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.