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2005年7月30日 (土)

Astronauts feeling the `force' in outer space


Astronauts feeling the `force' in outer space


In autumn 1981, I was at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch the launching of the space shuttle Columbia.



At lift-off, a huge ball of dazzling white gold light formed under the rocket's thrusters.

The next moment, the air shuddered and a tremendous shock wave reached the press section at the space center. I can still recall the vibrations that rippled through my body.


Tension, mingled with solemnity, filled the space center. In the eternal flow of time, Earth travels an orbit that has been predetermined by space dynamics, with humanity clinging to its surface. Every shuttle launch represents a dauntless challenge by humanity to break free of that law of space dynamics and trace an orbit of its own design. But some challenges have ended tragically.


On Tuesday, nearly two and a half years after Columbia's midair disintegration on Feb. 1, 2003, the space shuttle Discovery was launched. Among the crew is Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

"It's a dangerous mission, but it is worth the challenge in terms of what could be gained from space and the intellectual stimulation this will give the younger generation," Noguchi noted.


Fifty years ago, Japan test-launched its first domestically built "pencil rocket." What was small and crude half a century ago has now evolved into massive and highly sophisticated spacecraft.

No human endeavor is ever completely error-free. For now, however, all I pray for is that Noguchi and his fellow Discovery crew members will fully enjoy their time in space and return safely when their mission is complete.


One of the Apollo astronauts, reminiscing about his mission to the moon, said something to the effect, "In outer space, there is a `force' that transcends everything. There is neither beginning nor end. All that exists is a `will' that created this wonderful universe."

I wonder if Noguchi has also felt that force in outer space.


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

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2005年7月28日 (木)

Author believed Edo ways best suited Japan

 僕は英辞郎を使って英語を読みまくり、インターネットラジオのNHKのラジオジャパン英語ニュース< /a>で時事英語を聞きまくってます。(^^;また、VOAでヴォイスレコーダーにDLしたMP3音声とテキストも楽しんでます。 参考「こんな感じで英辞郎を使ってます

Author believed Edo ways best suited Japan


By her own account, author Hinako Sugiura, who died last Friday at the age of 46, loved things associated with life during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

She loved kumade (bamboo rakes), yuya (bathhouses), mimikaki (ear picks), shakushi (ladles), kotatsu (foot warmers), kaya (mosquito nets), ohaguro (dyed-black teeth), ohitsu (rice tubs), zukin (hoods), and sugoroku (a Japanese variety of the Parcheesi dice game).

The list is taken from a series of essays Sugiura wrote for a local edition of The Asahi Shimbun under the title of "Inkyo no Hinatabokko" (Basking in the sun after retirement).

It gave readers some ideas about Sugiura's peculiar world-a leisurely, yet sad and potentially dangerous cosmos.

Besides being a manga cartoonist and essayist, she was known for her studies on Edo Period manners and customs.


 くまで ゆや みみかき しゃくし こたつ かや おはぐろ おひつ ずきん すごろく。


Referring to the Edo Period in "Oedo Kanko" (Doing the sights in Edo), a book published by Chikuma Shobo, Sugiura wrote:

"I have no intention of singing the unabashed praises of the modern feudal system (that marked the Edo Period). But it was clearly different from the feudal system that existed in the Japanese medieval period or the European feudal system. I think the modern feudal system in the Edo Period was more open and more orderly. The nation's social structure was better attuned to it.


"I cannot help thinking," she went on to say, "that the lifestyles created during the Edo Period were just the styles that fitted Japan's climate and the characteristics of its people."

Touching on the fact that Japan incessantly waged war after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, she wrote, "The only reason I can think of is that we were overreaching ourselves."

Her belief that overexertion was a universal vice apparently led to her surprise decision to retire as a cartoonist while she was still in her 30s.


In 1988, Sugiura was awarded the Bungei Shunju Cartoon Prize for "Furyu Edo Suzume" (Folks of refined taste in Edo), a series of comic strips dealing with poor but proud men.

She wrote a senryu humorous poem for each segment, and these poems made a sublime combination with the pictures.

I remember two poems, one of which went: "Having nobody to think about/ The person puts up a mosquito net." The other poem read: "Hailed as a hero/ The man can do nothing/ When his wounds smart under falling snow."

As for the pictures, I was captivated by her depictions of life in Edo tenement houses and river snowfall scenes.


Like a native of Edo, her favorite food was buckwheat noodles. More precisely, she liked to visit buckwheat noodle shops. In "Motto Sobaya de Ikou" (More relaxation at buckwheat noodle shops), a Shincho Bunko book, she recommended such shops as a place for people to visit for temporary relaxation.

"If you have something to do today, you can do it tomorrow," Sugiura wrote. "You will have to live until you die." Then a punch line: "Where are you going in such a hurry?"


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

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2005年7月27日 (水)

Get some exercise to prepare for the Big One


Get some exercise to prepare for the Big One


Under the lunar calendar, Saturday was taisho, supposedly the year's hottest day. The weather could have been sizzling. As it happened, it was not.

A big earthquake struck without the usual telltale sideways motion that precedes most jolts. The quake's epicenter was in Chiba Prefecture.



The walls were creaking in my house. I ascertained that nothing was on the gas range and speculated about the intensity of the temblor. Unable to recall a stronger quake in the Tokyo area over the past 10 years or so, I assumed this one had at least an intensity of 4 on the Japanese seismic scale of 7 in the capital.


Before long, there was a news flash on TV. Readings of lower 5 were registered in Chiba Prefecture and elsewhere in the Kanto district, but not in Tokyo. I was relieved to see that all reported figures stayed under the intensity 6 level as anything over that could have spelled disastrous damage.

Not seeing Tokyo on the list of worst-hit areas, I assumed the temblor had measured 4 or less in the capital. More than 20 minutes later, however, another news flash reported an intensity of upper 5 had been registered in Adachi Ward.


By way of explanation, officials said it had taken more time than expected to transfer data from the Tokyo metropolitan government to the Japan Meteorological Agency.

Under the present system, data yielded by seismographs installed in wards, cities, towns and villages are first sent to the Tokyo metropolitan government, which transmits the information to the meteorological agency.

The system, introduced after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, involved cutting-edge technology and was thought to be the fastest one for data transmission.

The Tokyo metropolitan government intends to take prompt steps to improve the situation since the limits of anti-quake programs now in place have been exposed.


Seismic information constitutes the core of data needed to forecast the extent of quake-caused damage and work out countermeasures. Still, the delivery of information was delayed at a crucial time. The upshot of this is that the infrastructure in place in Tokyo to prepare for a feared Big One, a shallow-focus earthquake, is highly unreliable.


Fortunately, the weekend temblor did not cause major damage. Yet, it exposed the vulnerability of transportation systems like railways and elevators.

We had better start exercising more to prepare for an emergency. An earthquake can hit anytime, whether we are cautious or not. If the Big One does not strike, surely no one will complain.


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

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2005年7月26日 (火)

Anti-terror police unit looks to mythic Kratos


Anti-terror police unit looks to mythic Kratos


In Greek mythology, the creator of humankind, Prometheus, incurs the ire of Zeus for stealing fire and giving it to the human race. In "Prometheus Bound," a tragedy by Aeschylus, Zeus orders his servant Kratos, the god of strength, to chain Prometheus to the rocks on a barren mountainside.



In response to the terrorist bombings in London, the city's Metropolitan Police reportedly adopted new internal guidelines. Code-named Operation Kratos, the guidelines allow anti-terrorism troopers to aim for the head, not the body, if they suspect someone is carrying explosives.

At a London subway last Friday, police shot a man at point-blank range. It was later determined the man had nothing to do with the bombings.


Police were obviously trying to do all they could to prevent a third terrorist bombing in London. Londoners, meantime, must be praying to get through each day without incident.


Suspicion fires the imagination and makes one jump at shadows.


In this vicious cycle of suspicion breeding fear, people do extreme things they normally would not do.

Right after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, for instance, false rumors spread about "Koreans plotting to attack Japanese citizens," and many Koreans were massacred.


Back to Greek mythology. Kratos had a sibling, Bia, the personification of might and force. The two were always together.

The use of terrorist force must never be condoned, of course. Still, crossing the line by resorting to might and force must never happen.


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

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2005年7月25日 (月)

Koizumi's barber has hair-raising nightmares


Koizumi's barber has hair-raising nightmares


A South Korean movie, shown this year in Japan under the Japanese title of "Daitoryo no Rihatsushi" (The president's barber), is about a man who became the barber of President Park Chung Hee.

Having never expected to be chosen for this role, the man is more terrified than honored.

He realizes he could stand before the firing squad, should his shaving hand become unsteady and nick the president's face.

I enjoyed this film enormously.



In one scene, the protagonist reports to work for the first time and is instructed sternly by the president's aide: "Never use a razor without the president's permission, don't ask any questions, and get your work done in 15 minutes flat."

That is one funny scene in the movie. But, actually, a 15-minute haircut is quite hasty.


It made me think of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to his barber.

Koizumi always goes to a barbershop in the basement of a downtown Tokyo hotel, where he sometimes stays for more than two hours.

One time, he went in at 11 p.m. and did not come out until 1:30 a.m.

This became fodder for the rumor mill in the political community. The barbershop, the rumor went, must have a hidden passageway and Koizumi must be sneaking out to meet with someone in secret.

And that is also the reason why his hairdo is invariably the same before and after his barbershop visit.


Tadashi Muragi, 47, has been Koizumi's personal barber for 20 years.

"We have no secret passageway," he said, laughing at the the rumor.

Priding himself on his meticulous job, Muragi explained that perming Koizumi's hair takes about two hours, and it takes no less than one hour just for a trim and styling.

And the prime minister also gets a manicure.

"His hairstyle never changes because that's the way he likes it. He doesn't want to look like he's just had a haircut," Muragi added.


From time immemorial, tragicomedies have abounded about barbers retained by men in power.

There's the barber in Greek mythology who sees the king has grown donkey's ears, and is unable to keep himself from spilling the secret.

In the opera "The Barber of Seville," Figaro is the quick-witted barber who helps the count woo his lady love.


I have not heard any tragic or funny stories about Koizumi's visits to his barber.

However, Muragi admitted he has repeated nightmares in which he makes the terrible mistake of lopping off the prime minister's cherished mane.


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

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2005年7月24日 (日)

State negligence and asbestos equally toxic


State negligence and asbestos equally toxic


In 1988, a group representing the domestic asbestos industry published an information booklet called "Sekimen no Sugao" (The true face of asbestos). The Japan Asbestos Association booklet declares in its foreword: "Asbestos is an indispensable and valuable material for the progress and development of the industrial world."

The publication was issued two years after an International Labor Organization agreement that outlawed highly toxic blue asbestos.



While the booklet does make mention of illnesses caused by asbestos, it asserts that a number of countermeasures had been put in place. "We can say with confidence that any further risks of asbestos-related illnesses are practically nonexistent," the booklet tells readers.


With regard to potential health hazards of asbestos particles to the general public, the booklet explains: "We agree with experts who maintain that the probability (of becoming afflicted with any lethal asbestos-related illness) is almost on par with, or lower than, the chance of being struck dead by lightning-a rare, freak accident at best."


Not surprisingly, the booklet goes to great lengths to mention the merits of asbestos but is short on its demerits. It was not until much later that asbestos was shown to be capable of causing tremendous health damage.


More than 10 years before the booklet was published, the former Ministry of Labor issued a directive on heath hazards for asbestos factory employees, their families and local residents. But, other than that, the government took no real action.

As the current vice minister of health indicated when he lambasted the government's inaction as a "fatal mistake," it is now becoming increasingly obvious that this tragic mess is due to state negligence in protecting the public from this particular form of pollution.


In 1934, a chief engineer at packing material maker Nihon Pakkingu Seisakusho, authored a book titled "Ishiwata." In it, he notes, "There are yet no systematic studies and reports on the health condition of asbestos factory workers. But as far as I know, the amount of dust in those factories can only be described as truly excessive." Surely "The Real Face of Asbestos" would be a title more befitting of this 71-year-old publication?


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

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Lessons from a movie on Turkish immigrants


Lessons from a movie on Turkish immigrants


Ibrahim, an elderly Turkish immigrant who owns a small grocery store in a working-class district of Paris, is the protagonist of "Monsieur Ibrahim et les Fleurs du Coran" (Mr. Ibrahim and the flowers of the Koran), a 2003 film by Francois Dupeyron. The story revolves around Ibrahim's friendship with a lonely young boy.



Egyptian-born actor Omar Sharif, now in his 70s, plays Ibrahim, a devout Muslim living quietly in his adopted country. In addition to his natural and dignified screen presence, the veteran actor gives a superb portrayal of an elderly immigrant who has craftily assimilated into this foreign environment, adopting the necessary facade to survive.


France is certainly not the only country where society places great pressure on immigrants to blend in and not stand out. For first-generation immigrants, it is probably their lingering sense of connection to their home countries that sustains them as they strive to become acclimatized in their new lands.


Most of the suspects in the July 7 London bombings were of Pakistani origin, but were born and raised in Britain by parents who had emigrated from what used to be British-ruled India. In recent years, however, an issue that is being re-examined is, "Do second- and third-generation Britons from immigrant families really feel as though they belong in their adopted country?"


According to a recent survey of Muslims in Britain by the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, only about 40 percent of the respondents said they felt they were "members of British society." But 80 percent said they have been discriminated against. Does this mean there are many young men who feel completely alienated in a land that they don't identify with?


In the film, old Ibrahim adopts the orphaned boy and takes him on a trip to Turkey, where they find peace of mind as well as sorrow. The old man passes away in his native land, while the boy overcomes this loss of his adoptive father and learns to live again. This is a story told with gentle, understated charm about what is apparently a universal human quest for the ultimate mutual bond of acceptance that transcends nationality, race and even a parent-child relationship.


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

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Tourists must not be allowed to ruin Shiretoko


Tourists must not be allowed to ruin Shiretoko


One of the senryu humorous poems that appeared in The Asahi Shimbun on Tuesday gave me a wry smile: "Drunks and merrymakers/ Stay away from the hills of Shiretoko."


 昨日、本紙の「朝日川柳」に載っていた一句に笑いを誘われた。〈飲んで騒いで丘に上るな知床の/さいたま市 岸保宏〉。笑いといっても、苦い笑いである。

Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula has been named a World Natural Heritage property by UNESCO.

The senryu poem by Yasuhiro Kishi, a resident of Saitama, raises concerns about the consequences of Shiretoko's new status.

Just like Kishi, many people must have taken the news as a mixed blessing. Environmental contamination caused by sharply increasing tourist traffic has been a problem for two natural properties earlier placed on the World Heritage list: Yakushima island south of Kagoshima Prefecture and the Shirakami mountain area straddling Aomori and Akita prefectures.


The U.N. heritage convention calls for the protection of areas' cultural heritage and nature from the threat of damage and destruction, because the sites are deemed treasures of humanity.

One thing we must keep in mind is that when the Japanese government recommended that Shiretoko be put on the World Heritage list, it effectively promised to the world that it would not let the peninsula's nature be damaged or destroyed.


In the 1980s, a campaign was organized to oppose the felling of trees in Shiretoko's state-owned woodland. It marked the start of persistent conservation efforts involving many people, which finally bore fruit last week when the UNESCO World Heritage Committee designated the peninsula as a heritage site.

Japan bears heavy responsibility for continuing conservation efforts. The benefit of the designation is that it offers a chance for us to take a new look at the nature of our country from a global perspective.


The international conference to found UNESCO was held in London in the fall of 1945, following the end of World War II. In a speech, Clement Attlee, then prime minister of Britain, stated that wars began in the minds of men.


This statement found its way into the UNESCO Constitution, which famously declares in its preamble that "since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."

What does this mean specifically? Considering what the Constitution says, the implication is clear: If wars are to be avoided, countries need to have a good knowledge of one other.

My hope is that the untouched nature of Shiretoko will become the cornerstone of peace in the minds of people.


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

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2005年7月21日 (木)

Chorus hits high notes with German concerts


Chorus hits high notes with German concerts


At 84, Tsuneko Matsumoto still teaches calligraphy in Toride, Ibaraki Prefecture.

She also stays busy as a member of an amateur chorus. She went for a concert in Germany where she sang Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy," the centerpiece of Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" and other selections from the same symphony in German with about 120 other chorus members.



Thunderous applause erupted from the German audience when the chorus finished.

"Everyone thought, `We did it!'" Matsumoto recalls. "Leaving aside our success, we have sung in Germany twice now-at an interval of 10 years. That's more than what I ever expected."


Matsumoto joined the Toride Ninth Symphony Chorus in 1991.

Established five years earlier, the chorus was scheduled to hold its second concert soon. The only way for Matsumoto to participate in the concert was to learn the lyrics in German by heart. She did it by listening to a tape recording.


After the second concert, some members called for a performance in Beethoven's mother country.

"At first, the idea was thought to be too grand for us," says Kozo Ono, the present leader of the Toride chorus. Still, the chorus decided to go for it.

The Toride chorus has singers from all walks of life, including company employees, civil servants and merchants. Ono and others drew on the personal connections of the members in their search for ways to realize their dream.

Eventually, their search led them to a symphony orchestra in Baden-Baden that was willing to perform with them.

 このあと、「次はベートーベンの母国で」という声が上がった。「最初は、とても無理だと思われていたのですが」と言うのは小野耕三さんだ。合唱団のいまの代表である。合唱団には会社員、公務員、商店主ら様々な人がい る。つてを求めていくうちに、バーデンバーデンの交響楽団が共演を引き受けてくれた。

The chorus made its first trip to Germany in 1995. Five years later, it invited conductor Werner Stiefel from Baden-Baden to conduct a concert in Toride.

"I think the reason (for our success) lies in our sticking to the pace of holding a concert every five years," Ono said. "When it comes to putting on a `homespun' concert like ours, the burden of making preparations and raising necessary funds sets a really arduous task."


As Ono noted, the Toride chorus seems to have helped itself by holding to the principle of moving ahead slowly. Already, some members are calling for another concert in Germany five years from now.

"If we hold a concert in Germany in 2010, I may be able to participate," Matsumoto says. "I would like to sing again in that country, if at all possible."


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

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Setting sail for an education in nature's ways


Setting sail for an education in nature's ways


In recalling his youth, Arthur Ransome (1884-1967), the British author of the "Swallows and Amazons" series of books for children, once noted he had a special ritual to mark the start of school summer holiday. Every year, he would go down to a lake and gently dip his hand in the water.



Ransome's stories, which are about holiday yachting adventures in England's Lake District, have turned many youngsters around the world into fans of tall ships.

Among them is Isaku Amemiya, 47, a staff member at the National Institute for Sea Training.


Influenced by Ransome's writings, Amemiya studied at the Tokyo University of Mercantile Marine, where he discovered his passion and calling-to train student sailors aboard training ships. He has since groomed many young seafarers.

He participated in the 2000 Millennium training ship race in North America as the first mate of the tall ship Kaiwo Maru, which triumphed over its powerful competitors from around the globe.


Why use sailing ships for seafaring training in this day and age?

Amemiya answered, "Without wind, a sailing ship is immobile. By maneuvering the sails, we learn how to work in concert with nature's force, which is pleasant and benign when it is our friend, but fatally dangerous when it turns against us."

He added that after nearly two months at sea, his students' eyes become "more alive," and their personalities become "gentler and a bit more grown-up."


In Britain, where yachting is a home-grown sport, sailing ships are used widely for youth education.

In "We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea," arguably the most exciting story by Ransome, four brothers make a North Sea crossing from Britain to the Netherlands, maneuvering their vessel as it starts drifting in the fog and stormy seas.

The boys mature markedly from overcoming their crisis.


Seafarers talk about "being taught by the sails."

I imagine there are many things we could be taught in this age, when nature has been largely forgotten and efficiency put ahead of everything.


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

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Package deliverer's spirit of caring will live on


Package deliverer's spirit of caring will live on


In his autobiography titled "Watashi no Rirekisho" (My memory in life) published by Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Masao Ogura, a former president of Yamato Transport Co., recalls an episode that inspired him to start a door-to-door package delivery service.

"My son had clothes he had outgrown, so I decided one day to give them to my younger brother's little boy.

"But I couldn't find any easy way to send my package, and I was the president of a transportation company."



Back then, a small parcel could be sent only by post or the now-defunct Japanese National Railways, and Ogura realized this had to be quite a hassle for busy homemakers.

"The traditional image of the transportation industry was tough and macho, and homemakers practically didn't exist in our customer-base picture," Ogura continues in his memoirs.

"But it dawned on me that those ladies actually represented a tremendous potential market."


Remaining sensitive to people's day-to-day needs and asserting firm leadership, Ogura blazed a trail in the small-package transportation business.

The imaginative and innovative pioneer was also a man of principle.

He instituted an administrative suit against the defunct transportation ministry for holding out for years on his application for a delivery-route licence.


His company had been founded by his father, from whom he also inherited the indomitable old Edo merchant's spirit. "If you are afraid of samurai, you cannot make a living in Edo," his father would say.

Ogura recalled that it was this ingrained spirit of defiance against the high and mighty in society that sustained him through his litigation against the bureaucracy.


On New Year's Day, 1998, The Asahi Shimbun ran a feature titled 21-Seiki o Yomu (Composing tanka short poems about the 21st century).

This was essentially a collection of tanka poems submitted by people representing a cross-section of society.

Ogura's piece went: "The year's first dawn/ I pull a wheelchair toward myself/ To kiss it." An attached note from Ogura said, "Japan is not a disabled-friendly society. I would like to see `normalization' realized during the 21st century."

He personally founded a welfare foundation and devoted himself to helping disabled people become self-supportive.


When he stepped down as Yamato chairman, Ogura wrote this tanka: "A little cuckoo has taken off/ Silence/ The journey has ended."

His life's journey ended June 30 at age 80.

I would have liked for him to go on longer, but I believe his legacy of intestinal fortitude and spirit of caring for the disabled will live on.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 2(IHT/Asahi: July 18,2005)

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2005年7月17日 (日)

`People-friendly' initiatives not on line at Expo


`People-friendly' initiatives not on line at Expo


It was drizzling when the Shinkansen bullet train left Tokyo Station for Nagoya on Thursday morning. Switching to a local train at Nagoya and then to a linear motor train, I arrived at the Expo 2005 Aichi site three hours later.



The sun beat down mercilessly. Confiscated bottles of water and soft drinks were piled high at the entrance-visitors are not allowed to bring them in. I soon came across a shop selling bottled beverages. People were snapping up the drinks.


In the main zone, waiting lines varied considerably in length. It took 80 minutes to get into one pavilion, but only 30 seconds for another.

I was told the waiting time for the Japan Pavilion was 90 minutes. Normally, I would give this a miss, but I decided I might as well give it a try.

As the queue crept forward, I waited in the direct sun for quite a while. I dampened my handkerchief with bottled water and covered my head with it.

The waiting came to an end after 75 minutes, but I was in the pavilion no longer than 15 minutes. It was still hot when I came out at 4 p.m. The temperature was over 30 degrees in the nearby city of Nagoya.


I could tell various measures were being taken to beat the heat. For instance, there was a long corridor where an artificial mist was generated to bring relief to many visitors. And throughout the Expo site, the extensive use of wood is apparently meant to tame the reflective heat. But the real summer heat has yet to hit, and I had to wonder if these measures were sufficient.


For instance, if long waiting lines are the norm, the Expo organizers should install more awnings and sun shades. Visitors themselves should bring fans or parasols or wear hats; make sure they have plenty to drink; and not force themselves to keep standing in line if it gets too uncomfortable.


A respondent to a survey on the Aichi Expo, conducted by The Asahi Shimbun, noted, "I hope the Expo will not only be eco-friendly, but also people-friendly as well."

With the school summer holiday starting at the end of July, children will be visiting the Expo site in greater numbers. I hope they will be able to go home smiling.


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

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Believing in the future of our mother tongue


Believing in the future of our mother tongue


Language is like one's beloved life companion. This thought occurred when I saw the results of a recent survey on the Japanese language conducted by the Agency for Cultural Affairs.



According to the survey, the expression seken-zure (sophistication) is misunderstood by a large number of Japanese.

Among teenagers, six out of 10 answered incorrectly that seken-zure describes an attitude, thought or behavior that "does not fit the social norm."

Only a little over 10 percent in this age group knew the right answer: "To be sophisticated and wise in the ways of the world through experience."


The older the group, the more the respondents knew the correct meaning, with more than 60 percent of those in their 60s comprehending the phrase. As people grow older and more experienced, I reckon they begin to personally identify with seken-zure in the fullest sense.

However, even among people in their 60s, nearly 20 percent were as ignorant of the meaning of this expression.


Another interesting finding from this survey concerned recent language usage. More than half the teenagers and people in their 20s say yabai (dangerous or bad) when they mean "fabulous," "tasty" or "cool." These young people also led all other age groups by far in the frequency with which they use expressions such as watashi-tekiniwa and uzai-the former a contrived way of saying "I," and the latter a slang word that means "annoying."

If language is one's companion for life, I suppose we can expect twists and turns along the way.


More than 60 years ago, folklorist Kunio Yanagita wrote in "Kokugo no Shorai" (The future of the Japanese language), published by Sogensha: "My overall view is that the Japanese language is growing every day. The vocabulary is expanding, with new usage and expressions appearing, coming into fashion and being copied."


Yanagita went on, "If you genuinely love the Japanese language and want to preserve it, you should use it to say anything you want to say and to write anything you want to write, expressing yourself completely, clearly and moving a person to deeply understand your meaning."

I think these words were those of a man who believed in the future of his beloved mother tongue, who understood the difficulty of maintaining beautiful Japanese.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 14(IHT/Asahi: July 15,2005)

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2005年7月14日 (木)

Bid-rigging lexicon speaks loudly about Japan


Bid-rigging lexicon speaks loudly about Japan


A feature of the second edition of the Random House English-Japanese Dictionary, published by Shogakukan, is that it offers a list of words of Japanese origin that are used by English speakers. It puts together about 900 Japanese words that have appeared in authoritative American and British dictionaries of the English language or dictionaries of new words used in English.



The alphabetically arranged list ranges from words like tsunami, kimono and hara-kiri (committing suicide by cutting open the abdomen), which entered the English lexicon in the 19th century, continuing up to 1990s words.

Going over the list, one feels as if reading a history of shifts in interest about Japan. The list may also be taken as mirroring the way Japan has presented itself to the outside world.


Among the words from the 1990s, my eyes were arrested by keiretsu (interlocking business ties) and dango (bid-rigging), because of their close and time-honored association with the way business is done in Japan.

These are words that make one understand why the Japanese economy is robust, why Japanese corporations often shut out outsiders, and why shady business practices persist.


In a bid-rigging scandal over steel bridge projects, a retired director of Japan Highway Public Corp. was arrested Tuesday along with four other men for allegedly playing key roles in fixing bids for orders placed by the state-run company.

A former adviser to one of the companies involved, the suspect is said to have had the cooperation of other former Japan Highway officials who landed cushy post-retirement jobs in the industry.

Operating from an "amity society" of retired Japan Highway officials, members allegedly gathered unannounced information on scheduled orders from Japan Highway branch offices across the country.


The scandal shows how deeply bid-rigging is entrenched in this country. But Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), was unexpectedly tolerant about the dango problem at a news conference. "It's something like a custom you find everywhere in Japan," he said.

Perhaps he was not specifically talking about the bid-rigging scandal over steel bridge projects. Even so, when I heard it, I could not help shaking my head in disbelief.


I fear that a statement by Japan's top business leader, dismissing bid-rigging as if it were something irrelevant, just when a major bid-rigging case is about to be unraveled, could spawn misunderstandings at home and abroad.

My hope is that Okuda will watch his words if only to keep tsutsu uraura (everywhere in Japan) from being added to the list of Japanese words used by English speakers.


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

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Act quickly to defuse asbestos `time bomb'


Act quickly to defuse asbestos `time bomb'


Steve McQueen, the Hollywood action star, died at the age of 50 in fall 1980. He had terminal cancer (mesothelioma of the linings of the lungs). His exposure to asbestos was thought to have caused the deadly illness.



Asbestos was used in some form or other in the brake linings of the actor's vehicles and even in his flameproof stunt suit, according to William Nolan's book, "McQueen: Star on Wheels." (A Japanese translation was published by Hayakawa Shobo.)


The word "asbestos" derives from the Greek for "indestructible" or "inextinguishable." Strongly resistant to heat and acid, the fibrous metamorphic mineral can be used in a wide range of applications. It's basically indestructible.


Man's use of asbestos in fact can be traced as far back as the Stone Age, according to Hirotada Hirose's book "Shizukana Jigen Bakudan" (Silent time bomb), published by Shinyosha.

In ancient Greece, asbestos was used as wicks for gold lumps at temples. In Greco-Roman times, there was a high incidence of lung ailments among asbestos miners and workers whose job was to weave asbestos yarn into textiles.


A picture of the extent of health damage caused by asbestos in Japan is finally emerging. The victims have not been limited to a large number of factory workers. Even the wives of these workers have died of mesothelioma after years of inhaling fine asbestos particles while washing their husbands' work clothes.

If the small amount of particles inhaled outside the factory could make these wives sick, then anyone can inhale enough to become ill.


The "indestructible bomb" has not completely exploded yet, but experts predict cases of asbestos illness, which has an unusually long dormancy period, will soon explode.

Let me suggest a belated prescription to defuse this indestructible bomb: Get a complete picture of the extent of asbestos damage, explore treatments for victims and find a safe way to remove the danger.


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

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2005年7月12日 (火)

Train announcements can't please everyone


Train announcements can't please everyone


Noticing a passenger force open a closing door and squeeze himself onto a departing train, the conductor immediately chided him over the public address system: "Please don't rush into the train when the doors are closing! If you get hurt, you alone are to blame."



This happened early last month on a Chuo Line train that was just pulling out of Kokubunji Station in western Tokyo. Another passenger filed a complaint with East Japan Railways Co. (JR East) about the conductor's "rude speech." After checking into the claim, JR East admonished the conductor-a veteran with nearly 30 years-for his "inappropriate announcement."


When this incident was reported by the media, JR East received as many as 420 comments from the public, 90 percent of which came to the conductor's defense.

Hackles are bound to be raised if people are told bluntly that if they get hurt, it's all their fault. Still I also empathize with the conductor's sense of duty that made him furious with a reckless passenger.


"What a conductor says on the PA system when he or she is deeply upset is a test of his or her professionalism," noted former train conductor Katsuo Koda, 60. For many years, Koda worked for the state-owned Japanese National Railways and afterward on JR-operated commuters and sleepers: he was famous for his dry and witty announcements. "You have to think on your feet and be able to ad lib. It all comes down to that," he said.


Keiichi Ubukata, 72, a former NHK announcer, said it was unfortunate that the JR conductor was unable to defuse the situation with a little joke, such as by telling the offender: "I'm afraid our doors are a bit flimsy. They can break if you try to force them open."

Twenty years ago, Ubukata made a major professional blunder and paid for it: Emceeing the New Year's eve "Kohaku Utagassen" (red vs. white song contest), he mistakenly called singer Harumi Miyako by someone else's name-Hibari Misora. Having taken flak for his gaffe, Ubukata emphasized the importance of being able to deal with such sticky situations with humor.


I used to hear conductors make comments such as, "The hydrangeas are in full bloom now," or "Have a nice day, everyone." Not anymore.

According to a JR East spokesman, it is impossible to please everyone these days because, while some passengers prefer a completely announcement-free silent ride, others still like to hear a kindly voice over the PA system.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 10(IHT/Asahi: July 12,2005)

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2005年7月11日 (月)

July 7 is a date to remember in fighting terror


July 7 is a date to remember in fighting terror


With the Group of Eight summit starting in Scotland, and London having been chosen only the day before as the 2012 Olympics venue, the British capital was getting more global attention than usual Thursday morning. Then a series of bomb blasts ripped through the city.

This was an unforgivable act of terrorism aimed at singling out London at this particular time.



In the bidding for the 2012 Olympics, Paris was the favorite, but London came out the winner. The rejoicing in Trafalgar Square and Prime Minister Tony Blair's happy grin are still fresh in my memory. The terrorist bombs have shattered that British euphoria.


I should imagine security in London was tighter than usual because of the summit. Yet, the bombs exploded in several locations of the subway and aboard one of the double-decker buses for which London is famed. The bus was demolished.

The blasts must have spread panic among tourists from around the world.


The city's security setup is likely to be called into question.

The terrorists attacked the heavily trafficked mass-transit system, which is always something of an Achilles' heel in security enforcement. It is difficult to check such safety completely.


It will soon be four years since 9/11, and I have to wonder again if the world has become any safer since then. The United States invaded Iraq, citing "a safer future for the world" as a reason, and Britain has been supporting this war. I wonder how the situation is being discussed by the G-8 leaders, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.


Something like the London terror will not, and should not, bring any democratic society to its knees. Unfortunately, however, July 7 has become another date by which to remember another act of indiscriminate terrorism.


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

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2005年7月10日 (日)

Wishes for peace during Tanabata festival


Wishes for peace during Tanabata festival


A fine drizzle fell from the leaden sky. Bamboo leaves rustled, and blue or yellow tanzaku strips of paper fluttered in the breeze.



I was walking along a street lined with Tanabata Star Festival decorations (The traditional festival celebrates the one night of the year when two star lovers meet in the sky). The branches of the bamboo trees were laden with the tanzaku "wish strips."

"Make me a millionaire!" screamed one tanzaku. Another wished for the "elimination of all unscrupulous business practices," while yet another said: "I want power. Grant me power." But most wishes were for the health and safety of one's family and friends.


Fifty years ago, novelist Sakae Tsuboi (1899-1967) contributed an essay titled "Tanabata-sama" to "Shufu-no-Tomo," a magazine for homemakers. Tsuboi wrote, "There is something delectably heart-warming and charming about the modesty of people's wishes on those tanzaku strips, hung here and there on little bamboo trees."


This is a timeless sentiment shared by many people today, but the era when this was written-10 years after Japan's defeat in World War II-was reflected in Tsuboi's following observation: "Ever since I got into the habit of writing my wishes with my children every year, I have always associated this festival with the Lugouqiao Incident (Marco Polo Bridge Incident) of July 7, 1937. It was the beginning of what eventually led to our defeat in that war."


On that night, Japanese and Chinese troops clashed near Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing, triggering the Sino-Japanese War.

In "Rokokyo Jiken no Kenkyu" (A study of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident) published by the University of Tokyo Press, author Ikuhiko Hata notes, "Rumors were said to be flying among Japanese troops in China that something was going to happen on Tanabata day."


Tsuboi continued in her essay: "The Tanabata tradition gives us hope because even though the legendary lovers were allowed to see each other only once a year, at least they did get together every year. But many people around us are destined never to see their loved ones again. A friend of mine wrote `Peace' on a tanzaku and tied it to a bamboo branch."

Sixty years after the end of that war, "Peace" was written on many tanzaku that fluttered in the breeze.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 7(IHT/Asahi: July 8,2005)

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Drama over postal bills seems a bit scripted


Drama over postal bills seems a bit scripted


The Web site of Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) carries a traditional picture-card drama opposing Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's pet plan to privatize postal services.

In a set of pictures with a narrator explaining the story, "The Tragedy of Asunaro Village" unfolds. The tragedy is subtitled "Soshite Daremo Inakunatta" (And then everyone disappeared).

The Minshuto drama rivals the Liberal Democratic Party's picture-card play designed to promote the plan. "The Post Office of Asunaro Village" is subtitled "Yareba Dekiru!" (You can get anything done if you try!)



In the Minshuto version, the head of a privatized post office shouts, "Everyone, listen to me. Sell anything that is saleable." Then, small shops go bankrupt. The village goes downhill.

Eventually, a continuing outflow of population and other problems put the post office in financial trouble, forcing it to close its doors. Then, a monologue: "And in the village deserted by all residents, only the post office, now a desolate and closed building, was left standing in ruins. ... The end."


The LDP drama introduces Hisoka Maejima (1835-1919), the founder of Japan's modern postal system. It depicts the future post office as a dreamlike institution.

A staff member of a village post office paints a rosy picture, saying, "I am sure my friends working in the cities will return here when the country becomes a more convenient place to live in."


Poet-novelist Haruo Sato (1892-1964) once talked about the attractions of picture-card shows in an essay. "The virtue of picture-card plays probably comes from the fact that they are organized and structured so tightly, with the work of trimming the excess carried to the extreme." (The essay can be found in the complete works of Haruo Sato, published by Rinsen Shoten.)

I ask myself: Can we find the virtue cited by Sato in the LDP and Minshuto picture-card dramas?

 佐藤春夫が「紙芝居の魅力」を書いている。「もうこれ以上には無駄を去ることが出来ないといふところまで追ひつめてゐるあの方法あの構造のせいではあるまいか」(『定本 佐藤春夫全集』臨川書店)。「あすなろ村」の2作に、この紙芝居の妙味はあるか。

On Tuesday, the privatization bills cleared the Lower House by a small margin. Despite the narrow vote, TV images from the plenary chamber indicated the atmosphere was not tense.

Words like zohan (revolt), shobatsu (punishment), and kaisan (Lower House dissolution) were bandied around the chamber. It struck me as a kind of show presented by the lawmakers, who seemed as if they were following a prepared script.


Diet deliberations on the postal bills suffered from a lack of reality, just like the picture-card dramas created by the rival political parties.


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

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Tokyoites lose in `steppingstone election'


Tokyoites lose in `steppingstone election'


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi did not make a campaign speech for Sunday's Tokyo assembly election. This was in sharp contrast to four years ago when his help was sought by many candidates vying for seats.

An aide explained that Koizumi preferred to stay at home ``because of the current political situation.''



As it turned out, the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest party in the assembly, suffered a setback, while main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) sharply increased its seats.

It is tempting to ponder whether the LDP lost seats because Koizumi stayed home. Or was the LDP setback minimized because of his absence from street campaigning?


The voting rate was about 44 percent, the second lowest turnout for a Tokyo assembly election.

There was little debate on how to improve the lives of Tokyo citizens. This was because the parties viewed the election as a contest to gather momentum for winning the next national election. They should have used it as an opportunity to present their visions on the future shape of the capital.


Novelist Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965), who was born in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district, angrily wrote in his novel, ``Futen Rojin Nikki'' (The diary of an old man): ``Who has turned Tokyo into a wretched and disorderly city like this?''

The novel came out shortly before the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Pinning the blame on ``yatsura'' (those guys), Tanizaki went on to say, ``Because of `yatsura,' the rivers that were so clean have become dirty and polluted like stinking ditches.''

The novelist defined yatsura as the politicians ``who did not know how nice it was to live in Tokyo in the old days.''


After the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, Tanizaki moved to the Kansai region. About 10 years later, he wrote the essay ``Tokyo o Omou'' (Thoughts about Tokyo).

``These days,'' he observed, ``Tokyo is so full of solidly built bridges and roads that people almost seem like scraps of paper dancing in the wind.''


This month marks the 40th anniversary of Tanizaki's death, but his aphorism is still valid. Its lesson applies not only to just Tokyo but other municipalities. After all, the politicians who decide the future of a certain municipality are elected by its local residents.


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

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Baseball mega-hero comes back to ballpark


Baseball mega-hero comes back to ballpark


Thunderous applause erupted from a crowd of more than 40,000 at the Tokyo Dome as Shigeo Nagashima, 69, raised his left hand. The former Yomiuri Giants slugger, affectionately called "Mister," flashed his characteristic big smile at fans Sunday. It was his first public appearance since he suffered a stroke in spring 2004.



Giants haters are legion, but I have yet to come across anyone who doesn't like Nagashima. His achievements are the stuff of sports legend, and, coupled with his funny manner of speech, are endlessly talked about. Who can forget his dramatic sayonara home run while Emperor Hirohito, posthumously known as Emperor Showa, was watching the game? Or, that unforgettable tautology he shouted during his retirement ceremony? "The Giants are forever immortal." His No. 3 jersey is ingrained in the memories of many fans, just as his moments of glory resonate with certain episodes in their own lives.


Japan was experiencing its postwar economic miracle when Nagashima was in his prime. Most Japanese were genuinely taken by any strong, cool "hero."

Children's top three favorite things were said to be "The Giants, sumo grand champion Taiho and tamagoyaki (sweet egg loaf)." Those were relatively simple, innocent days.


Yu Aku, a writer of pop lyrics, once wrote in The Asahi Shimbun that those three favorites were originally "Nagashima, Taiho and egg loaf." According to Aku, Nagashima was replaced with the team name in 1963, when fans began referring to him and his equally awesome teammate, Sadaharu Oh, as the "ON Guns."


What would be today's equivalents of "Nagashima, Taiho and egg loaf?"

There are more sports and forms of entertainment now, and people's tastes have diversified. There isn't any one team or individual monopolizing victory and the public's adoration. If I must think of some icons, perhaps Hideki Matsui of the New York Yankees and pro golfer Ai Miyazato fit the bill. So, shall I say today's three favorites could be "Matsui, Ai-chan and ice cream?"


But Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and the national soccer team led by Zico have many devoted fans, too. And youngsters love kaiten-zushi (conveyor-belt sushi) and fried chicken as much as they love ice cream.

The more I wracked my brains, the more I was reminded of Nagashima's greatness. I suddenly recalled the words I used to say to myself on the batter's box in sandlot baseball: "No. 4 (in the batting order), third baseman, Nagashima."


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

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What to make of teens slaying family members?


What to make of teens slaying family members?


After killing his parents at their home in Tokyo's Itabashi Ward, a 15-year-old boy went to a movie theater in the Ikebukuro district, where he watched "Batman Begins." He then took a Shinkansen bullet train to the resort town of Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture, according to statements he gave to the police after his arrest.


 東京・板橋の自宅で両親を殺したあと、15歳の少年は池袋に出た。映画館に入り「バットマン ビギンズ」を見る。そして新幹線に乗って、長野県の軽井沢へと向かった。

The youth is a first-year senior high school student and the eldest son of the slain couple, who were live-in superintendents of a company dormitory.

In the Batman movie, the hero's parents are murdered when he is still a small boy. I wonder what thoughts crossed the teen's mind as he watched this scene.


In the city of Fukuoka, another 15-year-old-a third-year junior high school student-was arrested on suspicion of fatally stabbing his 17-year-old brother with a kitchen knife in their family apartment.

The boy had previously complained to friends that he was bullied and treated like a servant by his older brother, who often woke him at night and demanded a back rub.


The Tokyo teen told investigators that he had been ridiculed and insulted by his father. The motives of the two boys have yet to be determined, but I believe each held a deep-seated grudge or hatred toward his own family members.


After the postwar chaos and ensuing years of economic growth, the number of homicide arrests made in Japan declined. It has hovered between 1,300 and 1,400 each year since 2000.

For minors, the numbers remained in the range of 300 to 400 until the 1960s, but dropped to around 100 in the early 1970s. Since 2000, around 100 minors have been arrested for such crimes each year.


From these statistics, one can hardly say that homicides committed by minors are on the rise.

Still, the act of killing one's family members in their own home is jarring to society.

City landscapes have changed immeasurably in the six decades since the end of World War II. For example, gardens have disappeared from many homes. But even then, I wish each home would have a "symbolic" garden that exists in the hearts of family members.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 25(IHT/Asahi: July 4,2005)

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2005年7月 3日 (日)

Justice comes in the end for slain activists


Justice comes in the end for slain activists


Few cases were too difficult to solve for Sherlock Holmes, the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and arguably the most famous sleuth in fiction. But even Holmes botched the job once in a while. He failed to protect his client from being killed in "The Five Orange Pips," a short story with references to the South after the U.S. Civil War.



People were dying mysteriously after receiving envelopes containing orange pips. This was the doing of the Ku Klux Klan, a real-life secret society notorious for its ultraconservative, white-supremacist beliefs. The Klan still exists today, though its following has diminished somewhat over the years.


After decades of relative obscurity, the KKK recently re-emerged in the news. The coverage concerns a crime that took place 41 years ago, when three civil rights activists trying to improve the status of blacks in Mississippi were killed. Even though the crime was suspected to be the work of the local white supremacists, investigations were thwarted by outright racism in the Deep South.

But finally, after all these years, the trial started, and a former ranking Klansman was found guilty on June 23.


One automatically associates the KKK with their white robes, pointed hoods and burning crosses. But the accused former Klansman who appeared in court was an 80-year-old man in a wheelchair, with a oxygen tube up his nose.


While some locals were vocally opposed to "opening an old wound" from a different era, prosecutors insisted on "clearing the town's name after too many years of having had to bear this terrible burden."

The court sentenced the defendant to 60 years in prison-20 years for each of the three counts of manslaughter. He has since appealed, but I must wonder how many years of his life are left to serve his sentence, if the appellate court upholds this verdict.


In the Sherlock Holmes story, the detective plans an elaborate revenge on the escaped killer, but the man perishes in a shipwreck in the Atlantic Ocean. The judgment came from an "existence" transcending humankind.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 26(IHT/Asahi: July 2,2005)

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We can't go on borrowing against our future


We can't go on borrowing against our future


The Asahi Shimbun used to run stories in which the national budget was explained in terms of the average office worker's household income. This got me thinking of an imaginary sidestreet lined with a dozen or so small homes owned by average salaried workers whose combined outstanding mortgages are in the region of 1 billion yen.



Let's call one of these homeowners Mr. Koizumi. This Mr. Koizumi earns about 520,000 yen a month, a part of which he sends home to his parents-something like a tax allocated to local governments. But the Koizumi family is now used to living beyond its means and overextending its budget, until one day, Mr. Koizumi realizes to his horror that his outstanding mortgage debt has ballooned to about 70 million yen.


As no household is likely to mismanage its budget so badly in real life, of course this street full of indebted homeowners owing an aggregate of 1 billion yen is only a figment of my imagination.

But does this mean a nation does not have to worry about the consequences of fiscal mismanagement on the same magnitude? I don't think so.

This boils down to a question of whether the nation is justified in continuing to borrow like there is no tomorrow on its "future." Obviously, the government thinks that's OK because it has been relying endlessly on deficit-covering bond issues to keep fiscal debts at bay. The mess that Japan is in is truly frightening.


Some sort of "refinancing" must be worked out, but tax hikes alone are not the answer. The government's Tax Commission has proposed reducing income tax breaks for salaried workers, who are being targeted, I suspect, because they are the easiest to hit. Meantime, little is being done to deal with wasteful public spending and wrongful payments.


Japan Highway Public Corp. is under investigation on suspicion of rigging bids for steel bridge construction contracts. The corporation's contracts amount to a whopping 100 billion yen annually. If bid-rigging has been the normal practice for years, then taxpayers have been ripped off royally the whole time. And one must also suspect a structural abuse of authority by politicians and amakudari retired bureaucrats offered cushy jobs.


The nation is, it seems, at a critical crossroads in which we must choose to either win or lose in creating a healthy fiscal blueprint for the future.


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 30(IHT/Asahi: July 1,2005)

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2005年7月 1日 (金)

What if boomers went back to school in '07?


What if boomers went back to school in '07?


The baby boom generation sprang from the peace that began to prevail 60 years ago with the end of World War II.

The baby boomers-those born from 1947 to 1951-have always made their mark in the nation's demographic charts by virtue of their year of birth.



Now there is talk about the so-called 2007 issue, or the year that baby boomers will start to reach mandatory retirement age. Within a few years, they will have retired en masse.

Many company executives and others are concerned about how technical skills and expertise will be handed down to younger corporate colleagues when a huge chunk of the population leaves the work force.


Others are worried about a different kind of 2007 issue. For that is when the number of young people seeking admission into universities and colleges will approximately equal the number of enrollees. Theoretically, all applicants could be granted admission.


When the children of baby boomers were college students, the population of 18-year-olds came to about 2 million. The figure dropped to about 1.5 million 10 years later.

Now, an increasing number of schools are having trouble recruiting applicants.


The decline in the number of applicants may translate into dire financial problems. Schools may be driven into bankruptcy.

As if signaling the advent of such an era, Hagi International University in Yamaguchi Prefecture has filed for court-mandated rehabilitation under the Civil Rehabilitation Law.

A race for survival is now under way among institutes of higher education.

When Japanese universities were set up, they used European universities as their model because those institutions had a history of nearly 1,000 years. The Japanese schools have since grown into facilities with vast amounts of amassed knowledge and facilities.

I have a suggestion on how to use these schools to cope with these twin 2007 issues.


Perhaps the universities could admit retired baby boomers as freshmen, or offer their facilities as venues for passing on retirees' technical know-how.

For people aged 60 or older, going to school several days a month might do them a lot of good. I dream this kind of leisurely life will come true for them.


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

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'Banzai Cliff' the site of a terrible tragedy


'Banzai Cliff' the site of a terrible tragedy


In July 1944, just after Imperial Japanese Army forces on Saipan were wiped out in heavy fighting, a U.S. newspaper ran a story headlined "Jeanne d'Arc on the island."

Philosopher and critic Shunsuke Tsurumi points this out in his explanatory note to the "Umiyukaba" volume of a series of writings on war produced during the Showa Era (1926-1989) and published by Shueisha. ("Umiyukaba" was a song in the wartime era.)



According to Tsurumi, a war correspondent wrote in the New York Herald Tribune that a surprise awaited U.S. soldiers when they reached the spot where Japanese forces had made their last stand. They found a nurse with abdominal wounds from a grenade she had detonated in a suicide attempt.

The reporter wrote that he admired the woman's Yamato damashii (Japanese fighting spirit).


The heroine, Shizuko Sugano, was just 18. Shortly after her birth in Yamagata Prefecture, her family emigrated to Tinian, a Northern Mariana Island near Saipan. When U.S. forces landed on Saipan in June 1944, she volunteered as a nurse at the Japanese army field hospital there.


Japanese defenders were driven to the wall. Sugano looked after the wounded soldiers, even though she knew that they would commit suicide before long. When U.S. soldiers approached the hospital, she was told to leave.

But she refused to take the advice. She was found unconscious after pulling the pin on the grenade.


Her journal of that horrifying time was later published as "Saipanto no Saigo" (The last day of imperial Japan on Saipan).

The nurse wrote about a horrible scene she witnessed from a truck that passed near a cliff on the way to an internment camp. Below the cliff dozens of bodies of Japanese women lay floating in the waves. They had all jumped.

Especially painful was the sight of the children strapped to their mothers' backs and chests, Sugano wrote.

The dreadful sight caused a U.S. officer to weep, she wrote. They wondered why so many Japanese had killed themselves.


Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have paid their first visit to Saipan. On Tuesday, memorial rites were to be held at the site, now called "Banzai Cliff" because the women who leapt to their deaths 61 years ago cried "banzai" as they jumped.

Much time has passed since the war, but it left us with unforgettable tragedy.


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

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