Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Volcano death toll hits 43 as 7 more bodies found

Volcano death toll hits 43 as 7 more bodies found

Japan is a country with a lot of mountains.  We can see them from our neighborhood whenever we go for a walk or a drive.  When I lived on the Chiba prefecture coast I was mountainless for the first time since I came to Japan, but I've since grown accustomed to sheer faces dropping off into the ocean and clouds sweeping over jagged green horizon that looks to me like roughly-torn construction paper.  As a flatlander by birth, this is interesting to me.  Seeing green slopes rising, snow peaks in the distance in winter.  Mt. Fuji looming above Shin-Fuji when we take trips to Tokyo.  Some of these mountains-- like Fuji-- are volcanic.  Japan is a trembling land, apt to slip and slide.

Since there are so many gorgeous mountains here within easy driving distance, people flock to them on weekends for hiking and camping.  Japan is hot and sticky in summer, so the mountain air can provide relief from the damp heat and crockpot-like cities.  We never boil.  We simmer.  In winter, the mountains are there for skiing and snowboarding.  And in fall, they blaze with red and red-orange leaves, a great sunset-colored glow that radiates from Japan's bony spine.

They provide sport and beauty.  And danger.  A group of climbers froze to death on the slopes of Mt. Fuji, visible from my old apartment.  Not the dead bodies, of course.  But before they were recovered I could see the mountain itself, roughly thumb-sized, and appreciate that it contained corpses despite looking lovely and blameless by daylight.  A famous comic book creator took a fatal spill from a cliff while photographing it a few years ago.  Just this summer, an entire hillside came loose and buried houses and families in Hiroshima.  Geologists have been predicting a major Fuji eruption ever since the big 3/11 quake.  The pressure there is at the point where they say it's inevitable.

Years ago, at my grandfather's house in the mountains of North Carolina-- which look very similar to those in Japan, but are much more well-behaved-- I read a Reader's Digest story about volcanologists caught in an eruption while studying a small volcano.  Where, I can't remember.  But I recall very vividly one of the scientists telling of how hot rocks broke his bones and killed his friends.  And then there are the poison gasses.  I have no desire to experience this firsthand.  I feel for those who so recently have.

You still have to go to the mountains, though.  There's no staying away.  I'm drawn to mountains and to the ocean.  Living in Japan is living between both.  The ocean is a wilderness where you can drown or be eaten, the mountains may choose to shrug you off at any time, or blow you way with thunderous force.  I cannot stay away.

Yikes!: 101 elementary schools in Hamamatsu closed due to bomb threat

101 elementary schools in Hamamatsu closed due to bomb threat

I'm glad the authorities took this seriously.  Usually there's nothing to this kind of threat but you never want to experience that one time when no one listens and a bomb actually goes off.  I can't help but wonder about this guy's motive for disrupting the day of 44,000 school kids, their teachers and school staff, parents and countless law enforcement officers.  The good news is there was no bomb and everyone made it safely through the day.

Still, it's shocking.  I mean, I've heard of many such cases in the US but this is my first time here in Japan and it's right in our own city.  Hamamatsu is generally a clean, orderly place.  A bit sprawling and inconvenient at times, but full of friendly, well-meaning, generous people.  And one asshole who was apparently having a terrible Tuesday.

Explosive devices themselves are not an unknown here.  We've had a couple of cellphone alerts about unexploded ordinance dating back to WWII turning up when construction crews did some digging.  The US dropped a lot of bombs on Hamamatsu back in 1945.  We really don't need anyone blowing things up nowadays, thank you very much.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Indonesia to censor 'pornographic' Japanese cartoon

Indonesia to censor 'pornographic' Japanese cartoon

I may not agree with this decision, but it's their country so they can do what they want to Crayon Shin-chan.  I can see how even in a more liberal country the cartoon could cause some concern.  That kid does the craziest things.  Showing his ass, flirting with older women, generally acting like a fool.  His little antics strike me as hilarious, even when I don't understand the language.  It's knockabout humor.  Lighting farts kind of stuff.    The most recent film, Crayon Shin-chan: Serious Battle! Robot Dad Strikes Back, came out in April of this year.  It has a theme song sung by none other than Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.  The series' creator, Yoshito Usui, was practically a local boy.  He was born in Shizuoka City, right here in Shizuoka prefecture.  Tragically, he fell to his death while hiking alone on Mt. Arafune in 2009.

Miki Miura, better known as Momoko Sakura, is also from Shizuoka City.  She's famous as the creator of Chibi Maruko-chan, one of my wife's favorites and regular Sunday evening viewing at our place.  Must be something in that Shizuoka water that makes comic book artists want to write and draw family comedies.  Maruko-chan is a gentler show than Shin-chan.  Maruko gets herself in trouble, but only from acting like an ordinary kid.  It's a show not averse to potty humor, though.  Last night's episode featured Maruko-chan battling through an entire day at school with stomach cramps because she has to defecate and can't find the peace or time to relieve herself.  Once home, she hits the toilet room and comes out refreshed, declaring, "My day begins from now!" and drinking in the afternoon sunshine...

Only to find she's flunked the day's math test (20% out of 100), during which she'd experienced an intense wave of gastric distress.

No news stories on whether or not that one's been censored.

A man of action: Longtime anti-suicide crusader patrols cliffs of Tojinbo

Longtime anti-suicide crusader patrols cliffs of Tojinbo

This is a feel-good story with a sad background.  I've lived a life touched by suicide.  Maybe you have, too.  A recent celebrity suicide made news even here in Japan, where the man was much admired.  But some of us know first-hand what it's like to have a close friend or relative commit suicide.  I can't bring myself to judge anyone who takes this drastic step. 

What I really admire about this guy is he doesn't say things like, "Think about the pain you're causing."  He lets people talk, finds out what's wrong, then does something real and practical about it.  Rather than offer cheap sympathy or a lot of advice, he simply takes them to employment agencies and financial aid services.  Without judgment.  Even if the outcome remains the same in the end, at least he gives people at the brink a moment to step back and reassess the situation.  They gain a little more time and, in some cases, a lot more time.  An entire new life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

One of those genius things about Japan: Japan's bullet train hits half century

Japan's bullet train hits half century

I've been in love with the shinkansen ever since my first visit to Japan way back in October 2003.  My friend and I bought the JR rail pass, the one you can only buy overseas, and rode the shinkansen all over the place.  It was his idea all the way and a brilliant one.  If you travel here, you have to buy one.  My brother and niece did the same when they came and it paid for itself with all the miles they put on it.

On that first trip, I had a wonderful time zipping along the countryside, taking in wide swaths of scenery while reclining in a comfy, padded seat.  We got to see pretty much everything there is to see along the Tokaido Line from Tokyo to Hiroshima and back.  Mountains and sea, flood plains, rivers, cities, fir and bamboo forests.  Small stations.  Large stations.  Forty-five minutes in Osaka.  These days I've taken the shinkansen here and there so many times I tend to feel complacent about the experience.  It takes an article like this to remind me of the comfort, safety record and efficiency of this amazing feat of engineering.

Now let me tell you one of my fondest shinkansen memories.  A few years ago I was on my way to Tokyo for a New Year's holiday excursion.  The car I rode in was crowded with people in a festive mood.  Families and friends journeying together either back to their hometowns or else to winter resorts.  Reunions with relatives or skiing and snowboarding.  Or maybe all of those things at once.  We all had on bulky jackets, most of us had red cheeks.  People smiled and laughed and talked quietly but cheerfully.  Mt. Fuji rose clear and beautiful on our left, and out came cameras and the voices rose a little more with excitement and getting such a fine view of a huge mountain that is nevertheless frequently clouded or fogged over and all but invisible at times.

The young man sitting next to me had brought along a few boxes of chocolate candy, which he shared with everyone sitting around him.  I was already feeling cheerful about traveling and having some time off and feeling the anticipation of strolling around Shibuya and Shinjuku still lit up with seasonal illuminations.  This guy's generosity to strangers turned a fun trip into something of a moveable party. 

I want to remember that moment.  I want you to think about it when you think about Japan.

The main character has a contract where she can leave work at 5pm: Ryoko Yonekura returns as Doctor X for third season

Ryoko Yonekura returns as Doctor X for third season

Forget the stuff about wearing a mini-skirt under her lab coat.  That special "after 5" contract means this show is about as realistic as Harry Potter, MD.  It's nice to watch a TV series where characters can do fanciful things like that, as unthinkable in your own life as breathing underwater, casting spells, climbing Mt. Everest or living in a golden palace on the surface of the sun.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

You might want to go to this: First ever exhibition dedicated to Oasis coming to Tokyo

First ever exhibition dedicated to Oasis coming to Tokyo

I'm not an Oasis fan, but you might be.  Despite having split in 2009 (as far as I can tell), the band remains resiliently popular here in Japan.  Their songs pop up in TV commercials and the like.  I have students occasionally tell me Oasis is their favorite group.  I mean students who are into rock.  Most other students tell me they like vocaloids.  Or One Direction.

Anyway, despite my Oasis skepticism, there's no denying they were huge in their time.  If rock music can be said to be important, then the article makes a case for the importance of Oasis in its history.  "Landmark albums" and "era-defining two night stand at Knebworth House."  If you understand what that last phrase means, then you might be the audience for this exhibition.

None of this may be quite the stuff of the Ramones on their first UK tour, or the Beatles appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, but this is what we had in the 1990s.  I'm interested to see they played Club Quattro in Shibuya way back in 1994.  Shoot, I was in a band then, too.  We played no place you ever heard of a couple of times and emptied it out with our beer-infused chaotic noise.   But I've been to Club Quattro a couple of times and, like Oasis, had some fun there.  Only in my case as a spectator.  And sober. 

If you're already an Oasis fan and you live in Japan, you need no such convincing to attend this exhibition.  But I'm going to suggest you go and check it out.  I'll be at the one for Puffy.