Sunday, 1 November 2015

Protest Japan style

Seen in Komagome yesterday... on the campaign poster for PM Abe, the kanji  - noroi - has been written.  Noroi means hex or curse, so "Hex on PM Abe".  There was no similar message on the poster below, the local member from the same party.  correction, the poster below is from a Komeito member - the junior coalition party of the LDP. She is not from the LDP.
Graffiti is pretty unusual in Japan, political graffiti very unusual, to the extent that Anti Abe graffiti in found in railway toilets was being reported in the national news...
Deep angst or is the population becoming less compliant... a combination, or something else.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Protests and pictures

The protests are broken up by the police. Not in the sense that people can't protest, but in the sense that they keep people from forming a mass group.  They say it's about safety, but it's not because the police buses are parked end to end and if someone did for example have a heart attack, they are locked in by the barricades and the buses

The real reason is to stop the protesters getting a sense of unity, but more importantly to make it impossible to get photos like this:

Instead the government prefers pictures like the ones below, which make protests seem dangerous, frightening and criminal. In reality though there was so much positive energy last night. People are seeing it as a beginning not an end.

Pictures are power. Pictures win and lose wars.

This is what democracy looks like.

We don't need collective security. Let's vote out the Diet members who voted for this.

The War Bills into law

Police and barricades outside the Diet.
From the photos above, it looks like Japan is in a state of martial law. It was so ironic that the police were there to monitor the protesters who were scrupulously obeying the law, when the politicians inside were the ones breaking the law
On December 14 last year, the Japanese PM called an early election.  The reason for calling the election was that he wanted a mandate to delay the consumption tax increase and to make economic reform.  In reality, the beleaguered economy has been sidelined in favour of unpopular restarting of nuclear power and the passage of the War Laws. 

There have been protests throughout the year, first small and getting bigger. The 30th August saw an estimated 120,000 protesting in front of the Diet.  That might seem like a modest number, but in reality there has been a stigma on political protest and making overt disagreement.  Typically people look away.  Politics is taboo in the education system.   There is no source based history which presents different opinions of the same issue.  You might find students rattling tins to raise money for UNICEF, but you'd never find a branch of Amnesty International in a state school. 

Last night the government passed the laws at 3 am.  The laws aim to override article 9 of the constitution which made Japan a country that was forbidden from waging war. Now Japan will be able to fight in the wars of its allies (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria wherever suits the US, on whom Japan depends for "protection").  The overwhelming majority of Japanese people do not want the changes to occur, hence the protests.  The crowds at the protests are diverse, at least by Japanese standards of diversity, but have a lot more young people than the nuclear protests. There have been two basic themes of the protests: Peace and democracy.  

The government has legislated the ability to go to war in wars that are not directly affecting Japan. There has been very little explanation of the scope of the laws. Old people fear conscription. There was talk a while back of moving the start of the university year to September (from April) to align internationally (well at least with the northern hemisphere),  and use the five month gap between school and university as national service.  I haven't heard that recently. Personally, I am sceptical that there would be conscription, but that gap does give rise for concern.  There is a general fear of militarization, especially but not only among the traditional left.  It's ironic that the communists, who should in theory be the party of revolution, are actually the pacifists...   In addition,  Japan has recently changed laws to sell weapons.  Deals between Mistsubishi Electric and Turkey to sell tanks have already been done.   Concerns about militarization have been compounded by a troubling Secrets Act which has created almost unlimited possibilities for what can be declared a secret and is not  overseen by an indpendent third party. These changes are reminiscent of the 1930s and there is a uneasiness that the government is moving towards militarism.

The second concern is that the process has been unconstitutional. There is a process for changing the constitution and it hasn't been followed. Even the government's own constitutionaladviser said the laws are unconstitutional.  
It's so audacious. And has come after the Deputy PM lauded the Nazis, and said Japan could learn from the way they were able to change their constitution before the people were aware.

Was very disappointed that ABC Australia missed the second point in their reporting today. 
So that's what was going on at the National Diet.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Tambo Art, Inakadate, 2015

This year's theme at Inakadate's ricefield art was Gone with the Wind.  Hiro's father has a particular fondness for the movie and so we popped into see it on our way to Mt Hakkoda. The detail that they achieve through different coloured rice is truly remarkable.

The second feature was Star Wars.

A tribute to Ken Takakura

Hachimantai 3: Late summer flowers of Hachimantai

I don't remember the names of any except the white one in the top row - umebachi.  Locals are forecasting an early winter. The umebachi is an autumn flower and is already out, but to be fair according to the old Japanese calendar, autumn started last week.

Hachimantai 2: Hachimantai National Park.

From Fukenoyu we went on to the opening where you can climb Mt Hachimantai itself, but since you're already so high, the summit is a stroll rather than mountain climbing. We were there in the summer two years ago but the weather conditions didn't lend themselves to walking around then.  

Hachimantai National Park
The area is well signposted, though only in Japanese.
To be fair, it's not a place that tends to see foreign tourists
who are more interested in the well beaten path between
Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. (all of which are well
worth visiting). Tourist hotspots in Japan tend to reflect proximity
to a Shinkansen line which is not always the best indicator.

There were quite a few maps, but this one at the entrance
was in need of repair. Otherwise facilities were in very good nick.

Alpine scenery

There are many lakes on the highland

As can be seen on the map above

English here.
We could have hiked to here from Fuku no Yu

Where we stopped for lunch

Walking through the highlands

The cloud meant that were were unable to see far off mountains like
Chokkai san and Akita Komagatake

High level conservation with walking paths through most of the area we walked.
So few people....

Small lakes punctuate the highlands

A good place to escape the Tokyo crowds.

Logistics of Hachimantai

A big part of the reason that tourists don't go to the area, despite it being quite beautiful

 and despite it having terrific onsen

is that the transport is more complex and less frequent than the Shinkansen.   This give you some idea (picture taken in 2013) so don't use for accuracy.

Bus information is now online in English. It probably needs looking at with google maps in the other, but it's great progress to have the information readily available.
Japan Guide has made a  pretty good effort to show how places are connected to other places.

The updated English bus timetable for the area is below.

More work still needs to be done on getting hiking maps into foreign language. This would enable people to travel more easily across country on walking paths / hiking trails.
Walking paths from Goshogake

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Hachimantai 1 Visitor centre & Fukenoyu

Hiro's parents are avid mountain climbers, and were keen to go mountain climbing / hiking while I was up there. The first day we went to Hachimantai National Park. I have been to the visitor centre opposite Lake Onuma many times, but never to the volcano that is just behind it...
A mud volcano, a characteristic of the area

Steam rising from the mud

Hydrangeas in August!

Mud volcano
A rather self-evident sign to take care because it is hot...

Steaming mud volcano

From the volcano behind the visitor centre, we went to Fukenoyu, an onsen not far down the road, which I also hadn't been to before.

Fuke no Yu

A rotenburo with the onsen behind
Huts for lying in 

Volcanic activity at Fuke no Yu

Apparently the onsen used to be located in this area but was lost to a landslide after heavy rain.

Steam holes in the ground

Water from the onsen - it's milky water not polluted.

Obon - the way up

I have just returned from an Obon trip to Akita.  I'd considered taking the night bus, because it's more time efficient, but being Obon, seats were fully booked by the time I got around to inquiring. But the trains are fun. They were more crowded than usual, perhaps due to the route I took, but more likely because of the Obon season.  It was the first time to see people travelling from Tokyo to northern Tohoku on seishun 18 tickets with young children.
I arrived at the local station with 7 min to spare to catch the last train that would get me there on a single day. A comfortable buffer zone, until I couldn't find the seishun 18 on the ticket machine. The station attendant was amiable, and ambled out to help me... It's on the shinkansen ticket machine, not the regular one...  I caught the train with half a second to spare.

It baffles me why people tolerate this.
A young punk legs spread, bag on the vacant seat
next to him... Two people in their 60s standing in front of him...
It wasn't "silver seats" but a vacant empty seat being hogged by a bag.
When it happens to me I always ask people to move it...
And they do, usually apologetically (practiced at feigning methinks).


Rice crops on the way up.
This is so different to the winter scenery from my March trip up.

Between Fukushima and Yonezawa.

Fukushima - Yonezawa

I had an hour break at Yonezawa. It's a more interesting place to
wait than Shinjo, largely because there is a standing noodle bar just
outside the station. I indulged in a kakiage soba.
The tempura is cancelled out by the low fat soup broth ;).

A Yamagata University student holding a sign for
an open campus shuttle bus.  It was hot, and
Hiro's alma mater was Yamadai... so I bought him a bottle
of chilled tea. 

Going north near Shinjo


Mamurogawa in Yamagata

Mamurogawa, Mogami, Yamagata

The sun going down at Yuzawa, Akita

It was a quick change at Akita. Just enough time to ring Hiro's mother to let her know I hadn't missed a connection and would arrive at 10.19 as scheduled.  As usual the train was full at Akita city and gradually thinned out over the journey back to Odate.    By the time the train gets to Hachirogata, there are not many people left.  Two very respectable looking obasans took practicality into their own hands and stretched out to sleep.  In Tokyo when people do this they are invariably male and drunk, though they would probably also take off their shoes (social condition of the deepest kind?).