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.