Friday, December 30, 2011

Out of the Box

New Years is coming and in my household that means it's time once again for our annual board game marathon. It will be 24 hours of letting the good times roll with the dice plus a dab of the ruthless backstabbing that almost naturally comes with most competitive games. Inevitably somebody will take out Risk, the classic game in which players move little wooden soldiers around a board resembling the world map in an attempt to dominate the globe through military might. The rules are simple enough and players have basically two options on their turn, either attack or defend. All international conflicts are settled at the point of a gun as the fate of nations are decided by six little chance cubes. Even though it’s all good fun, in the end most of the players lose out, often leaving the gloating winner a target of well deserved ire. Sadly, the rules of this game look like they were ripped from the current US foreign policy playbook. Fortunately options for peaceful resolutions to international conflicts are still on the board for many players across the globe who look to the power of cooperation over bombs to pave the road to peace.

While another, more peaceful, world may still be possible, this week it just got a little less probable when Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda announced that his country would be scrapping its nearly half-century long ban on arms exports. While the ban has been national policy since the sixties, many Japanese citizens see it as a natural extension of their war renouncing constitution that was forged in the smoldering aftermath of the devastating bombings that eventually brought an end to World War II.

Essentially drafted by the conquering US occupation forces, the Japanese Constitution, is “one of the few if any alien documents that have ever been as thoroughly internalized and vigorously defended,” writes historian John Dower. One of its most cherished components is Article 9, which states that the Japanese people forever renounce war as well as the right to maintain an army, navy, or air force (ostensibly a domestic patrol force,  Japan’s Self Defense Forces, the nation's de facto militaryskirts this proviso). While Tokyo has said that the new weapons export rules still adhere to the spirit of Japan’s war-renouncing constitution, it would seem that the Article 9 spirit is at an all-time low in the land of the rising sun. 

Article 9 had long been the lid that boxed Japan’s SDF forces within the confines of its national borders. Over the last decade Japan’s legislature has been steadily stripping away that lid. Recent laws have paved the way for Japanese boots on the ground in places like Iraq and elsewhere for the first time since Japan's military forces wreaked havoc in the Pacific and Asia over half a century ago.

Green-lighting arms exports is one more nail in the coffin for Japan’s famed “Peace Constitution.” Lifting the ban does more than open the global arms bazaar to Japanese defense industry giants like Mitsubishi or Kawasaki Heavy Industries. It gives Japan a chip in one of the biggest upcoming games in the world, a contest that pits the U.S. against up-and-coming contender for the world crown, China. Easing the arms export ban allows Japanese arms manufacturers to partner in joint weapons production with US, European and other companies from countries on the US allied team. That chip is a key motivation for Japan since in any China war game scenario, it plays a forward position with the ball falling squarely in its court.

As any seasoned Risk player knows, Japan’s slow but steady retreat from its long standing renunciation of war will look like a hostile move and do little to thaw the frigid relations it has fostered over the years with its neighbors in Asia. Like most players in this game of risk, they are likely to lose out in the end. It would be better for Japan and the US to quit now and instead of playing games, work to build bridges of cooperation in the region that can weather any stormy waters that may lie ahead.

Related post: Games People Play

Monday, December 26, 2011

Love by the Boxful

What better way to celebrate Boxing Day,  than opening a box full of love. That's what somebody I know got from their significant other for Christmas. A simple gift of love, this little wooden case is filled with "kindness coupons" to be redeemed whenever tempers flare, etc. While the number of coupons is limited, the capacity of the box once opened knows no bounds.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Taking Christmas to Heart

Enjoy this Japanese Christmas classic, Koibito ga Santa Claus ("My Sweetheart is Santa"), by Yuming, because after all it's all about love.

Related posts: 
Broccoli Ocarina Xmas Carol
Christmas Past

Saturday, December 24, 2011

They're Back

Updated Story

They're back. From out of the darkness they've returned to set the byways of this sleepy little valley ablaze in illuminated Christmas glory. Like the twinkling lights of fireflies emerging from the grass on a summer's eve, one by one they alighted. It started with a small string of lights stretched across a balcony clothesline and spilled over into the street below where they took root and spread to houses across the vale.  Efforts to save electricity be damned, the Christmas lights are back! I guess whatever you do, you just can't keep the light from shining through.

Related post: He's Coming!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Simple Sound of Xmas

Do you remember it? No, I don't mean the sound of Santa's sleigh bells. I'm talking about the kind of sound that comes from Roba House, a magical place where  "instruments from Medieval and Renaissance times create sounds which remind us of something which we - living in modern times - have forgotten." Give a listen and remember.

The troubadours of Roba House are likely to once again favor the children of our mountain hollow and beyond with some musical magic in their annual winter concert held at the hilltop kindergarten overlooking Temple Valley.   

Click the little snowflake icon on the Youtube video control bar if you want to let it snow. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Other Words

I got some feedback today on a proofreading/editing job I did. It looked pretty much like this. The document was a completed Japanese to English translation of a brochure for a subsidiary of a large multinational corporation based in Japan. In bold lettering on the front of the brochure was a quote from a famous English author which didn't need any translating, or so I thought. The customer thought otherwise. It "wasn't true to the Japanese" was the comment written in the margin and so somebody corrected it.

I told my employer, the second to last link (I'm the very last one dangling freelance) in a long chain of translation companies and PR firms leading up to the end client, that they should leave Dickens alone. My employer then told me that if I couldn't do the kind of quality work the client wanted, I should look for work elsewhere. I said it would  be "a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done before....a far, far better place I go than I have ever known." Then I realized what I was saying and corrected myself. I mean it would be "a much larger effort to achieve goals that exceed past achievements... a more premium location I transfer to in excess of expectations."

Now the work is pouring in. I guess I'm finally speaking a language somebody understands.

Related post: I'm On It

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Brief Word or Two

"H" in "istorical?" What's what about? Know what I mean? Has she gone all David Blaine? They ought to hire Michael Caine to do some of these videos. Nuff said. Innit.

Lor' luv a duck, time to quit the sportsman's bet and get to Captain Kirk. A big Tom Hanks to everyone at Cockney Rhyming Slang dot com for sharing some of the secrets that made proper (or not)use of all the poetic phrases penned in this post possible.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thinking Outside the Box

Thinking outside the box isn't so easy. It's especially difficult when your habitat is a box, like the countless cement cubicles that urbanites all over Japan call home. There's just no room for anything, even fresh ideas. While space usually comes at a premium in those cramped quarters, this Tokyo apartment unit (on the left) offers something unusual. Not only that, it's a steal at 55,000 yen (around 600 dollars) a month in a city where the rents are typically sky-high, especially in light of its convenient central location.

They say location is everything when it comes to real estate and maybe that explains the relatively low rental fee for this apartment. If you look closely at the floor plan, you'll notice that the architect has located the toilet bowl in a surprising spot, right inside the kitchenette (marked with a K on the drawing). I guess that makes it more of a kithenlet than a kitchenette but whatever you call it, it's an innovative use of space that never would have crossed my mind.

I've always thought of the porcelain throne as being part and parcel of the bathroom. Not so here in the land of the rising sun, where the defecation chamber is typically given its own individual place of honor, separate and ideally isolated from all other rooms in the living abode, including the bathroom which is rightly reserved for the bath alone. If you think of the commode as a stand alone fixture, I guess it only takes a hop, skip and a jump to see it as an appliance that could be plugged into just about any room in the home, from the living room to the portico, balcony, or wherever. The possibilities are only as limited as your preconceived notions and while one man's ceiling might be another man's floor, here in this neck of the concrete jungle one man's privy is also his kitchen.

Everything but the Kitchen Sink

That's exactly what my buddy Tommy T's first apartment in New York had, everything but the kitchen sink. He didn't mind too much though since he only washed the dishes when the set ran out maybe every couple of weeks. Then he would haul all the dirty china into the shower and kill two birds with one stone. Maybe it wasn't ultra sanitary but it sure beat taking a shower in the dishwasher.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Endangered Tree

Here is Ken Aoki (a.k.a. Ken Blue Tree) giving new life to an old Carpenters' tune. I don't know if Blue Tree got permission from the copyright holder to cover this Carpenter's classic but if he didn't, its days could be numbered. The United States Congress is considering legislation (PROTECT IP/SOPA) that could spell doom for videos as well as entire US-based Internet sites like YouTube and more that host them if they contain copyrighted material used without permission from the copyright owner. 

To learn more about the implications of PROTECT IP/SOPA take a gander at the Colbert clip featured on the side bar. Then move on over to freedom in harmony for a more serious review of PROTECT IP, a bill that would in effect curtail freedom of expression and more, as well as what you can do to stop it from becoming law.  

In the meantime spread the word and scatter seeds of harmony that will enable the sounds of  Blue Tree and other emerging artists like him to flourish so that we can all continue to bask in the shade of their growth.

Related posts: Unlocking Imagination 
              Copyright vs. Copyleft

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Have Saw Will Travel

Photo by Single Leaf
I've earned quite a reputation as a proficient gardener around some parts of Temple Valley. I can't trim a tree into a poodle or anything like that but I'm pretty proficient with a saw. This is a little hillside path I paved with wood cut from a small forest in one of my patron's gardens. I feel guilty about eradicating all that vegetation whose sole purpose in life may be to take the carbon dioxide I, and others like me, exude and turn it back into a breath of fresh air. That's why to offset my dirty deeds I've decided not to touch a single leaf on any tree, shrub or plant that pops up in my own garden. I'm letting the place go wild, leaving it in the hands of  the same architect who landscaped the Garden of Eden. This decision has also earned me quite a reputation, especially among those living within the shade of my little jungle within the city. I'm really exploring the limits of their patience and I'm afraid some of them are beginning to pale from lack of exposure to sunlight. What can I tell them except, I guess the road of life can be pockmarked by little trade-offs along the way.

Related post: Dig This!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

He's Coming!

Or maybe he's going. At least that's how it looks on the southbound platform of Japan Railway's Hamamatsucho Station in central Tokyo. Today, just like every Feast of St. Nicholas for as long as I can remember, the station's famed Peeing Boy donned the suit of red he'll wear all Christmas season. Seeing this little guy suited up in his seasonal regalia is always one of the bright spots of the holidays for me whenever I find myself traveling from the capitol city to our little valley beyond.

In recent years brightly lit plastic Santa figurines and other holiday adornments have been popping up like wild flowers among the tangled vines of little lights that grow rampant like ivy over houses and balconies across Temple Valley during the month of December. While the sight of this largely western tradition taking root in this far eastern land may seem odd to some, there was nothing more strange than what I witnessed on my walk home tonight.

There wasn't a light in sight. Perhaps everyone is cutting down on using electricity in the wake of the nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima or maybe they are still holding back on the festive displays in sympathy for those who have less to celebrate this year. I'm not sure why people in the valley trimmed down their Christmas lights this year but it sure seemed somber, no it was serene. It was downright peaceful, and peace is the kind of Christmas tradition that would be nice to see take root everywhere this season and always.

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas kids!

Related post: Falling Waters

Friday, December 2, 2011

Streets Paved with Poetry

It looks like the people of New York City are following in the footsteps of the Japanese under an inspiring street safety sign program from the city's Department of Transportation (DOT). Dubbed "Curbside Haiku,” the "DOT safety education and public art campaign launched in November 2011, is a set of twelve bright, eye-catching designs by artist John Morse that mimic the style of traditional street safety signs. Each sign is accompanied by a haiku poem."

To learn more about Curbside Haiku check out the NYC DOT's homepage and to catch a glimpse of haiku street safety signs in the land that gave birth to the elegant form of expression known as haiku come visit Japan (or just go here instead).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Waiting for the Sun

Hipsters across Temple Valley are polishing off their dancing shoes in anticipation of the upcoming release of Special Others' soon-to-be-a-smash-hit song, Dance in Tsurumi. The instrumental group teamed up with Asian Kung Fu Generation lead vocalist, Masafumi Goto, who penned the ode to Yokohama's Tsurumi ward (home to both Temple Valley and Special Others). The number will appear on Special Others' latest CD, aptly entitled Special Others, to be released virtually everywhere beginning tomorrow. 

For now we will all just have to wait until the sun comes up another day. Of course, while we're waiting we can listen to Special Others play Wait for the Sun.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Where Sacred Meets Profane

Along a road to nowhere somewhere in Tokyo

Stopping on the road, I surveyed my choices, and then moved on. I've often paid homage at the alter on the right, without ever giving a glance to the left. The choice has almost always been automatic for me. I guess the road of life is full of choices even if you're headed nowhere in no particular hurry.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Dreams of the Awake

I have a recurring nightmare in which I dream that I can't sleep. I awake completely unrested but I still have some sweet Dreams to fall back on during the day, like this one from the Ohashi Trio.

This Cranberries classic has been covered countless times over the years in more than a couple of languages (Faye Wong alone gave us a two tongued dose of the song, once in Cantonese for Wong Kar-wai's cinematic triumph, Chung King Express, and a later recording in Mandarin). Sit back and enjoy as the Ohashi Trio from Japan delivers what the Youtube uploader of this music video calls a "mellow reinvention" of the Cranberries hit tune, Dreams, and may all your dreams come true.

If you were dreaming that one day the Cranberries would get together in the studio again and release a new album, it looks like your dreams have come true. The Cranberries latest recording, Roses, is slated to hit store shelves and elsewhere this Valentine's Day, February 14, 2011.

Can you hear the faint hint of an Irish brogue in the lead Ohashi Trio crooner's voice?

Related post:  No Escape

Friday, November 18, 2011

Things Completed

They, meaning my closest loved ones, say I never finish anything. I know what they are talking about, the half-painted living room, the dining table that's been waiting to get its legs for over a year (it makes a great tap dance platform by the way), etc. It's really not true though. I do complete some things that I start and I've got evidence, photographic evidence, to prove it.

Witness this photo clipping form the local section of one of Japan's major dailies. That's my classmates and I standing with our instructor, master sanshin  player, Yasuhiko Oshiro, for a photo that appeared in the Mainichi Shinbun newspaper some years ago. The sanshin, an instrument that's synonymous with the sounds of Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, is kind of the banjo's three string cousin from the east. The photo was taken shortly before wrapping up a two-week-long class devoted to learning the finer points of playing the kankara sanshin (kind of the Okinawan sanshin version of the cigar box guitar only using a tin can) that was sponsored by the newspaper. So there! That's something I've completed and I have a certificate (somewhere around here) that attests to that fact.

The Mainichi Shinbun didn't have to go too far to find someone with the perfect credentials to teach the class, Yokohama's Tsurumi Ward (where Temple Valley is situated) is home to one of the largest Okinawan communities outside of the tropical island prefecture itself. Dubbed Okitsuru,a linguistic blend of Okinawa and Tsurumi, this unique little corner of Yokohama sitting in the shadows of one of Japan's largest cluster of towering smoke stacks (the Kehein industrial belt) has been an ideal getaway for residents of nearby Temple Valley for years. Yokahama-based journalist/poet Jon Mitchell paints vivid pictures of this vibrant area in a couple of outstanding articles appearing in the Japan Times and Metropolis. You can visit Mitchell's website to learn more about Okitsuru (a.k.a. Okinawa Town)and then visit the place yourself for a taste of tropical meets industrial, it's bound to add a little more spice to your life.


Mitchell's recently completed book of poetry, march and after -poems from tsunami country, which "chronicles life in Japan following the 3.11 earthquake" is now on sale. All proceeds from the book go to the Nobel prize-nominated NPO, Peace Boat, to aid its recovery work in disaster ravaged northeastern Japan.

The Japan Times says: "At its heart, "March and After" tells a contradictory tale of apologetic survival and downward redemption - the fragile and soaring possibilities of man."

Finishing up

I don't think the post would be complete without the following video sampler featuring sanshin master, Yasuhiko Oshiro, playing at this year's Haisai Festa in Kawasaki.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fashion Sense

"Damn!!!" It was ten to nine. I wasn't late though. I had slept well past late and was now  in a time zone somewhere way beyond late. I had to be down by the train station, about ten hill and dale blocks away, by 9 am. It's not like I had to be anywhere important but I told my buddy, Guttermouth (his name sounds and looks much nicer in Japanese - Higuchi or 樋口) that I'd meet him and I didn't want to leave him hanging there - again. 

I grabbed a pair of pants and a shirt out of my dresser drawers and was fully suited up by the time I reached the front door about five paces away. Running into the streets as if I had a mad bull on my heels, I could feel my cardiac muscle swelling to the point that is was pounding so hard against my rib cage, it was only a matter of time before one or the other would burst to smithereens. Luckily the overworked organ pumped just enough blood through my legs to get me to the station in the nick of time before they collapsed beneath me upon my rendezvous with Guttermouth. After dragging my fatigue-ridden body into the just-arrived rail car, Guttermouth began to interrogate me. It was as if he didn't even notice that I was on the death's doorstep. He was, in fact, blinded by  my sartorial style.

Guttermouth (left) and I (right)

"What do the words on your shirt mean?" he asked. I hadn't given my chosen attire a second thought before leaving the house. Gifted to me by a union brother in America, I wore the t-shirt on only a couple of occasions. More of a mobile billboard than an article of clothing, it bore a bold and time sensitive labor rights message that screamed out for attention. It fit in perfectly on the picket line during a strike but not so well on the grocery store checkout line a year or two later.  

Now years and miles away from the the period and place the shirt was designed for, I wear it often. It fits right in here, where the more words a t-shirt has emblazoned on it and the less sense they make, the better. Compared to  many of the t-shirts I see on the backs of people across this island nation, the volume of words printed front and back on mine seems scant even. I didn't think anyone would even notice, especially Guttermouth and especially considering the shirt he was sporting at the time.

Me (left) and Guttermouth (right)

I had to ask him. "So what does, 'Acts of valor lifeguard raise rampant nature conservation keep trying' mean," I queried. 

"I don't know," he replied and then asked, "Don't you know?" 

I had to admit that I didn't and chalked it up to a lack of fashion sense.

Related post: Going to Extremes

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Hariyama Honten advertisement

Something gives me the idea that the folks at the Harimaya Honten rice cracker company have a problem with nuclear power. That something is the company's homepage. While most food businesses try to use the information highway as a means for enticing consumers to buy their products with mouthwatering pictures that send ordinary human beings wild with desire, Harimaya Honten has taken a different route. Go to Harimaya's homepage (the main page) and you won't find even a crumb pictured on it. There's just no room. It seems the company has decided to devote an overwhelming amount of its web space to spreading an anti-nuclear power message (English speakers can type the URL into Google Translate to get a rough idea of that message). That's not the only unique business approach Harimaya Honten has taken in recent years. The company also operates a couple of free cafes in the Tokyo area where visitors can nibble on their tasty products and wash them down with a choice of either tea or coffee all gratis. It all sounds absolutely crackers from a business point of view. Then again Harimaya Honten has been in business for over a century, it probably knows  a thing or two about sustainability.

You can find pictures of Hariyama Honten's products somewhere on its webpage but you have to dig through a mountain of messages on peace,environmentalism and more. People say Hariyama's rice crackers are as good as gold. Despite the fact they give them away for free at some  locations, when it comes to getting a glimpse of those golden brown gems on the net, they make you work for it.

Appearing at the top of Hariyama's list of frequently asked questions is this: "Is it true that your company leans toward the right wing?" The answer is a resounding "no."

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupying APEC

The Common Dreams website notes: "Performing at what was probably the most secure place on the planet - an APEC dinner attended by President Obama and about 20 world leaders - Hawaiian musician Makana opened his suit jacket to reveal an “Occupy with Aloha” T-shirt and then spent 45 minutes repeatedly singing his terrific, newly released protest song We Are the Many." The artist later wrote that he dedicated "this action to those who would speak truth to power but were not allowed the opportunity." You can hear more about it from Makana via the Yes Lab website (APEC World Leaders' Dinner Gets Occupied).

"Many" related post: Uniquely Similar

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Read On!

My letter to the editor at the Japan Times, which I vaguely remember dashing off late last Thursday night(but have no idea why I wrote it since I'm not so passionate about the subject), was printed in the paper's Readers in Council section today. Entitled Why Not Do the Write Thing, the letter urges the newspaper to hire a prolific Readers in Council writer, Grant Piper, as a columnist. The last time I wrote a letter it was to New York City's Mayor Bloomberg. At the time, the city was threatening to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zucotti Park. Surprisingly or not, the day after I sent off my epistle the city administration backed down. So if that's any indication of the power of my pen, Japan Times readers will likely be seeing (like it or not) a column periodically penned by Piper pretty soon.

A lot of folks think we here at The Temple Valley Times are in competition with The Japan Times but we're not. While we're not afraid to scale the mountains and peek over the top in the search for truth, we're pretty much focused on what's going on down low in the valley. We view them more as a supplement to the Temple Valley Times. If you're looking for a story that they don't have, we've probably got it and vice versa. Sometimes what they do there is sheer serendipity. Like the time a newspaper delivery man slipped a copy of the Japan Times in my news slot at 4:30 in the morning. I had always dreamed of having a subscription to the paper and while the rattling sound of the paper being shoved through the metal mail slot in my front door jarred me from my sweet slumber, peering at the paper in dawn's early light practically brought tears to my eyes. It was, without a doubt, a dream come true. Then again sometimes they miss the mark. Half an hour later (5 am!!!) that same morning the same newspaper delivery man came knocking at my door to retrieve the paper for it's rightful owner. All I can say is that we're lucky the Japan Times delivers the news instead of anything else. The truth is it's always better to share news with a stranger than share an open container of milk. 

Related post: Definitely Worth Reading

Friday, November 11, 2011

Once in a Century

A day like today (11/11/11) happens but once every hundred years. It's Pocky (pronounced [poʔkiː]) day! Pocky is a chocolate-covered pretzel stick-like snack made by the Glico confectionery company that has been doing its darnedest to put at least a couple of extra ounces on the Japanese public's waistline (How can they be so skinny if they eat stuff like this? I guess it's true. You are what you eat.).

Actually Pocky Day (11/11) comes around once every year but this being 2011 makes it that much more special. I guess you could celebrate the day with any stick-shaped object resembling the number one, from celery sticks to cigarettes. I suggest you stick with Pocky's, or is it Pockies?  Anyway eat'em if you got'em.

It's Pocky time!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Can't Give It Away

Photo by GJKend via Wikipedia

“Who put a can of fried grasshoppers in the food drive basket?” That was the question that triggered the explosion of laughter that rocked Class 4-A. Never in the history of St. Martha’s Elementary School had so much mirth filled a classroom. Sister Rose, our teacher, quickly put an end to all the joviality with a big bang as she slam dunked the offensive tin can into the depths of the metal trash basket sitting in the far corner of the room.

Under the shroud of silence that soon fell over us, Sister Rose asked the same question again and again. She was a firm believer in tough love and she spread it around liberally. Throughout the lengthy interrogation I never cracked an inch but I knew exactly who the culprit was. It was my mother. She put me up to it. Gifted to her as a gag souvenir from some exotic locale, the can of bugs had occupied a lonely corner of our kitchen cupboard for the better part of a year.

It was actually a pretty bleak year for our pantry and the curious looking can was the first to be sacrificed for my elementary school’s annual canned food drive. Mom assured me that the canned grasshoppers would be routed back to its country of origin where some hungry soul would appreciate it. Rather than refuse to do her bidding, I slipped the can in the basket when nobody was looking but in the end I couldn’t give it away.

Miles away and decades later, that can of bugs has turned up again. This year has been exceptionally bleak for those in Japan whose lives have been turned upside down by the massive March 11 earthquake and multiple disasters that followed on its heels. Among those who continue to walk on shaky ground  are the farmers who work the land that is downwind from the leaking nuclear reactors in Fukushima. The government has declared large swaths of this once fertile farm belt officially off limits, uprooting thousands of people who once called the contamination zone home. Times are almost as tough for those whose farms lie outside the no-go zone as they watch once loyal customers turn their noses up at products bearing the Fukushima label. Although everything sold on the market falls within the contamination limit set by the national government, lack of trust in elected officials coupled with the fear of radioactive poisoning is keeping many customers at a distance.

Recently the Japanese government came up with a plan to help these farmers get back on their feet by getting their products in the hands of consumers. The plan is to give it all away. The Shingetsu News Agency (SNA), an independent Tokyo based news service, reports that the Japanese government intends to buy Fukushima agricultural products and give them away as aid to developing countries across the globe. While it sounds like a win-win solution, some fear the foreign aid offer will ring hollow with the international community. Even though the food to be exported meets the same criteria for produce sold in any Japanese market, there are those who question the government’s safety limits in light of international standards. SNA reports on one group of concerned citizens who are convinced that crops raised in the dark shadow of the Fukushima nuclear power plant are nothing less than toxic. They have petitioned the Japanese government to withdraw what they believe is tainted aid. Among the group is a mother from Tokyo who says she just wants to protect children around the world from exposure to dangerous radiation. These protesters, who have voiced their objections at home also carry a broader message for the world. One placard held up for the TV media cameras is neatly penned in English. It reads: “Stop spreading radioactive substances around the world with our tax money. Spread love.” I just wonder what Sister Rose would do if she were here.

Related post: Extra Extra...Terrestrials

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Abolishing Slavery...

There's An App for That

I used a dozen slaves to help me type this sentence. Not grossly underpaid sweatshop workers mind you, but genuine trafficked human beings. Don't be so quick to judge me though. An equal number of slaves probably worked for you just so you could read it. Don't believe me? Make tracks for Slavery Footprint  and see just how many slaves work for you. After taking the website's survey I was surprised to learn that my family and I have about 50 slaves working for us. According to the information provided by Slavery Footprint, the modern day supply chain that is our link to food, clothing, electronic goodies and practically everything else holds more people in bondage now than have ever been enslaved at anytime in human history.

The trail of our oppressive boot print can be found everywhere. It's crossing right in front of my eyes at the moment. In fact most of our cutting-edge devices are built with this most archaic and brutal form of labor. The mineral columbite-tantalite (aka coltan), an excellent superconductor employed widely in electronic appliances and more, is dug out of the earth mainly by enslaved children and adults. Profits from the coltan trade have been reportedly used to fuel conflicts on the African continent in much the same way as "blood diamonds" have. Slavery Footprint notes how a US State Department official being interviewed about coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo pointed to the reporter's smartphone and replied: "The likelihood that one of these was not touched by a slave is pretty low."

The shocking truth is that we live in an age where slavery touches every corner of the globe and every facet of our lives. The folks at Slavery Footprint don't necessarily want to make you feel guilty about enjoying the fruits of slave labor, they just want you to buy things made in a free world and they just so happen to have a free app to help you do just that.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I Did This

This is the 15th annual Halloween parade in Kawasaki, Japan and I am responsible for it. Well, it's not entirely my fault. I haven't been in Japan 15 years, but I did have a hand in fueling the frenzy I'm afraid. My little neighborhood Halloween bashes at the local shrine topped off with mass carvings of jack-o'-lanterns helped pave the way for this creepy cultural invasion.

Winding along the city streets and through Kawasaki's famed Silver Dragon Market, the procession ends up in Citta Della, a shopping mall modeled on a quaint Italian villa. A lot of the festivities, including everything from trick or treating to zombie makeovers and more take place against the backdrop of this tiny phony terra-cotta town. If the thought of holding this most hair raising of American holidays in the center of this Italian village in the middle of Japan doesn't make your head spin maybe this next video will (take a look, the tricks they do with the lights here are a real treat).

Related post: Holiday Theft

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Falling Waters

Peeing Boy Statue at Tokyo's Hamamatsucho  Station
Decked out in Its Fall Festival Attire

Water comes in different forms, soft and hard, liquid and solid. It's everywhere around us, hanging above our heads as vapor and from time to time falling down upon on us with either tragic life-taking or wonderful life-giving consequences. "Better no gold than no snow," goes an Afghan proverb, for that frozen white water is the source from which life springs across fields and orchards every year. One oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds, water is the stuff that holds our lives together. Without it we are nothing and we search for it, finding the occasional oasis even in the driest of places.

Related Peeing Post: Just When You Thought...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Joint is Bumpin'

Tentai Kansoku (Celestial Observation)*

Yesterday Cosmonaut, the new DVD by the sensational Japanese rock band, Bump of Chicken, hit the shelves at Temple Valley's only music store and everybody is goosebumps all over about it. 

The group came up with their name back when they were in junior high. Aiming for something along the lines of "the roar of a mouse," the group decided on "blow of a chicken(as in coward)" but with meager English language abilities they hit upon the close approximation of "Bump of Chicken." Of course they could have come up with something even worse like, "Chicken's Blow," and we can all be thankful they skirted that pitfall. 

What they lacked in English skills, the group (whose members have been together since they were in kindergarten) has more than made up for in a musical ability that has been described as pure genius.

*The song featured in the video, Tentai Kansoku (Celestial Observation), is not on the new Cosmonaut DVD but is perhaps BoC's best known number.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dyeing Words

Even a word like "contaminated"
can be made to appear beautiful

Winston Churchill once said, "we shape our buildings then they shape us." The complex structure of language has the same kind of  power over us. It defines who we are and confines the way we think. 

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, one of the most frequently heard words in the Japanese language is osen (汚染), or contamination, as in radioactive contamination. Following close behind is its linguistic counterweight josen (除染), meaning decontamination. 

The common character, sen (circled in red), shared by both written compounds essentially means "to dye." 

To express "contamination" you would simply tack on the character "o" (汚), meaning "dirty." When the word is used to describe the geographic areas that have been tainted by radioactive particles from the leaking nuclear reactors in Fukushima you get the lasting impression that the impurity is dyed into the soil. 

When talking about the process of cleansing those polluted geographic areas, Japanese speakers use the word josen, or decontamination. It gives the listener the impression that the "dirty dye" is being somehow removed (除) from the soil, like a coffee stain from a clean white linen shirt. When you hear the word "decontamination" echoing from official chambers and the mass media, you know things are bad but at the same time you get this reassuring sense that the solution is as simple as separating the chaff from the grain. 

That's miles away from what's actually happening in the field. The atomic impurities in the ground aren't being removed, they are simply being moved, along with a good bit of the topsoil it has stained. It gets scraped off and hauled away, sometimes not very far away, and piled onto growing radioactive mounds, etc. Given the fact that the half-life of cesium-137 is 30 years and that of plutonium-239 more than 24,000, this dye is more or less permanent. There is virtually no removing it.

Writer, Natsuki Ikezawa, suggests using the more accurate descriptor of isen (移染), "moving the contamination," over josen (除染), "removing the contamination," since that's what's really happening. Maybe we should follow Ikezawa's advice and move the discussion closer to reality, give it more of a tinge of honesty. When you find yourself living in a nuclear fallout zone where you're told everything will be okay if you would just smile (in the same way Fukushima prefecture advisor, Dr. Shunichi Yamashita essentially did), it's probably time to breach the confines of the discussion with some straight talk and begin shaping a new future from the ground up.

Monday, October 17, 2011

_ _ it Happens

Temple Valley, Yokohama - It happens from time to time in different places around the world and it's happening right here in Temple Valley. A serial pooper is on the loose. The culprit has been marking his or her territory for years now and we in Temple Valley are smack dab in the middle of it. No one knows for sure who is behind it all, but everyone seems to agree that it isn't over yet. While tales of the relentless perpetrator's misdeeds raise feelings of shock and dismay among residents, the brunt of the offense falls on those who must clean up the calling cards deposited on their doorstep or walkway. It's proximity to the scene of the crime that determines who will shoulder the most responsibility for whatever fallout occurs and it is likely to occur again unless somebody does something to stop it.

In other news... earlier this month an unusually large deposit of radioactive cesium-137 was discovered on the rooftop of a nearby public elementary school as was, the perhaps even more hazardous, strontium-90 at another Yokohama rooftop by a local resident. Both deposits (found far outside the central government's testing range for radioactive substances) are likely due to the fallout from  the leaking Fukushima nuclear reactors. Closer to the atomic flash point some 250 km away, local governments in Fukushima are waging a never ending battle to decontaminate the soil. A report from on a story appearing in one of Japan's major dailies, the Mainichi Shinbun, notes: "The city of Fukushima decontaminated its Onami and Watari district in July and August after a surge in local radiation levels. In the week following the end of the operation, the city took fresh radiation readings at 885 points, of which seven actually registered levels exceeding those found before the decontamination." 

It's as if there is no end to it.

Related video (on YouTube): Fukushima Nuclear Boy and His Poopy Diaper
In the news (MSNBC): Fukushima Residents Are Desperate, Angry, Homeless
Related Post: Downwind from Disaster

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Harmony in the Streets

Chindonya in Kawasaki

A Note from Tune Town

Just a stone's throw away from Temple Valley, the concrete canyons of Kawasaki City were alive with the sound of music today. This largely working class town, sandwiched between the brighter urban stars of Tokyo and Yokohama, is becoming something of a mecca for musicians looking for a venue to play. Dubbed Ongaku no Machi, or Music Town, Kawasaki is known for its street troubadour-friendly policies that have struck a chord with the musically inclined and brought a little more harmony to the city. Today this musical municipality celebrated what it calls the Iijan Kawasaki Festival  (whatever that means) and the streets were filled with the sweet sounds of music from a myriad of street performers that was topped off with a thousand savory smells wafting from food stalls that lined the narrow byways that snake toward the city's two main train stations.

Advertising the event were appropriately enough, Japan's traditional chindonya, colorfully attired performers hired to herald the opening of a new shop, a sale and more. A rare sight these days, the chindonya get their name from the sound their instruments make. "Chin" is for the sound of the symbols crashing and "don," the beat of the drum, with "ya" perhaps filling in here as something equivalent to the English suffix "er."

If you're looking for a little bit of harmony, get over to Kawasaki and get in tune with the beat coming from the street.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Anything for Money

How do you get businesses big and small to be more responsible about environmental pollution and more? Carrotmob says make them an offer they can't refuse. Watch how it works:

Carrotmob Makes It Rain from carrotmob on Vimeo.

Why Carrotmob?

I'm not sure but my guess is that Carrotmob gets their name from the "carrot and stick" idiom. I'm never sure if that phrase implies a choice between the reward of the carrot or the punishment of the stick, or if it refers to the illusive reward of the carrot which is hanging by a string from a stick before one's eyes, or if it is as most people think a combination of the threat or actual punishment of being hit by the stick coupled with the reward of the carrot. 

Apparently a lot of people are confused, so much so they put word detective, Evan Morris, on the case. Morris writes that "the earliest (1916) citation for the phrase listed by the OED seems to refer to a carrot dangling from a stick attached to and moving forward with the donkey ...But the world being what it is, the "reward and punishment" meaning took over rather rapidly, and is thus the one heard most often today."