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2005年5月31日 (火)

5,000 years of human history on display


5,000 years of human history on display


Adolf Hitler's Third Reich surrendered to the Allies 60 years ago this month. As Germany's defeat in World War II loomed, Hitler ordered the destruction of world-famous masterpieces that he had stashed away in a salt mine.



One of the paintings, saved by U.S. forces in the nick of time, is now on show in Tokyo.

It is ``In the Conservatory'' by French impressionist master Edouard Manet. It can be seen at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno, together with other treasures from the State Museums of Berlin.

The exhibit is titled ``Masterpieces of the Museum Island, Berlin.'' It continues until June 12 and moves to Kobe in July.

 米軍によって危うく難を免れたという絵が、東京に来ている。ベルリン国立博物館群の収蔵品を集めた「ベルリンの至宝展」(上野・東京国立博物館 6月12日まで、7月に神戸に巡回)の「温室にて」である。

``In the Conservatory'' depicts a married couple whom Manet knew. The general director of the State Museums of Berlin described this particular Manet as ``symbolic of the fate of artwork in Berlin.''

The painting was acquired at the end of the 19th century by the museum's chief curator. But the Impressionist School was still relatively obscure at the time. Furthermore, since conservatories were frequently used as the setting for torrid love scenes in romance novels, the German parliament denounced the acquisition of this piece. The chief curator was forced to resign.


Having survived Hitler's order for destruction, ``In the Conservatory'' was taken to and kept in former West Germany after World War II. It did not return to its home in the former East Germany until 1994, four years after German reunification. The painting survived tremendous upheavals of the 20th century that unfolded in Berlin.

 ヒトラーの破壊命令はくぐり抜けたが、戦後は旧西ドイツ側に置かれ たため、東ドイツ側の元の美術館に戻ったのは統一後の94年だった。ベルリンという土地柄、20世紀の歴史を色濃くまとう来歴だ。

The exhibition in Tokyo is powerful indeed, with veritable masterpieces ranging from those that date back to ancient Egypt of 3000 B.C., to modern European paintings.

Among them are ``Glazed Brick Wall: Striding Lion,'' unearthed from Babylon in Iraq, and Sandro Botticelli's ``Venus.'' The former vividly portrays a roaring lion, while the latter shows a young woman against a dark background, head slightly cocked and her shining long locks cascading over her bare shoulders.


The exhibit's artifacts come in all forms and from varied cultures and eras. There is an ancient urn depicting a scene from Greek mythology, and a Koran stand.

Some people may fail to see cohesion in the rich diversity, but I sort of sensed something like 5,000 years of human continuity.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 21(IHT/Asahi: May 30,2005)

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Standing tall in a brave new world


Standing tall in a brave new world


The Chinese ideograph for "large" is said to derive its form from a human in the standing position. When this character "stands" on a single horizontal stroke that represents the ground, the resulting kanji literally means "standing upright." Obviously, the creation of this ideograph was inspired by an image of a human standing tall on the ground.



Futa, a 2-year-old male lesser panda at Chiba Zoological Park, is attracting attention for standing erect like a human. As soon as he was introduced on television and in newspapers, reports started coming in from zoos in Nagano, Fukui, Hiroshima and Kochi prefectures that also have animals that can stand on their hind legs. A zoo in Aomori Prefecture even boasts a standing sea otter.


Standing upright is apparently not a big deal for lesser pandas, although not many are known to maintain that posture for as long as Futa. Seeing a picture of him standing tall, people seem to feel the stirring of something almost primordial in the deepest recesses of their memory.


Nobody remembers the very first time they stood up as toddlers. But we are somehow reminded of that moment when we unexpectedly see a four-legged animal stand on its hind legs. Or perhaps this experience evokes something in our primordial, collective human memory of the time our ancestors began walking erect.


It lightens the heart momentarily to imagine animals standing on their hind legs in many places. Even though this may not be their normal or natural behavior in the wild, it is still a comforting sight in our otherwise not-so-nice world.


The quizzical and innocent look on Futa's face, as if surprised by this sudden attention, is really cute. But I also feel a twinge of sadness.


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

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2005年5月30日 (月)

How to remember those killed in the last war?


How to remember those killed in the last war?


From planning to completion, it took 17 years before the Berlin Holocaust Memorial finally opened this month in the German capital.



Located near the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin, the memorial forms a sprawling maze of 2,711 dark gray stone slabs that represent tombstones.


German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder attended the May 10 opening ceremony.

The massive memorial, which serves as a stark reminder of that dreadful period of Germany's history, is also close to the Federal Parliament Building and the Federal Chancellery.

The neighborhood may be considered the German equivalent of the Nagatacho district in Tokyo.

The choice of such a location seems to indicate the German resolve to face up to, and condemn, the sheer enormity of the crimes against humanity that were perpetrated by Nazi Germany.


Controversy raged when the memorial was in its planning stages: Who was the monument for? Who should it be dedicated to?

It was ultimately decided that the memorial should be dedicated to the more than 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, except that none of them would be identified by name.

Not far away from the new memorial is another, called Neue Wache in Germany, which is dedicated to the war dead of all nationalities and backgrounds.


It has a plaque outside that says: ``We remember all peoples who suffered in war. We remember their citizens who were persecuted and lost their lives. We remember all the soldiers who lost their lives in world wars and the innocent people who lost their lives because of the consequences of war at home, in captivity, and during the expulsion ... .''

A Japanese translation of this text is credited to Morio Minami in a Kinohanasha Publishing Co. book, titled ``Kokuritsu Tsuito Shisetsu o Kangaeru'' (About national memorials) and edited by Nobumasa Tanaka.

 入り口脇に追悼文が掲げられている。「我々は追悼する、戦争によって苦しんだ諸国民を……迫害され、命を失った その市民たちを。我々は追悼する、世界戦争の戦没兵士たちを……戦争と戦争の結果によって 故郷において、また捕虜となって、そして追放の際に命を落とした罪なき人々を……」(南守夫訳/田中伸尚編『国立追悼施設を考える』樹花舎)。

As is obvious from the plaque, the Neue Wache remembers all people who died in war-never mind their nationality, ethnicity or whether they were combatants.

They were all victims of utterly deplorable acts.

Inside this facility is a bronze sculpture of a mother holding her dead son. He is naked, just like on the day she gave him birth.

It will soon be the 60th summer since Japan lost World War II. It is time for us to truly open ourselves to the question: How do we want to remember that war and the people who died during, and as a result of, that war?


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

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2005年5月27日 (金)

Shameless bid-rigging shows collusion culture


Shameless bid-rigging shows collusion culture


There are songs that fill me with nostalgia, even though I have no personal knowledge of the era when they were hugely popular.

One such song is ``Tonarigumi'' (Neighbors) that begins with the refrain ``Ton Ton Tonkarari.'' (This is a meaningless phrase meant to provide rhythm.)



A parody of the song later came out. For a while, it served as a song of unity for a bid-rigging organization. Its English translation is as follows: ``Ton Ton Tonkarari/ Welcome to Doyo-kai (Saturday club)/ When you open the door/ You see only familiar people/ Please circulate this information/ So that all members know what to know.

 その替え歌が、一時は「談合ソング」になっていた。「トントントンカラリと土曜会/扉を開ければ顔なじみ/まわしてちょうだい このニュース/知らせられたり 知らせたり」

Doyo-kai, the bid-rigging organization, was comprised of general contractors with offices in Saitama Prefecture. In 1992, the Fair Trade Commission accused the club of violating the Anti-Monopoly Law and warned it to end its collusive practices.

The parody was printed in a booklet issued by the Saitama Doyo-kai to commemorate its 15th anniversary. An editor's note introduced it as the work of a club member. In the book, a note said: ``Please enjoy singing this parody by following the tunes of `Tonarigumi' that was played on NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corp.) radio.''

This is revealed in a book titled ``Dokyumento Saitama Doyo-kai Dango,'' (Documentary on bid-rigging by Saitama Doyo-kai), written by Toshio Tajima and Hiroshi Yamaguchi about the bid-rigging organization's activities in Saitama Prefecture. It was published by Toyo Keizai Shinpo Sha.


The surprising thing about the parody is its nonchalant tone and its utter lack of a sense of guilt about bid-rigging.

The disbandment of Doyo-kai in Saitama did not change the fact that Japan is a country steeped in bid-rigging. Now, public prosecutors are investigating a massive bid-rigging case involving the construction of bridges for the national government.

 あっけらかんとして、談合という意識も、後ろ めたさも見られない。土曜会は解散したが、談合社会の根は深く、今度は、国の橋梁(きょうりょう)工事の談合事件で、検察が捜査を進めている。

The word bridge conjures up many images. For example, a bridge provides you with a link between one location and another. At the same time, it can cause you to think about the past and the future. Standing at the foot of a bridge, one can feel nostalgic at the thought of people crossing it in years gone by.

But bridges change into a wellspring of suspicion once you know they are the products of rigged procedures.


The parody also includes lines about ``deals made for you or vice versa'' and ``being helped by others or vice versa.''

Considering the persistence of bid-rigging in this country, it seems as if there were invisible bridges linking general contractors to the national and local governments from which they get orders-or to the political world.

 替え歌には、こんなくだりもある。「まとめられたり まとめたり」「助けられたり 助けたり」。この国で、しぶとく続く談合を思うと、業界と、発注元の国や自治体、あるいは政界との間には、見えない橋が架けられているかのようだ。

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

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Red lights alone won't deter drunken drivers


Red lights alone won't deter drunken drivers


There is nothing unusual about the sight of mothers pushing baby carriages at pedestrian crossings. I sometimes see the scene on my way to work.

For their safety, the women depend on the rule that requires motorists to stop when the traffic signal is red.



In Tagajo, Miyagi Prefecture, a sports utility vehicle, apparently with a drunken man at the wheel, ran into a line of senior high school freshmen crossing a national highway on Sunday, killing three students. The driver in question ignored the most basic rule of the road: to stop when the traffic signal at the crossing is flashing red, and the pedestrian crossing light is green.


How can pedestrians protect themselves against drivers who ignore red traffic signals?

Going to the other side by a pedestrian bridge-sometimes jokingly referred to as hisatsukyo (a bridge to avoid getting killed)-is often too much of an exertion for the elderly. Besides, pedestrian bridges are not always available.

The only viable option may be a common-sense one: Even when a green crossing light comes on, look right and left for safety, waiting until a vehicle likely to break the rules passes.


In recent years, penalties have been stiffened for those who cause traffic accidents while driving drunk. But I think we need even stiffer measures to prevent accidents. For example, revoking licenses not just for drunken driving but also for driving under the influence of alcohol would be a good idea.

I even dream of the development of a car whose engine would automatically become unworkable if it detected the smell of alcohol on the driver's breath.


The site of the traffic accident in Tagajo is near the trail taken by great haiku poet Matsuo Basho on his 1689 walking trip through northeastern Japan, known as ``Oku no Hosomichi'' (The Narrow Road to the Deep North).

The national highway where the accident occurred has been widened since Basho's days.

But I see a deeper problem: Motor vehicles now have kingly status on roads in this country, taking up too much space and relegating pedestrians to narrow lanes.


In her junior high school graduation essay, one of the 15-year-old victims supposed herself to be 18 and asked, ``What are you doing now?'' The youngsters were just walking across a highway for a school event. The crossing light was green, but their futures came to a halt in an instant.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 24(IHT/Asahi: May 25,2005)

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2005年5月24日 (火)

Elderly need warm-up to face food hazards


Elderly need warm-up to face food hazards


The figure 8,570 bothers Yoshiharu Mukai, a professor at the Showa University School of Dentistry. This is the number of people who choked on food and died during 2003.



That's more than 20 people a day, and most of them were 65 or older. Mukai specializes in oral hygiene and rehabilitation. ``Aging causes muscles in your mouth to deteriorate,'' he said. ``This prevents the proper swallowing of food. The food ends up getting into and blocking the trachea.''


Mochi, the gooey rice cake eaten during the New Year's holidays, is the first thing I associate with choking on food. But mochi is definitely not the only hazard. According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Fire Department, ambulances respond to cases of choking all year.

A department official told me about a recent case. A man in his 80s fell unconscious while having a bowl of ramen noodles in a Tokyo eatery. An ambulance rushed to the scene, where a medic checked the old man and used a specially designed pair of tongs to dislodge a boiled quail's egg. The man regained consciousness before long.


``It's actually ordinary side dishes that are the most dangerous, more so than rice or mochi. In fact, mochi is the least dangerous of the three,'' the official noted. In other words, any food improperly swallowed can pose a potential hazard to the elderly.


In Nagoya, a nursing home for the elderly was taken to court for serving konnyaku and hanpen for a meal. The former has a tough, gummy texture, and the latter clings to the inside of the mouth like a foamy sponge.

A 75-year-old resident, who was being fed these items by a staff member, choked to death. The court ordered the home to pay damages to the man's family, noting that anyone should know the risk of serving these items to the elderly. The nursing home appealed. The case was settled at an appeal court last month.


Mukai recommends that older people do a little ``oral workout'' before they eat-a combination of movements including opening the mouth wide and then shutting it, and sticking out the tongue as far as it will go.

``It's a stretching exercise for your mouth,'' Mukai said.

I tried it, and when I opened my mouth really wide, I felt I was all ready to tuck into my meal.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 23(IHT/Asahi: May 24,2005)

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2005年5月23日 (月)

Much more to a name than meets the eye


Much more to a name than meets the eye


I once visited the office of a professional creator of brand names. The office was in an apartment building, and the only people allowed in as a rule were employees of the contracting companies. This was to prevent nosy people from entering and pinching ideas if they were on a computer screen.



Assuming someone did break in to steal a "name," would he or she bother with a brand name such as NPO (nonprofit organization) or Volunteer?

Wouldn't it be too commonplace to catch anyone's attention as a new product name? Surely such names would be overlooked.


The Japan Patent Office has decided to cancel the brand name registration for NPO and Volunteer, after having approved them for Kadokawa Holdings Inc.

The cancellation was prompted by objections filed by NPOs questioning the registration of these commonly used words for commercial purposes.


Explaining its decision, the patent office noted, "In view of the public interest, it is not appropriate to allow a certain party to have the exclusive right to use those words." This was obviously not what the office was thinking when it approved the registration, but anyway this is an interesting case of how brand names should be dealt with today.


The Japan Patent Office Web site lists some examples of brand names that cannot be registered. For shoe repairers, for instance, Shoe Repair is out; for pencil makers, it's One Dozen; De-luxe for automakers; Mountain Climbing for shoe makers; and Self-Service for eating and drinking establishments.

The Web site explains: "These are all names by which one's product or service cannot be distinguished from another's."


A brand name can make a huge difference in product sales.

My visit to the brand name creator's office was more than 10 years ago, but the creator said fees could be as hefty as several million yen per name.


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

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2005年5月20日 (金)

Safety should be the chief destination


Safety should be the chief destination


In railway jargon, people who set train service schedules are called suji-ya, or line men, because the progress of trains from station to station is represented in diagonal lines on the train timetable, according to ``Miyawaki Shunzo Taiwa-shu: Daiya Kaisei no Hanashi'' (Dialogues with Shunzo Miyawaki: On revising train timetables), a book from Chuo Shoin.



The author goes on to introduce other examples of railway lingo, such as suji wo tateru (to sharpen the slant) and suji wo nekasu (to blunt the sharp)-the former meaning to increase the train's speed and the latter to slow it down.

After years of intensive ``slant sharpening,'' West Japan Railway Co. recently announced that from now on, it will do the opposite on its rapid train services on all major lines in the Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe region.

The decision came with the realization that the company's extremely tight timetables could cause drivers to recklessly speed up on lines where delays were already becoming routine.


This, of course, had much to do with the recent disaster in Amagasaki, but I must say the switch is long overdue.

Some passengers may not be at all happy with the inconvenience this will create. However, I believe this is the only way to prevent another tragedy.


Recently, I wrote in this column of Amagasaki Station's timetable which had 40 trains bound for Osaka and Kyoto between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. I said this schedule seemed terribly congested because even Tokyo's busy Yamanote Line offered less than 30 runs within the same period.

But, the Yamanote Line is double-tracked, whereas the Amagasaki Line is quadruple-tracked and therefore, in terms of the operating schedule, the latter is in fact not as congested as I had thought.


Still, I have always felt that commuter trains in Tokyo run at impossibly close intervals. And even though the schedule in Amagasaki is comparably ``relaxed,'' it still feels to me to be pretty tight.


I guess you just can't really help rush-hour congestion in any metropolis, including the Kansai region. But there has to be a limit. I urge other mass transit operators to take another look at their timetables and see if there are any ``slants'' that could be made less steep.


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

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2005年5月19日 (木)

The race for `moving ads' that beckon tourists


The race for `moving ads' that beckon tourists


I'm always surprised to see a car with a distant place name on its licence plate. Surely, you remember staring at the name, wondering about the car's obvious trip from afar.

Starting next spring, such wonder is likely to shift to a desire to visit the place shown on the licence plate. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport plans to increase the number of area names to be shown on the plates.



A succession of well-known tourist spots have announced plans to have their names embossed on license plates. The ``Welcome to'' place names listed on applications include ``Sendai'' (Miyagi Prefecture), ``Aizu'' (Fukushima Prefecture), ``Kanazawa'' (Ishikawa Prefecture), ``Izu'' (short for the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture), ``Suwa'' (Nagano Prefecture), ``Kurashiki'' (Okayama Prefecture), and ``Shimonoseki'' (Yamaguchi Prefecture).

The benefit is obvious: The presence of tourist-spot place names on license plates will serve as ``moving ads.''

Elsewhere, there is enthusiasm about having ``Toyota'' (the heartland of the automobile industry in Aichi Prefecture) and ``Suzuka'' (known for the Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture) as place names on licence plates.

The same thing can be said about ``Sakai'' (Osaka Prefecture) and ``Kawagoe'' (Saitama Prefecture).


The practice began about 50 years ago. The names were taken from the locations where land-transportation bureaus, which issue license plates, had their offices. What names to put on the plates was in effect up to the bureaucrats to decide.


The whole thing changed 11 years ago when ``Shonan'' (the coastal area of Kanagawa Prefecture) was approved after a grass-roots campaign. It set off a wave of efforts to have regional names used as a way to foster better images.

The tide of the times-the devolution of authority to the provinces-has worked in favor of bids for new place names.

Last year, the transport ministry set standards for approving new place names. For example, the standards stipulate a new place name for a close-knit region with more than one city, town or village, can be used where more than 100,000 automobiles are registered.

Referring to the standards, ministry officials have told the Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectural governments that their wishes to see ``Fujisan'' (Mount Fuji) on license plates are difficult to meet because the mountain straddles the prefectural border.

In Nagano Prefecture, the bids of two adjoining municipalities to have either ``Karuizawa'' or ``Saku'' approved are falling through because each insists on having its way and because the number of automobiles does not meet the standards.

Despite these hurdles, about 20 applications are expected to be filed before the deadline set for May 31.


The question now is how the ministry proposes to pick new place names from among them, given its position that ``only a few names will be chosen for the initial year because a new budget appropriation is required to reorganize the computer system to admit new plates.''

Striking a regional balance and the enthusiasm of supporters are among the factors that go into the ministry's deliberations aimed at reaching informal decisions this summer.


I have a proposal here: Why not take the plunge and pick winners by lots?

How much supporters love their native places is a matter that cannot be graded, certainly not by bureaucratic reasoning.


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

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2005年5月18日 (水)

Another global threat: Looming `water wars'


Another global threat: Looming `water wars'


The 19th-century Romanian national poet Mihai Eminescu once praised the constancy of the Danube. He wrote that the river flows the same way, if the weather is good or bad, unlike human beings whose inconstancy sends them roaming the Earth. (From a compendium of the world's great poems, published by Heibonsha.)



Originating in Germany's Black Forest, the Danube meanders for nearly 2,900 kilometers through Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania until it empties into the Black Sea. Japanese meteorologists predict the amount of water in the waterway will diminish by more than 20 percent by the end of this century.

The prediction is among findings of a study in which researchers attempted to forecast how climate change brought on by global warming will affect the volume of water flowing in the world's great rivers.


From ancient times, civilizations sprung up around major rivers. According to the study, the Euphrates river in Mesopotamia, Iraq will have about 40 percent reduced water flow.

On the other hand, gains of 10 to 15 percent are forecast for the Nile, the Ganges and China's Yellow River.


Sometimes, we hear warnings that a mass scramble for limited water resources worldwide could spark ``water wars.''

In Japan, which doesn't have major water arteries like the Danube, which flow through several countries, the looming crisis may feel like someone else's affair.

But just consider how much water is consumed to commercialize the vast quantities of foodstuffs and industrial products that are imported by Japan.

It doesn't take much to see that the looming crisis will also affect Japan in a big way.


In his poem, Eminescu went on to praise things that remain unchanged, existing as they were in ancient times. In this regard, he cites the sea, rivers, towns, the wilderness, the moon and the sun, and forests and spring.


Sad to say, the era in which we could believe in the everlasting immutability of Mother Earth and big rivers has passed. The time has come for nations to pledge across borders that they will refrain from altering nature without justification.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 17(IHT/Asahi: May 18,2005)

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2005年5月17日 (火)

A recollection of two canaries and a tragedy


A recollection of two canaries and a tragedy


When I think back 10 years ago to May 16, I flash back to an afterimage of two yellow canaries. The image is so fleeting, I don't even know if I can call it a scrap of memory.



Investigators in camouflage fatigues and gas masks walked in procession, and the birds in the cages were at the front of the line. The fragility and defenselessness of those little birds contrasted sharply with the men's heavily protective outfits.


About two months before, deadly sarin nerve gas had been sprayed in Tokyo's subway system. The investigators were taking no chances.

That was why they took the canaries along, just like coal miners of yore used such birds as detectors of toxic gases.

It was a bizarre and ominous sight, quite alien to our day-to-day lives.


Wondering what became of the two canaries, I did some research and learned they were already dead and had been given a decent burial.

Their grave is under a four-decade-old somei yoshino cherry tree in the front garden of the Metropolitan Police Department's No. 3 Kidotai (riot police unit) headquarters in Tokyo's Meguro Ward.

Near the grave is a monument fashioned from a rock brought back from the investigation site. Engraved on it are the names of 360 police investigators who took part in that expedition.

It also includes the words: ``Two canaries.''


In the summer of that year, the canaries had a chick. The investigators cherished it dearly and named it Peace, praying for a peaceful society in which the baby canary would never have to be used as a toxic-gas detector.


On the morning of May 16, 1995, Chizuo Matsumoto, the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, was arrested on suspicion of murder. The cult has since renamed itself. The village of Kamikuishiki in Yamanashi Prefecture, where Aum had its sprawling headquarters, will cease to exist next spring when it will be split and merge with the city of Kofu and the town Fuji Kawaguchiko.

But although time has passed and the name of the village will soon disappear, Aum's crimes will not fade from people's memories.

In my case, it comes back in the form of an afterimage of the two canaries.


-The Asahi Shimbun, May 16(IHT/Asahi: May 17,2005)

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2005年5月16日 (月)

List of rich people a treasure for the curious


List of rich people a treasure for the curious


Around this time of year, tax offices across the nation receive this frantic request: ``Please do not disclose my name on your list of top taxpayers.'' These are among 70,000 to 80,000 people who get on the annual choja banzuke (ranked list of millionaires).



Even those who have nothing to do with the list are nervous about how their personal information is handled. The rich have all the more reason to be afraid of their privacy being divulged. Once their names are on the list, they could attract loads of unsolicited mail, or worse yet, burglars and robbers to their homes. Their fears are not unfounded.


When did the publication of these lists of millionaires begin? Eisuke Ishikawa, an expert on the history of publishing, says they were already being cranked out in the latter half of the Edo Era (1603-1867), and the masses lapped them up.

There is actually a classic rakugo comic story by the title of ``Choja Banzuke.'' In one scene, a citizen of old Edo (present-day Tokyo) sees a list posted outside a sake brewery in the boonies and starts lecturing the gathered country bumpkins on ``the Konoike of the west'' and ``the Mitsui of the east''-two wealthy clans in Japan.


The prototype of the current top taxpayers' list was created around the time the Konoike and the Mitsui zaibatsu business conglomerates were being disbanded under Allied occupation after World War II. A system was simultaneously introduced to reward anyone who ratted on tax dodgers, so that the list came to be known as a powerful aid for authorities ferreting out tax cheaters. The reward system was eventually abolished, but the practice of publishing the list remained.


``Nihon no Okanemochi Kenkyu'' (Study of Japan's rich people), a book that came out this spring from Nihon Keizai Shimbun-sha, is a tour de force that researched the behavior of listed people with annual incomes in excess of 100 million yen.


Toshiaki Tachibanaki, the author and professor of economics at Kyoto University, sent a questionnaire to 6,000 survey subjects around the nation two years ago. Many told him to mind his own business, while others thought it was a scam.

Still, Tachibanaki received valid responses from 465 subjects. ``I won their interest and cooperation when I promised to share my detailed survey results,'' he noted. ``Everyone is curious about other people's finances.'' The same human psychology must keep the ranking list alive to this day.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 8(IHT/Asahi: May 16,2005)

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2005年5月14日 (土)

Nihon or Nippon: Which has a better ring to it?


Nihon or Nippon: Which has a better ring to it?


A jam-packed subway train pulled into a station. An elderly woman walking with a cane got on the train. A middle-aged man stood up at once and offered her his seat. The woman nodded her thanks and sat down.

I thought to myself, ``Japan isn't such a bad place after all.'' And then I began wondering which pronunciation is correct-Nihon or Nippon-when referring to my country in Japanese language.



Whether it's Nihon or Nippon was the subject of a recent survey, the results of which were published by the National Institute for Japanese Language, among others. The survey looked at how about 1,400 people pronounced more than 7 million words. It turns out most people say Nihon rather than Nippon.

Even with expressions that can be pronounced either way, such as Nihon-ichi (No. 1 in Japan) and Nihon daihyo (Japan representative), only about 20 percent said Nippon-ichi and Nippon daihyo. And 96 percent pronounced the country name as Nihon.


``Our nation shall be called Nippon,'' said the headline of a 1934 Asahi Shimbun story about the Japanese language council of the then Education Ministry. The council had proclaimed Nippon the official name of the nation. However, there was no legal requirement for anyone to stick only to Nippon.

It is 60 years now since the Great Japanese Empire was renamed just plain Japan. The institute's survey indicates that Nihon has become the established pronunciation.


Except for expressions in which Nippon is the correct pronunciation by usage, Nihonkokugo Daijiten (Comprehensive Japanese dictionary) lists all entries as Nihon. One of the exceptions is the Bank of Japan, which is listed as Nippon Ginko. In fact, these words are imprinted in Roman letters on the back of every bank note.

 『日本国語大辞典』では、特に「ニッポン」とよみならわされているものを除き、すべて「ニホン」にまとめている。「ニッポン」の項の一つに日本銀行がある。紙幣の裏は今も「NIPPON GINKO」だ。

Back to the subway. When I surfaced from my subway station to street level, I heard loud honking from a car. Apparently, another car was starting to go the wrong way on a one-way road. The car's young driver was visibly flustered, but a man in worker's overalls called out orai, orai (all right, all right) and helped the driver back up and steer into a side road. The young driver bowed in gratitude before he drove away.


``Japan isn't such a bad place after all,'' I thought again. And for no reason, the thought popped in my mind that while Nihon is probably how I should refer to my country, Nippon-jin can also have a very pleasant ring to it when I talk about nice, decent Japanese citizens.


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

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War is too important to subcontract


War is too important to subcontract


Novelist Kuninobu Noro, who died at a relatively young 42, won the Akutagawa Prize (a literary prize) for "Kusa no Tsurugi" (Swords of grass), a novel based on his experiences in the Ground Self-Defense Force.

In one scene, Noro describes a field with the blades of grass poking up like upside-down swords, stretching endlessly ahead of the young GSDF troops who crawled on their bellies with rifle in hand.



He goes on: "A green substance, hard and sharp and supple, obstructs my progress, rejects me, accepts me, drains my will to resist and energizes me." The novel is included in "Noro Kuninobu Sakuhin-shu" (Collected works of Kuninobu Noro, Bungei Shunju). In it, Noro recounts his life in the GSDF when he was around 20 years old-describing things that can be experienced only in the army.


Akihiko Saito, missing since he was apparently kidnapped in Iraq earlier this week, also entered the GSDF at around that age. In high school, Saito told his friends he wanted to join the French Foreign Legion, and he eventually did. Perhaps he saw the GSDF as a stepping stone to that dream.


For years, Saito did not contact his family. When he was attacked and abducted, he had reportedly just finished transporting equipment from Baghdad to a U.S. base in his job as a security officer for a British security firm. Even though he must have been fully aware of the danger of working in Iraq, I can find no words when I imagine what he must have felt facing that life-threatening situation.


The business of war has expanded in recent years, with private companies taking on jobs that are normally done by governments. According to Peter Warren Singer, the author of "Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry," there were about 20,000 private-sector soldiers in Iraq last summer-practically as many as all the multinational troops combined, excluding U.S. troops. (A Japanese translation of Singer's book is published under the title of "Senso Ukeoi Kaisha" by NHK Shuppan.)


Singer laments the absence of rules and controls over the private military industry, and he warns that the 21st century world may need this new aphorism: "War is too important to subcontract to the private sector."


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

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2005年5月12日 (木)

Bush revisits Yalta summit, with remorse


Bush revisits Yalta summit, with remorse


Speaking in Latvia, U.S. President George W. Bush effectively voiced regret over the outcome of the summit held at Yalta 60 years ago.



The summit, held in February 1945 in the Black Sea port city, brought together British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. They discussed the international order to emerge after the end of World War II.

The end of the war was in sight when the leaders got together.


Bush said powerful countries negotiated the postwar international order, but they sacrificed the freedom of small countries.

The words he used-negotiations by big countries and the freedom of small countries-remind me of Churchill's trip to Moscow four months before Yalta.

The time was ripe, Churchill wrote in his book on World War II, published in Japanese by Kawade Shobo Shinsha.

In his meeting with Stalin, Churchill proposed a plan to settle the Balkan issue. He scribbled figures on a piece of paper and handed it over to the dictator.

The Churchill plan read: ``90 percent for Russia in Romania, 10 percent for other countries ... 50-50 percent in Yugoslavia ... 75 percent for Russia in Bulgaria, 25 percent for other countries.''

The figures spelled out how the powerful countries were to share their say and primacy in the small countries.

Stalin signaled his consent by drawing a big circle on the piece of paper with a blue pencil.

 「強国の交渉」と「小国の自由」からは、ヤルタ会談の4カ月前のチャーチル英首相のモスクワ訪問を思い起こす。「機は熟していた」と、チャーチルは『第二次世界大戦』(河出書房新社)に記している。スターリンに「バルカンの問題を解決しようではないか」と告げ、紙に数字を書いて渡す。「ルーマニア ロシア90% 他国10%/……ユーゴスラビア 50-50%/……ブルガリア ロシア75% 他国25%」。スターリンは青鉛筆で紙に大きな印をつけ、同意を示した。

 数字は、強国が小国で保つべき発言力 や優位性の度合いだったという。

After a long silence, Churchill proposed burning this incriminating evidence. He said he feared that if his way to deal with an issue that affected the fate of millions of people appeared to have been too casual, he might be seen as a callous leader.

Stalin told Churchill that he should keep it.

 長い沈黙の後に、チャーチルが口を開いた。「何百万の人々の運命に関する問題を、こんな無造作なやり方で処理してしまったようにみえると、かなり冷笑的に思われはしないだろうか? この紙は焼いてしまいましょう」。「いや、取っておきなさい」とスターリンは言った。

Bush, with the benefit of hindsight, noted that the agreement reached at Yalta had resulted in placing Eastern Europe under Soviet occupation. He touched on America's historic responsibility for the outcome of the summit.

All this was partly intended to deter the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin amid backlashes from the Baltic and Eastern European nations over Soviet rule.


I wonder how the voice of regret, uttered by an American president 60 years after the summit at Yalta, sounded to Roosevelt and Churchill, in their graves?


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

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2005年5月11日 (水)

Time to brake merciless quest for convenience


Time to brake merciless quest for convenience


On a recent trip to the scene of last month's train disaster, I took a look at a West Japan Railway Co. timetable at Amagasaki Station in Hyogo Prefecture.

The schedule listed 13 train runs for the hour starting at 8 a.m., going to Osaka destinations like Kita-Shinchi. The train that jumped the rails was running on the same line. I counted 40 runs on the line bound for Osaka Station and Kyoto Station.

It struck me that since the comparative figure for Tokyo's circular Yamanote Line was well below 30, JR West is running a pretty tight operation.



With its train schedules criticized as too tight, the company says it plans to reconsider them as part of its efforts to assure safe operations.

If this means reducing train runs on the main lines, it will be the first downsizing undertaken since JR West was set up as a spin off from the state-run Japanese National Railways, which was broken up into private companies in 1987.

It has taken an accident that killed 107 people to motivate the company to apply the brakes on its policy of ``more and faster trains.''


Perhaps our society's unceasing quest for greater convenience also needs to be braked.

The kanji for ben means ``whipping people into docility to make them serviceable,'' according to Shizuka Shirakawa's Jito etymological dictionary for Chinese characters. Hence the meanings of words we usually use, like benri (convenience) and bengi (facility). Benben means doing obediently as told.


Also whipping up criticism for JR West is the revelation that employees went ahead with planned recreational events, such as a bowling tournament and a staff party, after the accident.

Planned events are just that-planned to take place- and they do unless something happens that applies the brakes.


If something extraordinary happens, senior officials should consider what to do and slam the brakes, if necessary. At JR West, the brakes were applied quite gently or did not exist.

Sad to say, benben is the epithet that applies to the way many employees of the railway company behaved, including the two drivers who were aboard the derailed train, but went on to work instead of participating in the rescue of injured passengers.


Following the train derailment, some people have placed rocks and bicycles on railroad tracks across the country, as if to vent their anger at the accident or play on the uncertainty felt over rail travel. This is an outrageous way to react to this disaster.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 10(IHT/Asahi: May 11,2005)

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2005年5月10日 (火)

College kids too `cool' for bilingual dictionaries


College kids too `cool' for bilingual dictionaries


The holiday-studded Golden Week is over, and university campuses came back to life Monday. Classes that began last month will soon go into full swing.



In the past, taking a course in a second foreign language, such as French or German, made one feel like a full-fledged university student intellectually reaching out for something beyond English, which was the only foreign language required in high school. But times are changing. In fact, some universities are doing away with the second language requirement.


An acquaintance who teaches Spanish at a private university in Tokyo told me that each year he notices more and more students don't own a dictionary. He recommends several dictionaries at the start of the course, but when he asked his class during the third lesson this year how many had followed his advice, only three among the 30 students answered that they had purchased a dictionary.

It used to be common sense for anyone studying a foreign language to purchase at least one dictionary. For today's students, the main reasons cited for not getting a dictionary are said to be: ``too expensive,'' ``too heavy (to carry around)'' and ``too much of a bother to look words up.''


A veteran instructor at another private university recounted an episode that took place 10 years ago. When he permitted his students to bring dictionaries to a French-to-Japanese translation test he was giving, one student brought not only a French-Japanese dictionary, but also a Japanese dictionary. The student explained he needed the latter to make sure his Japanese translations were perfect. This kind of episode is history.


The foreign-languages section of any bookstore today is crammed with copies of flimsy books bearing titles that promise no-sweat mastery of languages in a matter of days. Not surprisingly, these crash-course books skip grammar. But they are snapped up by students who don't buy dictionaries.


Perhaps it is not ``cool'' today to even attempt to read a foreign language book with the aid of a dictionary. But patient effort is basic to becoming proficient in a foreign language, and this will never change.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 9(IHT/Asahi: May 10,2005)

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2005年5月 9日 (月)

May gives us something to sneeze about


May gives us something to sneeze about


An attraction known as ``Satsuki to Mei no Ie'' (Satsuki and Mei's house) is said to be pulling in quite a crowd at Expo 2005 Aichi. It is a faithful reproduciton of the 1950s home in which two sisters supposedly lived in ``Tonari no Totoro'' (My Neighbor Totoro), an internationally acclaimed animation film by Hayao Miyazaki.



According to ``Shosetsu Tonari no Totoro'' (My neighbor Totoro-the novel), a pocketbook based on the movie, the girls move into the home one May morning. The sisters ride in a pickup truck with a pile of furniture and other belongings their father has loaded. The father sings in a chirpy voice: ``It's May and I'm moving May and May (the names of both girls can be translated into English as May).'' This is a delightfully light-hearted scene, but it ended up on the cutting-room floor.


In another scene from the book, Mei gazes at a huge camphor tree in the garden and suddenly sneezes when the sunlight hits her eyes.

It is around this time of the year, when hints of summer begin to be felt, that it is not uncommon for people to sneeze when they raises their heads skyward. It is not cold anymore, so why does this happen?


Satosi Nonaka, an associate professor of otolaryngology at Asahikawa Medical College, says it is caused by a ``malfunction of the nerves.''

Nonaka explains that when the eye reacts to an intense light, it sends a message to the brain, but the message somehow gets redirected as if it came from the nose.


Some people also sneeze when emerging from a dark movie theater into broad daylight. According to Nonaka, about 20 to 30 percent of people have what is known in the United States as the ``Achoo Syndrome,'' which is not a serious problem.

The sneezing sound in Japanese is hakushon, but it is achoo to English speakers.


I asked The Asahi Shimbun's overseas bureaus' staffs what the equivalents are in other cultures. I was told it is echui in South Korea, atchoum in France, apchkhi in Russia and hatchi in Egypt. A sneeze is a universal human reflex, but it produces many different sounds indeed.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 1(IHT/Asahi: May 9,2005)

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2005年5月 7日 (土)

What sort of nation does Japan want to be?


What sort of nation does Japan want to be?


On my ride back to Tokyo by Shinkansen from the Osaka-Kobe area, I opened a book published by FOIL titled ``Eiga Nihon-koku Kenpo Dokuhon'' (Primer on the movie ``Japan's Peace Constitution'').

This somewhat odd title needs explaining.


 阪神方面から帰京する新幹線で、『「映画 日本国憲法」読本』(フォイル)を開いた。この妙なタイトルには多少の説明が要る。

In late April, a preview was held in Tokyo of the documentary ``Japan's Peace Constitution,'' by John Junkerman. The film is based on interviews with a number of internationally acclaimed intellectuals on their thoughts about the Constitution.

About 700 people were present for the first screening. But 100 more had to be turned away because it was a full house. I watched it standing.

 4月下旬、東京で「映画 日本国憲法」(ジャン・ユンカーマン監督)の上映会があった。日本国憲法について世界の知識人が語るドキュメンタリーで、初回に約700人が来場した。当方は立ち見だったが、100人ほどが入れなかったという。

The ``primer'' was compiled from the movie.

Among those interviewed was John Dower, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of ``Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II.''

Dower observed that, ``Japan is a fine country, but it lacked the courage to speak with its own voice and clearly express any idea different from America's ... . If Japan wants to become an `ordinary country' like America, what a frightening prospect that is at this present moment ... since America is becoming a more militaristic society than ever.''


In Japan, public sentiment seems to be leaning toward revising the Constitution.

True, the status of the Self-Defense Forces is anything but spelled out in the Constitution. But there has been no serious debate on, say, the enormity of the consequences of Japan telling the world it intends to maintain full-fledged armed forces.


In this day and age, the United States has the power to change the future of the world, including Japan. Our relationship with the United States is surely an urgent matter .

Our priority should be to decide what sort of a nation we want to be, not to rush into amending the Constitution.


The bullet train I was riding was filled with families with young children. There appeared to be no parents who even thought about the possibility that their child might someday become a soldier in the future and go to a battlefield in a foreign land.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 5(IHT/Asahi: May 7,2005)

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Saying a prayer for slain reporter, free press


Saying a prayer for slain reporter, free press


At The Asahi Shimbun Hanshin Bureau, the editorial room where a reporter was slain 18 years ago is located on the second floor.

Every time I go there, I pause on the stairs, sensing an air of odiousness left behind by the killer-unknown and still at large-who climbed the steps shortly after 8 p.m. on May 3, 1987, with a shotgun in hand.



There is a little altar against the wall at the back of the newsroom. A photograph of Tomohiro Kojiri, the staff reporter who was shot to death, sits at the altar.

Even though the statute of limitations for the murder has run out, there is no such limitation on rueful remembrances.

During my visit, my anger at the crime came back as I offered a prayer at the altar.


With my hands clasped in prayer, I thought about the freedom of speech, recalling that it was something won by our society after World War II-at the cost of huge sacrifices.

The freedom of speech, I thought, is one of the important checks we have in place so our society and country won't run amok.

We must not let violence bend this rule.


When I visit a local bureau or a larger general regional bureau from The Asahi Shimbun head office, the term genshuku na satogaeri (solemn homecoming) comes to mind.

I know that the way young bureau reporters, back from a round of news-gathering activities, consult with senior reporters or a desk editor remains unchanged from the old days. The newsroom exchanges among staff members-at once severe and nostalgic to me-provide a wellspring of articles at the bureaus.

A local bureau is a newspaper's front line for exchanges with readers on the issues in their local towns. The bureaus make significant contributions to the process of making up tomorrow's still blank pages from scratch.

On the night of the slaying, shells were fired when a newsroom discussion was under way. The sofa where the slain reporter was seated is kept at the Hanshin Bureau. Little damage was done to the sofa because the round that hit him burst inside his body.


A cherry tree stands at the entrance to the building that houses the Hanshin Bureau. Though not tall, the old tree has seen many reporters and other people come and go for a long time. The staff at the bureau hope that the tree will be kept standing even though a new building for the bureau is in the works.


Aboard the Shinkansen I took to return to Tokyo, all the seats were occupied because it was the middle of the Golden Week holidays. I took a book out of my bag to read, a volume dealing with the Constitution that had caught my attention.


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

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Rain at scene of crash felt like victims' tears


Rain at scene of crash felt like victims' tears


It was raining hard when I got off the train at JR West's Amagasaki Station. It was shortly before noon on Sunday. My eyes were drawn to a large statue in front of the station.

It was in memory of Umegawa, the heroine of a joruri ballad drama written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724), who had ties with what would become Amagasaki city, Hyogo Prefecture.



I headed north of the station for the site of the April 25 train derailment disaster. Blue plastic sheets still concealed the first floor garage area of the multistory apartment building that was rammed by the front coaches of the derailed train.

On that day, near where the sheets were hanging, cell phones kept ringing aboard these and other coaches. They presumably were calls from worried families and friends.

The rings were accompanied by two Chinese characters, jitaku (home), on the phones' displays to show where the calls were from.


The apartment building stands so close to the tracks it could easily be mistaken for a railway facility. To drivers negotiating the curve, it must have looked like a huge wall looming ahead. Residents of the building must have lived in fear of being hit by a train. Why is it a protective wall never was built?


Only about 100 meters away, a chunky special express, Kita-Kinki No. 3, was still standing on the down track of the Takarazuka Line. If the driver of the special express had not noticed the signal had turned yellow, it might have slammed into the derailed train.


I paused near the last car of the seven-coach train, watching the rain pound its roof, fall off and then disappear into the ballast. The pouring rain struck me as tears shed by the victims whose futures were cut short just because they happened to board the train and by those who lost their loved ones.

I closed my eyes in prayer.


A stone's throw from the scene of disaster is the Kosaiji temple where Chikamatsu, the dramatist, is buried. He is said to have penned some of his works in his quarters at this temple.

Asahi Shimbun reporter Tomohiro Kojiri wrote about the temple and Chikamatsu while stationed at the newspaper's Hanshin Bureau. On May 3, 1987, a gunman burst into the bureau and opened fire, killing Kojiri and wounding another.

Recalling the incident, I decided that I should pay a visit to the bureau in Nishinomiya, also in Hyogo Prefecture.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 3(IHT/Asahi: May 4,2005)

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2005年5月 4日 (水)

Even just learning to eat can take years


Even just learning to eat can take years


One child shook his head, rejecting the spoon that was brought to his mouth. Another stuck out his tongue. Yet another child spat out the food.



This was another typical day at a ward for children with severe disabilities at the Chiba-East Hospital of the National Hospital Organization. All the youngsters there need assistance when they eat or drink. I had an opportunity to watch a mealtime-training session.


A nurse spoke gently to a child to help him relax. Holding his chin, she slowly made him close his mouth to encourage chewing.

"Eating is not an ability humans are born with," explained Yoshiaki Otsuka, a dentist supervising the training. "It's an ability one acquires by learning, step by step. Disabled kids take a long time to learn."


About 30 years ago, dentists who were trying to maintain the oral hygiene of such children realized how important it was to get them to eat, rather than be fed through a tube.

Chiba-East Hospital became a pioneer in this field, and was awarded the President's Prize from the National Personnel Authority late last year.


"Every parent wants his or her children to have tasty food," said Masako Kitaura, who heads a national group to protect severely disabled children.

Her second son loves eel.

When he gets minced eel, he grins happily and gestures for more because he cannot speak. On the other hand, Kitaura noted, her son dislikes anything sour and raises his functioning left hand to push the food away.


When I phoned Chiba-East Hospital last week, I asked what was for dinner that evening, and was told: "Chicken and green peppers in miso sauce, and eggplants stewed with bacon."

I could picture the kids beaming happily at their favorite dishes.

Some of the patients, however, have been around for more than 30 years.


--The Asahi Shimbun, May 2(IHT/Asahi: May 3,2005)

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Too fixated on blood types to give a donation



Too fixated on blood types to give a donation


After nearly a year, a craze for TV variety shows about the ABO blood groups seems to have finally subsided. At least this spring, we are no longer being inundated with prime-time programs claiming to explain how people's personality and behavior are influenced by their blood types.



Questions have been raised repeatedly since before World War II about pigeonholing people into the four categories of A, B, O and AB blood groups and judging their character traits accordingly. But no matter how often such attempts were dismissed for their dubious scientific worth or criticized for encouraging groundless and biased stereotyping, the subject always resurfaced after a while for avid public consumption.


It would be nothing more than a harmless pastime to guess the blood groups of famous historic figures: Murasaki Shikibu (from around the 11th century) must be A, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) must be O.

In the latest craze, however, type-B people somehow became the target of constant ridicule. In show after show, there were ``experiments'' conducted on entertainment personalities and preschoolers to ``prove'' the personal idiosyncracies of B subjects and deride them.


Between last spring and February this year, as many as 200 complaints were filed with the Broadcasting Ethics and Program Improvement Organization. Many viewers were upset with the TV shows for using the blood groups to pass judgments on people. And concerned parents complained that children were getting into fights because they believed what they watched on TV.

Apparently, many people found the programs offensive even though they knew they were watching them only for mindless entertainment.


The ABO blood groups seem to be a popular subject in South Korea, too, but nowhere else in the world do people lap it up as in Japan. Yet, the public's interest in blood donation is ebbing. About 5.6 million Japanese donate blood annually now, but this number is less than 70 percent of what it was 20 years ago.


Early spring is said to be the leanest season for blood donations, perhaps because this is the start of the fiscal and scholastic years and people are on the move. This year especially, people with pollen allergies seem to be staying away from blood donation centers. To make matters worse, new donation rules will come into effect next month in wake of the recent Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease scare.

The whole nation seems to be anemic this spring. According to the Japanese Red Cross Society, the public's attention never turned to blood donation even at the height of the ABO craze on the boob tube.


--The Asahi Shimbun, April 24(IHT/Asahi: May 2,2005)

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