2005年7月21日 (木)

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)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年6月21日 (火)

Who is the co-victim of man switched at birth?


Who is the co-victim of man switched at birth?


A 47-year-old man who was switched at birth at a maternity hospital in Tokyo is looking desperately for the ``other victim'' of this tragedy. The other baby was born at the Tokyo Metropolitan Sumida Maternity Hospital in April 1958 and his blood group is either O or B.



The man was living with his parents and younger brother eight years ago, when his mother was hospitalized and her blood group was determined as B. But as he himself was A and his father was O, this made no sense. Deeply upset by this discovery, he accused his poor mother of having had him out of wedlock.


The next few years were miserable for him. Finally, the entire family resorted to DNA testing last spring, which proved he was not biologically related to his parents.

The man, who now lives in Fukuoka, sued the Tokyo metropolitan government, which operated the hospital at the time of his birth. In a recent ruling, the Tokyo District Court faulted the government for the switched babies, but rejected the man's demand for damages.


Shuji Okuno, whose Bunshun Bunko book ``Nejireta Kizuna'' (Twisted bond) is a novel about the agony of a young victim of mistaken identity, noted that accidents of this nature were not uncommon for about a few decades from the mid-1950s.

``The neonatal ward in any hospital was filled to capacity back then, and babies often wore the wrong name tags and clothes,'' he wrote. However, most mistakes were caught and corrected while the babies were still too young to know anything about it, he wrote.


The Sumida hospital closed 17 years ago. A memorial publication, issued at the time it closed, contains delivery and birth records spanning 36 years. About three babies a day were being born, but strangely, there are no entries for a few months around the time of the plaintiff's birth. The publication carries a footnote that says ``medical charts missing.'' But this explanation is unnatural indeed.


The cruelty of this man's fate pains me. Who is this man's co-victim? Is he unaware of the mistake? Are the plaintiff's biological parents still living?

The man has lost his litigation, but is more determined than ever to track his parents. His ``foster'' parents, however, feel quite differently. They doubt that digging up the past will bring true happiness to their ``son.''


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 5(IHT/Asahi: June 20,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

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)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (1)

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)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年4月23日 (土)

Why high-rises pose a risk to life and limb


Why high-rises pose a risk to life and limb


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

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



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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年4月13日 (水)

Danger always comes with adventure


Danger always comes with adventure


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



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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年4月 2日 (土)

Step up to the plate and do your best, newbies


Step up to the plate and do your best, newbies


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



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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年3月28日 (月)

You are what you eat; for Koizumi it's Italian


You are what you eat; for Koizumi it's Italian


Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi often displays his keen interest in teaching children the importance of good dietary habits. For two years in a row, he has taken up the issue of dietary education in his policy speeches delivered before the Diet.

What kind of dietary life is he leading himself? Is the prime minister eating properly?



A short column in the morning edition of The Asahi Shimbun offers a kind of diary on what Koizumi does every day. When one looks for entries on his outings for dinner, a clear pattern emerges. Evidently, Italian food is his primary choice. Sometimes, he returns to the same Italian restaurant about once every three days.

With Chinese food his next-favorite choice, he seems to keep a basic cycle of Italian, Chinese and Japanese food by turns for dinner.


As far as the entries I checked were concerned, his dinner outings for Korean, Middle East or Russian food were close to zero. In other words, his pattern was biased in favor of regional favorites.

According to Asahi reporters whose beat is the prime minister's official residence, Koizumi's breakfast and lunch consist of purely Japanese food. For breakfast, he usually dines on rice, miso soup, grated daikon radish and chirimen jako (boiled and dried baby sardines). For lunch, he almost always eats soba (buckwheat noodles).

Other eyewitnesses say the prime minister seems to be particular about what he eats. According to these people, he very much enjoys gyoza (fried meat-vegetable dumplings in flour wrappings), loathes raw vegetables, totally ignores condiments such as daikon pickles and kimchi on the table, and leaves uneaten all the fried pork cutlets when a dish of katsudon (pork cutlets over rice) is placed before him.


Fujiwara-no Michinaga lived in splendor during the Heian Period, which lasted from the eighth to the 12th centuries, but diligently watched what he ate as a sort of dietary therapy for his longtime diabetes. Either overeating or an unbalanced diet made him feel ill.

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), the health-minded founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, liked to eat barley and advised his retainers to live on a plain diet.


Among postwar leaders, former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida, a self-acknowledged gourmet, hired his favorite chefs to work at his official residence and enjoyed sumptuous meals.

In contrast, former Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka, known for his impatience, had the reputation of going out for casual meals, such as katsudon and ramen noodles.

Indeed, as the old saying goes, a man is what he eats.


Early last month, a cold forced Koizumi to take a rest from his official duties, the first time in his four years in office that he had given in to an ailment. Given that his nose is still running and his sneezes are unstoppable, it seems he is showing symptoms of cedar pollen allergies, or hay fever.

To quote another familiar saying, the food one eats provides the medicine one needs--in other words, eat well to stay well. If only to spread his message of proper dietary education, Koizumi should take a better look at his own diet.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 22(IHT/Asahi: March 28,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年3月23日 (水)

March 20 a constant reminder of sarin attacks


March 20 a constant reminder of sarin attacks


The dates of certain events stay with us. Even many years later, people will still talk about where they were and what they were doing when something especially memorable happened.

March 20, 1995, is one such date. It is the day that the Aum Shinrikyo cult carried out sarin nerve-gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 people and sickening thousands.



That morning, I left my home in suburban Tokyo later than usual. I had returned from a business trip the day before, and had to sort and put away the stuff I was unpacking.

When I came out of a train station in central Tokyo, I saw helicopters flying around. I learned of the attacks when I got to the office.


Had I left home at the usual time or a little earlier, I could have been one of those people I saw on the television, lying sick and waiting for help.

I am sure many Tokyo commuters who worked in central Tokyo at the time share this thought.


In the spring of the following year, the cult founder held responsible for the attacks made his first court appearance. When I noted during a meeting that a verdict before the end of the century was unlikely, some of my colleagues voiced surprise at the length of the Aum trials.

I later went to the cult's headquarters in the village of Kamikuishiki in Yamanashi Prefecture. When I saw the cluster of giant buildings that were called ``satyan'' by the cultists, I regretted the fact that nobody had the foresight to stop the crimes even though such bizarre facilities were in plain sight at the foot of Mount Fuji.


Last year and the year before, I sat in the courtroom to watch the former cult leader's trials, albeit briefly.

He did not utter a word, but sometimes looked as if he was mumbling silently to himself or stifling a yawn. He seemed completely tuned out of the prosecutors' arguments, the presiding judge's statements and the intense feelings of anyone else who sat in the courtroom.


Aum schemed to create their own ``nation'' within a nation. Their target of attack was this nation, and innocent citizens were sacrificed instead.

March 20 continues to remind us that not only must we avert any recurrence of indiscriminate acts of terrorism, but we must also stand firmly by the survivors and bereaved families who need help.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 19(IHT/Asahi: March 23,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)

2005年3月21日 (月)

New grads give top honors to principal's song


 知らなかった。そんなお年をめした方だったのか。小生ももっと張り切らなければ、、。(^^;  それにしても歌も素晴らしいが、このエピソードも心に沁みる実にいい話しだ。英和対訳でゆっくり読み込むことでより深く味わえたような気がする。これからも出来るだけ続けていきます。


New grads give top honors to principal's song


In a recent survey, Ongaku no Tomo Sha Corp. asked 230 music teachers around the nation what song their students were singing for the graduation ceremony.

The result was a bit of a surprise. ``Hotaru-no Hikari'' (Glow of fireflies), the traditional standard number for the occasion, ranked only third. ``Aogeba Totoshi'' (Song of gratitude), another perennial favorite, did not even make the top 10 list.



The song that won the most number of votes was ``Tabidachi-no Hi-ni'' (The day of departure). I wonder if readers have heard it.

The song was born 14 years ago in the music classroom of a municipal junior high school in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture. The then-principal, Noboru Kojima, 74, wrote the lyrics overnight and asked the music teacher to put them to music the following morning.


``The song was meant as a present for the graduating students,'' explained Kojima when I saw him to hear his story. ``All the teachers got up on the platform and sang the song. This was supposed to be a one-time performance.''

Kojima reached his mandatory retirement age in March that year, but the song stayed. The following year, a music magazine printed the score just before the graduation season, and many primary, junior high and senior high schools around the nation picked it up. The simple lyrics caught the hearts of youngsters: ``The voice of my dear old friend/ Suddenly comes back/ With the memory of that time/I wept when we fought over something silly.''


The song reminds me of the late singer-songwriter Yutaka Ozaki, who gave expression to the frustrations of young people. It is also similar in feeling to ``Okuru Kotoba'' (A present of words) by singer-actor Tetsuya Takeda.

Kojima, however, said of his work, ``I was trying to emulate the world of Bokusui Wakayama, a poet who wrote about dreams and longing.''


``Hotaru-no Hikari'' and ``Aogeba Totoshi'' were created in the early years of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Strongly reflective of the educational philosophy of that era, the lyrics urge students to work diligently to serve the nation and get ahead in life to repay their teachers.


``The old literary style of those lyrics is a bit too sophisticated for today's kids to really appreciate,'' noted Kojima.

In a departure from the past, many schools now let their students choose the song for the graduation ceremony. Instead of the traditional, government-approved numbers, Kojima's song, which is something of a summation of his 40-year teaching career, is being sung and heard around the nation this month.


--The Asahi Shimbun, March 6(IHT/Asahi: March 21,2005)

| | コメント (0) | トラックバック (0)