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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Japan had a similar circumstance about 1100 years ago.

Yesterday, the 17th of January, marked the 17th anniversary of the Great Hanshin Earthquake/  阪神大震災 (which hit the Kobe area in 1995. Please click here and see the video). Since it wasn't predicted that the area would be hit by such a strong earthquake, people felt like they were caught off guard. At the same time, they realized that massive earthquakes could happen anywhere in Japan. Although the earthquake-stricken areas were relatively limited, since they were populated and the earthquake was an inland one, the damage was huge. The death toll rose to about 6500.The survivors were at a loss as to what to do. Some, including my friends, suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder for a few years. Some became alcoholics due to their great difficulties. Some took quite some time to stand on their own feet. Last May, the Kobe local government finally accomplished urban town projects related to the earthquake.

Since another massive earthquake happened on the 11th of March, last year, many people who experienced the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 have been helping the victims of the 3/11 earthquake. On the other hand, some of them honestly say that they don't want to see the tsunami-stricken areas because the devastated areas remind them of their hard times and it is still too much to bear for them.

Anyway, it's been said that a massive earthquake similar to the 3/11 one could hit Japan only once in a thousand years. When I first heard that, I wondered what the premise of once in a thousand years was. After a while, I learned that an earthquake similar in size and location to the 3/11 one happened 1100 years ago. At the time, a massive tsunami also hit the Tohoku area which was severely damaged by the 3/11 tsunami. The earthquake and tsunami are referred to as the Jougan Earthquake and Tsunami/貞観地震・津波. Jougan/貞観 is an era name (859-874).

According to an article in Nikkei, a major Japanese newspaper, now looking back to that time, there are many similarities between that era and recent years. In that era, eruption and big earthquakes frequently happened. When Michizane Sugawara/菅原道真, a historical figure, took the examination for high-level officials in 870, the question "describe earthquakes" was on the examination. It's been said that this fact shows how frequently earthquakes happened in that era. On top of that, politics was in disarray. Power struggles complicated the political climate. Shinto appeared or became popular (I'm not sure which one. Buddhism was already popular). According to a historian, the frequent eruption and earthquakes made people rediscover forces of nature, and it resulted in the appearance or popularity of Shinto. The Gion festival in Kyoto, one of the three largest festivals in Japan, started in that era in order to remove disasters and drive away evil spirits (Please see the video).

Admittedly, the circumstances for the past few decades in Japan are similar to ones during that era.

My previous blog articles related to the Great Hanshin Earthquake
I found out about that disaster while I was in Sydney
The disaster revealed people's true nature??

Monday, January 16, 2012

If you examine that 12 luxury sports cars' accident and thar Draemon commercial, you will catch glimpses of what cars are to Japanese people !?

Last December, a spectacular car accident happened in Japan. Since the multiple pileup involved 12 luxury sports cars like Ferraris, it drew international attention and was reported worldwide (click here). Although news reports gave few details about the cars' drivers, beyond quoting police officials as saying their ages ranged from 37 to 60, many people assumed that the drivers must be super rich. After a while, a magazine reported that some of the drivers whom it visited were not that rich, rather seemingly ordinary people. Although I didn't know if the information was accurate, I thought that it was likely. Can you guess why?

People between their 40s and 60s were raised when Japan was a developing country. After they started working, they would usually work very hard to purchase and do what they wanted. Men from that generation would get their driver licences as soon as they turned 18. They would be eager to ride around in a high-end car. Cars tended to be considered as a status symbol for men. Women would want men to cruise around. For some women, the matter of what kind of cars men have would be a important criteria for judging men. On top of that, the generation tends to like getting expensive but unique things because they experienced the bubble economy when they were young. Taking this into account, given the aforementioned drivers' ages, it's likely that the drivers earned money the hard way and took out loans to buy a luxury car in order to make their dreams true.

According to an official survey, roughly speaking, over 95% of the men from 30 to 64 have a driver's licence. As for women, about 90% of those from 30 to 49 have one (50-54:83.5%, 55-59:74.7%, and 60-64:67.2%). It was very common for this generation to get their driver's licences around 20. In contrast, it's been said that people in their teens and 20s have less interest in cars. They, especially those living in large cities, even have less intention to get their driver's licences. According to the aforementioned official survey, driver's licence holder ratios by age and gender are that 81.5% for men from 20 to 24, 93.4% for men from 25 to 29, 72.4% for women from 20 to 24, and 87.5% for women from 25 to 29. Another survey announced recently shows that the driver's licence holder ration of 20-year-old people is 56.7%, which is 4.9% increase over the previous year.

It's been difficult for young people to get a stable job with a good salary. It's been said that young people only buy what they need now even if they can afford to buy extra things. Unlike older generations, they don't see cars as a status symbol for men. Under these circumstances, I expect that more young people will become indifferent to cars.

Anyway, a Toyota TV commercial series has been drawing great attention (Please see the YouTube videos. I think that the English subtitles added by somebody are good enough to understand the story. I think that you can see English subtitles only on YouTube site). This is because it's a live-action version of Doraemon, a popular Japanese animation. In the animation, other than Doraemon, main characters are school children. The Toyota's commercial series portrays their lives in 20 years, in other words, the characters who have turned 30. Popular actors and actresses who match the image of original characters play the 30-year-old characters (Jean Reno plays Doraemon). Remarkably, the story line of the commercial series is focused on making young people feel like they need to get their driver's licences. The commercial shows how seriously Toyota takes the current situation.

【My previous blog articles related to the topic】
Things in which young Japanese people are less interested
Japanese young people having no desire for purchase

Sunday, January 15, 2012

People willing to get married. People willing to get divorced.

The 3/11 earthquake has made people realize that they need to have somebody around. People who used to enjoy living alone have started feeling insecure. In downtown Tokyo, some traditional style, casual restaurants where you can feel the warmth were very crowded for a few months after the massive earthquake (please click here). Many people have been encouraged to get married. Travel plans for three generations (the extended family) have become more popular. The Japanese word "絆/Kizuna (bonds or ties)" was selected as the word to describe the Japan of 2011. All in all, people have become more concerned about others, despite a clear tendency before the earthquake for people to be less concerned about or indifferent to others.

On the 11th day of every month, more news related to the 3/11 earthquake is reported. According to recent news, in the tsunami-stricken areas, people who are thinking about divorce have been sharply increasing. The differences in opinion on how to cope with their enormous difficulties and move on have caused rifts between couples. Some insist that due to the disaster, some critical gaps which they were never aware of have emerged. It seems that sticking to what they believe or what they want is the only way to overcome the difficulties for some victims. Come to think about it, when you are stretched thin, it would be very hard for you to listen to others and discuss issues.

Speaking of divorce, I've heard that gaps in the perception of the radioactive contamination have pushed some couples to think about divorce. Mothers tend to think about what to do based on the worst case scenario because they always give first priority to protecting their children. However, some fathers don't try to understand what their wives are worried about, saying that the worst case scenarios that their wives have assumed are unlikely to happen. As time goes by, more people have become able to think about and discuss what to do rationally, but there still seems to be many couples who are struggling to bridge the gaps in each other's perceptions.

It's been already ten months since the earthquake. However, there hasn't been significant progress yet. Yesterday, Prime Minister Noda reshuffled his cabinet in order to make his big policy push. Although I hope that he'll never give in, I've been recently feeling that whoever becomes a leader, he/she will take quite some time to implement policy under the current political system and climate. I've been really tired of the situation where politicians criticize a policy without suggesting an alternative idea.

Friday, January 6, 2012

That bell makes me realize that I'm Japanese !?--除夜の鐘/ jyoya-no-kane

If you observe how Japanese people see the old year out and the new year in, you will catch a glimpse of what Japanese culture and tradition are like.

As the times have changed, some people have become fond of celebrating the arrival of the new year in new, non-traditional ways that they like. The New Year's countdown and the countdown live have become very popular in the past few decades especially among the young. However, when they are struggling to find a way to overcome enormous difficulties, they subconsciously feel tempted to ring in the new year in the traditional way. This year, because of the 3/11 earthquake, I think that many more people greeted 2012 in the traditional way.

Anyway, how do you usually celebrate the arrival of the new year in your country? I think that the New Year's countdown is the most popular event in the world. Many people enjoy ringing in the new year at popular places worldwide. Fireworks are set off in some locations. Many people ring in the new year with a party. In whatever way they celebrate, they are jubilant and the places are boisterous and bustling.

In contrast, traditional Japanese New Year's celebrations are somber, solemn and ceremonious. Around midnight on the 1st of January, the bell is struck 108 times at many temples (please see Note below. The bell is referred to as 除夜の鐘/jyoya-no-kane). Some people go to a temple to listen to the tolling bell and pray. NHK, the public broadcasting network, broadcasts some temples live from 11:45 pm to 0:15 am every year (When I was a child many years ago, the program was aired on all the TV stations), so people can put themselves in a traditional mood if they want. I think that people think about their own lives while listening to them.

I don't care how I greet the new year, but the sound of that bell still gives me a feeling of peace.

According to Buddhist teaching, humans are harassed by 108 earthly desires. It's been said that to remove the desires, the bell is struck 108 times.

This is Japanese culture: silence, evanescence and simplicity

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