Japan


Time to go through some things lurking in open tabs that I found interesting / cool / funny / neat, etc. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which was which.

I visited Uno earlier this year to visit Naoshima with my mum and her friend. We stayed at an excellent guesthouse called Uno Slope House. The proprieter is a Japanese fellow named Max, who has opened up his parents’ house for visitors, as well as trying to open up the area around Uno to more tourism. The Uno/ Naoshima area is trying to reinvent itself as an destination for artists. The museums and installations on Naoshima are certainly well worth a visit. As for Max, he’s a filmmaker, and is also one of the main organisers of a film festival that takes place in August every year in Uno. This year’s is going to be held over the first two weekends, so if you’re keen, try to head down there and enjoy some real Japanese hospitality along with the art. They’re also trying to raise funds to run the event, so if you’re feeling generous, there are some goodies in it for you as well. I might see you there!

This photo tour of an abandoned amusement park in the USA caught my eye. I could add it to the list of ghost towns I want to see. If I had the time and money, I would love to get more into astrophotography. I spent a short while up the top of Norway last Christmas and saw the aurora, which was phenomenal, but these pictures from Australia were also amazing. This photoset captures in great detail the stark reality of North Korea – a sterile showcase of perfection that somehow has stripped almost all vestige of humanity away from its citizenry. I’ve never seen such emptiness. (I still want to go there by the way…)

If you can force your way through it, you should try to read Umberto Eco’s Travels In Hyperreality. In particular the section on post-modernism and The Last Supper. It’s true, there are bizarre versions of it everywhere! The internet is also a great place to see the collective creative genius at work.

I’m glad to say that I’ve seen quite a few of these great films that have no plot.

I’m getting more and more into whisky, particularly 10 year-old single malts, but also the Irish varieties have caught my eye – as well as tastebuds. I have also recently been spending some time with some very naughty beers from Belgium and Germany. These are the sorts of beers that I wouldn’t mind taking on a dirty weekend somewhere….

I’ve tried a couple of these coffee hacks, such as buying a French press and adding a pinch of salt to the brew. Yummo.

I wouldn’t mind opening a tea house though.

Love Hotels are not just for Japan any more. Auckland says hello to its first.

I have enjoyed Sean Bean’s work for quite a while. He has the ability to play the kind of character who can be a badass but also be frail at the same time. Think of his roles in Lord of the Rings and Ronin. Last week they played Patriot Games on satellite TV and his character was just a one-way ticket to Hell and he didn’t care who he took along for the ride. Awesome. Now you’d think such a man might be a bit of a douche/chav in real life, but not if you’re a lady. He went out for a few drinks with an Italian Playboy model one night (as you do) and some punter started to insult her honour. He took the fella aside to have a quiet word. Later, when Sean went outside to have a cigarette, he got stabbed in the arm with some broken glass for his trouble. Did Sean Bean go to the hospital? NO. He walked back inside and ordered another drink. All hail!

You think your TVs big? Try this one on for size! You could try to get it in see-though format as well. That window/TV is not too far away.

The Swedes are funny. Really.

There has often been a lament about the lack of women in science and engineering. Some women have made an enormous difference to our understanding of our world and the universe. Dads, if you have daughters, I’d recommend you buy a microscope to go along with those toys. A great example in point is of Amelia Fraser-McKelvie. She was on a six-week internship at Monash University when she solved part of the riddle of the missing mass of the universe.

The story behind one of the greatest images of the Civil Rights movement.

I’m still making sense out of all the events around the country over the past week. Japan has started the process of recovery from the worst earthquake disaster in recent history. Events are still unfolding, especially relating to the crisis at the nuclear power plants along the eastern coast of Japan. Hopefully that situation will not fulfill the doomsayers’ prophecies of nuclear disaster.

I want to share a few things I’ve found along the way: some moving, some interesting, some outright awful. It sometimes takes a crisis to bring out the best and worst of humanity, and this disaster has truly seen some of them. Some of them I will link to, but others I will not – like the forums where people claimed the earthquake and tsunami were somehow retribution for Pearl Harbor. Scum that low doesn’t deserve attention.

Very quickly, the usual suspects have claimed that somehow God is punishing Japan for some pet hate or other; Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck etc. Some of the more interesting morons have turned out to be the captain of the Sea Shepherd and Tokyo’s right-wing governor, Shintaro Ishihara, have both claimed that the quake was divine retribution – something that otherwise they have nothing in common. To his (small) credit, Ishihara withdrew his comments – probably after realising it was career suicide. 

This post from I Heart Chaos showed two very moving videos. The first almost moved me to punch the screen as it shows a right-wing Christian fundamentalist teenage nutjob praising her god for granting an answer for her prayers to smits athiests by unleashing his power on Japan. I will try to curtail my rage (I watched less than a minute of the video before stopping it, such was my rising fury at this …. person) and try to explain her outburst as the inevitable result of being raised in a cult that suppresses the connection we have to all humanity through implicit superiority, entitlement and racist doctrines. She simply has no idea how offensive her words are because she hasn’t been taught how. In my opinion this is a classic example of sociopathy and a very good reason to avoid religions at all costs.

The second video almost moved me to tears as two boys from Haiti (Remember the Haiti earthquake from last year? Their situation is still dire.) watch the unfolding tsunami on live TV. One of the boys is reduced to tears as he expresses his helplessness at being unable to help the people being swept the their deaths, or to comfort the survivors. Boys like that fill me with hope for humanity – that we can still feel such a strong connection to strangers around the world simply because of what we share in common.

There are some links to before and after photos if you want to see just how devastating the tsunami was.

Thankfully, most peoples’ thoughts immediately turned to ideas along the lines of, “What can I do to help?” Mine did too. The truth is that at this time, help would be best left to the professionals. Many countries, such as South Korea, Australia, the USA and New Zealand, have sent in teams of trained rescue workers to assist the Japanese rescue teams, Self Defence Forces, medical, police and fire crews who are working around the clock to find survivors, but sadly, mostly finding bodies. The reserve of the Self Defence Forces have also been called up – for the first time since it was created in 1954.

Send money. The Red Cross would be my recommendation, but there are other ways to donate as well. My guess is requests for clothes, toys and other things will come as soon as they’re able to take care of the basics. It’s still very cold up north – we had snow here yesterday – so they’re trying to move as much fuel and warm things into the area, as well as restore power, as fast as they can.

An example of what’s going on is with the US relief mission, titled “Operation Tomodachi” (‘tomodachi’ means ‘friend’ in Japanese). Scroll past the ads and links to smutty material to see screencaps from Japanese TV of the effort, as well as an example of what the Japanese civilian effort is doing. The picture shows how they were able to repair an earthquake damaged road in just a few days. The infrastructure is what’s really needed right now to get supplies into the region, so that’s where the effort is right now.

Another thing that is happening is the world’s attention has also been turned to the way that the Japanese people handle a crisis – with calmness and order being the highest priority to maintain. Some have expressed, in hushed awe, their wonder at the lack of looting or rioting that would happen in their own countries. This article explains the character of the Japanese people in some detail and why such behaviour just wouldn’t occur to most people here.

One thing is clear, that life in the Tohoku region of Japan will never be the same again. Some towns have lost over half of their populations. Just compare that to where you live – if in a matter of minutes over half of the people around you just died.

The rebuilding will take years. BUT – never underestimate the strength and determination of the Japanese people.

I came to Japan just six years after the last devasting earthquake here; the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake of January 1995. One of the first things I did was to visit Kobe, and I had to confess it was difficult to find evidence that there had ever been an earthquake there. I think I saw a few patched up cracks in one building and a lopsided gutter on a road. That was it.

Japanese society has been well prepared and well rehearsed for such disasters; one of the lessons learnt from the aftermath of the 1995 quake – although the sheer scale of this earthquake and tsunami would have to fall into ‘worst case scenario’ in many ways.

Like I said, life will never be the same again. But Japan will pull through. Of that, I am sure.

Just when you’ve bought a new computer, it immediately finds a way to annoy you. Firefox crashing and not saving what tags I had open to blog about is today’s masterpiece… Oh well. Let’s start over, shall we?

I started a new blog to build on the theme of things that make me smile about Japan, and to save the vitriol for here.

So let’s unload a bit.

It looks like the volcano next to Eyjafjallajökull (that’s the one that erupted recently and which caused all the kerfuffle around Europe), thankfully called Katla, is showing signs of erupting. Any decent news story about the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull would have made some reference to the fact that when it erupts, Katla is often the next to go. The last time this tandem of volcanoes erupted, it caused havoc across Iceland and affected the climate in Europe. What are the governments of Europe doing to get ready? Very little, it seems, although the current president of Iceland is on record saying at least they are prepared. The glacier field that sits on top of the caldera has the capacity to produce flooding equivilent to the combined discharge of the Amazon, Mississippi, Nile and Yangtze rivers and the last eruption in 1918 extended the Icelandic coast by 5km due to deposits of material caused by the flooding (thanks wikipedia).

I might have to put that trip to Norway on hold…

So Australia is taking Japan to court over the ‘scientific research’ that takes place in the Southern Ocean. I fail to see what use this will really have in the long term. It could be interpreted as cynical politicking in an election year. While some legal opinions say that Australia has a strong case, since it is an open secret that the whale meat ends up being used for food (although why anyone would want to eat meat that is rich in cadmium and mercury is beyond me…). They’d be much better off suing Japan for its interference in the recent Atlantic tuna debacle, since that’s really going to have an impact on everyone’s dinner table before too long.

My mind is still not made up about acquiring an iPad. I’m always suspicious of first generation technology, since it’s often expensive and buggy. (And, I must confess, the Microsoft Surface format is much, much sexier… but also AUD$21,000 a pop…) However, the tech landscape is changing and the advent of cheap, tablet computers looks set to change the way we consume media. Media companies are investing in apps for the new format, and seeking to be the first to pay tham pay. Some are looking forward further to a (news)paperless world, where print is truly superseded by the screen. For example, a cursory google search shows a lot of interest in using iPads in the medical world, as part of streamlining and integrating medical data to help medical professionals treat their patients. The data sea is getting bigger…

I’m always interested in the way language keeps changing and evolving. A few years ago, when I went back to Australia for a holiday, I went out for dinner with my mother and brother. We went to a ‘nice’ restaurant and as we walked in, our (perky) waitress/greeter said, “Hey guys! How many people in your group?” I turned to my brother and mouthed, “GUYS!?” He said, “Yeah, ‘guys’ is the new ‘sir’ these days.” I’m glad to say I haven’t had a ‘guys’ experience since then, but it was interested to be talked to like a friend by a complete stranger. There was this piece about the casualisation of the word, ‘shit’ that is currently going on in Australia. By the time I get back for another visit, this trend may well be over, but it’s interesting to read about from afar.

Meanwhile we have the USA gunning for another war – this time with Iran. There’s also North Korea shaking its tiny fists at everyone around them, not realising (perhaps) that starting an actual war will destroy them. We have the Euro – and hence the European economy – and hence the rest of us – on the brink of collapse. The hole in the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico is set to ruin the entire Caribbean region, as well as the east coast of the USA. It’s getting entertaining (in the Carlin-esque sense of the word).

My Firefox crash pales into insignificance at thought of several simultaneous apocalypses unloading on us all…

It’s hard to believe I’ve lived in this land for nine years. Time has certainly flown. Before I came here my knowledge of how mad this country was was limited to entries on Fark, and that was about it.

Why do I stay? Well, in part it’s because this land is just a non-stop source of entertainment. I find something to smile about every day. Sometimes it’s things my students say or do. Sometimes it’s something I experience first-hand. Often it’s something I learn about, or read about.

Today has been one of those days already. Let’s just start with the online news service, Japantoday.

We have a story about a police officer. Japan’s police officers are often the source of stories of incompetence, and today’s was no exception. An officer was arrested because he posted photos on his blog of a model gun he owned that had been modified to fire real bullets. He claims he didn’t know it was illegal. That’s a good one.

There’s a story about the Prime Minister putting his foot in his mouth. That’s also a recurring theme in the Japanese press. Today’s story mentions that Hatoyama said in a debate in the Japanese parliament that he may well be “loopy” in reference to a column in the Washington Post. In his own words, he said, ‘‘As the Washington Post says, I may certainly be a foolish prime minister.’’ Even if said in jest, in any other country there would be calls for his resignation from across the board, even in his own party.

Japan’s “research” into the eating habits of whales continues, but this time they’ll be plundering the north-eastern coast of Japan, rather than the Southern Ocean. The take is going to be 60 minke whales. I guess they think the protesters won’t be bothered making the long trip up. The conclusion of last year’s research? “Delicious”.

But this story takes the cake.

Ibaraki Prefecture (near Tokyo) built an airport last year. They currently have a single flight every day – that’s ONE flight – going to South Korea. Compare that to the million or so people expected to flow through Narita during Golden Week (one of them will be my mum!) So, in a half-assed attempt at publicity they sent a delegation to Narita Airport yesterday to distribute 500 sweet bean pancakes to stranded travelers waiting to go home. The problem was that most of the passengers waiting for the Icelandic volcano to settle down had already left, due to the recommencing of flights. The remaining passengers were left bewildered as to why they were receiving a pancake stamped with the name of an airport different to the one they were in. An Ibaraki government official claimed that it wasn’t meant as publicity for the new airport, that the gesture came too late anyway, and could they please go home now. So now we have a long needed answer to a question about Japan: How long does it take to organise 500 sweet bean pancakes to help out stranded hungry people in one of the nation’s largest airports? Five days. I think the phrase “a wet, brown paper bag” was invented for this purpose…

So that’s just a start for why I live here. It’s a weird,wonderful, frustrating and beautiful place. I hope to share a few more stories with you when I get the chance.