Wednesday, 31 August 2011

seishun 18 season

In a mad scramble I finished up a meeting last Monday, dashed to Okachimachi , bought some karintou for Hiro's mother, some coriander for Lily, some tapioca, coconut milk and palm sugar, and a seishun 18 ticket.
As I've written before seishun 18 tickets facilitate travel through remote and under-visited parts of Japan.   With Lily in Niigata and Hiro's parents in Odate, there is plenty of excuse to make the most of it.   With a seishun 18 ticket in hand and a mega pot of curry in the fridge and a weeks worth of rice in the freezer I was off.   Had I taken my own advice I would have had an itinerary printed out.  If I had it would have looked like this:

Fortunately I came equipped with a mobile phone that could check. More fortunately  Lily kindly did the onward checking for me and the trip map looked like this:

Saturday, 20 August 2011

12 Aug: anniversary of JAL123

It's a bit late... but 12th Aug was the anniversary of the crash of JAL123 in Nagano.  There were only 4 survivors of more than 500 passengers, making it one of the worst in aviation history.  If I remember rightly, I was on school holidays and with my family in Queensland at the time. I remember it being a bad year for aeroplane crashes.  It was the same year as the Air India flight that was bombed off Ireland that killed family of a very good friend here.

The most high profile casualty of  JAL123 was Kyu Sakamoto, a Japanese singer. This is his signature song - which for some reason took on the name "the sukiyaki song" in English. It's a beautiful song - stoically melancholy.  The words & translation are below. 

Ue o Muite Arukou
Ue o muite arukou
Namida ga kobore nai you ni
Omoidasu haru no hi
Hitoribotchi no yoru

Ue o muite arukou
Nijinda hoshi o kazoete
Omoidasu natsu no hi
Hitoribotchi no yoru

Shiawase wa kumo no ue ni
Shiawase wa sora no ue ni

Ue o muite arukou
Namida ga kobore nai you ni
Nakinagara aruku
Hitoribotchi no yoru

Omoidasu aki no hi
Hitoribotchi no yoru

Kanashimi wa hoshi no kage ni
Kanashimi wa tsuki no kage ni

Ue o muite arukou
Namida ga kobore nai you ni
Nakinagara aruku
Hitoribotchi no yoru

I look up as I walk
So that the tears won't fall
Remembering those those spring days
But I am all alone tonight
I look up as I walk
Counting the stars with tearful eyes
Remembering those summer days
But I am all alone tonight

Happiness lies beyond the clouds
Happiness lies up above the sky

I look up as I walk
So that the tears won't fall
Though the tears well up as I walk
For tonight I'm all alone tonight

Remembering those autumn days
But I am all alone tonight

Sadness lies in the shadow of the stars
Sadness lurks in the shadow of the moon

I look up as I walk
So that the tears won't fall
Though the tears well up as I walk
For tonight I'm all alone

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

15 August

I had planned to go to Yasukuni today  (15 Aug) but got waylaid by unexpected events. 15 Aug marks the day of the Japanese surrender in WWII and Yasukuni is the hang out of the right wing nationalists, particularly on 15 August.

Yasukuni, a shrine in Kudanshita, central Tokyo honours the war dead.  In the beginning it symbolized progressive modernity. It honoured the war dead - casualties of Japanese imperialism which was inseparable from modernization. Furthermore it was refreshingly egalitarian - commoners were enshrined (had their spirits put into the shrine) alongside samurai and upper classes.  After the war, it remained a place to honour  (or worship depending on your perspective) war dead. And it wasn't much of an issue  since most countries have remembrance for the war dead.  In 1978 though the rather provocative, politically appointed head of the shrine decided to enshrine the war criminals - much to the disgust and dismay of China & Korea.  PM Koizumi's visits to the shrine were designed to be provocative and they were, providing a catalyst for major anti Japanese riots in China.

And now? No members of the DPJ cabinet went to the shrine yesterday; 50 law makers did.  Among the fifty include former PM Abe, Opposition leader Tanigaki.   Had I realised I might have made more effort to get there. I should start writing my  anti shrine visit slogans now so I have plenty of time to practice.

The right wingers were out in force yesterday across Tokyo - I encountered some on Gaien Higashi Dori trying to get to the Russian embassy.  No doubt they had been practising their abusive chants along the lines of "Ruskis give us back the islands." It makes for a strange scene that is a bizarre ritualistic charade.  Flagged drapped nationalists bear down, police stare back, nationalists make a lot of noise -  blaring their music, shouting their propaganda but don't block the traffic, eventually they drive off....
One would think if they were serious, they would disguise themselves.  I am not sure why the nationalists always identify themselves - it's  such a charade and quite nonsensical.
Right wingers at Kinshicho last week.
Territorial disputes with Korea, China and Russia, immigration
foreigners figure prominently in their agenda.

Right wingers milling about on foot on Gaien Higashi dori, Azabudai.
One could be forgiven for thinking they had a reasonably
cozy relationship with the police...

The police blocking off the road to protect the Russian embassy from abuse.

Directly opposite the looming right winger cavalcade.

Opening gates carefully to let ordinary cars through.

The police bus (blue) as extra backup behind the gate.

Letting the postie around.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The legality of being hot.

Hot hot hot hot hot!

It was 33 degrees inside when I got up at 6.30am today.
It's 34 degrees now at 11.30pm....
It didn't used to be this hot.
And it's nothing to do with global warming.
The two little apartment blocks with lots of green and a great big biwa tree have gone.
Replaced by a behemoth* monstrousity apartment block that blocks out the breeze and has no green. Concrete and bitumen that absorb heat all day and release heat all night.
I can't believe it's legal.
In fact I am pretty sure there is supposed to be a ratio ... I don't know the ins and outs but it's bad bad urban planning and, I suspect, corruption is probably involved.

But the idea of getting a machine that blows hot air out to make the inside air cool seems rather irresponsible in one of the worlds biggest heat islands.  A bit like eating a Mega Mc Meal to combat starvation in Somalia.  I'm going to have to bite the proverbial bullet & start greening the balcony.

Especially for you MKS.

Have you seen this person? subway signs

Don't push in when you're getting on the train

The Have you seen this person? manners series continues on the subway, but when you can't really understand the picture, it probably means it's not effective.  The caption is Don't push in when boarding the train. When I first saw it, before I read the caption,   I assumed it was line up in an orderly fashion  - but couldn't work out if it was a good example, or a bad example.  Penguin number 3 isn't lined up quite as correctly but overall they are quite orderly... I am not sure which person I should have seen...

This came out at the beginning of summer - I guess the penguins are meant to make the Tokyo commuter feel cool and snow like as they  board the over packed trains running on 80% capacity, pressed body to body with sweat beading down their brows....

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Summer diet & salt

NHK have been urging the masses to up their salt intake.
Heaven forbid we might die of heatstroke.

I was insufficiently impressed with the beauty of my cooking efforts tonight to take a photo, but if my diet in anyway resembles the Japanese average diet, NHK should be sued for inducing strokes...

Dinner here was

- somen noodles with (salty) soy based dipping sauce.
- eggplant and capsicum (green paprika) with (salty) miso
- wintermelon  cooked like this - minus the starch (soy in it)
- cucumber pickles (sent by Hiro's mother not soy, but some kind of saltiness)
- tomatoes - no salt
- fried tofu (that was supposed to be agedashi - in a soy sauce - until Hiro's mother sent a box of vegies that meant there were plenty of other things cooked.

Tomorrow I am drying out - corn, tomato brocoli - no soy to be seen.

I can't imagine how I could possibly need salt.... and I don't even eat at convenience stores...

I guess the bright side of eating Fukushima beef is that some kind of cancer will get me before the stroke....

Volunteering in Rikuzen Takada - classmates doing admirable things

Below is a link for a website that a group of my classmates has made.
They have been volunteering in Rikuzen Takada, Iwate prefecture,  one of the towns most damaged by the tsunami.  The three of them who made it went during term time & are returning during the summer break.
It's an impressive effort, well worth a look.

A grand coalition is not democracy.

I was dismayed to read last night that Finance Minister Noda, who is seeking election as PM, wants to install a grand coalition.  Minster Noda ! " Grand Coalition" means one party state.   One party state is not democracy.  This country needs ideas and imagination and  that will never come from a behemoth government who is cemented into power....

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Saving power

There is a lot of effort being made to reduce electricity. Some of it is useful useful - aircon no longer blasting through open shop windows onto the street, toilet seat warmers switched off.  Some is counter-productive - I wonder how many computers will burn out from overheating in offices this year. Some is irritating - subways running at 80% capacity then being overcrowded, universities shutting early and not paying part time teachers (fortunately not me).   More that could be done - aircon ran in the corridors at the uni through July!!

Here are some summer images.
It's a different mood to last year
Subways have signs up explaining how they
are saving electricity.

On Waseda dori in Kudan - a roof top garden on a school -
keeping down the heat.

Waseda dori - a green curtain before they became
the essential household addition.

A sign outside Tokyo Science University explaining how
jets of mist keep the temperatures down.

The jets of mist in action.
Energy saving on campus
This hand drier has been disabled to save electricity.

"Green curtains" are being encouraged

Greenery really does keep it cooler - I should learn how
not to kill plants....

Starting to see more green space in car parks - there is much scope
for improvement.

All the aircon..... the antithesis of sustainably cool

The seat warmer is disabled because of electricity.

35 degrees

I just took a look at the Meteorological Agency's website.
They have added a 35 degree category to their maps!
It was needed today.

Summer of 2011

Summer 2011 seems to be characterised by two things: power shortages & heat, and radiation.  Though that might sound like three, this summer power shortages and heat are conjoined twins sharing  vital organs.   With Fukushima dai ichi out of action Tokyo, and the whole of Eastern Japan, is on voluntary electricity rationing.There is a conspicuous effort to save electricity: lower lighting, some trains running at 80%  frequency, less aircon, no aircon. Occasionally I still pass places with aircon blasting onto the street, but they are becoming much less common.  
Like most hot summers there are cases of heat stroke, but numbers are probably up. There's a heatwave on at the moment - the minimum temperature lately has been close to the August average maximum - 29.  On NHK last night there was a report that 270 people were hospitalised in Kanto (Tokyo and surrounding prefectures) for heat stroke and two people died - including an 81 year old farmer who was working in the fields. I am not sure why she was working in the fields in the middle of a 37 degree 100% humidity day - preferable to be inside with no aircon?  The day before a  junior high school boy died  after collapsing in baseball training.  Japanese school sports can have a reputation as being brutally excessive in demands placed on members...
 NHK pushes the line that people die from heatstroke because they don't have aircon. or hesitated to use it, continually highlighting the paradox of saving electricity while not getting heat stroke.  Aircon is a human right that we regrettably have to forego...  

A hot day yesterday - most of the country 30+ - there needs
to be a 35+ category - yesterday many places including Tokyo
were above 35.
25+ is a hot night.  At midnight there were parts of Aichi and
Gifu -  Nagoya area that were 30+.

Energy consumption graphed alongside the maximum capacity.
Not a very big buffer zone.