Am I Missing Something Here?

I thought Mr. Noda was Prime Minister of Japan, not the US. Who should he be keeping faith with?

Futenma plan once again thorn in side of DPJ

Staff writers
The submission of the environmental assessment on Henoko in Okinawa sparked polarized reactions from the governments in Tokyo and Washington and the people of Okinawa, underscoring the gap in awareness over the contentious relocation of the Futenma air base.

Despite thunderous public outrage among Okinawa residents, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had repeatedly expressed his intention to submit the report by the end of the year. And in the end, the Defense Ministry was unable to hand the report to the Okinawa Prefectural Government directly as planned and was forced to use the mail.

Pundits say Noda was adamant about submitting the report by Dec. 31 as a show of good faith to the United States. (italics mine) Amid the gridlock facing the Futenma plan, the U.S. Congress lost patience and recently decided to cut $150 million from the 2012 budget to move thousands of marines from Okinawa to Guam, which was a major part of the relocation package.


Monkeys to the Rescue!

It's hard to be everywhere, monitoring everything that needs monitoring in the wake of the giant tsunami and the nuclear generation disaster it caused. There aren't enough scientists to go around, so the scientists are enlisting some funny allies.

Why not? When the world goes to pot, everyone suffers, even the monkeys.

Here's what today's Japan Times online and Kyodo news have to say about monkeys and monitoring.

Wild monkeys to carry forest fallout monitors

FUKUSHIMA, Kyodo — Fukushima University researchers plan to measure forest radiation levels in Fukushima Prefecture by placing special monitoring collars on wild monkeys, in light of the nuclear crisis.

Each of the collars contains a small radiation meter and a Global Positioning System transmitter, and can be unclipped by remote control. This will allow a team led by robotics professor Takayuki Takahashi to recover the collars and collect the data within one to two months after the monkeys are released back into the wild, they said.


Do the Right Thing (2)

This is what the Japan Times has to say about a new development in the Agent Orange contamination of the Chatan area of Okinawa:

Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011

Agent Orange buried at beach strip?
U.S. veteran fears toxin now beneath popular civilian area

Special to The Japan Times
Dozens of barrels of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange were buried in the late 1960s beneath what is now a busy neighborhood in the central Okinawa Island town of Chatan, near Araha Beach, according to a former U.S. soldier who has recently pinpointed the location thanks to a 1970 map of a U.S. base obtained by The Japan Times.

The alleged burial took place in 1969 when the area was part of the U.S. Hamby Air Field, but since its return to civilian use in 1981 the area has been redeveloped into a sightseeing area. Nearby today are restaurants, hotels and apartment buildings on a street running parallel to popular Araha Beach.

Do the Right Thing

What do you do if someone is poisoning you? First you want to protect yourself, and you also want to make them stop it, right? But what if, even though you are dying, they insist it's not poison, and they keep throwing it at you?

This is the situation for US military personnel who were stationed in Okinawa during the Viet Nam War era. Many of them are now mortally ill, and they are not getting the care they need.

It will also be the situation for families living on the land that the US contaminated and then returned to Okinawa--not in the original condition, as promised by treaty, but contaminated with deadly Dioxin from the Viet Nam War-era defoliant Agent Orange.

Is the US big enough to claim their responsibility?

Is Japan big enough to protect their own citizens by insisting that the sites be tested and the chemical agents verified?


1800 degrees C

Ryukyu glass was originally a clever way to recycle discarded soda pop bottles collected from the US military bases all over Okinawa. Now it is its own, unique art form. This craftsman is in the process of turning a blob of molten glass into a classy square container.


Mystery Photo (2)

Did you guess the photo was of an unhappy kitchen disaster, namely rice going moldy? That would be partly correct.

This rice, however, has a jolly fate. After becoming afflicted with black mold, it will be mixed with hot water and allowed to ferment. Foam (awa) will bubble up (mori-agaru). It will become Okinawa's signature alcoholic drink, awamori.


Mystery Photo

???????? What is this? ??????????????????


How to Make a Sanshin (2)

Did you plant your tree? These are ebony trees. They will be ready to harvest in another 30 years. If you want that home-grown sanshin within your lifetime, better plant that tree now.

How to Make a Sanshin

Okinawa's signature musical instrument is the three-stringed sanshin. Its musical magic comes--not from the snakeskin covering, as many people believe--but from the wooden neck of the instrument. If the neck has the perfect balance of flexibility and solidity, the music will soar.

The perfect wood is ebony, a hardwood that is getting harder and harder to acquire. If you are thinking of making a sanshin, step # one is to plant a tree.


Japan in Autumn: Butterfly

Japan in Autumn: Bright Blue Weather

The clear blue skies seen on the best October days are called "aki-bare" (pronounced in 4 syllables, each vowel highlighting a syllable)

October in Tokyo: Mikan

Where to put it all?

Tohoku is ready to rebuild, but...

One of the reasons the tsunami was so devastating is that most homes and businesses were built on the narrow strip of flat land between the mountains and the sea. That limited area is also where the rebuilding should happen, but...

That tiny strip of prime real estate is covered with rubble from the tsunami. How do you rebuild your house when your property is buried under broken boards, smashed concrete foundations, twisted metal beams, other people's lost cars, and a broken boat or two?

Here is one answer:

Tokyo to accept rubble from Nov. 2

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government said Wednesday it will from Nov. 2 start accepting rubble from tsunami-hit Miyako, Iwate Prefecture.

The rubble will be transported by Japan Freight Railway Co. to Koto and Ota wards, Tokyo. The rubble will first be crushed in the two wards, then incinerated in Koto Ward, and used as landfill in Tokyo Bay, the metro government said.

The rubble will be checked for radioactive contamination from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant when it is loaded onto freight trains, and then a second time before it is crushed in Tokyo.

Tokyo intends to dispose of some 500,000 tons of debris from the badly-hit prefectures of Iwate and Miyagi by March 2014, although many residents in the capital oppose the plan due to radiation concerns.


Time Out

This blog began in 2007, when the author won first prize in the Bulwer-Lytton fiction event. Not that the contest had anything to do with Japan, but starting a blog seemed like a great idea at the time.

This is the sentence that won in 2007:

Lady Guinevere heard it distinctly, a sharp slap, as if a gauntlet had been thrown, and yet it was hardly plausible that she, perched delicately on the back of her cantering steed, should be challenged to ride faster, since protocol determined that Arthur should ride in front, then she, then Lancelot, for that was the order prescribed by Merlin, ever since he invented the carousel.

Celine Shinbutsu

You might want to check out this year's winners at


A Little Bit of History Resurfaces: Kublai Khan's Invasion Fleet

Here's the story. Go to The Japan Times Online to see the photo.

Wreck of 13th century Mongol invasion ship discovered

NAGASAKI — The wreck of a ship believed to have been part of the ill-fated attempts by Kublai Khan, the Mongol ruler of China in the 13th century, to invade Japan has been found lying relatively intact under the seabed off Nagasaki Prefecture, a team of Japanese researchers said Monday.

It is the first wreck linked to the invasion attempts to have been discovered in Japan with much of the hull still intact, including a 12-meter section of the keel and rows of planks 10 cm thick and 15 to 25 cm wide attached to the keel, according to University of the Ryukyus professor Yoshifumi Ikeda and his team.

Discovered about 1 meter under the seabed in waters 20 to 25 meters deep off Takashima Island in Matsuura, Nagasaki, the wreck of the vessel, believed to have been over 20 meters long, is expected to provide archeologists with crucial information on the Mongol attacks in 1274 and 1281, which until now have been known mostly from documents and drawings.

"I believe we will be able to understand more about shipbuilding skills at the time as well as the actual situation of exchanges in East Asia," Ikeda told reporters in Nagasaki. He added that the wreck likely remained relatively well preserved because it was buried under the sand.

Both sides of the keel were painted whitish gray. The planking was held in place by nails. Bricks, ink stones and weaponry used by the Yuan Dynasty were found in the ship's bottom.

The failure of the attack launched by Kublai Khan (1215-1294) against Japan in 1281, with battles fought in northern Kyushu, is often attributed to "kamikaze" divine winds that destroyed much of the fleet. The waters around Takashima Island are where the fleet is thought to have been devastated by a storm in 1281.


Happy Birthday, Empress Michiko

October 20 is the Empress's birthday. This year she is 77.

Did you know that she has a special connection with Philadelphia, Pennsylvania? Both she and the Emperor maintained a long, personal friendship with the Quaker lady from Philadelphia who helped them perfect their English speaking talents, Mrs. Elizabeth Vining.


The Map (2)

The Japan Times didn't give a location for the radiation map. I found a link here to the Tokyo map. You need to be able to read Japanese to know the details, but if you simply look at the color--mainly dark blue--you can see that the overall radiation level in Tokyo is very low.


The Map

This announcement was in today's online version of The Japan Times:

Staff writer

The science ministry said Wednesday it has posted a radiation map that visitors to its website can enlarge to see to what extent their neighborhoods had been contaminated by fallout from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The website launched by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is now available in Japanese only.

The map shows measurements of radiation and radioactive cesium taken from aircraft in 10 prefectures, including Tokyo and Fukushima, between April and September. It also includes data the ministry collected from soil samples at around 2,200 sites in Fukushima Prefecture and radiation levels within a 100-km radius of the power plant.

Roads, schools and other public facilities such as city halls are visible on the 1-to-12,500 scale map, in which 1 cm is equivalent to 125 meters. Areas with the highest radiation level, over 19.0 microsieverts per hour, are colored in red, while dark blue indicates the lowest level, no more than 0.1 microsievert per hour.


C'mon, guys, let's have some truth (3)

Remember Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used extensively in Viet Nam, the one that delivers cancer and misery to the human beings it contacts?

It's time for some truth about how it was used when the US was "protecting" Japan's Okinawa Prefecture. The Japan Times continues the story it brought to light last summer.

Agent Orange revelations raise Futenma stakes
Toxic defoliant stored, possibly buried in camp slated as relocation site for contentious air base in Okinawa, ailing U.S. veteran claims


On Sept. 26, Nago City Council became the first municipality on Okinawa to adopt an official resolution calling for the governments of Japan and the United States to conduct an investigation into the spraying and storage of Agent Orange on the island.

The councilors' unanimous decision came in the wake of three months of extensive media coverage — including from The Japan Times — alleging the use of the toxic defoliant on more than a dozen bases during the 1960s and '70s. Citing the potential threats posed to residents' health and the environment, the resolution called for immediate action under a 1973 Japan-U.S. Joint Committee agreement which states that local authorities "may request the local base commander to make an investigation, the results of which should be made known . . . as promptly as possible."



Like the weather report, we can find out the average amount of radiation being emitted where we live and work, and where our food is grown. However, it's hard to settle for "average" when what people really want to know is, how about in my yard? At my bus stop? On my child's playground?

Government monitors cannot, in all practicality, be everywhere. So groups purchasing measuring equipment and taking it upon themselves to monitor their personal space now exist. Some of them are finding what are called "hotspots". These are isolated spots where radiation from the chemicals released from the Fukushima nuclear generators--Cesium and Strontium--are abnormally high.

How do you explain a hotspot?

One explanation goes like this. The chemicals are floating in the air, and then the wind blows and it starts to rain. The wind drives this radioactive fallout in a certain direction, and the rain carries it to earth. Maybe it sticks to the fallen leaves. Maybe it settles into the mud. Maybe fallout-sprinkled water accumulates on a roof.

Do you have a spot in your yard where, after a heavy rain, the sodden leaves tend to end up? Is there a place where the runoff from your roof tends to accumulate? When the rain pelts your driveway and washes it clean, does the debris run downhill then settle in the cracks in the concrete?

Wind, rain, accumulations of dust/mud/leaves--these all have the makings of hotspots.

One scientist says, in effect, don't worry about hotspots. No one stands at the bus stop all day, and no one eats mud or fallen leaves. The worst effects of radiation are cumulative.

On the other hand, this has never happened before, and no one is a hundred percent sure.


Protest? Maybe a Little...

A few hundred people turned out on Saturday, mainly to protest nuclear power generation in the wake of the March tsunami and earthquake. Here's what a Japan Times editorial had to say about copying the "occupy Wall Street" protest:

So, why don't Japanese protest?

The answer is, they are, a little. Since the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the public has been holding small rallies and marches in front of the Diet building and the Kasumigaseki bureaucratic offices on an almost daily basis. An anti-nuclear rally in mid-September drew 30,000 to 60,000 people, depending on whose figures you believe. That scale of protest has not been seen in Japan since the student protests of the 1960s. The anti-nuclear sentiment may well spill over to other issues.

Yet, there is little sign of a larger movement to occupy anywhere in Japan. Part of the reason is CEO pay is not as outrageously high, nor as flaunted, as in America. Nor has the burden of housing loans devastated Japanese homeowners as the subprime housing loan crisis did American homeowners. And despite job-hunting pressures, college graduates in Japan are not strapped with an average of $22,900 in college loan debt like American graduates. Still, the current protests in New York have latched onto problems more entrenched and widespread than in the past — problems that provoke just as much resentment in Japan as elsewhere.

The belief that the financial system remains essentially sound but needs a touch-up here and there is still stronger in Japan than in other countries. Most workers, and most students looking for work, want stability and security. Instead, they have employment conditions rife with stress and competition, increasingly subject to the whims of economic pressures. It may take time to awaken to the understanding that gaman, toughing it out, may no longer be a constructive strategy.

Is This Your Boat?

Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011

Boat, other tsunami debris found drifting off Midway

LOS ANGELES — A small boat registered in Fukushima Prefecture was among debris from the March 11 tsunami sighted in the North Pacific Ocean more than 3,000 km from Japan, a research group said.

The debris, which also included a TV set and a refrigerator, was found Sept. 21 near Midway Atoll by a 90-meter Russian tall ship on a training expedition, scientists at the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, said Friday.

"To our knowledge, these are the first confirmed observations of the debris" away from Japan's coast, Jan Hafner of the IPRC said.

The center has been predicting the movement of the debris field based on its research of ocean currents. The scientists said the debris was found in the spot where they thought it would be.

"We are using this tsunami as a tragic experiment of nature . . . to better understand how debris moves in the North Pacific," said Nikolai Maximenko of the IPRC.

Because the Russian ship, the STS Pallada, is smaller than the commercial freighters that usually ply the high seas, it was both easy and necessary for its crew to watch out to sea for debris.

The boat found by the Russian crew was recovered and the center is now looking for the person or organization it belongs to.


Hold Your Horses for a Minute and Think

Someone is floating the idea of an "occupy Wall Street" movement in Tokyo. I hope they are kidding. Otherwise, they are just very ignorant.

Tokyo is in Japan, where 95% of the population IS the middle class. We don't have a Wall Street. Our major money comes from trade and agriculture. That means people work-- to make things to trade, and to grow rice and other food.

Work=Have a Job

Japan is where Prime Ministers come and go through a revolving door--because the powers that be are ALREADY responsive. That's what responsive means. When you aren't liked and approved of, you leave.

Occupy Wall Street, by all means. Get a response. Make enough jobs. Don't become India.

But at the moment, Japan is working. Working very well.

A Mystery Solved

Why would a wooden fence be emitting high levels of radiation in downtown Tokyo? At first, fingers were pointed toward the Fukushima nuclear plant. But no, Fukushima's problem is Cesium. The Tokyo fence emissions were from radium.

Radium? Think back. There was a time when almost every adult wore a little bit of radium on their wrist.

The vacant house behind the fence was investigated. In the basement were bottles and test tubes filled with a white powder. The powder was checked out: radium! Radium in the form that used to be used for luminous paint.

Remember watches with luminous dials? That's the stuff.

Strangely good news, in a way: the house was lived in by a woman who is now 90 years old. She knew nothing about the radium, but here's the point. She spent most of her adult life in that house, sleeping practically on top of the bottles of radium stored under the floor. She is now 90. No cancer.


Don't ask why, when we should ask why not?

Why not rebuild Tohoku better than ever? Here's what Bloomberg news has to say:

Thursday, Oct. 13, 2011

A chance to do more than rebuild Tohoku
Disaster an opportunity for new national paradigm


Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai stands before a gathering in Tokyo of 300 representatives of the nation's biggest companies and community organizations.

It's his last stop of the day and his third visit to the capital in a month. Murai races through the high points of his 80-page plan to rebuild Miyagi, to raise it up from its devastation with the help of economic development. Suddenly, Murai pauses. His face breaks into a grin.

"We're coming up with a lot of benefits for businesses in Miyagi," he says. "So I hope you come before we run out of land."


Incentive to Travel

Air tickets to Japan are not cheap, but if you were born under the sign of Gemini (insatiable curiosity about anything and everything) or travel-loving Sagitarrius, this idea is for you. Tourism is down because of radiation fears, but vast parts of Japan are free from radiation worries. And speaking of free...

Here's the deal, according to a Japan Times staff writer:

Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011

Tourism blitz: 10,000 to get free flights to Japan

Staff writer

The Japan Tourism Agency said Tuesday that 10,000 foreigners will be given free round-trip tickets to the country in the next fiscal year as part of a campaign to reverse the plunge in tourists since the March 11 disasters and amid a prohibitively high yen.

The agency said it will open a website to solicit applicants. They will be required to answer questions on postquake tourism in Japan and what their travel goals are in the country.

The successful applicants will receive return air tickets but will have to pay for their accommodations and other expenses, said Shuichi Kameyama, head of the agency's international tourism promotion division.

The agency has requested ¥1.1 billion in the fiscal 2012 budget to cover the campaign, he said.

During or after their visits, the agency will ask the recipients to post on blogs or other online social media about their stay in Japan, hoping positive feedback will lure more visitors.


Crows can Count?!

Having seen two crows cooperate to lift a heavily weighted net off garbage bags waiting for the truck to take them away, it is easy to believe crows are clever. Who knew they can do math, too?

This is from Kyodo News:

Study finds crows can distinguish between symbols denoting quantities

MAEBASHI, Gunma Pref. — Researchers recently found that crows can recognize symbols representing different quantities, successfully selecting containers holding hidden food items when given a choice based only on symbols.

The research by Shoei Sugita, a professor of animal morphology at Utsunomiya University in Tochigi Prefecture, and others confirmed for the first time that crows can distinguish quantities of items, suggesting they have the same numerical cognition ability as humans.


Dancing with the ...


Yes, here is another reason to dance, according to Kyodo News:

Tango therapy helping seniors keep fit, alert

With more people living well into their 80s and beyond, the problem of how to stay fit, alert and happy for as long as possible in their golden years has become important for both seniors and their caregivers.

Across the country, some nursing homes have introduced "tango therapy" to their residents and have achieved great success because the Argentine dance has an amazing effect of reinvigorating both body and mind.

According to some theories, dancing is good for senile people and those afflicted with Parkinson's disease. The quickening of the heartbeat that occurs in close contact with a dancing partner also apparently helps rejuvenate senior women.

One day at the Aioi no Sato nursing home in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, tango instructor Enrique Morales, 28, took Kiyoko Kinoshita's hands and the diminutive 96-year-old resident sprang out of her wheelchair. She is dead serious as she dances across the floor with the tall Argentine leading the way.

Dancing has been her passion since she was a young girl. "I feel much more than just good when I'm dancing," says Kinoshita. "I simply get carried away."

Another female resident, 84, also dances, although she spends most of her time in bed. "Things are quite different when I dance. Even in old age, I get quite excited when I hold the hands of a male partner."

The nursing home added Argentine tango to the list of recreational activities for its residents early last year. Seniors who usually refused to walk got on their feet, and the senile residents started to smile more often, according to caregivers at the facility.


Green: The Color of Money

Here's what one of The Japan Times writers reports about the future of "smart" cities:

Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011

'Smart city' projects revived by disasters

Staff writer
Ever since the March 11 disasters exposed the nation's dependence on conventional power sources and infrastructure, energy-efficient "smart city" projects have drawn increasing attention.

So far Japan has bucked the global trend toward smart cities, which take advantage of IT-controlled power grids and renewable energy. But the quake and the subsequent nuclear crisis have persuaded policy-makers and businesses to kick-start the construction of communities that can use multiple energy sources, experts say.

"The sense of need changed after March 11," said Teruyoshi Takesue, an analyst specializing in advanced technology at Nomura Research Institute Ltd.

"Before March 11, the reason to build the cities was unclear," he said. "But after that day, the central and local governments strongly felt the necessity to tackle the issue as a step to protect the infrastructure from natural disasters."

The outlook for related business is bullish as well, experts say.

According to marketing and consulting firm Fuji Keizai Co., the domestic market for related devices is expected to grow more than five-fold from 2010 to 2020, reaching ¥491.3 billion.

The devices include smart meters that send data to utilities for monitoring power consumption and billing, and power conditioners that can improve the quality of the electricity.

The market for electric and other fuel-efficient cars will grow even further — more than 40 times to ¥599.5 billion in the same year, it said in a recent report.


"Wave" of the Future

Here's good news about renewable energy from Kyodo News. Imagine the power of 36 nuclear reactors, without any nuclear risk! What could be better for a country surrounded by the sea?

Wave power excites as next energy source

With fear over nuclear power running high and concerns mounting over global warming, ocean waves have been attracting attention as a source of natural energy.

Researchers have estimated that ocean waves could produce around the same amount of electricity for Japan as 36 nuclear reactors, but the development costs would be high and there are still many technological challenges before putting waves into practical use alongside solar power.


So, What About Food and Radiation?

Now that the immediate dangers from the tsunami/earthquake disaster are no longer pressing issues, the next great danger is probably contaminated soil and sea water: not because we are walking on that soil or swimming in that water, but because land and sea is where our food comes from. Is anything safe to eat?

Tomoko Otake of the Japan Times published an excellent article on September 20 addressing this very topic. Here are some of the highlights:

1. Wash your vegetables and fruits. Radioactive Iodine is no longer a big threat, as its half life of 8 days has already passed. But Cesium and Strontium remain. The good news? These radioactive substances dissolve. They can be washed off. Throw away the outer lettuce and cabbage leaves. Peel what can be peeled. Wash what can be washed.

2. Forget about brown rice for a while. The outer, brown layer of the rice grain is where the danger lies. These days, white rice is best. Soak it before cooking it, and throw away the water in which it was soaked and washed.

3. Bread and pasta are safe options. The wheat they are made from mostly comes from overseas.

4. Fish: hmmm. If they are smallish fish that were swimming around the contaminated area (because small fish do not have what it takes to travel far), better pass.

5. Meat: cook it.

6. Wakame and other edible sea veggies: find out where they are from. Wakame was briefly sought after because it is full of iodine that, if ingested, pre-empts the space that the radioactive iodine might have taken in the thyroid gland etc. However, if that wakame was grown in contaminated water, it will have absorbed the contaminants. Wash it. Soak it.


The Unsinkable Mickey

Did you know that one of the major victims of the March 11 earthquake was Tokyo Disneyland? Chiba Prefecture, where the park is located, suffered severely when the earth turned into something like quicksand. It took a little over a month for Disneyland and Disney Sea to reopen.

Here's what The Japan Times reports about the ever-popular park:

"The two amusement parks were closed after the catastrophe due to liquefaction in the parking lot and the electricity shortage. Disneyland reopened April 15 and DisneySea followed on April 28.

Visitors began to pick up in May and returned to the year-before level in July as self-restraint eased and the theme parks added new attractions, Uenishi [the man in charge of the park's sponsor, Oriental Land] said."


August 31: Temporary Shelters Empty at Last

NHK news showed smiling kids and adults sweeping out a junior high gym in Japan's Iwate Prefecture. The hall had been used as an emergency shelter after the devastating tsunami/earthquake of March 11 and will be returned to service as the school gym when the new semester begins next month. This one was the last to be officially closed, after sheltering families for almost 6 months.

All 14,000 households who had made their homes in the various emergency shelters in Iwate--the prefecture hardest hit--have been relocated in pre-fab housing units constructed over the past six months. The units are for single family occupancy, and have a private bath (with hot water), plus kitchen space, sleeping space, and living space.

A Word in Japanese: Yudachi

"Yu" means evening, and "dachi" means rising. In a perfect world, at the end of a hot summer day, clouds rise and a delightful, cooling rain falls. If the timing is absolutely perfect, you can run outside and catch a rainbow. Ah, the wonder of yu-dachi!

In an imperfect world, at the end of a sticky summer day, clouds rise and raindrops fall--hitting the asphalt and immediately turning into steam. This, too, is, yudachi.

Who is Yoshihiko Noda?

Japan's newest Prime Minister's name is not a household word, though he seems to be a down-to-earth, householding sort of guy. Here is what The Japan Times' Jun Hongo has to say about him:

Staff writer
Depending on who you ask, Yoshihiko Noda is a fiscal policy expert, a conservative who believes the Class-A war criminals were not in fact so, or the ailing Democratic Party of Japan's last hope to regain the public's trust.

The new prime minister describes himself as more of an "ordinary man" who "doesn't have the elegance or the looks" to charm voters. "I am not a hereditary politician and do not have any substantial asset," he acknowledged in a magazine article published in August.

But what the Chiba Prefecture native lacks in appearance he makes up for in effort.

(find more in The Japan Times, August 31, 2011)


C'mon, guys, let's have some truth (2)

A woman Marine Corps veteran is suffering from cancer--treatable, at the cost of $1500 per month. But will the government who accepted her service also accept her bills?


Medical tests prove she was exposed to Agent Orange. She never served in Viet Nam, only in Okinawa.


Other veterans clearly remember transporting, using, and disposing of Agent Orange in Okinawa, as reported in The Japan Times:

"I witnessed on many occasions the Okinawan groundskeepers spraying defoliants around the buildings and refrigeration units at my barracks and others on Camp Foster," said the veteran, who asked to remain anonymous due to fears that speaking to the media would harm a claim for compensation that he recently submitted to the VA.

The former service member is currently suffering Type-2 diabetes that he believes was caused by exposure to Agent Orange on the base.

According to the testimony of other veterans gathered by The Japan Times, the use of Agent Orange as a localized weed killer was commonplace on American bases in Okinawa, where it was difficult to keep the fast-growing vegetation under control.

Raymond Adams, a marine stationed on the island between 1973 and 1974, said, "We routinely sprayed the runway at MCAS Futenma at the wing equipment and support group. It burned my skin. But it kept the grass down and moreover kept the 'habus' (venomous snakes) away."

The Pentagon itself recognizes that Agent Orange was used in this manner on U.S. bases in Thailand until 1975.

C'mon, Pentagon. Dig a little deeper. If others remember this, you can too.


C'mon, guys, let's have some truth

Just because the documents are gone doesn't mean the poison is gone. Reality is not so simplistic. Here's what The Japan Times reports about the US response to their own soldiers' claims about Agent Orange:

The Pentagon has once again denied allegations that the U.S. military buried the highly toxic defoliant Agent Orange in Okinawa, the Foreign Ministry said.

"The U.S. Department of Defense said that it once again reviewed past records and found no documents confirming that the U.S. military stored or used defoliant in Okinawa before its reversion" to Japan, the ministry said in a statement late Friday.

So, if the documents went away, does that mean the soldiers' health issues will also go away? I don't think so. Do you?

PS: And what about the innocent kids who are growing up with that stuff in their environment?


Time to Come Clean

Literally. People are dying from this stuff. Men who gave the best years of their life to their country's service are being denied the care they need to end those lives with decent care.

This is what the Japan Times reports about US use and storage of the abominable Agent Orange on Okinawa:

Agent Orange buried on Okinawa, vet says
Ex-serviceman claims U.S. used, dumped Vietnam War defoliant

Special to The Japan Times
"In the late 1960s, the U.S. military buried dozens of barrels of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange in an area around the town of Chatan on Okinawa Island, an American veteran has told The Japan Times.

The former serviceman's claim comes only days after Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto said that he would ask the U.S. Department of Defense to come clean on its use of the chemical on the island during its 27-year occupation of Okinawa between 1945 and 1972. The U.S. government has repeatedly maintained that it has no records pertaining to the use of Agent Orange in Okinawa."

No records? How about the actual substance, which is still there. How about the after effects, which are still causing death and maiming?

With the right information, this problem could be cleaned up. Couldn't it?

About Japanese high speed trains, from Mr. Terashima

One of the most original thinkers in Japan is Jitsuro Terashima. Here is something he wants to point out about Japanese engineering.

Remember the Magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11? At the moment it struck, there were 88 high speed trains running on the "bullet train" network, many of them in the Tohoku area. These are trains that fly along the ground at speeds close to 300 km/hr. At the very moment the earth trembled and cracked, there they were, 88 of them, wheels to the rails, and...

Not a single one derailed. Not a single person was injured. The trains simply did what they were programmed to do and stopped. Safely.

How cool is that?


Now Let Us Welcome the USA

Russia sent their representative to Hiroshima, and now the US will be represented at Nagasaki, 66 years after the dreadful event. Here's what Kyodo news reports:

U.S. to send first envoy to Nagasaki A-bomb rites

The U.S. will for the first time send a representative to Nagasaki's annual peace memorial ceremony Tuesday marking the 1945 atomic bombing of the city, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Sunday.

"I am honored to be the first U.S. representative to attend the Peace Memorial in Nagasaki, and to express my respect for all the victims of World War II," Charge d'Affaires James Zumwalt said. "The United States looks forward to continuing to work with Japan to advance President (Barack) Obama's goal of realizing a world without nuclear weapons."

U.S. Ambassador John Roos, who visited Nagasaki twice last year, will not be in Japan due to "previously scheduled travel at the time of the ceremony" in Nagasaki, according to the embassy.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue welcomed the announcement, saying the U.S. move is "a step forward" toward creating a world without nuclear weapons.

He said he hoped Zumwalt will "pray for the people killed by the atomic bomb, speak with survivors and deepen understanding" of the lasting realities of the suffering.

Sakue Shimohira, a 76-year-old survivor, praised the decision. "For a long time we asked someone to represent (the U.S. government), but no one came until now," Shimohira said. "I respect this decision, which, I guess, needed some courage."


Hiroshima 66

This time, it's not the casualties, it's what's happening to the food chain.

Here is a brief report from the 66th annual memorial for those who died when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

Staff writer

HIROSHIMA — Hiroshima marked the 66th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb Saturday morning in a ceremony that paid tribute to victims of the March 11 quake and tsunami and heard calls by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Hiroshima politicians and local residents to consider moving away from nuclear power.

As fear that radiation leaking from the Fukushima nuclear plant entering the food chain continues to grow, media polls across the nation show an increasing number of people support moving away from nuclear power toward renewable energy. That includes many who attended Saturday's ceremony.
"The Fukushima reactor incident provides the human race with a new lesson and our mission is to convey that lesson to the world, and to the next generation. The country's energy policy is being fundamentally reviewed, following a deep reflection on the myth that nuclear power is safe. My aim is to reduce Japan's level of reliance on nuclear power so as to create a society that isn't addicted to it," Kan told the gathering


August 6

Until I read Eric Johnston's excellent exposition of the US campaign to get Japan to adopt nuclear energy, I never understood why US writers would deluge Japanese media with letters disparaging the annual memorial services for those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Even so, the services continue. This year, for the first time, there is a guest from a major nuclear power.

The Japan Times reports as follows:

The Russian ambassador to Japan, in Hiroshima for a ceremony to remember the annihilation of the city in 1945, pledged Friday to make sure nuclear calamities like the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the Fukushima No. 1 power plant accident never happen again.

"The nuclear crisis is a disaster by natural causes and Hiroshima is a disaster caused by humans. But there is something in common between them: We must make efforts to make sure a similar thing will never happen again," Mikhail Bely, 65, told reporters a day before the 66th anniversary of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing.

The ambassador from one of the nuclear weapon states is set to attend the peace memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima on Saturday, and in Nagasaki on Tuesday, for the first time. Bely became ambassador to Japan in 2007.

"Japan has memories of the (A-bomb) disaster . . . and their efforts to pass on such memories will be a big contribution to the movement to nuclear arms reductions," Bely said after visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.


A Word in Japanese: Yuga

Grace. Elegance. Poetry in motion.
A person who has "yuga" treads lightly on others' space: physically, verbally, and emotionally.


A Word in Japanese: Mizumizushii

Dewy. Moist. Fresh.
Not just a garden, but also a face, a mind, a heart.


A Word in Japanese: Nadeshiko

No one was more surprised than the people of Japan when the women's soccer team brought home the gold medal. It was a poignant moment for a country in the process of lifting itself out of disaster by its own tattered and tangled bootstrings.

The team name is Nadeshiko Japan. By now, most people who are curious about names know that nadeshiko is the name of a flower, but the meaning behind that choice is what adds to the poignancy of this team's victory.

The flower name is usually translated as simply a "pink". It blooms in sun or shade, but prefers a little shade. It is easily overlooked, but is a lovely, gentle color when noticed. It calls little attention to itself, but makes the perfect background for other plants sharing the garden. It looks fragile, but has the quiet strength to bloom in its own way.

Nadeshiko--a generation ago in Japan, nadeshiko was the symbol of all that a young woman should be.


Thanks a Bunch, Ike! (2)

Here's what Kyodo news adds to the nuclear power story:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Declassified papers show U.S. promoted atomic power in Japan

The United States used atomic power cooperation with Japan in the 1950s to ease the Japanese public's aversion to nuclear weapons and remedy their "ignorance" about such energy, declassified U.S. papers showed Saturday.

The U.S. move, which eventually led the world's only country to have suffered atomic bombing to embrace nuclear power, was initially devised to counter the antinuclear sentiment among the Japanese public after a tuna boat, the Fukuryu Maru No. 5, was exposed to radioactivity from a 1954 U.S. hydrogen bomb test while operating at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific.

The documents, collected by Kyodo News at the U.S. National Archives, show that President Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration, concerned about Japan's possible exit from the Western camp, accelerated cooperation with Japan in atomic energy technology to contain antinuclear and anti-U.S. sentiment among the Japanese.

In a memorandum to U.S. Secretary of State John Dulles, dated May 26, 1954, Eisenhower said he was "concerned about the Japanese situation," and asked Dulles to help "have a better idea of what it is now possible for us to do to further our interests in Japan."

Thanks a Bunch, Ike!

Key players got nuclear ball rolling
Cash paved the way even amid safety doubts on high, ineptitude

Staff writer (The Japan Times)

OSAKA — How did earthquake-prone Japan, where two atomic bombs were dropped at the end of World War II creating a strong antinuclear weapons culture, come to embrace nuclear power just a few decades later?

Therein lies a tale whose main characters include two former prime ministers, a suspected war criminal, CIA agent and postwar media baron, and "Japan's Charles Lindbergh," a flamboyant pilot who encouraged people to search for uranium in their backyards.

It also involves thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, engineers and the pronuclear media collectively known as Japan's "nuclear power village."


The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Someone joked that, because of the high cost of energy, the light at the end of the tunnel would be turned off. Well, now it is turned back on.

Here is what Natsuko Fukue of The Japan Times reports:

"The Diet enacted Monday a ¥2 trillion second extra budget for fiscal 2011 to finance disaster relief and reconstruction since March 11, one of the three conditions laid down by Prime Minister Naoto Kan for his exit.

The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, the main opposition forces, supported the extra budget, whose passage was delayed from Friday due to a boycott last week by LDP lawmakers of a televised Upper House Budget Committee session.

The extra budget, worth ¥1.99 trillion, allocates ¥275.4 billion to pay for damages suffered by victims of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, including money to monitor the health of Fukushima Prefecture residents.

It also earmarks ¥377.4 billion in financial support for quake and tsunami survivors, including securing new loans for indebted individuals and businesspeople who need to rebuild their livelihood or companies. The supplementary budget also sets aside ¥800 billion for postquake reconstruction.

Kan said last month that he would "hand over my responsibility to the younger generation" after passage of three key bills.

The other bills concern issuing deficit-covering bonds and the establishment of a mechanism for power companies to buy solar power at fixed rates."

What's in a Name? (2)

A symbol of Hino, erected in the central park in front of the city hall

What's in a Name?

There is an attractive suburb in the western part of Tokyo named Hino City. Hino is written with the characters for "fire" and "field". How did it get this name?

One rather poetic explanation is that, because three rivers converge in Hino, sparks shoot off the water like sparks struck from a flint.

Another explanation is more prosaic. Since the most ancient days of human habitation (about 10 thousand years into the past) Hino has been a grassy plain. When grass gets dry, it burns.

Yet another explanation attributes the naming to the period of warring states in Japan when Hino, as the first high ground to the west in the flat area around Edo/Tokyo bay, was where military signal fires were set alight.

There is probably a little truth to all of them. Which one captures your fancy?


It's Working!

Yes, there is voluntary electricity rationing in Japan. According to the NY Times, the strategy is working. There have been a few cool days this month, but there have also been plenty of scorchers. At least one Tokyo-ite (me) found a letter in the mailbox from which the ink had melted.

Here is what the Times had to say:

"Already a leader in conservation, Japan consumes about half as much energy per capita as the United States, according to the United Nations Population Fund. But it has been pushed to even greater lengths since the nuclear disaster even as it tries to revive its economy. The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and the resulting backlash against nuclear power have left only 17 out of Japan’s 54 reactors online as the nation steels itself for August, the hottest month of the year.

Preliminary figures indicate that regions under conservation mandates have been able to meet reduction targets and even exceed them, providing a possible model of conservation’s potential when concerns about global warming are mounting. In the Tokyo area, the government is pushing to cut electricity use by 15 percent between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays to prevent blackouts — and on Thursday, for example, that target was met compared with last year."


Takadaya Kahei, merchant extraordinaire

Take a look at my statue, and think of what you might know of me by my appearance. Yes, you are right that I lived during the shogunate, a contemporary of the western world's George Washington. However, I much preferred trade to life by the sword and preferred to make peace rather than war. How can people trade when they are at war?

I was born on an island not far from Kobe, a city in mid-Japan that you probably have heard of, but it was in Hokkaido that I made my fortune. Do you see the map I am holding? I explored the island of Hokkaido and the islands that lead beyond Hokkaido to Russia. I opened them all up to trade. And what did I do with most of my profits? I poured a fortune into the building of infrastructure.

Hokkaido is blessed with an enormous, sheltered, natural harbor at Hakodate. I gave it wharves and warehouses. I filled it with ships, and not just my own. But anyone will tell you, it was the Takadaya brand that made it a success.

Come visit my company's original premises the next time you're in Hokkaido. We're easy to find, a few minutes away from the water, across the street from the red brick warehouses that still form the liveliest marketplace in Hakodate.

Do you know me?


Got Juice? It's in the Car

AP news reports a Prius solution to household electrical blackouts:

"Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday it will donate emergency power supply systems linked to its Prius hybrid cars to prefectures in the area ravaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The systems will be fitted to about 40 of the automaker's Prius hybrids.

Hybrid vehicles can be used to store and generate electricity because it is partly an electric vehicle that runs on a high-quality battery.

Toyota's hybrid technology has already been helping in quake-affected areas, which suffered massive blackouts, as an emergency source of electricity.

The automaker said the positive reviews for its Estima hybrid minivan, which comes with regular electrical outlets to plug in and run household appliances for up to two days, are prompting it to make it available as an option for the Prius within a year."


Oriental Dragons

Interested in traditional Japanese arts? There is a charming review of a current exhibition, written by CB Liddell, in today's Japan Times online. Here's what he has to say about oriental dragons, which might surprise those who are only familiar with the Harry Potter sort of dragon.

"Although dragons are often conceptualized as fire-breathing monsters, in Japan they are more often seen as deities associated with particular bodies of water. Nihonbashi's dragon, it seems, has ancient roots.

Some of this can be traced in "Tawara-no-Tota," an illustrated book from the 17th or 18th century. This shows Tawara-no-Tota Hidesato, a legendary warrior, defending a bridge against a rampaging dragon that is perhaps symbolic of the often wild power that Japanese rivers can unleash after a heavy rainstorm."

For the full article, go to the arts section of The Japan Times online version, July 21.

Peace Boat at Yokohama

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Another Kind of Cruise

Some go on cruises to relax; others go to teach. Peace Boat is the teaching kind. Here is what Kyodo News reports about Peace Boat, that set sail from Yokohama on Tuesday.

Peace Boat gets under way carrying antipoverty message

Yokohama — The latest round-the-world voyage by the nongovernmental organization Peace Boat that kicked off this week features an antipoverty photo exhibition in a tieup with the U.N. Development Program.

The Oceanic cruise ship left Yokohama on Tuesday on the 74th voyage organized by the Tokyo-based NGO aimed at promoting international exchanges.

The photo exhibit to be held in some of the cities it will visit on its 101-day voyage through Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America, highlights the work being done to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

"I hope people will acknowledge that developed countries are responsible for ending poverty," Peace Boat international coordinator Yoko Takayama said while the vessel was still docked in Yokohama.


Another Way to Share the Pain?

Kyodo news reported:

The meat of six cows shipped from a Fukushima Prefecture farm at the heart of growing concerns over radioactive beef has been distributed to at least nine prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, and some was believed consumed, local government officials said Tuesday.

"Eating only a portion of the meat will not cause a great deal of damage to one's health," said Goshi Hosono, state minister in charge food safety.

Cesium 137 has a half-life of about 30 years, while the half-life of cesium 134 is about two years. If it enters the body, it may spread to muscle and other organs, and cause cancer.

Right. Cancer. If we all eat a small portion, does that mean we get only small cancers?


Solar, Wind and Geothermal Shine!

Here's what The Japan Times' Eric Johnston reports about an initiative from the private sector:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Son's quest for sun, wind has nuclear interests wary

Staff writer

In late March, while engaging in volunteer work and making efforts to restore telecommunications networks in the quake-stricken Tohoku region, Softbank Corp. founder and Chairman Masayoshi Son met with evacuees from the area surrounding the troubled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Days later, he returned to Tokyo and declared pursuit of a new energy policy, one emphasizing renewable sources, such as solar, wind and thermal energy, was needed.

In April, Son announced he would personally donate ¥1 billion to establish a foundation for that purpose.

The amount he's committing, and the political support he has received from local and national leaders, have sparked a national debate on the future of nuclear power versus renewable, and put the atomic power lobby on the defensive.

Take this with a grain of salt: the gov't predicts...

According to a government panel on earthquakes, the seismic faults most likely to produce the next big earthquake are in Kanagawa Prefecture (the Miura peninsula) and Tokyo (Tachikawa). There is, of course, no time line for this prediction.

These results of the expert panel's conference were broadcast on NHK-TV, Monday, July 11.


True! Pay Attention, Please

A warning from Kyodo news agency:

As the mercury rises to levels unseen in decades and amid the nationwide power-saving drive, health experts are warning the public of the risk of heatstroke if they refrain too much from using air conditioning.

The elderly, people with illnesses and small children are particularly susceptible, the experts said, adding that while raising the temperature setting in refrigerators saves power, it increases the risk of food poisoning.


The New Neckties

The temperature is in the 90s and humidity in the 50s. Wanna wear a necktie?

No? You sure?

Some of the new ones are cool, in the literal sense of the word. I have one in my freezer right now.

The freezer style consists of three parts: a long, narrow tube that freezes solid; a similar tube stuffed with a gel that chills but doesn't freeze; and a terry cloth covering. You push the ice and gel tubes into the cover and clip it around your neck with the soft gel side next to your skin. It keeps you cool until the ice melts. Then you have to pop it back into the freezer for an hour or so.

Here's a more popular style, no freezer required. It starts out as a narrow, baby blue strip of cloth that is perfectly flat. You dip it into a bowl or basin filled with water and watch the back section swell for a minute or two. It thickens, but isn't too thick to fit inside a man's shirt collar. Then you give it a quick wipe with a dry towel so the ends won't drip and tie it on like a jaunty, slim scarf.

Whole offices and factory floors are populated by men and women wearing these. One company president I know keeps a box of the scarf style on his desk, handing them out to visitors and staff like Halloween candy. They are a boon when electrical power for air conditioning is in short supply.

Ingenuity--the new electricity!


What Does Hope Look Like?

One sign of hope after the tsunami and earthquake disaster is, in fact, a sign. Made of broken bits of his own home, it is a wooden signboard put up by a tsunami survivor spelling out the Japanese word "Ganbaro!"

Hang on!
Give it all you've got!

That's what the "Ganbaro!" spirit is.

A Japanese essayist, Daisaku Ikeda, who is known for unflagging optimism that springs from his Buddhist faith, wrote about three very conspicuous signs of hope in these troubled times:
(1) Human solidarity--cooperation from around the world and within communities
(2) Courage--selfless deeds by the known heroes and the unsung ones, too
(3) Youth in action--young people using their physical strength, their creativity, and their vigorous will to rise above disaster to put their communities back on their feet.

It's an inspiring essay. If you have the chance, please go to the Japan Times online and read the whole thing: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20110628a3.html


Was it Worth It?

This is what Kyodo news reports about the profitability of nuclear electrical generation:

"Tokyo Electric Power Co. faces a potential damages bill exceeding its profits from nuclear power generation over a 38-year period beginning in 1970, the year it opened the crisis-hit Fukushima No. 1 plant, according to a recent study.

Kenichi Oshima, an environmental economist and professor at Kyoto-based Ritsumeikan University, estimates that Tepco in that time earned just less than ¥4 trillion, possibly equal to or less than the amount it must pay farmers, fishermen, evacuees and others affected by the nuclear crisis.

Oshima also found that the cost of nuclear power generation is higher in Japan than that of hydraulic and thermal power, contrary to a widely disseminated government estimate."


June 23

Today is Memorial Day in Okinawa. There is a moment of silence, a lot of prayer, and a few speeches by officials. Many mark the day by visiting the peace park in Itoman, at the southern tip of the island of Okinawa.

They burn incense and leave flowers and other tokens in front of the stones engraved with the names of each and every known victim of the invasion in 1945--and because Okinawa's society is tightly knit, the names are known and still remembered. We are talking about one third of the island's population.

One elderly woman reached up as high as she could, pointing to an engraved name. "That's my father," she said. Going down the list until her pointer finger was at waist level, "My mother, my daughter, my son..."

One third of the population...


Can you say NIMBY?

The Ministry of Industry has one opinion about restarting nuclear reactors. This is what Mr. Kaieda said, as reported in The Japan Times online edition: Industry minister Banri Kaieda on Saturday called for restarting nuclear reactors currently suspended to meet summertime electricity demand, saying immediate countermeasures for severe accidents have been taken "appropriately" at the nation's power plants.

The people who live close to the nuclear reactors have a different opinion: not in my backyard.

According to safety agreements signed with power plant operators, utilities need the consent of local governments before reactors can be restarted.


Rainy Season in Tokyo

June is for rain, not for brides, but the misty days and nights can inspire one's inner romanticist. The illustrator for this cover (a monthly distributed by the Yomiuri newspapers), Keiko Uegusa, captured that sit-back-and-dream mood.

The author of this blog will be taking a short break, too, to work on her novel. Watch this space--she'll be back near the end of June.


The Show will go On! Banzai for the Met!

The opera will go on! Hurray for the general manager!

Here's some background about the situation from reporter Eric Talmadge in Tokyo:

"Gelb said the Met struggled with whether to go ahead with the performances, planned years in advance.

Last month, David Brenner, an expert on low-dose radiation, was brought in from Columbia University to meet with the company. He informed them that radiation levels in Tokyo had returned to their pre-tsunami norm, and that the airplane trip or a simple X-ray would probably lead to greater exposure than the stay in Japan.

"There are cities in Europe with higher levels," Gelb said Brenner told the performers.

According to Mr. Talmadge, all but three performers decided it's safe to be in Tokyo and even safer to be in Nagoya (also on the concert tour), and replacements have been found for the three stars who canceled.

A Smoking Bolt?

The investigation has begun. What caused parts of the engine shaft of a diesel express train to fall onto the tracks, leading to a fire and derailment, not to mention 36 injured passengers? It is too soon to say officially, but the most likely outcome is a maintenance error.

Trains that travel at high speeds on metal rails laid on the earth's surface are bound to vibrate. They can't help it. Parts will eventually fall off, unless the bolts that hold parts in place are kept fastened. This requires a lot of work by human hands.

Wouldn't it be great to have a bolt that, the more it vibrated, the tighter it fastened itself?

Guess what? There IS such a bolt. It is called the "perfect lock bolt", and it is as good as it gets in the world of metal fasteners.

Opera Can Be Unpredictable: True or False?

I vote for true!

The cancellation is disappointing, but understandable. I love this way of reframing a difficult situation:

"Two of the biggest stars of New York's Metropolitan Opera have bowed out of a Japan tour, citing fears of radioactive contamination and sending the company scrambling to find last-minute stand-ins.

Soprano Anna Netrebko and tenor Joseph Calleja announced just days before the opening show that they would not join the tour of Nagoya and Tokyo despite experts' assurances they would be safe, forcing the Met to "scour the world" for replacements, general manager Peter Gelb said Tuesday.

"Part of what makes opera such an exciting art form is that it is so unpredictable," Gelb remarked. "If there were a rationality clause in opera singers' contracts, not many opera singers would perform."

Hurray for general managers who get a thrill out of problem solving!

A Teeny Bit of Silver Lining

Tragedy is devastating, but recovery can be beautiful. Among the more than 10,000 fatalities in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami were two very young English teachers from the US. If they had survived, what wonderful ambassadors between the people of Japan and America they would have become!

In their memory, a new exchange program has begun. These are the details as reported in The Japan Times online:

"Japan will invite 32 U.S. high school students who are studying Japanese to take part in a program in July to study the language and culture in memory of two American teachers killed in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, during a speech at a symposium in Tokyo on Monday, referred to the program intended to nurture people who will serve as a bridge between Japan and the United States in the future.

The program is in commemoration of Taylor Anderson, 24, and Montgomery Dickson, 26, who were taking part in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program."


Hokkaido train loses parts

Accidents involving trains are few and far between in Japan, so the picture in today's newspapers of a scorched train in Hokkaido was quite a shock. The report said some components dropped off the underside of the train, and sparks from metal friction set off the fire. Luckily, no one was seriously hurt.

That said, why would parts drop off?

It wasn't reported in the news, but almost always it is the fault of a bolt that failed.

Since Japan has the world's leading technology in computer controlled thread rolling--technology that makes a nearly fail-safe nut and bolt combination possible--this accident is a little embarrassing.

They should be using the perfect lock bolt, manufactured by Nissei KK.


The Fifth Season

Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring----and then the rainy season. It started in Okinawa in early May. The rainy season usually strikes Tokyo in June and lasts for about six weeks. It is still May, but officially, the rainy season has begun. Bring your umbrella and galoshes if you'll be visiting Japan.


Where do you draw the line?

Nemo got his own movie. The dolphins and whales have armed bodyguards. Everyone goes gaga over newly hatched turtles and seal pups. But what about us? Where's our bumper sticker?

We eels have feelings, too. Come to think about it, so do chickens and cows and pigs and Bambi. Maybe even potatoes! We all want to live, forever if possible. And that's why we eat, because food = life.

Where do you draw the line? Are anteaters evil because they eat ants? Are people evil because they eat the food their gods have set in front of them? Why single out one creature for protection and ignore the rest of us? And what is it with people, that they'll fight to protect us animals and glory in killing each other?

Dunno. What do you expect from a life form that built a magic kingdom and chose a rodent to be king. A rodent! What about us? Dontcha think we're cute enough?


A Small Part of Getting Your Life Back

Photographs are a cherished link connecting people with each other and with precious moments in their life's journey. Many people who survived the tsunami and earthquake in northeast Japan said that, if they could return to their old homes for only a moment, the one thing they would want to retrieve is their photograph albums.

That is assuming, of course, that the photo albums would still be on their shelves, safely indoors.

Unfortunately, a tsunami is not so neat. Many albums were retrieved, but they were soaked in sea water and caked in mud, scoured by salt and sand.

Hopeless? Not always.

Here is what an expert from the Fuji Film company has to say in The Japan Times online:

"On average, a family takes about 200 to 300 photos a year, and over the course of 10 years that comes to about 2,000 to 3,000 photos per family," said Yuichi Itabashi of Fuji Film. "But even a skilled person can only clean 200 photos a day at maximum. Normally, 100 photos a day."

Collaborating with local volunteers, Itabashi spent two days just cleaning photos.

Mud stuck on the surface has to be removed with a soft brush. Each photo is then soaked in water warmed to 20 to 30 degrees for up to 60 seconds, during which further mud is removed with a brush or finger. The warm water helps remove mud and sea salt, according to Fujifilm.

After a rinse with clean water, the photos are dried in a shady, dust-free environment.

Cleaning up photos is one thing, giving them back to their owners is another.

"This is totally different from previous disasters where belongings remained inside homes," said Itabashi. "Photos are valuable only when they are in the hands of the owners. So we thought it was a part of our job to return the photos."

Thus one thing they do is keep album covers as people tend to remember them, he said.

And photos are likely to be returned when local residents participate in the volunteer photo-cleaning activity because they know their neighbors.


PS: What happens if you don't print your photos and put them in albums, but save them on the computer or memory sticks? Time to think about alternative storage locations?


Time for the World to Stop and Think

Someone (probably me) said Japan's disaster news is going to get worse before it gets worse. The nuclear news is dismal, and getting darker by the minute. It's time for the world--especially the parts of it that plug into nuclear power--to stop, look, and listen. And then decide what to do.

For those living in the US, read on:

Risk From Spent Nuclear Reactor Fuel Is Greater in U.S. Than in Japan, Study Says
Published: May 24, 2011 (NY Times online)

WASHINGTON — The threat of a catastrophic release of radioactive materials from a spent fuel pool at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant is dwarfed by the risk posed by such pools in the United States, which are typically filled with far more radioactive material, according to a study released on Tuesday by a nonprofit institute.

The report, from the Institute for Policy Studies, recommends that the United States transfer most of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel from pools filled with cooling water to dry sealed steel casks to limit the risk of an accident resulting from an earthquake, terrorism or other event.

“The largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet will remain in storage at U.S. reactor sites for the indefinite future,” the report’s author, Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the institute, wrote. “In protecting America from nuclear catastrophe, safely securing the spent fuel by eliminating highly radioactive, crowded pools should be a public safety priority of the highest degree.”

At one plant that is a near twin of the Fukushima units, Vermont Yankee on the border of Massachusetts and Vermont, the spent fuel in a pool at the solitary reactor exceeds the inventory in all four of the damaged Fukushima reactors combined, the report notes.


Plan Ahead

It pays to know your neighbors and plan ahead. This happy-ending story is from Kyodo News, published by The Japan Times online:

"On a small island about 30 minutes by boat from Shiogama, Miyagi Prefecture, Kisako Utsumi, 68, felt herself swept off her feet by the force of the March 11 tsunami. Houses were being torn apart around her.

"I was terrified," she recalled.

The tsunami triggered by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake swept away half of about 50 houses on Nonoshima Island, one of the group of Urato Islands north of Sendai. But none of the approximately 80 residents on the island was killed by the tsunami, thanks to a disaster prevention map and an evacuation route created more than half a century ago.

They had also prepared for the possibility of disaster by conducting emergency drills over and over.

In the scant 30 minutes that elapsed between the quake and the arrival of the massive tsunami, town officials knocked on the doors of every home, urging residents to evacuate.
Using a special 2-meter-wide evacuation route that local residents had cleared through a bamboo grove, they fled to a local elementary and junior high school that was built on higher ground."

PS: Imagine having town officials who would knock on every door.


You Have Fifteen Seconds

Earthquake prediction is not an exact science, not even close to the level of weather prediction. As an interesting first step toward making earthquake prediction practical, a new device is on the market. It senses an approaching earthquake and announces: Earthquake in fifteen seconds!

What can you do in fifteen seconds?

Turn off the gas.
Get out of the bath.
Run to your child.

Fifteen seconds! What would you do?

PS: This device is produced by Iris Ohyama and retails for about ¥7000.


Mamma mia! It takes a village!

Some 500 people in the city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, one of the areas worst hit by the March 11 quake and tsunami, earlier this month received a pasta, soup and wine treat provided by prominent Italian chefs from Tokyo.

The event, named Domenica Italiana (Italian Sunday), was part of the charity campaign "Italians in Japan for the rebirth of Tohoku region."

Twenty-five volunteer workers including staff from such Tokyo restaurants as Elio Locanda Italiana delivered food as well as relief items to disaster victims at an evacuation shelter in Rikuzentakata.

"People enjoyed the food and some even asked whether they could take the leftovers home," said Marco Staccioli, who started the charity project involving the Italian community in Japan. "In Italy, families get together on Sundays after attending Mass and eat food prepared by mothers. We named the event after such a tradition."

(Read the whole story, provided by Kyodo news, in today's Japan Times online)


Got Oysters?

Here is one little-known side effect of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Don't expect oysters if you are dining out in Paris.

"A deadly virus is stalking France's coastline, killing at least 60 percent of the young oysters there since 2008. Japan's earthquake and tsunami may have wiped out the latest rescue plan.

The March 11 natural disasters destroyed the fishing industry in Miyagi Prefecture, which produced 80 percent of Japan's oyster seeds in 2009. That is forcing France to abandon plans to import and breed Miyagi's Pacific oyster species, and find another solution for diners seeing fewer, and more costly, options."

(This is from Bloomberg news, by Makiko Kitamura and Maki Shirai.)


Pre-emptive Nuclear Shut-down, Hurrah!

People are teachable. It would be nicer if we could learn without being beaten by the big stick of tragedy.

This is from Kyodo news agency, published in the Japan Times online edition:

"Chubu Electric Power Co. on Friday successfully halted one of its two active reactors at the Hamaoka power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, marking the first step in an unprecedented government-requested shutdown.

With the No. 4 reactor offline, the utility will move to halt the No. 5 unit on Saturday, which will close down the entire plant. The complex sits on a major active fault line."

To read the entire article, please go to:


Back to Okinawa

This empty harness is for the water buffalo whose job it is to turn the sugar cane crusher. There was a time when these huge animals performed essential labor. Now, when electricity provides the power, water buffaloes are only a bit of nostalgia from Okinawa's colorful past.

[for a fictional look at water buffalo, check out the newest post in the Chura Writer blog]


The Geology of the March 11 Quake

It must be a rare event when a whole country gets shoved out of its place in geography, and that is what happened to Japan on March 11. An AP reporter explains it as follows:

"Japan's northern half sits on the North American tectonic plate. The Pacific plate, which is mostly undersea, normally slides under this plate, slowly nudging the country west. But in the earthquake, the fault line between the two plates ruptured, and the North American plate slid up and out along the Pacific plate.

The rising edge of plate caused the sea floor off Japan's eastern coast to bulge up — one measuring station run by Tohoku University reported an underwater rise of 16 feet (5 meters) — creating the tsunami that devastated the coast. The portion of the plate under Japan was pulled lower as it slid toward the ocean, which caused a corresponding plunge in elevation under the country.

Some areas in Ishinomaki[in Miyagi Prefecture] moved southeast 17 feet (5.3 meters) and sank 4 feet (1.2 meters) lower."

For the full article, go to:


The Little Engine that Could

In a place where tsunami and earthquake wiped out cars, trucks, busses and ambulances--not to mention the gasoline supplies that kept them running--how do you get doctors to patients? Food to the hungry?

With cars that skim over the landscape on battery power.

Mitsubishi and Nissan donated electric-powered cars to Japan's battered northeast. The cars flitted about by day, then at night returned to the City Halls, where they were plugged in to 200-volt outlets. Even the Japanese standard household 100-volt outlet would work, provided more time (12 hours, or overnight) was allotted for the recharge.

More information on these little engines that could can be found in The New York Times online.


A Little Solemnity on the 49th Day

When a loved one dies and funeral rites are held in Japan, it's not a matter of one ceremony and you're done. Religious services are held over an extended period of time, and one of the milestones occurs on the 49th day after death.

For those who lost their lives in the earthquake/tsunami that struck northeast Japan on March 11, the 49th day is today. In Buddhist tradition, it is believed that it takes 49 days for a soul to make the transition from life in this world to whatever comes next. This is the day for the final good-bye.

Under normal circumstances, there is a wake and then a "departure" ceremony, after which the remains of the deceased person are cremated. The ashes are gathered and placed in an urn, which is enshrined at the home of the next of kin. Once a week, for seven weeks, incense is burned, candles are lit, and prayers are said in front of the urn. Then, on the 49th day, the ashes are taken away for interrment.

Though these are not ordinary times and the circumstances are far from normal, it is still the 49th day.

Please take a moment and remember the ten thousand and more whose lives came to an unexpected end on March 11, 2011.


Influential by Example

This is from the Japan Times online, about one of the many people who did his/her best for others during the March 11 tsunami.

"— A Japanese doctor who was recently chosen as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people said Tuesday he believes he was picked as a symbol of all the people who have been courageously fighting against difficulties after being affected by the March 11 disaster in his homeland.

Takeshi Kanno

Takeshi Kanno, a 31-year-old internist, spoke with media outlets in New York, where he was visiting at the invitation of the magazine. He was noted for helping evacuate patients at his hospital in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, after the tsunami alert and waiting until the last of his patients had been helicoptered out before he too left.

Then on March 16, Kanno attended his wife's delivery of a baby boy.

Asked about the latest conditions, Kanno said, "Needs for goods and housing are being met to a certain extent, but (the survivors) still cannot fully live like humans. The question used to be how to survive. Now it has shifted to how to live and be independent."


What is Influence?

Influence is the power to make things happen.
Influence means being listened to by the people who can make things happen..
So, if a person cannot make something happen and no one who does have that power is listening to him, is he influential?

Time magazine should think again.

If a person who has to complain to You-tube that he personally (as mayor!) couldn't make an evacuation happen in his village and that no one else who might have had that power would listen to him, is that person really one of the 100 most influential people in the world?


Can you say GE?

Everyone by now probably knows the acronym Tepco, for Tokyo Electric Power Company, the people in charge of the damaged nuclear reactor in Fukushima. How many people know who sold Tepco a plant that, as early as 1972, was described by a US regulatory agency as "guaranteed to fail"?

The answer is in Time magazine, April 4.

Guess who sold Tepco the Mark 1? The same company that doesn't have to pay taxes!



Earthquake (6)

Living in eastern Japan is almost like living on shipboard, the way the ground beneath us seems to roll without rest. On some days, the after-shocks from the March 11 quake seem bigger than brand-new earthquakes. Experts say that is only to be expected. After-shocks are, by definition, a degree or so smaller than the original quake, and when the original one is huge, the after-shocks are also huge.

Here is a part of a Q/A from the Japan Times, with Yoshiro Ota of the Japan Meteorological Agency, written by Minoru Matsutani:

(1) Why do aftershocks occur?

Because tectonic plates and faults try to stabilize ground conditions that have been greatly altered by a huge earthquake.

(2)Why do we have so many big aftershocks?

The magnitude of the largest aftershocks tend to be about 1.0 magnitude lower than the main quake, which was 9.0, said Yoshiro Ota of the Meteorological Agency.

"People tend to think aftershocks are small. But a magnitude 8 is huge. Magnitude 7 is also huge, so we should be very careful," Ota said.

For more of this article, go to:


Earthquake (5)

Are we a 5 or a 7? A City University of New York expert says neither one is exactly right.

"It's incorrect to say that it's on the same level as Chernobyl," Japanese-American physicist Michio Kaku, a professor at the City University of New York, told the Daily News.

"Chernobyl represents the high end of the category. Right now Fukushima would be more on the low end - about one-tenth the level of Chernobyl."

Japanese officials raised Fukushima's rating to the highest level on the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) accident severity index Tuesday - sending shock waves through surrounding villages and the international media.

Regulators stressed it didn't represent a worsening of the situation at the tsunami-crippled nuclear plant, just a reassessment of overall radiation leaks since the March 11 earthquake."

Nothing is as serious as the Chernobyl disaster was. Perhaps it simply means the rating scale is off, and if the rating scale is off, maybe a lot of our thinking about nuclear affairs is off the mark, too.

Earth to humans: wake up! wake up!

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/2011/04/12/2011-04-12_japan_is_no_chernobyl_physicist_says_threat_level_upgrade_is_wakeup_call_but_not.html#ixzz1JOGns1oP


The Saddest Love Song (a different kind of nuclear umbrella)

One of Japan's golden oldies was a love song that went something like this:
"I want to come to you, but I can't.
The night is rainy, and I have no umbrella."

Sound wimpy? It's not.

In the 50s and 60s, nuclear devices were tested in the open air, often over the Pacific where "no one lived"--no one except millions of Pacific islanders, including the Japanese people. The fall-out was expected to disperse, and it did: carried on the wind, it filled the raindrops that fell on rainy Japan.

Often black, the rain could be lethal. No one wanted it on themselves, and no one would ever want to carry it into the home of a loved one.

To this day, it is still considered bizarre to go out in the rain without an umbrella in Japan. This habit took root thanks to unrestrained US nuclear testing, and now it is once again a necessary habit.


Incredible Changing Landscapes

One minute, there were thriving towns. The next minute, tsunami! Water. Mud and sand. Rubble. And now?

Hundreds of units of re-fabricated housing are already going up in places where the rubble has been cleared and the scars in the land smoothed over. After more than two weeks in emergency shelters, the ones whose numbers are picked in the lottery to decide who gets to move in first will have a place to call home.

Banzai, Japan! Hurray for everyone who is contributing to the rebuilding!


Iodine and Us (2)

This is from Bloomberg news, about what a scientist from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute predicts, based on the fact that the scariest substances escaping from the damaged reactors are soluble:

"Ocean currents and natural dilution of seawater contaminated by the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are likely to spare marine life and the underwater ecosystem from devastation, scientists say.

Radioactive materials, including iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137 have been detected near the southern discharge canal from the nuclear plant.

The ocean can absorb significant increases in cesium and iodine, the two most common radioactive isotopes coming from the plant, before it becomes unsafe for humans or marine animals, said Ken Buesseler, senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. Health authorities would still be wise to monitor seafood, seaweed and other ocean products, he said."


Iodine and Us

This is from a Q and A in The Japan Times online, fielded by a radiation safety expert from Nihon University, Kunikazu Noguchi, in an article by Jun Hongo and Mizuho Aoki. The question concerns a radioactive form of iodine released from the generating plant in Fukushima.

"Q: Iodine was blamed for cancer cases following the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Will that happen in Japan?

A: Apart from the difference in the amount of radiation leakage in the two cases, Japanese in general consume more foods rich in iodine, including fish and seaweed, than the people around Chernobyl. Some believe as a result the presence of more nonradioactive iodide in their thyroids will reduce the intake and accumulation of toxic iodine.

Iodine not accumulated in the thyroid tends to pass into the bloodstream and is expelled in urine, Noguchi said."

Good reasons to eat more nori, wakame, and konbu!


There is Joy in Mudville Tonight!

The cooling system for the damaged nuclear generation plant in Fukushima is back. Thank you, thank you, the 160 very brave workers who accomplished this!

It takes an engineer to solve the hard problems. Here's one of the background stories behind this wonderful news.

One of the opposition parties in Japan, Komeito, set up a task force to help deal with the tsunami/earthquake disaster area. They are a small, grassroots party whose support comes from a wide swath of society. Not labor unions, not farmers, not the financial sector--ordinary working people make up the bulk of their support. Why is that good? Because those are the people with practical ideas, and the party leadership is in the habit of listening to them.

Here's what happened:

A big problem was how to get water into the pool that cools the rods that supply the heat to turn water into steam and turn the electric generating turbines. They tried dropping tons of sea water from helicopters. Dropping the water from a safe height made hitting the target with a big enough splash very difficult. They tried high power fire engines with water cannons. The fire engines helped a little, but they quickly ran out of water and had to turn back.

And then...

An engineer type looked at the problem and made a suggestion to the Komeito task force. Deliver a liquid from a great height? Have it run continuously? Not endanger the operator? Hmmm... Got it!

Why not try a contraption operated by remote control that is used to deliver sloppy, wet concrete to high rise buildings under construction?

Voila! A concrete pumping machine with an arm with a 50+ meter reach was located. It was rushed to Yokohama harbor from Mie Prefecture. (where the Ise pearl farms are) It reached Fukushima the next day, and it did the job.



Radiation and Its Danger to Human Beings

Here is a link to a very well written article by Eric Johnston of The Japan Times about radiation levels and their effect on human beings.


Among other data, he reports that, as a kind of reference, a CAT scan exposes a person to 10 doses of what are called millisieverts.

The risk of radiation induced cancer rises from around 200 doses. The levels near the damaged reactors are in that neighborhood or higher. The levels in Tokyo are relatively low.

The point is, no one knows for sure. If you don't need to be in Japan, it may be wiser to stay away until the situation has been thoroughly dealt with. The wind could change, it might rain, the reactors could spew at a heavier rate than at present. No one can know until it happens.


Earthquake (4)

A woman in Miyagi Prefecture, where the March 11 earthquake was at its most powerful, summed it up:

"There is nothing left but life itself."


earthquake aftermath

Public Service Announcement: For those concerned, Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures will have their electric power rationed, starting Monday, March 14. There will be at least three blacked-out daytime hours in every district.


Earthquake! (3)

From a scientific viewpoint, this is interesting. Usually, after a tsunami, the floodwaters flow back to the sea. This is when the big damage occurs. This time, a day later, the seawater that flowed in from the tsunami is still covering huge swaths of land.


Apparently, ground level subsided about 70 centimeters. That's close to shoulder height, using an adult as a measuring stick. Ground level hasn't rebounded. If the sun dries up the water, and all that weight is removed, will it rebound? If the earth's natural elasticity kicks in, will it rebound?

It would be nicer if this were a lab experiment, not something being experienced in real time by real people for the first time in Japan's recorded geological history.

Earthquake! (2)

Here is a link to the explanation of the Japanese earthquake magnitude scale. This seismic intensity scale describes quakes in terms of their effect on human beings and their surroundings.


Here is a link to the record of recent earthquakes. Japan is still rocking as I write.
Please note that the times are NOT Japan time.



February 3

In China it is time to welcome the New Year. In the USA it is the season to seek groundhogs checking out their shadows. And in Japan, it is time to throw dried beans at your nearest and dearest.

February 3 marks the change of seasons by the ancient calendar, and that is why it is called Setsu-bun. In my mother-in-law's native area, Akita, people mark the day by spiking a dried herring onto a sprig of holly and tacking it to the front door to keep evil spirits from entering the house. Here in Tokyo, we have more fun.

First you put on your devil mask. Then you grab a boxful of dried beans and start flinging them around. You are supposed to shout "Devils out! Good luck in!" as you hurl them at your family members and all around the room, not forgetting to toss some out the doors and windows.

Whether the ritual brings good luck and casts out demons or not, who is to say? But it is a sure way to ward off cabin fever.


Okinawa cherry blossoms

With a smile toward the earth that nurtured them and a wink for their admirers!

What's the difference?

It's cherry blossom season in Okinawa, but these are not the usual cherry blossoms of the Japanese springtime. They are early bloomers, at their best in late January and early February. The color is deeper and richer than the somei-yoshinovariety, and something else is different as well.

The Japanese playright Seami once wrote, "The gods have placed the cherry blossoms up high, so that men's eyes--and hearts--may be uplifted." The blossoms he wrote about--the pale pink somei-yoshino--smile up at the sky. The Okinawa hi-kan-sakura smile back at the earth that nurtured them and the people who stop to admire them.

A Spark of Kindness

Naha at night is magical. Electric lights dance up the hill from Kokusai Dori and twinkle among the stars above Shuri Castle. They sparkle all the way downhill, over the harbor, and mingle with ship lights and airplane lights. Within recent memory, though, the stars had the night sky of Naha all to themselves.

If you grew up with it, you take electricity for granted. It's as common and as expected as running water from the tap. But if you never had it, and then one day you do, you remember that day forever.

In an encounter with an old friend from my US high school days, I learned that his tour of duty in Okinawa in the late 60s and early 70s included responsibility for delivering electricity generated from barges anchored off Naha. On a recent trip to Naha, I mentioned the barge generators to an Okinawan friend.

His eyes lit up. "I remember them well! The barges were anchored off the Oroku district. It was during the occupation, and that's when my high school first got electricity."

"You know what else?" he added, with even more sparkle. "They made a baseball diamond for us, too."

Electricity and baseball, too!


Time to Break a Mirror (6)

Have you been following this from the earlier "mirror" posts? If not, this one won't make any sense. But if you have been following, here goes! This is how you get from A to B, from kagami mochi to delicious arare senbei. Arare, by the way, means snow flurries. Nothing says January like snow flurries.

1. The dried-up kagami mochi is brittle, so wrap it in a clean dish towel to keep the fragments from flying all over your house. When it shatters, you get fragments, just like when a glass mirror breaks.

2. Get a blunt instrument--a wooden meat tenderizing hammer, a rolling pin, a carpenter's mallet, whatever you have.

3. Put the towel-wrapped mochi on a flat, steady, surface--a sturdy kitchen table or the floor. Whack it with the blunt instrument until it shatters into teeny tiny pieces. (on the scale of frozen peas and carrots)

4. Collect the fragments. Shake them out of the towel and onto a baking sheet or a casserole pan that you've coated with a thin film of olive oil. Dust them with a hint of salt.

5. Bake for 5 minutes in a pre-heated 220 degrees C oven.

Presto change-o! You have transformed your kagami mochi into arare senbei! Now all you need is some green tea, a couple of mikans just for variety, and a friend to nibble them with.