in the past 150 years.

Since the 3/11 earthquake and the subsequent Fukushima incident happened last year, I've often heard that now is the third turning point for Japan in the past 150 years. The second one was when Japan lost the Second World War. The first one was the Meiji Restoration (Meiji-ishin /明治維新 in Japanese) in 1868. Have you ever heard of it? I'll describe it briefly.

In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康)ruled Japan and started the Tokugawa Shogunate (Tokugawa bakufu /徳川幕府) at the Edo Castle (Edo-jo /江戸城) in Tokyo. The successive Tokugawa Shoguns ruled Japan until the Meiji Restoration happened in 1868. This period is called the Edo Era (Edo-jidai/江戸時代). In 1639, the Tokugawa Shogunate closed Japan to foreign commerce. This national isolation policy lasted until the Treaty of Amity and Commerce (or the Harris Treaty) between Japan and the US was signed in 1854. Around this time, Japan was turbulent and chaotic because the samurai, Japanese warriors, had differing opinions over the issue of how to deal with the pressures from some Western countries for Japan to open up the nation. Eventually, the Meiji Restoration (Meiji-Ishin) happened in 1868. Although the restoration enabled Japan to shift to the status of a modern nation, ordinary people of the time just saw it as a shift of power from the Tokugawa Shoguns to the samurai from Satsuma (薩摩, which is currently Kagoshima Prefecture) and Choshu (長州, which is currently Yamaguchi Prefecture). After the restoration, the Emperor Meiji moved the aforementioned Edo Castle in Tokyo from Kyoto, which had been the Imperial capital for more than a thousand years. Now, what was once Edo Castle is referred to as the Imperial Palace (Koukyo/皇居), and the Emperor and Empress reside there. On top of that, various ceremonies are held there. Some areas of the Palace are open to the public.

Recently, I've been reading some books related to the times around 1868 since I have had this era on my mind. As I expected, the more I learn about this period, the more deeply I can understand the current situation in Japan.

By the way, the Imperial Palace is well known as a great site to view sakura (cherry blossoms). When I went there on the 8th and 13th of April, I took pictures of sakura.

From the first to the fourth: Somei-Yoshino, a popular kind of sakura, were in full bloom on the 8th of April.
The fifth: Sakura and the Tokyo Tower (the red building).
The sixth: Somei-Yoshino, a popular kind of sakura, were falling and scattering on the 13th of April.
From the seventh to the last: Yaezakura, another popular kind of Sakura, were in full bloom.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

In Japan, the last nuclear power reactor is scheduled to stop in May.

In Japan, nuclear power reactors are required by law to undergo annual inspection and maintenance. It usually takes about three months to perform this procedure on a single reactor. Fifteen out of 54 reactors, including six ones at the crippled Fukushima-daiichi plant, have been forced to be shut down by the 3/11 earthquake. Another three reactors at the Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka prefecture have been shut down since last May because of the request made by the then Prime Minster, Naoto Kan (click here). The other 35 reactors have already been stopped for annual inspection and maintenance. The last one is scheduled to be stopped on the 5th of May for the same reason.

In response to the Fukushima incident, more strict regulations and requirements for the restart of reactors have been set, but they have been very controversial because the ongoing incident has been a huge shock. Last week, our central government officially announced new policies and conditions for restarting the reactors. However, many people, including some experts and myself, have gotten the impression that the government is rushing to restart the reactors, and it has set the conditions to restart the reactors as soon as possible, not to enhance the safety. On top of that, when looking at the government's recent decisions regarding nuclear power plants, I can't help but wonder if not the government but influential people, both in politics and business, have been taking the initiative in setting policies on nuclear power plants.

These electric power companies, which have a virtual monopoly in the Japanese market, have also insisted that this summer, without nuclear power, both companies and households will be forced to cut back on energy consumption even more than than last summer. Given the current unstable situation in the Middle East and Japan's dependence on nuclear power generation (Note1), I can understand the concern. However, there is still doubt as to the reliability of their claims, because some details remain unclear. I really want to know just how much they expect our economy and our lives to suffer. On the other hand, some groups have insisted that there will be no problem without nuclear power even if we don't cut back. Although I don't remember the details, I remember that I questioned some of the points. At any rate, I need rational information without bias, although I'm wondering if it's possible to get this kind of information.

I believe that Japan should reduce its dependence on nuclear power generation as much as possible. To make this happen, we all have to make further efforts to cut back on our energy use. Now is the time when we must decide what Japan will be like. In addition, we have to keep in mind that we need to take responsibility for the decision.

Note 1:
It's been reported that nuclear power provided around 23 percent of the total energy generated right before the Fukushima accident happened in March, 2011.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Was there more freedom in Japan when I was a student many years ago?

The other day, my friend shared a film on Facebook. The film was shot by our classmates when we were in high school many years ago, and it was shown at a cultural festival at our school (In Japan, the cultural festival is an annual event held by most schools. It's called 文化祭/bunkasai in Japanese). To enable the very old film to be seen on a computer, my friend who is a camera operator at a major TV station converted it to the current standard version.

Anyway, when my friends from the school and I saw the film, many of us felt like there was more freedom at the time than there is these days. We were surprised to realize that. We commented that if we currently tried to shoot the same film, we probably wouldn't be allowed to shoot some of the scenes. We felt that some parents would find certain things dangerous and ask our school not to let us do that, and school wouldn't allow us to do certain things for security reasons. Maybe people near our shooting locations would complain, saying we were being too or things like that.

These days, there are more regulations for TV shows than there used to be. Some have insisted that these regulations are necessary, but some of them have limited our freedom. As a result, TV shows have become less interesting. At school, some parents complain to the school when their children have failed to do something. It seems that they don't attribute the failures to their children and themselves. In society, some regulations make people hesitate to get involved in other people's affairs in a positive way. Partly because of this, people have become indifferent about others, which has caused problems and fights, and then new regulations are sometimes made to prevent further fights. Needless to say, regulations often improve our lives. I think that striking a balance is important, but it's very difficult.

I feel that there are more people than before who always assert their rights and freedom, but forget their obligations and responsibilities. Rights and freedom always come along with obligations and responsibilities. If we forget that, our freedom will be limited.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Japan of one year after the disaster.

It's been one year since the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. To pray for the twenty thousand victims, including the missing, there were many ceremonies held throughout Japan on the 11th of March. At 14:46 on the day, many people, even those walking on the street, stopped to pray for them. While praying for them, many people, including myself, felt gratitude for all your support worldwide and for being alive. The disaster has made us realize how fragile life is, which has made us determined to lead meaningful lives.

On the other hand, we have been struggling to find ways to deal with the harsh reality. Partly because of a wide range of damaged areas and partly because of slow action by our government, it has been taking more time than we expected for the survivors to get their lives back on track and make their new life plans. As the time goes by, differences in progress among the survivors have become significant. Some have already restarted their businesses, whereas some are still at a loss as to what to do. Everybody has their own idea of how to rebuild his/her life, so it's difficult for folks involved to find common ground on how to rebuild their local areas and where to rebuild their houses. It seems that these things have resulted in creating some gaps and awkward atmospheres among the survivors.

On top of that, the nuclear disaster has complicated the situation. The issue of how to and where to deal with rubble piled up in the tsunami-stricken areas other than Fukushima demonstrates it. To promote the rebuilding of the areas, the rubble need to be dealt/incinerated with throughout Japan. However, since the rubble is slightly contaminated by radiation, this issue has been very controversial. The central government has been insisting that rubble below a certain contamination level will hardly harm the environment, but many people frown on accepting the rubble to be dealt with//incinerated  in their local areas, wondering if the information is reliable. They are also worried about the further spreading of radioactive contamination. Those living on agriculture or fishing in non-contaminated areas say that if the rubble is dealt with/incinerated in their local areas, their brands will be surely damaged even if the rubble is harmless. I think that unless the government gives us enough information and clear policies, the issue won't be resolved.

Since the 3/11 earthquake, Japan has been more subject to earthquake than before. There have been a huge number of aftershocks and earthquakes in Japan since then. The day before yesterday, we had two large quakes. One caused the survivors in the tsunami-stricken areas to evacuate since tsunami was expected to hit there. Some towns in the Tokyo area were damaged by the other one. As for the Fukushima plant, nobody knows exactly what is going on there and what will happen there. Nobody knows exactly how harmful the radioactive contamination is. Because of that, this ongoing accident and the radioactive contamination are of concern to us.

I hope that we can transform the disaster to an opportunity for change and improvement.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Do old Japanese songs make you feel more relaxed?--- The collaboration album "1969" between Pink Martini and Saori Yuki

As for songs, the meaning is left up to listeners' interpretations and imaginations. As I mentioned in my previous post (click here), some experts have pointed out that old Japanese songs released more than 20 years ago allow more freedom to interpret than recent J-pops do. Every time I feel that some old songs have been popular again since that devastating earthquake hit Japan one year ago, I wonder if it has to do with this feature.

Anyway, have you heard of the 63-year-old Japanese female singer, Saori Yuki ? She has recently become very popular in some Western countries. Although she is well known as a good singer in Japan, especially among older generations, her songs hadn't been popular for many years until her collaboration album "1969" with Pink Martini started enjoying good sales. Until her songs regained the popularity outside Japan, she mainly sang children songs with her sister. Familiar songs sung with their beautiful voice made people feel easy and comforted.

In that album, she sings in Japanese. Despite that, her songs have been attracting Westerners. Since it is the first time for Japanese songs to become very popular outside Japan since SUKIYAKI sung by Kyu Sakamoto in 1962, her remarkable accomplishment has been widely reported. According to the news, many Westerners who can't understand Japanese but like her Japanese songs say that her songs make them feel comforted. When she sang the song "Puff, the magic dragon" in Japaneses at a concert in New York (maybe), some audience asked by a reporter after the concert said that they preferred the Japanese version despite them being unable to understand Japanese, because they felt more relaxed and comforted. Some experts say that because of Japanese language features, there are less words in Japanese songs than in English ones, which is likely to help people feel relaxed and comforted. I've found it interesting. Needless to say, her excellent singing technique enables that.

It's been said in Japan that we sometimes put lower value on things that we should put much value on. We don't realize it until they are appreciated outside Japan.

"Puff, the magic dragon"sung by Saori Yuki  in Japanese 

The following song was very popular in Japan, and it has recently regained the popularity. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Do old Japanese songs stir your imagination ?

When I was a student many years ago, I would listen to the popular song "春よ、来い" (Haruyo, koi/ Hi Spring, come here. I'm not sure if the translation is good. Please see the You Tube video below). The lyrics and music were written by Yumi Matsutoya, and the song is sung by her. When I first listened to this song after the devastating earthquake hit Japan one year ago, I was touched more deeply than before. I noticed that pictures and stories which came to mind while I was listening to it were different from ones when I was a student. I knew that as for songs, the meaning is left to the listeners' interpretations and imaginations, but I was still surprised to see how I felt differently in accordance with the situation.

Japanese people often don't express themselves and prefer indirect expressions. They use ambiguous expressions, implying what they want to say. Although even Japanese people have difficulties sensing what speakers imply under some circumstances, the cultural custom still remains in the society.

Anyway, I've heard that old Japanese songs released more than 20 years ago are paid more attention to stir listeners' imaginations. Some experts say that if you listen to their lyrics, you'll be easily able to imagine something and empathize with them. Since the lyrics aren't written explicitly, you need to read between the lines to understand these songs, which seems to help you stir your imagination. I'm wondering if this is because of that cultural custom. For example, while listening to the aforementioned song "Haruyo, koi", many people are likely to think of when they are struggling to find a way to overcome their difficulties. However, some may think of when they are having difficulties getting over their lost love. Some may think of when they are worrying about their future. In contrast, recent J-pop music tends to depict a certain situation relatively directly. Many singer-songwriters express themselves in their songs, and the lyrics are written with relatively direct expressions. These days, there are so many J-pop songs that people choose the best one to listen to based on their mood.

Since that earthquake, I feel like some of those old Japanese songs have been popular again. Since everyone has songs which bring back memories, it's natural that people, especially victims, are willing to listen to old songs to encourage themselves and think of who and what they don't want to forget. Other than this, I'm wondering if more people are touched by old Japanese songs because the songs allow more freedom to interpret.

If you are interested in finding the meanings of Haruyo koi lyrics, please see my English translations below. I tried to translate them into English without my interpretations, but I don't know if I could do that. Some sentences and phrases were really hard to translate for me, so you'll have difficulties understanding them. If you can get some feelings, I would be happy.

淡き光立つ 俄雨(ニワカアメ)
ひとつ ひとつ香り始める
それは それは 空を越えて
やがて やがて 迎えに来る
春よ 遠き春よ 瞼(マブタ)閉じればそこに
愛をくれし君の なつかしき声がする

A rain shower giving off watery light.
The winter daphne I've been longing for.
Blossom buds of overflowing tears begin to have a scent one by one.
That, that will cross over the sky, and then, eventually, will come for me.
Hi, spring. Hi spring being far from me.
If I close my eyelids, in there, I'll sense you who have given me love and hear your familiar voice.

君に預けし 我が心は
ずっと ずっと待っています
それは それは 明日を越えて
いつか いつか きっと届く
春よ まだ見ぬ春 迷い立ち止まるとき
夢をくれし君の 眼差(マナザ)しが肩を抱く

My heart I've left to you is still waiting for a reply.
No matter how long the time passes by, I'll wait for it forever.
That, that will jump over tomorrow, and someday, someday, will surely arrive.
Hi spring. Hi spring I haven't yet seen.
When I'm at a loss as to what to do, I sense you who have given me a dream and your gazes/ eyes/ look hold my shoulders (back).

夢よ 浅き夢よ 私はここにいます
君を想いながら ひとり歩いています
流るる雨のごとく 流るる花のごとく

Hi the dream. Hi the shallow dream. I'm just here.
I'm walking alone while thinking of you, like rain streaming and flowing flowers.

春よ 遠き春よ 瞼閉じればそこに
愛をくれし君の なつかしき声がする

Hi, spring. Hi spring being far from me.
If I close my eyelids, in there, I'll sense you who have given me love and hear your familiar voice.

春よ まだ見ぬ春 迷い立ち止まるとき
夢をくれし君の 眼差しが肩を抱く

Hi spring. Hi spring I haven't yet seen.
When I'm at a loss as to what to do, I sense you who have given me a dream and your gazes/ eyes/ look hold my shoulders (back).

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The worst-case scenario for the Fukushima plant--Part 2

I'll continue to talk about what the worst-case scenario for the Fukushima plant. Could you please read the previous post first (Click here) ?

According to the scenario that emerged a few months ago, if the worst had happened, about 30 million people, including those living in the Tokyo area, would have been forced to evacuate their homes. I'm living in the Tokyo area, so when I first learnt about that, I looked back to what I had done for a month after the 3/11 earthquake. I wanted to see if had done the right thing at the time. What I recalled is below.

When I learnt about the first reactor explosion in the Fukushima plant that happened one day after the devastating earthquake hit Japan on the 11th of March last year, I didn't understand what was going on there. I wondered what to do. However, since I was forced to struggle against very frequent aftershocks, I couldn't afford to think about it. When I saw another reactor exploding on TV on the 14th of March, I instinctively felt that I should run away from my area, the Tokyo area, which is about 250 km away from that plant. A few hours later, some of my friends living in Osaka emailed me and urged me to go to my parents' house in Osaka, which is about 600 km away from that plant (When the 3/11 earthquake happened, some high-rise buildings in Osaka swung from side to side due to unexpected sympathetic vibration, but the quake in Osaka was small). My friends insisted that anything could happen at that plant, so in the worst case, the Tokyo area wouldn't be safe. Since they have more knowledge about radiation and nuclear power plants than me, their words carried weight. If I had a child or if I were young, I would have decided without hesitation to go to my parents' house in Osaka at the time.

Those terrible explosions caused consternation among the public. Various information, opinions and rumors swirled around. Each foreign country suggested a wider nuclear evacuation zone than Japan did. Some people insisted that a part of the vital highway access to the tsunami-stricken areas from Tokyo was inside the evacuation zones set by the foreign countries, but the Japanese government wouldn't include the highway in the evacuation zone until the very last moment because there were a huge number of people waiting for rescue (This highway was damaged by that earthquake, but emergency cares were allowed to drive there even right after that earthquake). This opinion made sense to me. I did understand that going to my parents' house in Osaka was the best even if I had own situation to deal with. All in all, I decided to remain in the Tokyo area, in hopes that the situation wouldn't get worse. At the same time, I thought I had a chance of being seriously harmed by radiation. 

It's been said that the worst has been fortunately avoided so far. Because of this, I don't regret having remained in the Tokyo area. However, when I first heard of the worst-case scenario, I wondered if I had made the right decisions. I wondered if I had prepared myself for the worst. I wondered why I hadn't run away from my area when I had instinctively felt that I should do that. I supposed that I had decided to remain in the Tokyo area just because I had wanted to believe that the situation wouldn't get worse. I think that I should follow my instincts in an emergency.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The worst-case scenario for the Fukushima plant--Part 1

It's been almost one year since that nightmare. Responding to this, recently, there have been more reports on tsunami-stricken areas and the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. There are so many things which set me thinking that I don't know where to start. However, I'll first talk about the worst-case scenario on this plant which has been notable but controversial since it first emerged a few months ago.

Since the then Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, stepped down last August, some key people, including him, have talked about what they did to regain the control of that plant and what they saw and thought about while they were struggling to do that. By their interviews, the worst-case scenario created by our government has been revealed. If the worst had happened, about 30 million people, including those living in the Tokyo area, would have been forced to evacuate their homes. It meant that Japan would most likely crumble.

I wrote about this worst-case scenario in the past tense, but I don't know if it's right. It's been said that thanks to many workers striving in that plant, the chance of the worst case happening is much lower than last year, but we have to remember the fact that there is still this chance. In the wake of the 3/11 earthquake, Japan is more subject to earthquakes than before. As a matter of fact, I still often feel quakes in the Tokyo area. Because of this, if another massive earthquake or aftershock hits the Fukushima plant, what we don't want to imagine will probably happen.

I've often felt that people, including politicians, put the blame on the then Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, saying that his inability caused the current terrible situation. I don't think he did perfectly, but I don't understand why they always blame him that way. Some experts have insisted: "Japanese people have been looking for a political leader who can improve their situation without doing anything by themselves. If the situation doesn't improve, they'll put the main blame on political leaders. We have to think about what Japan will be like, decide on what to do, and take responsibility for it. We aren't fully aware of it."

I think that the experts are right. I've realized for some years that we have to improve our ability to make decisions by ourselves and take responsibility for the decisions. However, it's easier said than done. I'll talk more in the next post.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Are ninjas popular in your country?

Have you heard of ninjya/忍者? The ninja are a group of secret agents that were active in feudal Japan between the Kamakura and Edo Periods. If you are interested in finding more information, please see the Wikipedia link below.

A while back, some photos shared on Facebook made me wonder how popular ninjas were worldwide. First, the first picture caught my eyes since the caption "Back off, man, I have ninjas" was very impressive. I wondered who had first added the caption to the picture of a white cat surrounded by four black cats. I had no way to know it, but I found that the original poster on Facebook is a Spanish speaking person. The picture was shared by many people there. I was a little surprised by the fact that a lot of people worldwide can understand the image of ninjas.
I thought that ninjas were more popular than I expected.

The next day, my friend shared an interesting picture which describes how non-Japanese people think of Japan. Please see the second picture. The picture is so funny and true that it's also shared by many people on Facebook. When I first saw the picture, I understood what it intended to convey. However, I didn't expect ninjas to be used to describe Japan. Then, I also shared this picture on Facebook to see the responses to it. I've received some interesting comments.

A friend of mine said that she has seen a Swedish guy curiously and seriously asking his Japanese teacher if he is a ninja or a bushi/武士 (The guy asked that when he studied Japanese at school in Japan). Another friend said that according to Reuters, ninjutsu/忍術 is popular among Iranian women and about 3000 to 3500 women train in ninjutsu in independently run clubs throughout Iran working under the supervision of the Ministry of Sports' Martial Arts Federation.Ninjitsu are the arts of the ninja. I can imagine what ninjutsu is, but I don't know exactly what it is. (Please click here and see the YouTube video). I'm wondering why ninjutsu has become popular there and who teaches it to the local women.

How popular do you think ninjas are in your country?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The amount of lost cash reached 35 million USD and 25 million USD were returned in Tokyo during 2011.

In Japan, at self-service cafes, people first leave their personal belongings at the table in order to reserve their seats, and then go buy something. Even when it's impossible for them to keep their personal belongings left in sight while going buy something, they don't care. They don't believe that anybody would intend to steal these personal belongings, even if they leave their cell phones on the table. Whenever I see that, I realize that Japan is still good to live. At the same time, I wonder if that careless behavior is still acceptable since I feel that large cities in Japan have become less safe.

On top of that, when we drop or forget something somewhere, we can often get it back. If, at the store, we find lost items, we'll pass them to the shop staff. If we find them at the train station, we'll take them to the station staff. When we find them in town, if they are seemingly valuable, we'll turn them in the police. If they aren't, we'll leave them untouched. Needless to say, there are people who pocket them when finding them. Also, we don't expect them to be pocketed after we take them to where lost items are supposed to be taken.

A few days ago, I was surprised to learn some statistics about lost articles in Tokyo during 2011. According to the recent announcement of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, 2,936,000 items were turned in to the department in Tokyo during 2011. This number was the highest ever and up 3.4% from 2010. Surprisingly, among those lost items, the amount of lost cash reached about 2.8billion JPY (35 million USD, 1 USD=80JPY). More surprisingly, out of this, about 2 billion JPY (25 million USD) were returned to people who had lost them. About 500 million JPY in total (6.25 million USD) were given to people who had found them because people who had lost them didn't appear. As for the remaining 300 million JPY (3.75 million USD), it became the revenue of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government as people who had found didn't want to receive them.

Other than cash
-Clothes like scarves and towels: 460,000 items
-Umbrellas: 330,000 items
-Cellphones: 130,000 items

I hope that Japan will continue to be safer.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The controversial painting " Beijing 2008". Japan is portrayed as I expected.
Have you seen the attached picture? A few days ago, I happened to find it on Facebook. According to a Taiwanese who posted it on Facebook, this is the oil painting, "Beijing 2008", drawn by Liu Yi (劉湓), a Chinese person living in Canada, and this painting has been drawing considerable attention and becoming controversial on the internet. To see what was going on, I googled it both in English and Chinese. It seems that the painting is very popular, at least in China and Taiwan .

The picture shared on Facebook is accompanied by a very long interpretation of what the painting implies. The interpretation is originally written in Traditional Chinese, but the Japanese version translated by a Japanese person is attached. There is no information about who first gave the interpretation. Also, I'm not sure if the interpretation is exactly what the painter wanted to indicate. As a matter of fact, when I was browsing Chinese sites to see how popular the painting was on the internet, I found different interpretations on some details, but the outline is same. I think that the painting is interesting to see.

Although I don't intend to elaborate on the interpretation, I'll tell you the outline. There are four women playing mah-jong. The lady with tattoos on her back is Chinese. The bare-naked lady sitting to the left of the Chinese lady is Japanese. The lady lying on her back is Russian. The lady with a lace top is American, and her bottom half is naked. The girl standing and watching them play is Taiwanese. Their actions portray how these five countries are behaving and negotiating with the other countries. Their clothes imply the countries' situations. I'll leave more interpretations but the Japanese lady to your imagination.

According to the interpretation shared on Facebook, the Japanese lady is seriously playing mah-jong without paying attention to the other people. She is only focusing on what she is supposed to do. When I read that, I sighed deeply because I've been worried about this point. In Japan, due to the prolonged stagnation and politics in disarray, some journalists and experts have insisted that there are significant suggestions from the past, but despite that, we haven't learned a lot from the past. Especially since the Fukushima accident, the need to learn from the past has been increasing. Because of this, I've been paying more attention to suggestions from the past which some experts have highlighted.

Actually, one of the suggestions is that Japanese people pay less attention to and are less sensitive to what is going on in the world, and they are very bad at thinking with a broad view from various perspectives. I really noticed this, especially when I was outside Japan. On top of that, it seems to me that many Japanese people haven't even realized that Japan neither pays enough attention to what is going on outside Japan nor knows what other countries consider Japan to be like. Thus, when I read that interpretation on the Japanese lady, I though that it was just as I had expected and sighed deeply. At the same time, I wondered if I should consider it to be good that at least Japan is in the painting.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The 70% chance of a powerful earthquake in the next four years.

Living in Japan means living with natural disasters, especially earthquakes. Because of this, elementary schools often conduct emergency drills. Japanese people, even small children, know what to do when earthquakes happen. However, different preparations for earthquakes are carried out in different areas of the country.

It has been predicted for perhaps about 40 years that Shizuoka prefecture/静岡県 has the highest chance of being struck by a powerful earthquake. Because of this, the area has been paying the greatest attention to earthquake preparation. I've heard that many schools there require their students to wear helmets on the way to and from school. The residents have been making great efforts to make their houses more earthquake resistant.

Many years ago, when some friends of mine who were raised in Osaka moved to Tokyo, all of them told me that the frequency of earthquakes in Tokyo was much higher than in Osaka. They said that they were surprised to see that people in Tokyo were used to earthquakes. At the time, people in Tokyo paid more attention to preparing themselves for earthquakes than in Osaka.

I've been living in the Tokyo area recently, but I was raised mainly in Osaka. I don't remember feeling any earthquake during my childhood. I'm sure I experienced them, but I don't think they were strong and frequently enough for me to remember. In contrast, my friend who was raised in the Tokyo area says that even when he was a child, he already considered earthquakes to be an inevitable part of life.

Contrary to the aforementioned prediction, which was first made many years ago, a powerful earthquake has yet to hit Shizuoka (I'm not sure exactly when the first announcement was made. Maybe 40 or 50 years ago). Instead, at least ten massive earthquakes, including the 3/11 one, have struck other areas in the past three decades. If I include high magnitude earthquakes which didn't cause significant damage, the number will soar. The Great Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe, next to Osaka, in 1997, which killed about 6500 people, caught people off guard since the frequency of earthquakes in that area had been low and no powerful earthquake had been expected there. Under these circumstances, I have always assumed that a massive earthquakes could happen anywhere in Japan and one is sure to hit my area sooner or later.

A few days ago, the earthquake research institute at Tokyo University announced that the chance of a powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7 or more striking the southern part of metropolitan Tokyo in the next four years is as high as 70%. The institute said that the possibility of a massive earthquake hitting Tokyo in the near future has become higher in the wake of the 3/11 earthquake. Although the Japanese government already announced last year that Tokyo has a 70 % chance of being hit by a powerful earthquake in the next 30 years, it seems that the phrase, "in the next four years," is shocking to people. To be honest, I was a little shocked when I first read the news, but a few minutes later, I realized that it was nothing new. However, this announcement warns that the Tokyo area is due for a powerful earthquake, so we are strongly urged to pay more attention to preparing ourselves for it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The popular phrase "地震/jishin 雷/kaminari 火事/kaji 親父/oyaji (earthquakes, thunder, fires, fathers)"

A few days ago, when I was sitting at my computer, there was a huge bang like an explosion. I reflexively stood up from my chair in order to prepare myself for a massive earthquake because people in earthquake-stricken areas say that they heard the earth rumbling right before a massive earthquake hit. Fortunately, I was wrong. I looked outside the window, but I didn't see anything unusual. Several minutes later, I realized that the huge bang had been a loud clap of thunder. Since both before and after the bang, there was neither thunder nor lighting, it seemed weird.

Perhaps about thirty minutes later, an earthquake notification popped up on my computer (This is an advanced function of Google Chrome. Every time an earthquake stronger than a certain level happens in Japan, an earthquake notification pops up). Immediately afterwards, I felt a small quake. Since the notification showed that the epicenter was at the coast of Fukushima, I checked the detailed information. Although there was a relatively strong shake (If the 3/11 earthquake hadn't happened, I would write "strong" instead of " relatively strong") in an area near the crippled Fukushima plant, it was announced that the plant was in the same situation as before the earthquake happened. I was relieved. Hearing news that there has been a quake above level 5 in Fukushima is always bad for my heart.

After that, I noticed that there was snow covering the ground outside. I live in the Tokyo area, so my area has snow cover only a few times a year. Since these three things happened all within the course of an hour, I felt a sense of foreboding, but so far, nothing has happened since then.

Anyway, when I noticed that it was snowing, the popular Japanese phrase, 地震/jishin 雷/kaminari 火事/kaji 親父/oyaji, came to mind (地震/jishin means earthquakes, 雷/kaminari means thunder, 火事/kaji means fires, 親父/oyaji means fathers). This phrase was very popular until a few decades ago. Since people were very afraid of these four things at the time, the phrase would be used as a symbol of scary things. I think you may be wondering why fathers are on the list. This is because in the past, fathers traditionally had the right to make the final decisions on family matters and their decisions were always respected. Partly because the current father stereotype is from a few decades ago, the phrase is not so popular anymore. It's been said that fathers have become less dignified and they don't scold their children as often as they used to, so they are no longer something to be afraid of. I've heard that instead of 親父/oyaji, 大山風/ooyamaji was originally on the list. 大山風/ooyamaji is an old expression that is no longer used. The word means typhoons. I think that the phrase "earthquakes, thunder, fires, typhoons" makes more sense, but the phrase "earthquakes, thunder, fires, fathers" is more popular. I don't know why.