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2005年4月30日 (土)

April days foretold the end of World War II


April days foretold the end of World War II


Sixty years ago, World War II was drawing to a close. Major events in April would help set the world on its postwar course. In one such event, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, and was succeeded by Harry Truman.

On the following day, novelist Jiro Osaragi wrote in his diary at his home in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture: ``As if the Americans were waging an avenging battle in Roosevelt's name, they bombarded us heavily around midnight.'' This entry is included in ``Osaragi Jiro Haisen Nikki'' (Jiro Osaragi's diary on defeat in the war) published by Soshisha.



In Germany, advancing U.S. and Soviet troops linked up on April 25 at Torgau on the Elbe River and took the Oath of Elbe.

Osaragi's diary entry for that day says: ``Reports say Berlin has been divided into two ... My interest now is what will become of (Adolf) Hitler.''


Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was executed on April 28. According to Noboru Kojima, author of ``Dainiji Sekai Taisen'' (World War II) published by Shogakukan, Hitler sent a telegram to his fellow Axis leader a few days before the execution. The message basically said: ``This life-or-death war has reached a climax. ... No matter how fierce the battle may rage, our allies, who share the resolve of the German people to never fear death, will continue to press forward and overcome this hardship.''


In Japan, U.S. forces had landed April 1 on the Okinawa mainland, and the bloody ground warfare was in progress.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Kuniaki Koiso resigned and was succeeded by that of Kantaro Suzuki.


``I hear Mussolini was killed and his corpse was publicly displayed in a square in Milan,'' Osaragi wrote in his diary on May 1, the day after Hitler's suicide. ``The newspapers are too coy to report this, but Mussolini's body was apparently hung upside down for the mob to desecrate. Berlin has fallen almost completely, and it appears Hitler is dead, too.''


A ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the Oath of Elbe was held Monday at Arlington National Cemetery in the United States. Representatives of nine nations are said to have laid wreaths at a memorial honoring the veterans of the Elbe linkup.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 29(IHT/Asahi: April 30,2005)

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2005年4月29日 (金)

Supposedly safe train crashed as hard as a jet


Supposedly safe train crashed as hard as a jet


When a jumbo jet is about to land, the plane's altitude drops sharply and you soon feel the bump of the landing gear touching down on the runway. The aircraft's speed at that moment is said to be well over 200 kph.

Looking out the window, you see the scenery whizzing past, until the plane gradually decelerates and your eyes become able to register the scenery outside as from a traveling car.



At the moment of landing, the jumbo jet's speed is unlike that of any ground vehicle. It still retains some of the force needed to fly at around 900 kph. When that velocity drops significantly to less than 100 kph and then further down to the speed of a traveling car, you feel you have literally returned to earth from the sky.


The fateful rapid train on the Takarazuka Line (Fukuchiyama Line) of West Japan Railway Co. reportedly registered a speed in excess of 100 kph just before it derailed and crashed into an apartment building.

The impact must have been similar to that of a just-landed plane, which had yet to slow down to taxi speed, ramming into a concrete building.


Why didn't this train slow down while approaching a curve? Was it unable to slow down? Or was the derailment caused by some other factor?

These questions still remain unanswered, but at least one thing is certain: The train was speeding to make up for a delay in the operating schedule.


At the station before, the train had overshot the prescribed stop position by 40 meters.

But according to investigators, the conductor confessed to doctoring the distance to 8 meters. If this is true, it is possible that, after losing time from backtracking 40 meters rather than only 8 meters, the driver felt he had to hurry to the next station to cover up this lie.


For full two days, rescuers could not do anything for people trapped in one section of the first car. Even though this was a train accident, the scene could have been mistaken for a plane crash site.

A popular and supposedly safe means of mass transit took many lives in a flash. My heart goes out to the victims and their bereaved families.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 28(IHT/Asahi: April 29,2005)

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2005年4月28日 (木)

Koizumi's youthful one-liners are growing old


Koizumi's youthful one-liners are growing old


The protagonist of ``Seinen'' (Young man), a novel written by Mori Ogai (1862-1922), is a would-be novelist who comes to Tokyo from the country to follow his dream. When the novel was penned, Japan was just becoming a modern nation. It follows the hero's footsteps as he struggles to deepen his thoughts through a variety of experiences.



The novel can be found in the Iwanami Bunko series. In one conversation, the protagonist says to a friend: ``Don't you think it is the privilege of young people like us that we can say anything on our minds without weighing our words?'' In response, he says: ``Why is it that human beings become hypocritical as they grow older?'' The name of the young protagonist? Junichi Koizumi.


Four full years have passed since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi launched his Cabinet. It is one of the enduring postwar Cabinets. Being in his 60s, Koizumi can't exactly be called a young man. Even so, the prime minister seems to resemble the would-be novelist, and not just because of the resemblance of their names. The real reason is that Koizumi says his piece without bothering to ``weigh his words.''


Early in his premiership, critics started calling Koizumi's helmsmanship ``one-line politics.'' Frustration has been growing over his style of pronouncement-clearly saying only what he wants to say, rather than elaborating or explaining.

Nevertheless, while long years in politics imbue people with an air of bland arrogance and craftiness, Koizumi imparts little of either. This ``youthfulness'' in spirit seems to account for his sustained high popularity despite strong criticism in the public over his refusal to go beyond simple initial statements.


Public support for his Cabinet has fallen from 80 percent at its inception to about half of that. Certainly, this is a reflection of the mountain of outstanding problems at home and abroad that are not likely to be settled by Koizumi's ``one-line politics'' approach.


The literary Junichi writes in his diary: ``The present exists in a line drawn between the past and the future.''

The Koizumi Cabinet has moved into its fifth year at a time when the handling of present problems has become a matter of increasing importance for the future of Japan and the world.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 27(IHT/Asahi: April 28,2005)

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2005年4月27日 (水)

Transport firms must rethink safety standards


Transport firms must rethink safety standards


Monday's accident on the Takarazuka Line (Fukuchiyama Line) operated by West Japan Railway Co. was not a collision between a train and a vehicle at a level crossing. Nor was it a case of two trains colliding. Why did this derailment result in so many casualties? The derailment in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, was an appalling spectacle. We cannot recall a disaster of this scale in decades.



The two coaches that smashed into a multistory apartment building were flattened like tinfoil. The second coach wrapped around the building, coming to a rest atop the first train car. Traces of what appeared to be stones crushed by train wheels were reportedly found on the tracks near the derailment spot. The cause of the accident must be investigated immediately.


Passengers said the train was moving much faster than usual before the accident, triggering speculation that the driver was trying to make up for lost time following a delay at Itami Station when he overshot his mark and had to back up.

Because the Takarazuka Line connects with other lines at Amagasaki Station, even a slight delay would have affected the operations on the other lines.

West Japan Railway apparently demanded that drivers adhere to operating schedules without fail.


What this reminds us of is a statement by Japan Airlines to the government concerning a spate of missteps involving problems with aircraft maintenance and violations of flight regulations. The carrier admitted that its policy of meeting departure and arrival times at the expense of safety concerns, which should have been paramount, was one factor that resulted in the troubles.


For public transportation companies, running according to schedule is at the heart of their credibility. Frequent delays inevitably invite stiff criticism. But placing speedier operations above safety concerns brings irreversible consequences.


Across the country, such companies must now re-examine their operations to ensure that safety concerns are not being ignored.

Being inconvenienced by a delay of any length is infinitely preferable to never arriving at all.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 26(IHT/Asahi: April 27,2005)

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2005年4月26日 (火)

City mergers could foster `sincere' democracy


City mergers could foster `sincere' democracy


Of the 36 mayors elected across the nation around Japan Sunday, 29 of the posts sprung from municipal and village mergers. This month alone, 80 elections are to be held to select the heads of newly merged administrative entities. The nation's administrative zone map is being redrawn almost every day.



This sudden surge of what one might call ``mini-unified local elections'' is a result of a large number of communities rushing into mergers in order to receive state subsidies. The prevailing mindset seems to have been, ``Grab whatever benefits there are while they last.''


A ruling Liberal Democratic Party member of the Lower House who stumped campaigned on behalf of a mayoral candidate in a new city, formed by one city, two towns and one village, which now boasts a population in excess of 100,000, shouted to voters that his party would secure the city all sorts of public works projects. A supporter in the crowd cheered and called out, ``Hey, throw in a four-year university, too.''

As this episode indicated, some people obviously think that money will come pouring in once a municipal merger has taken place. But there is no such guarantee.


One thing that is certain is that this recent rush of mergers is changing the nation's traditional election practices. Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori told a recent general meeting of an LDP faction he leads, ``In a big city, the mayor cannot mobilize support in the way small-town mayors and local lawmakers have always canvassed votes of their support groups in the past.'' Consequently, the traditional campaign strategy of appealing to voters' sense of loyalty to their community and reminding them of their vested interests has become less effective.


Former Mie Governor Masayasu Kitagawa is spearheading a movement to accelerate this change by calling for local elections to include a ``manifesto system.'' This would mean each party fielding a candidate must issue its official policy platform, complete with specific policy plans and deadlines, as a contract of sorts with the voting public. Under this system, voters would have to examine their own priorities or to decide whether to support a specific policy or not. In other words, voters and candidates alike would be sharing responsibility.


A municipal merger can only be considered a success when voters have outgrown their undemocratic mentality of letting others make their decisions for them. Even if the merger was hastily concluded just so the city could qualify for a state subsidy, I would still call it a success.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 25(IHT/Asahi: April 26,2005)

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No alternative to `women-only' train cars


No alternative to `women-only' train cars


A commuter train serving suburban Tokyo is the main setting for the bestselling novel titled ``Densha Otoko'' (Train man). The woman whom the protagonist secretly adores is hassled by a drunk while riding the train at night. And come morning, she is molested by a groper.



The JR Saikyo Line is notorious for its higher than average population of gropers. This month, JR created a ``women only'' car during morning rush hour. The first car on each 10-car train is off-limits to men.

Observed it from the next car the other day, there was clearly more than enough elbow room to let women comfortably punch away on their cell phones to send e-mail, or sit back and leisurely apply their makeup. Male passengers around me, who were miserably squeezed together as usual, had envious looks on their faces.


Women-only cars date back almost a century. The first was on the Chuo Line servicing central Tokyo, and that was toward the end of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). The purpose was to stop male students from taking advantage of the rush hour congestion to hand love letters to female students-something that was frowned upon back then. It also protected young women from gropers.

In the immediate post-World War II years, there appeared cars for women and children only. Trains were murderously crowded in those days, and women and children needed physical protection. There was no air-conditioning, of course, and the crowding was nothing like anyone could imagine today.


The appearance of ``silver seats'' for the elderly and the disabled in the mid-1960s ended women-only cars, but the latter came back five years ago when groping cases were on the rise.


There are fewer victims of groping today in the Kansai region, where cars that are off-limits to men are common.

In the greater Tokyo area, which includes Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, major private railway and subway lines are scheduled to reintroduce women's cars during morning rush from May 9 on after the holiday-studded Golden Week.


But wherever those cars are in service, male passengers invariably complain of overcrowding and ``unfair treatment.'' Responding to such complaints, Kobe Electric Railway Co., Ltd. in Hyogo Prefecture reduced the frequency of women-only car service last spring, only two months after it was introduced.

Is there no alternative to segregating the sexes? I thought hard about it while riding a jam-packed Saikyo Line train, but no bright idea came to mind.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 17(IHT/Asahi: April 25,2005)

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2005年4月23日 (土)

Why high-rises pose a risk to life and limb


Why high-rises pose a risk to life and limb


What was a typical scene in any neighborhood a half-century ago now seems lost to history. But poet Tatsuji Miyoshi's depiction of children's voices in his neighborhood in 1950s and 60s makes me wonder if such scenes could still be around somewhere.

In ``Tsuki no Toka'' (Ten days of the month), a Kodansha Bungei Bunko paperback, Miyoshi writes:



``Every morning, I hear children's lively voices from the house opposite mine. I hear them shout after breakfast, `We're off. See you later.'''

Come noon, and Miyoshi heard their, ``We're home'' just as clearly. With only a narrow alley separating his home from his neighbor's, Miyoshi could pretty much tell what was going on next door, even though he did not have a particularly close relationship with his neighbors.

This is the sort of thing one does not experience living in magnificent residence. ``I would never want to live in a big, towering house,'' Miyoshi adds.


Today's high-rise housing complexes fit that bill. In Osaka, two rattan shelves for potted plants came hurtling down from the balcony of a 27th-floor apartment 77 meters above ground. They were tossed by the apartment's 78-year-old resident, who was arrested by Osaka prefectural police and charged with attempted murder.


The resident reportedly told police that she threw the shelves in anger because she had tripped on them while cleaning the balcony.

One of the shelves barely missed a woman who was passing below on a bicycle.

The shelf was cracked and bent out of shape. Nobody needs a close brush with death of this kind.


When you look down from a towering high-rise, all you get is a distant view of street life. You can't see nearby scenes. You see trees, but you can't see their branches. You see people, but not their faces, nor can you hear their voices.


I can imagine many people actually relish this ``isolation'' from the world below and enjoy the open view they would not get from the ground level.

High-rise housing complexes have brought a new lifestyle to Japan today, but they can also instantaneously turn a perfectly harmless object into an instrument of destruction.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 22(IHT/Asahi: April 23,2005)

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2005年4月22日 (金)

Digging up the past to reflect on the new pope


Digging up the past to reflect on the new pope


The Holy See, or Vatican City, is slightly smaller than Tokyo's Ueno Park.



When I visited the world's smallest independent state some years ago, it boasted a train station, a bank, a market, and even tennis courts. Some of the nuns working the telephone exchange could work in about 10 languages, and Radio Vatican aired programs in 35 languages.

I got to see how this veritable miniature state worked, but was unable to venture near the inner sanctum of the Vatican.



German-born Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has been elected pope to lead the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics.

In his youth, he was forcibly enrolled in the Hitler Youth program. He served in the German military and was in a U.S. prisoner-of-war camp when World War II ended.


Before his election to the papacy, the cardinal stated he had been reluctant to join Hitler Youth but there was no avoiding it at the time.

His background must bother quite a few people.

However, what is at issue now is not that the new pope had a Nazi connection in his youth. Rather, his real test is what he can do for the world in the 21st century by using his own negative experience.


He has chosen the name of Benedict XVI. His namesake, St. Benedict, established the rules of monastic life in Europe in the sixth century.

According to ``Seija no Jiten'' (Encyclopedia of saints), St. Benedict had a large following of devoted disciples, but attempts were made on his life by those who were consumed with jealousy. One legend has it that when he was offered a poisoned drink, he neutralized the poison with the power of prayer.


The new Holy Father's predecessor, John Paul II, aspired for the priesthood while resisting Nazi occupation in his native Poland. In this sense, John Paul II's youthful years were the exact opposite of his immediate successor's.

This contrast made me think of the passage of time since the end of World War II 60 years ago.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 21(IHT/Asahi: April 22,2005)

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2005年4月21日 (木)

Bruegel's paintings and Fuji-Livedoor battle


Bruegel's paintings and Fuji-Livedoor battle


Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel took the motifs of his works from proverbs. Strangely, it was these paintings that came to mind when I surveyed a pile of newspapers on my desk, all reporting with big headlines a settlement reached by two media companies.

The running battle between Fuji Television Network Inc. and Livedoor Co. over the latter's bid to acquire Nippon Broadcasting System Inc. is curiously reminiscent of the allegorical world painted by the 16th-century European artist.



Among Bruegel's works, there is a painting with the motif of ``a big fish eating a small fish.'' It shows a medium-sized fish swallowing a small fish inside the stomach of a big fish.

This picture is based on a proverb about the mighty lording it over the weak. The Japanese equivalent puts it more strongly: ``Jakuniku kyoshoku'' (the stronger prey on the weaker).


Livedoor's bid to acquire not just Nippon Broadcasting, the parent company of Fuji Television, but probably the television network as well, made a tense drama. It amounted to a small fish swallowing a big fish, contrary to the Flemish proverb.

In ``Netherlandish Proverbs,'' a major Bruegel work, people, animals and customs are painted all over the canvas as the epitomes of many proverbs. For example, ``two dogs for a bone'' is meant as an analogy of two men fighting over status or assets, according to ``Buryugeru no kotowaza no sekai'' (Bruegel's world of proverbs), a book published by Hakuousha.


To quote other proverbs from the book, ``filling the hole after a calf drowns'' refers to taking countermeasures after something untoward happens. ``Armed to the teeth'' means to be fully armed. ``Sitting on cinders'' describes the restless behavior of people in a predicament.

This may apply to the behavior of top executives at Fuji Television and Nippon Broadcasting after losing a string of court battles to Livedoor.


``Turning the world around on the thumb'' is a proverb for men who would run everything as they please. ``Crouch if you want to get on well in the world'' refers to the use of crafty means to get ahead.

Did Livedoor act cunningly when it acquired Nippon Broadcasting shares in trades conducted before the stock exchange's business hours began? While there are pros and cons over the maneuver, one thing is certain: It dealt a shock to corporate executives and shareholders in general.


Assessing the terms of the settlement, media reports say both sides have suffered equal losses. On the other hand, the deal forks over a huge profit to an American securities firm.

With a colossal amount of money in its belly, the big fish is already swimming in distant waters.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 20(IHT/Asahi: April 21,2005)

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2005年4月20日 (水)

Pride, mass psychology fuel China protests


Pride, mass psychology fuel China protests


Shanhaiguan, the east terminal of the Great Wall of China, is located along the Gulf of Bo Hai about 300 kilometers east of Beijing.

With steep terrain, it was an area where crucial battles were fought in ancient times. The barrier built there was viewed as China's most strategic.



In 1995, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, then Chinese President Jiang Zemin gave an interview to The Asahi Shimbun in Beidaihe, a famous resort near Shanhaiguan where he was staying.

Asked about China's patriotic education policy for young people, Jiang replied that it was aimed at fostering a correct perception of history and ensuring that people would not forget what they had learned.

He gave assurances that China had no intention of sowing discord in its relations with Japan.


Ten years since then, one fears that anti-Japanese demonstrations may lead to discord. Demonstrators chanted the slogan ``not guilty for being patriotic'' to justify their mob violence, and mocked Japan with the epithet of ``little Japan.''

The derogatory epithet reminded me of what struck me when I once looked out over the sea from Shanhaiguan.


Shanhaiguan is the place where the Great Wall, stretching all the way from the west, finally joins the sea. The Japanese archipelago is too far to the east to see from there.

But for anyone aware that he is looking out from the edge of Eurasia, the world's largest land mass, Japan would seem like a string or a rope floating in the ocean.


It is not hard to imagine that people proud of China's long history and culture had a sense of superiority over Japan.

As I gazed from Shanhaiguan, it struck me that half a century would be too short to heal or erase the humiliation of being invaded and ruled by Japan and the traumas inflicted during the occupation.


Behind shouts of ``little Japan'' on the streets, one senses a warped perception about China's greatness and mass psychology at work.

Would a young man loudly shout the slogan when he comes to be alone, away from an anti-Japanese demonstration?


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 19(IHT/Asahi: April 20,2005)

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2005年4月19日 (火)

Robotic troops symbolic of U.S. attitude in Iraq


Robotic troops symbolic of U.S. attitude in Iraq


A robot soldier detects a person hiding in the shadows. It takes aim and blasts away, taking yet another human life.

While that scene may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, it could soon become a reality on the battlefield. The U.S. Army is planning to deploy mobile robotic weapons for the enforcement of security in Iraq.



America's robot is about the same size as a go-cart. It is equipped with a machine gun and a night-vision camera with zoom lens. The robot can travel over rough terrain and burst through barbed-wire fences. God help anyone stalked by one of these soulless machines.


A robot doesn't need food or training. If it is attacked and destroyed, all that's left is a broken heap of scrap metal. To the U.S. Army, which continues to lose its men and women in Iraq, this is the perfect substitute for a shrinking pool of human soldiers, especially as the enlistment rate continues to slide.


At the Aichi Expo 2005, a musical trumpet-playing robot is the star of the show. And robots that vacuum are also now available.

But the news that combat robots are the next big thing depresses me.


``A robot shall neither harm nor kill a human,'' says Article 13 of the imaginary Robot Law instituted by the late cartoonist Osamu Tezuka when he created ``Tetsuwan Atomu'' (Astro Boy) half a century ago.

The late science fiction writer Isaac Asimov also described his Three Laws of Robotics, the first of which begins: ``A robot must never harm human beings.''


Science has now allowed humans to create these life-threatening robots. Even though they are remote-controlled by human operators, is there any guarantee that combat robots will be able to tell soldiers from civilians? Won't they add to the already terrible toll the war has taken on noncombatant Iraqis?

These robotic weapons are a symbol of America's attitude in this war in Iraq. It is only concerned about preventing harm to or the death of its own soldiers.


-The Asahi Shimbun, April 18(IHT/Asahi: April 19,2005)

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2005年4月18日 (月)

Recalling Charles Boycott via China protests


Recalling Charles Boycott via China protests


Charles Boycott (1832-1897) was an estate manager in Ireland. His high-handedness so offended the estate's tenants that they stopped taking orders from him and refused to even greet him. Hence the word boycott means to protest by refusing to buy or deal with someone or something.



A boycott of Japanese products has broken out in China. It was triggered by the Japanese government's stance on controversial history textbooks and United Nations reform.

I can sympathize with companies that have unwittingly become targeted. Some stores have banished the products of Asahi Breweries, Ltd. and Ajinomoto Co. from their shelves. Jusco and Ito-Yokado Co. supermarkets had their windows and signboards vandalized.

Protesters held massive rallies outside the Japanese Embassy and Japanese restaurants in Beijing.


Most of the companies being hit have been denounced by name in Chinese newspapers for ``supporting school textbooks that distort history.''

But this is erroneous reporting. Apparently, the restaurants and supermarkets were attacked as symbols of Japan because they happened to stand along the route taken by the protest marchers.


Boycotts of Japanese products have occurred repeatedly in various Asian nations since the late period of Meiji Era (1868-1911). In the early 1970s, a Daimaru department store in Thailand was boycotted as a Japanese symbol. And outside Asia, Americans made a production of smashing a Japanese car during the so-called trade-war era.


The United States is now the target of a long-running boycott. In the Middle East, Europe and South America, people are quietly protesting America's Iraq policy. They shun fast foods and soft drinks from such quintessential American institutions as McDonald's and Coca-Cola.


Defeated by his tenants' unyielding resistance, Charles Boycott was ultimately forced to leave his estate. He thus went down in history under less than honorable circumstances.

The present situation in China could turn even uglier if mishandled. The government faces a tough test of diplomatic cool.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 10(IHT/Asahi: April 18,2005)

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2005年4月16日 (土)

Nationality should not be taken for granted


Nationality should not be taken for granted


Article 22 of the Constitution stipulates: "Freedom of all persons to move to a foreign country and to divest themselves of their nationality shall be inviolate."

This inspired novelist and playwright Hisashi Inoue to write "Kirikirijin" (People of Kirikiri), a novel set in a remote village in northeastern Japan. Disgruntled by the government's farm policy, villagers declare themselves an independent nation. But they also opt to keep to the letter of the Constitution.



In real life, giving up one's nationality is not a decision to be made lightly, nor without considerable preparation. On the other hand, there is a steady stream of people applying for Japanese citizenship today, reflecting society's moves to integrate into the world community.


The Tokyo District Court ruled Wednesday that a provision of the Nationality Law, which requires the parents of a child seeking Japanese citizenship to be legally married, violates Article 14 of the Constitution that guarantees equality to all under the law.


The plaintiff, a 7-year-old boy, was born to a Filipino mother and Japanese father. The presiding judge noted: "Even though the boy's parents are not living together all the time, they are in a common-law relationship, and they and their child should be considered a family. In this day and age of diverse values, it can no longer be said that families whose parents are legally married are normal but common-law families are not normal."


The verdict may help open the doors wider to people seeking Japanese citizenship. Before the 1984 revision, a child of an international marriage could not be granted citizenship unless his or her father was Japanese.

The revised law grants citizenship "if either father or mother" is Japanese, but even this has been in effect for only a little over 20 years.

This law is very much like a mirror that reflects Japanese society.


In an Asahi Shimbun interview some time ago, Inoue said in reference to "Kirikirijin" that: "We are free to choose not to be Japanese. ...To put it the other way round, we must reaffirm our nationality if we do remain Japanese."

For many native Japanese, their nationality is like air-something they have always taken for granted. But if they have to reaffirm their citizenship, perhaps they can begin to appreciate its "weight."


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 15(IHT/Asahi: April 16,2005)

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2005年4月15日 (金)

China must find `seeds of peace' with Japan


China must find `seeds of peace' with Japan


The late Chinese Premier Chou En-lai was 19 years old when he left China in the autumn of 1917 to study in Japan. A poem he composed at the time says: "Singing no more on the banks of the Yangtze/ I made up my mind to head east for Japan."


 「大江(だいこう)に歌罷(や)めて 頭(こうべ)を掉(ふ)って東し……」。後に中国首相となる周恩来が「揚子江に歌うのをやめ、意を決して東の日本に向かい」と詠んで国を出たのは1917年、19歳の秋だった。

He took the entrance exam for Tokyo Koto Shihan Gakko (advanced teacher training school) the following spring, but failed. To cheer himself up, he visited Hibiya Park in central Tokyo, where he was deeply moved by the sight of two grade-school girls planting flowers and playing. According to "Shu Onrai 19-Sai no Tokyo Nikki" (Chou En-lai: A 19-year-old's Tokyo diary), a paperback from Shogakukan, he said: "People in China always call Japan a `trashy nation.' But when you really think about it, how could you ever say that of Japan?"

 翌春、東京高等師範学校を受験したが落ちる。気晴らしにでかけた日比谷公園で、ふたりの小学生の女の子が草花を植えながら遊んでいる姿に接して感動した。「中国人は口を開けば『東洋(日本)は襤褸(ぼろ)の邦』というが、よく考えれば、日本がどうして襤褸であろう」(『周恩来 十九歳の東京日記』小学館文庫)。

The Japan he came to know was a far cry from what he had heard back home. This discovery at an impressionable age must have left a lasting impact on Chou.


Anti-Japanese demonstrations are spreading in China, accompanied by criminal acts of violence-throwing stones at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, vandalizing Japanese restaurants and injuring Japanese. The fact that Chinese law enforcement authorities have done nothing to punish the offenders raises suspicions about the government's possible complicity in this eruption of anti-Japanese sentiment.

And the angry mob is obviously not acting on any accurate information about Japan, either.


According to "Shinpen Shu Onrai Goroku" (The analects of Chou En-lai: new edition) published by Akimoto Shobo, the Chinese premier said nearly 20 years before China's relations with Japan were normalized: "In the last 60 years, Sino-Japanese relations have not been good. But this is already past history, and we must regard it so ... . We must not let our children and grandchildren be influenced by this history."

In refusing to dwell on the negative and opening up to the negotiating partner, Chou demonstrated the broad-mindedness and finesse of a seasoned politician.

 周首相は日中国交正常化の20年近く前に述べた。「最近の六十年の歴史では、中日両国の関係はよくありませんでした。しかし、これは過ぎ去ったことであり、また過ぎ去ったこととしなければなりません……われわれの子孫に、このような歴史の影響をうけさせてはなりません」(『新編 周恩来語録』秋元書房)。否定を避け相手を呼び込む。懐の深さと老練な術(すべ)を思わせる。

He went on: "We must find the seeds of peace within ourselves. And I believe such seeds do exist."

These words ought to be pondered anew, not only by the agitated Chinese, but also by us Japanese who are one part of Chou's "we."


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 1 4(IHT/Asahi: April 15,2005)

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2005年4月14日 (木)

Speed bumps could help curb traffic accidents


Speed bumps could help curb traffic accidents


The nationwide spring campaign for traffic safety winds up on Friday. Because it is a biannual affair, there is nothing special to say about it except to note that it is conducted when fresh elementary school first-graders start going to school.

The sight of these children trooping across streets like chicks, prattling and walking along with less than certain steps, reminds me that I must be an especially cautious driver at this time of year.



It is important to keep telling little children that they risk their own lives if they do not observe the traffic rules. It is also essential to keep reminding drivers that failure to follow traffic rules could ruin not just the lives of their victims but also their own. But it is not enough to keep calling for adherence to the traffic rules.


Traffic accidents can be reduced by building safer roads. Typical of the new approach are woonerf roads designed for the coexistence of humans and motor vehicles. The concept, known as seikatsu no niwa in Japanese, or ``the garden of life,'' is said to have originated in the Netherlands.

A woonerf road, for example, is built with speed bumps to slow down motor vehicles.


When I came across speed bumps for the first time, it was not in the Netherlands but in the suburbs of Cairo, Egypt. Suddenly, I felt a jolt when I hit a bump. The car I was riding rose and then dropped with a thud. After a while, I struck another bump. If I had hit the speed bump at a high speed, the impact would have been far greater.

I was told that speed bumps had been set up in the vicinity of schools and other public facilities.


Roads with speed bumps have been built in Japan, too. The number of accidents has dropped on these roads. On the other hand, a person tripped on a speed bump and fell near a school.


When it comes to reducing traffic accidents, there is no panacea. These days, cars hurtle along broad avenues and narrow alleys alike. I wish that someone would invent a system that would make it possible for an outsider to slow these cars down.

Reducing traffic accidents is an urgent matter that should be addressed all through the year, not just through seasonal campaigns for traffic safety.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 13(IHT/Asahi: April 14,2005)

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2005年4月13日 (水)

Danger always comes with adventure


Danger always comes with adventure


Mourning the death of four junior high school boys in a cave in Kagoshima city, the principal of their school told a student gathering: "Because of a tragic incident, adults have learned of the existence of the cave for the first time. My regret is that if we had noticed it earlier, the incident could have been averted."



If the cave in which the four boys were found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning Saturday was in fact a World War II air raid shelter, then roughly 60 years have passed since then. I really wish the existence of the cave had come to the attention of adults at some point over the course of those years. Steps could have been taken to keep it from becoming the site of a tragic incident.


The four boys were all 13-year-olds, going through a period of rapid physical and spiritual growth. At this age, it is the common wish of youngsters to venture into a world different from their everyday life. Many adults know this from their own childhood experience.

To the boys, the lure of a cave, dangers apparently lurking in the recesses, is irresistible. This is in part because it arouses the primitive memory of ancestral dwellings from time immemorial.


In his address, the junior high school principal also said: "Let me say I am proud of the challenging youthful spirit of the four students. But you have to have the perception that dangers always accompany any adventurous undertaking."


The word "challenge" reminded me of "Stand By Me," an American movie released more than a dozen years ago. It is a story of four 12-year-old boys setting out on an adventurous trip.

The way they grow up while battling the darkness of night and their own sense of fear strongly appealed to viewers together with Ben E. King's title song " Stand by Me."

The lyrics go: "When the night has come/ And the land is dark/ And the moon is the only light we'll see/ No I won't be afraid/ Oh I won't be afraid/ Just as long as you stand, stand by me ... ."

 チャレンジという言葉からは、十数年前のアメリカ映画「スタンド・バイ・ミー」を思い起こした。12歳の少年たち4人が、小さな冒険の旅へ出る。夜の闇や恐怖と戦いながら成長してゆく姿が、映画の題名になったベン・E・キングの歌とともに、見る者に強く訴えかけてきた。「夜の闇が あたりを包み/月明りしか 見えなくても/ぼくは 怖くない……君がそばに いてくれるなら……」(『スタンド・バイ・ミー メモリアル』)。

Imagine how you would react if four boys who were close to you as classmates in high spirits were no longer to be seen. A silent prayer was offered for them at the morning gathering. Some students reportedly were so shocked by the loss they could not stand up.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 12(IHT/Asahi: April 13,2005)

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2005年4月12日 (火)

Freedom to travel a right to be enjoyed by all


Freedom to travel a right to be enjoyed by all


Miyako Okamura of Kyoto can walk no more than 3,000 steps a day. She cannot carry anything heavier than 2 kilograms. Lifting a suitcase, even for a second, is out of the question. Staircases are her most difficult hurdle.

Yet, she travels alone overseas almost every year.



Six years ago, when Okamura was in her 40s and working for a travel agency as a tour conductor, she was diagnosed with hip disease and fitted with an artificial joint in her right hip.

Although she had to give up her job, she decided nothing would stop her from traveling for pleasure.


The strategy she worked out was this: First she calls a taxi, and asks the driver to carry her suitcase to the car. At the airport, she uses a baggage trolley as a walker. If there is a chance she may have to use a ramp to deplane at her destination, she arranges with airport personnel to have a lift waiting for her. Upon arrival at her hotel, she asks a valet to place her suitcase in a position that will make for easy opening and closing.


``In the past, an overseas trip was a bit of a risky gamble for people with disabilities,'' said Iichiro Kusanagi of Japan Tourism Marketing Co.'s Universally Designed Tourism Center. ``Nowadays, many people with disabilities go wherever they want to go, not just where they can go.''

Indeed, airports and train stations are today better equipped to aid people with disabilities, and airline companies and travel agencies have also gotten better at serving customers with special needs.


It was 10 years ago that the Tourism Policy Council of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport noted, ``Everyone has a right to travel ... . The freedom to travel is of special value to people whose movements are restricted, such as those with disabilities and the elderly.''

It depends on each person's type or degree of disability, but perhaps the ``right to travel'' is finally becoming real.


Okamura would like to go to Mongolia this summer, but is still undecided. ``If suburban roads are bad, my artificial hip won't stand a chance. It is vital that I check such details before I go,'' she said.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 11(IHT/Asahi: April 12,2005)

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2005年4月11日 (月)

Cold War diplomat's lessons still worthwhile


Cold War diplomat's lessons still worthwhile


Those blessed with a long life are able to see how their accomplishments in their younger days are judged by history. Fortunate is anyone whose accomplishments are deemed positive. One such man was George F. Kennan, a former senior U.S. State Department official who died on March 17 at 101.



In the chaos after World War II, Kennan became the principal architect of the Cold War containment policy aimed at the Soviet Union. By the placing checks on the Soviet Union's inherently expansionistic tendencies through patient diplomacy, he predicted, the Soviet system could be made to implode from its own internal contradictions. In postwar Japan, Kennan advocated a moderate occupation policy that could be later changed to focus on economic recovery.


Kennan witnessed in his own lifetime the collapse of the Soviet Union and Japan's growth into an economic powerhouse.

However, his outspokenness against excessive moralism in U.S. diplomacy and his admonitions about overrating the use of force were not welcomed in Washington, and he was forced to resign from the State Department in 1953. After he joined the Faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, he continued to influence American foreign policy through his writings, including those denouncing the Vietnam War.


I thought about Kennan when I interviewed then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage right after 9/11, when I asked Armitage what sort of long-term effects the terrorist attacks might have on U.S. foreign policy. Armitage replied with pride that it was the job of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff to think and plan ahead for next 20 years.


It was Kennan who created the Policy Planning Staff in 1947, becoming its first director and drawing up a blueprint for U.S. foreign policy.

But now that the United States has invaded Iraq without a consensus of the international community, and Iraq is still far from establishing its own democracy.


I wonder what State Department officials who came after Kennan have been doing.

Late in life, Kennan observed that we should all view our country from a balanced perspective, adding that we cannot change the world as much as we would like.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 27(IHT/Asahi: April 11,2005)

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2005年4月 9日 (土)

Cheery blossoms on way to quake survivors


Cheery blossoms on way to quake survivors


For two days, the weather in Tokyo has felt like summer. In some parts of the city, cherry blossoms that had just opened were already beginning to fall.



In a park in central Tokyo, petals whirled and danced high in the air in occasional gusts, and alighted on the ground among fallen leaves from surrounding trees. It was a pretty sight, but I could not help wishing the winds would just refrain from blowing for another two days or so.


``The Tale of Genji,'' the famous 11th-century novel, features a scene of princesses and court ladies composing poems as they look longingly at petals being scattered by the winds.

``Shin Nihon Koten Bungaku Taikei'' (New compendium of classic Japanese literature) paraphrases one poem:

``Because cherries are in bloom/ I feel restless whenever the wind gusts/ even though I know it's not worth feeling this way for these flowers.''


Cherry blossoms remind people of others who have gone before them. According to ``Ryokan no Hito to Uta'' (The personality and poetry of Ryokan) by Shuji Miya, the priest Ryokan (1758-1831) composed the following poem at the grave of Saigyo Hoshi, a 12th-century monk and poet:

``The flower I have picked and brought/ May not be outstanding in its color or fragrance/ But in your mercy please accept my heart.''

Miya notes Ryokan's poem was meant as a response to Saigyo's poem:

``Please make an offering of a flower to the Buddha/ If you will mourn for me after I am gone.''


Poet Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) wrote: ``Cherry blossoms make me recall many things.''

Cherry blossoms are like time capsules. They prompt people to think back on their lives and they jog memories of the year that has gone, as well as beyond.

They make people ponder about individuals they knew and things they once had that are now gone. They also open one's eyes to people and things they did not know in the past but do now.

 〈さまざまのこと思ひ出す桜かな 芭蕉〉。桜のタイムカプセルのような作用は、人が自らの生を振り返るのを促す。1年前や、そのまた1年前のことを桜が思い起こさせる。以前にはあって、今は無くなったものや人を思う。あるいは、前には無くて今あるものや人を見やる。

The ``cherry blossom front'' is expected to move to the Niigata area next week-a region tha was devastated by a earthquake. The cherry blossoms this year may bring back painful memories. But I pray this is the sort of year when these flowers that bloom so dutifully will comfort and provide cheer to the quake survivors.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 8(IHT/Asahi: April 9,2005)

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2005年4月 8日 (金)

Here's hoping the new Eagles are here to stay


Here's hoping the new Eagles are here to stay


I recently watched a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles game at the new team's home stadium in Sendai. Rooting with horns and other noisy musical instruments is banned at the renovated ballpark. It was refreshing to be able to hear from the stands the sound of a bat connecting with a ball.



In this game, the Eagles defeated the Seibu Lions, the 2004 Japan Series champion. The way it played out was almost a mirror image of the ups and downs in the world of business: I'm referring to the entrepreneur, who quit a bank to start an Internet business and defeated a railway king who clung to his family tradition. The face-off between the new and old enthralled the fans.


When professional baseball made its debut in Japan in the early years of the Showa Era (1926-1989), most teams were sponsored by newspaper or railway companies. After World War II, the movie and automobile industries joined the ranks of baseball club owners, followed by confectionery, soft drink, financial and commercial broadcasting businesses. The real estate and supermarket segments were represented at one time, too.


In the United States, the Major League baseball season is also now under way.

Team ownership turnover is quite brisk in America. In the past, bankers, brewery tycoons and other well-heeled people purchased teams, but they were eventually taken over by big-name enterprises such as the Walt Disney Co. Baseball teams have come to be regarded as investment opportunities by ambitious speculators. Even long-time fans have trouble nowadays keeping track of who owns their favorite team.


In South Korea, too, the professional baseball season has started. There was a lot of commotion last year over a military draft-dodging scam involving some players.

Pro baseball is also extremely popular in Latin America and Taiwan. Team names such as the Giants, the Tigers, the Eagles are common around the world. They are probably named after those in America, the home of baseball.


I understand this is the first time in 28 years that a baseball franchise has come to Sendai. While businesses rise and fall as a matter of course, I hope the new team will take firm root in Sendai, unaffected by the national economy and the stock market.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 3(IHT/Asahi: April 8,2005)

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2005年4月 7日 (木)

Is LDP revision plan really 'for the people'?


Is LDP revision plan really 'for the people'?


At its inception, the Liberal Democratic Party committed itself to an exalted political position: "government for the people." This phrase appears at the beginning of a declaration of founding ideals, adopted in 1955.

The phrase was intended to be a compressed version of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln's resolution in the Gettysburg Address for "government of the people, by the people, for the people." That's according to a party history compiled later, when Yasuhiro Nakasone was LDP president as well as prime minister.



The big question: Has the LDP been living up to its commitment?

This party's rule has been marred by woes common to long reigns: struggles for the control of money sources and power. Even so, Upper and Lower House elections have almost always ended up entrusting the LDP with the reins of government.


To mark the 50th anniversary of its founding, the LDP has drafted what it calls an outline of a new Constitution.

This outline is fraught with proposals the people are likely to find far removed from what they would have had in mind. There are passages, for example, on "possessing a self-defense military" and "making citizens duty-bound to defend the state."


Nakasone, the former prime minister, is the central figure in the LDP drive for constitutional revision. He airs his views in his memoirs titled "Jiseiroku" (Chronicle of self-reflection), which was published by Shinchosha last year.

The author calls the contents "the Nakasone version of the history of the postwar years of the Showa Era (1926-1989)."

In the book, Nakasone says: "Even among politicians, there are people who believe that when it comes to government, the best thing for the authorities to do is to stay on the sidelines and watch how the situation unfolds. In other words, they equate doing nothing with good government. They are mistaken about democratic government."


This passage prompts a comparison with what Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180) says in his book published in Japanese with the title "Jiseiroku" as part of the Iwanami paperback series: He often acts unjustly who does not do a certain thing; not only he who does a certain thing.


Nakasone describes himself as "a defendant in the court of judgment on history" in the subtitle of his memoir. The self-portrayal imparts his strong resolve about constitutional amendment and also his pride about his record as a politician.

The question he should ask himself now is whether he can attain his goals without departing from the ideal of "government for the people." With so much at stake, his amendment bid could have a decisive effect on the future of Japan.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 6(IHT/Asahi: April 7,2005)

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A tiny step toward transparent tax spending


A tiny step toward transparent tax spending


It is a fact that taxes are hard to collect, while questions are constantly raised about the way the funds are spent. How about letting taxpayers choose the way their money is spent.



Ichikawa city in Chiba Prefecture has translated the idea into an ordinance.

Under the new plan, residents can offer 1 percent of the municipal tax they pay to nonprofit or citizens' groups operating in the city. A taxpayer can choose only one group.

When informed of the designated group, city hall will allocate the earmarked tax contributions as municipal subsidies.

The method, patterned after the taxation system in Hungary, is called the taxpayers' support system for citizen-activity groups. Ichikawa introduced it this month, with the start of fiscal 2005. It is the first municipality in Japan to do so.


Eighty-one groups are vying for the 1-percent contributions. They seek funding for diverse projects, ranging from a program to raise welfare-service volunteers to a baseball course for kids and the staging of a musical performance. One group on the list plans to hold a mah-jongg course for beginners.

Sometime this month, these groups will start canvassing, running ads in the municipal gazette or appealing for support on the streets. Residents will choose which groups to support by early May.


Because Ichikawa is a city of about 460,000, 1 percent of its municipal tax revenue amounts to about 300 million yen. But many of its residents are so-called Chiba tomin-those who think of themselves more as Tokyo citizens, although they live in Chiba Prefecture.

Naturally, they are scarcely interested in local affairs.

Taking this into consideration, officials at city hall predict that a modest one in every 10 citizens will choose recipients for their tax contributions. In other words, they say, about 30 million yen will be diverted from municipal coffers.

The final results of canvassing, to be announced in June, are a tossup.


While other municipalities are considering introducing similar systems, objections are already being raised to the Ichikawa model. One critic argues, "The Ichikawa ordinance runs against the spirit of equality under the law because it ignores the wishes of people who do not have any taxable income." Another contends, "The municipal tax should be cut by 1 percent, instead."


As the central and local governments groan under debt exceeding 700 trillion yen, the prospect of sharp tax hikes appears to be inevitable.

Now is a good time to rethink the balance between public services and the tax burden.

Hence, Ichikawa's new system that allows citizens to see where their tax money is going.

Although the new-found transparency is limited to 1 percent of citizen's municipal taxes, it is a tiny but precious step forward.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 5(IHT/Asahi: April 6,2005)

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2005年4月 6日 (水)

Pope's life predetermined by his place of birth


Pope's life predetermined by his place of birth


Even today, the ancient Polish city of Krakow retains its medieval appearance and atmosphere.

It was near here, in Wadowice, that Karol Jozef Wojtyla was born May 18, 1920. In 1978, Wojtyla became pope, taking the name John Paul II.



Wadowice is fairly close to Auschwitz, best remembered as the Nazi death camp that was established there in 1940.

I visited Krakow several years ago. Standing by the River Wisla that flows through the city, I realized how the pope's life must have been somewhat predetermined by those three places: Krakow, Wadowice and Auschwitz.


When World War II broke out with the Nazi invasion of Poland, Wojtyla was a university student of philosophy. After his university was closed down by the Nazis, he worked in a quarry outside Krakow to escape deportation and forced labor in Germany.


``Listen to the regular hammering on the stone ... a certain thought grows within me,'' he wrote in a poem. ``The true value of one's work must lie within one's humanity.''

Recalling this poem later in his autobiography, ``Gift and Mystery,'' the pope noted, ``It expressed quite well the abnormal experience I was undergoing at the time.'' A Japanese edition of his biography has been published by Enderle Shoten under the title of ``Doto ni Tatsu'' (Facing rough waves).


After studying theology through an underground seminary, he became a bishop, and later was named Archbishop of Krakow.

During his papacy, he gave his moral support to the pro-democracy Solidarity movement in his native Poland, made a public apology for the historic sins of the Roman Catholic Church, and opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. His words and actions concerning history and peace were articulate and decisive.


Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to shake hands with him.

His hand, which probably held a hammer in his youth, was thick and solid. It made me recall the words he spoke in Hiroshima in 1981: ``War is the work of man ... War is death.''


-The Asahi Shimbun, April 4(IHT/Asahi: April 5,2005)

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2005年4月 4日 (月)

Japan's 'mask season' is a news item abroad


Japan's 'mask season' is a news item abroad

The Asahi Shimbun

Never before have I noticed so many people wearing masks as this year.

On one sunny, gusty day-the worst kind for pollen-allergy sufferers-I counted roughly one out of every four people on a commuter train wearing a mask.



Pollen allergy is not unique to Japan. But outside Asia, there are not many cities where you see so many mask-protected people in early spring.

"You hardly ever see anyone walking around like that here," said a Japanese man who works in Washington, D.C. Most pharmacies in the United States do not sell masks.

When he advised his allergic American colleague to try a mask, the colleague was horrified that it would make him look like a carrier of some serious contagious disease.


Another Japanese man, residing in Germany, noted: "In this country, people don't go to work if they are in a condition that requires wearing a mask. They just take the day off if they can't stop coughing or sneezing."

He added that he has never seen many people in masks in London or Paris.


This makes Japan's "mask season" a news item in the Western world. A U.S. newspaper reporter described a horde of masked Japanese marching the streets and commented he thought he had run into a group of surgeons heading for the operating theater.

An Australian newspaper reported some years ago that such a sight could be taken for a mass anti-government rally by voters. The exaggerated tone seems to underscore the rarity of this phenomenon in Western culture.


According to Hakujuji Co., a major sanitary goods maker established in 1896, masks became popular in Japan during the Spanish influenza epidemic from 1918 to 1919. Before that, masks were worn only by factory workers as a protection against dust inhalation.

The traditional mask is rectangular in shape and covers the nose and mouth, but the mainstream design today is oval-shaped for wider coverage from the nose to the chin.


In Europe and America today, television and newspapers provide "pollen forecasts." But even though experts recommend wearing a mask to alleviate pollen-allergy symptoms, the custom has obviously not caught on yet.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 28(IHT/Asahi: April 4,2005)

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2005年4月 2日 (土)

Step up to the plate and do your best, newbies


Step up to the plate and do your best, newbies


There was a faint spot of white on the tip of a twig. A closer look revealed it was a cherry blossom that had just opened its dark pink bud.



The new fiscal year starts when the ``cherry blossom front'' begins to trace a wider curve on the meteorological chart of Japan. On the first day of the fiscal year, many people start out afresh in new cities or towns, places of work or schools. All sorts of expectations, hopes and fears are felt around the nation.


There is a mention of newcomers in ``Makura no Soshi,'' or ``The Pillow Book'' authored by Sei Shonagon in the 10th century. April 1, the first day of the fiscal year, will be a day to remember for many newcomers as well as those who receive them.


For a certain period in the past, an advertorial written by novelist Hitomi Yamaguchi ran in newspapers around April 1 each year.

There were words of encouragement and wisdom directed at rookie workers. I was already well past my rookie year by then, but I was sometimes soothed by Yamaguchi's words as if I were listening to an older colleague in an intimate bar after work.


Let me reproduce some of Yamaguchi's exhortations: ``Step in, step in! Don't be afraid to make a mistake!'' ``Life is nothing more than repetition.'' ``Listen, folks! Life isn't easy.'' ``Whenever I am asked what matters most to a company worker, I now answer `sincerity' without a moment's hesitation.''

 「踏み込め、踏み込め! 失敗を怖れるな!」「此の世は積み重ねであるに過ぎない」「諸君! この人生、大変なんだ」「会社勤めで何がものを言うのかと問われるとき、僕は、いま、少しも逡巡することなく『それは誠意です』と答えている」

The advertorial was directed at newcomers to the work force, but Yamaguchi's exhortations could have been meant for all workers. I imagine the novelist reflected on his younger days and examined his conscience at the start of each fiscal year to give encouragement to salaried workers of this world. It was this attitude that inspired even seasoned workers. He wrote novels that had businessmen as the hero.

In spring 1995, Yamaguchi wrote, ``Persevere, persevere, persevere.'' He died that summer. How time passes: It's now 10 years since we last heard his encouraging words.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 1(IHT/Asahi: April 2,2005)

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Faraway islands need tsunami info, support


Faraway islands need tsunami info, support


In the immediate aftermath of Monday's giant earthquake off Sumatra, panic reportedly broke out in many communities. Fearing a tsunami, people scrambled pell-mell for higher ground, according to reports.



A panicked crowd can lead to tragedies, like people being trampled to death. But what drives people into a panic cannot always be blamed simply on ``irrational behavior.''


When the deployment of theater nuclear weapons was an issue in the Netherlands during the Cold War, the Dutch people reportedly fell into a panic over a radio program about a hypothetical scenario in which a nuclear bomb had been dropped on an air force base.

It was a case of their real fear of a possible nuclear attack being amplified out of proportion by a radio narration of an imaginary scene.

I think the panic this triggered was only natural, if not inevitable.


In Sumatra, people's fear of a killer tsunami coming their way must have been quite intense. Depending on the nature of the jolt, their fear was fully founded. Scrambling to get as far away as possible from the coast made much sense. The question, though, was whether they were guided by accurate, up-to-date information and appropriate evacuation instructions.


This time around, the Japan Meteorological Agency was swift in faxing tsunami information to the quake-affected nations. It had learned a hard lesson from the Dec. 26 tsunami disaster.

In some nations such as Indonesia, however, there were apparently problems with the way alerts were issued and what people were told to do.


Marco Polo, who landed on Sumatra about 700 years ago, noted an ``abnormal situation that would surprise you all.'' In ``The Travels of Marco Polo'' (a Japanese translation available in Toyo Bunko paperback from Heibonsha), he pointed out that: ``Because this land lies so far south, you can see neither the Polaris nor the Big Dipper in the sky.''

I want plenty of support, as well as information, to make it to those faraway southern islands on the equator.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 31(IHT/Asahi: April 1,2005)

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