Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mahler 3rd: NHK Symphony

Tonight, NHK surprised me with a wonderful performance of Gustaf Mahler's 3rd symphony.

Recorded on February 11, 2011, conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, with Mihoko Fujimura, alto & the New National Theatre Chorus The Little Singers of Tokyo.

I am told Myung-Whun Chung is not so popular in South Korea these days as he is strongly supporting the current president. Well, I'm glad to hear that he can showcase the very best of Korean sensitivity and contribute on the world scene. How muddled things can get when we turn to the political realm. Not so fast, do calm down.

(6th mov- - VI. Langsam. Ruhevoll. Empfunden)

I was enjoying Chung's conducting of Mozart and Bruckner back in 2007. But tonight, in the NHK interview, I noted that Chung spoke in English (So did American/Swedish conductor Herbert Blomstedt, who was born and has spent most of his career in the United States). A German conductor (Markus Stenz?) spoke in German, of course. Why didn't Chung speak in Korean? NHK clearly does not mind, they have plenty of interpreter. But why does not a Korean conductor speak in his own native language? A lot of Japanese people are studying Korean and speak the language, which at least grammatically is rather similar to Japanese. One would hope that culture and music could be a bridge between these two countries.

Maia Hirasawa: I'm The Worrying Kind

Nice tune again from Swedish Maia, with a trumpet and trombone to help her when she feels a little concerned. Her tune Boom! for the Kyushu Shinkansen was a Number One hit last week here in Japan, according to J-Wave. Congratulations!!

Original song by The Ark (Ola Salo)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Kyushu Shinkansen/ Boom! by Maia Hirasawa

If you like trains (and music!) as much as I do, here is a new Shinkansen line that is just a must. Starting in March 2011, the island of Kyushu got its first real super express train line. And they just love it over there. The first ride was filmed on February 20, 2011 and a lot of people showed up. Do have a look.

Superexp translated what the narratar says:
That day,
Thank you for your wavings,
Thank you for your smiles,
Thank you for your cooperation.
Kyushu-Shinkansen starts now.
In Kyushu, we are full of new power.
From Kyushu, we should deliver happiness to all over Japan.
With you all, Kyushu-Shinkansen starts now.

Great song (Boom!) by Maia Hirasawa, from Sollentuna, Sweden. Isn't life amazing? How connected we are. It is a small planet, after all.

Maia is based in Sweden, and did charity concerts this spring in Gothenburgh and Stockholm.

As the March 11 earthquake and tsunami happened, the good people in Kyushu decided it was not the time to celebrate too much. Rather, they made this commercial, to support the Tohoku region.

michelleeyre says: The timing of this song was wonderful not only because while it was intended for the opening of a new shinkansen line, it gives a positive feeling that Japan needed in the wake of the Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I feel there was an unintended double meaning to this PV. This is by far one of my favorite songs for 2011. J1 LOVES MAIA HIRASAWA. J1 LOVES JAPAN. J1 LOVES YOU.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Elderly Volunteers To Save Us From Fukushima Meltdown?

Possibly one of the most moving stories from Japan this spring, as TEPCO admits that at least three core meltdowns may have occured at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Meltdowns do mean we are in new territory, and there are no easy solutions. Asahi has more:

More than 160 elderly people have volunteered to brave high
radioactivity and help stabilize the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in
response to a call from a former engineer... Yasuteru Yamada, 72, who previously worked for Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd., said people aged 60 or older must undertake the mission because their age means the adverse impact from radioactivity will be minimal. "Progress will be limited as long as workers have to change every few minutes, and a coordinated response cannot be expected even if robots are deployed," Yamada said.

"We have to come to the forefront because we accumulated technology and capability on the job and because we will be subject to small effects of radioactivity due to our age."

The Asahi Shimbun: Elderly volunteers seek to stabilize nuclear plant

If memory serves me right, a similar thing helped The Ukraine deal with the Chernobyl disaster.

As the call for action spread, 165 people said they are willing to take part in his Skilled Veterans Corps as of May 23.

Yamada disputes the assertion that he is organizing a suicide corps, saying efforts
will be made to keep workers' exposure to radioactivity to a minimum. Yamada has contacted Diet members and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant's operator. He plans to press the government and TEPCO into action after enlisting more elderly people.

The plant needs systems for cooling reactors and spent fuel storage pools on a permanent basis. The task will involve work in places contaminated with high levels of radioactivity. Yamada has been receiving cancer treatments since a malignant tumor was found four years ago. He is in good physical health, but the risk for recurrence remains.

"I want to do my part so that a negative legacy will not be left for future generations," Yamada said.

Also, Ten Thousand Things have this from Fukushima:

Live streaming of Greenpeace Japan's report on nuclear contaminated waters around Fukushima - May 26 (Sign petition please!)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kabuki: Botan Rodo (The Peony Lantern)

I had the unusual pleasure to watch kabuki at Meijiza, an old theatre from the 1870s, today. Of course the building has been torn down and rebuilt, that seems to be part and parcel of Tokyo culture.

The staff was terrific and we had tea before the performance, all smiles and helpful guides (and not another furrener in sight). As Kabukiza in Ginza is no more (and they had English translations) the Meijiza is perhaps your only opportunity to get some ancient theatre in Tokyo. Thus you need to do your homework, and thanks to the Internet, you can learn a lot about the plays.

The Meijiza, east of Kanda, was packed with fans of kabuki. Many ladies showed up in their very best kimonos. Here is the Japanese website and a little English information too.

I got to see Botan Rodo, the Peony Lantern, originally written by a Kyoto priest slash playright in the mid 17th century.

A great love/horror drama with Buddhist notes, as the protagonist is faced with not one but two female ghosts. His karmic affiliations all twisted, he is supposed to use talismans and o-fuda papers to seal all openings of his dwelling, to make sure that the evil spirits cannot enter.

In summer, when heat gets the better of us, a scary tale that sends shivers down your spine is thought to cool you down. Here is the 1968 film version, from Satsuo Yamamoto's film. Adapted from Encho San'yutei's novel. But the kabuki play that I got to see was less creepy!

This 1972 version (director Chusei Sone) is good too (with English subtitles):

Friday, May 13, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Setsuden, Not Teiden: The Cry From Japan, Advice Please!

Heavy rains today in Japan, especially in Tokyo, where the Toei Subway lines were shut down during the afternoon due to "blackout" (停電 teiden). That's just 4 lines out of some 15, as the rest of the Metro and the JR lines and everyone else were ok. We know it is coming, a long, hot summer, and there is a lot of discussion now about how to deal with electricity shortages.

"Reduce electricity" (節電 setsuden) then of course is not just a slogan, it is an urgent cry for help and consideration. If, and this is a huge issue right now, IF we can all pull together and all reduce electricity consumption, then we may be able to avoid the blackouts. Doesn't that seem like a thing that Japanese people - and everyone living here, foreigners included, companies and public entities and towns and cities - should be able to accomplish?

"Save energy" (省エネルギー shou enerugii).

We need every good piece of advice there is.

Quoting The Asahi, Japan Probe notes:

The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan, has estimated that 2.5 to 3.1 gigawatts of electricity can be saved if households within the Tokyo region follow through with the following measures:

“Even if individual families can reduce only modest amounts of electricity, the aggregate savings will become substantial,” it said.

Specifically, 640 megawatts can be slashed if households set air conditioners one degree higher. Unplugging appliances can save 380 megawatts, while 220 to 440 megawatts can be cut by keeping air conditioner filters clean. Not overloading fridges can lead to savings of 370 megawatts, while 150 to 360 megawatts can be saved by turning off lights frequently. In addition, if washing, cleaning and cooking are done in the morning or at night, power consumption can fall by 430 megawatts in the afternoon.

(Kilowatts, megawatts and gigawatts are units that are explained here and putting it simply, 380 megawatts is 380,000 kilowatts and so on)

In the comment section, Japan Probe readers are particularly critical of the Pachinko parlours, that seem to be ignoring the current crisis. Pachinko is an electricity intensive leasure/gambling activity, that is mostly run by people who do not seem to care a whole lot about Japan and its current crisis. Blogger Roy Berman at Mutant Frog noted that Pachinko is a huge headache for Tokyo Metropolitan Government:

I have been collecting links related to the energy situation and several other aspects of the ongoing crisis and recovery efforts and will probably be blogging quite a bit on such topics, but for now I want to just post translations of a series of brief comments on energy conservation in Kanto from Tokyo Vice-mayor Inose Naoki (who I believe will remain in his job allegedly doing most of the real work serving under Ishihara following his unfortunate reelection) that he tweeted a week ago.

#1: The pachinko industry said in a protest message to Governor Ishihara that “the maximum power usage of their 4000 game parlors in the Tepco region” is no more than 840,000 kilowatts” and this is where I learned precise numbers... Since Toei and Metro [Tokyo’s subway systems] together are a maximum of 360,000 kilowatts, this is pretty big.

#2: Pachinko parlor electricity consumption is 40% air conditioning, 30% pachinko machines, 20% lighting. To reduce the gap in power supply during summer peak demand time, [we] must reevaluate [our] lifestyles. To speak half-jokingly and half-seriously, the pachinko industry must themselves come forward with plans such as operating only at night, or running without their coolers on during the day.
So, why not close down the entire Pachinko gambling industry during peak hours, since they contribute zilch to tax revenue anyway, and we could all continue to live and work in peace, more or less. With a little less lights on, but possibly even keeping a minimum of air conditioning on, in summer? Politically, what IS the right decision, now? Sucking teeth, just won't do. Advice please!

Just for the subways, Toei and Metro together use a maximum of 360,000 kilowatts during rush hour, according to Tokyo Vice-mayor Inose Naoki. Again, Pachinko is as much as 840,000 kilowatts. Advice...?

Prime Minister Kan has ordered the Hamaoka nuclear plant to close down, but why not ask the bloody Pachinko parlours too? In fact, there were angry demonstrations in Shinjuku 2 weeks ago, with people shouting and trying to get the electric gamblers to come to their senses... I'd love to see that in the news. Advice!

Setsuden, thus, is the buzz word all over the Internet right now. There is a "reduce electricity consumption" page at METI, the government ministry, thanking you for turning off your electrical toilet and other appliances. There is even main stream media pitching in, as well as industry pages and blogs.

And here is Vangelis, Twilight (thanks Tom).

Hi ga Kureru
Sore wa Toki no Mahou
Asu Onaji Toki
Mata Chigau Mahou
Sore wa Iro ga Kaori ni
Kaori ga Iro ni Kawaru Toki
Soshite Kage wa Kagirinai
Ao ni Tokeru

The day falls into the twilight.
It is a magic of time.
The same time tomorrow,
there'll be another magic.
It is when colours turn to flavours,
and flavours turn to colours.
And it is when
shadows melt into deep blue.


Friday, May 06, 2011

Hamaoka Nuclear Reactors To Be Shut Down: Kan

This is something I was briefly involved in when I worked for Japan Offspring Fund, a small consumer organization. We wanted the Hamaoka Nuclear Reactors to be permanently shut down, because they are built in a very risky earth quake zone:

The Chubu Electric Power Co., Ltd insists that their Hamaoka reactors are 100% safe. In our opinion, the effects of an earthquake can never be predicted, so their assessment cannot be trusted. The Tokai megaseism could be up to 60 times as powerful as the 2004 Niigata earthquake. It is almost impossible to estimate where radioactive dust and debris, containing uranium, would fall as it depends on wind currents and wind speeds, as well as climate conditions. As radioactivity can stay in the atmosphere for long periods of time, it can fall anywhere and seriously pollute any spot on our rotating planet.

Seems Prime Minister Kan has the same feeling. Good. This is the kind of news that should go viral in an age when most news is controlled by people who get paid to say "it is safe."

NHK World: Kan calls for halt of Hamaoka nuclear reactors

Prime Minister Naoto Kan says he has asked a utility company in central Japan to halt operations of all active reactors at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, due to the risk of earthquakes.

Kan announced the decision on Friday, citing the need to better secure the plant against earthquakes and tsunami in the wake of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The prime minister says he has asked the plant operator, Chubu Electric Power Company, to halt reactors No.4 and No.5, and not to restart reactor No.3, which is now offline for regular inspections.

The Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture has 5 reactors. Reactors No.1 and 2 are permanently shut down for decommissioning.

The reactor complex sits directly above the projected focus of a magnitude-8 class earthquake that experts have long warned of.

The plant's safety risks have been repeatedly pointed out by lawmakers during Diet debates.
Friday, May 06, 2011 19:47

Sometimes, life gives you small rewards.

Update 1: BBC has the story (thanks guys) Japan PM orders halt at Hamaoka nuclear plant

Addressing a news conference on Friday, Mr Kan said the five-reactor Hamaoka plant, operated by the Chubu Electric Power Company, had been ordered to suspend two running reactors and a third shut for a regular inspection.
The Hamaoka plant, which lies 200km (120 miles) south of Tokyo, is in Shizuoka prefecture - an area which seismologists say is overdue for an earthquake.
"The relevant authorities, including the science ministry, have shown that the possibility of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake hitting the area of the Hamaoka plant within the next 30 years is 87%," Mr Kan said.
"This is a decision made for the safety of the people when I consider the special conditions of the Hamaoka plant."
Mr Kan said the government would work to prevent power supply problems arising from the decision.
He said safety measures, including the construction of sea walls, would need to be implemented at the plant before operations resumed.

Update 2: NHK quotes Kan, who noted:

Kan said that although power shortages might occur when demand surges in the summer, he is confident that with the cooperation and understanding of the public, the nation can overcome such difficulties.

Update 3: NHK World (more details late Friday night)

Kan calls for halt of Hamaoka nuclear plant

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has asked a utility firm in central Japan to halt operations of all active reactors at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, due to the risk of earthquakes.Kan told a hastily arranged news conference on Friday evening that he made the decision in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The prime minister said he asked Chubu Electric Power Company that operates the Hamaoka plant to halt reactors No.4 and No.5, and not to restart reactor No.3, which is now offline for regular inspections. The plant in Shizuoka Prefecture has 5 reactors, but units No.1 and 2 are permanently shut down for decommissioning.

The Hamaoka complex is known to sit directly above the projected focus of the Tokai Earthquake that experts have long warned of. Kan said that a science ministry panel on earthquake research has projected an 87-percent possibility of a magnitude-8-class earthquake hitting the region within 30 years.

He said that considering the unique location of the Hamaoka plant, the operator must draw up and implement mid-to-long-term plans to ensure the reactors can withstand the projected Tokai Earthquake. Kan also said that until such plans are implemented, all the reactors should remain out of operation.

Chubu Electric has declined to respond immediately to the prime minister's request. But Kan said he will try hard to win the company's understanding. The prime minister added that his government will do its utmost to ensure the stoppage of the reactors does not seriously affect power supplies in Chubu Electric's service areas.

Kan said that although power shortages might occur when demand surges in the summer, he is confident that with the cooperation and understanding of the public, the nation can overcome such difficulties.

Friday, May 06, 2011 21:02 (NHK)

Update 4: AFP/Yahoo

"This is a decision made for the safety of the people when I consider the special conditions of the Hamaoka plant," Kan said, adding: "I made the decision myself as prime minister."
Kyodo News agency reported that Chubu had agreed to suspend operations.
Japanese anti-nuclear campaigners have long argued that the seismically unstable area, where two major continental plates meet, makes Hamaoka the most dangerous atomic facility in the quake-prone archipelago.
Heita Kawakatsu, the governor of Shizuoka prefecture, where the plant is situated, has expressed his strong opposition to resuming operations at the closed reactors, saying that anti-tsunami measures were inadequate.
Kan said the government made the decision after "taking into account the enormous impact a serious accident at the Hamaoka nuclear plant would have on the Japanese society as a whole".
"It is necessary to steadfastly implement measures on a middle- and long-term basis, including construction of sea walls which can fully withstand an anticipated Tokai earthquake," he said.
After the March 11 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems at Fukushima, leading to partial meltdowns and explosions, Chubu Electric said it planned to build a water barrier 12 metres tall or higher.
Greenpeace hailed Friday's news.
"Greenpeace welcomes Prime Minister Kan?s request to close Hamaoka, one of the most dangerous nuclear reactors in Japan," said Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan executive director.
"This is the first time a prime minister has directly requested a nuclear plant in Japan be closed. However, it cannot be the last."
"Fukushima has provided a stark reminder of the consequences of nuclear power, and there are many other dangerous reactors still online.
"The government must continue to close and decommission existing plants, cancel all new reactor builds and put Japan on a course for a future powered by renewable sources of energy.
"Only then can the Japanese people feel their government is truly putting their safety first."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Cyndi Lauper in Japan, 2011

I just love Cyndi Lauper. She didn't cancel her tour in March and went on to do some very wonderful shows in Tokyo, Osaka and other places. Truly an inspiration. She also mentions how she first connected with this place back in 1986 at a concert in the Budokan, when she sang True Colours a capella, and got such an amazing response from her Japanese fans.

The Memphis Blues Japan Tour website is nice too, with photos from her trip here last month.

Videos from Osaka March 22, 2011.

True Colours:

Fearless/Time After Time/Don't Wanna Cry:

From the CNN interview, where she notes that she was the only act this spring to perform in Japan: "They are coming to see me, I'm singing my guts out, I'm trying my best... They were so kind to me, my whole life I have been coming here... All the artists should pitch in. This is the place we came all through the 1980s, these people have been generous to us, and I think we should be generous back":

Toku is the stage name of the fluegelhorn player, who has performed with major Japanese bands like Exile. His website is toku-jazz.