2005年8月23日 (火)

Let there never be another major air disaster


Let there never be another major air disaster


Twenty years have passed since the disastrous crash of a Japan Airlines jumbo jet that killed 520 passengers and crew members.

"So many things have happened in the last 20 years," says Kuniko Miyajima in "Akanegumo Soshuhen" (Scarlet clouds: Complete edition), a collection of essays by bereaved families, published from Honnoizumisha to mark the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.

Miyajima's essay is addressed to her 9-year-old son, Ken, who perished in the disaster.


 あれから二〇年、本当に、いろいろなことがありました-。520人が死亡した日航ジャンボ機の墜落事故から、今日で20年になる。それを機に出版された遺族の文集『茜雲(あかねぐも) 総集編』(本の泉社)で、美谷島邦子さんは、9歳だった息子の健君に語りかけるように文をつづっている。

"I still have your pencils and notebooks with me. For your summer holiday project, you grew sponge gourds and observed their growth. You wrote the final words in your diary on the day before the accident: `Aug. 11: The tendrils are getting long, and I saw little buds.' Your father is still unable to look at your handwriting."


Fujiko Ikeda, who lost her younger brother and his wife and a niece, attached a tanka poem to her essay. The tanka goes: "My brother passed away so young/ My heart aches/ Every time I count his age."

Ikeda's brother had two other children who were left behind. Looked after by many people, they have grown into adults and are now happily married, Ikeda notes.

At the end of her essay, she identifies herself as an aunt of Keiko Kawakami-one of the only four survivors of the crash.

 弟夫婦とめいを亡くした池田富士子さんは、文に短歌を添えた。〈あまりにも 早きに逝きし弟の 歳をおりてはまた胸あつくす〉。弟夫婦の遺児ふたりは大勢の人に支えられて成長し、今は結婚してそれぞれ幸せに暮らしていますとあり、末尾には生存者のひとり川上慶子さんの伯母と記されている。

Survivors were found on the day after the crash. I heard the news at the Asahi Shimbun head office, and I can still recall that moment vividly. An emotion, too deep to be said out loud, overtook my colleagues and me. We had been busy filing stories for the evening edition.


The pages had to be remade at once, because we had more or less given up on the possibility of anyone surviving that crash. I understand that a staff member in charge of inputting copy from the city section into the company computer had to fight back tears as he typed.


A major accident like this must never be repeated. Miyajima, who has served as secretary-general of an association of bereaved families, concludes her essay: "Thank you, Ken, for these 29 years.... Together with you, I want to keep tolling the bell of air-travel safety."


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 12(IHT/Asahi: August 13,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年8月 6日 (土)

Airbus crash nothing short of a `miracle'


Airbus crash nothing short of a `miracle'


I was on a business trip and awoke around 6 a.m. Wednesday in my hotel room. Picking up the morning paper, I switched on the television and saw an image of a burning plane.

This was the Air France jetliner that had just landed at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. The aircraft's tail could be recognized near the ground, but the fuselage was apparently badly damaged and practically invisible behind billowing black smoke.



I automatically assumed a major disaster. Fortunately I was wrong.

The updates that kept coming in reported that all 309 passengers and crew members were evacuated without serious injuries. Given that the Airbus A340 had overrun the runway, crashed and burst into flames, the result must have been an incredible combination of good luck. It was nothing short of a miracle, as the Canadian transport minister put it.


How did this miracle happen? I suppose the flames did not spread until after everyone-or nearly everyone-had gotten out of the aircraft.


Speedy action and cool thinking decided the outcome. The crew members must have given the right instructions to passengers, and the latter must have fully cooperated in dealing with the situation calmly and swiftly.

I don't have all the details yet, but I should think that the miracle was made possible by a combination of factors: the behavior of everyone on board; the timing of the outbreak and intensity of the fire; and the aircraft's speed at the time it crashed.


I rode a Shinkansen bullet train on my way back to Tokyo and gazed at the scenery zipping past the window. I thought anew that the train's speed was close to that of a jumbo jet preparing to touch down on the runway.

If a Shinkansen had wings, it could almost fly. Yet, this mass transit system has remained accident-free for many years. The Shinkansen's safety record is actually a miracle of sorts in itself.


Many people work to keep the trains safe. Even though there is a possibility that natural disasters and situations that are beyond human control will occur, I pray that this miracle will continue forever.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 4(IHT/Asahi: August 5,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年8月 4日 (木)

Collusion sullies the status of nation's roads


Collusion sullies the status of nation's roads


This is the season for many people to travel to hometowns, beaches and mountains. But this year, those traveling by car might be thinking about a nationwide problem.

There are growing suspicions that officials of Japan Highway Public Corp., the builder of the nation's main highways, took the initiative in the bid-rigging now under investigation.



Another kind of collusion has surfaced. Senior officials of Japan Highway and the transport ministry have stopped attending even informal sessions of the Promotion Committee for the Privatization of the Four Highway-related Public Corporations.

One spokesman explained that senior officials will not be able to answer questions from committee members while the bid-rigging scandal at Japan Highway is under investigation.

Another said senior officials are too busy working out measures against bid-rigging to attend the privatization panel.

Nevertheless, I have a gut feeling that Japan Highway and the ministry have agreed to boycott the committee.


The privatization committee was created to conduct a sweeping review of structural problems relating to highway construction and maintenance.

Now that Japan Highway and the ministry have turned their backs on the panel's mandate, many of us feel strongly that we cannot entrust them with the future of the nation's highways.


In fiscal 1945, at the end of World War II, Japan's road network stretched 899,000 kilometers. But only 1.2 percent of the total was paved, according to ``Nihon Doro Kodan Sanjunen-shi'' (The 30-year history of Japan Highway Public Corp). The book was published by the corporation about 20 years ago.

Naturally, many roads turned muddy when it rained.


In 1946, folklorist and poet Shinobu Orikuchi (1887-1953) wrote an essay titled ``Nihon no Doro'' (Roads in Japan). In it, he expressed admiration for ``straight roads, winding roads, zigzag roads, shining roads and rice-field footpaths under cloudy skies.''

He wrote, ``How many times has my soul been allured by distant views of these roads and paths?''


Roads are supposed to be in the public domain. We must not let it be taken over by the government, highway public corporations and the road-building industry.

Sixty years after the end of World War II, it is time to restore the nation's roads to their former status.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 3(IHT/Asahi: August 4,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

Has the planet Pluto lost its claim to fame?


Has the planet Pluto lost its claim to fame?


In Roman mythology, Pluto is the god of the underworld. Pluto is also the English name of the outermost planet in the solar system. In Japanese, we call it Meiosei.

Discovered 75 years ago, Pluto is the ninth planet from the sun. There is controversy over whether this planet really belongs to our solar system.



This controversy may be compounded by last week's announcement from an astronomy team at the California Institute of Technology that it had discovered the solar system's 10th planet.

This planet stokes our interest as inhabitants of Earth, the third planet, in knowing how many planets are really in our solar system.


The existence of the planet was confirmed by the Palomar Observatory in the United States two years ago. It was located too far to discern any details. Astronomers checked its orbit again and learned that it was circling the sun.


The planet is truly a distant one. At the farthest point in its orbit, the distance between it and the sun is nearly 100 times the distance between Earth and the sun.

It makes one revolution around the sun in about 560 years. This means that when it was at the present point the previous time, it was just before Leonardo da Vinci was born.

The International Astronomical Union is going to decide officially whether the planet belongs to our solar system.


The Chinese characters for the word planet literally translate as "vacillating star." A theory has it that the character for "vacillate" is used because planets change their positions in the sky as if vacillating. People have been charmed by their vacillating ways since ancient times.

In 1933, watching a rare celestial phenomenon in which Venus and Saturn successively circled behind the moon, Hakushu Kitahara (1885-1942) composed a poem: "As Venus went behind the moon from underneath/ Saturn made its shining way behind from above."

Another poem by Kitahara goes: "Standing around, a mother and her children/ Watched the western sky/ Where the moon held two stars."


The vacillating movements of Pluto and the new planet cannot be observed with the naked eye.

The word vacillate itself fires our imagination about celestial bodies quietly moving through the darkness of the universe.


--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 2(IHT/Asahi: August 3,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年8月 2日 (火)

Politicos resort to sealing vote vows in blood

 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。

Politicos resort to sealing vote vows in blood


Takasugi Shinsaku (1839-1867), an imperialist who was instrumental in bringing about the Meiji Restoration, apparently liked the idea of sealing vows in blood, and he demanded the same of his comrades.

When he founded Mitate-gumi, an Edo-based imperialist society dedicated to "purging foreign barbarians," he persuaded more than 20 like-minded men to pledge their loyalty in blood.

But Takasugi's idea to assassinate the shogun in Kyoto was shot down by all but one man. As charismatic as Takasugi was, he obviously did not draw support when his plotting and conniving became unrealistic.



Now, Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers opposed to postal privatization are rumored to have put their bloody fingerprints on a document to pledge their allegiance to the cause. If this is true, their anachronistic thinking would be ludicrous at best.


Hisaoki Kamei of the Lower House, who apparently proposed this idea, explained: "It is true that I provided the paper and asked lawmakers who were against the privatization bills to sign it. But I did not ask them to seal it with blood."

About 20 lawmakers complied, and all voted against the postal privatization bills as promised, according to Kamei. The sheet of paper Kamei provided was called a go-o hoin, obtained from the Kumano Shrine.


The shrine teaches that anyone who breaks a promise written on this special paper will cough up blood and die. The "Azumakagami" (Mirror of Eastern Japan), a chronicle of the Kamakura bakufu (the feudal government from 1192-1333), states that Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune, a 12th-century warrior, pledged his loyalty to his older brother, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, on go-o hoin paper. The same paper was also used when the Ako Roshi (the masterless samurai of Ako) vowed to seek revenge for their master's death.

I always thought belief in divine retribution for breaking an oath existed only in the pages of kodan (Japanese traditional historical tales), but apparently such ideas are current among today's political elite.


According to Ryosuke Ishii's book "Han" (Seal, published by Gakuseisha), the practice of signing pledges dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185). But when betrayals became common in the ensuing eras of civil war, signatures alone could no longer be trusted, and oaths came to be sealed with blood. Ishii notes that the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) often required local feudal lords to pledge their loyalty with blood seals.


I hear this blood-seal business is being considered among Upper House LDP members, too. With politicos plotting to sway allegiances and votes, discussions on the postal reform vote are noisier than cicadas in high summer.


--The Asahi Shimbun, July 24(IHT/Asahi: August 1,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

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)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

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)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

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)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (1)

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)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

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)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)