Where Left is Right, as in Culturally Correct

This is the season when Japanese TV is filled with historical dramas. Lots of kimono and flashing swords!

In Japanese culture, there is a respectful attitude toward swords. Not everyone could have one, and those who were entitled followed certain rules. One of the rules was to use the sword only with the right hand. To do this with maximum efficiency, the sword had to hang from the left side of the body. This makes sense, of course.

Did you know that swords are the reason that, in Japan, traffic flows along the left side of the road? Think about it.

One of the other rules concerning Japanese swords is that no one but the sword's rightful owner has the right to touch it. Not even by accident. Samurai were entitled to cut down anyone who--deliberately or accidentally--touched the sword.

Picture this.

Here comes a Samurai, swaggering down the road, sword swinging from his side. Someone walks past the Samurai on the sword side and accidentally brushes the sword. Sayonara, unlucky blunderer, whether man, woman or child! To avoid accidents, another rule came into play: sword-carrying samurai kept the sword on the outside of the road, away from oncoming traffic.

Voila! The "traffic flows on the left side of the road" rule is born.


Volcanoes in Japan--Bad News and Good News

The tragic--and without any warning whatsoever--eruption of Mt. Ontake showed Japan the dark side of its many volcanoes. Is there a bright side? Yes! Geothermal energy, a serious alternative to nuclear power generation.

Here is something from The Japan Times online:

Mount Ontake obliterated the nuclear lobby’s argument that seismic sensors and global positioning technology can predict eruptions that may threaten reactors. This one came out of nowhere — like a huge bolt of lightning, survivors say. Even if we knew that one of Japan’s other 100-plus active volcanoes was about to blow, Tokyo Electric Power or Kyushu Electric Power can’t move reactors or toss huge protective domes over them. All Japanese authorities could do is evacuate surrounding areas to lop a zero or two off death-toll figures.

It’s time Japan started heeding the advice of environmentalists like David Suzuki to go geothermal. In 2012, the Canadian geneticist and author joined the board of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation at the urging of Softbank founder Masayoshi Son (who has been investing big in renewable energy projects). Since then, Suzuki has rarely missed an opportunity to try and shame Tokyo into scrapping its reactors.

“Geothermal can be a huge source of energy and very quickly,” Suzuki told Bloomberg News in March 2013, on the second anniversary of the meltdown at Fukushima. “It is an opportunity being squandered in the drive to get the reactors up and running again.”


Can you say "Henoko"?

Most people don't even know where it is, but it is probably the keystone to Japan's future as a peaceful, prosperous country where everything works and quality of living is reasonably good for almost everyone. Or, Japan can follow the US down the slippery slope of militarism to become an environmental and moral junkyard. Henoko, on Okinawa Island, has been tossed to the military machine like a bone to a rabid dog: take this! stay away from the rest of us!

Here is what The Japan Times Online reports about the people's reaction to the Henoko deal:

Thousands march on Henoko base site

by Jon Mitchell

Special To The Japan Times

Aug 23, 2014

NAGO, OKINAWA PREF. – More than 3,500 demonstrators marched to U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Saturday in the largest show of anger to date against the new American base being built off Henoko Bay to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in crowded Ginowan further southwest.

Lining the road four deep for 700 meters and crowding the hillsides, the protesters chanted “Stop construction” and “Save the Bay” after assembling in the morning. Some came from as far as Hokkaido, many with their children in tow.

Okinawan legislators and peace campaign leaders gave impassioned speeches against what they called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s re-militarization of Japan and railed at the perceived discrimination of Okinawans.

The largest welcome was given to anti-base Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, who was re-elected in January on a strong anti-military platform. Wearing a cape decorated with multicolored dugong, the endangered mammal threatened by the project, he greeted the crowd in Okinawan.

Inamine likened the situation on Okinawa to World War II, when more than a quarter of the civilian population died, saying that this time, the island was not under attack by the U.S. military, but by the Japanese government.

“We all need to work together to save Henoko Bay,” he said. “You can all help. We’ll never give up.”


Down the slippery slope!

What does the world really want to buy from Japan? What makes the consumer heart go pitty-pat? What does everyone wish they could bring back from Japan? I'll bet you didn't say missile parts.

Japan doesn't need to join the military-industrial complex to make a living. So why are they doing this? Today's top story in The Japan Times online:

First arms export set for approval under new rules: Nikkei report

Jul 6, 2014

Japan is set to approve its first arms export following the relaxation of a self-imposed ban as the nation seeks to boost its global military and economic stature, a report said Sunday.


Some More Thoughts on Japan's Peace Constitution

There is an excellent commentary in today's Japan Times online, from a gentleman in Kansas. I know we are not in Kansas, but this article makes good sense. Here's a sample:

Turning to the rule of law, the primary principle at the foundation of the rule of law is that no person or agency is above the law. Its very essence is the idea that there is one set of laws to which every person and entity is subject, and which is applied equally to all. Thus, not only is the government subject to the law, but government power must be exercised through and in accordance with the law, and not through the use of discretion or arbitrary fiat.

A further and important aspect of the rule of law is that the law must be generally accessible and intelligible, meaning that laws are sufficiently clear, precise and predictable.

Laws must also be susceptible to change, but only in accordance with established mechanisms, and in conformity with democratic principles.

So: (1) No one, not even (make that especially) the Prime Minister, is above the law. (2) There is a legally-prescribed mechanism for change, and it is not arbitrary fiat. (3) Being "clear", "precise" and "predictable" is important.

To see the complete article, go to http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2014/06/27/commentary/japan-commentary/reinterpreting-article-9-endangers-japans-rule-of-law/#.U64BtbmKAiQ


Caution: Democracy at Work

When most of the nations of the world (with a few notable exceptions) have not started a war in decades, there are those who are ready to say, "This is what world peace looks like." Japan is probably the only one among the non-war-starting nations to actually have a clause in the Constitution that prohibits war. Most of us want to keep it that way.

What happens when the people want one thing and the Prime Minister (not elected by popular vote, by the way)wants something else? We will soon find out.

Here's what the Japan Times reports about popular opinion vs the Prime Minister:

55% now opposed to Abe’s collective self-defense push, survey says

Kyodo, JIJI

Jun 22, 2014
Public opposition to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to overturn the ban on collective self-defense jumped to 55.4 percent from 48.1 percent last month, according to the latest survey.

In a nationwide telephone poll conducted by Kyodo News over the weekend, 57.7 percent of respondents said they are also against the Abe administration’s methods, which involve reinterpreting — rather than formally amending — the war-renouncing Constitution, while just 29.6 percent expressed support.

The survey also revealed that 62.1 percent of respondents were concerned the scope of Japan’s exercise of collective self-defense would expand once the ban is removed, and 74.1 percent said the ruling LDP-led coalition should not set a time frame to end discussions on the issue.


A Word from an Okinawa Princess

If you go to the promontory called "Manza-mo", before you can look out over the sea, before you notice the jewel-like colors of the water and the fish-shaped rocks jutting above the waves, you will see a poem carved into a rock. The poem goes: "Be still, and watch the colors change, at peace forever, 'til all the fish turn into stone."

Be still.
Read the poem again.
Let the tide turn toward peace, again and forever.