Sunday, September 04, 2016

John Denver singing "The Strangest Dream" at an anti Vietnam war protest march in 1971.

John D says: "On April 24th, 1971, my friends and I marched in Washington D.C. against the war in South East Asia. This was one of the largest protests against the Vietnam war which was now spreading into Laos and Cambodia."

Alicia Bay Laurel - Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream - sung in Japanese and in English

Alicia Bay Laurel performs - "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream," a visionary peace song written by Ed McCurdy in the late 1940s, along with a translation of the lyrics into Japanese created by singer/songwriter Maiko Kodama in 2013. Alicia is offering this video in hope that many people will learn this song and join her in singing it on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the first atomic bombing of a human community, August 5, 2015, in Hiroshima, Japan. She is hoping to have the event live-streaming on the Internet so that people can attend from wherever they are. The lyrics in both languages, including a phonetic rendering of the Japanese lyrics for English speakers, plus a guitar chord chart, are at
ア リシア·ベイ·ローレルは、1940年代後半にエド·マッカーディによって書かれた先進的な平和の歌 "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream" を、2013年シンガー/ソングライター児玉真衣子によって訳された日本語の歌詞と共に歌っている。2015年8月5日は、原爆が人間社会に最初に落とさ れてから70年。アリシアは多くの人がこの歌を学び、2015年8月15日前夜に広島で行われるイベントで彼女と一緒に歌えるよう、このビデオを製作し た。彼女は、世界の人々がイベントにどこからでも参加することができるように、インターネット上でこのイベントのライブストリーミングを望んでいる。英 語、日本語の歌詞、英語を話す人のための日本語歌詞の発音、ギターコードチャートは、を参照。

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Four Kanji Idioms Explained

Interesting take on the four kanji idioms that contain a lot of meaning, from


The phrase 一期一会 (ichigo ichie) also has the meaning of “a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.”

Never Say Die

“Fall down seven times, stand up eight” has become a popular inspirational quote in English, extolling the virtues of perseverance in the face of repeated setbacks. An online search for related images will find countless motivational posters as well as a few tattoos. It is a translation of 七転八起 (shichiten hakki),(*1) one example of a yojijukugo, or four-character idiomatic compound.
As the name indicates, these vocabulary items consist of four kanji strung together. They appear mainly in written Japanese, holding the reader’s interest by pepping up prose, while conveying a disproportionate weight of meaning in just a handful of characters. Like English proverbs, many are obscure or literary, but some are extremely well known. They are first studied in elementary school, and the most common phrases are referenced regularly in popular culture.
Daruma dolls are commonly associated with the phrase “fall down seven times, stand up eight,” because they are weighted at the bottom so they spring back up after being pushed over.

Varied Origins

As well as those deriving from everyday Japanese, some yojijukugo have their origins in Chinese stories. The phrase 呉越同舟 (Go-Etsu dōshū) refers to enemies being in “the same boat.” In describing an unlikely alliance, it is a little different than the superficially similar English “same boat” expression. It goes back to an episode described by Sun Tzu in which enemies from the ancient Chinese states of Wu and Yue (Go and Etsu in Japanese) helped each other during a storm at sea.
A number of phrases come from Buddhism. For example, 諸行無常 (shogyō mujō), whose four kanji roughly mean “various,” “things,” “not,” and “permanent,” respectively, translates overall as “everything is transient.” Another yojijukugo originally from Buddhism, 言語道断 (gongo dōdan), has acquired a different meaning over the years. It originally described how profound truths cannot be put into words but is now typically used to mean “unspeakable” in the sense of “outrageous” or “preposterous.”
One particularly well-known phrase borrows from English. “To kill two birds with one stone” has entered Japanese as 一石二鳥 (isseki nichō). As its component kanji—meaning “one,” “stone,” “two,” and “bird”—are included in the 240 characters learned in the first two grades of elementary school, this is among the easiest yojijukugo to remember, especially for English-speaking learners.

Number Phrases

The aesthetic pleasures of four-character phrases, as compared with other proverbs, lie in their exquisite balance. They can be broken down into two pairs of characters, which often apply repetition and contrast to create a heightened effect. The phrase 一喜一憂 (ikki ichiyū) expresses the emotional turbulence of reacting to a changing situation: “one joy” is followed by “one sorrow” and vice versa. Similarly, the phrase 一進一退 (isshin ittai) conveys a stalemate: “one step forward” and “one step back.”
Many other yojijukugo are based on numbers. 再三再四 (saisan saishi)—or “again,” “three,” “again,” “four”—means “again and again.” 十人十色 (jūnin toiro)—“ten,” “people,” “ten,” “colors”—is a way of saying that people’s opinions and tastes vary. There is also a less inspirational variation on “fall down seven times, stand up eight.” From only looking at the individual kanji 七転八倒 (shichiten battō) could be translated as “fall down seven times, fall down eight,” although the actual meaning is to “writhe in pain.”

Yojijukugo Examples

馬耳東風 baji tōfū “the East wind in a horse’s ear,” in one ear and out the other
酒池肉林 shuchi nikurin “ponds of alcohol, forests of meat,” a huge banquet
無我夢中 muga muchū “no self, in the middle of a dream,” to be totally absorbed in doing something
単刀直入 tantō chokunyū “a direct attack by one swordsman,” to come straight to the point
以心伝心 ishin denshin “conveyed from one heart to another,” communication without words
異口同音 iku dōon “different mouths, one sound,” unanimous

Food on the Brain?

Most commonly, yojijukugo are defined as being nonliteral or idiomatic, as in the examples given above. According to one school of thought, however, they can refer to any four-character phrase, no matter how mundane. In this broad interpretation, 立入禁止 (tachiiri kinshi), meaning “no entry,” and 高速道路 (kōsoku dōro) or “expressway” would also count as yojijukugo.
A popular anecdote illustrates the difference between the two definitions. One day, a teacher asks the class to complete the yojijukugo __肉__食, expecting the answer 弱肉強食 (jakuniku kyōshoku). This lines up kanji meaning “weak,” and “meat” alongside “strong,” and “eat” to mean “the law of the jungle.”(*2) But one student gives the response 焼肉定食 (yakiniku teishoku), which simply means a yakiniku set meal.
While one might argue that the student is technically correct, the humor rests on the confounding of the teacher’s expectations. Yojijukugo are thought of as idioms first and foremost. There are countless more for language lovers to seek out with entire dictionaries containing a rich variety of phrases. Perhaps only a small fraction are essential to remember, but for those who enjoy the beauty of language for its own sake, the compressed poetry of yojijukugo is prime terrain for exploration.

(*1) ^ Sometimes seen in the variant form 七転び八起き (nanakorobi yaoki).
(*2) ^ As an aside, a character in the novel Cloud Atlas uses the phrase “The weak are meat the strong do eat.” Author David Mitchell, who lived in Japan for several years and has a Japanese wife, was presumably inspired here by 弱肉強食.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Genki Frid Clan...

...That would be me on the left, having just turned 50 this summer, my father Henry who is 80 years old and surprisingly genki (No meat diet, but some dairy to help him gain weight), and Johan, Ph.D. and younger brother and father of two very bright kids (Jens & Lykke). Missing is mother Karin who passed away on July 25. Namu Amida Butsu...

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Heart Sutra & Mountains

Lovely video of Japan's tall peaks, to the sound of monks reciting the Hanya Shinkyu, or Heart Sutra.

Friday, July 22, 2016

I did a guest post over at Joan's terrific blog, Japan Farmers Markets, thought I should share it here too:

Martin offered this guest post as an update on what's happening there and to bring an insider's perspective. Enjoy! - JB
Kimura-san's most amazing vegetables always attract a crowd!
I work part-time at Nippori Marche and thought I'd talk a bit about what it takes to help run a (small) market one weekend a month in Tokyo. As Joan points out in her fabulous monthly listing of events and farmers markets, this is a lively event with a focus on good food and fresh fruit and vegetables. It all started six years ago, when the good people who own the event square in Nippori joined up with Arakawa-ku and decided that they wanted to create opportunities for farmers to meet their customers directly, in a city that doesn't have a lot of event squares with available space for this kind of activity. It really started from scratch and we have never cancelled a single day, rain, snow or shine. In fact, I think “shine” is the worst, when it is 36 C or more in the sun. Typhoons do cause some trouble too for an outdoor market like ours! 

Sase-san's bountiful harvest is worth a good long look, and he's always up for a chat.
We meet up on the Friday before the weekend to bring the green tents and tables and other equipment to the event square. Stuff like sinks and running water, as well as fire extinguishers, are required by law, and we also provide a PA system for music and a stage for performances. The tents are really heavy but still tend to lift and take off with strong gusts of wind, so we have to bring heavy concrete blocks to secure all the tent poles, and yikes, they ARE heavy! Flags and ads also add to the fun. Many vendors bring their own flags to decorate their booths, but we like to have a sense of unity so that people can see that the market is “on” as they exit the JR Nippori station.

Regional themes occur regularly.
The vendors arrive early Saturday morning, some from quite a distance. Sase-san and Kimura-san drive all the way from Aizu Wakamatsu in Fukushima prefecture, and their fresh produce is always incredibly popular. We have vendors selling fruit from Aomori, including apples. Look out for Sameshima-san who sells food shipped from Tanegashima, the tiny island south of Kagoshima. Several people bring just harvested veggies and pickles and organic food from Chiba and Miyagi. Gyoza from Utsunomiya. Food from Chichibu in rural Saitama is brought in, depending on the season. Homemade honey and delicious olive oil also to be sampled and brought home, maybe as a present for someone special?

Hello, Samosa!
We are pretty international: I highly recommend sampling Richard's fine French pastries and quiche & pies that he makes himself, and you can feast on Brazilian dishes, as well as fried samosa and Pakistani food. Many people come back each month for the yakisoba and dumplings. Soft drinks, beer, nihonshu (sake) and more will be served, plus the best coffee in town from Ethiopia! Oh, and in summer, do head to Nippori to satisfy your sweet tooth craving of kakigori, the traditional shaved ice with different syrups, so beloved by kids all over Japan.
At dusk, we decide if we will close at 5 pm or maybe put up lamps and carry on an hour longer, depending on the weather and the mood. The stage performances continue until we close, with dance by Sanchome, solo guitar by Hitori Ventures, and all kinds of local talents, including a team of guys with mad basketball skills... From around lunch time we set up tables so people can enjoy their food and drinks – we jokingly call it the Nippori Marche Beer Garden, although that is not entirely official. We have been featured on TV and in Tokyo Walker, but we could really need some major PR. Do visit and share with your friends.
Then the hard work begins to take everything down. Many vendors join in to help and it is pretty smooth going by now. On a good evening it takes less than an hour to dismantle the entire market, tent by tent, table by table, booth by booth, sink by sink, flag by flag. Sometimes, we go for karaoke or head to the nearest izakaya to relax together. In summer, we party right there at the event square, so don't be surprised if you should happen to see a bunch of tired but happy people sitting outside on the event square in a rather un-Japanese fashion, late into the evening.
Location: JR Nippori station, north east exit, Tokyo
Time: 10 am – 5 pm
Date: Every third weekend of each month

July 16-17 (Sat – Sun) will mark the 70th event so far!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

How to Fire in a Gas Kiln...

Pretty educational video this, how to do it properly in your own handmade kiln, with Stedmark #100 burners. Love his accent. "Trying not to panic...."

And here you see his results:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Japan's Green Party

Writer Winifred Bird has done us all a favour and interviewed the good people over at Japan's Green Party, which was formed in 2012. Read it over at

Despite this heightened awareness of issues core to the Greens’ platform, the party has yet to see a matching leap in support for it, Ishizaki says. “In the longer term, though, our party plays an important role by simply existing. We’ve got members in place here and there around the country as members of municipal assemblies, representing citizen interests. Each of them is fighting single-handedly to protect values like human rights, pacifism, and the environment. For people like these, the Greens can be a vessel for their hope that one day someone representing their views will join the National Diet. All we can do is hold on to our vision and goals, strengthen our network, and do the steady work to expand our organization.”

Friday, June 24, 2016

UK Votes Out Of The EU

I'm really sorry and worried that the UK has voted to leave the EU. Most of voters in cities voted for the remain, but countryside voters were against. It shows a sense of bias that the EU has only benefited rich people in large cities.

Indeed, I can agree that farmers are usually left out of the Brussels quagmire debates. And so many others, like here in Japan, are old people living in the rural towns that do not feel much benefit from Trade Liberalization and large shopping centers that offer all kinds of imported goods at low prices, mostly from China. But why does this translate to the right-wing vote?

I'm from the southernmost province of Sweden. We voted for joining the EU some 20 years ago. Sweden did join, but later opted out of the Euro. Since then, the EU has grown to include 28 countries. It may have been more manageable and more democratic back then. But why did the UK right-wing Cameron government embark on this stupid vote in the first place? Incredibly foolish. Scotland votes for remain, all of London is for, Liverpool and Manchester, Hove & Brighton is for remain.

Ages ago, I remember there was a really silly movement to get Skåne to leave Sweden. Seriously, they had their main guy out on the main square, trying to whip out votes. That was in the 1970s, long before the rise of Neo-Nazism and anti-immigration politicians. We laughed at them. Now they are (almost) mainstream, and in the UK of all places. You want to get out of the major European peace-building initiative in the past 70 years?

MOX Fuel at Ikata in Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku

I was hoping this would not happen. Protesters are also outside the plant. They read out a statement protesting the insertion of nuclear fuel into the No.3 unit. The statement said the system for transmitting electricity to the plant cannot withstand a powerful earthquake and the plant's safety cannot be guaranteed. A stable power supply is needed to maintain the cooling of the reactor. One of the protesters said that in view of the powerful temblors that struck Kumamoto, the operator should not rush the process of inserting fuel into the reactor.

NHK World: Fuel loading begins at Ikata No.3 nuclear reactor

Workers have begun loading nuclear fuel into a reactor at the Ikata power plant in western Japan. The operator plans to restart the reactor in late July.

They started removing units of fuel rods from a pool on Friday, and placed them into the No.3 reactor one at a time. Sixteen of the 157 units of fuel rods are the type of fuel called MOX, which is a mixture of plutonium extracted from spent fuel and uranium.

The operator, Shikoku Electric Power Company, plans to complete the procedure next Monday.

The utility hopes to put the reactor back online in late July, after conducting drills based on the scenario of a serious nuclear accident.

The reactor's operations were suspended in April 2011, following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident the previous month.

But Japan's nuclear regulators decided last year that the No.3 reactor met the new government regulations that were introduced after the Fukushima accident.

Ikata will become the 3rd nuclear plant to be restarted under the new regulations, following the Sendai plant in southwestern Japan and the Takahama plant in central Japan.

But the 2 reactors at the Takahama plant are now offline under a court injunction.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Fukushima Coverup: Nuclear Reactor Core Meltdown

Now it is rather official. Back in March 2011, as events unfolded, we were not told the truth. We saw the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear reactors live on TV. But we were not told the rest of the story:

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The head of Tokyo Electric Power Co. apologized Tuesday over his predecessor's instruction not to use the term "core meltdown" in describing the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in the early days of the crisis, calling the instruction a "coverup."
"It is extremely regrettable. People are justified in thinking it a coverup," TEPCO President Naomi Hirose said at a press conference in Tokyo.
The remarks came after a report published last Thursday said then President Masataka Shimizu instructed a vice president, who was taking part in a press conference on March 14, 2011, not to use "core meltdown" in describing the state of damaged reactors.
The report suggested that efforts were made to make the nuclear crisis look less severe than it actually was at a time when attention was riveted on the condition of the six-reactor complex following a massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011.

A much better article covering this story over at the Mainichi:

Editorial: Probe into Fukushima nuke plant's 'meltdown' cover-up lacks credibility

A third-party panel set up by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to investigate a 2011 accident at its tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has released a report that then TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu had ordered that the company never use the phrase, "reactor core meltdown."
It is highly problematic for the head of a company that caused a serious accident, which could threaten the lives and health of people, to issue an order that could be taken as covering up the seriousness of the disaster. The vice president in charge of the nuclear power business and other executives, as well as some employees, deserve criticism that they followed such an instruction.

Considering that the cover-up allegations surfaced more than five years after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, it is difficult to believe that TEPCO has regained the public's confidence in itself.
The term "Reactor core meltdown" is scientifically a vague phrase. Still, TEPCO's in-house manual on nuclear power generation states that if over 5 percent of the core of a reactor is damaged, it should be recognized as a meltdown. If TEPCO had followed this definition, the company could have deemed three days after the outbreak of the crisis that core meltdowns had occurred in the plant's No. 1 and 3 reactors. However, it was not until two months later that TEPCO officially admitted that meltdowns had occurred at the power station. Furthermore, it was as late as this past February that the existence of the in-house manual came to light.

TEPCO had initially claimed that it was unaware of the existence of the manual but a certain number of employees knew about the manual. The utility had also explained that the firm did not make a clear decision not to admit that meltdowns occurred at the Fukushima plant. However, since the president issued such an order, it is natural to suspect that the firm covered up the meltdowns.
Questions should also be raised over the way the third-party investigative panel conducted the probe. Its investigative report suggests that Shimizu issued the order under pressure from the prime minister's office. "It is assumed that the company understood that it had been asked by the prime minister's office to exercise caution about publicly acknowledging that reactor core meltdowns occurred," the report states. However, the panel had failed to even question the then prime minister or chief Cabinet secretary. The panel later explained that it had neither the authority nor the time to question these top officials.

It is extremely sloppy that the panel suggested that there was political intervention into TEPCO's response to the accident based only on presumptions, as it is an important point. It could give the public the impression that the panel shifted the blame away from TEPCO to the prime minister's office.

Moreover, the report says it cannot be recognized that the company had intentionally concealed the existence of the definition of reactor core meltdowns in the manual for five years, hinting that the panel sided with the power company. As such, it is difficult to trust the panel.

These problems apparently remind the public that there are limits to investigations by third-party panels, such as those conducted into money scandals involving former Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe and House of Representatives member Yuko Obuchi. Even if these bodies are called "third-party" fact-finding panels, it is highly questionable how far they are independent since these are set up by those involved in scandals.

Those involved in wrongdoing should not use third-party panels they set up to justify their practices or evade responsibility.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Post Peak Oil

When I started Kurashi some 10 years ago, the issue of peak oil quickly was brought to my attention by some great people that knew a lot about energy issues. The blog to follow back then was The Oil Drum and there were others. Since then, it is thought that peak oil did indeed happen around 2006-2008, so we are now in an era of uncharted territory, which some of us started to prepare for back then. I focus on consumption issues and what is called "Responsible Consumption" - meaning we should consume resources that are finite (like oil) as little as possible... Thus I have no car, try to buy locally produced food, and care about my electricity bill. I also make some of my own veggies, although that is just a small step in the right direction, I know.

Thanks Pandabonium for the link to Our Renewable Future, a book and website that is a great resource about this era. Nice to see that the debate has matured to this level (despite what you may see in the mainstreem press in some countries with their heads still stuck in the sand, ahem, make that tar-sand).

Maybe my only issue with this is the language, and the authors' focus on "energy use" while I prefer the term "energy consumption." The difference, to me working for 20 years in the consumer movement, is that when we "consume" we do so with awareness, and to the degree that we can, responsibility. To just "use" is to take that away. Responsibly reducing energy consumption is the only way to solve the many issues facing mankind.

Already in the early 1960s, US President J. F. Kennedy pioneered the idea of consumer rights, a profound concept that has since been developed all around the world. That is a concept that still strongly empowers the consumer organizations, as well as the environmental organizations, that try to educate people and create a more sustainable future for us all on this finite planet.

Join the fun, but do take a look at Our Renewable Future, a remarkable research project by Richard Heinberg and David Fridley!

The book concludes by discussing the critically important questions of how to ensure that everyone benefits from the renewable energy transition and what steps can and should be taken now to put us on a path toward a truly just and sustainable future. The goal of this book is to help readers think more clearly and intelligently about our renewable future. An all-renewable world will present opportunities as well as challenges. And building that world will entail more than just the construction of enormous numbers of solar panels and wind turbines. Along the way, we will learn that how we use energy is as important as how we get it. Indeed, unless we adapt our energy usage patterns with the same vigor as is devoted to changing energy sources, the transition could result in a substantial reduction of economic functionality for society as a whole.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bhutan 100% Organic

Koa Tasaka, head of Consumers Union of Japan where I work, has a great affection for Bhutan, the small kingdom north of India. He is impressed by their agricultural practices: they have announced that the entire country will become 100% organic.

The Guardian: Political parties in the Himalayan kingdom unite to eradicate chemical fertilisers and pesticides as part of its Gross National Happiness programme

Agriculture and forests minister Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji and opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho, who held the post in the previous government, say there is a united commitment to rid the country of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
While no formal timeframe has been put in place, both politicians believe that the goal is within sight as long as practical natural solutions can be found to the pest and disease problems still affecting a few crops. In order to speed up the search for these answers, Bhutan recently brought together experts on organic agriculture from across the world.

Imagine that. An entire nation can make a choice to avoid harmful pesticides and herbicides.

And here is a wonderful blog post about the Bhutan Royal visit to Japan in 2011, including their message to people in Fukushima, which they visited.

Soma City - Fukushima. His Majesty joins in for the prayer ceremony led by venerable Dorji Lopen - Bhutan's second highest monk. "No nation or people should ever have to experience such suffering. And yet if there is one nation who can rise stronger and greater from such adversity – it is Japan and her People. Of this I am confident." The King had told in his address to the Japanese parliament.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Congratulations, C W Nicol

Emperor and Empress visit central Japan forest managed by British-born author C.W. Nicol


Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on Monday paid a visit to woodland restored by British-born writer and environmentalist C.W. Nicol in Nagano Prefecture.
The couple took a stroll in Afan Woodland in the town of Shinano, with the Emperor asking Nicol the names of various plants. As he walked through the forest, the Emperor said, “It feels good.”
The wooded area, which takes its name from a forest park in Wales, had been cut down and was neglected for more than 40 years until the 1980s. The 75-year-old author, who now has Japanese citizenship and has been a columnist for The Japan Times since 2002, has long been involved in efforts to restore its original ecosystem by taking care of trees there.
The Imperial Couple were staying in the prefecture to attend the annual National Arbor Day Festival in the city of Nagano on Sunday to promote forestry and protection of the natural environment.
During their three-day trip to Nagano through Monday, the Imperial Couple also met with five residents of the village of Sakae, which was hit by a powerful earthquake on March 12, 2011, the day after the massive earthquake and tsunami devastated wide areas of the Tohoku region.
In 2012, the Emperor and Empress visited temporary housing units in the village to offer encouragement to the survivors.

Monday, May 30, 2016

To Tougei (or to Mingei)

Japan has an ancient tradition of making pottery, that goes way back into the mists of millennia.... OK, I'll stop there. Over the past couple of years I have had the pleasure of learning traditional pottery, tougei (陶芸, lit. pottery art, ceramic art). My teacher is in Tokorozawa and has a couple of kilns, including a nobori-gama that I hope we will use one day - it's wooden fire gives the most interesting hues without using glazes. I also make my own stuff here at home in Hanno, which I fire at a friend's place in Ogama, Chichibu, western Saitama. We are thinking of building a nobori-gama there, too, in the forest.

Mingei (民芸, lit. folk art) is a popular movement with museums all over Japan, many that display pottery items and local ceramics, especially those made by unknown potters, masters in their own right, but guys and gals who didn't have the kind of luck to make pieces for rich people, but for the benefit of us ordinary folks. I'm a bit unsure where I would fall in that distinction - is my stuff tougei or mingei? Or both?

I do sell a lot, especially at the Nippori market in Tokyo twice a month, and also at events. I'm being nudged by others (P, I'm looking at you) to set up an Ebay account or something similar. It would be great to see how far the Internet can take my sales.

All the items below have been sold, but there will be more to come soon! (Click to enlarge)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Katazukeru: What to do with our Parents' Stuff

Below, a good read in the Daily Gomiuri, aka The-Japan-News, aka Daily Yomiuri (lit. Read-Sell) about the issues facing us youngsters now in our 40s and 50s as we have to deal with our parents' stuff. Because die they will and they will leave attics full off stuff. Do we just throw it all away? Do we hire firms to come and pick it all up? Do we sort through it, and more importantly, do we sort through it all?

Decades of consuming, if not a century since industrialization began in earnest, and consumerism that made it all so easy to accumulate. But not just stuff stuff. Also personal things like letters, photos, super 8 home movies. Stuff that actually meant something.

Hope they translate that book, “Katsuo ga Isonoke o Katazukeru Hi” (The day Katsuo cleans up the Isono household), by Aya Watanabe.

Like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, there is a lesson here, somewhere (if I can only find it, where did I put it...) has more.

It's a lot like weeding your garden, pruning fruit trees - you have to do it all the time, seasonally, when the weather is right, not just when you feel like it. You have to do it. More about the Philosophy of Weeding and the Humanities on Pure Land, a blog I like a lot. Nothing like it teaches us to deal with stuff.

Shards of a burst bubble litter Japan’s landscape

By Sawa Kurotani / Special to The Japan News

During a recent trip to Japan, I found myself on the 14th floor of a high-rise office building in Makuhari, an area of Chiba Prefecture adjacent to Tokyo.
“This was a bubble-era project,” my guide offered as he gestured at the well-appointed interior of the nearly empty building. His knowing smile told me that he expected me to understand the meaning of this with no further elaboration: It is the legacy of the materialistic excesses of the last years of the 1926-1989 Showa era.
I looked out the bay window at the sea of other sleek buildings, also built during the economic boom in the late 1980s. Behind their shiny surfaces that deflect the inquiring gaze, they, too, were empty reminders of the frenzy that transformed this area in a short decade and left abruptly. They reminded me of another, very different scene of much less shiny and much more modest, yet equally empty buildings I had seen just a few days before.
I was taking a walk around the neighborhood where I grew up. As I randomly turned the corners of narrow, winding streets, I suddenly found myself in front of a cluster of low-rise apartment buildings. Their exposed concrete walls had not been painted for ages and were stained with dirt and rust. The courtyard was deserted and overrun by weeds. The rows of bare windows showed that only a handful of occupants remained in these nearly forsaken buildings.
Numerous danchi housing complexes such as this were built in the 1950s for low- and modest-income families. These no-frills square concrete buildings weren’t much to look at even in my childhood, but still, they were considered a vast improvement over the cramped quarters in which these families previously lived. Nearly 100 families, most with children, occupied small apartments, and it was a crowded but lively place, with signs of day-to-day life everywhere: laundry hung to dry on every balcony, kids running on the sidewalk, elderly women sitting on a bench talking, housewives walking by with heavy grocery bags.
The two clusters of buildings neatly represent the beginning and the end of Japan’s postwar economic ascent through the latter half of the Showa era.
It was arguably the most affluent era in Japan’s history, and most importantly, it was an era enlivened by the drive for production and ownership of ever-newer and shinier objects. People worked hard to make things; then, with the hard-earned money, they bought things that they believed enriched their lives. A single-family home with novel home appliances and a brand-new car in the garage — that was the ultimate embodiment of success and happiness toward which the people of Showa single-mindedly aspired.
Nearly three decades into the Heisei era, Japan seems overburdened by the Showa era obsession for things. Things built in the Showa era are now nothing but discards. Danchi, which once housed Japan’s industrial workforce and nurtured the next generation, now stand decaying all over urban and suburban Japan; office high-rises in once up-and-coming areas along the shore of Tokyo Bay remain empty. It costs precious money to maintain them, but it costs too much to destroy them. So they stand idle, taking up space and reminding us of the era that supposedly ended a long time ago.
Yet another reminder of the burdensome Showa legacy is found in the imaginary home of Japan’s most beloved fictional family. In her book “Katsuo ga Isonoke o Katazukeru Hi” (The day Katsuo cleans up the Isono household), Aya Watanabe presents an unlikely sequel to the cartoon series Sazae-san, in which the Isonos, a quintessential Showa-era family, face Heisei reality. Watanabe’s intent is to provide guidance for middle-aged children who are faced with the responsibility of managing their elderly parents’ belongings, yet, her choice of Katsuo, the only son of the Isono family, as the protagonist of her hypothetical tale has symbolic significance far beyond the practical advice she offers.
To the reader who is familiar with Katsuo’s character as a rambunctious middle child, the image of a grown-up Katsuo in his 40s is in itself humorous. Placing him in his childhood home among the overwhelming quantity of things his parents hoarded, clueless about even where to start, however, quickly brings on a somber sense of reality that so many middle-aged children face today as their Showa-generation parents enter the last stages of their long lives.
The aging postwar generation is buried in their homes, unable to part with things they hoarded, which are more than just things: They are the embodiment of the Showa era and its values. Their so-called bubble generation children enjoyed the affluence of late Showa as they grew up, but they spent most of their adult life in the rapidly shifting economic landscape of Heisei Japan.
It is the fate of this generation to clean up the mess left behind by the excesses of Showa, both at home and at work. Lacking their own material resources, they depend on their parents’ financial support to maintain the quality of life they were promised as children, but they pay the price of being the heirs to houses full of trash.
Together three buildings — the Makuhari office high-rise, the suburban danchi of my childhood and the Isono family home — tell the story of Showa and its Heisei endings. I wonder, though, when, if ever, post-bubble Japan will finally leave the legacy of Showa behind and begin to weave its own story.

Kurotani is a professor of anthropology at the University of Redlands in California.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Jupiter and Moon

Cool view of the sky, I like that I can find out what that bright thing near the moon is - Jupiter.

Ken E is invited to join the new Kurashi Experience.

Earthsky says: Jupiter’s four major moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto – made it possible for math-savvy astronomers to compute the mass (heaviness) of Jupiter. This giant world has the mass of 318 Earths.

How do astronomers know the mass of Jupiter?

As darkness falls on May 14, 2016, use the moon to find the king planet Jupiter. Watch for them. They will be a sight to see in your sky on Saturday evening. And soon gone far, far away again. You'll also see Saturn and Mars in May!

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Refined By Fire

An Anagama is a wood fire kiln used in traditional Japanese pottery where the gas and ash act as a natural glazing agent for ceramics.

This short documentary features Clayton Amemiya, a Hawaii-born artist who was originally taught in Okinawa by sensei Seisho Kuniyoshi.

Clayton has been perfecting his Anagama technique for 40 years and become a master craftsman of this Japanese art form.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Jupiter, Moon... for that bright planet next to the Moon, that's Jupiter.

With binoculars, your can see at least four of Jupiter's moons.

Ancient Babylonian astronomers used calculus to find Jupiter 1,400 years before Europeans

Ancient Babylonians Tracked Jupiter With Calculus

The earliest known examples of mathematical and geometric astronomy have been identified in a series of ancient Babylonian cuneiform tablets. An analysis of the tablets, reported in the journal Science, reveals ancient Babylonians were able to calculate the position of Jupiter using geometric techniques previously believed to have been first used some 1,400 years later in 14th century Europe. “These texts are the earliest evidence we have from antiquity of mathematical astronomy,” said the study’s author Dr Mathieu Ossendrijver, a historian on Babylonian astronomy with the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Image from EarthSky

Dr Ossendrijver examined five tablets numbered as trapezoid text A to trapezoid text E, four of which deal with geometrical trapezoid shapes, but nobody understood what they were about.
However, one of the tablets — trapezoid text A — provided Dr Ossendrijver with the key to understanding the other four tablets.
“I discovered that they describe the motion of Jupiter as a velocity, the number of degrees it moves across the sky in a day,” Dr Ossendrijver said.
“If you plot the velocity of Jupiter against time, you get a creeping curve which looks like a rectangle with a slanted top — that’s the trapezoid.”

The tablets show two intervals from when Jupiter first appears along the horizon at night, to the planet’s position in the sky after 60 and 120 days.
The tablets also computed the time when Jupiter covers half of this 60-day distance by partitioning the trapezoid into two smaller ones of equal area.
“We’re not really sure why the Babylonians were so interested in the motion of the planet Jupiter, but one possible explanation is that Jupiter was associated with Marduk the supreme god of Babylon,” Dr Ossendrijver said.
“These astronomers or priests were employed by Babylon’s main temple where Marduk was venerated. Each god had a star and Marduk’s was Jupiter.”
Babylonian writing is thought to have originally developed as an accounting system for keeping track of property such as sheep, grain, or the size of a field.

“That’s what most of the cuneiform tablets we have from Mesopotamia deal with,” Dr Ossendrijver said.
“But by about 2000 BCE they began to develop a form of mathematics with sophisticated field computations and methods for solving what we call quadratic equations that go beyond these practical things. It’s a way of describing and computing motion, similar to what we today call integral calculus.”
These tablets redefine our history books as the origins of calculus are generally traced back to the Middle Ages when people began using geometry to calculate velocity by plotting the position of an object against time.
“This is highly surprising. No-one expected to find something like this in antiquity,” Dr Ossendrijver said.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Shiga Prefecture - The Water Story

I get my clay from Shiga Prefecture and this article explains the unique features concerning the water in Harie, near Lake Biwa.

Mainichi: Shiga: Land of Water

The Harie district in Takashima, Shiga Prefecture, reminds one of good old Japan, with traditional tiled-roof houses lining the streets. Located roughly 1.5 kilometers from Lake Biwa in the northwest part of the prefecture, it is a place full of natural beauty, with fish swimming in numerous canals and streams that transect the district. For some 300 years, residents have fostered a unique water culture that centers around "kabata" -- a water supply system that utilizes the region's abundant underground water.
The water originates in the Hira Mountains in western Shiga Prefecture. At each household in Harie, pipes are sunk about 10 to 20 meters into the ground to obtain the underground water. This spring water -- which the people of Harie refer to as "shozu," or living water -- flows into a basin called "motoike" and is used for drinking and cooking. One refreshing sip was enough to tell the difference from normal tap water. 
The water that overflows from motoike into a connected basin called "tsuboike" is used for washing and cooling vegetables.
"The water stays around 13 degrees Celsius year round, so it is perfect for cooling vegetables and beer," said Maeda Masako, a local volunteer guide. 
The water flowing out of tsuboike goes into a third basin called "hataike." This is where people clean dirty dishes and pots by allowing fish -- mostly carp -- to eat the food remnants.
"If you leave a pot here that you used to cook curry, it'll be completely clean in three hours," Maeda explained. "These fish even eat watermelon rinds." 
No wonder most of the carp are huge. Apparently, some weigh over 25 kilograms. These fish are free to go anywhere they please, since each hataike is connected to a canal or stream running outside. The water travels through canals until it reaches the Harie-Okawa River and eventually flows into Lake Biwa. People living upstream, therefore, have long been careful not to taint the water -- and this spirit of thoughtfulness lives on today.  (...)

There is more and lots of nice photos, hope Mainichi doesn't delete this article from their website (like they usually do) 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Mahler Symphony No 2 Resurrection Seiji Ozawa 小澤征爾 NJpo Nagasaki Peace concert

Gustav Mahler Symphony No 2 C minor Resurrection Symphony Auferstehungssinfonie
Seiji Ozawa conducts New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in Nagasaki Peace concert
1.Allegro maestoso. Mit durchaus ernstem und feierlichem Ausdruck (With complete gravity and solemnity of expression) 0:00
2.Andante moderato. Sehr gemächlich. Nie eilen. (Very leisurely. Never rush.) 23:43
3.In ruhig fließender Bewegung (With quietly flowing movement)36:00
4.Urlicht (Primeval Light). Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht (Very solemn, but simple) 47:03
5.Im Tempo des Scherzos (In the tempo of the scherzo) 52:25
6.Langsam, Misterioso 1:09:49

A young Ozawa as a contestant on "What's My Line" in 1963

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Nova: Earth's Magnetic Fields

And how does pottery help reveal these things? Watch until around 19 min. 

Since the 1970s, the magnetic north pole has moved more than 1500 km at a rate of 10 kilometres a year. In the 1980s, this increased to 30 km a year. Today, the Pole travels 50, even 60 km - close to 150 metres a day.

Scientists don't quite know why its speed has increased these past 20 years. The magnetic pole is moving northwest of the geographic pole and may soon be across the Arctic Ocean in Siberia.
To find their bearings, sailors the world over must know the exact angle of difference between the two geographic and the magnetic north poles: the 'magnetic declination.'

The magnetic pole moves from the North to the South and vice versa every 250,000 years on average and does it very suddenly. Over 180 reversals have been recorded already.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Yes! Magazine: Unsurrendered (First Nation in Canada)

Do read, and cry. We call it gråta in Swedish, to cry. I like how languages try to create the emotion using the (probably ancient sanskrit) cr or gr sound, but in Japanese it is just "naku" which isn't very strong. I bet there is another word for really heartfelt tears, though.

To just totally wonder what on earth some humans are on earth for, if just to inflict pain and suffering, for profit, while others try to recover that inherent beauty of old forests and pure streams and a living that does not harm other humans. You could argue that hunting and fishing also will cause karmic relationships that are not so good for those who kill, but these are northern lands. Difficult to survive there without it.

Impressive that these people never gave Canada the right to take their lands away.

Now, oil companies want to export the bitumen to China... How long will that last? These people have been there for ages. Maybe they even came from the Asian mainlands, via Bering's Straight through Alaska? Love the sound of the river on the Yes! website. Excellent long read.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Country of Origin Labels in Japan

This is a topic I happen to care a lot about, especially after the US lost a case with the WTO, ruling that its COOL legislation went against its NAFTA obligations with Canada and Mexico.  The EU has the same rules, so how WTO could ignore the global attempts to provide consumers with this kind of information is mind-boggling. These WTO rules are called "Technical Barriers to Trade" (TBT) meaning they are not sanitary rules, which involve all kinds of barriers countries may wish to put up to stay unhealthy food out.

And, yup, note that processing companies (meaning they import a lot or all of their ingredients, or even entire packaged foods) are not happy with this.

From JA Agri-News:

Consumer Affairs Agency and Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries jointly set up a panel to consider how to expand a list of processed food items to be covered by the mandatory labelling system of origin of ingredient. At the first meeting of the panel held on Jan. 29, people of organizations, representing food producers, distributers and consumers, exchanged views and agreed to put together a proposal by this autumn for increasing items to be covered by the labelling system.
The mandatory labelling rules of the Government are now applied to all fresh foods and some processed ones. The processed foods are made up of 22 groups of food items, including dried mushrooms, rice cakes and brown sugar, in addition to four items such as pickles and frozen vegetables.
The Government has taken a policy decision to consider expanding coverage of the mandatory system on the basis of a broad agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“We believe that it will be important for consumers to be provided with detailed information on origins of ingredients in processed foods. They require such information to select commodities which they want,” said Takeshi Kanai, managing director of JA-ZENCHU (Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives), representing interests of agricultural producers, at the first session of the panel.
On the other hand, a panelist of food manufacturing industries expressed a cautious view that processing companies are concerned about possible increases in cost and time by revisions of the mandatory labelling rules.
(Jan. 30, 2016)

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

ChemChina Buys Syngenta

This is huge news today, state-owned ChemChina pays some 43 Billion $$$ for Swiss agrochemical biotech giant Syngenta. Syngenta was approched by US Monsanto last year who offered even more, but for antitrust reasons, that might not have been a good match, so Syngenta turned them down. Last year, Dow and DuPont also agreed to merge, creating another giant. What it reveals is that the main players in the US/European chemical/GMO sector are having major difficulties.

Incidentally, last year I did a study of Syngenta for Consumers Union of Japan and the No! GMO Campaign. I may have to revisit that and publish it in English as well.

ETC Group is the NGO that has followed these companies closely for a long time. They are very critical of the concentration of power that is emerging.

The Big Six agrochemical corporations (BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta) that dominate commercial seed and pesticide markets worldwide now insist they must get bigger, faster if the world wants food security in the midst of climate chaos. According to agribusiness, the extreme pressures of population, demand for meat, and climate crisis require Big Science and Big Money – and that means extreme Mergers all along the industrial food chain.

But really, will China buy up more companies before going bust?

Reuters: China seeks food security with $43 billion bid for Syngenta

China made its boldest overseas takeover move when state-owned ChemChina agreed a $43 billion bid for Swiss seeds and pesticides group Syngenta on Wednesday, aiming to improve domestic food production.
The largest ever foreign purchase by a Chinese firm, announced by both companies, will accelerate a shake-up in global agrochemicals and marks a setback for U.S. firm Monsanto, which failed to buy Syngenta last year.
China, the world's largest agricultural market, is looking to secure food supply for its population. Syngenta's portfolio of top-tier chemicals and patent-protected seeds will represent a major upgrade of its potential output.
"Only around 10 percent of Chinese farmland is efficient. This is more than just a company buying another. This is a government attempting to address a real problem," a source close to the deal told Reuters.
Years of intensive farming combined with overuse of chemicals has degraded land and poisoned water supplies, leaving China vulnerable to crop shortages. The deal fits into Beijing's plans to modernize agriculture over the next five years.
"I was sent to the countryside at the age of 15, so I'm very familiar with what farmers need when they work the land. The Chinese have relied mainly on traditional ways of farming. We want to spread Syngenta’s integrated solution among smallholder farmers," ChemChina Chairman Ren Jianxin told a media briefing.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Documentary: Bikes vs. Cars

I love my work. Friday I had the great pleasure of interviewing Swedish documentary film maker Fredrik Gertten, who is in Japan for the first time. He had an event later in the evening at Waseda University, which is minutes from our office at Consumers Union of Japan. We had a long talk about his previous two films, about banana plantations workers in Nicaragua, who were harmed by a pesticide used by Dole. Fredrik got sued in the process of making his initial documentary, Bananas! so he promptly made another film, Big Boys Gone Bananas, about how Dole tried to stop the first film from being screened in the US at places in LA and Sundance Festival. Fredrik won, by the way.

His new film, just released, is about another powerful industry, the ones that make cars. A billion of them on the roads, as of now. And cities like LA are more congested than ever, with some 70% of the public infrastructure devoted to - cars. Sao Paolo, Brazil, the figure is 60%. And only way to combat that is to take to the streets, on your bicycle.

A very powerful movie by a great guy from my home town, Malmö, Sweden.

I remember we already had proper bike lanes when I was in Junior High, with small traffic lights for bikes... We felt safe and it was great city planning. Copenhagen, Amsterdam and other big cities have also shown that it can be done.

On Sunday, January 31st, the Cycling Embassy of Japan will host the Japanese premiere of Bikes vs Cars at Uplink Factory in Shibuya. There will be two screenings: first, the premiere at 16:00, then again at 18:45. Embassy members Byron Kidd of Tokyo By Bike fame, and journalist Yasuyuki Saito, will be participating in a 30-45 minute, post-screening Q & A along with Fredrik. Tickets will soon be available on Uplink's website.

Order it on Vimeo:


The bicycle, an amazing tool to change the world. Feature doc by Fredrik Gertten. Available worldwide on Vimeo. Hop on your bike & join the community.


Friday, January 29, 2016

TPP Minister Amari Resigns Over Bribe

Unbelievable, but then again, just what you'd expect :)

It was revealed by a whistle-blower, which I find interesting, but not much has been said about that.

The Mainichi is properly shocked:

A scandal involving money and politics has once again rocked the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Akira Amari, minister in charge of economic revitalization, has stepped down over allegations that he and one of his secretaries received cash from a construction company official in return for doing the firm a favor. The resignation of a Cabinet minister playing a leading role in promoting the prime minister's "Abenomics" policy mix and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact has dealt a serious blow to the Abe administration.
At a news conference on Jan. 28, Amari admitted that he had accepted cash on two occasions and that his secretary received 3 million yen in secret donations. As such, it is only natural that Amari has stepped down as a member of the Cabinet. However, his explanation of the scandal at the news conference is far from convincing, as numerous questions remain unanswered.
Amari emphasized at the press conference that he was resigning to take responsibility for the scandal, saying, "My position as a Cabinet member is important but it's more important to discipline myself."
Amari and his secretary are suspected of receiving a total of roughly 12 million yen in cash from a construction company in Shiroi, Chiba Prefecture, in return for using his influence to settle disputes between the company and the government-affiliated Urban Renaissance Agency (UR). The Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine reported the scandal based on a tip by a construction company official in charge of general affairs.
The magazine reported that Amari accepted 500,000 yen at the minister's office in November 2013 and another 500,000 yen in February 2014 at his private office in his constituency. Amari initially said his memories regarding the money were vague.
In his news conference, however, Amari admitted having received the cash and explained that he had instructed his aides to properly deal with the money as part of his political funds. Moreover, Amari acknowledged that he and the company official talked about a dispute between the company and the UR over industrial waste disposal when the minister accepted the second donation. Irrationally, the donations, which were extended on two separate occasions, were dealt with simultaneously, giving rise to suspicions of unlawful practices.
Amari's private office and secretary's involvement in the scandal is astounding. Amari acknowledged that the secretary accepted 5 million yen from the construction company official, of which the aide spent 3 million yen, and that the secretary had also been entertained by the construction company official.
Amari obviously was forced to step down rather than voluntarily stepping down to assume responsibility over the scandal.
UR has paid the construction company a massive amount of compensation over the disputes. Legal experts have pointed out that the secretary's act could constitute a violation of the law to penalize politicians and their secretaries for interceding with government agencies on behalf of businesses for personal gain. It was reported that the secretary has admitted having asked UR about the situation of the disputes, but denied having lobbied to the UR on behalf of the company. Thorough investigations should be conducted to get to the bottom of the scandal.
Amari is the fourth politician who has resigned as a Cabinet minister over a money scandal since the second Abe Cabinet was launched in late December 2012. Abe had made remarks in the Diet suggesting that he would allow Amari to stay on as a Cabinet minister, raising questions about his awareness of the seriousness of the scandal. The prime minister's responsibility over the case is heavy.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Ghibli's From Up On Poppy Hill (2011)

Set in Yokohama, up in the hills that overlook the busy deep harbour, this anime is about a girl who misses her father who is away on a war mission.

Tokyo doesn't have a harbour that can provide access to large ships, thus Yokohama was built in the late 19th century. Thus Poppy Hill, and the houses up there, overlooking the bay.

Umi raises the naval signal flags each morning, every single day, hoping father will be back from Korea, hoping it may help him find her, hoping for a safe journey for all the sailors

... - I didn't know that there were a lot of civilian Japanese boats and supply ships used by the US during the Korean War. But this timeline is slightly ambiguous, Tokyo has already been awarded the 1964 Olympics.

Hey, did you know that Tokyo was actually set to have the 1940 Olympics, after Berlin (1936). Small world.

The hit song "Sukiyaki" features, but it was not about the food at all. The lyrics has the singer as a lonely guy, holding his head high, remembering the large protests against the AMPO around 1960, which seemed to have faded away around 1963 or so.

I love the way the students' messy dwelling is depicted, that must have been a fun dorm/club house. The say Miyazaki has retired, but I think he is just looking for a really good script about the protest movement in the 1960s.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ghibli's The Racoon Wars (1994)

Nope, I'm not going to turn Kurashi into a Ghibli fan club, but this is a film I very much wanted to see so when it suddenly appeared on Youtube I was delighted. Pom Poko tells the story of Tama New Town and its "development" in the late 1960s, from the point of view of the racoon dogs living in the huge forest there. Soon, there wasn't much space left for them, or any other living creatures either.

What's so great about Ghibli is the way they incorporate ancient Japanese myths into modern tales. I didn't know that tanuki, the racoon dogs, were such a prominent part of folk tales here, and that they are said to have transformation skills. Watch some anime, learn a lot.

But while it is also a very sad story, it encourages us to fight, perhaps violently, but more cleverly. Anime and "comics" in the West - I'm looking at you, Disney - creates fluffy make-believe with romance and happy endings only. Frozen seems to be just the latest in a long line of popular masterpieces mentally disturbing kids all over the world. Disney's Jungle Book (1967) was planned to be much more dark and sinster, something Walt Disney didn't want for a family movie.

Anyway, having recently read Kipling's The Jungle Book(s), I was delighted that his real stories are much more Ghibli-like, giving me hope that there could be a re-make of the original film - by Studio Ghibli, of course! Kipling's novel is exactly this: animals reacting to human folly and exposing the hidden magic of the life of all the creatures in the wilderness.

Tama New Town didn't turn out so bad in the end, and The Racoon Wars (Pom Poko is the confusing English title, the Japanese original is 平成狸合戦ぽんぽこHeisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko or The Heisei-era Racoon Dog War Ponpoko) ends making me feel a little better, in spite of it all. I like how it takes a stand, showing environmentalists and tree huggers in a good light and yes, by 1994, there are still racoon dogs around as Wikipedia notes

They blend into human society one by one, abandoning those who cannot transform. While the media appeal comes too late to stop the construction, the public responds sympathetically to the tanuki, pushing the developers to set aside some areas as parks. However, the parks are too small to accommodate all the non-transforming tanuki. Some try to survive there, dodging traffic to rummage through human scraps for food, while others disperse farther out to the countryside to compete with the tanuki who are already there.

In a touching coda, one day, Shoukichi, who also joined the human world, is coming home from work when he sees a non-transformed tanuki leaping into a gap in a wall. Shoukichi crawls into the gap and follows the path, which leads to a grassy clearing where some of his former companions are gathering. He joyfully transforms back into a tanuki to join them. In an emotional final scene, Shoukichi's friend, Ponkichi addresses the viewer, asking humans to be more considerate of tanuki and other animals less endowed with transformation skills, and not to destroy their living space; as the view pulls out and away, their surroundings are revealed as a golf course within a suburban sprawl.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Drone Footage of Amazing Islands in Kagoshima, Japan 4K (Ultra HD) - 鹿児島

Ancient Trees

There is, I'm told, an ancient Greek proverb, that is most likely much more ancient than the Greeks, that adores the man who plants a tree in which shadow he will never sit.

I have been to Yakushima three times, and there are some very old cedar trees there, but also many stubs, as temples had to be built in Kyoto and such places. There is even the memory of a certain Buddhist monk who educated the islanders that felling ancient trees was not a sin. I wonder what he personally gained from such advice. How tragic for the ancient trees, but, perhaps the monk was more concerned about the welfare of the human souls trying to survive on that remote Satsuma island.

I got a small bonzai peach tree on a visit to Mito, in Ibaraki prefecture. It is a famous site, and I was happy to have the tiny tree in its Mito pot in my garden. Then I planted it and it took root, and by now several years later, the tree has grown to about three meters tall. What a joy for that tiny bonzai plant. I cut some branches earlier this winter, I'm looking forward to its pretty flowers that signal the early event of spring. But really, I wish I had more fruit trees, and what we Westerners tend to think of as useful, rather than poetic, or make that something connected to the ancient lust for lyrics...

I loved this story over at the Mainichi, about some 800 year old orange trees that still "produce" ie the live their lives to the fullest. Great reporting and I may even go and try to get a mikan or two in Ginza (nope, can't afford it!)

'Miraculous' 859-year-old mandarin trees still producing bumper crops in Oita Pref.

TSUKUMI, Oita -- The mandarin orange trees standing on a gentle slope in this city's Kamiaoe neighborhood have survived a lot in their lives, now in their 859th year. In that time, the oldest "ko-mikan" (small mandarin) trees have been assaulted and nearly killed repeatedly by winds and storms, but some deep vitality always pulls the venerable old trees back from the brink to live and thrive again.

Today, their owner treats them with the loving care of a doting parent, and the oranges are sold at a high-end fruit shop in Tokyo's Ginza shopping district as charms for longevity and a healthy line of descendants.

There are 11 of the old trees in the orchard, each a few meters tall, and they are known familiarly as "Ozaki's ancestor trees," based on the name of a local district. Owner Naoyuki Kawano, 65, told the Mainichi Shimbun that the trees had been passed down in the family with the instruction never to cut them down or sell them, even if the family sold their home. He added that he treats "protecting the ancestor trees as a life mission."

According to the book "Tsukumi kankitsu-shi" (a history of Tsukumi citrus fruit) written by a group of local ancient historians and published in 1943, among other sources, the orange trees were first planted by Fujiwara Nizaemon in 740 A.D., while he was under house arrest in Tsukumi following a serious military defeat. The trees were then allegedly transplanted to their current location in 1157. They withered after being badly damaged in a major storm in 1612, but some of the branches touching the ground actually took root. The trees grew new buds, and survived.

"Ko-mikan" mandarin oranges from trees said to be more than 800 years old are seen on sale in the Ginza Sembikiya fruit shop in Tokyo. (Mainichi)

Around 1935, there were 48 trees in the orchard, producing 3 metric tons of fruit in good years. They were designated a national natural monument in 1937, but their numbers were thinned badly by bad storms between 1945 and 1949.

Ko-mikan trees usually grow weak after 40 to 50 years, and it's considered very nearly miraculous that this bunch have been producing oranges for more than eight centuries. The closest comparable tree was a specimen in the town of Tsunagi, Kumamoto Prefecture, which had stood for 350-plus years. However, it apparently died more than 10 years ago due to insect damage and other problems.

The Tsukumi trees, too, had a relatively recent close brush with the arboreal Grim Reaper when, about 40 years ago, they were essentially abandoned. Tadashi Mimata, from the prefectural citrus fruit research center, took stewardship of the trees and restored them to health. There was no precedent for tending to such ancient trees, so the work was a hit-and-miss affair. The bark was coated with locally produced milk of lime to protect it from direct sunlight, and holes were dug near the trees and filled with a compost mix to allow them to grow deep, healthy roots. Mimata, now 83, still visits the orchard and tends to the trees.

"These things are far older than me, but they're like my kids," he says. "I won't let them die as long as I am alive to tend to them." Mimata says that he can tell right away if the trees are malnourished just by looking at the bark and leaves. If they're well cared for, the trees can produce 1-1.5 tons of fruit per year, all with a hallmark concentrated sweetness.

Tokyo's Ginza Sembikiya, a high-end fruit shop founded in 1894, has been selling the "mikan from an 800-year-old tree" close to the end of the year for about 80 years. They sell out most years, and "there are a lot of people who really look forward to them and buy them every year. They're a popular item," a shop representative said. 

More ancient trees, anyone?

I published a food book back in 2009 and back around then had a very serious change of thought. If I could not do what I told others to do... Well, I had better give it a try. I started looking around for land to grow vegetables on, and surprise, surprise, one thing led to another. I also started to notice that there were others here who had similar ideas. Not only in rural Japan.

The Keyboard and The Spade is the story of a man who tries to plant trees, or slit-planting. From The New Statesman, I give you:

In the overdeveloped West, technology is making us forget what it truly means to be human.

Slit-planting is the easiest way to plant a bare root tree. It needs to be done in winter, when both the tree and the soil are dormant. We planted ours in February, and it was hard work: harder than I realised at the time. I am writing this in June, and my body still hasn’t recovered. My left arm is partly crippled by tendonitis, and my lower back is bad on some days and not so bad on others. My fingers and wrists begin to ache and tingle if I demand too much from them. This means that the acres of grass I have to scythe on my land are going uncut, and the place is running wild. I think I’m going to need to ask our neighbour to graze his horses in our field again, because I can’t do much else with it this year. My hands and my arms are currently not suited to serious physical work, as a direct result of my winter toils with the trees. That, and over twenty years of typing words like this into computers, which has frazzled the tendons and the nerves in my forearms possibly beyond repair. The spade and the keyboard are very different tools, but one thing they have in common is their ability to break the human body.

We planted around five hundred small trees here on our couple of acres in the west of Ireland. Most of them will end up in our woodstove: the idea is to be self-sufficient in heating as soon as possible. For this purpose, we’ve planted several blocks of birch, poplar and willow, which should have a coppice cycle of six or seven years. On top of that, we’ve put in about a hundred sticks of basket willow, in differing colours. We’ve also planted three hedges of native trees – rowan, more birch, spindle, holly, wild cherry, hazel, oak – to create windbreaks, shield us from the lane in front of the house and make some kind of offering for the birds around here. Perhaps it will distract their attention from our vegetable garden, which they are currently digging up daily.

The real work was in clearing the ground, most of which was covered thickly with a deep tangle of brambles and suckering blackthorns. When we moved to this little patch of land, we came with ideals, and one of them was to do our work by hand, with as little impact as possible. So we laid into the thorns and brambles, which must have been growing for decades, with scythes and mattocks and spades and machetes. It took weeks and weeks. The scratches were deep. The industrial-strength gloves we bought were torn to shreds. More than one mattock handle was broken. I have never seen suckers so thick or long, nor root balls so deep and woody. Even after weeks of clearing the ground by hand, we still had to hire a digger for a day to tear out the deepest of the roots and make the ground fit for planting.

After that, the planting itself was a doddle. To slit-plant a tree, you just push your spade into the ground up to the end of the blade, wiggle it back and forth until you have a wide enough slit and then drop the tree root into it. You cover the ground around the tree with newspaper, and then pile wet straw on top of that to mulch it. Finally, if your land attracts both rabbits and hares, which ours does, you wind a plastic spiral tree guard around the tiny trunk, and fortify it with a garden cane against the Atlantic winds.

Do that five hundred times, and you have a little forest. Better, you have a forest planted in a low-impact and ecological way. You have an endless supply of sustainable fuel for your sustainable household, and you have used minimal dirty fossil fuels in order to create it. You have taken some wasteland and made it into a diverse ecosystem. You have created a closed-loop system, and a mini carbon sink. You have also crippled yourself. But it was worth it.

At least, that’s what I thought I would be telling myself at this stage. But I’m not so sure any more.